Archive for the ‘Letchworth Park’ Tag

Virtual Solstices — June 2017   Leave a comment

midnightsunfairbanks

midnight sun — Fairbanks, Alaska

Ah, Summer Solstice, almost upon us. Time of greatest light, and — with the kind of paradox implicated in so many human experiences — the start of a slow turn toward longer nights and shorter days.

So many solstices in our lives. Make a list for yourself. How many times has a peak — longed for, striven for, suffered and sacrificed for — also signaled its own diminishment? How often does crest drag trough along with it? And how many times has this seemed like a sad, bad or terrible thing?

If I search even briefly on Youtube, log in to my handful of friendly Pagan Facebook groups, read a blog, or play some of the latest computer games with their massive, nimble and interactive CGI engines and palettes, I can savor a virtual festival or gathering or historical re-creation: case in point, here’s a Stonehenge app.

I love the definition of “virtual” at dictionary.com: “being such in power, force, or effect, though not actually or expressly such”. It’s only the third definition that’s explicitly cybernetic: “temporarily simulated or extended by computer software”.

“A reality in power, force or effect that is temporarily simulated” by humans is a fair definition of ritual, including the last major dinner you had with family. Unplug, and your reality gets only more virtual — closer to “real” reality.

Isn’t every reality “virtual”?! (“My reality’s more virtual than yours!” “New and improved reality: 37% more virtual than the leading competition!”)

So what are my responses to the questions I posed back in that second paragraph? I’m putting myself on the spot here, because I asked you to do the same. If you haven’t, do you know what you’re missing?

How many times has a peak also signaled its diminishment?

Well, every time I can think of. From what I’ve seen, that’s how we define a peak, how we recognize it at all. I wake on the morning of either solstice, summer or winter, and know that though I can’t see it yet, the shift’s begun. Pay careful attention and you can feel it, something about the light, something you can almost hold in your hands, or feel along your spine, a kind of undertone to each day, a melody just below the threshold of hearing. (Ritual works, among other things, to amplify the melody just a little, so we can hear, honor, learn from, cooperate with it. Music of the spheres, voice of a god, thrum of blood in our veins, all, none, the same.)

But with the drag and inertia of this dense, physical world, there’s often a delay in change manifesting. The greatest heat’s yet to come after the longest day. July and August will bring it in swaths. The sharpest cold arrives a couple months following the shortest day, late January and February breathing down our necks, here in Vermont.

How often does crest drag trough along with it?

Pretty much always. Optimist or pessimist, conspiracy theorist or activist, conservative or liberal, I pick my favorite “partialist” partisan, or out myself as one. I choose which part of the cycle I want to focus on and ignore the rest of it. Trough, crest, average of the two, nudging the shape of the curve to resemble the wing of a bird or a turtle’s shell — I take my pick of virtual realities, and make it my reason for living. I establish “a reality in power, force or effect that is temporarily simulated”! (Or fail to do so, doubtless because of the machinations of some evil Other.)

Ritual says Look. Listen. Look again, wider. And again.

And how many times has this seemed like a sad, bad or terrible thing?

Solstice says Here are light and warmth and life. Like that old but choice piece of wisdom also says, To everything there is a season. And a Pagan adds And a ritual to go along with it.

Marcus Aurelius observed, “…the nature of the Universe loves nothing so much as to change the things which are, and to make new things like them”.

[But it’s this one I love! I cry. This one I’ve lost, the one I will lose, one like no other. The sun of my life will go down, and nothing to be done about it.]

So I make it one of my spiritual practices to try out the wisdom of that crazy old Bard, Ezra Pound, in his 81st Canto: “What thou lovest well remains,/the rest is dross/What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee/What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage”.

Oh Ezra, you say it with such conviction! But I’m (mostly) no fool. How — in what ways — is this true, for me anyway? (You must answer for you.) Are some ways truer than others? How can even one of them shape a sorrow, deepen a joy? Are there exceptions? And what do they teach? The Bardic gift may often be the gift of song first, but I need not drop good sense. Let melody carry me to a fuller measure of wisdom.

(Dross, how much of my life have I poured out in loving and losing you? A ritual to leave dross behind, recycle it, hand it over for composting.)

That’s one of my Solstice meditations, as virtual — full of virtue and power — as I can make it.

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Depending on your geography, you may witness six seasons, or two, or nearly none at all, if you’re living in the equatorial tropics.

wny-lake-effect-snow-totals-21nov14

winter 2014 “lake effect” snowstorm

Growing up west of the Finger Lakes in New York, I knew Summer Solstice meant school was out for the summer — hail, Alice Cooper! (With all the snow days likely in lake-effect country, with the heavy wet snows typical around Erie and Ontario, easternmost of the Great Lakes, some years it was mid-June before we’d made up all the missed classes. The year I graduated high school was one of the latest because of the Blizzard of ’77.)

balingIt meant the first cutting of hay went to silage, or — if the weather was unusually dry for green, wet western New York, we cut, raked, and baled it, and ferried wagon after wagon of it to the dark, looming haymow. Under the gray asphalt shingles that covered the immense gambrel roof, you’d sweat just standing still in the dim half-light, waiting for the elevator to drop seemingly endless bales as you scurried to stack and balance on the slowly rising tiers.

Solstice meant calves born in our summer pastures, either one of two 25-acre spreads of grazing, hills and thickets and streams, with a newborn easily hidden by its mother in grass already waist-high by late June. Solstice marked whether we’d likely prevail once again with our corn-crop and the annual proverbial goal:  “knee-high by the Fourth of July”.

Solstice meant wrapping up a freshman biology project at year’s end: I recorded how on average I consumed 5000 calories a day once summer farm work began, and as a rangy and growing 15-year-old I still lost weight.

Solstice meant lilacs, rhubarb, strawberries, new-mown grass, the sustained spike in the cream content of our cows’ milk, once they could graze the pastures — a luscious languor that matched the blissful coolness of summer evenings moderated by the massive heat-sinks of nearby lakes the size of small oceans.

letchworth

Letchworth State Park, middle & upper falls

Solstice always arrived a scant few days before my parents’ anniversary, always the occasion for a family picnic in nearby Letchworth State Park, 14,000 acres of Genesee river-gorge and hiking trails and secluded picnic spots.

Solstice set the rhythm of my late boyhood.

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Cathasach: The rhythm of eternity in a world of change can only manifest as cyclic change.

Mathghamhain: You say that. But what does it signify? Even granting such a thing as eternity —

Cathasach: Eternity’s not a thing. Language misleads us. We think there are individual things we can choose to believe in or not, rather than how stuff is. The stuff we use to believe or disbelieve in something is part of what we believe or doubt. Can’t get outside it and be “objective” about it. Among all the other things eternity does is time.

Mathghamhain: Ah, you quibble now.

Cathasach: Not at all. I challenge. What is a cycle but a pattern of regular change, a wheel that rolls, that spirals rather than digging a rut?

Mathghamhain: It’s not stationary, but it returns, yes. On that we can agree.

stonehenge-solstice-sunset

Stonehenge Solstice Sunset

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Images: midnight sun, Fairbanks, Alaskalake effect snow; baling hay; Letchworth State Park; 2005 Solstice at Stonehenge.

Alice Cooper, Ezra Pound, the Solstice, western NY, and Druidry: not where I’d intended to go at first!

Shinto and Shrine Druidry 2   1 comment

[Shinto & Shrine Druidry 1 | 2 | 3] [Shinto — Way of the Gods ]
[Renewing the Shrine 1 | 2][My Shinto 1 | 2]

Spider web

The continuing interest among visitors here at A Druid Way in the posts on Shinto says hunger for the Wild, for spiritual connection to wilderness and its rejuvenating spirit, and potentially for Shrine Druidry, remains unabated.  No surprise — in our hunger we’ll turn almost anywhere.  What forms our response to such hunger may take is up to us and our spiritual descendants.  Spirit, the goddesses and gods, the kami, the Collective Unconscious, Those Who Watch, your preferred designation here _____, just might have something to say about it as well.

What we know right now is that we long for spirit, however we forget or deny it, papering it over with things, with addictions and with despair in this time of many large challenges — a hunger more alive and insistent than ever.  And this is a good thing, a vital and necessary one.  In an artificial world that seems increasingly to consist of hyped hollowness, we stalk and thirst for the real, for the healing energies the natural world provides all humans as a birthright, as participants in its “spiritual economy” of birth, growth, death and rebirth.

As physical beings we live in a world where breathing itself can be a spiritual practice, where our heartbeats sound out rhythms we are born into, yet often and strangely have tried to flee.  Even this, my sadness and loss, can be prayer, if I listen and let them reach and teach me, if I walk with them toward something larger, yet native to blood and bone, leaf and seed, sun and moon and stars. Druidry, of course, is simply one way among many to begin.

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If you know Kipling‘s Just So stories, you’re familiar with “The Cat That Walked By Himself.”  The cat in question consistently asserts, “All places are alike to me.”  But for people that’s usually NOT true. Places differ in ease of access, interest, health, natural beauty, atmosphere — or, in convenient shorthand, spirit.  Shrines acknowledge this, even or especially if the shrine is simply a place identified as Place, without any sacred buildings like Shinto has — a place celebrated, honored, visited as a destination of pilgrimage, as a refuge from the profane, as a portal of inspiration.

Here’s a local (to me) example of a place in Vermont I’ll be visiting soon and reporting on, one that sounds like an excellent direction for a Shrine Druidry of the kind people are already starting to imagine and create. It’s called Spirit in Nature, and it’s a multi-faith series of meditation trails with meditation prompts.  Its mission statement gets to the heart of the matter:

Spirit in Nature is a place of interconnecting paths where people of diverse spiritual traditions may walk, worship, meet, meditate, and promote education and action toward better stewardship of this sacred Earth.

Spirit in Nature is a non-profit, 501 (c)3 tax-exempt organization, always seeking new members, local volunteers to build and maintain paths, financial contributions, and interest from groups who would like to start a path center in their own area.

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So much lies within the possible scope of Shrine Druidry it’s hard to know where to start.  Many such sites (and more potential sites) already exist in various forms. Across Europe, and to a lesser degree in North America (public sites, that is: private Native American and Pagan sites exist in surprising numbers), are numerous sacred-historical sites (some of which I’ll examine in a coming post), often focusing around a well, cave, tree, waterfall, stone circle, garden, grove, etc. Already these are places of pilgrimage for many reasons: they serve as the loci of national and cultural heritage and historical research, as commemorative sites, spiritual landmarks, orientations in space and time, as treasures of ethnic identity — the list goes on.  Quite simply, we need such places.

Lower Falls, Letchworth St. Pk, NY. Image by Wikipedia/Suandsoe.

Lower Falls, Letchworth St. Pk, NY. Image by Wikipedia/Suandsoe.

The national park system of the U.S., touted as “America’s Best Idea” (also the title of filmmaker Ken Burns’ series), was established to preserve many such places, though without any explicit markers pointing to spiritual practice.  But then of course we already instinctively go to parks for healing and restoration, only under the guise of “vacations” and “recreation.” And many state parks in the U.S. extend the national park goal of preserving public access to comparatively unspoiled natural refuges. Growing up, I lived a twenty-minute bike ride from Letchworth State Park in western NY: 14,000 acres of forest surrounding deep (in places, over 500 feet) gorges descending to the Genesee River.  Its blessing follows me each time I remember it, or see an image of it, and in attitudes shaped there decades ago now. May we all know green cathedrals.

I’ll talk more about shrines on other scales, small and large, soon, and tackle more directly some of the similarities and differences between Shinto and Druidry.  I’ll also look at some of the roles practitioners of earth-centered spiritualities can — and already do — play in connection to the creation and support of shrines.

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Images: spider web; Lower Falls at Letchworth State Park, New York.

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