Archive for the ‘ritual’ Tag

Ways and Means to the Holy   Leave a comment

We don’t have to “go anywhere” to contact the sacred.

“Everything that lives is holy”, William Blake declares. Fine, Billy, but how do I reconnect when I’m just not feeling it? In my better moments I may know it’s all holy, but I’m kinda down right now, dude, and I could use some help.

Druidry, after all, delights in “doing something” as a spiritual solution to many problems. Christianity may stereotypically insist “Ye must be born again!” as a prerequisite before anything else can happen, while Druidry as stereotypically suggests “Let’s go for a walk in the green world”.

What if neither of these is a viable option at the moment? Suicide hotlines get callers who’ve often tried every option they can lay hands on, and they’re still suicidal in part for that very reason: nothing’s working. And even those of us not in crisis at the moment can feel overwhelmed by events beyond our control.

If we step even one pace beyond the stereotypes, we find in counsel like “Be still and know that I am God” a place where Druidry and Christianity can draw closer. Something happens in stillness that all our elevator music and muzak and noise and ranting and partisanship try to overwhelm but cannot silence, because it is already silent. What is it?

In a post from Oct 2017 I wrote:

“The practice of sacramental spirituality can be pursued apart from the various pathologies of political religion”, notes John Michael Greer in his essay “The Gnostic Celtic Church“. In sacrament rather than creed lies one potent meeting-place for Druid and Christian.

What to do when one of our most human, instinctive and immediate responses — to touch each other in comfort with a hug, a hand on a shoulder — are actions dangerous to our health?

If the sacrament of touch is denied us, what other modes does spirit have?

The Sacrament of Hearing

“The Voice of the Beloved sustains us”. Whether it’s a telephone call to or from that particular person, or a special video, or piece of music, sound can carry us into spirit. The human capacity for memes and mantras and ear-worms is one we can use to our advantage. Set up what I actually want running through my inner worlds, and I’m halfway home.

And — paradox alert, because that’s much of human experience — in the sacrament of hearing, of listening, we may hear what is singing behind the silence …

Kaisenkaku Asamushi Onsen in Aomori prefecture, northern Japan / Wikipedia /

The Sacrament of Washing

Taking a bath or shower, and visualizing the gunk leaving our bodies down the drain and away can be a spiritual practice. Many traditions urge sacred bathing. (Besides, in lockdown we can let ourselves get pretty grody.)

A Hindu turns if possible to Mother Ganges, Catholics visit holy sites dedicated to manifestations of Mary, it’s a lovely Japanese custom to visit an onsen, and followers of Shinto and plenty of non-religious people as well find hot springs, saunas and mineral pools to be restorative.

The Sacrament of Blessing

Seven words make up a lovely blessing some of my friends use often: “Bless this day and those I serve”. If I live by myself, I’m one of the people I serve. Let’s remember to bless ourselves. We need it. Pets or other animals, and houseplants, may rely on me for food and shelter and affection, so I can add them to those I bless. Outward to friends, neighbors …

What else can I bless? Asking that question thoughtfully can open many doors.

The Sacrament of Prayer

Prayer has long been a potent sacrament in the lives of many. The words and sounds can help restore our connections to spirit, partly because they’ve done so in the past. Like a spiritual battery, they’ve accumulated a charge. We jump-start more often than we realize.

The words of the Druid’s Prayer, or of a song or poem not “officially recognized” as a prayer may turn out to be your prayer. Sometimes we need something even more compact — just a few words from a longer form, a sacred name, a whisper — or a shout. If you’re alone, that’s easier. Try it, and note the power of prayer at the top of our lungs.

Grant, O Spirit, your protection

One simple prayer available to everyone is simply breathing. We hear in the Gospel of John: “The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit”. Experiencing the spirit in our own breathing is a doorway for some. It’s there — sacrament in the life action of our bodies.

You may see in several of the above sacraments how touch has managed to find its way to us. Hearing involves sound waves touching my ears, bathing makes me intimate with water, and so on.

The Sacrament of Cooking and Eating

Some of our most common acts are sacramental in potential, and we can activate them by according them the respect they’ve earned in our lives. Food and drink keep these bodies alive and moving. Preparing food has often been a holy activity, at least around our holy-days, if not every day. Combine eating with blessing, as many do, and I can heighten my awareness of spirit-in-substance. A blessing on the incarnate spirit which sustains us.

The Sacrament of the Image and Object

Photographs, statues, objects collected from a walk or a ritual or as gifts from another — all these things bear a power to tend us. They can evoke memory, their physical substance is imbued with all the times we’ve handled them before (touch seeks us out, once again!), and they have a power to shift our attention to specific places and times.

The Sacrament of Ritual

I talk a lot about ritual here, because we all do ritual constantly. Each of the sacraments above is a ritual, or has ritual elements in it. Part of the sacrament of ritual is to recognize how many things can become rituals — and more importantly, how much of their already-existent ritual power helps shape and influence and move our lives.

A barefoot Kris Hughes, recreating Iolo Morganwg’s simple summer solstice ritual on Primrose Hill in 1792, at East Coast Gathering 2015. Photo courtesy of Dana Wiyninger.

A friend of mine makes a ritual out of starting to write. He lights a candle, or some incense, and invites the muse of the moment to his writing project. A few other friends explore the meditative and sacramental power that wood-carving and weaving and knitting have, as well as enjoying their concrete manifestation, resulting in useful objects and garments.

May you find and feed your lives with sacraments that mean and matter to you.

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The Daily Menu, and the Specials   Leave a comment

A good metaphor gives you a form, a shape to attach stuff to. If you have a free mantle or shelf, you can arrange pictures and other beloved objects on it. On Halloween, out come the black cats and the carved pumpkins. With a Christmas tree, you’ve got a place for the decorations that live most of the year in a box, in a basement, closet, or attic. Here’s a menu — a useful metaphor for any spiritual tradition.

Sometimes we need to pass through a portal in order to see a new menu. Or sometimes just turn a page. What metaphor works for you? Which ones “become real”? Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com.

Most traditions share at least one feature of their menus — they urge you to a daily practice. What shape that takes can be remarkably varied. But you generally know where you are with the daily menu. You’ve got your go-to’s. Like exercise, the morning or evening prayer or meditation or ritual or reading or other exercise or observance helps you keep in shape. Not only does each day tend to go better as a result of your improved spiritual and physical muscle-tone (you sleep better, you’re more flexible, you bounce back sooner), but you’re building a foundation for bigger things, too. You’ll be better able to handle the inevitable next set of changes.

That includes both challenges and blessings. Which is which can depend on my daily practice more than I anticipate. One thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother, sing the Goddess-worshippers.

My wife and I do a short chant each morning to re-align and tune back in. (To what? you ask. Well, what do you want to connect to? There you go.) On those handful of days every month when we neglect it, we feel the lack. The reason doesn’t matter — the intrusion and bustle for a scheduled appointment, an unexpected phone call, a minor household emergency — something intervenes and calls us away from our routine. Both of us have our own individual practice, too — we just like to build couple energy as well. It’s something we’ve added to our lives, and now we can depend on what we call “positive inertia” to keep it up. Using our human habit-making tendencies to support a spiritual practice can be a winning strategy, especially if you tend toward laziness like I do.

The menu for my day is my regular practice, along with whatever longer-term project or planning I’m doing. A piece of that can be reading. It’s almost always writing, even if that’s just in the margins of my reading. Talking back to books, to other writers. Every few days, it includes posting here. (And thinking about and drafting posts, some of which will remain in draft form.) In cold weather, building a fire, which for me is both a practical and ritual act. In warm weather, hanging laundry on the line, which is likewise a form of concrete worship I’ve come to appreciate.

Sometimes the Specials are the “discoveries, insights and unexpecteds” that arrive in everyone’s day, if we give them even a little space to flower. A practice can help that to happen. The dream fragment, the chance comment, the meditation image or sensation or hunch, the phrase in my reading or in the day’s conversations gets into my journal, or not, depending. If it does, it’s one more help, one more gift. One and one and one and one and one do accumulate over time into a weight and a presence that have increasing value. And much of that value is how they talk to each other, echo and comment on and reinforce and confirm. Patterns, tendencies, directions, guidance, a path — a lifetime.

We encounter the Specials also in the larger events, like a full moon and a new moon every month, and every six weeks or so, one of the “Great Eight”, as I like to call them: the seasonal festivals of modern Pagan practice. They’re paired — the solstices and equinoxes that whole planet experiences, and the cross-quarter days of Celtic record, with their evocative names of Samhuin, Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh — the four holidays of choice, you might say. Then all our individual and family birthdays and anniversaries, and the cultural holidays on the calendar of our nations.

These don’t come along every day, so their appearance pleasantly disrupts our routine in good ways. We human mysteries long for “something new” and “something familiar” in such varying and idiosyncratic proportions that no ritual calendar can wholly satisfy us. But let a friend message me with ideas for ritual, let a neighbour send a photo, let us hold a special Zoom with family far away or an online class or discussion or ritual, and the Special also takes shape. What’s on the menu? Ultimately, we are.

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E=MC(2): A Druid Equation   2 comments

No, not Einstein’s famous equation: effect = mastery X cause2!

Our weird, worrisome and wondrous world is among many other things a laboratory for working out cause and effect. (In many ways, that’s what evolution is. Trial and error, with lots of discards. False starts, dead ends.)

“As above, so below” — just how far does it go? Can I ever really know?

Try out any current headline, fit it into the equation, and you see the same thing: lots of causing, little mastery, and voila! — a cascade of undesired effects from what initially might even have been a halfway-good idea. (We’ll discount our worst ideas here out of compassion for our own human shortsightedness.)

We introduce a natural predator to bring down the population of a creature we label a pest, and our solution becomes the new problem. [Wikipedia notes: “Harmonia axyridis (the harlequin ladybird) was introduced into North America from Asia in 1979 to control aphids, but it is now the most common species, outcompeting many of the native species” and is a pest itself in many areas.] We warm and cool ourselves with splendid new technologies, and end up overheating our world. We choose leaders trying out their own causes, and we become part of effects they set in motion that we did not anticipate.

If we work with the proportions that this version of the equation suggests, even a little bit of mastery goes a long way toward manifesting more of the effects we wish. A dash of cause and a truck-load of mastery looks like the way to go. Fewer broken dreams, broken bones, broken planets.

Because when I try changing the proportions — lots of cause, just a little mastery — the equation definitely shows how the effect will still be huge. It just won’t be what I wanted in the first place. Like almost any kitchen recipe, there’s some leeway once you know what you’re doing. You learn workable substitutions, you pick up subtle touches and turns and tricks, and in the process you learn a great deal of lore. (What does “season to taste” mean in this case? How much is a “dash” of cumin? How much longer should that turkey bake, since it’s bigger/smaller than last year’s bird, which took X hours? What does the dough feel like when it’s ready?)

Until then, though, I can’t exchange proportions of flour and salt “just because I want to” and expect anything other than disaster. Yes, freedom is my birthright; yes, I shape my universe and create my reality. So does every other being all around me. We’re all still learning, and our realities and universes keep banging into each other as we work through the lessons. (Often it looks like the trees and the bees already know valuable things we’re still figuring out, or are in serious danger of forgetting.)

What does mastery consist of in such situations, at least from a Druid perspective?

Much of Druidry, at least at the start, is a practice of learning how to harmonize with the many other causes all around us, human and non-human, before we barge in out of ignorance and arrogance and try to be causes ourselves. (In the old Greek myth, Prometheus stole fire from the gods and brought it to suffering mortals. In addition to cooking dinner, we’ve been burning ourselves and everything around us ever since. But is the point of the story that humans should give up fire?)

Part of it is simple math: the number of beings around me also launching causes into the cosmos far outnumbers me. Part of it is the very real possibility that over time some of these same beings may have learned things I don’t yet know, things I need to know before I set big causes in motion myself. And a third part, because threes are cool like that, is that as I learn about causes and effects from these other beings, I’ll also learn what I need for my own growing mastery.

A part of our practice is that as we learn about causes and effects from these other beings, we’ll also learn what we need for our own growing mastery.

“Doing Druidry” means we perform rituals, small or large, unintentional or highly planned, simply because we’re ritual beings. We strive to acknowledge and participate more consciously in the cycles of the seasons and our own lives. We meditate and pray, dream and imagine. We talk with trees, listening to their “slow gestures”, as U K LeGuin calls them. We study herbs, divination, the lives of birds and beast, bugs and branching things, out of amazement and empathy and neighbourliness, and simply because we find ourselves here alongside them, dying and living and experiencing what it’s like to walk around in these shapes of flesh. Occasionally a spirit or god flashes across or onto our path, and we try to find out what that means, too.

We’re called, in short, to pay attention.

Refusing to acknowledge cause and effect, yielding up our training for mastery, invites its own effects. Among the Wise in several traditions, it is said that the earth has rejected the initiation of cause and effect. In several of the older maps of the cosmos, the earth is the outermost realm. Within is the realm of emotion and imagination. And within that realm is the realm of cause and effect.

Now we “get” the physical world in many ways. We’ve become quite adept at working many of its laws of force, mass, acceleration and energy to achieve remarkable effects. And look at our cultures, with all our many images and arts and crafts, our music and stories.

We also get much of the second realm: we’ve learned how to evoke in other minds whole worlds of feeling and sensation and possibility. What we’ve just begun to do is work with the third realm, and choose whether the effects we can create should be created, and how to unravel tapestries we’ve woven that no longer serve us. We may say of the “next generation” of a thing that it’s both “new” and “improved”. While we do indeed get much of the “new”, we still struggle with the actually “improved”. Rapidly multiplying imbalances abound, and ripple outward all around us — unintended effects we often try to wish away, rather than owning. (We’re still calling many of them “side effects”, even when they’re fatal.)

One great beauty of Druidry is that it empowers people to find strategies and solutions from the bottom up. We’re directed to look to “what works”, which is an excellent rule of thumb. Druidry, you might say, is a way of domesticating a whole set of “rules of thumb” as a spiritual technology.

Cause and effect, which is our “classroom curriculum” for mastery, is also the thing that teaches us why we need mastery in the first place. And Druidry, which is after all a set of human understandings like anything else we may use to make our way through the curriculum, is one source of help with the challenges of mastery that lie before us.

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Is all — or any — of this “true”? As many have said who’ve come before us, while we may never know if there “really are” gods and spirits, or magic (or a “curriculum”), the universe does often seem to behave as if they exist. I don’t know about you, but to me that’s well worth exploring for its own sake, far more interesting than spending time arguing whether or not it’s “true”. One test for truth is freedom; you know the old saying that “the truth shall make you free”. (Merely arguing about truth, without actually being free, doesn’t feel like freedom to me.) Part of my practice is acting as if I were free …

And “as if” seems right up there next to “cause and effect” as a important part of the curriculum.

Deepest Refreshment: Ninth Day of Samhain (31 Oct. 2020)

[Updated/edited 12:34 EST]

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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Why “deepest refreshment” (apart from its appearance in C. Matthews’ Celtic Devotional)? Before you read further, spend some time reflecting on why and how Samhain might provide such a thing for you. What can you do to help it manifest, at whatever scale matches this last day of October 2020?

Your reasons, hunches, nudges, inklings and flashes of insight can become part of your Samhain experience. Trust them. I’m blogging about Druidry today because Slowly, Idiosyncratically, Reflectively, Imaginatively, and somewhat Skeptically — SIRIS — that’s the track I followed. (I use acronyms a lot.) So I’m commending that as one possible option for you, too. Y gwir yn erbyn a byd “The truth against the world” really is a Druidic ideal for many, and now at Samhain is as good a time as any to try it out. In many ways, while visitors are welcome (after covid) at our circles and most events, Druidry isn’t particularly a spectator sport. Get your truth on!

front yard by moonlight at 3:30 am this morning

The Breakfast Six celebrating the last day of the season at our favorite spot. Sharing is the most human, communal and Samhain-y thing we do. Chef Michael is standing, masked. I’m in lavender hat on far left.

So here we are today, approaching Holy Evening, which is what Hallowe’en means, after all. Or alternatively, Hallows (all ultimately from Old English halga “saint, holy”) are the Saints that make it Holy. The Church certainly thought so, and overlaid its festivals of All Hallows Eve (Oct. 31), All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1), and All Souls’ Day, or Day of the Dead (Nov. 2) on the older Celtic observance.

I’ll be spending a quiet Great Hallows tonight with two other Vermont Druids via Zoom. Together we’ll do a meditative reading of OBOD’s Solitary Rite, because it’s more flexible than the group rite for accommodating any latecomers on our mailing-list who didn’t reply or let us know they’re joining us. (Easier to change pronouns — and actions — from one to several!) And if it’s not snowing or too windy, I’ll light a backyard fire in our fire circle and enjoy a blaze under the full moon. I’ll also be meditating on and listening to a specific ancestor who came into my attention in contemplation yesterday morning. Last and next, if I’m still up at midnight, or I wake later while it’s dark, I’ll be making notes for this year’s Nanowrimo — National Novel Writing Month.

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The last words of the main OBOD rite come from the Ancient: “… a new time begins … may it bring us whatever things are needful, support our bodies, nourish our souls and give radiance to our spirits. May it show to each one their true path, by the light of the Oak, the Yew and the Silver Birch”.

The blessings of Great Hallows to you all.

Without Samhain-sight.
With Samhain-sight. (Actually, with night-vision camera setting.) From kitchen facing East.

Cauldron of Memory: Eighth Day of Samhain (30 Oct. 2020)

[Edited/updated 20:18 EST]

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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First snow this morning. Facing east.

The late author and teacher Raven Grimassi published a 2009 book* with the same title as today’s post, and among several techniques he discusses for connecting with the ancestors, lucid dreaming has particular advantages:

If you have trouble with visualizations, or with pathworking in general, there is another method of ancestor contact at your disposal. This is accomplished through the Dream Gate, which is a portal to a particular area of dream consciousness.

There are essentially two states of consciousness in the dream state. The first level is the one in which the dream dictates a series of events or a storyline. At this level we are subject to the dream and we react to whatever is taking place. In effect we are a drafted actor without a script. In the common dream state our subconscious mind is operational but our conscious mind is a passive spectator.

The second dream level is one where we take conscious control and shape the dream as we wish. This is often referred to as lucid dreaming. The advantage of lucid dreaming (in an occult sense) is that we can come into contact with inner plane realities with both halves of our consciousness fully operational. This allows us to function in the magical setting of the subconscious mind (where anything is possible) while at the same time having the benefits of the conscious mind (where everything has connection and direction) (Cauldron of Memory, pgs. 140-141).

Now your reaction may be “But I don’t remember my dreams, so that’s not gonna help”. This is where the dream chalice technique from an earlier post in this series can prove useful. For many people, the light trance that sitting around a night-time fire brings can also help provide another alternative practice. Through such access-points we can stand at the doorway, and decide if we wish to go any further. Another of the many functions of ritual itself can be a similar light trance that we induce through repeated words, chants, gesture and dance.

berries through the snow

Simple candle-gazing also works well for solitaries. You may wish to establish a quiet period, perhaps with few other lights, so that the semi-darkness helps with focusing on your candle-flame. As with any ritual, what we bring to it makes all the difference. How we feel about it, how we set it up, what props we include, what significance we assign to them, what we do with our experiences, whether we choose to record them, and where they fits in with everything else that we are — these things build our spiritual lives piece by piece. And as we learn to choose where we place our attention, rather than letting it be grabbed by whatever is shouting most loudly, we reclaim a priceless spiritual tool.

The metaphor of a cauldron is a potent one. Some of us may experience memory as a thread, or the roots of a tree. Exploring our metaphors can reveal new practices. If memory is a cauldron, bringing to ritual, to our bedside, to our imaginal lives, an object to represent memory can be most useful. Magic shops market small cauldrons for such purposes, and you can make your own from clay. Those with foundry skills may find making a cauldron a remarkable project. Found objects, gifts and other things may serve as cauldrons. A bowl, piece of driftwood, a sea-shell — my own cupped hands — can all be cauldrons in dream and in ritual.

Alternatively, if memory is a tree, then images of trees and their roots, working with a favorite “tree of memory”, drawing or photographing trees, and meditating on the linkages between “roots and recall”, between the solidity and stability of a tree, and the persistence of memory, even memories we have stored deeply, can turn the experience of remembering into a magical and imaginal exploration.

This same cauldron or tree of memory includes “memory of the future” — visions and dreams, hunches and nudges, all part of our largely untapped ability to gaze up and down the time-track. Most of us get glimpses, while some may get more. We live in a particular time and place in the physical realm, because such focus is powerful and has its special lessons to teach us, but we can also learn to look and attend elsewhere, and remember/(re/dis)cover what is needful, whatever things in our long lives we have set aside, and take them up again and use them today, leaving other things in turn for our tomorrows.

What do I wish to leave in safekeeping for my future self, and for my descendants of blood and spirit? What is the spiritual heritage I am building day by day? Making a practice out of consciously leaving things for the future helps shape the futures we both desire and earn.

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*Grimassi, Raven. The Cauldron of Memory: Retrieving Ancestral Knowledge and Wisdom. Woodbury, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 2009.

Gates of Welcome: Seventh Day of Samhain (29 Oct. 2020)

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

[1st | 2nd | 3rd | 4th | 5th | 6th | 7th | 8th | 9th]

At the start of this third triad of three in this series, I want to address briefly my conscious sidestepping of most current events. Plenty of Pagan and Druid forums are grappling with current events and the often polarizing conversations that have developed around them, and you can engage them there, where there are people much better informed than I am about up-to-the-minute developments, about the unfolding of events, about history and context. My practice of Druidry points me toward tools and strategies for insight, discovery, exploration and survival, so that’s what I’m choosing to focus on and share with you here.

That doesn’t mean Druidry is somehow values-neutral, that it equips you with a wand of power, then stands back as you wave and cast however you want. A wide range of political expressions may follow on Druid experiences and perceptions, but they won’t slot neatly into one or another political party. Extremes within either U.S. party, for instance, while they generate much of the current outrage and controversy, polarize opinions and attitudes, and grab headlines, aren’t especially productive places to find keys to human happiness and growth. It’s at points of balance and equilibrium between poles where creative tension often flourishes most successfully. Druidry reminds us that liminal spaces draw our attention for very good reasons, because that’s where worlds meet. And Samhain is a prime instance of the liminal or boundary experience.

Do the Gates allow me to look through in both directions?

“Gates of Welcome” is an excellent subject for exploration and meditation. A guide to practice: where do I feel welcomed? And where in turn can I make the things and people and experiences I want in my life feel welcome?

And what practices? Journal entry, prayer, wordless communion outdoors, an artistic response to “gates of welcome” in painting, music, sculpture, etc. Each of these can acknowledge the gates right for us, gates where we feel welcome, gates we may indeed already be passing through.

(What is my True Name? What is my Quest? Because this IS a spiritual quest.)

Snow in the forecast for tomorrow/Friday here in Vermont, with a low of 13 F / -10 C. We’ve had a fire in the stove for the past several days, mostly against the damp. The most daily things, preparing and eating a meal, building and maintaining a fire, washing and hanging up clothes (which we do outdoors in warm weather, indoors on racks by the fire in cooler weather) can become chances for epiphany — moments of spiritual transparency where we see that lived life is holy, that incarnation is a gift, that life is sacrament.

What are your triads today? What are the Three Gates of Welcome? What music do you find yourself singing?

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Grandmothers, Grandfathers: Sixth Day of Samhain (28 Oct. 2020)

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

[1st | 2nd | 3rd | 4th | 5th | 6th | 7th | 8th | 9th]

When I realize it’s not “about me”, my sense of “me” can often enlarge, and — paradoxes teasing us and breaking up our rigidity as they do, gift of the gods to ease us open — I may know myself a part of all that is. Most humans, if we judge by interviews, polls, sociological surveys, etc., have experienced such moments. Consciousness expands, barriers drop away, and we re-connect. The ecstasy that can accompany such moments underlies a surprising amount of experimentation with altered states of consciousness — through drugs and alcohol, ritual, chant, jogging, yoga, dance, and so on.

Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional offers a “Threshold Invocation for the Festival of Samhain (to be said at the front door of the house on the eve of Samhain, 31st October, in the evening)” that begins:

Grandmother Wisdom, open the door,
Grandfather Counsel, come you in …

This sense of living ancestors, of cultural guides and totems, of others with us who simply join in “without their skins on”, still flourishes among many traditional peoples. It’s one of the things much of Druidry has also striven to reclaim and re-animate in our lives.

Part of our experience of these things lies in any welcome we give or withhold. Last night I joined a Zoom discussion on inner guidance. We talked about trusting what we receive, about learning to recognize its signs, those nudges that aren’t merely fear or ego or desire, about staying alert for the confirmation that often comes in outer circumstances that we’re on the right track.

For Christians, Jesus says “I stand at the door and knock”. As far as we can tell, there’s a lot of knocking going on in our lives. Yes, sometimes the message is urgent enough we may receive a visit uninvited. But in either case, what we do or don’t do in response often forms a core part of the significance of the visit. My listening, my acceptance, my questioning or doubt — in sum, my engagement in some way — is a good half of most experiences of contact and connection. In the language of his day, Winston Churchill remarked, “Men [i.e., humans] occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened”. In Heather Hughes Cullero’s The Sedona Trilogy, one character says, “This is the gift of Spirit to you. What you do with it is your gift to Spirit”.

East Coast Gathering, 2017. Spirit may take any form to reach us.

If you’re fortunate to know the names of your ancestors, particularly beyond your four grandparents, you may more readily gain an intimate sense of the curious timelessness of forming part of an immense ancestral line. Though my wife and I don’t have children of our own, we stand in the middle of just such a Long Line, like everyone does. As I mentioned in a previous post, live to 70 or 80 and that puts us squarely in the lives of five to seven generations within our living memory and connection. I recall my late grandmother who died at 81 in 1977, and I know her living descendants down to her youngest great-great-granddaughter Ashley — five generations already.

Try out the implications of reincarnation, and you could easily be one of your own ancestors. Take stock, look at family patterns, and it can often help clarify things: who I was then is part of who I am now. Step outside this world and its particular laws, and others come into play. Lifetimes like beads on the string of spirit, linking this brief span of decades to others, backwards and forwards. (Do I want to know the future? I’m building it day by day.)

Rather than being that flaky guest at parties who insists he was Julius Caesar or Rasputin or Charlemagne — that she was Cleopatra, or Madame Curie or Queen Elizabeth I — why not explore the major themes at work in life today, and link them up to nudges and hints about “who we were before”, to help map out a larger spiritual purpose and vision? (It sure beats the hell out of watching and worrying over current headlines — though that has its place, too, if we choose — if it doesn’t choose us.) Even as a purely imaginative exercise, it can open up perception and awareness — which seems to be one of the purposes of reincarnation anyway. (Is everything a metaphor?!)

Grandmother Wisdom, open the door,
Grandfather Counsel, come you in …

Yes, you can purchase Matthews’ book — it’s a good one. You could also use this as a prompt for your invocations. Grandmother Wisdom, what message do you have for your descendants? Grandfather Counsel, how can I best move through the next year? Among other things, Samhain is about tapping into the larger Selves we all are. The rest is often “just” holiday bling, Halloween decorations. But like the family heirloom or old metal toy or yellowing photo, such seemingly small things can loom large, and offer a link between generations.

We hear about ancestors of blood and also ancestors of spirit. If I have a difficult family, or one divided for any reason, my ancestors of spirit, and the current family I make out of friends and loved ones — families of choice — matters just as much. Mentors, supporters, our own cheering section, school classmates, colleagues, “chance” acquaintances who become beloved, spiritual ancestors whose art or music or books matter deeply to us — all of us gather such ancestors in addition to the people in blood relationship to us. These too are our ancestors at Samhain, and can form part of remembrances and prayers and invocations.

Bard initiates with Kristoffer Hughes (left, back row) at East Coast Gathering. What is the awen saying?

Samhain is not, or not primarily, “darkness and death”, but the realities deeper than these, which may wear them as masks. (The masks themselves can be fun, depending.) One measure of our lives is how and when spirit works to get our attention, whether it can keep it this time around — and what we choose do next.

morrigan
The Morrigan personifies the challenges that prove and test us all. Photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty.

Thresholds, Doorways: Fifth Day of Samhain (27 Oct. 2020)

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

[1st | 2nd | 3rd | 4th | 5th | 6th | 7th | 8th | 9th]

Some of you may know author Leigh Bardugo and her recent (2019) novel Ninth House. Set in New Haven, Connecticut, it takes place mostly on the Yale University campus, where it re-imagines the school’s actual secret, elite “landed” societies or Houses like Skull and Bones, Book and Snake, Scroll and Key, Berzelius, Wolf’s Head, etc. as occult organizations, each with its magical specialties. Certainly those names are wonderfully evocative all by themselves!

Berzelius House or “tomb” at Yale University / Wikipedia.

Spoiler alert: one of the novel’s characters, familiar with portal magic, encounters what he thinks is just another magical portal, until he realizes — too late — that it’s a mouth instead.

A little Samhain shiver, of the kind that horror movies offer their fans.

The mouth of what? you ask. So do Bardugo’s readers, who await the sequel. But the metaphor is an apt one, outside the novel and at large in what we are pleased to call the “real world”. We resist change for this among other reasons — that the opportunity, doorway, portal will swallow us whole. Nothing left. Gone. Yanked out of our old life, which for all its problems and burdens is at least familiar. Sucked, tossed, flung into some new and terrifying realm where none of the old rules apply, and at the very best we have to start all over again. And at worst? Well, it just doesn’t bear thinking about.

Fear is a favorite emotion these days. It sells! And it rouses us from lethargy, it pulls in donations and ramps up political action. Right and Left both doing their level best to drum up every imaginable terror at the thought of the evil Others taking control at the next election. In the U.S., November 4 looms for far too many like a shape of fear brighter and darker than any Samhain hysteria.

At best these are distractions from something far more important.

In a 2015 post, “Reclaiming the Wild Self“, I quote Clarissa Pinkola Estés (author of Women Who Run with the Wolves), who writes:

The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a saner life, that is a door.

In part, the doors Estés refers to are a matter of human time. Live long enough and you’ll very likely acquire such scars, carry such stories, cherish such loves. One way to find common ground with others is to focus on these doors. And one of the best ways to access them is by careful listening to ourselves and to each other. (Yes, it’s a “slow fix” which, in case we haven’t noticed, is the only effective kind.)

Often enough, we may fear such a world and such a self as much as we yearn for it. A doorway means change. Even if it just opens onto another room, it’s not the room we were in a moment ago. Fears can outline such a door, too — including fear of a door itself. If you’re anything like me, you know or have been someone who at one time or another has walked into a cage and exulted as it clanged shut behind you, reassured that at least you wouldn’t have to walk through yet another damned door.

How many horror movies give us spider webs across the face as a sign we’ve passed a portal? Can we do it without fear for once?!

How to recapture the sense of the preciousness of these doors, as Estes calls it? For in the end our own longing compels us to find them and walk through. Ritual is one way, though by no means the only. By defining boundaries in ritual we can make a door easier to see and peek through. If the past is difficult country for me, I can approach it with safeguards in place. Ritual can help with its prescribed beginnings and endings, its containers of energy and wisdom we can safely draw on at need for balance and perspective and protection. A holiday like the upcoming Samhain, like Halloween, a holy evening for remembering who and what has passed from our lives, offers a safe space to honor and to say farewell to what is gone. Sometimes all that is needed is for us to agree that we can finally let go.

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Samhain can be good “portal practice”. Every year we already walk through many doors, whether we choose to or not, so why not practice doing it consciously? (Or if we choose not to walk through a door we face, that too is valuable.) By ritualizing our experience, we get to explore it, viewing it from several perspectives, and if we’re part of a community, a ritual circle, a group of friends, we get to do this together.

One of the advantages of Samhain (a fruitful subject for meditation all its own) is of a holy day “outside of time”. During Samhain we can gaze up and down the time track, the pathways of our lives and those of our ancestors.

The ritual words of the OBOD Samhain ceremony address the uncertainties and doubts that we may face:

“Is it then possible, during the celebration of Samhain, to pass without risk or fear from one world to another: the living to the realm of the dead, the dead to the span of the living?”

(Those with recall of past lives whisper to themselves “It sure ought to be — after all, how many times have I already done this before?!”)

One good answer: if we do it with love, the answer is yes. Many of us have made the journey already in meditation and dream, meeting loved ones where the boundaries are less daunting, unless we close ourselves off to such experiences. No rush, no need to force these things: we will know when the time is right.

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Unchanging Wisdom: Third Day of Samhain (25 Oct. 2020)

[Edited/updated 13:53 EST]

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

[1st | 2nd | 3rd | 4th | 5th | 6th | 7th | 8th | 9th]

One reason the Old Ways still call to us is that they’re replete with earth-wisdom and heart-truth. For dogma, read experience. For doctrine, read rule-of-thumb. Our favorite childhood stories, our fairy-stories, legends, myths and tall-tales all seem to take place in such a cosmos, where the smallest actions spin out their consequences, where magic flourishes, and where hopes and dreams come true. Samhain wisdom.

It’s a revealing expression, come true. This world of change and manifestation is constantly arriving, shaped as much by our misunderstandings and mistakes as by our grasp on truth, all tangled up in the physics of a cosmos that’s often far weirder than we imagine. Samhain cosmos.

[Here’s John Beckett’s post today on the Veil Between the Worlds.]

Often we’ve jettisoned belief in a single truth-with-a-capital-T, but in the process we’ve also often forgotten that cause and effect still play out in our lives, and not all of our personal truths are equally viable. (That’s how and why we keep learning and growing, after all. We test our understandings against our lives. I don’t know about you, but I’d not want to jump back to 14-year-old me and my beliefs, doubts and fears of that time.) Samhain truths.

In place of our traditional and healthily provisional/experimental perception of what spirit is and how it works, we’ve turned to all manner of beliefs and disbeliefs, forgetting that spring keeps coming every year, that the power that underlies and sustains things still pulses through them regardless of our human awareness or obliviousness. Rather than bothering so much with belief, it might help us to find out where and when and how things are true, under what circumstances they can be true, and so on. Less church, more laboratory. Samhain practice.

Even words like wisdom and truth and evil have fallen out of fashion, because we think we don’t believe in them any more, until they bite us where it hurts. (Well, wisdom still manages to stick around in a few places — especially if it comes from somewhere exotic, and can be bottled and marketed as hidden or never-before-revealed or traditional.) Sometimes we even notice that most of the “new and improved spirituality” on offer is our traditional wisdom with a hip contemporary makeover. Samhain fashion.

But catch the spirit of Samhain and I get plugged back into a cosmos alive under my skin and in my blood and flaming in the autumn leaves. Get out in the cooling air and I smell the old earth-year. I watch the moon swell to fullness this time coinciding with the last day of October. Samhain reminds us we are alive in time and space, here and now, but also that the world turns, whether we will or no. The chorus of the old goddess chant deserves meditation: “Hoof and horn, hoof and horn/Those who die shall be reborn./Corn and grain, corn and grain/Those who fall shall rise again”. Where and when and how is this true, under what circumstances can it be true …? Samhain questions.

And what of Samhain music? It’s in our blood, a human heritage. Wisdom makes a song we all know by heart. We hear echoes all the time — a fragment of a melody that arrests us in the middle of whatever we’re doing when we hear it. A phrase in a speech or book or conversation that makes us sit up straighter, or slip into reverie. All the things we tend to discount in our humanness, things we rarely talk about. Samhain stuff.

Earth of Samhain, bone and boulder. Air of Samhain, breath and breeze. Fire of Samhain, ______ . Water of Samhain, ______ . What draws us to fill in those blanks we might call the gravity of Samhain, the tug of the time on us. Things have a particular shape, fit into a certain space and no other. Aptness. Identity. Fire of Samhain, heart and hearth. Water of Samhain, blood and brook.

Turn those phrases toward however they work best for you. Then do it. (For counsel on what your particular it is, consult the season of Samhain, your left ventricle, your right hemisphere, you animal guides, and the blessed time you spend outdoors under trees, listening.)

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The Beltane Fire Society will hold a digital Samhuinn this year, with live events posted to Facebook and Youtube.

Shrine of Sleep: Second Day of Samhain (24 Oct. 2020)

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

[1st | 2nd | 3rd | 4th | 5th | 6th | 7th | 8th | 9th]

What offerings do I bring to the shrine of sleep these days?

In some ways we resist the dark on a national level. In most of North America and much of Europe, the season of time changes is upon us, where we turn back our clocks one hour to bring more daylight to our mornings. But much of the rest of the world doesn’t do this, and some regions even within the time-changing nations don’t change either.

Mystic River Grove ritual

Samhain, like Beltane, is a time when “the veil thins” — when the distinctions and barriers between levels of reality are less sharply defined, and it’s often easier to move back and forth between realities. Many of us have had dream experiences that open us to such possibilities. (Whether and how we choose to respond to these opened doors and gates and windows is another matter.)

Twice a year, potential experiences of a larger cosmos unroll into our awareness, unasked. (The rest of the time we may need to make more effort.) The mingled fear and curiosity we often hold for such enlargements tell us much about the social controls at work in our lives. While some explore lucid dreaming, yoga nidra and similar practices, for many of us the twice-yearly opportunities of vivid and insightful dreams, if we invite them, offer plenty to work with. Anyone who has kept a dream journal, and worked with recurring dreams, dream sequences, symbols, guides and ancestors, knows the value of dreamwork. As with so many practices, what you reap mirrors what you sow.

Animal companions can often walk with us to help us with comfort and reassurance, if we’re exploring other worlds. A familiar object — a photograph, seashell, feather or stone, handled before sleep over several nights, can travel with us into the dream, appearing within our dreams to remind us of our intent and our desire, and help shape the dream experience. Some people find that gazing at their hands, as a reminder of our capacity to effect change, to accomplish tasks, to shape our lives, can be another dream tool.

Personalized affirmations, repeated verbally, written in a journal, kept in the attention during the daylight hours, can also help incubate a dream. Here are a couple of examples:

At the shrine of sleep I dedicate my intent to ___, this object/animal companion to ___, my hands to ___ . Change whatever needs changing for your personal circumstances.

As this candle comes alight, so I seek a dream tonight, a holy gift of deep insight. Meditate with the candle, then extinguish it, knowing you carry the light of your intent into sleep for blessing during this time of Samhain.

Likewise, many have found the dream chalice practice an effective one:

Dedicate a goblet, glass or other cup as your dream chalice, placing it on your nightstand or otherwise near your bed before you sleep. Each morning when you awake, drink from the chalice, knowing you are drinking in the wisdom of your dreams. Keep a record of your impression, thoughts, feelings, memories, and images that occur to you over the next three (or seven) days.

May you dream richly at the Shrine of Sleep!

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Samhain: Season to Taste

[1st | 2nd | 3rd | 4th | 5th | 6th | 7th | 8th | 9th]

Unlike that high school or college or professional exam or road test or other ego-destroying experience of assessment, your first or hundredth ritual needn’t achieve a certain score before you “pass”.

If you bought candy to distribute, you’ve performed a small ritual. If you have decorations you’re thinking about putting up (or you already have them up), you’ve performed a ritual. If you plan to sit quietly and reflect on the season, you’re doing ritual.

As John Beckett remarks on his blog, it’s the Samhain season, not just a single day.

I invite you to join me in celebrating Nine Days of Samhain. I’ll be posting every day for the nine days starting Friday the 23nd through the 31st with contemplations, any insights, ritual gestures, and whatever else comes through, so if you’re looking for meditative company in the days leading up to Great Hallows, check in as it pleases you:

First Day, Friday the 23rd: Tide of Winter
Second Day, Saturday the 24th: Shrine of Sleep
Third Day, Sunday the 25th: Unchanging Wisdom
Fourth Day, Monday the 26th: Dedicated Waking
Fifth Day, Tuesday the 27th: Thresholds, Doorways
Sixth Day, Wednesday the 28th: Grandmothers, Grandfathers
Seventh Day, Thursday the 29th: Gates of Welcome
Eighth Day, Friday the 30th: Cauldron of Memory
Ninth Day, Saturday the 31st: Deepest Refreshment

Note: the themes and seeds for the Nine Days loosely derive from Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional.

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Cat of the South, Horse of the North

The Sunday Guardian included this article on a large feline figure among the Nazca lines in Peru.

Nazca feline figure / Andina

Now we have two out-sized figures — the Nazca Cat and the Uffington Horse — to use when we call the Quarters/welcome the Directions/invoke the Watchtowers/hail the Archangels/commune with the Guardians.

Uffington White Horse / Wikipedia

Let our Druidry span the planet!

But wait! What is it I’m invoking, or at least imagining here?

We have marked the images of animals on our landscapes, both physical and psychic — marked them visually, emotionally, energetically. It feels like part of the same impulse that leads us to put pictures of friends and family on our walls and mantles and desks. Image evokes presence, welcomes the energies of the imaged being (or place). We go where our attention takes us, so it’s prudent to be conscious about what we allow into our attention — a potentially profound practice over time, over an entire life. Image, icon, logo, meme, visualization — we use this human ability in so many and such varied ways, for our enervation and also for our betterment.

It can be a practice to meditate with these images, to inquire what they can teach us, what we should be attending to, how to regard them, what energies they mediate into the landscape where they are located, and into our consciousness when we think of them, recall them, bring them to mind, see them with the mind’s eye. Those of us who feel “I can’t visualize” may in fact be profound visualizers, since visualization is as much about feeling and sensing as it is about “seeing.”

When we plan a trip, go to the grocery store, think about dinner, bring up a memory, the associated images can pass by the screen of our inward attention so quickly we think we’re not seeing them, when in fact they may merely be passing faster than thought can separate them. We’ve done this since we arrived in this life, so it’s little wonder the images we practice are fast. Often we “flesh out” or incarnate an anticipated event by just such an inner run of images. We may not necessarily “see them” in a “daily life” way, but a part of us notes whatever is missing from the sequence, and that’s what we add to the grocery list, or remind ourselves to attend to after we return home.

Some practice with this can be revealing, if we start from the assumption that visualization isn’t our “problem”, but rather a skill we’ve already perfected, one we do so automatically we no longer notice it, like walking without falling over like when we were toddlers, any more than we notice our cerebellums telling our hearts to beat, or our stomachs to digest. Bringing these semi-voluntary and involuntary actions under conscious control is a different matter — some branches of yoga teach this — but we all visualize constantly, and usually faster than thought.

As above, so below — yes. But as within, so without, also. Our inner and outer worlds can start to work together rather than fighting each other, with loving practice to what our attention is doing, and where we’re placing it, and how we feel about what we’re attending to.

Attitude and attention — two of the greatest powers we have.

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Telling Good Stories

John Beckett’s most recent post talks about the myth and importance of telling good stories, the stories that shape our lives, which is what myths do. Neither conveniently true nor false, myths work archetypally. Rather than “telling the truth”, as if there’s just one, or just mine, they provide maps by which we make sense of things. Frodo “never carried a Ring to Mount Doom”, and Harry “never defeated Voldemort”. But that doesn’t mean they have nothing to say to us. Enter a mythic world, and things change. “Myths never happened”, says Sallustius, “and always are”. Open the book to page one, or click to play the video, and the story starts again.

Cabin banners at East Coast Gathering. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Though part of John’s post examines what he calls the “unnaturalness” of the myth of the patriarchy, every myth serves a purpose. Otherwise we wouldn’t keep it alive in our consciousness. The stories we tell are choices we make, after all. Yes, we inherit myths, along with much else. Every generation chooses what it will keep alive as part of the legacy it has received. And like maps and relationships and all mortal things that pass through our hands and hearts, myths can go wrong as well as right.

If we listen to our Bards, who are after all among our storytellers, we can attend to good counsel — here’s an instance from REO Speedwagon:

So if you’re tired of the
Same old story
Turn some pages
I’ll be here when you are ready
To roll with the changes

I knew it had to happen
Felt the tables turnin’
Got me through my darkest hour …

If you’ve been paying attention, of course, you might have started wondering who “turned the pages” the last time, and what it was that lead us into our present stories and situations. What was the previous story, and why did we give it up? John offers some suggestions in his post. Certainly we seem to live in a time when sharply-contrasting myths move us in different directions.

The challenge of myths is that other people’s stories look like “just stories they tell themselves”, while our myths are of course the “truth of the cosmos”. How can “they” even think that, “we” wonder. So potent is our own story (until one day when it isn’t any more), that we cannot see it as story.

John’s perspective on possible directions we might take involves an intriguing strategy. “Facts”, he notes, “can’t beat myths – people deny inconvenient facts, truth be damned. Rational explanations can’t beat myths – people jump to ad hominem, straw man, or other logical fallacies, or they just tune it out. If you want to beat a bad myth you have to tell a better story”.

Always another story. Christian and Nadia preparing for ritual.

Think of stories that catch your imagination. Many of us have experienced this with a favorite song, movie or book. You don’t want them to end. While you’re under their spell, you live in their world. Like falling in love, we live transformed, at least as long as the first glow lasts. With luck and spirit willing, that first glow transmutes into something more substantial and lasting — we may well live out our entire lives with that story. By itself that is neither a good or bad thing. But “by their fruits you shall know them” persists as still-excellent counsel: what comes of our story? Does it make our lives better, richer? Are we stronger and more adaptable with it as part of our map of consciousness?

We all know people whose personal myth or inner story helps or hinders them. We can change the stories we tell ourselves — in fact, an “interesting” life usually presents us with circumstances which compel us to change stories. Like a hermit crab, we grow too large for the shell which has sheltered us and been our home. Sometimes we can’t identify growth for what it is. Everything else goes wrong, and we fail to recognize the lack of fit between us and a story that housed us and kept us safe. We may well “roll with the changes” — but in a bruising way.

Changing one story — when we have a whole set of them — usually ends up deepening our appreciation for stories. We shift to another story, because it better reflects what we need at the moment. We learn to keep a number of stories in play — spices in our kitchen, arrows in our quiver — because that’s what the Wise have shown us will help us not merely survive, but thrive.

Great Circle, Four Quarters Sanctuary.

But changing the sole story we know can feel like our world is ending. Because in some sense it is. We won’t ever “be the same” afterwards. Whether or not that might be a good thing usually doesn’t occur to us. Another story might help us roll with “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” as Hamlet calls them. Another story might help us be of use to others, too, when their stories change, when they need wise counsel from us, or just our patient listening.

Healthy spiritual practice keeps us supple and curious and ready to laugh. It helps equips us with a range of stories that aid us in rolling with the changes. Changes? They’re guaranteed. How we roll with them is a matter for negotiation. Let’s start that conversation.

Find the right tree, I wrote in my last post. Do that much, and I’ve haven’t completed the journey. No — that’s just one place where a new story can begin.

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Posted 27 September 2020 by adruidway in Druidry, myth, Sallustius, spiritual practice

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Your Equinox

[Update 12:47 EST]

Visit Penny Billington’s blogpost Gifts of the Equinox for inspiration and ritual ideas.

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Looking for an Equinox Ritual? Searching for one that fits your experiences and perspectives?

If you’re not a member of a practicing group, it can be a challenge to know where to begin.

Fortunately, I’ve got you covered. That’s why you’re reading this post, right? With some thought and creativity on your part, you’ll be on the way.

If you visit my Ritual page, you’ll find an outline at the bottom of the page for composing your own rituals. I’ll be expanding on that outline here. The advantage of any model or example is that almost immediately you’ll see things you want to change, drop or add. That’s a good thing.

If you’re anything like me, give me something to work with, to push against, and my imagination kicks in, offering its gifts. Vision and desire and dreaming crave form — that’s one of the magical “secrets” we all practice in our own ways, but don’t think about very much. Working with them even a little and good things can spring forth.

The ritual you write and perform has something of you in it. That becomes part of the offering you make, and part of the hallowing the ritual achieves.

1–INTENTION — what do you want in an Equinox ritual, or out of it? The whole ritual follows from this. A clear intention, large or small, leads to effective and enjoyable ritual. You know what you’re doing, and why. You want to celebrate the season, you feel a need to be more grounded, you wish to honour the presence of spirit, in large and small ways, you’re grateful for good things in your life — all excellent reasons to ritualize your experience. There are plenty of additional reasons, too. More than one is fine, but let one be chief.

Write down that intention. Sometimes we resist this simple step. (Why we resist is a fruitful subject for meditation — at some other time!)

my intention occupies space, even before I light in up …

Getting it into words helps a lot. “Oh, you’re celebrating the Equinox?” says a friend, neighbour, relative, passerby. “Why? What’s your ritual for?” Now you have an answer. “I’m grateful for my garden, my pet, neighbours, family, life, the beauty of the season, the promise of renewal, the strength to continue, the conversation with a classmate I hadn’t connected with for years …”

Let gratitude become a ritual habit, and you’ll want to celebrate more often. Ritual can deepen gratitude.

“I come to give thanks for the gifts of this season”.

Where are you? “In this sacred space …” if you’re in a place you’ve held ritual before. Or if in a new space, your attention and anything else you add can help sanctify it, making it sacred for you and your intention. If it’s sacred, why not say so, and do something that signifies that truth.

Sometimes, every space is new and sacred too. You may need more words or deeds, or none at all, to know it as the truth.

2–MATERIALS NEEDED — As soon as you’ve written down your intention, the things you may want to include will start occurring to you. If you’re grateful for something, bring it — or a representation of it — into your ritual. Let it be part of your ritual focus. I love to have a fire, as I mention in many of my posts, if the weather allows it. Otherwise, a candle is an excellent equivalent. Our woodstove in winter is a daily fire, and a heartening meditation-companion all through the cold weather. Who knows how many great things have come from fire-dreaming?

Cycle back to add to your list as you develop your ritual. Remember to include the actual list at the beginning of your script as a reminder, so when the day and hour come for your ritual, you have it on hand and can pack the car, carry the materials to your yard, set up your living room, etc. If you’re doing ritual with a friend or friends over Zoom or Skype, a copy of the list for them helps everyone get read. (Share it on the whiteboard for any who arrives early!) If you’re meeting in person, will you or somebody supply masks for everyone? How can you make social distancing part of your ritual in some way?

“Keep it simple” is a good principle. “Ritual stuff” isn’t the main event, any more than ritual bling. But lacking the one or two things you DO need in the middle of the ritual, once your script grows to include them, is a real downer. That ritual knife, candle, bell, bowl of water, smudge stick now needs to be there. Do you need ritual clothing, body marking, etc.? If you do, make sure it gets on the list.

3–PARTICIPANTS and ROLES — how many does the ritual need? In these Zoom-days, you may find yourself more solitary than usual. Again, cycle back to update your “cast of characters” as your ritual plans develop. In the event of missing participants, how can you double up on roles?

Can you include objects — dolls, dressed figures, symbolic objects — for some of the roles? A tarot card, for instance (enlarged on a photocopier?) may serve as a stand-in for a role. Miniaturized ritual could be another fruitful area for experimentation and discovery. Think of the kinds of spontaneous role-play that children often do, and you’re halfway there already. Quite literally, they talk themselves into it, imagining it unfolding all around them. And it does.

Is there something for guests to do who aren’t speaking or performing major ritual actions? Can there be? Do participants — or visitors — need to prepare in advance in some way? Learn a short chant by heart? A melody? A ritual gesture? Vigils, fasts, prayer, meditation, questing, etc. can help participants bring their full ritual selves to the rite from the beginning. Work with the limits and possibilities of Zoom and Skype to bring some of the experience of ritual online.

4–PLACE and TIME — flexibility is key, especially if weather, others’ reservations, or schedules have other ideas for your ritual. A solitary ritual can happen in a fifteen-minute interval of sun on a rainy day. But group ritual benefits from pre-planned alternative locations, announced in advance. These things keep confusion and disappointment to a minimum. Is accessibility an issue for any participants or visitors? Again, will you provide masks in these Covid times?

5–RITUAL HOUSEKEEPING — “Please turn off your cell phones!” Run through any details guests need to know. “This is what we’ll be doing. Don’t break the circle, or remember cut yourself a door in it, or ask a ritual celebrant to do so for you. Restrooms are at the end of the hall, or 20 miles away; find a tree. That’s north, so this is west.”

Doing ritual online may mean reminding participants to mute themselves if a phone rings, a motorcycle roars past, etc. When each of us takes a portion of responsibility for ritual conditions, ritual works well. Help others, and yourself, avoid NINO — nothing in, nothing out, ritually speaking. What we bring contributes to the rite, so let us bring our best. And this, too, could be a line to add to the script.

6–FORMAL OPENING — you probably want some combination and sequence of purification, grounding, centering, welcoming, proclaiming ritual intent, honouring and inviting Others to be present.

How will this happen? Write it down. It can be simple. But come back to it when and as you need to in order to tweak it, add or take away, include a rhyme or poem or song, etc. Achieving an opening online often calls for something visual, as well as auditory, because Skype and Zoom offer just two senses, and magnify (distort?) their importance.

Bells, singing bowls, incense, water, fire, salt, chant, drums, etc. all can help. Casting a circle, establishing sacred space, erecting or acknowledging altars, redefining the status of participants, the place, objects nearby or some combination of any or all of these may be appropriate. Choose who does these things, and why, and how others can take part. Less talk is usually better. So is simplicity.

“I stand in this sacred place, at this sacred time”.

The small online Equinox celebration via Zoom that I’m hosting tomorrow evening is a little over three printed pages in the OBOD solo version. Half of that is stage directions: “Enter your circle from the West”. On Zoom, or in a solitary ritual, you may opt to focus that inwardly. What is “West” where you are? Trees, a hill, an open field, a neighbouring house? You may have your own associations, or objects to help evoke West.

“Let this bowl be my West, vessel of dream and inspiration”.

Doing these things via Zoom/Skype, etc., often calls for innovation and creativity. Can a swivel chair make do for turning toward each of the directions? Can picking up an object for each of the directions suffice? Private ritual is a chance to work on visualization, to slow down, and take the time, rather than letting the time take us.

7–The MAIN RITE — what you’ve gathered to do. Re-enacting a myth; marking the changed status of a participant through initiation, etc.; celebrating the season, a date, festival, harvest, planting, boat-launch, new home, new family member, etc. Healing, defending, strengthening, commemorating, blessing, gifting. Where you do the stuff specific to your tradition, practice, gods, calendar, and so on.

Equinox is a time of balance, so language, gesture, actions, focus, ritual movement can all focus on images of reciprocity, balance, light and dark, polarity, exchange, mutuality.

“On my right hand, ___. And on my left, ___ .” With intention and love, something as simple as this can serve as part of your rite. Or make it a triad:

If you’re facing East, for instance, “On my right hand, the warmth of the South. On my left, the cool of the North. On the right, I give thanks for gifts of passion and fire. On my left, I give thanks for the gifts of harvest, nourishment and sustenance. On my left, what needs to sleep, may it slumber and awake refreshed and renewed. On my right, what needs to kindle and ignite, may it burn brightly and cleanly”.

8–FEAST, ritual meal, distribution of ritual objects, etc. — a piece of maypole ribbon, a slice of apple (showing the star), a drink, a stave of ritual significance, a card or picture, stone, sea-shell, etc.

We still feast ritually, even if we’ve abandoned other ritual forms. Whether at a restaurant or at home, your chosen or blood family may or may not pray before (or after) eating, but you can include prayer that is meaningful to you in your rites. Silent prayer, a quick blessing, may be something you wish to bring back into your daily round.

Why, if prayer isn’t a part of your repertoire? To explore it as a ritual tool. To allow it to slow us down, closer to the pace of the trees around us, who breathe in and out once a day. To let the focus of its words wash over us in their specific ways. Add your own reasons, so you know.

My wife’s family, coming from diverse experience, belief and practice, often uses this old prayer, which can stand in as an example of something accessible to many who might have difficulty with language specific to any one tradition. Again, modify, add and delete as you need to.

Back of the loaf, the flour.
Back of the flour, the mill.
Back of the mill, the sun and the power,
the love and the Shaper’s will.

9–READINGS, Music, Poetry, Blessings, Prayers — this important portion of a ritual can accompany the Feast, etc. to help sustain the ritual energy, hold focus, minimize side chatter, etc. It also gives everyone present a chance to contribute personal requests, blessings, songs, etc.

Always we’re passing through markers, doorways, portals. What are your Equinox Gates?

In a solitary ritual, your own voice can be a gift, for the simple reason that it’s yours, speaking your gratitude, your celebration. Or a bone flute, a gong, drum, flute, stringed instrument. An empty bottle, blown across its open end, produces a pleasing tone. Pebbles in a jar, can or bottle will — with some experimentation — make an effective rattle.

And sometimes, rather than words, your rite may call for silence.

10–CLOSING — reverse what you did for the opening: thank Others you invited, uncast the circle, return ritual elements to their original places, desanctify what needs desanctifying. Take down the altar. Ring the bell, beat the drum formally, close the ritual. Re-establish the world before the ritual began. Again, simple is good.

Online, a clear visual or a gesture, along with a sound, can help mark the ending. Often on Zoom, with its over-emphasis on just two senses, and especially on the visual, a combination of markers is effective. Let participants SEE an ending, as well as hear it.

11–ANNOUNCEMENTS — upcoming events, requests for help with clean-up, calendars, thanking visitors, etc.

With a solitary rite, you can certainly skip this part. Or make of it an opportunity to announce that you wish to hold future rituals, to come again to celebrate and commemorate, to honour and to thank. It can take the form of a vow, or simple intention, expressed in sacred space. So the Wheel moves, each turn both same and different.

One of the earliest things we teach children is to take turns. That’s how the cosmos flows, so it is a priceless lesson, one we need to keep re-learning as adults, in new and varied forms.

12–CLEAN-UP — leave the ritual space as pristine — or more so — than when you arrived. Make this a ritual act of service and gratitude.

Again, this may seem less or not necessary for a solitary rite, but if you have a fire-circle and hold your rite outdoors, for instance, there’s clean-up to be done. Let it be part of your ritual, giving thanks and visualizing the Others who attended, sending after them your gratitude and goodwill on their journeys.

Conversation following the rite can be an opportunity for formal teaching, Q-and-A, casual discussion, ritual debriefing and a post-mortem “how did it go?”, planning for another event, etc.

13–RECORDING — entering details of your ritual in your journal is another way to grow and discover. Insight may come in the act of sitting to write, or a day or two later, as an addition to that entry. With larger public events, a paper copy of the ritual can serve as a souvenir and also a place for notes and reflections. What did you experience? Anything happen that seems a coincidence at the time, or after, or before? Record it.

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Posted 19 September 2020 by adruidway in Druidry, equinox, intention, ritual

Tagged with , , , ,

“Nothing in my spam queue” as a Guide

Log in to WordPress, check your site, and with luck you read a notice that announces “Nothing in your spam queue”.

Imagine: even spam has been lining up to see you! You’re not as small and insignificant as you thought!

Spam — the stuff that clamors for my attention whether it deserves it or not. First cousin to Fake, Faux, etc. Cut down actual trees, put models of ’em in a Tree Museum*.

A whole Spam world? Sign me up! Take the Blue Pill …

The subtitle of this post could well be: What’s So Bad about the Apparent World, Anyway?

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Finding hollow spaces to celebrate richness. Mt. Ascutney State Park, Vermont.

The “Apparent World”, you’ll recall from previous posts, and as OBOD ritual reminds us, is this one, this world of apparently firm surfaces that consist of little more than the orbital shells of electrons surrounding atoms — nothing “substantial” at all. Spam. This world of matter, energy, space, time, friends, relatives, partners, pets, car, house, job, neighbors, Current Political Crisis #437, aliens, the solar system, all the galaxies beyond it — apparent. Yes, all these things really do “appear”, which is what apparent means. What else, after all, would anybody expect them to do?

“As the Apparent World fades …” says the ritual. Well, maybe I like this Apparent World. After all, I’ve spent 2-3-4-5-6-7 decades acclimating to it, acquiring skills to deal with it, maybe even occasionally thriving in it. I’m invested in it, even if those annoying Others have paved paradise and put up a parking lot*. Yes, I know I have to leave it all too soon. How could I forget that? Reminders all around me every day, even in the best of times, as if I’d forget otherwise! Sometimes ya gotta deny the end just to notice and enjoy everything that comes before it. Smell the flowers, they tell us. Hey, sometimes denial is one of the best and most adaptive survival strategies of all!!! “Some of the happiest people I know …” and so on.

Because just when I think it’s (only) apparent, it shifts on me and becomes fabulously, dangerously, pulse-quickeningly real.

“But wait. There’s more!” Paradoxically, many of the same people reminding us about The End also keep telling us there’s so much beyond it. Huh. What? How’s that work?!

Thoreau has something to say about that. Love him or hate him, he’s on the money often enough to deserve our clear attention:

Time is but a stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. I cannot count one.

“Counting one” can be a ritual. Maybe the ritual I’ve been longing to do, but for any number of reasons I haven’t yet done. Yes, fishing’s also a grand ritual, as any devotee knows. So is drinking, too. And seeing the sandy bottom, detecting its shallowness. Noticing eternity. Daydreaming of fish in the sky, pebbles like whole planets and stars. Longing to drink deeper.

Our Apparent World, for all its richness, is paper-thin, and with eternity banging at the door and peering in through the windows, and always beginning right now, why deprive myself of that glorious abundance, especially when I don’t have to? In another paradox, it turns out that the true Masters of self-denial, the rabid ascetics and flagellants [warning — link to rites of self-crucifixion in the Philippines!] are those who restrict themselves to the Apparent World, never bothering to drink and detect and long and notice and count. But only a few of us are really cut out for the Apparent World, though almost everything’s set up for their convenience. Most of the rest of us run around vainly trying to arrange “something more”. I’m speaking to the latter group. Because if you’re content with apparent, why do anything different? You’ve got what you need, and I don’t need to photobomb your perfect selfie. Delete this blog from your feed immediately. Otherwise, I’m your spam.

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A post appeared this morning on an OBOD Facebook page from a new bard uncertain about where she could find in the published course rituals any kind of entry point for herself. The rituals she’d encountered so far felt too grand, too dramatic. She wasn’t sure where or how she fit, or how they fit her. She also noted she was a Solitary, with no group nearby to experience that form of ritual with.

mantis

Who else is solitary and may have something to teach me? Do I know?

One of the replies to her post took an interesting tack. Yes, ritual can exist to impress others, the commenter noted, taking them to places they might not go on their own. The dramatic gesture, the theatrical staging, often matter more in such cases where people can beneficially be surprised out of skepticism or ironic detachment or a long-established cool by an honest-to-god encounter with a god, or a spirit, or themselves, or another world, or even this one. But ritual can also be for ourselves, and take any size or shape we wish.

We all do ritual every day, all day long, anyway. Why not make these moments work more beautifully and magically for us, rather than spamming our attention with thoughts, opinions, images, emotions, possibilities and so forth that just don’t fit us and who we are and where we want to go?

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*with thanks to Joni Mitchell and her “Big Yellow Taxi”.

 

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