Archive for the ‘ritual’ Tag

Flames of Bealtaine

Search “Beltane” and “Bealtaine”, and one of the top results to come back is “How is Beltane celebrated?” People want to know the how, the available elements for crafting a meaningful life from any source that won’t run away.

One source that modern Druidry has adopted is working with the four seasonal festivals of the ancient Celts — Imbolc, Beltane, Lunasa and Samhain. Each carries fire symbolism. But more than the symbol is the thing itself. Fire is an intermediary — a palpable physical thing, it’s both animate and insubstantial — a beautiful representation of the cosmos at its most alive and mysterious. Gather with friends around a fire and you participate in a human action tens of thousands of years old. In these challenging times, mirroring our ancestors’ experiences through the centuries, a fire says “we’re still here”.

Much of our human experience consists of defining our spaces and places, and the awareness we bring to them. At its heart, Druidry is a kind of continual prayer: O let me wake into the holy in every moment.

This is sacred time, go the words of standard OBOD ritual. This is sacred space. We name it to remind ourselves, yes — to evoke it through intention and attention — but also to recognize what’s already there. We can create sacred space because sacred space has shaped us from birth. It’s our heritage, our birthright, unless we give it away.

So we call it back.

“One of the most common responses I see to the idea of developing a daily practice”, Teo Bishop writes, “is that there is no time. This assumes that a practice must be a long, complicated ritual, full of gestures and ritual phrases. It paints a practice as yet another way that the struggle of our day to day life is a weight on our shoulders.

But the daily practice can be framed another way.

Let it begin with something small. Light a candle, take one, deep breath, then extinguish the flame.

That’s all.

It won’t take but a second”.

Bishop wrote the blogpost I quote above for the autumn equinox. But fire is good for any time. As mage and author Josephine McCarthy describes it,

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

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

It’s very old, this focus on fire. (“Focus” itself is an old word for “hearth” or “altar”. We make an altar of what we focus on). We read in the Rig-Veda 1.26.8, “For when the gods have a good fire, they bring us what we wish for. Let us pray with a good fire”.

One way to understand this passage, of course, says simply that “if we build it, they will come”. On occasion that’s exactly right. Dedication is its own reward. Often, though, the arrival of gods lies in our building — the impulse to light the fire, the desire for kindling light and flame, is itself divine presence. We manifest the divine, or banish it, by choice, by our actions in each moment. Magicians, every one of us.

We tend, under the influence of credal religions and orthodox examples where belief is central, to feel that if we don’t “believe” in something, then it doesn’t exist. We create our reality, the zeitgeist tells us. And that’s beautifully and abundantly true in ways that deserve our respect and exploration — as long as we remember others are creating their realities, too. In these times of covid, we’re reminded forcefully of the consensus reality we all play a part in creating, one where other things and people have existence and significance — and impact our lives — whether or not we “believe” in them.

Fire is even more important then, as a witness. No matter the dark, life and light also exist and have their say. One thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother. Fire can assist us with that transition — can help bring it about.

We need the sacrament of fire.

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Mooning the Druid, Druiding the Moon

Ready or not, here I come! says Moon, childhood companion of so many days and nights.

According to a handy online app, some 760 full moons have lit the sky since I arrived in this incarnation. How many of them have I even noticed? Of those, how many have I celebrated? Does that number matter? Or is celebration of what is, right now, a better focus?

It’s good to see readership for “Towards a Full Moon Ritual” climb each month in the days before a full moon. More of us seek out the “how” — we often have some sense of the “what” already. That post, and many others here, arose from my experiences of less and more effective ritual. Some of the “best” rituals are the ones that “didn’t work”, that provoked inquiry, or reflection that in spite of “appearances”, something happened that matters. Maybe I “didn’t feel it”, but it felt me, changed me in ways that the ritual helped shape. Experience remains the supreme teacher. (If you don’t believe it, just scan the day’s headlines. Slow learners, every one of us.)

How bright the darkness, how dark the light …

Google “What does the moon mean?” — because you’re bored, because procrastination is better than anything else on offer right now, because Google can entertain with such questions and their crowd-sourcing answers — and the first result may tell you something like “The moon is a feminine symbol”. Really? That would be news to the Anglo-Saxons a millennium ago. To speakers of Old English, the sun sēo sunne is feminine, and the moon se mōna is masculine. Ever hear of the Man in the Moon? Or consider the image of a woman some have identified as Mary in Revelation 12, “clothed with the sun …”

When we Druid the moon, we can discover our meanings, plural. When things mean, it’s we who are “doing the meaning”, after all. For if meanings inhere in things independently of our perception, where do they come from? Does each thing arrive on the scene with a full set of ’em, hanging off them like holiday decorations? Does the moon “represent a feminine symbol” to last night’s owl? Or to the pines and hemlocks swaying in the wind out my window right now, as a cold front works its way through the northeastern U.S.? Is the moon “meaningful” only to humans?

I stand in moonlight as I sing.
Moonlight and shadow make a ring.
The moon could mean most anything —
don’t wait to find out …

That’s better. Too much thought, not enough song. Wait to find out and I could wait a long time. But song — that leads me straight to the heart of things.

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Often the moon is more of a mood than a meaning. There it is, mooning us all month long, silver arrows lodging in our hearts. Because some months, basking in moonlight may be all the ritual you need.

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Here we are, just past the Equinox, just past Emnight [1 | 2]. Doth the moon shine that night we play our play? asks Snout in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And Bottom answers, Find out moonshine, find out moonshine! — some of the best advice anyone could give me, whatever my season.

Moonlight is my ritual, says the Moon-Druid. Let the Moon sing me, the whole dream long.

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Welcome, new visitor from Ecuador!

Apparent Worlds and “Druid Choice”

There’s been a lot of talk in recent decades about choice, and about freedom. Do we know what these things are, or how to perceive them? And if we know and perceive them, what do we do with them? What will we create?

Spring Dreaming … 15 Mar 2021

“As this circle is cast, the enchantment of the apparent world subsides”, says the first part of standard OBOD ritual. These are the words we hear at the same time we see — feel — hear — another Druid physically creating a ritual circle. The ritualist’s circular movement achieves this, along with any intention that person has as they cast the circle. The ritualist doesn’t stand alone, but enjoys the help of anyone else participating, with or without skin on. Visualizing, intending, choosing, celebrating, focusing energy, inviting the circle to manifest. Seeing and sensing it do so.

Any participants in the ritual are already standing in a circle before they hear the words — a kind of reversal of the usual affirmation: as below, so above. The physical reality of people gathered at the event precedes the circle that will be completed inwardly. You might see this as a Druid version of “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace”. Or in fact is this too part of the enchantment — that we may confuse outer and inner, or think that one “precedes” and the other “follows”? Are they, or can they be, facets of the same thing, standing outside time even as they manifest within it?

Each person participating may also hear and experience the “subsiding of the apparent world” differently: as a gentle suggestion, or as a simple statement of fact. Or maybe it’s a ritual assumption, something “you do during ritual”. Or perhaps it’s “just words, like all the rest of the ritual”, a kind of communal game or sport or play: ritual theater. Or it’s an observation about transformation and magic. Each of us inhabits multiple apparent worlds already. Literally, worlds that appear to us, that invite or seduce or beguile or convince us in turn, that lure us with promise of their own particular enchantments. If they appear, they also may disappear. Ritual invites us into this possibility of choice and transformation, suggesting we may choose and create more consciously and intentionally. (We may just need to choose an appropriate world, rather than insist on forcing one that may not be the best stage for manifesting a particular choice.)

Which worlds deserve my attention? Which one(s) am I in at the present moment? Can I achieve my purposes best by focusing on this particular world, or are there others where I may be freer to act and to fulfill my intentions more joyously? Does one need to recede so I can better focus on others?

“Come! Be a physical body, experience touch and time, change and pleasure, death and birth, loss and love,” one world invites us. “Ah! Wear a body of light, and move across the cosmos to serve where you are needed”, sings another world. “Won’t you join others in their quest to X?” whispers a third.

Or if this is the only world there is, then when the “apparent world” fades, what’s left? Where am I? Do I jump into “ritual vertigo” if I let go of this world? Is ritual in fact “safe”? And so I enter yet another world with its own answers to such questions, if I choose to accept them.

One link, or common thread, or clue, or all three at once and more besides, for me anyway, rests in the awen. As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, this is the longest practice I’ve kept up, to enter the world of primordial sound and creativity.

As with most Druid practices, this isn’t one that requires me to believe anything, but simply do something. Over time I may well come to believe certain things, much as someone who has seen the sun rise in the east for decades might begin to be confident it will to do so again tomorrow. I can’t “prove” it, but proof just isn’t all that interesting to me anymore. There are much better things to focus on, more interesting and deserving worlds to choose.

In his new book Cerridwen: Celtic Goddess of Inspiration, Kristoffer Hughes notes that when we enter this soundscape and world of awen, “several things will happen on a number of levels. On a physiological level, something particularly magical happens with the systems of your body. Song and singing profoundly affects almost all of our senses, and the vibratory quality of the sound is particularly affecting, having direct action on the cells of your body…” (pg. 243). He goes on to explore other effects of awen as a practice, on other levels, as a way to communicate with life and lives. Even a little singing or chanting can produce results.

I return yet again to an observation by Philip Carr-Gomm which strikes me as uncommon good sense in these challenging times:

Try opening to Awen not when it’s easy, but when it’s difficult: not when you can be still and nothing is disturbing you, but when there’s chaos around you, and life is far from easy. See if you can find Awen in those moments. It’s harder, much harder, but when you do, it’s like walking through a doorway in a grimy city street to discover a secret garden that has always been there – quiet and tranquil, an oasis of calm and beauty. One way to do this, is just to tell yourself gently “Stop!” Life can be so demanding, so entrancing, that it carries us away, and we get pulled off-centre. If we tell ourselves to stop for a moment, this gives us the opportunity to stop identifying with the drama around us, and to come back to a sense of ourselves, of the innate stillness within our being. And then, sometimes, we are rewarded with Awen at precisely this moment.

Rather than judging one world as “good” and another as “bad”, I can simply note if I’m pulled off-center while I’m in it. (Sometimes the distraction is the point!) If you’re like me, you may only realize this after the fact. Then I ask if that’s what I want. If I’m pulled away from myself, and if I’ve identified with the drama around me, rather than with what I am, I can test a world further: can I act freely and creatively as the presence of awen in this moment? The awen I sing, from the deep I bring it, sings Taliesin. Can I do that right now? Can I come back to a sense of myself and act in my best interests?

If I can, the way of awen is a good way for me. And if I can’t? Then the way of awen might be a good way for me …

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This post has offered a number of seeds for contemplation and practice. As we near the equinox, a time of balance, they can give us fruitful ways to manifest and mirror what the seasons are doing around us.

Brighid’s Moon

28 Jan. 2021 Full Moon

A blessed Imbolc to you!

It’s Brighid’s Moon, this month of transition, north and south, east and west.

In our perhaps too-precise modern world, we note that the full moon came a few days “before” Imbolc (Lunasa, and Lugh’s Moon, to friends Down Under). But it feels likely that in pre-modern times the full moon and the festival would take place at the same time. After all, why not?!

Yes, timing matters a lot, and also not a bit, for such things.

For anyone inclined to notice the moon at all, a full moon is a wonderful link to others around us. Look up and you know that almost everyone on the planet who also bothers to look can see the moon in her shining splendor within the same 24-hour period, unless the skies are cloudy. (Then we can feel the moon.)

In her Celtic Devotional Caitlin Matthews notes this is a splendid season to remember and celebrate the “midwives of the soul”. Wise counsel indeed! I’m a member of a genealogy site that you can set to email you reminders of ancestors’ birthdays, weddings, etc. — I find it’s a good way to pause several times a month (depending on how detailed your family tree is) and consider the lives of those who’ve gone before me, walking this human path through their own times of challenge and blessing. (One of my grandmothers 6 generations back died at 19 while giving birth to her third child — a brief life, but also one that led to many descendants, including me. As someone who suspects reincarnation in some form accounts for a great deal of the rebalancing in our lives over the long term, I also imagine that soul returning generations later, possibly through a “descendant doorway” which that previous and painfully short lifetime made possible. Our lives belong to, and shape, a far wider circle than we often know.)

Brighid of the Snows, Brighid of the Full Moon, Patron of poets, smiths, healers …

I’m spending half this afternoon apologizing to ghosts, writes John Murillo in one of his poems in Up Jump the Boogie. It’s what we may find ourselves doing, if we’re mindful about the past, the present, our own struggles. In another poem Murillo says, like all bards, This poem is a finger pointing at the moon … You big dummy, don’t look at my finger, I’m trying to show you the moon. I fill up yet another blogpost with words, still trying, fumblingly, awkwardly. We celebrate Imbolc with an OBOD ritual, or alone, silently, offering droplets of wine to the full moon. We bring in snowmelt and offer it at Brighid’s altar.

On Sunday evening, five of us in Vermont gathered via Zoom to celebrate using the OBOD solo rite for Imbolc. The solo rites parallel the group ones, but they’re less formal, more inward-looking, more flexible for whoever shows up. We assign roles on the spot, do some spontaneous rearranging or improvising where necessary, honoring the spirit of the rite. We’ve been doing this since for more than six months now, after a hiatus when it looked like our seed-group might not endure. Mystic River Grove, active now for over 30 years, holds its rituals online with a few dozen attending each time.

As I often do, I find ritual both intermittently frustrating and unexpectedly moving. One of our members with an inerrant ear for poetry usually has something to read for us which captures the thread and flame at the heart of the ritual, the core experience of gathering to honor the season. This time she read from Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris’s The Lost Spells, the second book of poems to emerge from the decision a few years back by Oxford University Press to remove words naming the natural world from a popular children’s dictionary. One reviewer of MacFarlane’s book (and apparently not a regular reader of poetry) complains, “Since when is a poem a spell?” When, we might all reply, oh when has it ever been anything else?

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“There was never”, says Walt Whitman, “any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now”.

If that’s true, it’s both bad and good news. Bad, because wow! I really need to apologize to my ghosts, my ancestral heritage. Good, because I don’t need to: I have what I need right now, just as they did and do.

On its website, OBOD offers a guide called “Treasures of the Tribe: Guidelines for OBOD Seed Groups and Groves” that anyone can download as a PDF. In addition to being a fund of hard-earned wisdom about the dynamics of groups, and an insight into the feel of the OBOD “style” and its flavor of Druidry, it offers an excellent seed for meditation and reflection and conscious action:

A useful question to ask, when difficulties arise, is: ‘Is there a gift here, trying to manifest itself?’ or: ‘What is it that is seeking transformation?’

That is a gift for any season.

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A Druidry FAQ

This is a post that will become a page on this site, because the topics it addresses raise perennial questions. Its direct inspiration comes from discussions on Druid social media sites, and from your search terms here at A Druid Way.

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If you bear in mind the popular saying “Ask three Druids and you’ll get ten answers”, you should be in good shape. This short FAQ arises out of one person’s experience, study and reflection. As with most things, a second – and third – opinion will be very useful and give you a broader and more informed perspective.

What is Druidry?

Druid author J. M. Greer gives an answer that’s held up well over time: Druidry “means following a spiritual path rooted in the green Earth … It means embracing an experiential approach to religious questions, one that abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit”. While beliefs matter, more important is what Druids do each day. An openness to experiences and encounters in nature forms part of the Druid perspective.

Do Druids believe ____ ?

Some probably do. Many may not. No single creed or statement of faith unites all Druids, because Druidry is an individual spiritual practice or way of life rather than a set of beliefs. In this way, it’s like asking “What do carpenters believe?” This sets it apart from many Western monotheistic faiths, and also makes it possible to be a Christian and a Druid, an agnostic and a Druid, etc.

However, it’s possible to talk about what Druids believe using general statements with “most” and “many”. Here’s a Triad that probably characterizes a large number of Druids:

Most Druids are united by a love and respect for nature, and show an attentive attitude towards its rhythms and cycles that they may express in seasonal observances like the solstices and equinoxes. Secondly, many Druids also perceive a spiritual dimension to life, though that may or may not mean belief in a god or gods. Third, many Druids also express their perspectives and experiences creatively, through craft or art, carrying on in modern forms the traditions of the ancient Bards.

Do you have to have Celtic ancestry to be a Druid?

No. The ancient Celts were a culture, or set of related cultures and languages, rather than a single genetic bloodline. Given that the Celtic peoples apparently ranged across much of Europe, from Ireland and Portugal to Germany and Italy, and possibly further east, settling and intermarrying with other peoples, this shouldn’t be too surprising. It’s true there are a few and mostly small Druid groups who require their members to demonstrate a specific ancestry — often Irish or Scottish. But our ability to love and respect and live lightly on the earth certainly doesn’t need or benefit from genetic gate-keeping. Anyone anywhere on the planet can practice Druidry starting right now.

Where do the teachings of modern Druidry come from?

A range of sources. Many traditional stories in surviving Celtic literature like the Welsh Mabinogion point to Druid practices and understandings. In several cases, they also provide teaching stories and initiatory insights which several Druid groups use in their training. While a few individuals and groups claim to preserve ancient or hereditary Druid practices and beliefs, in most cases these are the common folk wisdom of most pre-modern cultures around the world: a knowledge of herbs and natural cycles, animal and plant and star-lore. More important than how old they may be is the question: “Do they work today?”

The Renaissance recovery of Classical sources, the influences of Neo-Platonism, Arabic learning in astronomy and medicine, mathematics and alchemy and astrological lore, and the British Druid Revival beginning in the 1600s, all play their part in helping to deepen Druidry. Practices of meditation and visualization also derive from a variety of sources. Most Druid teachings emphasize learning from our own locale. The trees, plants, animals and landscape, previous inhabitants and climate all have many things to teach.

How do I become a Druid?

For anyone alive today, the path to Druidry has been made smoother and broader by books and the internet. Many Druids are great readers. Books can give you a sense of the range and depth of Druid practice, and inspire you to adapt relevant portions of it to your own life and circumstances. (See Books and Links.) The internet can connect you to active and established Druid groups, who offer events and resources for members and non-members alike. But while these sources can be helpful and inspirational, a walk around one’s home area is an excellent prime starting point. What can I learn about — and from — the trees and animals and plants in my region? Who lived here before me, and what did they know? What local geographical features like mountains or lakes or the ocean influence the weather? How do I “fit” where I live?

Can I be a Druid without joining a Druid organization?

Absolutely. Even those Druids affiliated with an organization are often “solitary” Druids for 350 days out of each year. Curiosity, a willingness to learn and study what interests you, and reverence for the earth are the marks of a Druid, not membership in any group. (See my post Druiding without An Order.)

What do we know about ancient Druids?

Direct evidence is comparatively modest. We have archaeological discoveries and the accounts of Classical authors contemporary with ancient Druids. We can make intelligent guesses from some of these sources, but much remains unknown. The single best book on the subject is Prof. Ronald Hutton’s Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain.

How can anyone claim to be a Druid today, if we know so little about the ancient Druids or their practices?

Philip Carr-Gomm, former Chief of OBOD, the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, addresses this directly:

“Contemporary Druidry draws on a heritage of thousands of years, and yet many of its ideas and practices have only been formed over the last few hundred years. Unlike most of the established religions, which are based on doctrine formulated in the distant past, Druidry is developing its philosophy and practices in response to the spirit of the times. It is being shaped now rather than being preserved or simply passed on, and paradoxically, although it is inspired and informed by an ancient heritage, it is surprisingly free of the weight of the past. This leaves modern Druidry open to the criticism that it has been invented; but it also makes it a thoroughly contemporary spirituality that speaks directly to the needs of today” (What Do Druids Believe?, pgs. 2-3).

I love Druidry but I don’t like ____ . Can I still be a Druid?

If you already know you love Druidry, nothing more needs to be said. You’re in excellent company — the wider “Druid world” require very few things from a Druid except that love and respect for nature.

(For some people, magic or ritual are words they might put in the blank above. Stick with Druidry and you may well find out more of what they’re all about. But again, absolutely neither is any kind of requirement.)

We can apply/adapt the words of Jesus here (as in many cases): “People aren’t made for Druidry; Druidry is made for people”. Go with what truly works for you, and you’re walking a path with heart.

Are there initiations in Druidry?

Because you can be a Druid by yourself, no initiations are necessary. With that said, some Druid groups offer study materials that include self-initiations — opportunities to deepen and hallow your experiences and understanding. And some groups make initiations a prerequisite for advancing within the group.

Life presents us with a few initiations of its own that all of us experience. Practice Druidry over time, and you’ll pass through the initiations of death, sickness, loss, change, love and birth. Your Druidry can help you navigate those experiences with greater understanding, resilience, growth, and compassion for others.

I like what I’ve read about Druidry, but I don’t believe in _____ .

If you love and respect the natural world, you’re ready to practice Druidry. If you’ve read the other parts of this FAQ, you know you don’t need to believe to be a Druid — you need to practice. Many of your beliefs will come from those experiences. More encounters and reflection may help you get a clearer picture of Druidry and what it means for you. Books, experiences with groups, study, and time spent in nature can all help you clarify your next steps.

Which Druid order has the best ____ ?

The inside word on that is ___ .

What about people who say Druidry is ____ ?

You may have noticed that we live in an era where almost everything now has both ardent fans and unrelenting critics. The best way to respond (or ignore) is to practice Druidry yourself over at least a few years — then you’ll know what it is for you. The second best way is to attend some Druid events with practicing Druids, observe thoughtfully, and ask questions. The third best way is reading widely. As Druid leader, Her Majesty’s coroner (anatomical pathologist), actor, author, drag queen and popular speaker Kristoffer Hughes likes to say, “What other people think of you is none of your business” (unless you’re planning on running for office).

If you’d like an objective tool to assess any group, you’ll find Isaac Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame most helpful.

Can I be your student? / Will you teach me?

This blog offers more than enough enough material for you to pick up the practice of Druidry, and to locate diverse sources to answer your questions better than I can, and to guide a beginning practice. Ultimately, your best teacher is the Land you live on.

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For the book titles cited, see the page Books & Links on Druidry. For the names of people, see the page Voices of Modern Druidry.

Nine Days of Solstice 9 — Monday

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

Blessings of the Solstice to you! From the South to the North, from the East to the West.

Five of us from Vermont’s seed group, Well of Segais, gathered for a Solstice Zoom last night. For all their quirks and e-glitches, such technologies have helped so many connect over these past months, when the need has been great. The size of a Zoom gathering, as many have discovered, seems to reach optimum around a dozen or fewer. Beyond that, unless the group has evolved good strategies for careful listening and turn taking (or had them imposed by organizers), participants can end up talking over each other. A ritual helps enjoin a more meditative pace, good for helping members sink into reflection and attention. Without a physical ritual circle, more of the work is open for doing inwardly.

During the ritual meditation, I saw each of us five braiding ribbons of light that encircled us. It’s rare that events like this bring vision with them for me — often the experience is more subtle. Beyond any accompanying intuition and emotional response at the time — useful in themselves as part of the “barometer” of an experience — the value of it lies in what I do with it. I’ve recorded it, and it will serve as a subject for contemplation. Recalling it, as I’m doing now, evokes gratitude. In the future, it’s useful confirmation, one more link in a sequence of experiences and encounters, insights and hunches, that make up the trajectory of my life. In a few months I may have forgotten it, until I re-read it: “Sunday, 20 December 2020. Alban Arthan/Yule/Solstice ritual with Well of Segais …” Though forgetting is now less likely, because I’ve grounded it by writing about it, reflecting on it.

As a visualization, it reminds me of my links to everyone else, and how we can all choose to tend such connections with care and love, or otherwise. A blessing on the power of human choice! In the middle of the next challenge I will face, it goes to form part of my toolkit. “Braid now for light, braid for love …” If any of this post resonates with you, it comes to form part of your toolkit as well. And so each gift we receive can ripple outward.

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Each of the “Great Eight” seasonal festivals bears its attendant blessings. They’re not all the same, in part because we’re not the same, when we arrive at the time and place of them. Thank you for walking with me thus far, whether you’re new to this blog, or a long-time reader.

If there’s a ritual for the closing of this sequence of nine posts for Solstice, part of it surely comes in the form of the Scottish blessing that opens my “About” page on this site, which I’ll end with here. If you will, say the words aloud with me:

May the blessing of light be on you — light without and light within.
May the blessed sunlight shine on you like a great peat fire,
so that stranger and friend may come and warm themselves at it.

And may light shine out of the two eyes of you,
like a candle set in the window of a house,
bidding the wanderer come in out of the storm.

And may the blessing of the rain be on you,
may it beat upon your Spirit and wash it fair and clean, and leave
there a shining pool where the blue of Heaven shines,
and sometimes a star.

And may the blessing of the earth be on you,
soft under your feet as you pass along the roads,
soft under you as you lie out on it, tired at the end of day;
and may it rest easy over you when, at last, you lie out under it.

May it rest so lightly over you that your spirit may be out
from under it quickly; up and off and on its way.
And now may the Spirit bless you, and bless you kindly.

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The next post will be the Top 10 A Druid Way Posts for 2020.

Nine Days of Solstice 8 — Sunday

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

“I could be bounded in a nutshell”, exclaims Hamlet in Act II, “and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams”. All right, Hamlet: Dream better.

That’s often the kind of advice we receive. On the face of it, it’s sound, solid. But utterly useless. “If I knew how“, many find themselves thinking, “don’t you think I would?”

Maybe that’s one reason the “how” has interested me for so long. How did you get where you are? How do you go where you want to go? How do you even find out there’s a “where” worth going to? And sometimes: What can I do right now, starting today, that will make any difference at all?

As even part-time readers of this blog know (and are probably weary of hearing me say), a practice is essential for all of these things. Most likely, you’re already doing a version of it and can build on it. It certainly needn’t look like somebody else’s practice. If you do something for love, you’re already half-way there. Nobody starts from scratch. Once you have that kindling, that’s where the Secret Fire lies. As my teacher likes to say, then you start with one small thing, and do it with all the love and attention you can. It may be tying your shoes. Sometimes starting that small is just right. Build from that single step, on your way to your kingdom. Our power lies in how far we can extend that kind of dedication and devotion over time. As it opens, you get caught by the vision, by the good dream, and you’re on your way.

A practice, it needs to be said, isn’t all easy going. Sometimes you run across barren patches. In a 2012 post I wrote:

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

“Wind and ice are the only deciders of symmetry”, writes upstate New Yorker Linda Allardt in one of her poems. “Survival makes do for grace”. The instinct to survive, one we share with our animal kin, is often what carries us through. There’s a stoicism there which can serve us, if we don’t take it and make it our only stance worth cultivating.

The Solstices are times to watch for change and chance. The hidden changes implicit in the imminent shift of energy and consciousness which Druids symbolize and celebrate in the seasonal festivals also find expression in the starkly beautiful lines of “First Sight” by British poet Philip Larkin.

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

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

For that is how at least some changes arrive — immeasurable, ungraspable, unlike anything that went before. With a practice, we’re more able to work with their energy and momentum, rather than merely be swept up and along with them, or miss them entirely. In many ways, Druidry provides tools for navigating change.

A key insight I’ve found true in my experience sees expression in R. J. Stewart’s observation about magic. “The purpose of magical arts” — and here we can accurately substitute spiritual practice, or devotion to a craft or art — “is to enable the changes within the individual by which he or she may apprehend these further methods inwardly” (Living Magical Arts, pg. 3). A kind of teaching takes place through our practice. Our determination to persevere, to dig deeper, sets in motion a series of insights tailored to our particular circumstances and purposes, which gives us the experience Jesus talks about when he says “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. We find the spiritual principles that work for us because they meet us where we are.

These things can be hard to talk about for obvious reasons. Either one looks arrogant or deluded, or often enough a combination of both. But anyone with similar experiences can nod in recognition — and share their stories. J M Greer reminds us that

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

Until you have the experience of it (whatever it is for you), you may have a range of beliefs about it, for sure, but it’s your insight flowing from your own contact with the realms of nature and spirit that counts more, and longer. The path, the only path worth walking, the “path with heart”, is to continue that contact, to see where it leads, to trust it, because trust also opens doors that will not otherwise open. Part of Greer’s point is that any authority worth having comes from within, not from another person. Our human tendency is too often to look for the next Holy Magister 27th-Grade Ipsissimus Archdruid Deluxe Squared for “the answers”, which usually won’t be our answers anyway. (For some amusing insights on this, do a search of my posts on One Genuine Real Live Druidry — OGRELD).

south yard, yesterday, after clearing the way to our woodshed

The most that any outside authority can do is help us recognize the fire inside us, to suggest ways of keeping it burning, to point out directions towards firewood, to guide us to lighting up the path along the way.

Our inner Sovereignty, you might say, can often look like a hearth.

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Nine Days of Solstice 7 — Saturday

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

What now, after making the Star? It’s a good question. After what feels like the completion of a cycle of manifestation, it can be a challenge to identify the next steps.

Ah, Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits—and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!

says the Rubaiyat 73 of Omar Khayyam. We’re into the third Triad of the Nine Days of Solstice. What more? Well, the Bards have one corner of it, as usual. Khayyam lays it out for me in this stanza, if I’m willing to walk even some of the way with him, and listen. There’s a triad in human affairs, as in so many things: you, me, and “Fate”. Or as we could also call it, karma, the momentum of things we’ve already launched, that we’ve set in motion. The “sorry scheme of things” is one perspective on our making so far (not the only one, to be sure), and as with most human choices, once we receive what we wished for, we almost immediately aspire to something better. That’s an excellent feature of human consciousness, if I remember to treat it wisely and prudently. And yes, we can “remould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire” with the same abilities we moulded it in the first place.

The Green World is always green, whatever other colours it takes on.

The challenge for me is to decide on what plane I will do my remoulding. Try to do all of it here, I find, and I run into everyone else’s vision of Hearts’ Desire. I am indeed creating my possible futures — and so is everyone else. Our visions bump into each other, as often as not. I find that the place to focus the predominant part of my work is inwardly. Change my consciousness to match my desire, and the effects manifest far more easily than trying to the change the world first. It ripples out from each of us individually, when we do the work. That’s how the mass consciousness changes — one of us at a time, till we reach a critical inflection-point. You see it in birds preparing to migrate for the winter. Ones, and twos, and then larger practice flights, till it spreads like yeast through bread, “the whole is leavened”, and the entire flock is ready to take wing.

Jesus’s counsel to his disciples is clear: “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world”. The common denominator of mass consciousness, sometimes useful in brief bursts during ritual when properly tuned, isn’t something to try to sustain all the time. The apparent world isn’t the last word on much of anything. Part, just not whole. I can begin to overcome the less desirable effects of mass consciousness by breaking my agreement with it. Look at the vision of the world held out to us in most social media, and there’s not much to choose from. I can target where to place my attention, for the simple reason that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. How can I even know my “heart’s desire”, let alone manifest it, “remould” things nearer to it, if everything else is tugging at my attention, away from where I need to be looking?

Holding the Star in my vision, the Four Elements and Spirit, I pick up the Work again.

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Nine Days of Solstice 6 — Friday

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

The series of pictures below illustrate the folds to make the 5-pointed Star. There are 9 folds, a good piece of symbolism, and then a single cut of scissors. It may take a few tries till it comes out right it. Start with a piece of scrap paper.

If you like, treat this as a “ritual of making”. As you practice the Nine Folds, try out a prayer, chant, rhyme, etc. This can be a fun exercise to do with a child.

AAAAA

You need a sheet of paper in the proportions of 8.5 x 10. Size is up to you. (For many, that’s almost a standard sheet of loose-leaf or photocopy paper, with the bottom 1 in/2.5 cm cut off.)

BBBBB

FOLD 1: Fold the sheet in half horizontally, top edge to bottom edge.

CCCCC

FOLD 2: Next, fold the sheet in half vertically, left edge to right edge, then open it again.

DDDDD

FOLD 3: Fold the sheet in half vertically, top to bottom, then open it up again.

EEEEE

FFFFF

FOLD 4: Fold the right edge in to the center fold, then open it again.

GGGGG

You now should have these guide-lines for the next folds.

HHHHH

FOLD 5: Fold the top left corner to the center horizontal fold crease.

IIIII

FOLD 6: Fold that same corner back on itself, flush with the left edge.

JJJJJ

KKKKK

FOLD 7: Fold the top right corner back on itself, in the same way. You should have two right triangles of the same size.

LLLLL

Turn the star over, back to front.

MMMMM

Here’s the vertical guide line for the next fold.

NNNNN

FOLD 8: Fold the star vertically to the right, back onto itself.

OOOOO

FOLD 9: Fold the top flap to the right, back onto itself. Then open it out again.

PPPPP

Turn the star 180 degrees, so the point faces down. The crease/fold about 1.5 in/3 cm above my thumb is an important guideline for the next step.

QQQQQ

Line up the scissors so you cut across the intersection of lines toward the point to the right.

RRRRR

SSSSS

After the cut.

TTTTT

Start to unfold the bottom piece.

UUUUU

The Star …

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Nine Days of Solstice 5 — Thursday

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

“Then came there a great snow, and so greatly it snowed as if a great fleece had fallen …” The Old English dictionary I use sometimes offers inscrutable abbreviations for its sources of quotations — in this case, simply “Nar”. But I love this description, and I’m (mostly) grateful to live in a region that experiences four distinct seasons.

18 in / 46 cm at 9:40 am this (Thursday) morning, and still coming …

Winter’s finally arrived, ghostly guest. Somehow the whiteness of the snow at winter solstice always feels to me like an outward image of the inner fire burning all winter long. We light it, or it kindles us, at Samhain, when it leaps to and from the inner worlds, and it accompanies us right through to Beltane. I gaze at a candle-flame for a few moments, until I sense something of that world, that companion.

Snow both obliterates and illuminates, like any proper fire. Sometimes the track of spirit, of the presences in our lives, can be difficult to discern. Let snow-fire — or as a friend might write it, snow-fyre — illumine the way, and things can clarify. We see by contrasts — a powerful lesson in and of itself. In these worlds, it can take snow for us to see better.

The distinctive horseshoes of neighbourhood animals, tire-tracks and human footprints

Do I step on prints made by those who’ve gone before me? Many four-leggeds do this naturally, rear feet landing nearly where the front have just been. Sometimes weather helps map the trail, the spoor of my predecessors clear to be seen. Other times I walk trusting that when I need to know, I’ll know. Way-showers, as I follow you, let me likewise help show the way to those who come after.

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I’m posting below the first page of a rough draft for a workshop. You might find the points helpful, as I do, when you assess where you already place your energies and attention, and consider where they best belong for you, as you look ahead to the coming year.

It feels right to close by repeating the opening from the above image, a piece of dearly-bought wisdom for many: “Your consciousness — your awareness — is ALWAYS the final judge of what is right and appropriate for you. Yield it to no one“.

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Nine Days of Solstice 4 — Wednesday

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

Sometimes we need to talk ourselves into our discoveries. That’s only fair, because we’ve talked ourselves out of them until now. When we listen to others’ counsel but ignore our own, when we look for dreams anywhere but in our own hearts, when we yield up our Sovereignty, precious possession, to anyone else, then in spite of a cosmos trying at every moment to get us to claim it, we just …

Ah, what to do with beings such as ourselves?

I turn to remembered wisdom, from a praying mantis, from a post in 2017: Often the best sacrifices are ones you can keep doing. The point isn’t burnout. Make it sacred, sacri-fice it, so you can make it sacred again.

One challenge of sacred time, of holy time, is re-integrating it back into what we are pleased to call our “daily lives”. Where to stash the spiritual uplift so I can draw on it when I really need it?

Part of the reason behind a spiritual practice is to help us begin to see just how the “mundane” is also absolutely overflowing with spiritual energy. (It’s another instance of easier said than known.) We need to re-charge, yes: so we can flow again. Or to put it another way, my ability to tune in to a seemingly “ordinary” interaction in line at the supermarket, or pumping gas, or climbing the steps at work can transform the apparently mundane into a spiritual connection. The “apparently mundane” in all its flatness and dullness is our workshop, laboratory, spiritual opportunity. Empty canvas.

It’s easy (or at least easi-er) to perceive and ride the spiritual currents during retreats, workshops, seminars, gatherings. Each of us throws our offerings into the common cauldron and voila! — energy stew. We sup from it throughout the weekend, workshop, gathering. Then I get to return, to practice during “everyday life”. I am transformer, I am catalyst, I am pathway in and of myself. It can always begin again with each of us. Oh, Spirit … just show me how again, one more time?

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One of the site searches over the past several days has been in Cyrillic, for звезда шаблон из бумаги zvezda shablon iz bumagi or “star pattern made of paper” as Google-Translate clumsily renders it. Cutting a five-pointed solstice star is an excellent seasonal craft, for reasons that deserve contemplation. We’ve got the planetary conjunction (link to an informative PDF by the Astronomy Club of Asheville, NC) or “great convergence” coming up on the 21st, along with the Solstice, we have the traditional association with stars at Christmas, and we know the star or pentagram is a spiritual symbol with a world-wide spread long preceding modern Pagan associations.

So without further ado, here’s the clearest and most useful guide I’ve yet found for creating a near-perfect 5-pointed star from paper, with a series of folds, and a single snip of the scissors.

https://www.origamiplayer.com/orimath/embed560.php?ori=betsyrossstarfroma4

After all, it’s Day Four of this series — four the number of manifestation.

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I’m looking for a sheet I made for a workshop, with similar instructions — if I find it, I’ll post it on Day 5.

Nine Days of Solstice 2 — Monday

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

Look ahead, look back, look to now. Following the nudge, I’m posting links to previous Solstice posts I’ve made, part of my own looking back, as well as other events I can recommend.

Here’s a Beltane ritual with notes and suggestions that can be readily adapted to a Solstice celebration.

A year ago in December 2019 I posted a three-parter called “Gifts of Solstice” 1 | 2 | 3.

Solitaries and groups with a meditative bent may find these 13 suggestions helpful: Thirteen Gift-Day-Flames for Solstice Solitaries.

Here are 19 Ways to Celebrate Summer Solstice that can be adapted for Winter.

And on Saturday a friend reminded me of the earth song we all can enjoy as residents of this planet, which I wrote about here: 111 Hertz — Our Ancient Song of Healing and Attunement.

Those of you interested in an OBOD Alban Arthan/Winter Solstice ritual can find this year’s on both Facebook and Youtube. You can also find a solo ritual here.

John Beckett of “Under the Ancient Oaks” is offering one on Friday evening, 18 December (link to his specific blogpost, with discussion) which you can watch on Youtube (link to ritual).

Massachusett’s Mystic River Grove is holding one via Zoom I’m participating in. Our fledgling Vermont seed group celebrates one on Sunday, the eve of the Winter Solstice.

You can watch Stonehenge Winter Solstice live here.

A reminder to check out these links in advance, in case of technical glitches, to minimize disappointment.

Pause for an Anglo-Saxon interlude. I’m tutoring a small group of students of Old English via Zoom, and yesterday we spent a pleasant hour discussing an Old English riddle. The richness and density of Old English is everywhere, and often subtle, and in it echoes of ancestral wisdom, if I listen. As I was drafting this post, the refrain from the Old English poem “Deor” came to my mind regarding our current challenges. The line gets widely quoted: Þæs oferéode; þisses swa mæg – “That’s passed by – so can this”. But to me it expresses more than a medieval version of “Just suck it up, baby!”

Yes, it’s true we’re often we’re called to patience and perseverance, invaluable spiritual practices our ancestors knew well — often because they had no other alternative. Patience and perseverance can be hard work, and those “Two P’s” can feel awfully small and negligible in times like these, though they’re huge.

The refrain notes that this can (mæg) pass by, not merely that it “may” pass, which is a mis-translation. There’s room in our situations for our own efforts, our mægen (approx. “mayen”) — a related word — our spiritual strength. It’s our “might and main“, the descendant of that word mægen, and pronounced almost the same. Our mægen can make a difference, even — and especially — if we can’t see it at the time.

Mægen is part of our inheritance as living beings. One way to think of it is the Western version of chi, and it also can vary widely in quantity. Trees respond to it, and can help us replenish it, as many Druids have discovered. They can also help take away the blocks and leaks in our reservoirs of mægen if we approach them respectfully, and offer a gift in return, to help build the relationship and serve the balance, rather than take and take and take. I can learn to hoard my mægen like any good dragon, because my stash of it can run low, get depleted — and also recharged and topped off by skilful means. If you’re reading this, you very likely already know a fair bit of what I’m talking about. If not, life is laboratory — you can test it and find out for yourself.

Today is Monday, day of the Moon. I seek móna-mægen — moon energy — which need not be wholly dependent on the physical moon phase. Our human ability as time-walking beings means that, living in time as we do, we can nevertheless walk outside of time as well, and connect with ancestors for help and relationship, although they already oferéodon — have passed over. In the same way I can also align to a phase of the moon inwardly that may not be in outer manifestation. Even the saying of it, and the playing with it, begin to manifest it.

And so Matthews offers a meditation for Mondays of the Winter Season:

“Wise-men, Wise-women, Holy Ones of all generations, I call to you to send a blessing upon all who are stuck in the past and walk the spirals of an inturning maze: may your wisdom lead them by fresh and fruitful pathways to the blessing of the present moment”.

As we begin to move into our own identities as Wise and Holy Ones ourselves, we begin to send — and receive — these blessings, among the most powerful things we can do for ourselves and others. For I am Wise and Holy, as well as stuck here and there in the past. I carry both identities within, learning from them as I go. What we do for ourselves, we do for Others.

May Solstice wisdom lead you by fresh and fruitful pathways to the blessing of the present moment.

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Prelude to Nine Days of Solstice

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

As I did during the Samhain season this year, I’m planning a solstice series to honour Nine Days of Winter Solstice, starting tomorrow, Sunday 13 December, and continuing through the Solstice on the 21st. Because writing is one of my principal spiritual tools, it helps me deepen my awareness and gratitude for the gifts that are given to us each day, in the midst of all the tumult and discord we see around us on this planet. Without those gifts, our experience would be far more grim and difficult.

ice on our evergreens

Is there an “official” Nine Days of Solstice? No and yes. You can always find people asking questions like that. Sometimes it’s newcomers, wanting to “get it right” which is an impulse we can celebrate. But nobody needs permission for such things. Who would give it? The Ancient and Noble College of Druids? That’s fun to imagine — maybe a plot detail for a fantasy novel. How about a national government? Not for decades, if ever. And what would “official” mean? Wider recognition? Signs and decorations in public buildings? TV specials? News anchors on cable wishing each other “Happy Solstice”? Human interest stories about how others celebrate the Nine Days? Official lighting of candles or torches at public venues on each each of the Nine Days?

Yes, there could be pleasant acknowledgements of the season, ways to introduce children and young people and the Druid-adjacent and Druid-curious to its rhythms and dynamics. But the end-of-year holiday season is already crowded enough with numerous cultural events and celebrations. Many Druids already acknowledge and celebrate one or more other traditions. I find that acknowledging the days around a seasonal festival can provide useful private space for reflection and re-dedication. If the Nine Days of Solstice became a “thing” — if others celebrated it, too — that’s fine. But the initial impulse for me comes as an inner signal to pay attention.

Which, as someone said in an online forum recently, is 3/4 of Druidry.

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Ways and Means to the Holy

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

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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