Archive for the ‘Jesus and Druidry’ Tag

Seven Seeds of an Ancestor Practice   2 comments

With even a little searching, you can of course find books and other resources for various ancestor practices.

Chances are good you’ve already begun one. Like so many things, the seeds — and often, the seedlings — already have taken root in your life.

With a family photo, an heirloom, a couple of stories, human memory, and experience of being alive, you’ve placed your hands on your own thread in the Weave, on a branch of the Great Tree, that surpasses any book.

Say you have an interest in genealogy. Or a relative frequently sends out clippings, photos, tidbits of biography about the family tree.

Maybe you’ve inherited old photos and letters, and they’ve sat on a shelf or at the back of a closet in a box or boxes because it’s hard to know what to do with the stuff. You can’t bring yourself to throw it out, but right now it’s just there, taking up space, one more tug whenever you’re looking for something else and there it is: history, image, memory, bonds of time and experience and emotion.

Or perhaps you have a difficult family history. You’re estranged from several living relatives, while deceased members left the scene with issues unresolved, and the family you have now aren’t blood relatives at all, but a family of choice you’ve managed in spite of things to assemble and cherish. Roommates, friends, mentors, colleagues, partners — people you’ve gathered and welcomed into your life at various points, who love and support you in turn.

With luck and grace and a strong constitution you may have one blood relative or spiritual ancestor you’ve started with. That person’s picture on an altar, or a wall, or stored on phone or laptop, serves as your launch point. Maybe not daily, or even weekly, but often enough, the images comes up and you have a moment to reflect on them, to remember.

Maybe you’ve signed up with one of the online genealogy sites, and your profile settings see to it you receive alerts whenever an ancestor date arrives. Your great-grandmother’s birthday, for example, or your great-great-grandfather’s wedding. The site obligingly emails you pictures of headstones, or some other electronic addition you might add to a memory altar, or discard or ignore.

All of these things may be enough. You’re busy, you don’t have time for “one more thing”, or that genealogically-obsessed relative more than makes up for whatever inattention you’ve been paying to the Right Noble Family Tree with their incessant gifs and jpegs and anecdotes, newspaper articles, questionnaires, memorabilia, and so forth.

Or you’re adopted, or orphaned, or otherwise almost entirely separated from your bloodline. Rather than an embarrassment of riches, you experience a dearth of ’em.

We all have arrived where we are today with the help of someone. That person is an ancestor, a fore-runner, a pathmaker, a hand to steady us on our way. And we have performed the same service for someone else, often enough without noticing.

Here are seven seeds for an ancestor practice I’ve explored over time.

1) “The Names of the Survivors”: We’re Here Now.

In my late teens I heard Rochester, NY poet Linda Allardt read her poem “The Names of the Survivors”, and the title as well as the closing lines have stayed with me. Survival makes do for grace, she closes, and at first that can sound grim or dark. But what is survival?

The best reason, if I need one, for an ancestor practice lies in one simple fact: I’m here today. If ever I’ve felt gratitude for simply being alive, there are roots of ancestor practice lying ready to hand. My existence today is tribute and vindication of their joys and struggles, in all their grotty and difficult human-ness. If you have a gratitude practice of any kind (or are looking at starting one), if you give thanks consciously at whatever frequency, it’s a sweet and simple thing to include those who have gone before and contributed to this moment.

2) Keeping up the Bone-House

Allied with my own being-here-now is a chance to do my best to honor and pass along that legacy. One of the Old English kennings or poetic expressions for the physical body is bánhús, bone-house. What I do with this bone-house life passes on my inheritance of it in the most concrete ways.

Every act matters, and an ancestor practice can paradoxically help me recall that. The deeds of now-nameless ancestors each helped bring me to here and now. It wasn’t the “big stuff” most days, though in hindsight each of these things is enormous: lighting a fire, cooking a meal, raising the children, tending the sick, burying the dead, butchering livestock, harvesting the crops, repairing the roof, honoring the lives they in turn received by living them fully. When I do the same, I celebrate and pass along the inheritance. Each life has a weight and presence of infinite value in the world.

When I smile at others and greet them, when I hold the door, pick up an empty soda can, drop off an abandoned wallet or phone to a lost-and-found, by performing such small gestures I lighten another’s life, no matter the degree. If one other person is glad I live today, I have helped branch the ancestral tree, and honored the gift I was given.

3) The Light-and-Shadow Tracery of Faces

You may or may not have (m)any photos of ancestors, depending on your family’s circumstances and the availability of cameras. Other objects may belong on your altar or other details can fill your remembrance.

Among my favorite family photos is this one of my uncle, aunt and mother, taken around 1921. (Yes, my mother was born in 1919 — she would have been 100 last year. She had me quite late — she was 40 when I was born, more unusual and risky then than now. An ancestor’s choice I’m obviously grateful for!)

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All three have passed over now, all three are people I knew in this life, and I celebrate their birthdays still. How much further you take such celebrations — preparing their favorite foods, inviting them to join you as you partake, including family and ritualising the event in other ways — depends on your own inclination and guidance. Such choices can bring ancestors into our present in potent ways.

Though we live in time, I’ve found we also travel along it in memory and imagination and vision, and we can consciously bless our past and future selves, as well as our ancestors, and descendants. The strength I’ve found to carry on through difficult times — to survive at all — pours forth from the pooling blessings of countless others, including my own. By such acts of compassion, the boundaries between self and other, self-ish and self-less, fall away.

For the good of the whole I offer this to the Sacred Pool …

4) Houses of My Blood and Spirit

The places where my ancestors lived may lie remote from my own, or I may live near or in the same house as one or more of them. When we enlarge such “houses” to include those who have taught and guided and encouraged us, whether living recently or long ago, here or on another spiral of the great journey, such dwellings grow large indeed. I count among my ancestors of spirit those whose words and wisdom inspire me, so that my altar of ancestors potentially grows large indeed. Whose birthdays will I acknowledge, or whose lives will I otherwise recognize and celebrate? It may be a talent I share with an ancestor, an historical interest, a quirk of person and character that allows me unique access to realms a particular ancestor also explored.

When we consider the spiraling DNA of these bodies of ours, all of us still live in very old ancestral houses, heirs to millennia.

Pondering, listening and revisiting these points slowly, over time, can help each person develop an engaging, varied and personal ancestral practice, along with a calendar of “Big Family” observances, of the Trees we each branch from.

And those other trees, which may be the same trees: What else can they teach us, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Tree of Life?

5) The Telling

Recalling the quirks and twitches of our forebears, their idiosyncrasies along with their strengths, helps bring both into sharper focus, and diminishes our tendency to idealize them to the point where we can no longer aspire to be like them.

One of the purposes of ritual is the re-telling and re-enactment of stories. The central ritual feast of Communion or Eucharist in Christianity is anamnesis — “remembrance” in Greek. As often as you do this, says Jesus, do it in remembrance of me. For Christians, Jesus is the Great Ancestor of Spirit, and many traditions include remembrances of their own spiritual ancestors. When we re-member, we put the members back together, we reassemble a life and recount its impact.

Multiple stories mean multiple examples and models of choice and action. Each ancestor points to another possibility today.

6) Be(com)ing an Ancestor

Wants and desires define the ancestors, shape their legacy in us, as they define me and each of us and the legacies we leave. What I want is love and direction and purpose. What I desire may or may not bring me any closer to those things — may well change hour to hour, day to day, with an attractive face on the way to posting a letter, a split-second decision to take a different route through town, that impulse buy that leads to so many further consequences, the online comment that backfires or unfolds a friendship, the unplanned event that proves crucial to so much that follows.

Sorting these things out in worlds of time and space is what makes each of us an ancestor-in-training. What do I know, what do I need to review, what have I not yet discovered or explored?

More spirals await.

7) Regular Samhain

Samhain is the end of the Celtic year, and also — blessed paradox — the beginning of a new year. I witness the cycles of my life, its ends and beginnings, in spirals within spirals. Our normal short-term attention is between 3 and 10 seconds, and that window of awareness has a start and an end, a dimension and rhythm worth studying and exploring. So too does the cycle of waking, daytime experience and sleep.

Beyond that is the lunar cycle, so useful as a model for working with cycles on a scale most can manage, even in busy modern lives. The three days of dark in each monthly cycle encourage a practice of letting go and picking up again, can allow for a physical correlate to deep meditation, for other kinds of work with the pattern of Samhain of endings and beginnings, at different scales than just the calendar year.

Spirals within spirals form a spiritual reality and offer a model for a vital practice that proves flexible and adaptable to individual circumstances, shapes our lives however we live them, and links us to ancestral wisdom and presence in ways I’m still discovering, as are we all.

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A Walk with the Green Rabbi   2 comments

This is another Druidry-and-Christianity post, so those of you who can feel your blood pressure rising already might want to keep on moving. Please respect your own spiritual digestion! Come back next post. Care for yourself and others in this time, as you uniquely know and are learning how to do.

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We have a human need to name causes. We want to know the formative energies behind things. We learn from experience that such knowledge often eases our hearts, even a little, if we can just spot a pattern, detect a design, rustle up a reason.

Often enough, too, knowing a cause helps in shaping a result we desire. With a sense of trajectory, maybe we can define points along the way, formulate strategies, work on means and ends. How to get there from here.

I run into Josh* again, the Green Rabbi. Many have heard of him. His stories are full of birds and beasts, flowers and fields, and often he just gets things, things I know I need to hear. He comes to all kinds of circles and protests, gatherings and prayer sessions, where he doesn’t always immediately stand out in a crowd. Parties, too. Maybe you saw him a few weeks ago, talking with that old guy at the end of the bar. Or sitting with refugees huddled in their tents, listening. Once in a while, you might catch a glimpse of him in the mirror. He doesn’t shy away from the tough questions, or doing what’s needed himself, rather than waiting on somebody else.

One day as Josh passed by, he saw a man he knew, blind from birth. And his students asked him, “Rabbi, who messed up, this man or his parents, so that he was born blind?” 

It’s a great question, one you may find yourself asking along with me and many others right about now. Why are things like this?

Twenty centuries ago, the Green Rabbi faces that question-impulse in his students, and fields one of the Big Questions: cause and effect.

This time his students present him with what looks like yet another obvious karmic either-or. It’s gotta be A or B. One or the other. Cut and dried. My bad skin (or my amoral heart) is either my own doing, or it’s the result of bad upbringing. Choose. Nature or nurture, person or person’s parents.

Then, QED. Tell me who’s at fault so I can assign blame, and if it’s not my fault, I can wrap it up neatly in a crimson bow. Put it on a shelf. And all too conveniently forget about it. Not my monkey, not my circus.

Wait, says my life. Not so fast.

Josh answered, “This man hasn’t messed up, and neither have his parents: it’s so Spirit could manifest in him.

The cause doesn’t always matter as much as we might think. More than we imagine, it’s the seed of possibility in the moment that counts. A potential. The chance for something that wasn’t there before. What chance, and whose? Well, anybody’s — anybody who can help Spirit appear more vividly and effectually right now. And that’s all of us. It is, if we accept it, a spiritual opportunity. Whatever the cause, what can I manifest in the space it has shaped?

More surprise. Josh doesn’t push the responsibility of making the most of such an opportunity onto anybody else. Instead, he applies it to himself, rolls up his sleeves, and starts yet again walking his talk. I know I learn from that kind of model. It’s an ongoing struggle for me, against my tendency to say “other people’s problems” and turn back to my own stuff.

Josh tries to explain:

I work with what spirit sends me, while it’s still day: the night comes, when nobody can work. As long as I’m in the world, I’m the light of the worldAfter he said that, he spat on the ground, and made clay, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, and said to him, Go wash in the pool. The blind man went, and washed, and came back able to see.

Light and earth, water and Spirit. Elemental powers we all hold in our hands.

When I “come back”, I’m not always able to see all that clearly. But Josh nods. That, I can see. OK, among everything else these things can mean, for me they signal I’ve got work to do. And — blessed chance! — there’s still light to do it by.

A meditation for the day:

Light: what is spirit showing me right now? What can I do with that insight or perception?

Earth: how can I manifest it in concrete ways? What’s the earth of it?

Water: what is fluid and supple in my life, what is flowing that I can participate in and help to shape for the good of all? Where can I flow for others, helping to unstick the stuckness we all labor with?

Spirit: what humble forms does life use to reach and teach me? How does spirit animate and enliven my life today? How can I open to more opportunities for that to happen? As a Wise One said, When we tune in, our talents and skills are used in ways we enjoy. Let my prayer be full of life, let my life make use of me for my good, yes, mixed with the good of those around me.

And my prayer for you is the same. May you delight in the uses spirit makes of your life. May you name and explore and celebrate some of those uses today.

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*Josh, popular short form of Joshua, from Hebrew Yehoshua; related name Yeshua, Greek Jesus. How many of us react automatically to names that have emotional loading for us, as the name Jesus does for people traumatized by bad religion and its practitioners. This is one of my transparent and unoriginal attempts to unload a name, to shift perception, even if only a little. I know I need that. Your mileage may vary.

Ritual, Consciousness, Inclusion   Leave a comment

A current article about an autistic boy denied First Communion (link to USA Today) in his family’s church raises interesting questions. The child is “100% non-verbal”, and the family’s priest says that speaking is an essential part of the ritual — participants in a First Communion must be able to say certain words as part of their preparation.

If the form of a rite is all-important, this makes sense: if you can’t access the form, the ritual benefit doesn’t accrue to you, so there’s no point in you participating.

Does Druid ritual work the same way? In many ways, and at first glance, it certainly does. While anyone who can respect a ritual space and other people in it is usually very welcome at any of the “Great Eight” seasonal rituals*, if those people are autistic, it’s true they may not be able to process — through language — all that takes place.

And a Druid group initiation typically relies even more on language: a set of questions and responses, verbal cues and directions to follow, speaking sacramental ritual words, and so on.

moonreach

No words needed to reach for the moon …

But anyone who’s been moved non-verbally by an experience knows language is just one of many means at our disposal to experience and honor each other, access energy, manifest intent, link to spiritual presence, the sacred. People carry babies into both Christian and Pagan ritual spaces, cats and dogs often wander freely in and out of Pagan sacred circles, and small children are welcome as long they’re not disruptive.

If you’re in a sacred space and have silenced your own inner chatter enough to permit yourself some alertness to Others, you may know the presence of entities who don’t “talk” and can still communicate just fine. How many of us have heeded “nudges” and “gut feelings” to our advantage? We don’t “need” ritual to encounter the sacred: we all participate in it all the time. Life is sacrament: ritual helps to sharpen our consciousness of this spiritual fact.

Would a Druid Order or less formal Gathering “ban an autistic person from an initiation”? Instead, let’s reframe the question: how might Druids accommodate those who rely on other modes than language to access the sacred? Could we prepare them with appropriate modes of experience and instruction to participate? Could we then compose a ritual for them both to catalyze an experience and to welcome them into another state of awareness?

These questions begin to suggest their own answers. Creating “appropriate modes of experience and instruction” would most probably ask for close collaboration between a ritual designer and the families and friends of autistic people. After all, they possess crucial insight into means: they know better than anyone that the autistic person particularly likes this animal and has papered her bedroom walls with pictures of it, shows especial connection to X place, connecting to its trees and stones, has always preferred the colour Y, loves that song by Z, and so on.

Out of such things, both instruction and a “capstone” ritual can be drafted. Good ritual design means hallowing such associations, and making much of them. The personal details of our lives are already the rough material that spirit uses to reach us in a myriad of ways, and human differences like autism needn’t “make a difference” in this spiritual truth.

If we take it to heart, using the vehicle of Christian language, that the “Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath”, we know that forms are secondary to spiritual purpose. Yes, a legalistic mindset can also quote scripture for its purpose — “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle** shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” — and we’ve seen all too often how the “jot-and-tittlers” of the world tend to latch onto power and lord it over others wherever they can.

But in the middle of where I am right now, rather than worrying over-much about what other people are doing, I can attend to my own life: how am I called today to help spirit flow into this situation, this moment, this time and place? My work is to answer that call, that question, that spiritual summons, with all the love and creativity I can muster.

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*The approximate dates of the “Great Eight” seasonal rituals of the “Wheel of the Year” of much Druidry and modern Paganism:

Samhain/Hallowe’en/All Hallows, Oct. 31/Nov. 1

Yule/Winter Solstice/Alban Arthan, December 21

Imbolc/Groundhog Day/Candlemas, February 1/2

Spring Equinox/Alban Eilir/Ostara, March 21

Beltane/May Day, May 1

Summer Solstice/Litha/Alban Hefin, June 21

Lunasa/Lughnasadh/Lammas, August 1

Autumn Equinox/Mabon/Alban Elfed, September 21

**The English equivalent is “dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s”.

Image: Pexels.com

Flame, Holy and Mundane   Leave a comment

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

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

So we call it back.

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

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

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

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

But the daily practice can be framed another way.

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

That’s all.

It won’t take but a second”.

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

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

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

In Working the Tool-kit, I wrote:

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

Or as mage and author Josephine McCarthy describes it,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damh continues:

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

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

Where is the fire still burning?

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Seven Flames for Meditation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Image: Pexels.com

“Am I Crazy, or Just Fabulous?”   Leave a comment

(And are those my only options?)

The title comes from a casual workshop comment on the awen with Welsh Druid Kristoffer Hughes at East Coast Gathering a couple years ago. As we take our first steps in this fabulously crazy year of 2020, it’s a superlatively appropriate question to ask.

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“May your bridge be a star, and your star a bridge” — Winston-Salem, NC. April ’19

Or to take it for a spin, account for your life in your own way, on your own terms, and you may well see a change — especially if you respond to some of its challenges with mu — that great Zen keyword which in at least some traditions means “un-ask the question”.

Let’s consider for a moment the joys of those being our options: a touch of insanity, or unsurpassed excellence. Make these specifically Druid madness and marvelousness, and you just might be onto something. Especially if you mix them …

The counsel of a bard — Gerard Manley Hopkins, that blessed fool of Victorian England, writes in “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” (you know you’re near bardic territory with such titles):

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.

What I do is me … the greatest spell any of us will ever work. Each thing in the universe is dear for its individuality, its singularness. Irreplaceable you.

Now to turn this potent enchantment to a purpose, rather than watch it subside into itself like a melted-down candle. How many of us are quite literally mis-spelled? That is to say, there are definite spells or enchantments in play, but they do not work wholly or even partly for our benefit. The spell is working counter to our purposes. (How many of the knights in Arthurian myth quest nobly for the Grail, and never catch even a glimpse of it? Or to quote author Feenie Ziner, who writes about her son’s quest in the wilderness for a truer vision than 70s America offered him, on any great moral journey, the devil is always a stowaway. We take the mis-spelling right along with us, we yield to almost any spiritual enchantment that comes along, especially if it’s cleverly packaged, and we give it space in our rucksacks and backpacks, a place on our storage shelves.)

So often we can hear other bards answering. They’re in endless conversation with each other, when they’re not sitting stunned after a visit from gods, or mead has simultaneously fired and rewired their inward sight, or a spell of solitude eventually returns them hungry for the magic of simple, daily things — a crackling fire, the wet nose or soft fur of a pet, the comfort of a friend’s presence when nobody needs to say anything at all. And sometimes they talk most when they find themselves right in the middle of these simple things. Because in the end, where else is there?

As the late author, mystic and former priest John O’Donohue puts it in Eternal Echoes*,

Each one of us is alone in the world. It takes great courage to meet the full force of your aloneness. Most of the activity in society is subconsciously designed to quell the voice crying in the wilderness within you. The mystic Thomas a Kempis said that when you go out into the world, you return having lost some of yourself. Until you learn to inhabit your aloneness, the lonely distraction and noise of society will seduce you into false belonging, with which you will only become empty and weary. When you face your aloneness, something begins to happen. Gradually, the sense of bleakness changes into a sense of true belonging. This is a slow and open-ended transition but it is utterly vital in order to come into rhythm with your own individuality. In a sense this is the endless task of finding your true home within your life. It is not narcissistic, for as soon as you rest in the house of your own heart, doors and windows begin to open outwards to the world. No longer on the run from your aloneness, your connections with others become real and creative. You no longer need to covertly scrape affirmation from others or from projects outside yourself. This is slow work; it takes years to bring your mind home.

The work of both Druid and Christian — as it is the work of anyone walking a “path with heart” — is to turn from the “seductions of false belonging”. Christians may call this “the world”, and offer strategies for dealing with it that are specific to their tradition. Such guidelines can be most helpful if, as my teacher likes to say, they’re truly a line to my guide, and not an obstacle to testing and knowing for myself.

More often than not, Druidry simply presents its particular practices and perspectives on living in harmony with nature, trusting that anyone who follows them deeply enough will discover much the same thing. Rather than do’s and don’t’s, it suggests try this out for yourself and see. (Imagine a more directive Druidry, a more experiential Christianity. What could happen?!)

One thing I admire about O’Donohue, and seek in other writers and teachers and traditions, and try to model myself if I can, is never to present a problem or criticize a behavior without also offering at least some strategies for negotiating it. Show me a how — and preferably more than one. A palette of choices.

Here O’Donohue spotlights one of the challenges the human world offers us — the seduction of false belonging, whether spiritual, political, romantic, economic, etc. — and identifies an answering response or strategy of finding our true home, of resting in the house of our own heart, of bringing the mind home.

Now these poetic expressions are lovely and metaphorical — at least until we begin to experience them for ourselves, and find out what they can mean for us. Every human life offers opportunities to do so, though one of the “seductions of false belonging” urges us to discount them, to treat them as idle fantasies, as pipe-dreams, to replace our instincts with advertising slogans. Cynicism about spiritual opportunities abounds, because like so much else, hucksters have sought to monetize them, to profit off our naivete and first attempts to build that true home, to rest in the heart-house. Nothing drives us from such homes like mockery and shame.

Mis-spell me, spell me wrong, and I’ll look everywhere but in a song to tell me what I need to know, where I want to go. Home is the poem I keep writing with my life.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of my daily go-to practices involves singing the awen, what I’ve also called the “cauldron sound” in Druid terms. Others know it as the hu, the original voice that sings in everything. Hindus call it om, and Christians term it the Word of God, the “amen, the faithful and true witness”. You encounter mention of it in many different traditions around the planet, because it appears to have an objective reality (and that’s something to explore, rather than accept — or reject — dogmatically).

Here’s a short video of Philip Carr-Gomm and Eimear Burke leading a chant of the Irish equivalent imbas: One key is to experiment — find the song, the word, the home that fits. And hermit-crab-like, move when it no longer can house you, or shelter your spirit. 

And one Druidic extension of these practices can be to search out and experiment with sounds and voices specific to our individual heart-homes and houses. Our spirit animals can be helpful in this pursuit, alerting us to inward places to visit, and situations to avoid, or plunge into. Or as the Galilean master noted, “In my father’s house are many dwelling-places”.

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*O’Donohue, John. Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong. HarperPerennial, (reprint of 1999 original), 2000.

Omen Days 5 and 6: Stars and Ice   2 comments

Omen Days [ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5-6 | 7-9 | 10-11 | 12-13 ]

Two nights ago, I turned to look at the clock on my nightstand, the pale phosphorescent numbers showing almost 2:00 am. Then I heard my wife moving in the hall outside the bedroom.

What is it? I asked.

The stars woke me up, she said.

A little shiver, of awe and pleasure both, at those words. And yes, with a few steps across the kitchen toward our boots, and quiet laughter as we stumbled out the front door to look, the clear night sky above us flamed with stars. So many cities now glow with light pollution at night that you can no longer look up and see the stars. How helpful the present darkness, for seeing the splendor of the light.

(Here for my daily augury I take up a typo from an earlier draft of this post — I’d quoted Aleister Crowley’s famous line from his Book of the Law (1), but with one additional letter at the end: “Every man and woman is a start”. I laughed a good while over that one. Yes, I’m a beginning, a work in progress, raw materials like all of us are. So just keep going, says Spirit.)

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Year-end storms brush much of the U.S. this week. The northeast is seeing sleet and ice, rain and snow for a couple of days, leaving roads treacherous. Some New Hampshire friends have taken to heart the Icelandic tradition of  Jólabókaflóð — literally, “Yule-book-flood”, and have provided themselves with ample reading material for whatever the weather brings.

iceeverg

outside our front door this morning

“Wind and ice are the only deciders of symmetry”, writes upstate New York poet Linda Allardt (2). “Survival makes do for grace”. Some winter days, especially in a northern climate, you can feel the truth of that right down into your bones.

The Galilean Master tried to teach “spiritual meteorology” to his followers: “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?” (3). I religiously check “the weather” each morning, but too often ignore my “spiritual climate”, which includes our physical one. The analogy hits home: weather is to climate, as mood is to spiritual climate. The former changes day by day, while the latter’s a long-term trend.

[For what I’ve come to understand, over a decade of study, is a fairly accurate projection of our climate future, take a look at articles like this one in The Guardian: “The Climate Crisis in 2050: What Happens if Cities Act but Nations Don’t” . Rather than pure depressing statistics, it reflects and extrapolates from the present reality, as the subheading names it, that “It is cities, not national governments, that are most aggressively fighting the climate crisis”. And if you’re still too optimistic, this second article can really help cure that.

I don’t know about you, but for me clear vision is preferable to hysteria and paranoia any day. This one possible future may indeed be grim, but there’s room for human hands and hearts to shape its form and direction, and avert its worst features, as we’re beginning to do, albeit in fits and starts. And as a strong believer in reincarnation, I suspect I’ll likely be back again in the middle of it, dealing with it as best I can, along with a good number of others alive today. From this perspective, it’s good to start equipping myself now with the spiritual tools I’ll need to work with then.]

So there you have it. I’ve written a post that has Jesus, Aleister Crowley, and climate change in it, and it sorta kinda maybe even coheres.

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(1) Book of the Law, Ch. 1, verse 3.

(2) The Names of the Survivors (Ithaca House, 1979). Cursory info on Allardt here.

(3) Matthew 16:3.

Omen Days 1: Going “Dvoverian”   Leave a comment

Omen Days [ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5-6 | 7-9 | 10-11 | 12-13 ]

Earlier today my co-admin Steve on the Druid and Christianity Facebook group posted this link to one of Caitlin Matthews’ blogposts from several years back about “Omen Days” — the southern Celtic (Wales and Brittany) tradition of using the Twelve Days of Christmas for divination. As an intercalary period, one literally “between the calendar(s)”, from Christmas to Twelfth Night or Epiphany on January 6, the days have long been considered “time out of time”, and therefore especially apt for such practices. Like the holy space of a ritual, set aside from ordinary time, the Twelve Days are — or can be — magical.

In some versions of the divination, each day aligns with one month of the year: December 26th with January, December 27th with February, and so on, offering a particular flavor to the practice.

Looking, too, for a link between solar and lunar calendars, it seemed fitting to me to make it 13 days, starting on Christmas Day, rather than just 12 by starting the day-count after, on the 26th. But there is a new moon on the 26th this year, and that can play into any decision.

And when we consider that this period after the solstice is a liminal one, open as at Samhain to the Ancestors and the spiritual realm, it’s worth reflecting on Dickens’ choice to set his “sacred holiday ghost story” of A Christmas Carol during this interval, with its Druidic as well as Christian series of three spirits, and we can enjoy as well such a context for other stories, like those of the Wild Hunt, active in the winter and so around Yule, and the Medieval “Day of Misrule”, the inversion of “normal” order, on Twelfth Night itself.

In the same post, Matthews mentions dvoverie, a Russian word meaning dvo “two” verie “faiths”  — or holding “two beliefs”, a word to describe the persistence of an old worldview after the arrival of a new one. (The Russian ver– is cognate with our Latin-derived verity — “truth”. Two truths for one.)

For a while this cultural expression was thought to characterize or be unique to Russia, especially prevalent among folk practices. Think of our ongoing custom of treating the sun as if it rises and sets each day, in spite of astronomical awareness that it’s the earth that moves, not the sun. Though this source go so far as to call dvoverie “an academic myth”, as if dismissing something as a “myth” makes it untrue, rather than simply ahistorical, I’d argue we’re all quite “dvoverian”, and in more ways than we might imagine.

In some Christian circles, it’s true, the lament persists that certain symbols, practices and beliefs are “Pagan”, “not Biblical”, etc. Pagans sometimes return the favor. (Personally, I find such “purity tests” too often lead to sub-optimal results, just like they do for many women today in only slightly different circumstances, and for often similar reasons.) I’d prefer to ask those symbols, practices and beliefs: “Are you worthwhile? Do you grant insight, increase our understanding, grow our capacity for gratitude and love?”

(And lest we too quickly conclude that divination is never a Christian practice, we have only to look at the Apostles drawing lots in order to identify Matthias as a replacement for Judas Iscariot in the Book of Acts, or at ancient practices in Israel. St. Thomas Aquinas among many others exercised himself on the topic in his Summa Theologica.)

Let’s make Omen Days a “dvoverian” experiment.

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My divination today follows the practice of asking my question outdoors, then spinning around eyes closed, opening them to the first thing seen, or asking the question indoors and then going outdoors to observe whatever offers itself. In either case, the sign or omen is what first comes to the attention.

“What can these divinations teach me?”

jet-trail2

For me it was jet-trail and birdsong — the seen and the heard at the same time. I looked up to see the jet-trail, and then I became aware of the song. The trail had no sound, the song no visible bird. A useful reminder that a single sense rarely provides all the evidence, or any kind of “complete picture” (note the bias toward the visual in such expressions!).

If you live in an urban area near an airport, of course, this may prove no omen at all for you. (That’s why omens are not universal signs, in spite of our best attempts to codify the cosmos.) But in southern Vermont, a plane of any size passing over is unusual. Except for June or July, when the nearest airbase sometimes makes training runs for days at a time over Vermont (and usually seems to halt each time the complaints reach a certain threshold), a flyover merits attention.

The birdsong belonged to a song sparrow, a very common bird, a cheery voice for our northern winters. No, it wasn’t a Raven, or some other bird with mythic weight and portent to weigh down an omen till it crumbles under its own gravity. If I want to push it even a little, I might recall the Gospel verse: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care”.

Here’s a Youtube video of a song sparrow in our neighboring state of New York:

The worlds of human (jet) and animal (bird) need not be opposed, and aren’t at heart separate worlds at all, in spite of our unwise attempts to uphold such a false division. The Song all around and within us keeps rising, in spite of our jet-trails, in spite of our restlessness to be somewhere else other than where we are. We hear it. How can we heed it more fully?

2020: jet-trail and birdsong — a divination of our times.

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