Archive for the ‘Philip Larkin’ Tag

Imbolc Moon   Leave a comment

Earlier today my wife and I walked through the brilliant winter sunlight on the neighborhood loop that took us past snowfields already blue with late afternoon shadows.

snowfield

Looking southeast around 3:30 pm

I’ve quoted the Philip Larkin poem “First Sight” before, but today it seemed perfect as a tribute to the goddess whose hearth (or in our case, woodstove) I worship at particularly intensely on these frigid midwinter days.

woodshed

Imbolc as guide: more than half our wood remains.

Spring will come, and as goddess of fire and smithing, Brighid warms and heals and shapes us. Lack of any promising evidence for that change bothers her not at all.

Larkin’s poem means more to us, because just four miles from our house a local farmer milks his herd of some 90 sheep and sells a variety of sweet, rich cheeses in a little shed halfway down the lane to his milk barn. Lambing season is usually later than February in the Northeast, for the simple reason that it’s too cold for the newborns in anything other than a heated shelter. Push the ewes to conceive too early in the fall, and you’ll end up with dead lambs. Larkin captures this time of change in a somewhat milder climate, but still snowy.  Memory had me reciting his lines again to myself as we walked. I had to come back and locate the poem to fill in the gaps I couldn’t bring to mind:

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth’s immeasureable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.

snow-lamb

This always moves me — a transfomation we simply cannot see coming merely by looking around us. No evidence here, at least none we can make out. Even, sometimes, a “vast unwelcome.” Life in this world is catalyst. It never leaves us alone. What gifts of the gods and spirits and our own ancestors will wake and grow in us? Will we let ourselves be surprised? Brighid, may it always be so!

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The rangy willow in our backyard has been feeling the sun these past several days. Even with its branches garbed in snow, you can make just make out in the crown of the tree the first faint reddish-green hint of spring in the depths of this February cold. Imbolc upon us. “They could not grasp it if they knew,/What so soon will wake and grow.” Memory of other Februaries wakes and hints at what will return, against the odds.

imbolcwillow

Backyard willow

With the triplet of Imbolc, Groundhog Day (in the U.S.), and a full moon tonight on Feb 3, it seemed right to celebrate today and tonight, the third day of the three. And this evening my wife and I enjoyed homemade potato soup rich with leeks and garlic and sour cream — we practiced the traditional Italian “mangiare in bianco” — literally, “to eat in white” in observance of the moon, without also “eating blandly or lightly,” as the expression can indicate, too.

The hill to our east, cresting perhaps four hundred yards above our roof, delays sunrise and moonrise both. Moonrise tonight “officially” hit Brattleboro VT at 5:09 pm. We wait for it longer here.

At first I thought the image below was a discard. A tree-trunk obscures one edge of the moon, and the horizon is hazy. But then I saw it perfectly captured our Imbolc experience. Slowly the sky cleared as the temperature continued to drop towards 0 (-18 C), as it has the last several nights. Hunger Moon* rose higher, and the moon-shadow of a pine in the backyard leaned out dark against the snow in the moonlight. I took another shot.

imbolcmoon

Moon around 6:45 pm, shortly after clearing our hilltop

Praise to Brighid and life and light, warmth human and divine in our veins, in the animals and plants around us! May our vision of the Whole become clear as the moon this night.

imbmoon2

Moon around 8:00 pm

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*Hunger Moon” is one of the Native American names for February — and never fails to make me shiver.

Image: Snow lamb.

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“Creating a Goddess Book”: The Rest of the Workshop   Leave a comment

Our bodies already know the Goddess – this is our oldest magic.

I relied on this insight in planning for the workshop at this year’s East Coast Gathering, whose theme was “Connecting with the Goddess.”

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Goals and plans I had for the workshop:

The heart of the workshop is a hands-on look at various ways to make a physical book/scroll/altar object that explores/invites/incorporates ritual, ogham/runes, art, prayer, poems, questions, magic and daydreaming into a concrete “link” to the Goddess as we experience Her — or desire to experience Her. Think “book” as “portable paginated/folding/roll-up ongoing altar-in-process.” I’ll talk about inspiration, nudges, hints and ways to listen, inviting and hoping for participant sharing and input! The seed for the workshop comes out of the fact that I’m a prime example of somebody who doesn’t have a consistent Goddess practice (though She’s seeing to it that’s shifting, too), but when She wants my attention, She gets it, like with this book, and workshop.

It’s probably a good thing we don’t always hear how ambitious we sound. Young or old, you eventually learn to deal with the inevitable gap between vision and manifestation. If you’ve managed to hold on to any of that original and wonderful idealism of youth, you also realize that the gap isn’t a reason to despair, or to dispense with vision, but rather a sign of just how important vision is.

The physical world, so important for manifestation, by its nature tends to lag behind the swiftness with which vision can appear. But that lag is precisely part of this world’s immense value: its inertia and density allow for greater permanency and resistance to change, so that we can experience the results of vision over time — and fine-tune it if we choose. Unlike in dream, where the subtle stuff of vision or imagination can wisp away so quickly, physical manifestation tries to linger.

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The Goddess is generous. Or alternatively, if you prefer the cynical version, I belong to the OCD Order of Druids. Creativity, as the saying goes, is messy. I over-planned for the workshop, ending up with far more material than any mortal could begin to do justice to in a mere hour, and this post is my penance, or confession. Or further indulgence. And maybe — in the way it often arrives when we’re not paying attention, even in spite of ourselves — a spark of awen.

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ogham“Creating A Goddess Book,” with focus on “book” in order to free it from the psychological shrine many Druids, and Pagans generally, tend to put books in. Instead of paper, a book of leather, or metal, or cloth — individual sheets, or a single longer scroll. A nudge to try out the qualities of other substances than paper, than the admittedly inviting blank books on sale in chain bookstores, or even Ye Friendlie Lokal Paygan Shoppe.

Each workshop participant received a packet to practice with, consisting of a rectangle  (approx. 3″ x 4″) of vegetable-cured leather and a similar-sized rectangle of .019″ aluminum, wrapped in a larger swath of canvas cut from a shop drop-cloth from Home Depot. A wood- and leather-burning tool, a few screwdrivers, some markers of various kinds, a few words about inspiration and the importance of working to manifest things on the physical plane as one powerful way to connect with the Goddess. Suggestions for inscribing/writing/ incising a short prayer, vow, magical name, etc. Reference tables of Ogham and runes for those who wanted to inscribe words with some privacy, as a personal meditation. I pointed out that you could cut all three materials with kitchen scissors. Besides the wood-burner, no fancy tools required. Then I shut up and let participants have at the materials. Done!

Hex Nottingham's leather and metal "pages" -- photo courtesy Hex Nottingham

Hex Nottingham’s leather and metal “pages” — photo courtesy Hex Nottingham

Except for the next flash of inspiration in the planning process, which would not let go: a “Nine-Fold Star of the Goddess” you can try out here at one of several websites that illustrate the steps.

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A sampling, with some commentary and additions, from the workshop handout:

“Spirit must express itself in the world of matter or it accomplishes nothing.  Insights of meditation and ceremony gain their full power and meaning when reflected in the details of everyday life.” — J. M. Greer, The Druidry Handbook, p. 138.

This world, here, is the realm of mystery. Spirit is simple — it’s this world that’s so surprising and complex in its changes and ripples, its folds and spirals and timings. Make something, I tell myself, labor with the body, and then I can often approach the Goddess more easily, dirt under my fingernails, sweat on my face. She likes bodies. I’m the one who keeps forgetting this, not her.

“Work with a Goddess long enough and you learn to hear Her call. You learn to pick her voice out above the noise of contemporary society, above the words of teachers and friends, and even above your own thoughts and feelings. Sometimes what you hear is not what you expect.” — John Beckett, “A Rite of Sacrifice,” Mar. 4, 2014.

“Shaper, you have made and shaped me. Honor and serenity are yours. I am your garment, you the indwelling spirit. Work with me in everything I do, that all may know you. Energizer, quicken me. Measurer, clear my path. Protector, guard me safely. Initiator, take my hand. Challenger, transform me. Savior, be my help. Weaver, make my pattern bright. Preserver, heal me. Empowerer, make me wise.” — adapted from Caitlin Matthews, Elements of the Goddess, p. 118.

Rilke’s fragment, a whole meditation in itself, or a daily morning prayer.

Oh, I who long to grow,
I look outside myself, and the tree
inside me grows.

— Rainer Maria Rilke

And Larkin’s poem “Water”:

Water

If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes;

My liturgy would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,

And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.

— Philip Larkin

After delighting in this poem, make an exercise of it. Choose one of the elements.  It can be water, as in the poem, or one of the others. Finish the sentence: “If I were called in to construct a _____, I should make use of [element].” Keep going: a series of statements, a meditation on the one you just wrote, a free association.  Whatever gets you putting words down.  You can try this over several days with all the elements, or at a different pace, if you’re working with the elements on your own.

The ECG schedule this year put the Goddess Book workshop immediately after Thursday’s Opening Ritual, so people arrived still bubbling from the ceremonial jump-start for the weekend.

“In every world, in every form, in every way, I am near you, I uphold you, I comfort you, I guide you, I deliver you from each limitation until my freedom is yours. Your body is my chalice, your heart my echo, your form my shadow, your pulse my footstep, your breath my passing.” — from my own Goddess book.

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pattern-star

1. Once you hold the Star of the Goddess in your hand, write the names of the four elements and Spirit, one near each of the points. Complete this step before reading further.

2. Which elements sit on either side of Spirit? Contemplate on their positions there.  Are they elements that help support your spiritual life?  Are they especially active?  Are these the elements that need extra attention and balance?

3. Consider a section in your Goddess book for vows: experiment with them, not as harsh, unyielding obligations, but as tools for studying resolve, testing experience, practicing manifestation of your intent, and so on. They need not be “public” – write them in ogham, runes, etc. Start small and easily achievable.

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Dedicating a Goddess Book: Blood, sweat, tears, spit, etc. can mark our books with our earthiness: a commitment to be honest with the Goddess about our path, its ups and downs, to remember her presence with us, and to acknowledge what we need, what we doubt, what we’re willing to work for – whatever feels right to include. Make a ritual of it. Do it quietly, simply, without fanfare, with silence making its own ritual. Or call out all the stops, bells and whistles. Then dance, feast and celebrate.

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Allow a Goddess book — it could be a single sheet or “page” specifically intended for this purpose — to return slowly to the elements on an outdoor altar. Or bury it in the Mother’s good earth. Thus is the vow fulfilled that the Mother takes into Herself, as She will take all things back in time, and return them again.

“All things are holy to you.  This book like all things lies among the faces you show to me; may I learn from you daily, drink deep from your well, and body you forth as your child.” — from my Goddess book.

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A small ritual. Take a few deep breaths. Sing the awen, or other name or word that grounds and focuses you. Holding your cupped hands in front of you, say: “I make this altar for the Goddess, a space where she may act in my life.”

Holding the Star, or your journal, or other ritual object meaningful to you, or nothing else at all, ask yourself: What specific space or doorway exists in my life for the Goddess to manifest or to act in? Pay attention to hints, images and answers as they come.

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And again: Our bodies already know the Goddess – this is our oldest magic.

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Images: ogham; star.

Imbolc and “First Sight”   Leave a comment

On first sight (or much later, depending on the particular script we’re following), the world can be a forbidding place.  We all go through emotional and psychological winters at times.  Nothing seems to provide warmth or comfort, so we hunker down and endure. And we can get so good at this kind of half-life that we mistake merely surviving for full-hearted thriving. Well-meaning friends or family who try to console us with various messages of hope or endurance (“This too shall pass”) can’t budge us from our heaviness.

The hidden changes implicit in the imminent shift of energy and consciousness which Druids symbolize and celebrate in Imbolc also find expression in the starkly beautiful lines of “First Sight” by British poet Philip Larkin.

First Sight

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth’s immeasurable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.

For that is how at least some changes arrive — immeasurable, ungraspable, unlike anything that went before, so that we can’t even anticipate or recognize them ahead of time.  Nothing of the past prepares us.  The new comes on us “utterly unlike” the present.  Only long memory serves to recognize them sometimes, and hail and welcome them — memory often consciously denied to us in one human lifetime, but accessible through dream and intuition and the “far memory” that we may call “past lives” or the “collective unconscious” or  the “knower behind the thoughts” or “gut instinct.”  This is memory as trees know it, the rings of years that grow into the wood, the cell memory we humans also carry with us, the salts of ancient oceans that pulse in the same proportions in our blood.

This is the promise of light renewed, that miracle we often cynically dismiss but deeply long for, the story we are always telling ourselves:  maybe this time, maybe next week, one more year.  This marriage, that job, this new chance, here, now, finally, at last.

It’s important to note that this event is not “supernatural” or “religious” in the commonly understood sense of “coming from outside our world” or depending on a deity.  We don’t need to look that far, though we’re welcome to if we wish.  It is earth’s immeasurable surprise, after all, issuing from this world, this land, dirt under our feet, air that surrounds us, sun on our skin. Put another way, the whole world is telling us “Pay attention!”

Another Irish name for Imbolc is Oimelc — “ewe’s milk.”  In the agrarian societies all our ancestors came from, the pregnant ewes have been preparing for the lambs to come, their udders swelling with milk.  There are signs of change and renewal all around us, but in our rush towards “anywhere but here,” we’ve often lost sight of and contact with the markers that would center and align us with the natural order of balance and harmony we crave.

In North America, the equivalent “secular” holiday is Groundhog’s Day, which one way or another says winter will in fact eventually end.  Punxsutawney Phil emerges from the earth and his plump hibernation sleepiness to prophesy renewal, either seeing his shadow on a sunny day, or huddling under February clouds as secular augurs read the omens and declare them to the assembled faithful.  (We don’t so much abandon ritual and religion as slip it past the censor of the modern and supposedly irreligious mind, clothing it in other guises less objectionable.  If you doubt it, take a look at the grand mythologizing that surrounds Phil on sites like this one.)

Happy Groundcandleimbolcmasshogday!

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Images:  lamb; tree ring; Punxsutawney Phil.

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