Archive for the ‘poetry’ Tag

Lorna Smithers’ “Annuvian Awen”

This post offers honor to the bards — in this instance, to Lorna Smithers, a British awenydd or dedicant to the awen-inspiration which pervades our experience, which the bard is called to witness and manifest.

Lorna’s most recent post and poem puts words to this season after Samhuinn. Are you feeling it in your bones and mood, the dark half of the year? (Those of you in the southern hemisphere have recently entered the light half.) Turn then to Lorna’s lines, and cherish the treasures of darkness.

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The Oak King cedes his place to the Holly in the Wheel of the Year.

If you’re looking for a chant to take you through to Yule, to Midwinter, try out Lorna’s poem as a charm that opens like this, first in Welsh and then in English*:

Allan o dywyllwch caf fy ngeni
Allan o waed caf fy ngeni
Allan o ysbryd caf fy ngeni …

Out of darkness I am born
Out of blood I am born
Out of spirit I am born …

For if we “sing from Annwn” (further lines from her poem), that very deep Otherworld, we consciously join “the souls of the dead and of living initiates to the cauldron”.

And they are one and the same.

For we are the Dead, to those now in the Otherworld. We’ve left them to live here. But all of us are “initiates to the cauldron”, link between worlds.

O friends, read her post!

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*Sound matters. I love that Lorna was moved to compose in both languages. If you know even a little Welsh, attend to the sound of these lines. For help with the Welsh ll, this Wikipedia sound file is useful.

“Drinking with the Ancestors”

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photo courtesy Hex Nottingham

Here’s the poem* I read by the fire** at Saturday night’s eisteddfod at ECG ’16. I’m also submitting it to Touchstone so you may run across it there if it’s accepted.

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Drinking with the Ancestors

This poem ain’t no teetotal ritual:
let’s raise each cup, now, individual,
every mug and glass fill up now
and start drinking with the Ancestors.

Chat ‘em up — don’t merely greet ‘em;
the Dead are chummy when you meet ’em.
This good liquor in your tummy
gets you thinking: toast the Ancestors!

By and with the spirits near us —
“Don’t invoke us if you fear us” —
good advice, if we lose focus,
glasses clinking with the Ancestors.

A few more rounds, more pints and glasses,
may find us falling on our asses.
We strive to heed old voices calling
though we’re blinking at the Ancestors.

Yes, when morning comes, perhaps uncertain
if we dreamed or drew some curtain
on a world where it truly seemed
that we were linking with our Ancestors,

good liquor works its own true magic,
so never blame it – downright tragic,
if “hung over” is what we name it:
feel like sinking toward the Ancestors?

They come in all shapes, and in all sizes:
some are heroes, some no prizes
(they’re like us in all our guises)
familiar patterns – star or rose
tattoos we’re inking for the Ancestors.

Listen: they are singing, they are cussing,
they can advise us if we’re sussing
out the paths our lives might take
or leave shivers in their wake
that have us shrinking from our Ancestors.

Before a soul decides to curse them,
mutter charms that will disperse them
foil their harms and then reverse them,
all these stinking, damned Ancestors!

(Ah, do please remember)

we’re their consequence, not moot –
we got their genetic seed and root,
and we’re the payoff, crown and fruit,
we’re their future, built to suit,
so cheers to drinking with our Ancestors!

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*I’d drafted the piece at ECG ’12, with the title/last line echoing in my head all weekend, then revised it a few days before this year’s Gathering.

**Hex remarked when he posted the image, “You have the complete attention of a long horned fyre god here, and it is blessing you with its aura.”

Thirty Days of Druidry 22: “Seeking Beyond the Skyline”

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In her comment on # 16 in this series, Lorna Smithers writes:

Yes, I’d agree the ‘greater wisdom’ does come from walking through uncharted wildernesses. Often the signposts left by other folk help but it’s rare to find them in the books on how to [do] Druidry/Paganism or of self-professed gurus but more often from poets, philosophers, bloggers, often those who don’t know too much about Druid/Pagan religion but do know about the journey, getting lost, plumbing the deep … Anybody teaching basic writing will share the rule ‘show not tell’. And it’s always showings rather than tellings that have guided me.

I’ll venture some tellings here, if only because I’m re-reading Dion Fortune’s The Training and Work of an Initiate*, and Fortune addresses this topic. (Don’t we all read things to confirm what we already suspect? The awen stalks and finds us in spite of our circumstances and resistances.) Like many of us, Lorna’s learned her path largely by walking it herself, not always an easy or comfortable journey. For her as Bard and awenydd, showings are a kind of native territory.

Fortune tackles the “default setting” of human consciousness (allow for 1930s pronouns and gender reference):

The great majority of our fellow-men are willing to take the world as they find it, and so long as it does not treat them too hardly, they are content.

Given current world events and the growing sense of dis-ease issuing from so many directions, you’d not be wrong if you conclude that fewer people today remain content to “take the world as they find it.”

Fortune continues:

Others, however, question what lies beyond the world as they see it, and until they learnt the answer to this question, suffer from the divine discontent which has for ever urged men to “seek beyond the skyline, where the strange roads go down.”

This is our given: the itch, the pain, the hunger that won’t go away merely because parents, partners, politicians or our own painful (un)common sense tells us to ignore the raw nerve of our discontent. “Times like these” can indeed serve as a fine prod to awakening that discontent in  more of us. All this we know — too well.

Most men are also inclined to take for granted the inevitableness of suffering, and unless they are brought into personal contact with some flagrant case, or are themselves victims, they offer no protest.

We also know, or suspect, that we’ve been able to afford such complacency thus far because for so many, comparative physical prosperity, ease and stability in the West have sheltered us from many the worst forms of suffering commonplace elsewhere in the world. (As compensation, we may corner the market on psychic suffering and all the secondary physical fallout it can generate.)

But even in the West  this has never been true for all (our temporary exemption has expired), and it’s no longer true for increasing numbers of people. Glib proverbs like “The world is a school where the sleeping are woken up,” however true they might be, offer little comfort or guidance at such times. “Everything happens for a reason” doesn’t offer squat beyond pop psychology. (I want strategies, techniques, tools to use!) Cracks in the dike are starting to show everywhere — cracks that government spending on physical infrastructure, however necessary, will not alleviate.

But Fortune goes on to describe the experience of those who’ve launched themselves on a spiritual quest. You make a start and immediately you’re no longer in “lands we know.” Your footing yields, the path twists and dips and disappears most disconcertingly. Friends are usually no help. One or two may be on their own quests, but it’s rare that you can travel together — or that a companion can offer much assistance if you do.

At times, just to add to your trouble, you feel the golden chance slipping past, or sense the outlines of an open door that’s still invisible in front of you. Somehow you know, maddeningly, that it stands there waiting for you nevertheless. That it might be slowly closing. That now’s the time to go through — if only you could. But such convictions help not at all. Instead, with each subtle opportunity here — passing — gone — they increase the torment.

Fortune gets her finger on the pulse:

It is true that, although glorious glimpses are caught by the intuition unaided by the intellect, much more is lost from sheer inability on the part of the student to grasp the significance of his opportunity. Infinite things can be perceived by the spiritual intuition, but unless the intellect be fitted to cooperate, these things can seldom be rendered of practical avail for the solution of world-problems. The mystic has his moments of ecstatic emotion during which he reaches great heights, but he is seldom able to bring back water from the wells of life for those he has left behind. It is only when each vehicle of consciousness in man is in perfect correlation that the current of inspiration can flow through him and be translated into manifestation in the physical world in which we are living today; and while a man can learn great things and store them in his subconscious mind, it is only during the life in which he has learnt to correlate his vehicles so that he can bring the spiritual through into manifestation, that he can be of service to his fellow men (Fortune, p. 20).

There’s plenty here to unwrap. I read “only when each vehicle of consciousness is in perfect correlation” and I think, “Well, screw it! That’s never happening! Diagnose the problem but then calmly tell me why the solution will always be out of reach! ‘Perfect correlation’?! Are you f***ing kidding me?!”

But we can cut ourselves some slack. As Lorna notes above, we already receive an immense outpouring of “water from the wells of life” from poets and singers, philosophers and bards who do know about the journey and about getting lost. Many already “serve their fellow men” in ways that may be deeply imperfect but still arrive and feed that hunger, ways just as deeply welcome and needed. Lacking any perfect channel, I’ll take all the blessedly imperfect ones around me as my models. Neither I nor anyone else needs to be “perfect” to make a start, or achieve things of value. False prerequisite number 1!

Our goal is flow, however small the trickle at the outset, so that “the current of inspiration can flow through all of us and be translated into manifestation in the physical world in which we are living today.” And we’re already flowing. Without a flow of life energy through us, we wouldn’t even be here. We’re already flowing. Blood in our veins, breath in our lungs, food and sunlight transforming each day into physical life in us. The challenge isn’t to start, but to open the channels just a little wider as we live each day. As so many sources have urged us, a regular practice — ritual, spiritual exercise, chant, prayer, artistic practice, gardening, cooking — acts done consciously and joyously — is one proven method. Miss a day or two here and there? Don’t beat yourself up about it. Keep at it. My own strategy, as I mentioned in a recent post: fail again and again, fail well, fail confidently, until I no longer notice failure, until I don’t fail any more.

Another method is service: “… it is only during the life in which he has learnt to correlate his vehicles so that he can bring the spiritual through into manifestation, that he can be of service to his fellow men.” Fortune assumes multiples lives here, a process of spiritual evolution as we learn through life after life how to “correlate” or harmonize our modes of awareness and action.

Fortune urges us to service out of compassion:

I would urge them, if they need any spur to this effort, to remember how much it would have meant to them, when they themselves stood upon that self-same step, had the help which it will be in their power to give been available. No effort after development is wasted, even if he who strives seems to lose sight of his goal and turn aside. It is the passage of many feet that widens the path for the multitude; we, in our day, will never have to face such trials as did those initiates who broke the way for us (Fortune, pp. 20-21).

We are always initiates, always beginning a new arm of the spirals of our journeys, even as old cycles come to fruition and close. Remembering may not always come to aid us. To let words from Lorna’s site close this post, here’s wonderfully sage advice, a quotation from poet Charlotte Hussey: “Imagine if you can’t remember.” Dreamers, all of us, imagine next.

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*Fortune, Dion. The Training and Work of an Initiate.  York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 2000. [Originally published 1930, Rider and Co.]

Thirty Days of Druidry 7: The Gods

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Staring at the pecs and thighs of the gods,
stupid voyeur that I am, that immortal gloss
and sheen no tanning bed or airbrush skill can give,

or sampling on the sly from that moonshine still
where they refill their goblets, at last I think
I see them true, the outsized celebrities they’ve

always been for us: golden child, outcast, neurotic,
sex-addict, the pantheon’s drunk, slut, tyrant, monster —
the whole extended family a Jerry Springer dream finale.

But hear one speak with power, watch the mask slip,
face and form fade out to nothing like our own.
Now stone or star, volcano, cave, or lake, she or he

fires your heart or brands your brain, and you’ll
never live the same. The gods aren’t yours.
You’re theirs. Beyond wrong or right,

death, life or other toys to play with, you belong.

Stuart Piggott’s “Wessex Harvest”

Stuartpiggott“Wessex Harvest” is a poem written in 1948 by distinguished British archaeologist Stuart Piggott (1910-1996). I quote it here because it evokes autumn and an autumnal mood. Also because some of Piggott’s uncharitable remarks about contemporary Druidry, especially in his 1985 book The Druids (Ancient Peoples and Places), haven’t earned him much applause in some Pagan quarters. He distinguishes, quite appropriately, between “Druids as known,” “Druids as inferred,” and “Druids as wished-for,” and drops contemporary Druidry squarely in the latter category. The Druid Revival also earns Piggott’s scorn at times.

But of course, as AODA archdruid J. M. Greer is fond of remarking, mere age is no indicator of quality in anything. If we actually could dig up a 10,000-year old Druidry, would that make it better? And “wished-for” happens to be a quality inherent in most of the great accomplishments of human culture. What “actually” exists as “known” first arrives imagined, wished-for, waiting — oddly enough — like a poem not yet written down.  No Druidry of any period simply appeared on the scene without prior human imagination and effort, to be buried like a dog’s bone and subsequently turn up in the archaeological record just for convenience.

Piggott’s poem shows a more intuitive and perceptive side of the man, which is helpful in seeing him more accurately and completely — more charitably. So here it is:

Wessex Harvest

Now the ancient Wessex hills
seize their lost splendour–
once, Stonehenge-building, their princes
proud with their Wicklow gold
strode in the sunshine;
now earth inherits
their dust, who are chalk-graved,
dry frail and brittle
pale bones under barrows–
poor fragments, those great ones.
But see, the austere lines
of downland are gladdened
splendid now, flaunting
armour of red-gold plate,
corn-stooks its studding;
new from old treasure
is this year’s miraculous
rebirth in the harvest.
And so in all years
is nothing forgotten,
always the far dead things
new life begetting.

In this poem, unlike in his other work, Piggott shows that he does perceive how things like Druidry might re-emerge, finding “rebirth in the harvest” where “far dead things” really can and do “beget new life.”

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Images: Stuart Piggott — Wikipedia.

Kuklunomes — Let’s (Un)form the Circle: Part 2

[Part 1 here]

britpagcirc

Vikuklunomes!*

So it goes, so we go:
Uncircle! and the Elements flash and dance,
mingle, spin and dissolve, three, a dozen,
scores, just one, an alchemy gods conceive,
humans guess at — join, sometimes —
give birth to, even:
waterfall of fire, tower of wind,
burn of dust that is our bones in us
dancing too. Can’t help it.

In the center
spirit rests, while power
loosed like a bird from its long cage
circles on wings that feather our faces,
flies off to its home, still roosting
in our hearts, eaves of thought,
door to tomorrow, hearth of dreaming.

 

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Image: Druid Order of LondonCadet Chapel Falcon Circle at the Air Force Academy.

These images accompany two very different articles (here and here), worth reading, which sample some of the work still to be done for spiritual and religious freedom and more informed understanding.  (Oh my brothers and sisters, this is my prayer; may we learn to take wing and fly free of fear.)

*vikuklunomes: [vee-koo-kloo-NOH-mehs] vi- “reversing prefix” + kukl- “circle, wheel” + -un- “become” + -omes “first person plural– we/let’s”; a verb in Dingva, one of my conlangs (constructed languages) based on Proto-Indo-European.  Noun form: vikukluna [vee-koo-KLOO-nah] “uncircling, unforming a circle.” An incomplete and older version of Dingva appears here.

Posted 28 May 2014 by adruidway in Druidry, poetry

Tagged with , ,

Jesus and Druidry, Part 1

[Part 1 | Part 2Part 3]

Midwinter greetings to you all!  It’s sunny and bitter cold here in southern VT.  The mourning doves and chickadees mobbing our feeder have fluffed themselves against the chill — the original down jackets — the indoor thermometer says 62, and my main task today, besides writing this post, is keeping our house warm and fussing over the woodstove like a brood hen sitting a nest of chicks.  Hope you’re bundled and warm — or if you live on the summer side of the globe, you’re making the most of the sun and heat while it lasts.

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gbshawThe long and complex associations between a dominant religion like Christianity and minority faiths and practices within the dominant religious culture, like Druidry, won’t be my primary focus in this post. I’m more interested in personalities and practices anyway. It’s from spiritual innovators that any transformation of consciousness spreads, and that includes people like Jesus. Or as George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) quipped in his play Man and Superman, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”  I’m asserting that in the best sense of the word, we can count Jesus among the “unreasonable” men and women we depend on for progress.

Mostly reasonable people like me don’t make waves.  Cop out?  Maybe.  If I chose to stand in the front lines of protests against practices like fracking, wrote blogs and letters decrying the bought votes and cronyism of specific members of Congress, targeted public figures with letter campaigns, founded and led a visible magical or spiritual group or movement, made headlines and provided a ready source of colorful sound-bites, I’d win my quarter-hour of fame, and probably an FBI or NSA file with my name on it.* Maybe it would make a difference.  Maybe not.  Material for an upcoming post.

Back to the main topic of Jesus and Druidry.  As 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.  That Christianity provided the vehicle for Druidry’s survival is ironic, since the Church quite clearly did not intend this to be the case (p. 31).

rookOne somewhat obscure but intriguing survival is the Scots poet Sir Richard Holland’s Buke of the Howlat(e) (Book of the Owlet), dating from the 1450s. OK, . Holland’s satirical poem is peopled with birds standing in for humans, and it stars an unhappy owl which has traveled to the Pope (a peacock) to petition for an improved appearance.

lainghowlatIn the process of considering the owl’s request, the Pope orders a banquet, and among the entertainments during the feast is a “Ruke” (a rook or raven) in the stanza below, which represents the traditional satirical and mocking bard (named in the poem as Irish, but actually Scots Gaelic), deploying the power of verse to entertain, assert his rights, and reprimand the powerful.  Thus, some two centuries before the start of the Druid Revival, Holland’s poem preserves memory of the old bardic tradition.  Bear with my adaptation here of stanza 62 of Holland’s long poem.  Here, the Rook gives a recitation in mock Gaelic, mixed with the Scots dialect** of the poem, demanding food and drink:

So comes the Rook with a cry, and a rough verse:
A bard out of Ireland with beannachaidh Dhe [God’s blessings (on the house)]
Said, “An cluinn thu guth, a dhuine dhroch, olaidh mise deoch.
Can’t you hear a word, evil man? I can take a drink.
Reach her+ a piece of the roast, or she+ shall tear thee.
[+the speaker’s soul — a feminine noun in Gaelic]
Mise mac Muire/Macmuire (plus indecipherable words)
I am the son of Mary/I am Macmuire.
Set her [it] down.  Give her drink.  What the devil ails you?
O’ Diarmaid, O’ Donnell, O’ Dougherty Black,
There are Ireland’s kings of the Irishry,
O’ Conallan (?), O’ Conachar, O’ Gregor Mac Craine.
The seanachaid [storyteller], the clarsach [harp],
The ben shean [old woman], the balach [young lad],
The crechaire [plunderer], the corach [champion],
She+ knows them every one.”
[+again, the soul of the speaker]

If you can for a moment overlook the explicit Protestant mockery of the Papacy (the Pope as a Peacock, after all), here, then, is an early Renaissance indication that the Bardic tradition was still recalled and recognized widely enough to work in a poem.  Holland’s poem is itself a satire, and in it, the bard demands food and drink as his right as a professional, shows off his knowledge of famous names, and generally makes himself at home, both satirizing and being satirized in Holland’s depiction of bardic arrogance.  (For in the following stanza, he’s kicked offstage by two court fools, who then spend another stanza quarreling between themselves.)

Thus, when the first Druid Revivalists began in the 1600s to search for the relics and survivals and outlying remains of Druidry to pair up with what they knew  Classical authors had said about the Druids, things like Holland’s poem were among the shards and fragments they worked with.  I’ve written (herehere and here) about the tales from the Mabinogion which, as Carr-Gomm points out above, preserve much Druid lore, passed down in story form and preserved by Christian monastics long after the oral teachings (and teachers) apparently passed from the scene. OK, .

More about Revival Druidry, the Revivalists, and Druidic survivals, coming soon.

[Part 2 here.]

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*It’s likely such a file already exists anyway: I lived and worked for a year in the People’s Republic of China, I had to be fingerprinted and cleared by the Dept. of State for a month-long teaching job in South Korea (a requirement of my S. Korea employer, not the U.S.) a couple of summers ago, and I practice not just one but two minority religions.  If you’re reading this, O Agents of Paranoia, give yourselves a coffee break — nothing much continues to happen here.

**Below is Holland’s original stanza 62 from his Buke of the Howlate.  With the help of a dated commentary on Google Books, and the online Dictionary of the Scots Language, I’ve worked on a rough translation/adaptation.  If you know the poem (or know Scots), corrections are welcome!

Sae come the Ruke with a rerd, and a rane roch,
A bard owt of Irland with ‘Banachadee!’,
Said, ‘Gluntow guk dynyd dach hala mischy doch,
Raike here a rug of the rost, or so sall ryive the.
Mich macmory ach mach mometir moch loch,
Set here doune! Gif here drink! Quhat Dele alis the?
O Deremyne, O Donnall, O Dochardy droch
Thir ar his Irland kingis of the Irischerye,
O Knewlyn, O Conochor, O Gregre Makgrane,
The Schenachy, the Clarschach,
The Ben schene, the Ballach,
The Crekery, the Corach,
Scho kennis thaim ilk ane.

Carr-Gomm, Philip.  Druid Mysteries: Ancient Wisdom for the 21st Century.  London: Rider, 2002.

Diebler, Arthur.  Holland’s Buke of the Houlate, published from the Bannatyne Ms, with Studies in the Plot, Age and Structure of the Poem.  Chemnitz, 1897.  Google Books edition, pp. 23-24.

Dictionary of the Scots Language.

Images: G B Shaw; rook; Laing edition of Buke of the Howlat cover.

Renewing the Shrine: Part 2

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

What is it about renewal?  We need and long for it, desperately, a hunger nothing else can satisfy, though we try to fill it with things rather than with actual transformation.  Too often we get cynical when hopes and dreams don’t pan out.  I saw a fair amount of this, sadly, in the adolescents I worked with as a high school teacher.  Of course, some of it was learned from adults. Renewal and revitalization can seem remote, hard to access.  Too often we mock the sentimentalist and the optimist for living in “another world.”  Maybe that’s partly because we know deep down that the renewal we need is in this one.

In Part One I wrote about the Japanese Shinto practice of Shikinen Sengu, a ceremony that occurs every twenty years, in which the most important shrine in Japan, at Ise Jingu, is ritually rebuilt and renewed.  The biggest shrine most of us have is our homes, where we erect a mirror for our lives by our choice of partners, children, pets, clothing, furnishings, beloved objects and spaces.  So a ceremony in a foreign country, and one focusing on a foreign spiritual practice on top of that, may seem like a backwards way, to say no more, of getting at anything important or useful to say about living life in 21st century America.  But bear with me.

Here wood for the new shrine is floated down the Isuzu River toward the site:

rivertransport

When we hear words like ‘globalization’ we may not realize how dramatic the changes have actually been, since we simply live through many of them in some form, often unawares.  To give just one local example, the recent decision to close our nuclear plant, Vermont Yankee, was driven by economic forces more than anything else, but among those were the mounting costs of meeting a tightening of regulations by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in response to the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan following the tsunami two years ago.   Our lives are already linked to those of many others we will never meet.  Globalization isn’t a choice, it’s a phenomenon like the seasons — it’s part of living on earth in this era.  We’re neighbors already — distances between us collapse to nothing.

The Roman writer Terence (Terentius) captures something of this in one of his plays with the wonderfully opaque title Heauton Timoroumenos, which can be translated as the “The Self-Tormentor.”  In this short excerpt*, two country neighbors, Menedemus and Chremes, speak candidly to each other:

MENEDEMUS: Chremes, can you spare a moment from your own affairs to listen to someone else’s–even if they don’t really concern you?

CHREMES: I’m human, so any human interest is my concern. Call it solicitude or curiosity on my part, whichever you like. If you’re right I’ll copy you, and if you’re wrong I’ll try to make you mend your ways.

Where am I going with all this?  Chremes’ attitude is a valuable one, if we’re to thrive.  If I can learn something useful from Shinto, even from a crazy ceremony that rebuilds a perfectly good building right next door, I’ll try to pay attention and learn.  Notice Chremes isn’t forfeiting his own judgment.  In love with its own exceptionalism, America sometimes seems preoccupied with the second half of Chremes’ response: “if you’re wrong I’ll try to make you mend your ways” — while ignoring the possibility that the former might also be occasionally worthwhile: “If you’re right I’ll copy you.”

Shikinen Sengu is a family affair.  Occurring as it does every two decades, the ceremony happens three to four times in the average person’s lifespan.

riverfamilylg

Another aspect of the Shikinen Sengu ceremony deserving mention is its “greenness.”  In a footnote, the JNTO brochure I cited in Part One observes:

Many trees are felled in preparation for each Shikinen Sengu. These logs are carefully selected and then transported to the reconstruction site at Ise, where new life is endowed to the logs. Young trees are carefully planted to replace those fallen in order to perpetuate the forest. The timbers removed when the Shrine is rebuilt are distributed to shrines throughout Japan, where they are reused, particularly to disaster or earthquake-stricken regions. Some of the sacrificial offerings and other contents of the shrine are also distributed among other shrines. Following the 61st Shikinen Sengu, lumber and contents of the Shrine were distributed among 169 shrines throughout Japan.

In Shinto as in Druidry, spirituality is life — there’s no separation.  What we do to maintain our connection with Spirit is what we do already as humans in living fully and well.  Here’s how the Japanese themselves talk about the ceremony:

As food, clothing and shelter form the requisites of our life, we have to prepare similar requisites for the kami, if we wish to receive blessings from them. Therefore, the ceremony of the Shikinen Sengu includes the renewal of buildings (shelter) as well as the renewal of the treasures (clothing) and the offering of first fruits (food). By performing the Shikinen Sengu, we renew our minds by remembering that our ancestors had enshrined Amaterasu Omikami in Ise, and praying that the Emperor will live long, and that peace will prevail in Japan and the world. It also involves the wish that Japanese traditional culture should be transmitted to the next generation. The renewal of the buildings and of the treasures has been conducted in the same traditional way ever since the first Shikinen Sengu had been performed 1300 years ago. The scientific development makes manual technology obsolete in some fields. However, by performing the Shikinen Sengu, traditional technologies are preserved.

Ritual and ceremony still have important roles to play in keeping us balanced, connected and mindful of our heritage.  Even more, ritual and ceremony remind us of our place in this world, as beings who share a planet with so many others.  This is one way to understand the Japanese kami or spirit:  not so much separate things or “gods” as they are personifications of the profound links we share with the world and the other beings in it.  The links exist, and deserve our acknowledgement.  Our culture has dispensed with much former ritual, not always to the bettering of our Western lives.  We need the connections that ritual can help us form and maintain, and which help nourish and sustain us.

Of course, families usually make their own traditions and rituals instinctively, regardless of what the larger culture is doing.  It’s the start of football season, and how many families do you know who have special recipes, traditions, gatherings, rites to celebrate their favorite teams and the hours of television ahead?  We do ritual because we’re human.  The old ceremonies that no longer hold meaning or value need to be updated, renewed, or replaced with others — but not abandoned, any more than we abandon our humanness merely because one way of being human needs refreshing, renewing or transforming.  To do otherwise means living stunted, incomplete lives.

Here’s one of my favorite poems by the late William Stafford which addresses this human need for connection, renewal and watchfulness vividly:

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

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*Betty Radice, trans. 1961.
Images:  logs in river; family in river.

Serpent Under The Door

With a title like that, you might expect shocking revelations, secret tips, insider advice, or something — anything — designed to titillate or distract a readership.  Or perhaps I could offer some variation on “what people want” — if we try to deduce that incoherent impossibility from reports on Google’s most popular search terms.

Garter SnakeInstead, I’ll start with the literal.  Our west-facing driveway warms up during the day, and on late spring and early fall mornings like yesterday’s and today’s, when we open the overhead garage door, as often as not one or more garter snakes will have curled up on the concrete during the night to warm themselves on the residual heat. Each morning they’re sluggish and need to be coaxed with a toe from their stupor to move and so avoid getting run over by our car.  Thus the “serpent under the door.”

But as with all other things (Druids like to claim), coincidences can be teachers, too.  Take our power outage yesterday afternoon.  I saw a flash of light, heard a popping sound, and our electricity died as I was starting to draft this post.  Green Mountain Power arrived a couple of hours later and promptly fixed the problem.  With an extensible pole, the line workman loosened something small and dark from the overhead transformer which plummeted to our lawn, and then he apparently reset a surge protector or trip device.  Problem solved.  When he came to the door to report success — I was watching all this from our living room window and stepped out to meet him — he said a bird had shorted out the line, tripping the transformer.  The small dark object that had fallen was the burnt corpse of the unfortunate.  Wholly unperturbed, our resident pair of mourning doves resumed their perches nearby on the power line soon after the GMP service truck departed.

Serpents and doves: be shrewd as the former, and gentle as the latter, counsels the Galilean master*.  To put it more bluntly, avoid getting fried, or run over — each grisly fate available, significantly enough, through human agency.  So it’s fitting that any shrewdness and gentleness I can wring from these two instances should issue from the same animal world.

As I write, goldfinches brighten our feeder, squabbling with the jays and an acrobatic chipmunk for seed.  Today’s late morning humidity and temperature already climb toward midsummer highs, just a few days after night-time frost warnings in our area.  The serpent under the door is my instinct, the bird on the power grid my arrogant ignorance.  No, that’s not it.  Something else, something other.  Yes, the danger of allegory is its all-too-easiness, its tendency toward glib preachiness.  A welcome Buddhist and pragmatic strain in some contemporary Druidry reminds me that sometimes a dead bird is just a bird, a sluggish serpent just a snake.  It’s the “and yet” that rears up and insists on making bigger meanings from small ones that is a sometimes annoying blessing.

But why shouldn’t we squeeze every event and experience for all it might be worth?  Equipped with overactive brains and growing out of a world we have tried to name and explicate, it’s a natural tendency, one literally native to us, crafted by nature, by natural selection and chance, by the divine at work with these, their alter ego, their personification, their image.  Tolkien’s elves, the Quendi, named things and tried to wake them.  In this they followed their nature:  Quendi** means “those who speak with voices,” the verbal echoes of their name present in words like bequeath and loquacious, query and quest, inquisitive and require.  Kweh, kwoh, kw-, kw- … Human deeds, human cries, human needs.  The same world that wiggles and flutters in snakes and birds has shaped and turned itself to allow humans to name — and endanger — them.  Because we can do something may not mean we should.  So we look to our animal kin for direct lived insight into how to thrive in this world, their wordless gestures rich as words. In an early poem, Mary Oliver captures Druidic wisdom:

Sleeping in the Forest

I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

At first we might think it’s death she’s talking about, but as she says in other poems, it’s deeper and more significant than just that particular transition, that magnified human fear and obsession.  Death, yes:  but there are many more marvelous things in addition to that. We can imagine ourselves different, “better” — what that may mean. “The world offers itself to your imagination,/calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–/over and over announcing your place/in the family of things.” Gratitude to bird and beast; this, my offering.

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Image: garter snake

*Matthew 10:16.

** encyclopedia of Arda

Bridge

forestmisttrail1

Make a bridge of rain
the hour says, so sky and I do —
water and sight, slant
of light to dance on,
firm enough (sure as breath,
fine as the fleece of stars
you spun last night, sky)
we glide from hilltop to top,
this gray company and I.
Not looking we walk side by side.
Footfalls hush in the thrum of rain.
It’s only staring that puts us off
each choosing to doubt the other, as if
real is something to decide alone
not our song together. Mist sheer
as deep leaves clothes us all,
with waking only another dream,
this way we cross over.

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image:  forest

Seamus Heaney and Me

Irish poet, Nobel Prize winner, essayist and translator Seamus Heaney died earlier today in Dublin at 74.  More than once I’ve quoted Heaney on this blog, not least because his work is accessible without being Hallmark-y, literate but not stuffy, and redolent of earth and earthy intelligence.  In other words, delightfully Druidical.  Rather than go all lit-critic here, I’ll give a tribute in the form of a modest personal anecdote. If I need any justification, we’re both farmers’ sons.

heaney2In January 1984 Heaney offered a 7:00 pm reading and book-signing as part of the long-running Brockport Writers Forum at the College of Brockport, a school that’s part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system.  I mention this because at the time I held an unhealthy disdain for the SUNY schools.  They weren’t Ivies, and though a farmer’s son, I cultivated a decided snobbery that looks simply ludicrous now.  I also didn’t know then about the caliber of writers who read at the Forum.  Nevertheless a SUNY school reading series was sponsoring a poet I greatly admired, so there was nothing for it but to sidestep my arrogance if I wanted to hear him.  (Picture him nearly three decades younger, with graying rather than white hair.)

I recall the date in part because that winter I was in my mid-20s, between schools, waiting to hear on college applications, and back to working on my dad’s dairy farm, a hard though sane life I’d largely escaped during my undergrad years.  Our herd of some fifty Holsteins meant we were a “family farm” which only signifies that everyone in the family has to chip in for the farmer to make a go of it at all.  That winter day was typical Western New York January:  cold, blustery, with a spatter of snow gusting through a short gray Wednesday a scant month past the solstice and the shortest day.  I’d have to leave after evening milking if I wanted to attend at all.  The drive sounds easy enough, some 40 miles almost due north of us, and all on decent paved roads, but what with winter, night and traffic, that meant over an hour, if I was lucky.

Southern Wisconsin Hit By Major BlizzardIn spite of a late start milking, and the worsening weather, I determined to go, cursing slow drivers most of the way.  By the time I arrived, found campus parking and located the venue, the reading had ended.  It was standing room only in the auditorium, so I leaned against the wall at the back.  The moderator was thanking Heaney, who had moved to a cafeteria lunch table set up down front for the signing.  With no time to change before I left home, I was still dressed in work pants, steel-toed boots (anyone casually stepped on by a half-ton cow gets the why), stained winter jacket and stocking hat — still fragrant of cows, corn silage and manure.

I debated whether it would be worth staying.  I’d brought with me a worn paperback of Heaney’s Selected Poems, though I’m not usually one to collect author signatures.  But the crowd was thinning rapidly because of the deteriorating weather, so I made up my mind to salvage something from the trip.  By the time I joined the signing line against the mostly departing crowd, I held a spot near the end.  From what I could see of him as we slowly inched forward, Heaney looked tired, a half-finished bottle of whiskey at his elbow.  When I finally stood before him, though, he must have caught a whiff of barn on me.  He raised his head, took my measure, his gaze sharpening, and grinned at me, then wordlessly signed with a flourish.  At that moment and after, the trip was worth it, not because I got his signature, but because we had connected, however briefly.  It was worth it because it forms part of my own vocation as poet.  Many are called, but few are chosen.  But still, many are called.

I like to think he took my presence as a compliment, a plowboy poetry-reader come to hear the poet-speaker for our human tribe, the stamp of farm still on my clothes.  I like to think of him doing something similar as a boy or young man.  I like to think in a small way my presence mirrored what he wrote with and about: words as part of this world of darkness and light, of sky and soil and storms and time, of blood stirring at these things as we walk through them all our days.

And that’s it, except of course it’s never finished till breath is.  The story is more about me than Heaney, but I remember the day and the details because of Heaney, so they belong at least a little to him too, to his memory, now.  I’ll atone for the self-indulgence here; Heaney deserves the last words — these, from his poem “Postscript,” cited in full:

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

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Images:  Heaney; barn in winter.

Updated 1:31 pm 30 Aug 13

Posted 30 August 2013 by adruidway in Druidry, poetry, Seamus Heaney, writing

Tagged with , ,

Lunasa ’13

lughnasadhcorn“The god Lugh is honored by many at this time, and gentle rain on the day of the festival is seen as his presence and his bestowing of blessings.” — Wikipedia entry for Lunasa (older Irish spelling: Lughnasadh)

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Assembly of Lugh

Rain this afternoon your omen,
your day the spear in me to know my Tribe,
to learn their ways, to choose from them

what holds value: metal of truth, gold of our past
cast into refining fire, cauldron of time,
everything molten. Now, always, for forge:
the mold ready for each life streaming

from its pool of glowing metal,
from its pool of cool water
where my people drink.

I look across time’s circle to where it begins
anew with each life.  You cast the spear:
our Lunasa dancers grasp it, fling it toward the center
where it lands, quivering.  From it lifts and streams
the banner of summer sky:  I will take flame

and run with it:  your August,
moon before dawn this morning
slender as cupped palms,
ready to receive water, quicksilver,
fire in the sky dipping down
on us all.

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colignyplate“[F]rom France we have evidence of a Druid calendrical system in the Coligny calendar, although scholars are divided as to the degree we can consider it purely Druidic, since it is engraved in Roman letters, leading some to believe it represents the product of an attempt to Romanise the native religion.  Dated to the first century AD, it consists of fragments of engraved bronze which have been carefully pieced together to show a system which reckoned the beginning of each month from the full moon … The names of the months are wonderfully evocative of a time when humanity lived closer to nature:

Seed-fall:  October-November

Darkest Depths:  November-December

Cold-time: December-January

Stay-home time:  January-February

Time of Ice: February-March

Time of Winds: March-April

Shoots-show: April-May

Time of Brightness: May-June

Horse-time: June-July

Claim-time: July-August

Arbitration-time: August-September

Song-time: September-October

… Horse-time indicates the month in which people went traveling — in the good weather, and Claim-time indicates the month in which the harvest festival of Lughnasadh falls, and at which time marriages were contracted and disputes presented before judges.  The following month, Arbitration-time in August-September, represents the time when the disputes and claims have been adjudicated and when the reckonings were given. At Song-time in September-October the Bards completed their circuits, and chose where they would settle for the winter season.” — Philip Carr-Gomm, Druid Mysteries. London: Rider Books, 2002, pp. 118-119.

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images: LughnasadhColigny calendar

A Ghost-Druid Dialog

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

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”

That kind of seeing and holding requires a special focus, a clear attention, I think, as I hurry to lunch, distinctly UN-focused, a dozen thoughts jangling, after two very different conversations with students during conference period.  My freshman advisee Walt has asked about the intricacies of some scheduling for sophomore year, while Ann, a junior and a former student, has come to talk about polishing a remarkable piece of journal writing from her freshman year for possible publication.

At the dining hall table where I often sit, Mr. Madden, Mr. Ritter and Mr. Delahunt are chuckling about an old piece of school gossip concerning the previous administration.  Ms. Valenti  joins us, and the conversation soon shifts to the deer that appear early almost every morning in the yards of the faculty residences on the campus periphery, where Ms. Valenti and Mr. Madden live in senior faculty houses.  Ms. Valenti describes the ten- or eleven-point buck she saw standing motionless in her driveway earlier in the week.  Mr. Delahunt mentions that he’s learned a small herd of deer beds down each night in a wooded gully between the new science building and the peripheral faculty housing. I cheer silently for these animal lives thriving, often just beyond our knowledge, in this apparently suburban part of the world.

At first I think all of this is mere distraction, but Blake reminds me yet again there’s a whole world here, eternity and infinity too, if I only see and touch them.  We all gobble our food, and I hurry back to my first afternoon class with my seniors.  So many grains of sand: underfoot, on the stairwell carpets of the English building, in my second-floor office when I reach down to pick up a fallen paperclip from the floor.  Each one a world, if I had time to see it.  Next year I will have time, because this is my last here.  Voluntary poverty, or insanity, or more than a little of both.

Class goes fast with my fifth period Brit Lit seniors.  Many of them read from the satires they’ve written in imitation of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.”  We don’t work on Blake, but here is eternity, too.  For a few moments we’re all paying attention, laughing at a satire of college admissions, or the sleep deprivation so many students face, not thinking about anyone or anything else — about the test next period, the sick friend, the college rejection letter, deadlines, schedules, midterm tomorrow, the weather, or whether a visionary dead white male Romantic poet may or may not have anything useful to say to us.

blake

Mr. Blake, we survived the 2012 fake apocalypse, I feel like crowing.  His ghost seems to nod, looking out the window at the light fog that huddles over the nearest quad.  Maybe that’s the best we can do, right now, our version of eternity: bad apocalypse.

Unwilling to share their satires, the sixth period seniors struggle with Blake.  We work through a couple of the easier poems, and soon I can tell it’s “drag” time.  I drag them through a few more, trying to open up the sometimes seeming-simplistic usually-complex lines.  Blake’s ghost sighs heavily.  An uphill climb for everyone, even though I’m working harder than usual to exhume the poet from two centuries of cultural and historic static that seems to buzz between the words on the page and the lives of my students.  I give them a creative writing exercise, and one soft-spoken girl produces a lovely poem inspired by the lines at the top of this post.  Her lines offer almost all sensory detail, a lovely lyric, with none of the teen angst that normally trails after much adolescent poetry like a homeless dog.  I give thanks for such things.

Blake, old sage, tyger-burner, Jerusalem-singer, painter and poet of the 19th century as strange and full of possibility as our 21st … what else do you have to tell me?  I listen as I write, content for a moment to hear the voice of silence in and around the clicks and taps of the keyboard.  “Hear the voice of the Bard, who past, present and future sees …”  With the view out my window circumscribed to the present only, I can tell I have my work cut out for me.  Blake’s ghost nods encouragingly.  Time to begin again.

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image:  “Beatrice addresses Dante”; William Blake

Updated 23 April 2015

Circe’s Power: Part 1

OK, be forewarned … this runs long.  If you’re more in the mood for bon-bons than for jerky, come back later.  This ended up pretty chewy.  It’s also provisional, a lot more tentative than it sounds.  Now I’ve told you, so don’t get cranky with me later.  Here goes …

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In her poem “Circe’s Power,” Louise Glück speaks in the voice of the sorceress who transforms the crew of Odysseus into swine when they arrive on her island.  Even the great war-leader and trickster Odysseus himself would have fallen under her spell, but for a charm the god Hermes gives him.  (“Some people have all the luck,” “the gods favor them,” etc.) So it’s dueling magics at work, divine and mortal enchantments competing for supremacy.  (Sort of feels like life at times.  Like we’re adrift in a hurricane, or trying to build a house on a battlefield.) Circe speaks to Odysseus, to all of us, in a kind of explanation of life seen from the vantage point of magic. Or not.

I never turned anyone into a pig.
Some people are pigs; I make them
look like pigs.
I’m sick of your world
that lets the outside disguise the inside.
Your men weren’t bad men;
undisciplined life
did that to them. As pigs,
under the care of
me and my ladies, they
sweetened right up.
Then I reversed the spell,
showing you my goodness
as well as my power. I saw
we could be happy here,
as men and women are
when their needs are simple. In the same breath,
I foresaw your departure,
your men with my help braving
the crying and pounding sea. You think
a few tears upset me? My friend,
every sorceress is
a pragmatist at heart; nobody sees essence who can’t
face limitation. If I wanted only to hold you
I could hold you prisoner.

Oddly, this poem always cheers me up, with what I take to be its hard realism.  That may sound funny, since part of the time Circe’s talking about magic, and she has a cynic’s view of much of life.  Or maybe a minimalist’s.  How do those two things go together?! But it’s a magic we’re born into, the nature of a world in which the outside does indeed often “disguise the inside.”  Here, almost everything wears a mask.  Even truth hides as illusion, and illusion as truth.  The god of this world, we’re told in the Christian Bible, has the face and name of Liar.  We learn this soon enough, discovering quite young the great power of lying.  It’s a magic of its own, up to a point — a beguiling enchantment.  Some of us never recover.  It’s lies all the way.  But there are other worlds, and other magics as potent, if not more so.  If Circe is “sick of this world,” what can she tell us of others?

Another way of looking at it can come to us in an Emily Dickinson poem.  (What is it with these poets, anyway?!  Liars, magicians, many of them.  Enchant us into the real.)  “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant,” says the Amherst visionary, and we’re off to the nature of truth seen in a world of illusion:  paradox.  (Maybe truth needs a mask, to exist here at all.)   “The only way out is through,” insists Frost in yet another poem, but in spite of our longing for the Old Straight Path, it’s fallen away from us, and the world is now “bent,” as in the Tolkien mythos.  We can’t get out so easily.

“Success in circuit lies,” Dickinson goes on to say.  In other words, “you can’t get there from here”: the directions are all scrambled, even the best of them.  You travel in a cosmic roundabout and end up somewhere else, not just on a road less traveled, but one apparently never traveled before, until you set foot on it.  Who can help you as you journey there?  No one?  Anyone?  One paradox is that you’re walking the same path everyone else is, too.  Everyone’s having an experience of being on their own.  What we share is what keeps us separate.  Paradox much?  Useful at all?

“Too bright for our infirm Delight/The Truth’s superb surprise,” says Dickinson. OK, so what the hell does that mean?  Well, Circe knows, or seems to.  If every sorceress is indeed a “pragmatist at heart”, then she and all the others who deal in truths and illusions may have something useful to tell us in the end.  Certainly our encounters with truth can have a surprising quality of sudden opening and revelation.  Whether the surprise is “superb” depends in part on you.  But what are we to make of her next assertion?  “Nobody sees essence who can’t face limitation.”   The two negatives “spin your head right round.”  Is it still true if we remove them?  “Everyone sees essence who can face limitation.”

This is without doubt a world of limits, of hard edges, of boundaries we run into all the time, however much we try to ignore them.  Inconvenient truths aren’t the same as illusions.  (We just wish they were.)  Some of the edges cut, some leave scars.  We get away with very little, in the end.  Most of our illusions get stripped away, in this world of illusions.  What’s left?  Emily, Louise, mother-wit, “the sense God gave gravel,” somebody (anybody!), help us out here!!

“As Lightning to the Children eased/With explanation kind/The Truth must dazzle gradually/Or every man be blind –” Emily concludes.  (Maybe the dash says it all.) Is there any “kindness” in this world of disguises?  Well, if some truth really is, or can be, as potent as the words here suggest, then one kindness is precisely the illusion we complain about.  It’s protection, insulation, a hot-pad between us and the Real, to keep it from scorching our skin, burning our vision.  Mortal eyes cannot behold the infinite.  “No one can see the face of God, and live,”  Moses is told.  Things get scaled down in this world.  The hot turns lukewarm, tepid.  You want scalding?  You were warned.

So what might we take away as a provisional set of guidelines to test and try out, and maybe use, if and when they fit?

1.  Know your worlds.

This ain’t the only one.  Don’t mix ’em, or expect one to work like any of the others.  “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” and all that.  This world in particular revels in concealment.  Spring lies in the lap of winter, and unlikely as it seems, green and warmth will return to this world gone gray and white and cold.  Neither winter nor spring is the whole truth, but each is true in its season.  Time works out truth in a world built of time and space.  “Dazzle gradually,” so you can surprise and startle and reveal intensely … in the end.

2.  Essence and limitation are linked.

“Nobody sees essence who can’t face limitation.”  If we want the truth we seek, and desperately need, and deep-down know already (a particularly maddening truth we reject whenever we can), we find it here in this world, in limits and seeming dead-ends and walls and obstacles and finales.  Death’s a big one.  These are our teachers still, till we’re able to move beyond them.  Really?  That’s the best you can do for us?  Well, got any other world handy? Yes?  Then you know what I mean.  You don’t need this.  No?  Then you’re right where you need to be.  Understand that I’m not speaking from any privileged or superior place.  I know what you know, and vice versa.  Deal.  You’ll notice that I’m here in this right beside you.  As my wife and I remind each other whenever necessary, those too good for this world are adorning another.

3.  Truth ain’t so much obscure or impossible or unavailable or “an empty category,” but it IS often different than we think or want it to be.

We manifest it as we discover it.  We know it when we see it, like pornography or good taste.  Just don’t ask for someone else’s version to guide you, or you’re back to square one.  (As a clue, OK.  As absolute authority over your life?  Don’t even think about it!)

4.  In the end, it’s all Square One.

5.  And that’s a good thing.

6.  To quote The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Everything will be all right in the end.  If it’s not all right, then it’s not yet the end.”  Patience is one of the primal and most subtle of magics.

7.  Your version of “all right” will keep changing.

If it hasn’t changed recently, check your brain for clogs.  You may have missed an important message the universe has been trying to tell you.

8. Everything wants to make a gift of itself to you.

The distance between your current reality and that truth is the measure of the Great Work ahead.  This one’s taken me for a couple of l o n g walks indeed.  EverythingGift.  If I resist it, it comes back in an ugly  or terrifying or destructive “un-gift” form.  There are hard gifts.  Each life ends with one.  Still a gift.

9.  Ah, the triple three of nine, a piece of Druid perfection.

The ultimate four-letter word is love.  “A love for all existences,” goes the Druid Prayer.  Get there, and life begins in earnest.  We’ve all been there, briefly.  Time to make it longer than brief.  “Reverse the spell to see the goodness and the power,” to reword Circe only a little.  Still working on these.

Foremath and Aftermath

Here are Yin and Yang, our two rhododendrons — a single red flower grows on the pink bush in the foreground, with a branch of the red bush showing in the background.  Plant envy?  Unfortunately the red bush doesn’t have a single pink flower, or the image would be complete.  In a month they’ll be back to their usually ungainly woody scraggly selves, with no hint of the glory they present each May.  Is the aftermath the only time we appreciate what we had — when it’s finally gone?

The aftermath is the consequences, the results, the outcome.   But we never hear of a “foremath,” whatever it is that stands before the event, the “math” — literally the “mowing” in Old English.

Most of our yard is the typical rural patch of grass, which given half a chance will turn to sumac, crabgrass, chicory, dandelions and even slender saplings inside six months.  In the few years that  we’ve owned the house, we’ve let whole quadrants go uncut for a season. Sometimes it’s from pure practical laziness — we’ve no one to impress, after all, and no condo association to yelp at us — and it saves gas and time, until we get around to putting in more of the permanent plantings that won’t require cutting.  Until then, we’re getting the lay of the land, seeing how soil and drainage and sun all work together (our three blueberry bushes, visible in the background in the second photo, thrive on the edge of our septic leachfield), and which local species lay claim first when we give them a chance to grow and spread.  The moles that love our damp soil also tunnel madly when we leave off mowing for the summer.  We think of it as natural aeration for the earth.

The northwest corner, shown here, shaded by the house itself for part of the day, yields wild strawberries if we mow carefully, first exposing the low-lying plants to sun, and then waiting while the berries ripen.  Patches of wildflowers emerge — common weeds, if you’re indifferent to the gift of color that comes unlabored-for.  I like to hold off till they go to seed, helping to ensure they’ll come back another year, and making peace with the spirits of plant species that — if you can believe the Findhorn experience and the lore of many traditional cultures — we all live with and persistently ignore to our own loss.

This year we’ve “reclaimed” most of the lawn for grass, as we expand the cultivated portion with raised beds and berry patches.  But I remind myself that we haven’t left any of it “undeveloped” — the unconscious arrogance of the word, applied to land and whole countries, suggests nature has no intention or capacity of its own for doing just fine without us.  Who hasn’t seen an old driveway or parking lot reverting to green?  Roots break up the asphalt remarkably fast, and every crack harbors a few shoots of green that enlarge the botanical beach-head for their fellows.  Tarmac and concrete, macadam and bitumen are not native species.

And what would any of us do, after all, without such natural events like the routine infection of our guts by millions of beneficial bacteria to help with digestion?  A glance at the entry for gut flora at Wikipedia reveals remarkable things:

Gut flora consist of microorganisms that live in the digestive tracts of animals and is the largest reservoir of human flora. In this context, gut is synonymous with intestinal, and flora with microbiota and microflora.

The human body, consisting of about 10 trillion cells, carries about ten times as many microorganisms in the intestines. The metabolic activities performed by these bacteria resemble those of an organ, leading some to liken gut bacteria to a “forgotten” organ. It is estimated that these gut flora have around 100 times as many genes in aggregate as there are in the human genome.

Bacteria make up most of the flora in the colon and up to 60% of the dry mass of feces. Somewhere between 300 and 1000 different species live in the gut, with most estimates at about 500. However, it is probable that 99% of the bacteria come from about 30 or 40 species. Fungi and protozoa also make up a part of the gut flora, but little is known about their activities.

Research suggests that the relationship between gut flora and humans is not merely commensal (a non-harmful coexistence), but rather a mutualistic relationship.  Though people can survive without gut flora, the microorganisms perform a host of useful functions, such as fermenting unused energy substrates, training the immune system, preventing growth of harmful, pathogenic bacteria, regulating the development of the gut, producing vitamins for the host (biotin and vitamin K), and producing hormones to direct the host to store fats.

Such marvels typically set off echoes in me, and because much of my training and predilection is linguistic in nature, the echoes often run to poems.  A moment’s work with that marvelous magician’s familiar Google brings me the lines of “Blind” by Harry Kemp:

The Spring blew trumpets of color;
Her Green sang in my brain–
I hear a blind man groping
“Tap-tap” with his cane;

I pitied him in his blindness;
But can I boast, “I see”?
Perhaps there walks a spirit
Close by, who pities me–

A spirit who hears me tapping
The five-sensed cane of mind
Amid such unsensed glories
That I am worse than blind.

Isn’t this all a piece of both the worst and the best in us?  We can be fatally short-sighted and blind, but we can also imagine our own blindness, see our own finitude — and move beyond it to a previously unimagined larger world.

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