Archive for the ‘Philip Carr-Gomm’ Tag

Grail 1: Exploring the “Cauldron Sound” of Awen   Leave a comment

[Grail 1 | Grail 2]

Image result for awenWant a good overview of the awen in the life of another Druid? Don’t just take my word for it. Read Druid-in-two-traditions Dana Driscoll’s account here. [I’ve written about it, among other times, here and here.]

Looking for the lost melody of your life? For that sense of spiritual freedom you may have touched as a child? For the heart-song that so often eludes us in the busy-ness of 21st century living?

If there’s such a thing as a “container” for the awen, beyond the bodies of all things, it’s the Celtic Cauldron, proto-grail, womb, goddess symbol, under- and other-world vessel, humming on the edges of our awareness. To participate in its sound is to begin to manifest some of its properties. Put myself in sympathetic vibration with it, and I discover its powers of transformation. It accomplishes change through vibration — no surprise, when we know that every atom of the cosmos vibrates at its own particular frequency. That’s also part of why every major spiritual tradition on the planet includes chant, song, mantra, spoken prayer. The whole thing sings. When the bard Taliesin exclaims in one of his poems, “The awen I sing, from the deep I bring it”, he points us toward the pervasiveness of awen, its habitation in the heart of things, its flow through us, both lesser and greater, as we sing, and bring.

Dana observes, “One of the most simple things to do is to invoke Awen regularly as part of your practice.”

A tangent. An article from a few days ago somewhat ruefully acknowledges that there’s actually a specific day — January 17 — when Americans see many of their New Year’s resolutions fail. (Your own culture, if you’re not a Yank, may exhibit lesser or greater persistence.) Since we seem to addicted to bad news these days, feel free to indulge here in some delicious negative thinking, if you wish. But then read closer: “Contrary to widespread public opinion, a considerable proportion of New Year resolutions do succeed,” notes a psychology professor in the article. Even at the 6-month point, according to studies, some 40% of resolutions — and their “resolvers” — stick with it. While the data pool may well need refining, still, that’s an astonishing figure. Better than the best baseball average. While “two outta three ain’t bad”, as the Meatloaf song tells us, even “one outta three” is pretty damn good, in so many human endeavors. And if you’ve read this blog for a while, you know my strategy for success with resolutions. Start so small that it’s next to impossible not to begin. “Oh, anyone can find 30 seconds a day”.

And this holds true with so many practices, spiritual or otherwise. A habit is simply an expression of equilibrium. The resistance to change is the resistance of all set-points and stasis and inertial systems — their first “response”, if we think of them for a moment as conscious beings, is to absorb the new thing rather than change on account of it. It’s a survival mechanism, after all, evolved over eons, to prevent dangerous over-reactions and hyper-compensations to what are often only temporary blips in the environment. We can’t afford to be thrown off by “every little thing”.

Why would this apply to something like the awen, a pervading cosmic sound and vibration? It’s already flowing through us, at a sustaining level, keeping us alive, the heart beating, the electrical system of the body sparking along. But upset that equilibrium unwittingly, kick the carefully calibrated network of bodily systems, and you risk the same thing rash occultists and yogis do when they raise the kundalini unprepared, force their way onto the astral plane too abruptly, shift the body’s and psyche’s equilibria by force of will, and then face all the unexpected consequences — illness, accident, poor judgment, disharmony — all the attendant symptoms of dis-ease, of a complex equilibrium under abrupt, too-rapid or even violent change.

So I begin small, and gradual, and see how it goes, if it’s worthwhile, if it adds to and builds on my life — as I already live it. This latter point is keenly important, I find. And I encourage you to try the awen, or — if you’re drawn elsewhere — its kin in other traditions. (Maybe one living near you: Om, Hu [link to an mp3 sound file], etc.) Give it a year of serious practice, and I will personally guarantee positive change, or your karma back. Other practices have their established value, but sacred sound is special.

The “rewards” of such a practice are not always easy to “calculate”. (Revealing that we even use such language). But practice, as you’ll discover, opens many doors we didn’t even know were there. As OBOD Chosen Chief Philip Carr-Gomm notes,

Try opening to Awen not when it’s easy, but when it’s difficult: not when you can be still and nothing is disturbing you, but when there’s chaos around you, and life is far from easy. See if you can find Awen in those moments. It’s harder, much harder, but when you do, it’s like walking through a doorway in a grimy city street to discover a secret garden that has always been there – quiet and tranquil, an oasis of calm and beauty. One way to do this, is just to tell yourself gently “Stop!” Life can be so demanding, so entrancing, that it carries us away, and we get pulled off-centre. If we tell ourselves to stop for a moment, this gives us the opportunity to stop identifying with the drama around us, and to come back to a sense of ourselves, of the innate stillness within our being. And then, sometimes, we are rewarded with Awen at precisely this moment.

“The Holy Grail won’t go away” — and for very good reasons.

Next post: A Path, By Walking It.

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Year 7 at A Druid Way   Leave a comment

At the close of my seventh year with this blog, I’m devoting a post to taking stock.

First, thank-yous to everyone — nearly 10,000 of you this past year — who keep coming back to read, to ruminate, and to comment.  As I note on my About page, quoting Philip Carr-Gomm:

Just as the spiritual path can be characterised as the ongoing attempt to both remember yourself and forget yourself, so blogging can be seen as a challenge to both be more personal, more open, more sharing of the riches of a life and at the same time to take yourself less seriously, to let go of the concern about what other people might think about you, and to reveal rather than conceal your curiosity and amazement at the often crazy world you find yourself in.

As a spiritual practice, writing here keeps me turning over my experiences and perspectives — a good thing, I’ve found, for both consciousness and compost. This coming February 2019 I’ll join a panel of speakers with the rich topic of “Spiritual Lessons from Everyday Life”, and my time with this blog will definitely contribute. Human experiences have no “size” that I can determine, despite any labels we apply to them. Seemingly “small” ones deliver impacts that may not fully mature for years, while the splashier ones often fade quickly as dreams. You keep turning them over, turning them over, and good stuff emerges, which you know in retrospect mostly because it nourishes what will grow in the future. If I neglect this, soon all I have is a midden that smells, attracts pests, and I learn I’ve forfeited an opportunity for work that is real. Fortunately I can pick up the pitchfork and shovel at any moment and begin.

What other people bring to say, and how they respond to what I share here, seems to work much the same way. You learn it’s often not about you at all, whatever you thought. Each of us makes individual journeys so idiosyncratic and often difficult to get into words that what amazes me is we’re able to share anything at all. Or as I have occasion to exclaim to my wife, I’ve slowly learned that two things are simultaneously true, in the best traditions of paradox: that I’m nothing like other people, and that I’m exactly like other people — I’m an alien, or I’m your twin. This blog usually lands somewhere along that continuum.

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Three of the most popular posts this past year originate not from this year but from my 2017 “Druid and Christian Themes” series. This intersection of traditions still lights up for me, as it apparently does for a sizable proportion of readers. Otherwise, the only excuse I can offer for my choice of topics is also Thoreau’s: “I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.” But beyond Transcendentalist Yankee Smart-assery, he makes a subtler point: go deep enough inside yourself and you will find things to say that resonate for others at least some of the time. The odds of this happening are about the same as for baseball, so an average of .300 is respectable indeed.

Looking a little further at the Druid-Christian intersection I recall how Philip Carr-Gomm notes in his book Druid Mysteries:

Although Christianity ostensibly superseded Druidry, in reality it contributed to its survival, and ultimately to its revival after more than a millennium of obscurity.  It did this in at least four ways:  it continued to make use of certain old sacred sites, such as holy wells; it adopted the festivals and the associated folklore of the pagan calendar; it recorded the tales of the Bards, which encoded the oral teachings of the Druids; and it allowed some of the old gods to live in the memory of the people by co-opting them into the Church as saints (p. 31).

Since I find I’m citing Carr-Gomm a lot in this post, I’ll end with one more observation by him that I find still most topical today, the 30th of December 2018:

One of the most important tasks that face us today is one of reconciliation, whether that be between differing political or religious positions … the Christian community, far from taking fright at a perceived regression to a pagan past, can ally itself with [Druidry] which is complementary, and not antagonistic to Christian ideals and ethics …

St. Columba said “Christ is my Druid” and I believe that if we take Druidry to represent that ancient wisdom which lies deep within us, and that can connect us once again to the Earth and her wonders, we can understand how we can be Christian Druids, Buddhist Druids or Druids of whatever hue or depth is needed for us at our present stage of development.

May we each find and recognize “whatever hue or depth is needed for us at our present stage of development”. Blessings of the coming New Year to you all.

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Postscriptus Magicus   2 comments

Inspiration, the awen of the Bard, isn’t all or nothing. Sometimes you get one corner, a kind of foothold, a vantage point, enough to see more, to see a whole landscape through a window just before the window closes.

fireecg16

The house of fire —
no closed doors —
only porches and windows
opening onto flame.

A few notes for other stanzas, and that was it. But sometimes a fragment is enough. You can jump-start with it, from it, months afterward.

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Sometimes, likewise, if we’re open and available, the trees really do tell us what we need.

I help oak, and oak helps me —
we’ll join to hold the energy.

This little rhyme came to me while we meditated at the foot of an oak — part of our ritual prep for the main ley-line rite at MAGUS ’18 last weekend. As much as the oak ogham stave in my hand, the rhyme helped me focus during the ritual. Our outer duir oak ring was charged with gathering and holding the energy the ritual would generate, until the moment our ring moved to the center altar and charged the stones waiting there. One fellow outer-ring participant said it felt at first like a very small pup trying to corral a very large beach ball. But then we joined together to “become one big-ass dog that could tackle it”.

Not surprisingly, the carefully-planned ritual generated a lot of power. I know I can often be slow in picking up on magical energies flowing around me. “Obtuse” wouldn’t be too harsh a word, much of the time. So I knew I had to deal with doubts about my usefulfulness as well as concerns about my vulnerability.

Now it’s easy to rationalize almost all magic. I do it myself, and I often do it well. But rather than debating whether it — or any other experience — is “real” or “genuine”, I can opt to apply different criteria and free myself for more useful tasks. A good logic-fest can be fun at times, but it’s often a tail-chasing exercise. Whether we’re falling in love, writing a song, painting, gardening, caring for others, or working with a dream journal, logic typically isn’t the first or the best tool to employ. A chisel, sandpaper, a potter’s wheel — all produce markedly different effects. They’re so not interchangeable!

Philip Carr-Gomm addresses the issue in his characteristically understated way. In this short Youtube clip he proposes something other than logic for looking at and assessing experience:

Rather than obsessing over whether an experience is true or genuine, I can contemplate its effect on me and my life. Have I benefited from the experience? While not all experiences are easy or painless, is the insight, perspective or compassion for others than I have gained worth it? “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”

Sometimes, a full answer to those questions may not come for months or years. And that’s OK. By themselves, experiences can resemble an afternoon at an amusement park. Pay your money, get your experiences. But their long-term effect and value is a more helpful measure of their worth.

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“Both Cauldron and Wand”   Leave a comment

Devotees of Brighid, fans, and the simply “Brighid-curious” may enjoy John Beckett’s post “Solas Bhride: A Goddess Speaks Softly in Many Forms”, a reflection on his recent pilgrimage to Ireland.

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In 2015, I posted the still-popular “Beltane and Touching the Sacred.” In it I said (updated for the current next Full Moon at the end of April 2018):

Here we are, about two weeks out from Beltane/May Day — or Samhuinn if you live Down Under in the Southern Hemisphere. And with a Full Moon on April 29 (0058 GMT April 30) there’s a excellent gathering of “earth events” to work with, if you choose. Thanks to the annual Edinburgh Fire Festival, we once again have Beltane-ish images of the fire energy of this ancient Festival marking the start of Summer.

You may find like I do that Festival energies of the “Great Eight”* kick in at about this range — half a month or so in advance. A nudge, a hint, a restlessness that eases, a tickle that subsides, or shifts toward knowing, with a glance at the calendar. Ah! Here we are again!

I’m off again in a few weeks for the 2nd Mid-Atlantic Gathering — MAGUS 2018, with the theme “Sacred Time, Sacred Space”. Looking for a fore-/after-taste? Here’s last year’s post.

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Effective people, says Philip Carr-Gomm in his little book Lessons in Magic, “use both their cauldrons and their wands”.

Often a short quote like that is enough to launch me, set me off on reflection and contemplation and experimentation. (Echoing the near-endless spate of how-to books and guides to personal transformation, the idea of being “more effective” underlies the Protestant work ethic, its distortions in the American disdain for the poor as deserving their struggle, and much besides of bad and good.)

Put “effective” into the most crass terms: how to get what you want.

We often assume creativity — inspiration — comes first, and any manifestation second. But just as with so many things, it can be illuminating to examine assumptions as much for what they leave out as in. What can we learn, I ask, from both its truths and falsehoods?

The most famous creation story portrays both a creator and an “earth without form and void, and darkness … on the face of the deep”. Some translations suggest we can reasonably render the first few lines like this: “When God was creating the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and empty, and darkness hovered over the waters”. In other words, creativity needs material to work on. And the material in this version of the story is already present. Creation in such a case is a forming and shaping of cosmic substance already in existence.

You could say the cauldron is the scene — the stage for creation, the setting. Without it, no workshop, no lab, no tubes of paint and brushes and palettes. No place for anything to “take place” — an idiom itself full of significance and teaching. Everything hovering, like the spirit of the god over the waters in the Genesis account, but no entry-point into manifestation. Waiting in creative tension, but with no results. Brooding on the nest, but no eggs to sit and warm and hatch.

And here’s the wand — or a compass in this case. Some kind of magical tool or instrument helps focus our creative energy.

jesus=compass

French — ca. 1250

But Carr-Gomm rightly lists the cauldron first. Cauldron — Grail — womb of Mary in the Christian story — these precede creation. And they’re not passive, either, Mary is invited — not compelled — to nurture and carry the divine child. Her assent isn’t automatic, or pro-forma. Blessing our materials — inviting their participation — helps our creative process. Indeed, some kind of blessing is the key that makes creativity possible. We just often do it unconsciously. Ritual can help prod us to greater awareness. (As with all careless acts, ritual done badly can send us deeper asleep.)

For the Grail in the Arthurian mythos truly “has a mind of its own”. Though it may seem to be “just an object” — the goal of male knightly questing — it’s the Grail that chooses who ultimately satisfies its steep requirements, who may catch a glimpse, and when it will materialize and manifest.

The Wikipedia entry for “Holy Grail” notes that Chrétien de Troyes, the first to put the story in its Medieval form in the 1100s with Perceval as questing knight,

… refers to this object not as “The Grail” but as “a grail” (un graal), showing the word was used, in its earliest literary context, as a common noun. For Chrétien a grail was a wide, somewhat deep dish or bowl, interesting because it contained not a pike, salmon, or lamprey, as the audience may have expected for such a container, but a single Mass wafer which provided sustenance for the Fisher King’s crippled father. Perceval, who had been warned against talking too much, remains silent through all of this and wakes up the next morning alone. He later learns that if he had asked the appropriate questions about what he saw, he would have healed his maimed host, much to his honour.

So much of value here to note: the importance of a middle way between extremes, applicable to easily perceived tools in hand as well as more subtle tools like language. Don’t talk too much, but don’t shut up entirely..

With the slipperiness inherent in non-physical things and experiences, and the names we give to them, the san graal or “holy grail” becomes in Medieval French also the sang real “royal blood”, launching one of the oldest conspiracy theories still popular today concerning the possible existence of surviving lineal descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Add to this the World War II legends of a struggle between Hitler and “the forces of Light” for possession of the historical Grail and its immense powers, and you set the stage for the flowering of a new generation of Grail myths and legends. Archetypes continually regenerate; indeed, the Grail is among many other things an illustration of just such archetypal power.

And as we know from our own experiences with creativity, there are indeed many grails each time we manifest something — even if you prefer that they’re all subsidiary to a single magical One and Holy Grail. (Which in a certain sense they are.) Another question to ask, practice to experiment with: “What is the grail in this situation?”

Now this is all well and good, you say. Good fun, diverting, the stuff of fat best-sellers and million-dollar movie scripts and much silliness in pop culture and media. What of the wand? And what does any of this have to do with me?

Fear not. The wand gets at least its fair share of star billing before the end.

To take a turn through pop culture, why does Harry Potter take Hagrid’s advice and seek out Ollivander’s, apart from Hagrid’s plug that “there ain’t no place better”? Harry needs a wand. He survived the attack on him as an infant, with the scar as mute but vivid testimony of its potency.

But for any serious and conscious creative-magical work (all creativity is inherently magical), he’ll need a wand. It’s simply a matter of time before we ourselves come to the same conclusion.

“I wondered when I’d be seeing you, Mr. Potter!” says Ollivander.

And as with active Grail, the wand, we learn from Ollivander’s, and elsewhere, “chooses the wizard”. [Note how tall the interior of the shop is in the video clip — the airiness and “head-space” appropriate to a wand. And it’s at Ollivander’s words “I wonder” as he goes for the third wand that we hear again the hallmark and mysterious musical theme.]

And of course, with the tradition of clusters of three long associated with things magical, the third wand’s the charm.

Franz Bardon, no slouch when it comes to personal experience, magic and occult instruction, observes in his fine text Initiation into Hermetics that

Everything that can be found in the universe on a large scale is reflected in a human being on a small scale” (pg. 31) and “A true initiate will never force anyone who has not reached a certain level of maturity to accept his truth” (pg. 55).

Again, as with so many things, truth is better treated as experimental — to be tested through our own direct experience, rather than either swallowed credulously, or rejected out of hand — both falling short of the magical quality inherent in threes. Either-or too often simply misses the point we seek.

A wand extends and sharpens the creative ability — the inspiration and clarity of East, the dawn, air, what a bird sees when it flies, the overview, the big picture, the influx of Light from the sun. Its time is spring — the perfect tool in the hand of a gardener, whose version may take the form of trowel or spade.

Consult the recent and masterly exposition Wandlore and you’ll discover a major key:

The most basic hidden secret of magic is that the wizard must go within … inside the mind, and there, encountering Hermes, lord of communication, be led into the otherworlds.

As Carr-Gomm notes in The Druid Tradition, talking of Iolo Morgannwg, the brilliant creative mind behind much of the Druid Revival, but with important teaching more widely applicable and relevant to today’s headlines,

… when it comes to working with the esoteric, we are to large extent under the influence of Mercury, or Lugh, the god of communication between human and divine worlds … But Mercury is also the god of thieves and of deception — of stage magic, and the manipulation of illusion as well as of high magic — the manipulation of consciousness and the causal world. Those who have not clarified their relationship with Mercury fall prey to both aspects of his influence, and it is then hard for the academic [or anyone! — ADW] to understand how the same person can combine genuine material with the fraudulent, how they can channel both divinely inspired insights into Druidry and complete nonsense, how they can be upright and honest and engage in deception or delusion (pg. 27).

And rather than belabor the benefits of walking a spiritual path, and also to cover a truly immense amount of ground, the end result, recorded in T. S. Eliot’s grand poem The Four Quartets, in the last line of the final section “Little Gidding“, is that “the fire [of wand and purified will] and the rose [of the Grail and the perception of spiritual unity] are one”.

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Image: Christ with compass: “he set a compass upon the face of the depth” (Proverbs 8:27)

Carr-Gomm, Philip. Lessons in Magic. Lewes, East Sussex: Oak Tree Press, 2016.

Bardon, Franz. Initiation into Hermetics. Merkur Publishing, Inc., 2016.

MacLir, Alferian Gwydion. Wandlore: The Art of Crafting the Ultimate Magical Tool. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Books, 2011.

Carr-Gomm, Philip. The Druid Tradition. Rockport, MA: Element Books, Inc. 1991.

For an evocative single-page note of just some of the material behind Eliot’s poem, see here.

 

 

http://blog.sciencemusings.com/2011/07/setting-compass.html

 

 

Orders, Hierarchies & Solitaries   2 comments

Maybe you are (or you know you prefer to be) an Order of one. It’s simplicity itself. Spontaneous rituals can be, well, spontaneous. Or you live far from any group you know of, your work nights and sleep days, you’ve been burned by groups in the past, your spirits or guides take you where no group goes … Whatever the reason, you feel allergic to Orders, groups, traditions, the whole degrees and status and rules and standard-ritual-format thing. You honor your own life and its direction by walking and practicing alone.

I hear you. And for 350 days out of each year, we could be twins. Or at least close cousins. As a mostly-solitary, most if not all of your reasons are also mine.

Except.

Even solitaries belong to a Tribe. We’re distant kin. If evolutionary biologists have read the genomes right, we can all trace our ancestry back to a few ultimate grandmothers, and possibly even just one. So cousins it is.

People need people. Even (or especially) if your ideal dosage is low.

I’ve written of my experiences with Gatherings on several occasions. I “belong” to OBOD, the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, in the sense that I study with them through a postal course. No membership card, no annual dues beyond the cost of coursework mailings. I’ve completed the work of the Bard, the first of OBOD’s three grades, and I have a tutor in the U.K.. for my current Ovate study. Apart from any Gatherings I choose to attend once or twice a year, that’s the extent of my group involvement. It’s almost as solitary as it gets. And I certainly don’t restrict my reading or practice or ritual work to OBOD. Nor am I ever asked to.

I maintain a lively interest in several other orders — from a distance. I know several people who have studied with more than one Order. And compilers of the course materials of several of the larger Orders like OBOD and BDO, the British Druid Order, have consciously designed their coursework to be complementary. Study with more than one group and you’ll gain from different emphases. And any overlap, beyond serving as useful review, can deepen understanding because it issues from a different perspective and experience and set of practices.

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Renu Aldritch, OBOD Druid and founder and editor of Druid Magazine*, interviewing OBOD Chosen Chief Philip Carr-Gomm at East Coast Gathering ’17. Photo courtesy Gerfalc Hun.

The current leader of OBOD, Philip Carr-Gomm, has wisely observed that OBOD is a “flat hierarchy”. What matters are individual Druids and their love of the earth. Beyond them, any Groves they may opt to form or associate with. Philip is respected — and teased — and held in generally solid affection by most OBODies I know. But I could complete all three grades of OBOD coursework, never meet him, and never need to meet him or know anything about him. I could self-initiate, and practice on my own, with the useful focus that the study materials of an Order can offer, and never encounter hierarchy at all. Unless you count correspondence with the home office about mailings, or subscribing to the Order’s journal Touchstone, or exchanging letters or emails with a tutor.

I know four other Vermont OBODies, as members informally call themselves. Two of them live three hours away to the north. Another two live 10 minutes to the south. The “Northerners” attended the recent East Coast Gathering. I hadn’t seen them for a year or more. One member 10 minutes to the south joined me and we celebrated Lunasa about two months ago. But we three local OBODies have never managed to get together for coffee, in two years of trying. Solitary, often, right in the middle of being “members of an Order”. As they say, organizing Druids is like herding cats.

In the end, whether you’re an Order-member or a Solitary isn’t an either-or thing. Seeing it as such presents us with a false choice. On the strength of my limited experience as one person, I’d assert that everyone needs both in some form.

Because if I don’t spend time alone with trees and beasts, and energies of human and planetary existence that I can acknowledge and learn from and participate in, I won’t be more than half a Druid at best. And if I don’t learn from others — whether in the quiet company of books, the conversations we all have with “teachers of the moment” that we meet wherever we go, or in the noisier online worlds we’ve made, or the physical Gatherings that can provide so much recharging and good energy and fellowship and new friends — then I miss out on half that the Druid path can offer.

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*Druid Magazine is published online free, three time annually. You can find the current issue, as well as more information, here.

Daily Practice — Druid & Christian Theme 7   Leave a comment

[Themes |1| |2| |3| |4| |5| |6| |7| |8| 9|]

How do I keep the inward doors open? (How do I even begin to locate them and find their handles?) How do I pick up on subtle nudges? How do I hear the quiet inward speech of things — the “still small voice” as older versions of Christian scripture call it? We all get the big events — no need to go looking for them. They burst on the scene, kicking down the door a few times in a life, unmistakably loud and messy, whether good or bad, and usually a mix. But they break through, and everything shifts.

“Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13).

With wind and earthquake and fire, how do we ever catch the whisper? And then, even if we manage to hear the “still small voice”, we may find that instead of resolution or insight or growth, we’re left with questions, like Elijah. Our own lives interrogate us. “What am I doing here? How did things end up like this?”

Most traditions urge a daily practice. As much of Christianity has become focused on belief rather than practice, it has lost much of what monastic practice has preserved. A site on Trappist monasticism notes:

The practice of lectio divina, (divine reading), is foundational to monastic life. So important is divine reading to the spiritual well-being of a monk that, traditionally, we devoted some of the best hours of the day to this practice. Lectio Divina is a discipline whose fruits are experienced over time. One needs to understand the practice and then commit to it with some regularity.

Practice matters. Not because it makes our lives “safe” or “easy”: no life is that I know of. If I think about it, most lives resemble the character throw in role-playing games (RPGs) like Dungeons and Dragons. You toss the game dice for talents, strengths and weaknesses. You may for instance roll a high intelligence, but your physical body is weak. You can’t rely on it. If you’re allowed to roll again, your strength, your vitality, may be high this time, but you’re none too bright.  Or on the third throw, both intelligence and strength come up high, but your temper makes your life a train-wreck of impulse and blame.

A daily practice helps build spiritual stamina. It’s something like what our grandparents and great-grandparents used to call “inner resources”, though they may rarely have shown us how to develop ’em. (Merely “following the rules” doesn’t usually help.) But they knew enough to recognize people who had them. (In RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons, you can improve even weak qualities of your character over time, through experience. Funny thing!)

One of my teachers says that even if we could know the future, we’d have a hard time accepting just the good things to come in our lives. (That they might not always resemble “good things” from our present standpoint rarely occurs to us.) We build stamina over time, so that the big lifting is more manageable, and the daily lifting can become a small pleasure in itself.

A daily practice helps us hear that whisper, catch the still small voice. And that in turn can help us ride the worst of the big bad events, and make the most of the big good events (and little ones, too). And that can lead to all kinds of wonderful things. But the practice itself doesn’t deliver them. It catalyzes. It doesn’t guarantee.

One Druid I know makes it a point, whatever the weather, to visit a small outdoor shrine in his backyard each morning, before he heads off to work. He says a short prayer, or holds a meditation, makes an offering, etc. His practice builds over time, with things added or discarded. If, under pressure of a tight schedule or occasional family craziness, he misses his practice one morning, he feels the lack. But that in itself has deep value — it’s one way to recognize the value of a practice. It’s a good habit. The gods know we all cherish enough bad ones.

So working with the habit-forming tendencies we all have, we put them to work here and there. We start small. A daily practice can be a form of magic, of empowering ourselves to live more fully. Because really, what else is there? If we’re so sunk in difficulty that every day is a struggle just to survive, we’ve got nothing extra to share with anyone or anything. Our work is simply to endure. And sometimes that has to be enough. But beyond survival, one goal can be to spend our surplus as we choose, consciously, with intention. The goal is to find ways to get to a surplus in the first place, so we have something to spend, something to give back, to build on, to build up.

As Philip Carr-Gomm has written, “In a world sorely lacking in meaningful ritual, it can feel like a balm to the soul to engage in actions that are not obviously utilitarian, that are designed to help us enter into a deeper sense of engagement with life –- to give expression to our belief in a world of Spirit that infuses this physical world with energies that bring healing and inspiration.” If such ideas seem foreign or strange, that’s a measure of how far we’ve wandered from ways of living proven over millennia to help us make the most of our few decades here.

The Christian “Lord’s Prayer” is brief, and usefully so. Or if you’re a Catholic, the Rosary is comparably short. Most traditions offer short usable rites like prayers or visualizations. Along with similar prayers, OBOD Druids and others may practice a Light Body exercise.

Repetitions done mindfully can be remarkable in their effects over time, hard to describe until you try them out. Like any exercise, they build strength and stamina. We can propose to ourselves any number of fine practices, elaborate rituals, intense mystical exercises. But the small one we actually follow through on every day for a month will be the one that begins to convince us of its value, and of the value of a practice.

The key is to find what works, and what I can stick with. I keep a record. Did this for a week. Liked it. Kept it up for a year. Discarded it. Felt the lack. Picked it up again and added it back in to the mix a year later. Forgotten I’d made that experiment till I re-read my journal from that time.

Finding what works for me, ultimately, is a practice all its own, one of the most “practical practices” I can try.

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I’ll close with a Youtube clip of “Pirililou”, which as its description states, is

an old Gaelic Chant sung at the Western ocean’s edge to the soul of the departed, in the first days after death, to assist the soul travelling from this world to the next ones. It is said to imitate the call of a shore bird … a bird dedicated to Bridhe and St Brigit, who assist the birth of souls in this world as well as the next.

As a meditation before sleep (that practice journey we all make nightly), this kind of meditation can lead to deep insight. Have we, after all, been fully born into this world, never mind any other one? Playing (singing, composing) a short devotional song that moves you deeply, and listening (performing) with intention, can make for the beginning of a profound practice.

Grail and Cross — Druid & Christian Theme 5   Leave a comment

[Themes |1| |2| |3| |4| |5| |6| |7| |8| 9|]

symbol pageAs with so many geometrical figures, both solid and planar, the Grail and Cross, cup and intersection, are figures that belong to no single group or culture.

Of course cross and star, cup and sword, wand and flame, etc., may be adopted by one or more groups as symbols with meanings specific to the group, but that doesn’t mean the cross is exclusively “Christian”, any more than trees “belong” to Druids alone. The most powerful symbols expand beyond the confines of association with any one group. If they didn’t, we might question their worth.

To choose just one example, the five-pointed star is Pagan, Christian, and more besides. Most of all, it’s an anciently human-devised shape, made to represent a host of ideas and perceptions. Many of the most enduring symbols are mandalas, sacred forms, that often show a high degree of symmetry, or other visual and pleasing harmony. Contrary to what you may have heard, sacred geometry is alive and well, and lives still in our eyes and hearts.

Among the Sumerians, millennia before Christ, the star or pentagram was a logogram meaning “corner, angle, nook, small room”. In Medieval Europe, the star could represent a series of Christian fives: the five wounds of Christ, the five chivalric virtues of a knight, and so on. (The medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight develops this theme at some length.) And as one form of endless knot, the unicursal star or pentagram stood as a symbolic defense against evil. How many nations feature stars on their flags and among their other national symbols? That’s quite a range of meanings and interpretations — and possible uses!

All this said, both Grail and Cross are now firmly entrenched in the Western world as specific symbols, straddling Pagan and Christian understandings of emotion and physicality, manifestation and transformation, magic and divinity. Still, modern instances can reinforce (and subtly reinterpret) older usages. Note this comment about the fictional “Grail Cross” at symboldictionary.net:

This emblem, best known as the “grail cross,” is not a genuine religious or historical symbol, but I receive so many questions relating to the symbol that it is included here. This emblem appears in the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” as the emblem of “Brotherhood of the Cruciform* Sword,” the fictional secret society who serve as Guardians of the Holy Grail in the movie.

With its myth- and symbol-making power, modern media is rife with magical purposes — the subject of a separate post, if not a book or entire library. Want a “new” symbol to become charged with meaning and significance? Get it into a film that generates pop-culture buzz and fandom!

gchaltertopAnd because in much of the West we don’t know any more what to do with either sacred or profane, the two go together like a horse and carriage, or jam and toast, hooking up like the hormonally crazed. So here, for your reflection and pondering on the doubled hallowing and polarizing powers of human consciousness, is the “Grail Cross Halter Top“. So many symbols bare their midriffs at some point, turn commercial, and even have a go at sexual reinterpretation. (Here’s the Katy Perry version. Note the addendum on the right-hand image: “steal her style”.) Hence the need for “new” symbols, which are often the oldest ones returning once again to present consciousness at need.

For what the original symbols point to is precisely what their commercial cousins claim to but cannot offer: transformation, youth, beauty, power, energy, fertility. Who doesn’t seek the Grail?

Grail and Cross are one more way for Druids and Christians to find points of communion and exchange, without sacrificing their distinct identities. And such communion can be literal: bread of the earth, wine or grape juice as the blood of sacrifice, the ritual words either Druid or Christian, depending on the purpose, those attending, the group and the rite. What does your imagined shared Druid and Christian ritual look like?

I’ve written here before about the Forest Church movement, and there are creative imaginings, poems and songs that explore this common territory. You can read one instance here, about Jesus and Merlin:

What if
Jesus and Merlin were to meet
At twilight
In the garden, in the grove,
One looking forward to the Skull of Golgotha,
One looking back on the Sacred Head of Bran? …

What could they give to one another
These prophets circling in their Time-long orbits?

You might try out the poem’s answers to these questions on your sense of possibilities. And if they don’t work for you, write yours.

After all, there are as many meeting-points as people. If the holy terrain between Druid and Christian calls to you, better your way than one belonging to another that doesn’t fit you on your arm of the spiral journey. A week’s worth of your own meditations surpasses anything I can write here. These themes are suggestions, prompts, points of departure. They’re mine, and they may not be yours. Their use is as sparks, kindling, tinder, fuel, provocation.

One such locus for both traditions is healing, as OBOD Chief Philip Carr-Gomm has written,

laby-grOne of the most important tasks that face us today is one of reconciliation, whether that be between differing political or religious positions … the Christian community, far from taking fright at a perceived regression to a pagan past, can ally itself with [Druidry] which is complementary, and not antagonistic to Christian ideals and ethics …

St. Columba said “Christ is my Druid” and I believe that if we take Druidry to represent that ancient wisdom which lies deep within us, and that can connect us once again to the Earth and her wonders, we can understand how we can be Christian Druids, Buddhist Druids or Druids of whatever hue or depth is needed for us at our present stage of development.

As you will know, Christianity in these islands built upon the foundations laid already by the Druids –- their seasonal observances were developed as festival days, their sites were built upon with churches, and the Druids welcomed Christianity for they with their powers of seership and connection to the Source knew of Christ’s coming, and allowed their practices to develop into what became known, at least in Scotland, as the Culdee church.

This segues into the next theme in this series: festivals and holidays.

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Images: symbols; Grail Cross Halter Top; grand-mother and -daughter at labyrinth.

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