Archive for the ‘ritual’ Tag

Spring Teachers — Wand and Cauldron 2   Leave a comment

As I write, the sleet and rain of a mid-April winter storm blanket southern Vermont, patter on the roof, and coat our driveway and solar panels.

Dana Driscoll in her wonderful Druidgarden blog writes:

This unseasonably cold spring offers a number of powerful lessons. The first is in studying people’s reactions to the cold vs. the land’s reactions to the cold. Humans have grown to expect predictable certainty; the certainty of the seasons coming on a schedule that we could depend on, the certainty of USDA* zones and last frost dates. But that’s not what this planet can offer us anymore. Predictable certainty says that by mid April, we “should be” firmly in the spring months. There “should be” buds and flowers. There “should be” warmth. But climate change prediction models say otherwise–-the East Coast of the USA, where I live, is likely to see shorter springs and longer winters, particularly as the jet stream continues to shift. The truth is that spring will come, but it may take longer than any of us would like. Spring will come and frost will come, and summer and fall will also come-–but no longer on predictable schedules. The daffodils understand this-–they simply wait.  The animals and insects understand this–-they wait. The flowers and seeds understand this–-they, too, wait.

[*United States Department of Agriculture zones for estimating growing seasons, planting dates, plant hardiness, etc.]

Such patience is cauldron and wand working together.

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I recently obtained a copy of Hewson’s Dictionary of Proto-Algonquian (Canadian Ethnology Service Mercury Series Paper 125). If we’re serious about wanting to talk with the spirits and land-wights in North America, and we also want to avoid cultural appropriation of living languages and practices, why not go to the source?! Just like with Proto-Indo-European for Europe, we can learn Proto-Algonquian! (Right now I’m looking at how place-names are constructed.)

Except.

One of the fallacies we cherish involves continuity and change. In our search for authenticity we often grant an unconscious, and sometimes conscious, primacy and superiority to “languages-spoken-when”: we study Old English or Old Icelandic if we’re Heathens or Asatruar, we turn to Irish or Welsh or Gaelic to be truer to the Celtic tradition, just as Catholics may pick up some Latin if they attend Catholic schools or regularly attend a traditional Mass, and more conservative Jews acquire some Hebrew as a language of their heritage and tradition for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and Seders and Synagogue prayer and ritual. Languages of lore and wisdom are valuable gifts from the past, from the ancestors.

But just as speakers of English no longer speak Old English as a native tongue to greet the dawn and the land, or pass the bread and butter, the spirits and land wights can connect through our modern tongues just as well with us, and we with them, as we ever could in the past.

Robert Frost, old bard of the land, like any true bard, had access to Otherworld wisdom. You can hear it in “The Gift Outright” (which I often return to when this topic comes up), through the views and stances and limits of his time — as through ours, limits which we cannot yet wholly see — when he peers into that deeper well for vision and understanding:

The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living …

Possession, possessed by, withholding — we carry deep attitudes and archetypes not lightly to be dismissed. Indeed, they are part of our work. But for all that, the Land where I live here in New England doesn’t “withhold” itself from me because I say Lake Champlain rather than Bitawbakw, or Burlington rather than Winooski. Rather I withhold myself through heedlessness. It’s my intent and practice that make up any difference.

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view of Nubanusit from Hancock, NH

Every land has seen many people on it come and go. The language — any language — is for my comfort and focus — for any act of consciousness. If out of respect I devote energy to learning old ways of address, the Otherworld (and this world) accepts that gift in the spirit it is given. Let it outweigh other considerations, though, and I’ve stepped out of balance. To use the terms of the previous post, my speech and ritual are my cauldron and wand.

Yes, it’s still a pleasure to say the New Hampshire Abenaki lake names Skatutakee [skah-TOO-tah-kee], Nubanusit [noo-bah-NOO-sit] and Winnepesaukee [win-neh-peh-SAH-kee], even if they’re poorly Anglicized.

Names matter. Echoes remain. That’s how we fashioned a modern Druidry. Trust the echoes, if they’re all I have at the moment, follow them, and they lead to the originals.

Wiccan ritual often demonstrates an instinctive understanding of the power and wealth of names and naming. The Charge of the Goddess reminds us to attend to echoes and inner music:

Listen to the words of the Great Mother; she who of old was also called among men Artemis, Astarte, Athene, Dione, Melusine, Aphrodite, Cerridwen, Cybele, Arianrhod, Isis, Dana, Bride and by many other names …

Here we’re close to the Jewish Psalm 137, a song of exile sung in Babylon:

How shall we sing the LORD’S song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

If I do not recall and recite the old names, may I lose the power of speech as proper penalty. A curse, just as with a blessing, is not a thing to be summoned lightly.

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To paraphrase the old adage of the Hermetic Mysteries: “Pilgrim on earth, thy home lies in all the worlds; stranger, thou are the guest of gods”.

MacLir (cited below and in the previous post) notes:

We find other wands in myths that are the sources for our modern wands. One wand user, the Greek god Hermes (Roman Mercury), has long been linked to passage between earth and the higher realms. The staff or rod … the caduceus of Hermes-Mercury has come to be associated with healing and the medical profession due to its similarity to the rod topped with a brazen serpent employed in the Bible by Moses to work healing magic. It has also been mixed up with the wand of Asklepios, a Greek demigod closely associated with medicine and healing. Asklepios used a wand that is usually depicted as a rough branch with a single snake spiraling around it (Wandlore, pg. 7).

Wand, staff, ogham stave, intention to plant, to sow and to manifest, I honor you.

Spring, east, dawn, wind, intelligence, will, knowledge, wand-realm — cauldron has called you forth, evoked and invoked you. Kundalini, serpent power always coiled, wand and cauldron, now I will work with you both, doing the work humans are uniquely called to do, standing between earth and heaven, foot and hand in so many worlds.

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Images: Lake Nubanusit.

Hewson, John. 1993. A computer-generated dictionary of proto-Algonquian. Gatineau – Quebec : National Museums of Canada. 281 p. ISBN : 0-660-14011-X.

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

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Seven Druid Hacks   Leave a comment

Wantast-sign

With a name like *Wantastiquet …

Already you can tell the post is Druidy. Beyond the obviousness of “Druid” in the title, there’s a symbolic number involved. If not Seven, then Three. Yes, definitely Three.

hack (from Dictionary.com)

  • a cut, gash, or notch
  • a piece of code that modifies a computer program in a skillful or clever way OR breaking into a network, computer, file, etc., usually with malicious intent
  • a tip, trick, or efficient method for doing or managing something

Question: Wait … are these hacks to become a Druid, or to practice Druidry more effectively?

Answer: yes.

“Guard the mysteries. Constantly reveal them”.

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ONE: Explore a habit — a piece of the human psychological code.

With the three definitions of hack available to suggest strategies, (a) cut, gash or notch the habit. That is, interrupt it in some way and see what happens and how it feels. If I favor one hand, try the other. Is it merely training that makes one easier or harder, or some other factor? (b) modify the habit in a skillful or clever way. See what else it can do. Or attack it with “malicious” intent. Sabotage my own habit. (c) Develop a new habit or modify an existing one as a strategy for managing something more efficiently.

To give a personal example, in breaking an undesirable habit, every time I felt a craving, I used the desire as a prompt to do a short meditative or imaginative practice. Not necessarily with the aim or replacing the habit, but borrowing its energy to launch a new one. Though in more than one case, the new practice became more interesting than the original habit, which eventually dried up.

This is just the beginning. Such exploration can reveal a great deal that was formerly half-conscious. And that can be useful — how much do I let myself be programmed unconsciously? Turns out quite a lot.

I make a set of “habit” cards, letting connections to the Tarot develop as I go. Turns out this is a much deeper practice than I’d anticipated. More on this in later posts.

TWO: Down with a pulled muscle in my back these last few days, I’ve had time to focus on what needs my attention next. And what kind of attention. Can I give love to aspects of my life I’ve labeled *bad*? Can I find reasons to stop liking something I now like? How much of *me* is merely whim, attraction and dislike. Is that *all* I am? No wonder people have a hard time understanding and experiencing immortality before they die, if they expect a self consisting of labels and whims to endure beyond physical death. Trees (most of them, anyway) drop their leaves each fall. What lesson is there in that for me? Hold on, then let go. Pulse. Rhythm. Cycle. Tree ritual: gather a handful of brown leaves in a basket. These are my “temporarily usefuls”. I drop them, one by one, back to the ground where I gathered them. A gust of wind whirls a bunch of them from the basket. Soon it’s empty. I bless the basket — it’s lighter now — then sit in meditation for an interval. When I get up, my back reminds me it needs love, too.

THREE: What’s on my altar right now? It doesn’t matter if I have a formal altar or not. (In a recent fit of cleaning and organizing, I don’t.) In fact, I’ve probably got more things on *invisible* altars than on *visible* ones. A prompt for meditation all its own.

Can I move one thing off an altar that doesn’t need to be there? Can I set one thing there that deserves a place of its own? Once it’s there, let me acknowledge and honor it in a short ritual. My wife, here is your presence on my altar, as in my life. A piece of quartz from a walk, for a start. Then under it, a card. What do I write on it? How will I decorate it? How often will I move, replace, re-dedicate it? Will the object take on a different symbolic form? Sea shell found on a beach walk together? Photograph? A note that *she* wrote to *me*?

FOUR: I had and have no idea beyond the title “Druid hack” where this post would and will go. I still don’t. Each new hack comes with some reflection and meditation after I finish the previous one. Here at Four, the midpoint of Seven, I still find myself disliking the word “hack”. For me it’s still too colored by its computer associations — a hacker is a vandal or thief. A “life hack” sounds like a cheap trick, a shoddy excuse for a valid strategy. Such an association is on me to work with.

For very different reasons I’ve resisted learning the ogham, though it’s a valid part of many Druid traditions. But piece by piece, quite literally — ogham sticks handed out in rituals, the most recent being saille ᚄ “willow” at the Spring Equinox — my resistance is wearing down. Where else am I resisting? Is it a productive resistance? By the slow magic of time, the self can change less traumatically than through abrupt shifts that can do needless violence to our lives. Brew my slow magic with me, o my days.

I find myself thinking of the variety of trees  that live in the neighborhood that I can visit, ask for the gift of a twig, and offer a gift in return. That I can charge my ogham with meditations about the specific trees that contributed. Not merely ash, but this ash. That the use of ogham can be a conversation between a group of trees and the student of the ogham, of tree wisdom. What *IS* tree wisdom? I’m just beginning to learn. (Hence the long journey of the Ovate that many experience.) Willow ogham, gift in hand from the Equinox ritual, I begin again with the willow in the backyard, long a companion already.

FIVE: Creativity is messy. Manifestation in particular. Think baby being born, think art project, think carving, smelting, painting, sculpting, gardening. Think soul-making. I’m doing a month of daily writing as I work on a Nanowrimo novel that needs further work. 333 words a day is small enough I can manage that much even with the groans and delays of my Great Procrastinator, a bad back, and still the same household tasks as always. My wife’s off to a job interview; I stare at the computer screen. Window to magic.

Because creativity is messy, where can I celebrate my next mess of creation? In a novel that’s “about” two worlds meeting, among other things, where else are worlds meeting in my life already, without strain or struggle? Where and how can I celebrate that fact? (This Pagan says ritual! and gets all tingly at the thought.)

A poet friend performs a simple ritual each time he sits down to write. Invoking the Muse isn’t merely a metaphor, he says. I rise to build up the fire on this spring morning, a whispered acknowledgment to Brighid. Even the thought of gratitude can be invocation.

SIX: Where else can I dance? Turns out, everywhere. I hadn’t danced for twenty years — until I danced at a ritual around a fire, and enjoyed it. I look forward in a month to Beltane for this reason, among so many others. But I’m certainly not waiting that long. I’m learning to dance more often, and in places and ways I’d overlooked for a long time. I have a desk covered with papers, bank statements to file, notes to organize, pamphlets. copies of Green Living, old newspapers ready for transfer to the kindling box. There’s barely room for the computer where I write this. But I’m dancing as I clean, and it feels … different. No hurry, a rhythm inherent in the action itself, a song accompanying, a song that says things without words, and sometimes with them, without any need for meaning. Cleaning for me is always a matter of “more than before”. And the dance carries over to the writing, dancing with words. Because the words are already dancing. I match my rhythm to them, and they flow more easily. (Dancing, it turns out, also helps loosen up my back. It’s sitting still that doesn’t help me stay loose. Funny, though, that lying still, on an ice-pack, is just fine. “Chill before moving” is excellent advice in a number of human endeavors.)

SEVEN: Combine what’s isolated and separate what’s together. This can apply concretely to things like composting and recycling, of course. Not mere polarizing perversity, this. I look at the previous six hacks and consider how dancing a habit and its changes can reveal a unique rhythm, a song of power that can accompany the experimental shifting and play with habits. Consciousness itself is a series of settings we play with all day long, with food, stimulants, activity, rest, conversation, daydream, reading, work, listening to music, sleep, exercise, and so on. I can distinguish at least ten distinct states of consciousness in just an average day, without any particular attempt to shift. What about you? How effectively can I deploy the possibilities of one setting to accomplish something another setting cannot? Rather than butt my head against energetic barriers, shift the consciousness. A whole laboratory waiting for me to explore it.

The hack of creating new hacks is one of the most remarkable things humans do. It’s recursive — it loops onto itself, in a fractal kind of way, making patterns that can teach us things unknown before they take shape.

So there you have them — seven Druid hacks: exploring a habit (and the habit-making mechanism) and then Tarot-izing it, doing a tree-leaf ritual, “altar-izing” something not there before, trying out and consulting tree wisdom, welcoming the mess of creativity, dancing more than before, and playing with consciousness-settings.

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*Wantastiquet: “the language belongs to the land

La Vie en Vert: Life Greens   Leave a comment

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On an overcast, mild and rainy day, the stones of our backyard firepit emerge at last from the retreating snow.  No thing exists “entire of itself” or for itself only. It also touches things around it, making and meaning for them a whole range of significances. For the moles in the lower yard, warming weather soaks the earth with snowmelt, and that means flooded burrows. For the deer who’ve survived the New England winter, fresh browse as the grass greens again under the strengthening sun, with the tender shoots of new growth burgeoning everywhere. For the returning birds, nesting material, the first bugs, and surfacing worms.

One of the core teachings explains that the macrocosm (literally ‘the great universe,’ the universe around us) and the microcosm (the ‘little universe,’ the universe within us) are mirror images of each other.

Thus, we can look to the world of nature around us for help in understanding our own nature, recognizing that if a theory about the nature of the universe proves to be a mistake when tested against the world around us, it will also prove to be a mistake when applied to the world within us (Greer, J. M. Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, pg. 15).

Inner turmoil, strange dreams I can recall only fragments of on waking, a sense of being reminded of — and held to — a standard I agreed to long ago. A sense of being on the cusp of some ordination, relied on for a spiritual responsibility. “Ready or not, here I come”, says Spirit.

“Every human being is already a priest”, says John Plummer in his book Living Mysteries,

in a very primal sense. We stand between earth and sky, like pillars in an ever-moving temple. We find ourselves within and among other humans and many other orders of being (stones, plants, animals, elementals, angels, etc.) with energies flowing back and forth, consciously and not … Our outer personalities mediate the sacred presence at the core of our being, more or less well. We are all points in an extraordinarily complex web, through which divine power moves. That power … is much greater than us, and not particularly concerned about whether we understand how it is working, at any given moment (pg. 13).

Whether baptized or called by the spirits, pursued and confronted by an animal guardian, taught in dreams, initiated through suffering or illness or other trauma into a spiritual quest, roused by the shakti of a guru or the accumulated potency of intensive meditation, ignited by our own unanswered questions and a divine discontent, or turned off all spirituality by its many fakes and shams into a formidable and rationalistic atheism, we are called.

Plummer continues:

… we cannot turn our back on it. If we try, it will come knocking louder and louder, until we re-open the door. We have to feed it from our own substance, letting it grow through us, and then hand it forward to those who come after us, whoever they may be. To fail to transmit what we have received is to dam a stream until it becomes a stagnant pond, rather than free-flowing, clear water (pg. 15).

And so we come to this weekend, both April Fools’ Day and Easter, that lovely Pagan celebration — after all, it does take place on the first day of the Sun, after the first full moon, after the Spring Equinox — a true Pagan Triad of Light.

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Gulf Coast Gathering ’17, Live Oak canopy

Water and Light, and the holy Trees as witnesses.

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Greer, J. M. (2012). Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth: An Introduction to Spiritual Ecology. Weiser Books.

Plummer, John. (2006). Living Mysteries: a Practice Handbook for the Independent Priest. Berkeley, CA: Apocryphile Press.

In Praise of Altars   Leave a comment

Brenda Ash

photo courtesy Brenda Ash

OBOD Chosen Chief Phillip Carr-Gomm at this weekend’s Gulf Coast Gathering in Louisiana. The Alban Eilir/Equinox altar features Spanish moss and whelk shells. I didn’t attend, but through a magic as palpable and marvelous as any, an image consisting of light particles carries this moment from the event to all of us. Surely we can number images among our altars — beloved photographs of dear ones, of family and friends gathering, of the large moments and smaller ones of our lives.

And in the image below, Mystic River Grove’s Equinox celebration, which I was able to attend, processes through the March snow toward their ritual site in a Massachusetts park.

Alban Eiler _anna_oakflower

photo courtesy Anna Oakflower

Here are many altars: the altar of the event, held in imagination and expectation. The altar of the location, a park, a dedicated space of a different kind: the will existed to preserve a natural space from development and for the public, an acknowledgement of common wealth, re publica, for which the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is named in aspiration. The altar of each body present, beaver (broad tails slapping the water when we edged too near), birch, stone, water, human (about 25 of us gathered in eastern Mass.), avian (crows, and an owl hooting during an Ovate initiation preceding the main rite), canine (coyotes yipping just at the close of the ritual and as darkness settled in).

“I make of my intentions an altar”: something I can practice doing at any moment, if and when I remember. And how often the moment makes its own altar, if I pay attention: sunlight and silence on an afternoon walk, or a caucus of crows startled into flight and talk. A found stone that perfectly fits your hand. The first drops of needed rain finally beginning to fall. The greeting of a passing jogger or hiker out like you for word from the sun and the air and the world around us.

These are the democratic altars of existence, moments and openings of life and energy accessible to all. In them lie the origins of Druidry and so many other practices, a “momentary stay”, as Frost says, “against confusion”. Even the effort to “stay”, or simply to celebrate as it all passes by, is an altar, a focus.

We gather after the ritual at a long-time member’s home, another kind of ritual. Two soups go onto the stove, chicken and potato-leek. A salad comes together, and — warmed by a generous assortment of alcoholic contributions, an altar of bottles on the kitchen counter — several of us nibble at irresistible dessert cookies while the main course warms. We glow a little brighter in each other’s company, another altar we make by choice and effort. We could have stayed home for any reason, but we didn’t. An important altar. Others — a parent’s death last autumn, remembered; an upcoming surgery and a request for prayers; a first home and all the discoveries of ownership.

The “secular” is the “world” — Druidry recovers the world in all its sacredness, a human forgetting changed into human recollection.

Trees, humans too, we stand against the sky, a grove of profiles, outlines against the sky. Feeling our ways along, delighting — given half a chance, making one for ourselves — in all the altars of our worlds.

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March Sanity   2 comments

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one tree, two trunks — our old willow

We stand a little past the Equinox, and here, east of the Green Mountains (a hopeful name!), the snow’s half-gone, or going. As of today where I live in southern Vermont, sunrise came at 6:46 am, and sunset tonight will clock in at 7:06 pm — the day now 20 minutes longer than the night.

As always and forever, the planet — and that includes our neighborhoods on it, wherever they are — matters more pervasively, and holds more true and enduring interest, than whatever’s shrieking for our attention in the media. Politicians trade places, and learn with us the pointed lessons of one kind of power. Meanwhile, another and greater power plays across the earth, in our marrow, in our hearts and the roots of things.

IMG_1854Here in the Northern Hemisphere, flocks of geese wing towards hatching grounds in Canada, foraging along the way in snow-fields, and shivering in half-frozen ponds and lakes. A mated pair of cardinals bob and swing at the feeder in the front yard, now up again after the bear alert.

The first brave flowers push through snow, snowdrops here, and a friend in Boston, two hours to the east and moderated by the Atlantic, reports honeysuckle and monkshood. In the back yard, boulders with their thermal mass warm each day in the strengthening sun and thaw a semicircle in the snow around them.

The willows everywhere hold out their green-yellow twigs, waiting, preparing. I stand for a moment with the great willow in our lawn. Last autumn a large upper branch snapped in a storm, and amazingly it hasn’t yet fallen, half-supported by a nearby pine. In another few weeks I’ll climb and saw it the rest of the way. Willow deadfall — the tree sheds like a Labrador — light and punky once it dries, has served as our principal kindling all winter long.

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backyard blueberries, red sap rising

Here in Vermont, NG, a Druid in the north part of the state, has launched our first seed group, the initial step towards forming an OBOD grove. As with seedlings, the first steps of care ask for our regular attention. We may gather at midsummer to bless the young sprouts and tender shoots of that initial intention — it depends on whether we reach the critical mass all groups need in order to move from idea into manifestation. There are possibly a half-dozen of us so far around the state linked by a mailing list, a May website.

This afternoon I’ll gather with Mystic River Grove in Massachusetts for their Alban Eiler/Equinox rite. Members and friends come from Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont. After, it’s feast time, a chance to (re)connect with the many members of OBOD’s first and largest Grove in the U.S., see how we’ve all wintered, and celebrate the turn towards warmth and light. “By the power of star and stone …”

May the light, clarity and sanity of March bless you all.

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Insourcing Our Spirituality 1: “Jesus Christ is My Chief Druid”   Leave a comment

As a practitioner of what the following podcast calls “blended spirituality”, I was particularly interested in Tapestry’s recent conversation with Rev. Shawn Beck.

You can find the entire podcast (38′) here, along with some print excerpts of the interview.

As an OBOD Druid and an ordained priest in the Anglican Church in Canada, Beck faces a range of reactions when people learn of his practices.

“Well, that’s sorta neat, but actually you can’t do that” go some of the responses, both Christian and Pagan.

“In fact, I’ve been practicing it for a while, and I can”.

Our human liking for boundaries shows clearly here.

Beck book“What I find so interesting is that you’re not dabbling … you’re committed to both traditions”, says interviewer Mary Heinz.

One of the occasions for the interview is the publication of Beck’s book Christian Animism, which promptly goes onto my reading list.

Beck remarks, “I do identify myself as primarily Christian — heavily influenced and really spiritually transformed by Neo-Paganism”.

Asked how these two paths impact his daily practice, he notes that bringing in the feminine divine, and the value of nature as sacred, touches both his daily prayer life and public ritual.

“If I give a blessing, I may say … ‘one God, creator and mother of us all'”, says Beck. For him, the blending of paths augments language and practice, expanding them and their sensibilities.

“What do your superiors in the Anglican Church have to say to you when they weigh in?” queries Heinz.

Besides keeping his bishop apprised of his work and thought (and his blog*), Beck notes, “As a priest, I need to be sensitive to what’s actually going to be helpful to the people that I’m with”. Whether it’s skipping a Starhawk reference with those who might find it frightening, or — in the other direction — “gently giving permission to people to explore that part if it’s helpful …”, Beck uses discrimination and experience to guide his priestly work.

Though he doesn’t currently serve a parish, he is responsible for the training of other Anglican priests — such is the continued confidence his superiors repose in him.

Converted to Christianity in his teens, while also exploring Eastern religions through reading, Beck observes that many of his teen peers at the time belonged to a Fundamentalist church. Even then, he learned and practiced discretion. “And so if I wanted to talk about not just Jesus but also some of these other things that I was reading and exploring, I would always know that the emotional tension in that room or in that relationship would get sky-high”.

“How much of this journey can I share with others?” is therefore one guiding question for him, as for so many of us.

“Alive — magical — responsive”: this is some of the language Beck uses of his Pagan practice that catches the interest of the interviewer.

“For the last five years, I’ve been blessed to live on a lake, on a farm, off the grid”, Beck replies (11:45). “In Saskatchewan … No running water … I run and get the water … It’s a life embedded within nature”.

What does that permit him? “Part of it for me is being attentive to presences within nature”. As a Christian animist, he says, “the world is filled with a myriad of neighbors … So it’s about recognizing that that tree that I’ve been praying beside is alive and conscious and praying with me … It’s not just a vague sense of spirit, but that the universe is comprised of persons, and these persons are my neighbors”.

“Christians when they see a person addressing a non-human person in any way, they assume that it’s worship”, Beck says.

“I ask things of my human neighbors all the time, and they ask things of me all the time. And we don’t call that praying to each other. We just call it talking to each other”.

For a decade his family has been hosting talking circles. Among the directions of these sharing opportunities, people answer the question, “Where have you found Sophia in your life this past moon? Lady Wisdom — where has she been at work in your life?”

These are some of the highlights from the first half of the interview — I hope you find it worth listening to the whole.

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*Beck’s most recent blogpost as of this writing is from March 9th: “A ChristoPagan view of magic and prayer”.

Seven Trees   Leave a comment

The Tree is a world-wide wisdom-glyph, a potent symbol of connection and energy and life. The Tree features significantly in Druidry, among its many other appearances, with one reasonable explanation of the meaning of the word druid linked to trees, to a derivation from two reconstructed Indo-European roots *deru/*doru/*dru-, with its cluster of related meanings — “tree, oak, rooted, sturdy, true” — and a second root *wid-, “know, see, perceive, wise” [see the American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots]. This names — and challenges — Druids to be “wise knowers”, “truth-seers”, “tree-sages” and so on.

So the list of “Seven Trees” in this post is a selection from a vast root-stock alive in a metaphorical and literal First Forest, whose roots reach everywhere. Nonetheless, throughout time humans have found such selections to be useful, because their specificity nourishes inner seeds of creativity and encourages them to germinate. We lift a bucket from the wisdom-well and drink from it, marveling as it answers a deep thirst in us. A sapling puts forth leaves in the human psyche, so that new cultures, discoveries and insights can emerge. Choose your tree(s).

1) The Tree of Dreaming

Dreams often link us in unexpected ways to much that we push out of waking consciousness. Desires, fears, hopes, inner truths we deny or secretly suspect, creativity, inspiration, wisdom and insight and encounters with non-physical beings, enemies and friends, guides, companions, challengers and initiators and teachers. Each night we climb a branch, and we may retain something or nothing on waking. The leaves of the Tree brush against us, we drink from its sap, its branches lead to new possibilities, and we stir and wake and dream again.

I drink each morning from the forest pool, imbibing the wisdom of my dreams. What offering do I make in return? Gifts of self, gifts from my worlds.

As a meditation practice, I can commend this for recall and for wonder. The trees are mirrored in the pool, and their leaves blanket the forest floor beneath my feet. I sit on a tree trunk, and eat from the fruits and nuts around me. Before I return, I give thanks. A favorite tree nearby helps this manifest and concretize in my life.

2) The Tree of Kindred

The image here is obvious: the family tree. Linked as we ultimately are to everyone else on the planet, descended from common ancestors, we are this season’s leaves on the Tree, budding, greening, fading, falling and re-emerging on branches immemorially old. But because it is difficult to do more than express a general love for all things, we can begin more fruitfully if we love this leaf and that twig, slowly expanding our circle as we live and encounter new beings and extend our connections. The individual is a powerful key. Which ancestors have particular resonance and teachings for you in this life?

3) The Tree of Transformation

Humans transform trees into useful objects of wood, wood is a workable substance, and we respond to the beauty of the grain and warmth of wood in our homes and other structures. A tree is a living thing, growing throughout its life, which in some species can be very long indeed. All trees have their seasons, of fruit and flower, youth and maturity. Many species connect with other nearby individuals, and botanists are beginning to discover the central importance of tree species and individuals in the ecology of forests and woodlands. Trees are human cradles and coffins, doorways and walls, and have come naturally to represent all the experiences and choices that face a person in life. Christ was a carpenter, and died on a wooden cross, or in the language of some Christians, “God died on a Tree” — the most incorporeal linked to one of the most physical of living beings. Trees are doorways to other worlds, thresholds (also made of wood) to change and growth. In the distinction between transient leaf and lasting tree we have an image of what immortality might mean, the leaf of one personality among thousands, and the deeper link to the World Tree.

Yggdrasil

Yggdrasil, one example of the World-Tree

4) The Tree of the Worlds

In many cultures, trees link worlds, three or five, seven or nine. (In Norse mythology the World-Tree Yggdrasil links the Nine Worlds of Niflheim, Muspelheim, Asgard, Midgard, Jotunheim, Vanaheim, Alfheim, Svartalfheim, and Helheim.) We live on Middle-Earth, between upper and lower — or many other — worlds.

Many other regions and cultures also express images of a World-Tree, including Siberia, China, many African tribes, the Aboriginal Americas, and so on. The Tree holds the worlds together, and also keeps them distinct, and as a perceptual image makes travel between them possible. As below, so above: once you know where you are, it becomes a lot easier to go somewhere else. Abandon cultural markers, and I forsake a ready cultural visa — ignoring the admonition of the popular credit card advertisement, I “leave home without it” and not surprisingly, I may run into all kinds of trouble at the borders.

5) The Tree of Wisdom

In the Garden of Eden, the serpent tempts Eve with fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Unlike mere knowledge, wisdom transcends polarities, and is rarer and all the more valuable for that reason. We cannot stay ignorant, but we do pay a price on the road to wisdom, often through pain and suffering, individually and culturally. Because unlike so much knowledge (nowadays increasingly accessible to anyone with an internet connection), wisdom must be earned. In the Biblical story, the two trees of Knowledge and Life grow in the center of the Garden, twinned expressions or manifestations of inner realities.

6) The Tree of Life

The “brain-stuff” of the cerebellum is called arbor vitae, the “tree of life”, in anatomical terminology, because of its branching structure. Several tree species popular with landscapers share the name arbor vitae — they’re ever-greens, always green, and so appropriately named. The medieval arbor vitae, tree of life, was deployed in Christian theology, linking human and divine worlds, the World or Cosmic Tree with the tree(s) of Eden and the tree of the Cross. In the teachings of the Qabbalah, adopted by Western magical traditions, the Tree of Life is a map of creation.

As one of my students once remarked, “Eve’s mistake wasn’t one of eating but one of sequence, paying attention to the right order of things. Eat from the Tree of Life first, and then eat from the Tree of Knowledge”.

7) The Tree of Silence

east pondAs I mentioned above, there are many trees we could include in any list like this, the tree being such a powerful collection of understandings, physical beings, symbols, images, experiences, and cultural and spiritual markers and maps. Those on quests often find themselves needing silence, retreat, withdrawal, fasting from superficial human interaction in search of deeper, more meaningful connection.

Both religious and secular literature abounds with stories and images of the sage, wise woman or man, spending a period of time, or an entire life, in a wilderness, desert, or forest. And the young initiate, seeker of wisdom, or adventurer, often must traverse the wilderness, venture into the forest, only to discover she or he is never truly “out of the woods”. The lessons, growth and discovery always continue. But then the rest we seek, the repose and restoration, are so often found in silence. Over and around and in these silences rises a tree, in whose shade we rest, listening to its wisdom. In the rustling of its branches, which only helps the silence deepen, birds and bug and beasts peep out from time to time, kindred on our way.

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Gratitude to you, my readers, for the 401 of you who follow this blog. Numbers both don’t matter at all and also matter deeply. Some of you visit briefly, and some stay longer. Knowing you’re reading and thinking about these things helps me keep writing. A blessing on you and your houses, you and your dear ones, you and your own walks each day and always.

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Image: Yggdrasil.

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