Archive for the ‘John Beckett’ Tag

3D: Divination, Discernment, Dreaming   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | 2 | 3]

I wrote up a version of the following for my journal, a practice in itself, and now for this post.

John Beckett’s helpful article “A Pagan Framework for Discernment” suggests a three-part approach for anyone doing the hard work of sifting experience and belief for their weight and significance and value. “Religious and spiritual ideas”, he observes, “are notoriously resistant to proof, as our atheist friends like to remind us. But if we wait on absolute proof, we’ll end up abandoning beliefs and practices that are meaningful and helpful to us.”

Divination is a useful practice at such a juncture, for several reasons. First, it acknowledges a need for help. I’m never alone, though too often I face challenges as if I am. [As that Christian triad (Matthew 7) has it, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you”. No, really!]

Second, divination gives me “something to do” that often relaxes the inner channels sufficiently that I’ll receive guidance “before” I actually do the divination. There’s little support or comprehension in our culture for anyone who talks about “voices in the head” — that kind of talk is one step toward getting you committed. So be careful who you talk to, I hear. Maybe if you started out committed, I hear, you’d know better how to respond to “voices in the head”. Rather than ignoring them, freaking, or heeding them unthinkingly, we’d assume there’s a wider range of options from which to choose.

Third, divination offers suggestions and potential wisdom apart from the usual gossipy, opinionated mechanical self that pretends to conscious awareness most days. Wisdom received often has a qualitative difference from what I’d usually say to myself.

“A belief is true if it works”, Beckett continues, “if it conforms to known facts, and if it’s helpful. But some factors have no bearing on truth even though we might wish they did.”

With such things in my thought as I consider how Thecu initiated communication a couple years ago, and then again recently, I ask for guidance on divination, figuring I’ll draw a card or three from a deck to assess possible directions. To my surprise I’m told to make an impromptu “deck” of nine folded pieces of paper. “Let each be a doorway”, I hear. That’s not quite right; there are no audible words. But the sensation is the same; the words are in my mind.

IMG_1738After I prepare the papers and document the moment with a photograph, almost before I can ask for the next step, I’m given nine words or names to write on them: hampu, lutec, nef, abal, tahilte, renha, lam, tseme, umun. Then, as smoothly as the sense of guidance arrived, it falls away, and I’m left with no further sense of direction. Upheld, then let down.

While the linguist in me putters in the background, turning over the names for a clue to their origin and meanings, I light a small candle and some incense, as much to forestall disappointment as anything else. The incense is homemade, from a workshop some years ago. It needs intermittent relighting, but that’s OK. I send out a silent “thanks and query” with each relighting. It feels right to do so.

Perhaps half an hour later, I receive further instruction, as I’m making some notes about a job lead: “The nine words are associated with the numbers 1 to 9. They are not numbers themselves, but they belong with them. Write the numbers on the cards you made in the order the words came.”

The following day I light candle and incense again, and add a spoken element. As I listen, I try pairing Thecu’s name with each of the nine words, in an impromptu chant, each pair repeated twice, with some playful riffs: “hampu Thecu, hampu Thecu, lutec Thecu, tec, tec Thecu, etc.” In one way, it’s nonsense, but all sound has a quality and an effect, so the practice is not a waste of time in any sense, unless I stupidly insist it is. I will practice this and listen again several more times to test it.

“We are wise”, Beckett closes, repeating his opening assertion,

to focus our attention on our actions rather than on our beliefs. But our actions generate experiences, and in our attempt to interpret and understand our experiences we form beliefs. Our experiences may be so strong or so frequent we are certain our beliefs about them must be right, but if we are honest with ourselves, we can never be completely sure they are right.

But we can ask ourselves if our beliefs work, if they conform to known facts, and if they help us lead better lives. If we can answer yes to these three questions, we can be confident that they are as right as they can be.

How do I pray to you, goddess of storms?
Let this my prayer be a litany of questions.

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Review of John Beckett’s The Path of Paganism   2 comments

Beckett, John. The Path of Paganism: An Experienced-based Guide to Modern Pagan Practice. Woodbury, Minnesota: Llewellyn, 2017.

[Note: John is a fellow OBOD Druid. We’ve met at several Gatherings, I’ve gratefully used and credited his excellent photos in several previous posts here. We’ve talked on occasion, but I don’t know him well, except as a reader of his excellent blog [link below]. I participated in his moving Cernunnos rite a few years ago.

Usually I only review books I feel I can discuss insightfully and enthusiastically; The Path of Paganism certainly qualifies. I’m adding this personal note as brief background and for completeness.]

pathofpaganismJohn Beckett knows intimately the Pagan call to service. More importantly, he heeds it. On his Patheos blog and in this book, he serves both newcomers and experienced Pagans alike with insights and examples from his own experience at every turn. Rather than adding to the seemingly ever-growing list of “Paganism 101” books for beginners, replete with tables of correspondences, ready-made (and therefore usually too-generic) rituals, how-to’s and endless reading lists, John offers something far more useful.

Here is a book that can guide the reader into a personal exploration of what the path of Paganism can mean and where it may lead. While he sometimes suggests a range of possible answers, he’s more interested in helping us find questions worth asking. He may give us his answer, but it remains his. He never runs afoul of our sovereignty by claiming it’s THE answer. His examples, drawn from his experience, are meant to charge us up to find our own.

Rather than advocating for a particular Pagan ethics, for instance (Recycle! Eat organic! Protest X policy! Boycott Y or Z Company!), he says instead, “Go for a walk … When we establish our connections to the natural world, it begins to affect us. We start to feel the intrinsic value of nature, and we start thinking about what reverent care might look like” (pg. 58). He trusts the integrity of readers to decide for themselves.

Thus in a section on ritual, he writes: “A member of your Pagan group has asked you for an initiation. After some conversation you’re convinced the desire is genuine … You’re not part of an organization that has an established initiation ritual … Now what do you do? As with any new endeavor, begin by educating yourself. Fortunately, even though the details of most initiations are shrouded in secrecy, there’s a lot of information available on the internet – more than enough to give you a good idea of what to do and how to do it” (281). This is solid advice whether you want to self-initiate or initiate others.

As a ‘hard polytheist” or believer in the reality of distinct spiritual entities, John doesn’t shy away from hard questions. In a chapter titled “The Gods,” he notes, “If you’re on the cusp of being ready to hear, you may not know what to listen for. You may be inclined to interpet a religious experience in a nonreligious manner” (pg. 74) Rather than attempting to persuade or convert anyone to belief, however, John offers some useful tests to help anyone understand their experience. “If a god is calling you, odds are good they want you to do something: make an offering, tell a story, do something to help their work, or do something to make yourself ready to do something bigger at some point in the future. Be prepared to respond with action” (pg. 75). This is advice I can use right now: put into practice my current understanding, testing it for its validity.

John opens his book by observing, “No matter how you came to this point right here right now, wanting to learning more about Paganism, you aren’t starting from scratch” (pg. 1). As John makes his intention clear, this book can help activate things you already know. With supportive and enthusiastic reviews from Damh the Bard, Kristoffer Hughes of the Anglesey Druid Order, Kirk Thomas of ADF, and author and blogger Jason Mankey, this book will leave you highlighting parts of the text to try out and check back in with months and years down the road.

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Image: The Path of Paganism.

Thirty Days of Druidry 9: The Worship of Trees   2 comments

aerialroot

“Lately I have succumbed to an old atavistic urge: the worship of trees.”

So goes the opening line to the Telling the Bees’ marvelous song “The Worship of Trees.” On the particular Youtube version below, these words come just a little after the 1-minute mark. Druids are named for their association with trees, and I can think of no better way to communicate a Druidic response to the previous post, where in one section I talked about salvation as just one religious and spiritual alternative in spiritual practice. Druidry doesn’t seek salvation so much as wisdom and connection. If this is atavism, let’s make the most of it!

“Something deep inside of me yearns to be free.” This freedom is not merely a negative “freedom-from,” but a positive “freedom-for.” What do we long to do, what would we do, if we could? Unlike in “spiritual pollution” religions, in Druidry sin doesn’t eternally hold us back (though poor choices can for a time). The blessings of the natural world can heal more than we imagine. Especially when we see how large the borders of the “natural” reach, and how we and our bodies and our sciences and arts and spiritualities, our planet and solar system and galaxy, fit cozily in one small cosmic cubby.

“Lately I have touched the sublime, out of sight out of mind: the worship of trees.” It’s dangerous to state absolutes about something as fluid as Paganism or Druidry specifically, but I will nonetheless: most Druids accept the existence in some form of more than one plane of existence. Note I don’t say “believe “– it’s not a creed to recite each full moon, but an experiential awareness that the cosmos vibrates up and down a very wide range, and our human experience is only part of the bandwidth. Ecstatic experience can for a time open us to other portions of the band, and broaden our sense of its range and of what’s humanly possible too.

“Lately I have been flung into rustication: the worship of trees.” Part of the Druid experience — again, here I can generalize — is a sense of being part of something much larger than human only, something that sweeps us up in its flow and carries us with it along with everything else, in a direction that isn’t different from where we’re going anyway. It’s a harmonic of existence, and so it’s not something to fear or resist, but to study and harmonize with in our own ways, as each species does. Note that the existence of so many distinct species shows the flow needn’t extinguish individuality — it can also manifest through it. What is it in the flow that calls us with such a strong imperative? Only as humans can we deny or ignore the summons, though ultimately we’re borne along willy-nilly anyway.

“I’m too far in …”: some practices and ways of being in the world aren’t wholly “safe.” They may change you, change the environment, and have unforeseen (though not unforeseeable) consequences. John Beckett talks of “a certain forest god” he serves, Cernunnos, whose worship isn’t always comfortable or easy.

And to take things one more step, to the madness which exists in so many shapes we might say we’re all mad to a degree. We have our fixations, obsessions, relentless habits and cherished opinions. Some days it doesn’t take much to shove us a little further in one direction or another that may well land us outside what’s socially acceptable. The gods may be fine with our eccentricity. It’s other humans who get left shaking their heads — or burning down our houses and chasing us out of town. But in that madness, an ecstasy may empower you to open doors no one else can open, and you fulfill a great purpose that answers that “yearning to be free deep inside” which not just you but many feel. And like the leaves a tree drops each autumn, madness is one way to receive and transmute energy.

After all, I ask myself, would I really value a religion or spirituality that doesn’t include an edge?!

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IMAGES: trees with aerial roots.

East Coast Gathering 2015   5 comments

This last weekend marks the 5th East Coast Gathering I’ve attended, the 6th since its launch in 2010, and another gift of Spirit and mortal effort.

You can read my accounts of three of the previous years: 2012 | 2013 | 2014. A special thank-you to John Beckett, several of whose professional photographs illustrate this post. You can visit John’s own articulate and insightful blog “Under the Ancient Oaks: Musings of a Pagan Druid and Unitarian Universalist” over at Patheos here.

Camp Netimus -- photo courtesy Krista Carter

Camp Netimus — site of the ECG. Photo courtesy Krista Carter

 

Registration for the weekend filled within 20 hours of opening this last spring. Gatherings like this answer an obvious need in the Druid and Pagan community, and more are in the works in other locations. It’s on us to help make them happen. A dedicated team can bring the same joy, support, inspiration and community to other regions.

Yes, we’re all solitaries some or much of the time, but every solitary benefits from celebrating and learning in the company of others. That chance conversation, ritual insight, day- or night-dream, word or phrase that lights up just for you, the hugs you give and receive, the opportunities to serve the community through offering a workshop, cooking, cleaning, organizing, driving — these make Gatherings like this such richly rewarding experiences. The dark and light halves of each year are real, and we need all the help and laughter we can find to thread our way through the labyrinth of time.

 

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I arrived Thursday afternoon early enough to check in and unpack before the opening ritual. My cabin mates had already hoisted a banner, which also made the building easier to distinguish from the others in the dark, when the “9” on the door was no longer readily visible.

cabin banner

Cabin banner. Photo by A Druid Way

 

Equinox marks the shifting energies of days and nights, rebalancing the world. A lovely moon bore witness, waxing each evening through wonderfully clear skies, lighting the path to evening events like the Ovate initiation ritual and illuminating the short uphill walk from the cafeteria to the nightly fire circle.

The crescent moon. Photo courtesy John Beckett

Crescent moon in a twilit sky. Photo courtesy John Beckett

 

The theme this year was ritual, and the whole weekend focused our attention on its magical possibilities through a dozen workshops, demonstrations and ceremonies. You can get a sense of the range of approaches from the list of workshops here. We also welcomed returning U. K. guests Damh the Bard, Cerri Lee, and Kristoffer Hughes.

Cerri Lee, Damh the Bard and Kris Hughes. Photo courtesy John Beckett

Cerri Lee, Damh the Bard and Kris Hughes. Photo courtesy John Beckett

 

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Damh’s workshop on “The Bardic Voice” underscored the centrality of the Bard in Druidry. Like many Druid groups, OBOD orders its teaching in the sequence of Bard, Ovate and Druid. But they do not form a linear progress or erect a hierarchy of achievement. They spiral. In an Ovate breakout group a day later, several people mentioned how they often return to the Bardic coursework, its insights deepening through their Ovate practice. And likewise with the work of the Druid grade.

Damh is a fine teacher, an animated storyteller and ritualist of deep experience. With his wife Cerri he leads Anderida Grove. [For an audio inspiration, listen to his hour-long recording for inner journeying here.]

Damh in teaching mode. Photo courtesy John Beckett

Damh in teaching mode. Photo courtesy John Beckett

 

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Reminders of ritual possibility filled the weekend. Below is a picture of a labyrinth, another gift of the weekend, lovingly constructed by Cat Hughes and friends.

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Labyrinth by day — entrance. Photo by A Druid Way.

 

Volunteers switched on each light every evening, then turned them off again when everyone else had gone to bed.

Labyrinth by night. Photo courtesy Damh the Bard.

Labyrinth by night. Photo courtesy Damh the Bard.

 

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Kris’s workshop, “Laudanum, Literature and Liturgy — the Ritual Legacy of Iolo Morganwg,” featured the ritual — in Welsh — that Morganwg first performed on the Summer Solstice on Primrose Hill (London) in 1792, launching the Druid Revival and establishing the Welsh Gorsedd of Bards. Morganwg is also the author of the Druid’s Prayer, still used in many modern Druid groups including OBOD, and a major influence on generations of Druids from his time to the present. Kris’s Celtic eloquence in praise of Morganwg and his passion for Druidry took him off script and left many of us with tears in our eyes.

Kris during his workshop on Iolo Morganwg. Photo courtesy of Dana Wiyninger.

Kris during his workshop on Iolo Morganwg. Photo courtesy of Dana Wiyninger.

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Bill Streeter from the Delaware Valley Raptor Center, the charity designated for this year’s Gathering donation, brought six birds and made a fine presentation on raptors, their abilities, the dangers (mostly human) facing them, and the challenges of rehabilitating injured birds.

Bill Streeter of the DVRC with a golden eagle. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Bill Streeter of the DVRC with a golden eagle. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

These magnificent birds have often suffered neurological injuries that worsen over time. Though both the eagle above and the owl below look normal, both are blind in one or both eyes, or suffer other injuries like crippled wings, and thus could not survive in the wild. But the birds help save the lives of their kin through their appearances in info sessions like this one.

Great Horned Owl. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Great Horned Owl. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

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The Alban Elfed ritual celebrating the Equinox includes gifts from children, guests and each of the three grades of Bards, Ovates and Druids. Here are Chris and I holding bowls of acorns, part of the Ovates’ ritual gift, just before the ritual procession into the Circle.

Chris and I just before Alban Elfed ritual. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Chris (r) and I (l) just before Alban Elfed ritual. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

The evening eisteddfod (music and poetry circle) one night featured a splendid duet from Kris and Damh — see the image below.

Kris and Damh singing at the fire circle.

Kris and Damh singing at the fire circle. Photo courtesy Hex Nottingham.

Below is another pic of the fire circle one night. Our enthusiastic and skilful fire-makers Derek and Brom love large, carefully-constructed bonfires.

Fire. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Evening bonfire. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Once again Dana set up her meditation tent on the campground for all to visit and enjoy.

Approaching the tent. Photo courtesy Dana Wiyninger

Approaching the tent. Photo courtesy Dana Wiyninger

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Altar in Dana’s meditation tent on the camping field. Photo courtesy Hex Nottingham.

A small group made a side excursion to nearby Raymondskill Falls. Here’s a view of one of the waterfalls.

Raymondskill Falls. Photo courtesy of Gabby Batz Roberts.

Raymondskill Falls. Photo courtesy Gabby Batz Roberts.

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And for those of us who can’t wait an entire year, the Gulf Coast Gathering will celebrate its second year in March 2016. Blessings of the Equinox to all!

Know by Fact, Believe by Love   Leave a comment

The title for this post comes from an entry by fellow Druid John Beckett on his blog Under the Ancient Oaks, which is well worth frequenting.  John closes with these beautiful words: “What I cannot know by fact, I believe by love.”

So here’s my riff on it, a prayer-song and a poem and a question.  I know the hawk flies overhead; I believe he is kin to me because we arise from the same world, share the same earth, water and air, and will return to them.  I know my heart still beats as I write this; I believe I will have more opportunities to love before it finally stops.  I know the touch of my beloved; I believe what love has taught me outweighs college degrees and years in school.  I know the gifts of time and silence; I believe I can make use of them not only for my own benefit but to give back to life.  I know the sun shines behind this afternoon of cloud; I believe the shade to be necessary as the sun.  I know gratitude is a choice; I believe it is one of the most powerful choices I can make.  I know the snow covers part of a world once green; I believe it will turn green again for many millenia yet, the cycles continuing.  I know the spider I rescued from the bathtub yesterday counts for little against the hundred of bugs I have killed at other times; I believe life cannot be valued in numbers alone. I know many things hard to believe; I believe some things I may never know.  And I am content that this should be so.

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