Archive for the ‘magic’ Tag

Sigil Vigil   Leave a comment

Heartfelt thank-yous to you, my readers, for bringing page views to 90,000. I’m making a point of posting more regularly during these difficult times.

While this blog seems to be passing through a prolonged dry-spell with few comments, I draw encouragement from a steady international readership that averages about 50 visits a day. If what I write helps, encourages or just entertains you, please leave even a brief comment so I know I should keep doing what I’m doing. Your reaching out really matters and makes a difference!

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Watching for seals. No, not the sea-going mammals this time — the marks, glyphs, signs and symbols that we both make ourselves and also perceive in the natural world.

Tabloids regale us endlessly with pop-culture versions of this — for example, the face of Jesus burnt onto a piece of toast. Equivalent perceptions occur in other cultures with equivalent cultural icons (e.g., Buddha in the sky). Even normally restrained scientists have been known to join in: a 2019 article in Popular Mechanics gushes about the “real face” of Jesus, with this tagline “Advances in forensic science reveal the most famous face in history”. Feel the tug of that headline?

We ask “But is it real?” all the time, of a great number of things, many of which can’t (or shouldn’t) answer.

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MAGUS banner featuring the Gathering logo

Psychology explains these phenomena as instances of pareidolia — if you see the word “idol” within the word, that’s not a mistake. Pareidolia is, to borrow a rhyme, “seeing faces in unusual places”. You might find this article on the topic from LiveScience interesting. Our human tendency to detect patterns in seemingly random visual inputs is what makes the Rorschach inkplot test possible. It’s also part of a complex human survival skill with multiple consequences.

The ability to attend to a pattern, to give it a meaning, empowers signs and sigils, but of course also makes written language possible. The shapes of the 26 squiggles of the English alphabet have little to no inherent meaning (you might argue that the S is vaguely snake-like, and snakes hiss — hence, the s-sound), but humans can detect and assign meanings to a wide variety of phenomena.

An effective sigil or seal can be created as a doorway to memory, to specific states of awareness, to understandings that may not stay with us while we’re dusting the shelves, changing a diaper, emailing the boss, or cooking a meal. But we can shift consciousness at will with the aid of a seal or sigil and know and do things otherwise beyond our capacity. Our schoolteachers know the value of holding a student’s focus and attention — these make all the difference!

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doodles for Druidry and Christianity logo — cross and grail

Christians wear crosses, Jews the Star of David, and followers of other traditions their own meaningful symbols. We also doodle both new and repeated shapes and signs, and we can expand on this human tendency and engage with a whole symbolic language if we choose.

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Tolkien’s initials as logo

Books on sigil making and sigil magic — the conscious seeking, design and use of signs and shapes to change consciousness — can of course assist. But the ability already lies in each of us — a birthright.

Tolkien invented a sigil from the initials of his name (JRRT) that now appears on his books and has become a trademark of the Tolkien Estate. Companies and organizations know that a distinctive and readily recognizable logo is often a key component to visibility and reputation and success.

To point to just one immediate use of sigils anyone can put into practice today, in these times of distraction and seduction by social media, and by fear and anxiety, our corresponding ability to attend to what we choose, rather than an advertising campaign or a news outlet or political party, is a priceless human gift.

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publisher logos on book spines — Pagans know the Llewellyn moon!

Place a meaningful sigil where I can see it during my day, write, paint or carve it on objects I use regularly, or sit with it in meditation, and I have a ready tool for shaping consciousness, guiding it toward my own purposes and desires, and focusing the energies that come through it into channels and actions that help, uplift and empower me.

And Josephine McCarthy, to choose just one author whose books are on my shelves, knows the value of a sigil as a distinctive cover for a book.

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May signs point to good things for you!

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Images: Magic of the North Gate cover; Wikipedia for JRRT logo.

A Druid, “The Virus”, and Long Fixes   Leave a comment

The virus, let me say it up front, isn’t Covid-19 or coronavirus or “the thing that’s swamping nearly every media outlet right now”. The virus is fear, rumor, mis- and dis-information, mental constructs, habits of thought, knee-jerk reaction, path of least (conscious) resistance. Any spiritual path worth its weight in chocolate should offer practices to rein in such human behaviors and put better alternatives — also human behaviors! — in their place. In other words, give us back our power of choice. Teach us ways to disinfect both our hands and our psyches, build resilience and good humor, and be of use to others.

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Of course, the great thing about a habit is its efficiency: it’s a shortcut, a “nervous system macro”, so I don’t need to waste energy each time more or less the same choice faces me. The habit says “Just do this — it’s the same as the last time” and I can move on to the next thing. A habit turns off thinking and hands over control to that part of us which is really good at simply reacting. It’s a great help — when simply reacting is appropriate.

The less-than-great thing about a habit is the same thing: its automatic patterns rule parts of our behavior, rather than conscious choice.

Among the gifts of Druidry are the powers of reframing, of conscious thought, of magical choice — because all choices made consciously are magical in that they liberate us from mechanical behavior and open up possibilities for change and growth.

The video below isn’t directly about “dealing with a virus”, but the reframing and reclaiming of automatic behavior it looks at are innately Druidic acts.

No, not “quick fixes” — l o n g fixes instead, gifts to ourselves that keep on giving as long as we practice them. And because most of us have faced the kinds of things that the speaker discusses and knows intimately herself, these long fixes are human skills we can all learn and develop and deploy when life is challenging. When isn’t it?!

 

 

 

Another resource: this excellent Guardian article from yesterday, 7 March, with concrete data, and suggestions for where go to look for yourself at the many scientific studies, resources, suggestions and advice already available for dealing with the coronavirus.

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Image: Pexels.com

What It’s All For, Part 157   Leave a comment

“Why am I dealing with these things now, at 71?” a dear older friend asked recently. “Couldn’t I have tackled it earlier along the way?” After a pause, he answered his own question: “But I didn’t have the necessary perspective any sooner than this to handle what I discovered about myself, and about the work I needed to do”. I spiral like we all do, when I think I’m merely circling. Last year, this year, next year. More of the same old thing, or something new, unexpected, challenging. Often both together. Arms of the spiral.

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Silver-white back yard, 11:42 am EST, 10 Feb 2020

Anyone who’s read this blog for any length of time knows my focus rests primarily on the inner texture and quality of my journey. Among other things, I’m a Druid, and sometimes I’ll post about a more outer-facing “Druid” subject — a sacred grove, an altar, images from a group ritual I took part in. But mostly I write about aspects of my own spiritual growth, or lack of it; about my questions, doubts, strategies, techniques, discoveries — things I hope are also useful in some degree to anyone who practices a spiritual path over time. Especially after the initial gloss has worn off, the honeymoon is past, the foothills are behind you, and the first outlines of your life’s work present themselves. And usually not in a form you expect, or even recognize right away.

This is the point when I find it’s often fitting to laugh helplessly, laugh so hard you end up gasping for breath. Or maybe it’s not fitting, but I do it anyway. Because you can’t take yourself too seriously. (Well, of course you can, and we all know those who do, but they’re often not the easiest people to be around. By the grace of forbearing friends and family, may I learn to grow out of my own vanity. If you’ve been with this blog long enough, you know most of what we work on falls into two categories, ego project or container issue.)

Enough of you recognize something of your own experience in what I write here that you keep coming back. Or at least you find the spectacle of my journey entertaining, because in fact it’s nothing like yours at all. You’re crafting a wand, planting a sustainable garden, protesting inert government officials to get off their asses, raising children to honour the earth and each other, or you’re single, widowed, newly launched into a different life than you foresaw, but living your path as best you can, in all its singular beauty and strangeness, in churches, temples, bedroom shrines, backyard altars, cathedrals of trees, holy places of the heart. You belong to a god or gods, or you’re non-theistic, you know the signs and songs and pass-words of your beliefs and practices and community, even if they no longer describe you fully, or maybe especially if they do.

Or you’re undergoing your own inner apprenticeship, something near-impossible to talk about, even with dear friends, and especially with family, who are often the last to know, or to come to grips with how dear Sue or Bill or Jimmie has “changed” and grown into something exotic and possibly uncomfortable and maybe more than a little threatening to an old dynamic that no longer works for all the people it used to link and to explain to each other. Or you’re bound firmly, as far as you can tell, in a circle that for whatever reason you need to stay in for now, in order to survive at all.

All you know, to quote that Victorian or maybe Edwardian novel, is that for your family, you are no longer PLU — “People Like Us”. Elvis has left the building. The horses have broken through the fence and gallop, heedless of human cries, across the plain and away.

Or you’re not changing. Everything and everyone else has changed. You’re becoming more of who you’ve always been. Why can’t they see that?!

Right in the midst of such tumult, it can feel like the very last thing that’s happening is “what it’s all for”. Instead it feels the exact opposite of that. Let the dust settle and the rubble stop bouncing, though, and a different outline can begin to emerge.

(Try to map spiritual geography most people will recognize and you miss the mark 50% of the time. Still, in baseball, that’s a mightily impressive record.)

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I know now that what it’s really all about is the white rabbit.

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My mother’s elder sister gave me this porcelain hare when I was seven. We’d visit her just once a year, for a long weekend — my mother and I traveled to Iowa most springs to stay with that side of the family. I remember thinking some seven-year-old boy version of “But I can’t play with it — it’s too delicate”. It was a “shelf-sitter” for sure, but even then it carried a charm it’s never lost for me. Its pinkness never bothered me as “girly” or wrong for a boy (I shot the image above on a pink towel to emphasize the painted highlights). For all I know the figure was a commonplace object several decades ago — some of you may have one just like it sitting on a mantle. But all I knew then was that someone had entrusted me with a delicate object, one valuable for its own sake, not for what I could do with it. It arrived, as such gifts sometimes can, at a moment when I could appreciate it.

In all the many moves of my life — at last count, 22, including to and from China, Japan, Korea, and six states in the U.S. — it’s traveled without damage. I thought of it for a long time as an Easter rabbit — not THE Easter Rabbit, but a rabbit associated with springtime. Now it’s an Imbolc hare as well.

Blessings of Imbolc
hare to you, warmth of white fur
soft as dream, close as the dreaming sky
against your skin. Grace of paws
in the snow to you, delicate toes,
each touching with its own print.

Blessings of animal presences to you.
Alertness of hare to you, ears pointed
towards the awen, that whisper
each of us hears, time’s changes tumbling
round us. Fleet foot of the hare
to you, the answering dance of hare,
a dive into a burrow, or a mad dash
(dash of the Mad March hare, a month early)
for the nearby hedge and through,
through to all the bright fields opening beyond.

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Posted 10 February 2020 by adruidway in Druidry, hare, Imbolc, magic, spiral

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But What’s It All For?   Leave a comment

[edited/updated 10 Feb 2020]

(I’ve posted rants before, and alerted readers up front. What follows is another, lit with caffeine, a dose of the cabin fever of a typical long New England winter, and maybe even some insight.)

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What’s a spiritual path for?

We can say, using a mixed bag of traditional language, that its goal is to reconnect us with cosmic law, attune us to deity, re-balance us, align us with the flow of the Ten Thousand Things, show us God’s will, conform us to the ways of Spirit, and so on. (Sometimes it’s to save us. Other times it spends us like the prodigal sons and daughters we are. Either way, value gets exchanged.)

Or we can use the language of modern commerce and say we want to optimize our results, so we can increase efficiency, profits, and customer satisfaction. (Pay particular attention here: do you respond, like I sometimes do, more to this formulation of the goal than to the first? Ask yourself why, and then ask what follows from your response.)

If you’ve read the classic Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (maybe pausing to ask “Why seven?”), you know there’s little new under the sun. The magic of the book isn’t the habits themselves so much as it is its streamlining and re-ordering of principles we’ve always known, which is a magical act: to optimize flow, to organize what we need to understand and feel and do, all in ways our minds and emotions and bodies can recognize and put into motion.

We need and seek out such new re-formulations of old wisdom in every age.

Or if a book’s not your thing, you can find an even more compact form of the Seven Habits at the author’s website. They’re an excellent primer for whatever we intend to achieve.

Memes are another form of magic. If something “goes viral”, that means it’s found the optimal way to spread, to replicate, to make its mark. Using image and word, it shapes itself as a key to locks everywhere. It activates upon arrival. Like an object within range of the motion sensors on the sliding doors of our psyches, it opens us and enters.

Advertisers deploy music, light, voice, color, rhythm, beauty, movement and image — magical techniques, every one of them — and opening us, they implant desires in us for things we never knew we wanted.

Mages look with vast amusement at our materialistic culture that often mocks magic or “doesn’t believe in it”, even as we encounter and often yield to magical influences every single day of our lives. In the process, magical techniques earn billions of dollars for their users, bending our thoughts, emotions, and credit cards to the wills of corporate and political magicians who’ve mastered some of the cruder techniques of glamouring other people. This isn’t paranoia but simple fact: what else is advertising for? What are political campaigns ultimately intended to accomplish? A catchy slogan, a memorable logo, an appealing face and even a dollop of charisma, and you’re halfway there.

You could say that beginning spirituality is nothing other than beginning to (re)build our “defenses against the dark arts” a la Harry Potter. Anyone half-awake (and I don’t mean “woke”) knows the need for such D.A.D.A. is at an all-time high today. Exhibit A: today’s headlines and media feeds any time we choose to look at them.

While carnival- and circus-owners and confidence-men long ago discovered “There’s a sucker born every minute”, we can (to mix a metaphor or two) learn not to suck. The old Hippocratic oath “Do no harm” may not resound in many ears like it used to, but everyone still needs to swear some version of it. We can update it to the jargon of a 21st-century version: Don’t be a jerk. This can be our Silver Rule, since clearly so many of us no longer want to know or practice the Golden version. The Medieval world and its Latin speakers had their own con-men, and their own cynical, world-weary warning: Mundus vult decipi. “The world wants to be deceived”.

Looking for a guide for electing government officials, choosing life partners, spiritual guides, car dealers? If you can’t find anyone who works with the habits of effective people, then “simplify, simplify”. Find one who’s at least trying to practice the new Silver Rule and shows some persistence at it. And with any discernment, and the blessings of even one small god or goddess, we can begin to practice it ourselves. (So I begin again, which is I suspect 9/10 of any spiritual path worth walking.)

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Thecu and Brighid, storm goddess and triple goddess, both in their own ways forging, healing and inspiring us:

When storms pound the walls of the world, empower me with wisdom.
When thunder rages, forge my sinews into strength for myself and others.
When human contrivances fail and fall in tempests, illuminate my path forward.
When the bridge breaks, guide me to build a boat to cross with.
When fires blast, fix my will to continue what my ancestors began.
When the shores vanish, show me your compass.
When darkness shrouds my North Star, show me light within.

Now this is a prayer of petitions and visualization. (Adjust the pronouns at need.) But sometimes such forms can feel too demanding. I often like a more meditative version as well, one that encourages me to see these things already in manifestation, not merely waiting to appear. Just a few tweaks — acknowledging the presence of the goddesses already, of spirit at work before I even begin to think the words …

When storms pound the walls of the world, you empower me with wisdom.
When thunder rages, you forge my sinews into strength for myself and others.
You illuminate my forward path, when human contrivances fail and fall in tempests.
When the bridge breaks, you guide me to build a boat to cross with.
When fires blast, you fix my will to continue what my ancestors began.
You show me your compass before the shore has vanished.
When darkness shrouds my North Star, you show me light within.

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Image: Pexels.com.

Making the Most of “Magic Sunday”   2 comments

Here we are, on an excellent day to test our actual as opposed to our rationalized beliefs: It’s “Magic Sunday”. What’s that, you ask (if you haven’t already read the day’s numerological clickbait)?

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A “sugar-shack”, New England Imbolc — the start of maple syrup making

Whether you deploy the European sequence of day-month-year, or the North American one of month-day-year, today is 02-02-2020. A palindrome, the same sequence backwards and forwards. You can read more about it in the middle-market, slightly left-leaning USA Today. (I monitor a range of about a dozen papers spanning the political spectrum. Leftist hysteria balances rightist hysteria, sort of like stomach acid and an antacid, except not.)

After reading the article, ask yourself: do you feel your mood or perspective even slightly altered, knowing the rarity of a palindrome date like today’s 02022020 sequence last occurred some 900 years ago? (See Palindrome Daypalindrome date.) Of course, if you keep reading, other similar dates loom in the next two years. Anticlimactic?

Try doing a task today, specifically focusing on the rarity of the date as a source of empowerment — even, or especially, if you don’t believe in such things.

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Now add to this the celebration of today, at least in North America, as Groundhog Day (No shadow! Early Spring! Go, Punxsutawney Phil!). And Imbolc. Does that change anything for you?

The foregoing is an illustration of our varying susceptibility to what’s been called “magical thinking”.

I find the term less than useful, because it’s often disparaging: irrational, superstitious, and so on. Instead, let’s look at all such things simply as inputs. Inputs surround us continuously: the weather, our diet, home, job, nationality, other affiliations, memberships and identities both chosen and inherited. What do we grant access to our mood, attitude, perspective, belief system, emotions? What operates largely below our level of awareness, as a sort of background hum? What do we resolutely shut out so decisively that it can gain little traction with us (even if it impinges subconsciously)? Do we even know?

Take it as a “Druid challenge”, or a bit of research, a holy ritual, a game — whatever makes it useful and engaging to you.

And if so inclined, try a form of alchemical magic most everyone uses — coffee, or a little sugar, in the form of maple products, sweets, cookies, candy — to satisfy that midwinter carbohydrate craving — and give you a “magical” sugar or caffeine buzz. Now that you’ve magicked yourself, explore what comes next.

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Image: Wikipedia sugar-shack.

From the Druid’s Prayer Outward   Leave a comment

Ri, a’h Isprid, do iscod …

Grant, o Spirit, thy protection …

If I pray, or make a vow, in a constructed language like the one I used to translate the Druid’s Prayer two months ago, is the prayer worthy, or the vow valid?

One direct test: does the spiritual world take them seriously? How do I know? And what, in turn, can that tell me about intention, creativity, awen and gods I may not worry about “believing” in, but whom I’m happy to work with, if I ask and if they choose?

(O Bríd and Oghma, for the gift of speech already I thank you …)

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eastern counter-glow over our roof at sunset

“Sound”, says the Old Irish In Lebor Ogaim, The Book of Ogams or the Ogam Tract, “is the mother of Og(h)ma, and matter his father”. Sound becoming language, the tongue of human beings, mediated by a god. The awen you sing, from the deep you bring it. And I pray you will.

No, I’m not claiming for my nascent Celtic con-lang any sort of special divine or holy status. (At least not in advance.) All languages are holy, or could be. But yes, I am working magic, going with an intention, asking blessings on it, charging it with desire, putting in a sustained effort, sailing with the wind, trusting to its fulfillment in time, doing my part, perceiving it from the vantage point of already-manifested, working with the as-if principle, feeling it as much as thinking it — because feeling charges an intention till it begins to spark, and it kindles (mostly) along paths we’ve laid for it, following the principle of the path of least resistance.

“I look forward to seeing where this goes as you work through the details”, writes Steve.

So do I, whether he was referring to the language or the prayer behind it, or both, or something else. “Working through the details”, the concrete form or mold into which we invite the magic to pour, helps give it shape. But whether it fills that form, or another more open to its flow, isn’t wholly up to us. If you’ve been at all involved in the building of a house or barn, with concrete being poured, you’ve run across stories of the concrete forms blowing out, and the heavy wet stuff flowing everywhere you didn’t want it. Magic is alive, god/dess is afoot, as much when I stub a toe or mash a finger as when the magic shifts my life to wonder and growth. Force flowing into form.

More than a little humility can help keep us from acts of outright stupidity in the face of divine power manifesting. Insisting that magic go a certain way is like commanding the tide: the tide always wins. But not seeing it as a contest, but as a chance to sail on the seas of magic, lets me ride the waves, tack across the wind, or run with it, and reach harbor. A light hand on the tiller, a boat that isn’t an ego project, a “vanity vessel”, but a seaworthy ship.

Expecting the wind to drive my boat out onto the waves, steer it where I want to go, and deliver me without any further effort on my part beyond the “ask”, is folly beyond telling. To put it more crudely and memorably, in words a friend said to me recently, it’s just naive as f*ck.

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So what lies “outward from prayer”? (Between sacred and profane may lie the merest hair’s breadth. Live, pure, wise, fire and true are also among our four-letter words.)

Make the turn, just don’t insist on logic as the link.

The Great Triad of Jesus is familiar to many, but too often we forget the hard-earned admonition that immediately precedes it:

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

I know I squander the holy far too often, casting it aside like a paper wrapper around the candy of what I think I “really want”. After all that asking, seeking and knocking, I just let it slide from my fingers. So I take up the task again, asking, seeking, knocking — until I find that supple, elusive thing I need like blood and breath.

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I’m slowly reading two related books (like many “bookies”, I almost always have more than two going at any one time), to listen to them echo and ricochet off each other: Thomas Kunkel’s Enormous Prayers: A Journey into the [Catholic] Priesthood, and Rev. Lora O’Brien’s A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood. The first volume I’d salvaged free from the last day of a used-book sale where any remainders were given away to clear space. The second I recently bought used, though it appeared in 2019.

We still grant to “priest” and “priestess” an aura of magic and mystery — tarnished, yes, by years of unfolding Catholic scandal among others, while also reclaiming, often from non-Christian sources, new resonance and imagery and sacred fire. As one priest in Kunkel’s book exclaims, “… people are starving today for mystery, the power that grounds, suffuses and surpasses all things, that ever-present but elusive reality … as a result, our souls are withering from underuse and lack of nourishment.” And we know this because “people have a sickness that no psychologist or physician can cure …”

We need to move beyond prayer to find that use and that nourishment. Fortunately, many are beginning to wake again to themselves, and to reclaim that holy task, rather than yielding it to any other.

Priests and priestesses? Needed, yes. Needed very much at times. But not essential. The life we each hold (a trust, a sacred heirloom, a gift from the ancestors) is enough.

And may you know blessing as you too reclaim, and name, and flame.

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Kunkel, Thomas. Enormous Prayers: A Journey into the Priesthood. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998.

O’Brien, Rev. Lora. A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2019.

“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.

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