Archive for the ‘prayer’ Tag

A Beltane Solo Rite

[Updated 19:55 EST 30 April 2020]
calendulaThe following is meant merely as a ritual template. With practice, we naturally reshape what we do. There’s no particular advantage to holding on to a tradition, or to any ritual expressions of it, that don’t nourish and sustain us. If the language feels too formal in places, or just isn’t you, change it to fit. Like a new pair of jeans or shoes, you’ll work them in.

[For a contrasting Beltane rite, see John Beckett’s 2015 blogpost.]

Read through your rite aloud at least once. You can begin to approximate the sound and flow of the ritual in this way, visualizing, as you read, the space where you will perform it, the objects and actions you choose to include, any ritual gestures, and the central part, where your intentions, prayers, songs, etc. will come from your circumstances and choices and intention. If you have one or two other people joining you, experiment with ways of dividing up the lines among you. Rehearse that ritual!

Time spent in meditation, or in the space where you’ll hold the rite, as well as time gathering the materials you will need, are all part of the larger ritual we perform. In some senses, ritual is simply an intermittent and concentrated reminder of the greater temple of sacred time and space we inhabit all our days.

Ritual Preparations: bathe beforehand. Alternatively, if you have a ritual fire space, use the ash to mark yourself before your ritual. A particular piece of jewelry, a sash or headband, a musical accompaniment like a bell, chime, drum or rattle, can help make your rite more vivid. Perhaps you have a special incense, or herbal tincture to use.

Materials: flat space, table or rock for altar; container of earth, sand or a pinch of salt for North; a container of water for West, a feather, fan or incense for East; a torch, candle or lamp for South; any gifts, offerings, objects for blessing, poems, songs, etc.; matches or lighter; ritual objects to decorate the space; ritual jewelry or clothing; musical instruments or playback devices.

The Rite

[Choose where you will stand to begin. Many ancient rites position the celebrant in the West, facing East. Your location may suggest other possibilities.]

Earth below me and in my bones,
Sky above me and in my breath,
Seas around me and in my blood,
by the Power of these holy Three,
I proclaim this to be sacred time and space.
[Strike a bell, gong, or drum
or make some other ritual gesture to mark this moment.]

Here the deep dark of Annwn* [AHN-noon],
here the shining of Gwynvid [GWIN-veed],
Here also Abred [AH-bred], middle realm, and mortal —
I stand in all three worlds.

I welcome all of good will,
bird and bug, beast and bough,
friends, teachers, ancestors of blood and spirit,
Guardians of this Land.

[With forefinger and middle finger extended outward
as the wand we always carry, walk (or turn) clockwise and imagine,
or feel, a shining circle appear as you turn, saying these words]
For the good of all beings, I call on your aid
as I cast the Circle of this rite.

[Turning clockwise to face the North]
With this earth [or salt] I bless and hallow this circle.
Be welcome, power of the North.
[Pause and inwardly welcome the North.]

[Turning clockwise to face the South]
With this fire, I bless and hallow this circle.
Be welcome, power of the South.
[Pause and inwardly welcome the South.]

[Turning clockwise to face the East]
With this feather/fan/incense, I bless and hallow this circle.
Be welcome, power of the East.
[Pause and inwardly welcome the East.]

[Turning clockwise to face the West]
With this water I bless and hallow this circle.
Be welcome, power of the West.
[Pause and inwardly welcome the West.]

[Depending on the time of day, turn East (early), South middle part of day), or West (afternoon/evening). Slowly open your arms as you say the words]
With the blessings of all, I open the Beltane Gates of Fire!

[Here belongs the heart of your rite, and so it is fitting to speak and act from the heart: any prayers, offerings, remembrances, songs, poems. You may wish to dedicate yourself, announce an intention, bless an object, burn a symbol of something that no longer sustains you in your life, and so forth. Perhaps it is now that you light your Beltane fire. You may wish to thank ancestors, teachers, mentors. You may want to make offerings in gratitude, to share in good things you have received. You can include the Druids’ Prayer, the Peace Prayer, the Druid Vow**, or some other formal recitation, as it feels right to do.]

[The close of the rite reverses the opening.]
Now is the time of return. [Pause.]

[Turn West.]
Power of the West, I thank you for your presence and blessings.

[Turn East.]
Power of the East, I thank you for your presence and blessings.

[Turn South.]
Power of the South, I thank you for your presence and blessings.

[Turn North.]
Power of the North, I thank you for your presence and blessings.

[With forefinger and middle finger extended outward, walk (or turn) counter-clockwise and imagine, or feel, the shining circle disappear as you turn.]
As I uncast the Circle, let goodwill go forth and outward to all beings.

May there be blessings and balance in all three realms, Annwn [AHN-noon], Gwynvid [GWIN-veed], and Abred [AH-bred].

By the Power of these holy Three,
Seas around me and in my blood,
Sky above me and in my breath,
Earth below me and in my bones [stomp once],
It is complete and whole!

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*For an interesting take on these realms of existence, see this link: Annwn, Gwynvid, Abred.

**The Druid Vow

We swear by peace and love to stand,
Heart to heart and hand in hand.
Mark, O Spirit, and hear us now,
Confirming this, our sacred vow.

 

From the Druid’s Prayer Outward

Ri, a’h Isprid, do iscod …

Grant, o Spirit, thy protection …

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

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

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

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eastern counter-glow over our roof at sunset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tree Prayer, Part 2

oakgrain

wood grain of an oak

In this post I want to talk briefly about how I composed the “Tree Prayer” I posted last July. The earlier post has enjoyed a recent burst of new attention, so it looked like a good candidate for further discussion.

Oak, shade my path. I welcome your wisdom.
Birch, green my way. I call on your courage.
Hemlock, heal my heart. I fast under your foliage.
Pine, scent my dreaming. I gather your gifts.

Tree companions all, I seek the shelter of your boughs.
May my days make return for your abundance.

One of the goals of the bard is to get those words into memory that we want to keep there. Songs, poem, rhyme, mantra, chant — all rely on rhythm and echo (which is what rhyme is) to transmit words into brains so they stick. Whether for prayer or entertainment, history or mnemonic, the form that we give our words makes them either easier or harder to recall.

mountains-clouds-forest-fog

(A snappy campaign slogan can help win an election, just as a bad one can sink it. Likewise with advertising. If you’re like me, you’ve got ad jingles in your head you never needed to memorize — repetition alone did the trick. I date myself with an old car-sales jingle that lasted into the 1960s: “See the USA in a Chevrolet …” Long before I was anywhere near driving age, or had any need to know about it, Detroit supplied me with corporate earworm propaganda, linking Dinah Shore, patriotism and purchasing that particular brand.)

I’ve long been fond of alliteration, also sometimes known as “consonant rhyme”. While a vowel rhyme could work fine, I find it can also be a distraction. There’s also too much “moon-tune-June” rhyming all around: greeting cards, song lyrics, and — gods help us — even dirty limericks in restrooms. So alliteration it is.

First, I chose local trees, species I can see from the house: oaks in the back yard, a line of hemlocks defining our northern property, pines along the eastern periphery, and birches across the road to the west. If you’d like to shape your own tree prayer, look to trees that stand near you for help. Maybe you want a seven-tree prayer, combining the properties of seven with a variety of local species that matter to you. Maybe you want to use the Druid triad form, and name just three.

What do “my” trees offer? Most of our oaks are mature, and thus excellent shade trees. As the pre-eminent “tree of the Druid”, sharing with it the *dru, *deru, *doru- root in many Proto-Indo-European languages, they endure as “trees of wisdom”.

Birches are pioneer trees, among those species that first appear in barren or “disrupted” areas where an eco-system has faced a fire or other dramatic change. They’re also the tree often associated with bards, sharing the same first letter in several languages (and opening the ogham alphabet), so “green my way” came pretty naturally.

The hemlocks are long-lived, tough (though the hemlock woolly adelgid continues to wreak havoc among them) and possess astringent and antiseptic medicinal properties that a good herbal will elaborate on. “Heal my heart” combines these qualities.

Finally, the smell of pine yields an easy association: “scent my dreaming” picks its way among words that suggest pleasant smells (English shows a curious paucity of “good-smell” words, though we have stench, reek, stink, fume, etc., for bad ones. Japanese has the verb kaoru “have a good smell” and the girl’s name Kaori “fragrance”.)

As with vowel rhyme, less can sometimes be more. I asked readers to try out and live with the tree prayer, and some of the comments suggested people were doing just that. Work with a prayer that involves another being, and often you’ll get nudges on its sound and form that work for you.

The first four lines of the prayer took me approximately an hour of meditation and drafting and revision.

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Images of oak and forest: Pexels.com

Posted 15 January 2020 by adruidway in bard, Druidry, hemlock (tree), oak, ogham, prayer

Tagged with , , , , ,

Working the Tool-kit: Part 3

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3]

fire-GN

Summer Solstice bonfire, June 2019

Fire!

Or as I said some years ago here, “washed in the waters of the West, energized in Eastern airs, earthed in North’s left hand, fired in South’s right”. Indo-European languages retain indications of just such a ritual orientation, facing East, which many modern traditions incorporate in their ritual and directional work.

Or as Carl Buck puts it in his magisterial work, A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages:

The majority of words for the main points of the compass are based either on the position of the sun at a given time of day … or on one’s orientation, which among the IE-speaking peoples was usually facing the sunrise (‘in front’ = ‘east’; ‘behind’ = ‘west’; ‘right’ = ‘south’; ‘left’ = ‘north’) … (pg. 870/sections 12.45-12.48).

A whole series of meditations and practices suggest themselves for exploration, as I change the ritual directions I face, and sense the Elemental Powers turning around me. Honor Earth and North, and I’ve got Fire, the sun, and the South at my back, and so on. You can, as some have, build up ritual and symbolic correspondences with phases of the moon, days of week, etc., along with the directions, affording a prayer or ritual cycle more intensive than the every-six-weeks of the Great Eight Druid seasonal festivals.

As always, rather than getting hung up over details or “ritual correctness”, or letting the letter kill the spirit, go with what works, what you are led to do, what lines up with other indicators in your life: dream, divination, reading, intuition, experience.

If you’re working with Druidry and Christianity, consider exploring the traditional directions associated with the four archangels, if an angelic connection serves you better. One set of associations from the Hermetic and Qabbalistic tradition orders them like this: Rafael/East/Air; Michael/South/Fire; Gabriel/West/Water; and Oriel/North/Earth. A similar though not identical orientation appears in the Hebrew Siddur prayer-book for evening or bedtime prayer: “To my right Michael and to my left Gavriel, in front of me Uriel and behind me Rafael, and above my head Shechinat El”. (Shechinat El is the “Presence of God”, the Shekhinah, as it’s sometimes spelled.)

Fire work, or apprenticing yourself to the Element, as I think of it, can begin with a fire pit, or candle-lighting, if an outdoor fire isn’t practical for you. From such simple work with each of the Elements, a profound and beautiful practice can grow over time. This is just one of the freedoms in which a Druid can wholeheartedly participate in a Christian or Jewish service, in part through some of its seemingly “smallest” ritual gestures and events.

As mage and author Josephine McCarthy describes it,

My deepest personal experience of that is with the lighting and tuning of the candle flame. The intent to light a candle to prepare the space for a ritual act developed from that simple stance, to an act of bringing into physical manifestation an elemental expression that lights through all worlds and all times: it becomes the light of divinity within everything (J. McCarthy. Magical Knowledge, pg. 70).

As a focus for meditation, for out-of-body work, for reverence, for kindling the spirit in times of heaviness and despair, Fire has no equal.

I wrote about one of my most vivid Bardic experiences with fire at MAGUS ’17. I’d invoked fire in my workshop, in a light rain that I kept backing into, out from under the tent where I was talking with the assembled workshop attendees. Fire, as it turned out, was in no way put off by a little rain.

I’ll close this post with that excerpt, which begins after the triple Awens.

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… as Bards know from experience, the awen sometimes has other ideas. Fire gave me an opening line a few hours earlier during dinner. And it kept gathering more lines to it, right up to the evening Fire Circle. Verses kept changing and I didn’t have pen and paper handy, so I kept playing with lines and rhymes and their order. “Fire says improvise” came the first line. I’d invoked fire, after all, during my workshop, in several different ways. What did I expect?! Here’s the poem:

Fire says improvise —
no surprise,
when such orange wonder
seeks out skin and eyes.

Fire can burn all to black
but before
that hot roar lifts me
to soar beyond
anything I thought to think I lack.

Most times I’m no fool —
but how does this jewel
get to be so hot and cool?

Old rule, it says.
Burn madly, gladly,
or — if you must — sadly:
one way only among those other two.
For I will heat you from your crown
to your open-toed shoe.

The fire, friend,
the fire is in you.

Just get up and say it, came the nudge. Doesn’t have to be polished. I delivered the lines, gazing at the flames the whole time, then stumbled back fire-blind to my seat on one of the Fire Circle benches. The version here is close to what I remember saying, probably edited a little. Fire didn’t want an editor. Just flame, large or small. The other Bards obliged, and this eisteddfod was among the most varied and interesting I’ve known.

One of the oldest pieces of spiritual counsel in the Indo-European tradition is this: “Pray with a good fire”.

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Tree Prayer

Tree Prayer

Oak, shade my path. I welcome your wisdom.
Birch, green my way. I call on your courage.
Hemlock, heal my heart. I fast under your foliage.
Pine, scent my dreaming. I gather your gifts.

Tree companions all, I seek the shelter of your boughs.
May my days make return for your abundance.

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I’m still working on and tweaking and listening to this prayer, as I say it out under the trees. I suspect we’re composing it together.

I invite you to try out this prayer — really out — outdoors, and to post your experiences, revisions, smoother versions, and so on.

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Happy Longest Day (Night)!

Happy Solstices! — Summer in the Northern, Winter in the Southern Hemisphere.

Here is “Eagle Poem” by Joy Harjo, which we’ll be sharing tonight at the opening potluck supper of our Solstice weekend gathering here in Southern Vermont.

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River.  Circles in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon, within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.

— Joy Harjo

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August Moon, and Serving

In New England the Sturgeon Moon, as some Native Americans call it,  arrives this coming Sunday, the 26th of August, but early enough in the morning that many will observe it the previous evening.

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Rowan in the front yard, its berries ripening

OBOD Druids are encouraged to do monthly Peace Meditations on the full moon. I never have, which is odd, considering how largely the moon figured in my teens and twenties. For years I observed its phases and influence, absorbed what I could find about its significance in diverse cultures, wrote poems and songs to it, connected to Goddess through it. But a peace meditation?

You could say I absorbed the wrong things from Christianity: “Think not that I am come to bring peace on earth: I came not to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt 10:34). This has proved one of the most accurate of Christian prophecies. Though it’s not so much a prophecy as a statement that this is a world of the flow of many energies. By its very nature, changes keep coming, and the shifts and rebalances can’t all be smooth, given the pockets and reservoirs of other energies that may resist or simply move on a different time-scale and energy flow.

Druids are called to be peacemakers, and the popular Peace Prayer stands ready as a worthwhile practice, daily for some. Here’s one version of the words:

The Peace Prayer

Deep within the still centre of my being
May I find peace.
Silently within the quiet of the Grove
May I share peace.
Gently (or powerfully) within the greater circle of humankind
May I radiate peace.

Find, share, radiate: all are valid practices I see as part of my own practice. Spiderwebs and hurricanes co-exist in this world. Both will manifest long after I’m gone and forgotten, but I can choose how I will align myself each day. I prefer, actually, to focus on love, which can exist even in tumult and turbulence, when peace has long fled. A home with children and pets and one or more working adults may not know much peace, but it can still overflow with love. A damaged landscape after the rebalancing that storms bring needs love more than peace.

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OBOD ritual proclaims, “Let us begin by giving peace to the quarters, for without peace can no work be”. I don’t know what kind of work you do, but if I required peace before I  started, I’d get nothing done. Don’t get me wrong: I value OBOD ritual, much of the language engages me, helping in the work of magic, but there I must turn aside and let the moment flow past. So I give love to the quarters instead, something they seem to use more readily.

A fragment of a prayer that has stayed with me — maybe someone can identify its source — I encountered decades ago, though I’ve never been able to track it to its lair. But I’ve remembered it fairly accurately, and I’ve recited it often: “I drink at your well. I honor your gods. I bring an undefended heart to our meeting-place”. This triad of actions faces outward in a way I know I can practice myself. For me it establishes a distinct vibration I value.

It also points toward a way I can hear and answer the call to serve.

“Serving is different from helping”, writes Rachel Naomi Remen. I cite her words in full below, because the following text has become so important to me, as a meditation seed and guide and source of wisdom.

In recent years the question how can I help? has become meaningful to many people. But perhaps there is a deeper question we might consider. Perhaps the real question is not how can I help? but how can I serve?

Serving is different from helping. Helping is based on inequality; it is not a relationship between equals. When you help you use your own strength to help those of lesser strength. If I’m attentive to what’s going on inside of me when I’m helping, I find that I’m always helping someone who’s not as strong as I am, who is needier than I am. People feel this inequality. When we help we may inadvertently take away from people more than we could ever give them; we may diminish their self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity and wholeness. When I help I am very aware of my own strength. But we don’t serve with our strength, we serve with ourselves. We draw from all of our experiences. Our limitations serve, our wounds serve, even our darkness can serve. The wholeness in us serves the wholeness in others and the wholeness in life. The wholeness in you is the same as the wholeness in me. Service is a relationship between equals.

Helping incurs debt. When you help someone they owe you one. But serving, like healing, is mutual. There is no debt. I am as served as the person I am serving. When I help I have a feeling of satisfaction. When I serve I have a feeling of gratitude. These are very different things.

Serving is also different from fixing. When I fix a person I perceive them as broken, and their brokenness requires me to act. When I fix I do not see the wholeness in the other person or trust the integrity of the life in them. When I serve I see and trust that wholeness. It is what I am responding to and collaborating with.

There is distance between ourselves and whatever or whomever we are fixing. Fixing is a form of judgment. All judgment creates distance, a disconnection, an experience of difference. In fixing there is an inequality of expertise that can easily become a moral distance. We cannot serve at a distance. We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected, that which we are willing to touch … We serve life not because it is broken but because it is holy.

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Oddments and Evenments

A 4:34 video of the recent Gulf Coast Gathering by M. Fowler:

C. S Lewis titles a chapter in his book Mere Christianity “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe”, and there are many such clues. Much of spirituality consists in looking and listening long enough to perceive them.

Rather than a set of don’t’s, a livable spirituality consists mostly of do’s, if only because they give us a path of action rather than avoidance. Do try out what you’ve learned, do love other beings, do test your understanding of the universe against the universe itself and see where you can improve what you do, if only for the pure pleasure of the doing. Do watch for patterns and spirals, do celebrate when you can, because much passes by, never to return. Do drink deep, because with or without you, life keeps brewing marvels.

Love and timing: two powerful ways to live which — combined — work even better. Each is a mode of dancing with life, rather than resisting it. Feel the sway of your lover’s back, note the slight change in pressure of your lover’s arms, and be ready to move on into the next steps. Part and return, part and return again. These bodies wear out anyway. Why darken the changes with unneeded stress, violence and worry?

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In a post from late 2014 I invoked Brid and Ogma for a tongue, and over time received a set of them, Hurundib and Fizaad and Hodjag Rospem, among them conlangs for my fiction, as well as impetus for my Facebook group that practices Old English and among other things right now is reading Peter Baker’s Old English translation of Alice in Wonderland/Æðelgyðe Ellendæda on Wundorlande.

Ask, and it shall be given — just usually not in the limited way I’ve set up. Make my parameters too narrow, in fact, and I effectively shut off the very thing I seek. How often that’s happened to me I can’t begin to count, even in retrospect. Sometimes (most of the time?) our prayers need escape clauses. When I learn to give Spirit room to work through its endless forms and wisdom and energy (after all, it permeates all things, not just this middle-aged Druid), it’s amazing what results and can manifest. A home in the country, time to write, healing from cancer. It just took longer, with many more twists and turns to get there, than I’d planned: read that as “expected and thought I’d constrain the energy of the universe to manifest for me”.

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Today, wind and sun and cold — a defiance of anything the calendar has to say. Yet even and especially in the darkest and coldest of times, the promise of solstice: a fire burns at the heart of things.

Hail, then, Eternal Flame! May the awen, the gift of Brighid, the truth that nourishes lives and worlds, burn bright for you all.

winter solstice 17

Winter Solstice fire 2017

Devotionals

On a Druidry Facebook group I’m a member of, the question arises a few times each year: what makes Druidry distinctive? In other words, if you’re looking over your options, “Why this and not that?”

Sustained contact with the green world is first practice, never abandoned, never out of date.

In a comment on the last post here, bpott said she was told in meditation to “practice devotionals to the gods outdoors. Lighting a candle to Brighid and sitting with her, or pouring water in a bowl for the moon to infuse its energy and listening to Manannan are such devotionals. There is indeed much to be gained through these spiritual practices”.

But this isn’t something for you to take anyone’s word for. It’s not that kind of observation. Words are meant guide us to own experience and back out again, to reflect so we can experience deeper.

Or as J M Greer puts it,

Druidry means following a spiritual path rooted in the green Earth.  It means embracing an experiential approach to religious questions, one that abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit.

We regularly need reminders like these, because Talking Self sidetracks us.

“Talking Self” — you know, that chatty, sometimes neurotic self we use to read and post on Facebook, grumble at headlines we don’t like, and cheer for ones we do. It can often persuade us that it is all of who we are, because its medium is language and the thoughts and feelings language kindles in us. Name it, says Talking Self, trying to keep everything in its domain of names and words. (The Dao De Jing quietly reminds us “the nameless is the origin of heaven and earth”.)

Druidry says take yourself out of talking self and into Self — the being linked in its sinew and blood, bone and spirit, to all that is — rivers and streams, woods and meadows, valleys and hills, tundra and deserts, bird and beech, beast and bass and bug.

When you come back, you can turn Talking Self toward song or ritual, if you like — give it something to do that it does well — but in the service of something higher than reactive gossip and self-importance and anxiety.

And “going outdoors” doesn’t have to entail a frigid January plunge through a hole in the ice at the local lake. It may be as simple as smelling an evergreen twig you picked up yesterday on a walk, and now you hold it as you meditate, on the change of seasons, the incense of a living thing on your fingers and in your nose. Crafting a banner or a poem for the next time your Grove meets — at Imbolc in February. Baking and taking a gift to an elderly neighbor or the local soup kitchen. Grooming your dog or cat.

All these things re-engage the body and give Talking Self a break. Poor thing, it needs one. These practices help restore our connections. They gift us with balance. For these reasons they are, in a curious word more often associated with another tradition, incarnational. They literally put us into our bodies, even as they give Spirit shapes and forms we can experience.

Many forms of Spirit, many bodies to experience them: earth body and dream body and thought body and memory body. And others we haven’t begun to explore.

I lay the makings of a fire in our woodstove, crumpled newspaper and punky dry strips of willow from a fallen branch two years ago, and thin strips of a log split and split and split again. Wood’s our primary heat-source — we’re far too stingy to waste money on our electric backup, except in direst emergencies, and then the power may have gone out anyway. I can pause a moment before setting the match to the kindling and honor Brighid. The makings of a devotional. Not “believe in Her”, not “profess my faith She exists”, but honor Her. Often something quite different.

As someone once quipped, more important than me believing in Brighid is Brighid believing in me. What god would care to waste attention on a human who isn’t ever here? But if I’m here and as I honor Her I sense She’s here, what’s left to believe? It’s the honoring that’s important. The connection.

The Druid experience continually “abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit”. Continually, because my rigidity will creep back in, and fire and touch can warm and soften and free me from inflexible habits and open me to change and love.

I met Brighid most intimately through the task of firing up the woodstove when we settled in Vermont in 2008.  Fire became a daily reality each winter (and much of spring and autumn, too). The wonder of fire and the opportunity of honor to Brighid needn’t be separate from the gathering of kindling and the match. Our winter-fires may not be the reverential fire of Kildare — though they can be. Every morning.

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Today I’ll take out the ash to the compost pile, the midden, lovely old word. I let the freshly-removed ash sit out in the hod for a week, so I’m not dumping a pile of embers outdoors on a windy day. Old ash out, new ash to the hod, new fire to the stove ,whose walls are still warm to the touch. I set the kindling, whisper a sometimes wordless prayer to the goddess, and watch as flames grow and spread.

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taking out the ash

 

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new fire

My devotional has to take a particular, concrete form if it’s to exist at all for the body and senses to engage. Spiritual-but-not-religious knows this, instinctively keeps seeking but then abandoning forms, because it distrusts forms even as it senses their value. But it’s the dead form and the opinions-and-then-dogmas of Talking Self that are the obstacle to spiritual connection, not form itself.

Oh, Lord [goes one prayer] forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations.
Thou art Everywhere, but I worship thee here:
Thou art without form, but I worship thee in these forms;
Thou needest no praise, yet I offer thee these prayers and salutations.
Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations.

Except they’re not limitations at all: the way to do them in time and space is with temporal and spatial forms. I find little limitation in building a fire and honoring Brighid too. My devotional is a matter of intention, of choice. When I’m on another plane, I adopt its forms. (In dreams I fly, with dream-power my earth body doesn’t have.) But now, here (no need to apologize for limitations*), these forms.

Without a form, no transformation, whisper the Wise.

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*The words “limit” and “limitations” are dirty words, far more obscene these days than any other. Obsessed with freedom, we miss what limits are and signify for us.

A shape is a limitation. Personally, I like shapes and forms. If I had no particular shape or form, I wouldn’t be “free” — I’d be monstrous, “de-formed”.

J M Greer notes in his Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. 2012, pgs. 42-53:

A field mouse, for example, has teeth and a digestive system that are fine-tuned to get nutrients from seeds and other concentrated plant foods, and so that is what field mice eat. They do not eat crickets, even though crickets are very nourishing; they leave crickets to the garter snakes. They do not eat herbs, even though herbs are very abundant; they leave herbs to the rabbits. They limit themselves to one kind of food, and as a result their bodies and their behavior are exquisitely shaped to get and use that kind of food. Rather than jacks-of-all-trades, they are masters of one.

… the elegant lines of the blade [of grass] have evolved to make the most economical use of limited energy and resources, for example, and the curve at which it bends measures the limit of the blade’s strength in the presence of the wind. Remove the limits from the grass, and its beauty goes away. The same thing is true of all beauty, in nature as a whole and in the subset of nature we call human life: beauty is born when a flow of nature encounters firm limits, and the more perfect its acceptance of those limits, the greater the beauty will be.

… The same thing is true of all power, in nature as a whole and in that subset of nature we call human life: power is born when a flow of energy encounters firm limits, and the more narrow the outlet left open by those limits, the greater the power will be.

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LPF — Listening, Prayer and Fasting

In a post from last August I pondered “the wisdom of the Galilean Master, who counseled prayer and fasting. And to make it a Druidic triad, we’ll add listening, because listening is another face it wears. Listening, prayer and fasting. LPF.”

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front door view, 5 Jan 2018

And though it’s a Triad, each component works well by itself, if I’m not up for practicing all three as a package deal.

I have Druid friends who practice a regular weekly media fast — priceless counsel in these days of overloud and unhinged media assaulting our sensibilities. It’s not a fluke, or an indulgence. It’s simple self-preservation. No matter your affiliations and allegiances, it fits — it serves your highest good: the noise has gotten louder, more obnoxious, intrusive, demanding. How, I ask, is my spiritual armor holding up?

I find one version of LPF particularly useful if I’m about to fire off that tweet or Facebook post I could easily regret in five minutes or less. Or the quick retort to a co-worker or partner that has an unwonted, and unwanted, edge to it.

“Sit, sing, and wait”, to put it in words that practitioners of my other spiritual path commonly use. (The “sitting” is focus; I can “sit” while walking my favorite three-mile loop on a nearby dirt road. Sometimes sitting is doing just one thing. I build a fire. All I do is build a fire. No need for anything else. A fire meditation-in-action.)

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Yes, go ahead and get down in words what I’m feeling. In itself that can be perfect response to anger, despair, whatever is dancing along my nerves and sinews. Print it out if it’s onscreen. Burn it. (Toss it in the woodstove.) Do the same if I’ve handwritten it in a journal or notebook. Let  flames alchemize it back to the elements. Let it go even as it goes.

But then, says wise counsel, chant, sing, turn on your favorite CD or meditation track, restore your perspective through practicing joy. Yes, my friends remind me, you really do need to practice joy. Firegazing. Humming an octave higher or lower as I vacuum than the tune of the motor.

And in the ensuing re-calibration, re-balancing, re-equilibration that’s going on, wait. As with sitting, I can wait by turning down the inner and outer noise as I do something focused. Carry wood into garage, the night’s supply.

Welcome a chance for silence.

Sit, sing, and wait.

We know so little of silence that waiting without the muzak of all five senses firing, even for a brief interval, can seem oddly intimidating.

“You mean do nothing?!”

No — I mean wait. Let the dust settle. Let the moment clarify. A job of work in itself. Sometimes thirty seconds can be enough. Sometimes I need the full hour of that three-mile loop of dirt road, hills and trees. Sometimes a contemplation asks for sitting in a chair, unplugged, listening, alert, attentive to what is coming. Not the noise I carry with me. The song outside, the deeper song within.

My other spiritual path sets a high premium on a weekly fast as well, whether physical or mental. Both can be difficult, but wonderfully revealing of just where I expend energy.

Because what I think my priorities are, and how I actually spend the day’s energy and attention, will always show a gap. My practice for that day, whatever else I’ve got going on, is noticing and then closing the gap. (I’m cleaning the house. No, actually, I’m sitting in front of a screen most of the morning. Or I’m letting go the past. No, actually, I’m just rehearsing it instead.)

Even a little practice is “more than before”, my go-to mantra for progress. And just the effort to practice is in itself progress. To use bowling imagery, the skill to take down a single pin is just as great — just as useful and valuable — as the skill to make a strike.

More than before.

But fasting can also be ongoing, a powerful technique against the demand for our attention, one of the most valuable attributes we possess. “Where your treasure is, there will be your heart also” — so true. I need the reminder; everyone wants my attention. Advertisers and politicians depend on grabbing it and holding it long enough to get me to buy and vote. Rabble rousers just want the satisfaction of rousing my rabble — they want my attention any way they can get it, as psychic food. Getting and spending, I lay waste my powers. Wordsworth, old bard, you knew and wrote this 212 years ago.

Opt out, whisper the trees rustling outside my window. Druid, listen when the trees speak. Better than talking at them.

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clearing the solar panels

A blessed thaw has come, after the bitter last two weeks. The eaves are dripping, and the sheathe of ice and snow on the solar panels finally loosened its grip enough I can roof-rake it off, and the panels can begin to receive the sun fully again.

Stamp off your snow, counsel Wise Ones in my morning meditation.

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Prayer — “Grant” vs “Embody”

If you join rituals of many of the contemporary Druid orders, you’ll encounter the Druid Prayer frequently. (In OBOD rituals it’s simply standard practice.) Some Reconstructionist Druid groups may eschew it because it originates during the “Druid Revival” period beginning in the 1600s, rather than from what we can recover of historical Druidry, but for all that, the claim often used to introduce it, that it “unites all Druids”, is more than wishful thinking. Or it could be.

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back yard, facing east

Also called the Gorsedd Prayer (Welsh Gweddi’r Orsedd), it’s long been part of the Welsh National Eisteddfod as well. The “inspired literary scalliwag” Iolo Morganwg composed it, and you can find several versions of it, including the Welsh originals, here. It’s survived because of its power:

Grant, O God (or Goddess/Spirit/etc.), Thy protection;
And in protection, strength;
And in strength, understanding;
And in understanding, knowledge;
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
And in that love, the love of all existences;
And in the love of all existences,
the love of God (or Goddess/Spirit/etc.) and all goodness.

As a prayer of pure petition, it has value. The prayer makes no mention of reciprocity — the petitioner doesn’t promise to do anything in return for these very large gifts. In short, stripped of the politeness of the first word “grant”, the prayer says “Give.”

But if the Granter gives, the effects of the gift do provide a kind of return. If we’re protected, strengthened, granted understanding, knowledge, love of justice, of all existences and of God, you could argue that large transformative effects will doubtless follow, and constitute their own return. We certainly won’t be the same, act the same, or — most likely — pray the same. If we can’t get there any other way, sincere and heartfelt petition can do the trick.

As with so many elements of our group practice, we too rarely talk about them; first we’re busy preparing and then doing them, and feasting and socializing after. The sense of having “held up our end” can be palpable after ritual: the atmosphere tingles with a sense of scales recalibrated yet again. Witnesses, petitioners, performers, vessels and channels for holy energies to enter the world through our own imperfect and holy lives, we’ve reconnected, remembered, listened.

But because I know how I can end up mouthing the words, even as their familiarity is a comfort and a part of the ritual energy flow, I keep returning to the practice of embodying rather than merely asking. I need something to stop me, shake me, take me out of myself, and yes, out of the ritual moment, while holding me to a higher standard than I came with. It’s a kind of second prayer, or personal ritual. It may take me 10 or 20 minutes to fulfill it, because I need to slow down to do it, whether I say the words aloud or bring them to awareness in some other way, feeling them in my bones, touching the earth, cupping a ritual flame, gazing at the horizon, repeating them till they sink in, carrying their vibration till a door opens inwardly, any and every one of these ritual gestures. “Do till it’s true”. I want to realize “as above, so below” however I can. All I know is that for me the energies of this different manner or form of prayer also differ — and I need that difference.

So here’s one version of the words, a small part of what feels to me more of an “embodying” prayer:

Holy Ones,
in your protection I stand here,
strengthened, understanding your ways,
knowing and loving your honor as the source of mine.
The justice I do today and every day
mirrors my love for the good things
you give, just as the love I receive
is justice, the sword of truth you raise
in my life, handle toward me.
Wherever I am, may I remember
and live these things always.

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Some Prayers and Praying

In the previous post I said I’d talk about prayers and praying. If there’s a blogger’s equivalent to stage fright, I get it at least 50% of the time. I commit, I step up, and — yup, there it is, running its paws along my spine. (It helps keep me paying attention to guidance I receive.) Who am I to write some of the stuff I’ve written? I’m a person like you, alive today. That’s all the authority any of us needs.

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front yard, hydrangeas, 17 August 2017

Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers offers a helpful starting point for prayer and fasting. Because each of the three kinds of prayers in her title combine both: I can’t ask for help if I don’t fast from pride or despair. I can’t be grateful if I’m caught up in fear and anger, and so on. Prayer IS fasting, and vice versa — a magical choice to place our attention not where anybody else wants it but where we choose.

Sometimes all I  can do is ask for help. Often asking — even trying to ask — opens a door, especially if I can shut up before and after, even if it just means hearing the hinges squeak. Something’s in motion that wasn’t before.

After a three-year job search, I despaired of outside help. Persistence and patience between them do gather up tremendous reservoirs of energy. But you get in line, one of my wife’s go-to techniques, and you advance until it’s your turn just wasn’t working for me.

Until it did. Last week I received a solid job offer to do just what I’d been asking for. But because it was out-of-state, because it meant a move and other changes — because it asked me to grow into it — I immediately found several reasons to say, quite loudly, NO! Fortunately, just not to the person offering me the job. As U. K. LeGuin so gracefully puts it, I had to enlarge my heart to accept the gift.* And I had to recognize the gift as gift before I could even do that.

I ask you — what can the gods do with such mortals?!

Often, a lot.

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Hemlocks, north property line, 17 Aug. 2017

Other times you just want to say thanks. If I haven’t done so for a while, I can tell by how it feels to start up again. Like I’d forgotten a key ingredient. But now it’s back in the sauce, the mix tastes sweeter, the glue sticks, the paint dries to an appealing hue.

This blog offers guarantees very rarely, and for good reason. But practice no other prayer than gratitude for a year and a day, then get back in touch. I guarantee this triad: transformation, wonder, and a new conviction in you.

Wow is a third kind of prayer. If you choose, you can perceive awe as a form of tribute, a gift at the altar. “The finest emotion of which we are capable”, Einstein exclaimed. “is the mystic emotion. Herein lies the germ of all art and all true science”. Even if we scale it back for the sake of the skeptical among us, who doesn’t appreciate awe? How else to feel so small and so connected at the same time?

In a post from a few years ago I looked at a “prayer prompt” I still find valuable.

The prayer serves as a starting point for how I try to pray for others in difficulty without mucking things up further for them with what I think they need. It’s also more eloquent than I can usually manage to be, which never hurts either.

In the excerpt below, from Mary Renault’s splendid evocation of classical Greece, The Last of the Wine, a friend of the main character Alexias is speaking, near the tail end of the suffering that much of Greece experienced during the three brutal decades of the Peloponnesian War:

We have entreated many things of the gods, Alexias. Sometimes they gave and sometimes they saw it otherwise. So today I petitioned them as Sokrates once taught us: ‘All-knowing Zeus, give me what is best for me. Avert evil from me, though it be the thing I prayed for; and give the good which from ignorance I do not ask.’ — Mary Renault. The Last of the Wine. Pantheon Books, 1964, pg. 344.

Can I pray for what’s best for me, can I keep alert for its first stirrings when it arrives, even or especially when it’s not what I thought I wanted? If I can answer yes even some of the time, change can open my heart to possibilities I’d otherwise turn away from, if not actively shut down. Then maybe I’m ready to pray for others, too. (We won’t mention changes that come to all of us anyway, unasked for. Welcome, travelers of all realms, whisper the gods, to these worlds of time and space. Buckle up.)

Other times prayer means simply immersion. I go for a favorite walk, I sit with a favorite CD, a song or chant for meditation, or I follow a theme in a series of meditation sessions, and I’m in it. Borne away from here-and-now to there-and-then. Sometimes I only know when I return, like waking from a dream, that wherever I was, it sure wasn’t here. And I’m better for it.

Formal prayer has its place, too. As many do, I find Iolo Morganwg’s Gorsedd Prayer, also called the Druid Prayer, which Morganwg first spoke publicly at the 1792 summer solstice, a comfort:

Grant, O God/dess/Spirit/etc., thy protection,
and in protection, strength,
and in strength, understanding,
and in understanding, knowledge,
and in knowledge, the knowledge of justice,
and in the knowledge of justice, the love of it,
and in that love, the love of all existences,
and in the love of all existences, the love of God/dess/etc.,
and all goodness.

You may turn to other prayers, or you’ve written your own. I’ve mentioned sources like Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional. Sometimes all I can manage is the spontaneous cry of the heart, standing at my backyard fire circle, facing an indoor altar, or stunned to despair while I stand in the shower, hot water indistinguishable from tears. You go with what comes.

Sometimes it’s stillness I’m called to. In the stillness I may receive much. The blessing of turning off the monkey mind. Intimations of the future. A nudge towards or away a choice, a pattern, a practice, a person. Or any of a range of still small voices that will never shout to be heard, that have waited patiently for me to listen once again.

Sometimes it’s a reminder about a commitment I’ve made. In that case it’s a god invoking me, rather than the other way round. How have I answered, how will I answer, now? The offering I made was for my own good as well as a gift. The service I vowed transforms me in the doing of it, even as it fulfills a request by guide or god or spirit I have promised.

Sit, sing, and wait, counsels one of my teachers, if I need things to clarify, and no other path seems clear. And a book that same teacher delights in offers two additional pieces of advice, opening and closing the same paragraph: “Hold all and wait … Drop all and start over again.” Both valid, both true, both potent for good. How to know which to practice, other or either, if not both at once? I turn once again, I return, listening, praying, fasting. Don’t we all?

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LeGuin, U. K. A Wizard of Earthsea. Bantam Books, 1968, pg. 69.

Our -cosms, Prayer, and Fasting

You’ve probably heard some version of it before.  It crops up like an overnight mushroom, whenever an event like Charlottesville or Brexit or Charlie Hebdo or Syria or Iraq or Rwanda or 9/11 or-or-or shakes us loose from our torpor and shrieks for attention, for a reaction. You can fill in your choice of event, from a whole ungainly series of them over the last year, decade, or lifetime.

We could quite accurately call the reaction the “20-40 rule”, courtesy of one of its literary expressions from some 80 years ago, in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon. The two speakers here are Chang, an inhabitant of the famed valley of Shangri-La, and Conway, the main character:

“We keep ourselves fairly up to date, you see”, he [Chang] commented.

“There are people who would hardly agree with you”, said Conway with a smile. “Quite a lot of things have happened in the world since last year, you know”.

“Nothing of importance, my dear sir, that could not have been foreseen in 1920, or that will not be better understood in 1940”.

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Now the argument here, a philosophical version of wait-and-see, has its obvious appeal as well as its downsides. In considerably less than a year, the political (or ecological or spiritual) landscape can shift dramatically. Irreversible change may swallow up — or end — lives. Wait for expanded understanding, however rich or apt, and it may simply arrive too late. Look solely at the long game, and I miss the immediate stakes.

But even knowing this, if you’re like many, you may start to experience “apocalypse fatigue”. You have little adrenalin or passion or initiative left in the tank. You’ve felt and you’ve empathized and you’ve resolved, and maybe you’ve also marched or written or witnessed or organized or simplified. Maybe you still do. Or maybe now you keep your head down and try to live your own life as best you can, because that’s all you feel you can do, as the world unquietly keeps crashing and burning. You brush off the ash and pick through the rubble — you stand up and do it again tomorrow. You endure.

For a thoughtful and balanced set of responses to crisis — not just one, and with Charlottesville simply the current face it wears — I suggest you read John Beckett’s 10 August ’17 post here. While we don’t always see things the same way, I value his hard-earned perspectives.

And when he observes, “My political posts weren’t well read, I didn’t particularly enjoy writing them, and every political post I wrote meant there was a religious, spiritual, or magical post that didn’t get written”, my experience echoes his. Long-time readers of this blog don’t come here for politics anyway.

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But here I want to look at an approach that I’ve found addresses the -cosms of the title, the keen needs of the moment as well as the more subtle draw of the long view, an approach that can serve the politically engaged and the quietly witnessing and the spiritually armed and ready, as well as the hermit sage. In a word, stamina. Fortitude, courage — though not quite the same thing. Staying power.

The approach sources, among other wells and fountains, the wisdom of the Galilean Master, who counseled prayer and fasting. And to make it a Druidic triad, we’ll add listening, because listening is another face it wears. Listening, prayer and fasting. LPF.

And that means listening to all of our -cosms, macro- and micro- and meso-, too — all our worlds, and the world “in between”, this middle earth where we spend so many of our daily hours. I’ve found if something’s shaking in one world, the others vibrate with it, too.

I’ll go personal from here forward, because that’s often how I think and talk best. If it’s true for me, it may — or may not — also work for you. But you’ll see it tried out with me first.

If I don’t fast from frequent tugs towards anger or fear, if I don’t re-connect with the innermost truths I know, I can’t pray (or act) effectively. I drag along the trash and flotsam and jetsam from others’ anger and fear. Don’t need ’em. Got enough of my own to let go of. This happened most recently in a job situation I won’t go into, because I’m still praying and fasting about it. Work-in-progress. Material for an upcoming post.

The danger of another’s anger and fear is I may not recognize them until I make them my own. I may confuse them with almost anything but a limitation. Unless I fast from their effects, listen to their seed-causes, and pray, I open the door to them. Now in addition to my own, I’ve invited in another’s fear and anger.

So if I’m not praying, I can’t fast or act with justice to myself or anyone else. And without praying, I can’t listen. Some of my prayer will be silence, a space where counsel from wise guides and teachers and ancestors and spirits has room to reach me.

Without this practice, whether I launch myself into a protest march at the statehouse in Montpelier, Vermont’s capital, or weed my garden and share with my neighbor a bundle of chard or a basket of carrots or — soon — potatoes, I’m missing my best path.

Because whether I link arms with another protester or cross my yard to my neighbor’s and listen to his life over the past few weeks, I’ll miss what I most need, and miss what I most have to give. The opportunity, the exchange, is often a seeming small one. But that’s why I need to listen or I miss it.

This has happened so many times to me, both the listening and also the missing-the-moment, that I’m actually beginning to learn it. (Like I’ve often said here, I can be really thick and slow about these things.)

The test, always, for me, is the quality of the encounter, the sense of rightness. This sense doesn’t exclude physical difficulty. Whether I’m about to go into surgery, or face an angry person waving a sign on the street corner, or talk with a friend, the words, the tone, the energy exchanged between us is my guide. How does it manifest? Can I watch the exchange without deep attachment to its outcome? Can I watch the — for lack of a better word — the ecology of the moment work its own energy?

I’ve acted, prepared, prayed and fasted and listened. Now comes the wonder, when I’ve gotten out of the way of Spirit manifesting in the situation. Or not.

For me, the listening IS the prayer and fasting. The fasting IS the prayer, and the prayer IS the fasting. One of the best Druid triads I know.

Pray and fast, and things go smoother for everyone, not just me, whatever I do. Miss the optimum alignment, and I discover that, too. This is my love laboratory, this world where we all are trying out our truths, where the test, in the end, is this: Does it build? Does it open? Does it give? Does it connect? Have I served?

And what forms of prayer might work? Material for the next post.

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A Prayer, a Gesture, a Star Unseen

[Updated 2 July 2020]

I cherish my Druid family, but like all our families, they can sometimes drive me crazy. Very often I cringe when I see their online appeals for assistance with jobs, health, relationships — the usual sources of our suffering and joy. Don’t misunderstand: I want to help. But that impulse immediately finds itself in combat with a question: do I really know what even I myself need in a given situation? Not what I want, but what I need? And if I don’t, is it any kindness to send energy to a situation that does not serve a friend’s best interests?

Such appeals typically elicit a round of quick replies from well-meaning friends and readers. A ritual performed, a prayer said, a visualization completed. Done, done, done, read the comments in response.

What to pray for? The obvious, the thing the other person is requesting, seems dogged with problems. Divination can help, of course, and dreams, or the kind of conversation with friends when a word or phrase lights up with brighter meaning. Then there’s an omen or coincidence, a gift of chance, the natural world revealing a clue, or that sudden intuition while I’m doing something truly mystical like … the laundry. You know — the human ways the gods speak to us. And I think How rarely I know what’s best. Not false modesty here, but fact. Often I ask for clarity and wisdom, rarely for a specific outcome. Because prayers do get answered. I’ve prayed myself squarely into disaster more than once. Be careful what you wish for.

So when I encountered the following passage recently, near the end of The Last of the Wine, one of Mary Renault‘s splendid evocations of ancient Greece, it jumped out at me. In its intent it resembles how I try to pray for others in difficulty. Also it’s more eloquent than I can usually manage to be.

Here a friend of the main character Alexias is speaking, near the tail end of the suffering that much of Greece experienced during the three brutal decades of the Peloponnesian War:

We have entreated many things of the gods, Alexias. Sometimes they gave and sometimes they saw it otherwise. So today I petitioned them as Sokrates once taught us: ‘All-knowing Zeus, give me what is best for me. Avert evil from me, though it be the thing I prayed for; and give the good which from ignorance I do not ask’ (Mary Renault. The Last of the Wine. Pantheon Books, 1964, pg. 344).

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In addition to prayer, we have other tools in our kit, of course. Magic, like prayer, is much misunderstood, practiced in all sorts of ways reckless and marvelous, and deserves careful study, like any art.

candle-gazingI’ve mentioned British author and magician Josephine McCarthy before, and she has down-to-earth and useful insight here, too:

The simple vision or ritual often gets cast to one side in search of something more powerful and interesting, and such action is a dead end that pulls the prospective magician off the tracks. Some of the simplest rituals are the most powerful once the magician has learned the deeper frequency of the ritual and can interact with it. For me the most powerful ritual of all is the lighting of the candle. It opens all worlds, all times and gives me access to focused power that is unfiltered. (Josephine McCarthy. Magical Knowledge  Book 1: Foundations – The Lone Practitioner. Mandrake, 2012, pgs. 51-52).

What? you say. (I can hear the growing outrage in your voice.) Light a candle and just like that, problem solved? No.

One of the keys in McCarthy’s words is deeper frequency. Disciplined practice reveals such insight and will yield results possible in no other way. Thus the question for the Druid is less “What do you believe?” and more “What do you do?” Belief matters, praxis matters more. In the doing, the dedicated practice, we access that deeper frequency, the solution we can put into effect.

All well and good, you say. But what about right now, when I’m hurting?

Friend, I hear and pray the best prayer I can make out of my practice. I promise to keep on practicing. Any one of us can be the channel for Spirit to manifest in this moment — including you. In the meantime, a meal, a listening ear, a hug, a back-rub, a good night’s sleep, are some of the best immediate magics we have. Love has found you yet again.

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Image: candle-gazing

Talking Old

Sometimes when I grow weary of one particular voice, my own, the one chattering in my head, I “talk old.”  For me that means to use words from Proto-Indo-European, the reconstructed mother tongue of a hundred languages, ranging from Irish in the West to Hindi in the East.  It means to play, to sing, to delight in the most lasting, the most insubstantial, intangible human artifacts we have.

Words like *deiwos “god (divine),” *ogni “fire (ignite),” *udor “water” are mantras for me, songs I sing to myself when no else is listening.  (The * means the word is reconstructed.  For me, the * means “Pay attention!  Talking old is going on!”) Words no one speaks now, unless it’s some historical linguist, a professional muttering over a journal article she’s writing, or an amateur and word-mystic like me who gets lost in the shape and sound of “talking old.”  Here are words our ancestors used, to talk to each other and to name their world.  *kolnos, mountain … and I’m off, among moss and trees floating into view and disappearing again in the mist.  *wlkwos, almost unpronounceable: the wolf, vilkas, ulf, vrka, lupa, lobo, those shapes of gray fur with fierce teeth that flash into view around a fire at night, only to vanish again, and then those unearthly howls echo from the hills and up and down our spines.  We say unearthly — yet the only place we hear them is on earth.  Home that is not home forever.

Individual words come fairly easily.  There are whole dictionaries of Indo-European you can pore over, lists of cognates from a range of languages, the vowels and consonants shifting, the resemblances still striking, like at a family reunion where maybe a generation will skip, and then a nose or line of eyebrow or chin will reappear on a toddler asleep in the lap of her grandmother, and the kinship shows clear again.  Blood will tell.

Sentences are harder, but still possible.  The best we can do now often feels like speaking with a strong accent.  We can get close enough we’d probably be understood here and there, across the six thousand years that separate the present from early Proto-Indo-European times, simple things the best, reaching the furthest across the miles and millennia.  *Twom ognibyo wikyo, “I hallow you with fire,” and instantly I’m present at the rite, the flames dancing in our eyes, the smoke drifting and clearing.  *Nomen bhero, “I carry a name,” I bear it, like a beloved cup that has passed down several generations, the edges softened, a few chips around the rim, the color or design worn in places.

Or maybe it’s been renewed, lovingly reworked so that its energy and substance will last a few more generations, the way we can still trace the meanings of so many names, handed on like heirlooms through a family.  “That was your great-grandfather’s name, that was your aunt’s, you and your cousin both have the same middle name from your grandmother’s family.”  *mater, *bhrater, *swesor, *pater, *sunu, *dhugater: mother, brother, sister, father, son, daughter — across thousands of years the family persists, its names still holding their old shapes and sounds, recognizable across a score of languages, the human links we share.  *oinos, *dwou, *treyes, *kwetwores — one, two, three, four, and I count minutes, the pleasures of being alive, the four directions, the four seasons.

I “talk old” to the point that I’ve created several simplified forms of Indo-European as a constructed language or conlang, and used it to write simple prayers and poems.  I “talk old” whenever English gets diluted by advertisers and politicians and careless speakers who squander its beauty and significance in talk that’s literally cheap, of little value.  Poetry saves language because it always is trying to mean more, sometimes straining a language to its limits.  Though paradoxically (signpost of how many truths!) the best poetry comes effortlessly, as if the universe speaks English, or Urdu, or Swahili, and everyone everywhere could understand the words, if they wanted to, if they just happened to be listening.  Then “talking old” is simply speech, the human voice shaping experience, in love with possibility, the universe surprising us still, once again, always.

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