Archive for the ‘ritual’ Tag

Review of “Paganism in Depth: A Polytheist Approach”

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Beckett, John. Paganism in Depth: A Polytheist Approach. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2019.

If you’re “new-ish” to Druidry, Paganism, etc., and you’re looking for a pocket definition of what all this stuff is, what it entails, what at heart it’s doing on the scene, here’s another Pagan and Druid writer, J. M. Greer, with a definition that works for many:

Above all else, 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 (Druidry – A Green Way of Wisdom).

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Like his first book, The Path of Paganism: An Experience-Based Guide to Modern Pagan Practice (Llewellyn, 2017), this second book by John Beckett delivers on its title. I’m repeating here my preface to that review:

John is a fellow OBOD Druid. We’ve met at several OBOD Gatherings, and I’ve gratefully used and credited his excellent photos in several previous posts here. We’ve talked on occasion, but I don’t know him well, except as a reader of his excellent blog. I participated in his moving Cernunnos rite at East Coast Gathering several years ago.

Usually I only review books I feel I can discuss insightfully and enthusiastically: The Path of Paganism certainly qualifies. I’m adding this personal note as brief background and for completeness.

John’s Dedication page to this new book makes subtle and far-reaching points:

For those who serve their gods and communities when it’s easy and when it’s hard, who take their Paganism ever deeper even when there’s no map, and who trust their own senses when encountering things that some say cannot be: you are building something sacred and beautiful. This book is dedicated to you.

I don’t “do Druidry” primarily as a polytheist — in spite of what you might conclude, at least on the basis of my previous post about Thecu, and intermittent posts over time about Brighid, whom I listen to most closely, as triple goddess of healing, smithcraft and poetry. But I find much of value in this book, just as I did in John’s previous one. As John remarks about the “big tent” of Paganism, there’s room for a wide range of belief, because it’s practice that binds us together, and a well of common experiences.

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“dragon-stone”, Mt. Ascutney, August ’19

Go deeper, “where there are no maps”, and you learn even more deeply to trust what’s true — that is, what bears out that initial quality in your subsequent lived experience. Inner guidance proves valid, insights bear fruit, spiritual help clears the way to good things. There’s “troth” there — all those lovely older English words are clearly linked (and likely sprung from the same root as Druid, the initial d- regularly softened to t- in Germanic languages like English*) — something we can trust, solid as a tree, because of its inherent truth, so that we can form abiding relationships — multiple troths (as in betrothed) — with other beings and places where it manifests. These things quite literally “come true” — they arrive with a particular quality or atmosphere we learn to greet with joy, and to cherish, out of previous experiences with them.

As John perceptively notes:

Our mainstream culture talks about “having faith” that everything will work out OK even if we have no reason to expect it will. Pagans aren’t big on that kind of faith … There is a very utilitarian ethic to spiritual practice: do the work and you get the benefits. Don’t do the work and you won’t. Oftentimes the gods are gracious and give us things we have not earned. Their generosity is a virtue we would do well to emulate. But some things cannot be given, only obtained through sustained effort. No one could give me the experience of running a marathon or the wisdom I gained in doing it. I cannot command the presence of the gods in my life, but without years of devotional practice I would rarely hear them, much less understand what they’re telling me. Whether you want to be a marathon runner or a magician, a concert pianist or a priest, there is a high cost to being the best you can be. The down payment is due in advance and the ongoing payments never end. I’ve found them to be the best investments I’ve ever made (pgs. 206-207).

These comments come late in John’s book. If they showed up in the first paragraph, they might well bewilder or scare off many readers, and perhaps rightly so. His Introduction puts the book’s sections in helpful context. Here I’ll cite one in particular:

The Interlude of this book is titled “I like It Here — Why Do I Have To Leave?” Sometimes we find a certain level of skill and commitment and think we’ve found where we need to be for the rest of our lives. But in a year or two or ten, we start hearing a call to move on again. This section explores what that call looks, sounds, and feels like, why we might want to leave a place where we’re comfortable, and how we can begin the journey (pg. 4).

Finding our own pace, and place, is a lifetime’s quest that no one else can do for us (in spite of holy hucksters and Gucci gurus to the contrary). Nor does John claim “his” Paganism is for everyone. He writes, as he makes clear, as an “Ancestral, Devotional, Ecstatic, Oracular, Magical, Public, Pagan Polytheist” — and after he explains each adjective, he observes:

This is the religion I practice. Your journey will likely take you somewhere different — perhaps somewhat different, perhaps very different. But the methods and practices presented in this book will help you find your way regardless of the direction you take and what your deep Paganism does or doesn’t include (pg. 6).

What strikes me as a practitioner of two different spiritual paths is how much and how well the guidance in this book applies to any path. Of course its explicit polytheist and Pagan assumptions will not serve everyone, but the sections on examining our foundational assumptions, on regular spiritual practice, devotion, study, inclusion, ecstasy, communication with deity, community building, the risks and costs of deep dedication all bear the marks of thoroughly lived spirituality that anyone who has done similar work can attest to and recommend to others. The counsel can seem at times deceptively simple, because 99% of any glitter, hype and buzz has been scoured away by the inward work required.

And not everyone needs to do such work:

In the hyper-individualistic twenty-first century … everyone expects a church to cater to them. And many churches do … They’re struggling to “remain relevant” and they’re desperate to attract members no matter what it takes. My Facebook feed includes some Christians searching for “what meets my needs” and other Christians complaining about entertainment replacing worship. Given these two cultural forces, it’s no surprise many people in our wider society  (from which Paganism and polytheism largely draw their members) don’t know what to make of religions that 1) don’t claim to be for everyone, and 2) don’t attempt to cater to everyone …

So what are you going to do when you go looking for a group to practice with and a community to be a part of? You don’t want to change your identity to satisfy them, and they aren’t going to change their identity to satisfy you. Is there really no room for you in any religion? That can’t be right, or we wouldn’t have covens and orders and churches and such. You can’t get 100 percent of what you want in a group or a tradition. But you can probably get 70 percent, or 80 or maybe even 98 (pgs. 65-67).

John then discusses his involvement with several distinct traditions and organizations, including ADF, Unitarian Universalists, and OBOD, concluding:

There is room for me in all these organizations even though none are an exact match with my own beliefs and practices — that is, with my own religious identity … When I’m in one of their services or rituals I respect their boundaries and priorities and participate with them. When I hear UUs speak of “God” in monotheistic or even non-theistic language, I remember that in this context, the singular “God” is not what’s most important. What’s most important is a group of people coming together to form an open, caring, active religious community (pg. 68).

I’ll end with another excerpt from John’s most recent blogpost (link above), because in it he focuses specifically on polytheist practice and experience relevant to this review and how we might read his book:

A calling from a God doesn’t make you special and it certainly doesn’t give you any authority over others. Mainly it gives you more work to do. A fully-formed religion has room for both dedicated religious specialists and for those who simply want to honor the Gods and live ordinary lives.

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*initial d- softened to t- in Germanic languages like English: this is a regular historic sound change in the Germanic languages (but not their “cousins” — see below) as they evolved from Proto-Indo-European. The same change regularly shows up elsewhere, for example:

Latin decem “ten”, Greek deka, Sanskrit dasa, Welsh deg, English ten;

Latin ducere “lead”, English tug (and Old English heretoga “army leader”);

Latin deus “God, god”, Sanskrit dyaus, Old English Tiw (as in Tue’s day);

Latin duo “two”; Sanskrit dva(u), Greek duo, Welsh dau, English two;

Latin dens, dentis “tooth”; Sanskrit dan, dantah, Greek odon, odontos, Welsh dant, English tooth.

 

 

Creativity’s Messy 3: Gods

I’ve written before about Thecu [ 1 (1 Jul ’17) | 2 (10 July ’17)| 3 (11 July ’17)| 4 (18 Feb. ’18)| 5 (2 Aug. ’18) | 6 (16 Aug. ’18)], sometimes rather obliquely, recording the few details I’ve learned about this goddess. I had to look up the dates of the posts — three in close succession from two and half years ago, then three more, six months apart, over a year ago. After that, noting that my first experience with Thecu dates from 2015, it was easy to conclude that divine time just doesn’t flow like mortal human time.

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Early this morning a little more material came through. Always a light sleeper, I tend to wake between 1:00 and 3:00 am most nights, often for just a short time. A few pages of a book usually send me back asleep till dawn.

This time, though, I was doing the writing I was reading:

Thecu Storm-bringer, Storm-rider, Storm-seeker … I needed to listen to her name — these three variations come through.

Thecu-yel “house of Thecu” — is this a temple or shrine? Brief visual impression of a stone vault in a high place, open to the sky.

offering of a cup of plain water

metal sheet incised with a nine-rayed star and the runes she previously showed me

I am her mov — a “house-beam” of Thecu-yel (???)

Here then are some things she’s apparently asking me to do: provide an offering cup or bowl, and prepare a small metal sheet with a nine-rayed star, each ray ending in one of the runes I’ve written about receiving previously. A few glimpses of cultural practice, some more words, names of things. No sense of urgency, and no promise on my part to see these things done. We’re in early stages yet, deity and human feeling out the terrain between us.

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Creativity and gods? you may be thinking. Well, I’m right there with you. We can forget that every relationship is a creation, a set of gestures and responses on both sides, doing and saying this, not bothering with that. Phoning or texting or meeting at least once a week, or every few months, in that charming/ dimly-lit/ busy/ quiet little coffee-shop/ corner pub/ boulevard deli/ open-air market. Or standing in each other’s kitchens after ritual, plate of potluck balanced precariously in one hand as we wave with the other, underscoring a point we’re making.

One of the messy, creative parts is discernment. True, at this point anyway, it’s pretty clear Thecu’s not drumming up followers. Nor am I the sort who’d join them in carrying banners into the streets to announce her advent, transcribing her holy books, doing the talk-show circuit to proclaim her most recent dramatic revelation, and so on.

I am curious about the words and names that came through, even as I wonder how much of that is my conlanging self at play. As with Paganism generally, what matters more — at least to Thecu, apparently — than any belief I may have about all this is my response to it. I’ll either do or not do what she’s shown me.

Of course I could write all this off as over-active imagination. (How many doors of possibility do we not walk through, with just that excuse dangling around our necks?) Or — with only slightly less transparency of process, along with a great deal more ego — I could declare myself her duly appointed priest-on-the-spot, and launch the book-and-workshop thing, inflated with my own stuff to make up for the sharply-limited amount of material the goddess herself has provided up to now. Padding for the sacred …

Instead, my curiosity fired as she probably knew it would be, I’ll do what Thecu has intimated, and we’ll both take it from there.

To close, I’m re-posting the prayer below from the 2nd link above:

How do I pray to you, goddess of storms?
Let this my prayer be a litany of questions.
How may I best honor you?

You gave me a glimpse, no more,
of landscape, cliffs lapped with green,
mist-hung and mournful,

with this foreign name to call you.
What is your service, what
may I do for you? Why

make yourself known to me?
Unlikely am I, no familiar of shrines,
a god’s service, formal prayer.

Then, too, I know so little of you.
Does naming you for others answer
your purposes? How do I answer you,

goddess of storms? Here are words,
intention, listening. Let this litany
of doubts and questions be first prayer.

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“Holy, Wise, Obscene, and Joyous”

Today my adjectives arrive in a four-pack, all waiting, ready as a title. Actually, they sojourned toward me last night, but I was too tired to do more than note them and carry them into sleep. (What more to say with them?)

Not a bad way for a writer to compost.

Let’s start with holy, north, and earth. Each of us has a holy place — a home, city, spiritual retreat, dream, relationship, cause, purpose, goal — a place where we can store our treasures and sacred objects, a place that grounds us. (And if you don’t have one right now, you’re probably on quest to find one, among all the other things you’re doing.)

What’s your Jerusalem, your Mecca, your Well of Brighid? What’s your north star, your soul’s home, your rest and your dreaming?

Each of us is a holy place, a sacred discovery we may have great trouble with, not seeing spirit looking out of eyes looking into our own.

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Spinning, spinning. On to the east and late sunrise, courtesy of these long nights before the Winter Solstice. Wise, the east, realm of thought, of reflection. The hard-earned wisdom of every life, things we’ve learned, things we’ve always known, things we’re still discovering. It was among ferns that I first learned about eternity, sings Robert Bly, because deep-down, the echo, the rhyme, is just as important as the meaning. Ah, bards!

Obscene, the south? Work with me a moment. It’s the fire that gets us into trouble, as often as not. The untamed in us will have its way, in spite of our better judgment. “If I repent of anything”, Thoreau quips in Walden, “it is very likely to be my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?” (Can we also ask, what angel directed me, that I behaved so badly?)

Fire will have our way with us, in spite of other wills, all clamoring for us to do their bidding. Depending on how repressed (or connected) you are, obscene can be your modus operandi — when the going gets tough, you get bawdy. As if the universe finally is playing your song — backwards. Trickster emerges from his burrow, from her mountain pass — one glance and you see you’re twins. You wear each other’s skin. Chaos — because fighting fire with fire. In our native element …

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And West — joyous, the playfulness of water cascading, the tide unceasing, the crash of the surf calling us. Where will water float me to, this time? Pilot for my boat, old friend, let’s weigh anchor and be off again! River, stream, blood in my veins, in these earliest rhythms I know it again, eternal journey. I emerge out of it, I merge back into it.

It asks nothing, it asks my all: “Labour is blossoming or dancing”, sings W B Yeats, “where

The body is not bruised to pleasure soul,
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Dancer, dance — holy, wise, obscene and joyous.

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I spin a quarter turn to the right, then start the cycle again. Holy is now the east, from where the day’s first light blesses us all. Wise is the south, that animal fire un-quenched in us, kindling life, kindling each other. Obscene is now the west: how wet and juicy everything is! — being born, eating, bleeding, loving, sweating, dying. We swim through lives. And joyous is the earth: to be here at all, snow and sun, leaf and love and loss, every place it’s happening, solid, rooted, here.

(Turn another quarter turn to start, then — when you’ve finished, another. How do the Four line up this time? Two meditations for you, to continue two more quarter turns, to look and listen, to explore.)

How can we know the dancer from the dance?

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Listening to Inwardness–3: Labyrinth

[Part One | Part TwoPart Three | Part Four]

Beneath the snow, the holly — 
behind the clouds, the sun …

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Where the verse is going, I have no idea. I’m still listening for the rest of it.

I like how the tiny red holly berries in this photo from yesterday morning are barely visible under the light dusting of snow, but also how once you see one or two, you start to see lots of them. Living as I do in New England and enjoying our glorious winters, I’ll still readily admit to a special fondness for things that stay green all year …

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In Part One of this series, I observed:

If one mythic image for the Summer Solstice is Stonehenge on Salisbury plain — “in the eye of the sun” — a corresponding image for Winter Solstice is the passage tomb of Newgrange, deep in the earth.

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440 BCE coin from Knossos — Wikipedia image

For most of us, a solstice visit to Newgrange in Ireland isn’t in the works this season, but a ready and powerful alternative — one native to the whole planet, really — is the labyrinth.

Working with the labyrinth can parallel the inwardness that places like Newgrange invite us to experience.

[The Wikipedia entry at the link in the previous sentence deals with the double meaning and usage of the word. The Cretan labyrinth associated with the minotaur — the deadly monster at the center — is actually a maze, intended to bewilder those who enter and cause them to lose their way at the very least, if not get eaten. “Amazed” is originally confused. But as the entry goes on to note, many even early representations of that most famous of labyrinths were unicursal — not really mazes at all. Instead, like the coin image to the left, they have a single course or path — one way in, and one out. You can’t get lost.

It’s as if the deeper symbol overtook the old story of Theseus, Ariadne and the monster, or ignored it. The labyrinth is not a trap, then, but becomes an image of return, rebirth, a “there and back again” experience that a certain Hobbit would recognize immediately.]

It’s this labyrinth, the classic “seven-path” version, that I want to explore here*, in part for the value of the number seven and its associations.

Walking the labyrinth has been demonstrated to have beneficial effects. Much of the evidence is admittedly anecdotal and needs further study. But the one thing that is clear from the experience of many people is that as a meditative experience, walking a labyrinth can induce a profound state of centeredness and re-equilibration. Much like the parallel and balanced movements of tai-chi, movement through the labyrinth consists of alternating directions, whether moving out from within, or in from the outside.

3-2-1-Seq-crpIf we number the pathways in order from outside to the center, we get a diagram like this. Whether the labyrinth opens right or left, the sequence of pathways is the same: 3214765. (In addition to forming a pleasing musical sequence if the notes are matched up 1C 2D, etc., on the C-scale, many other associations are possible. Chakras … Tarot cards … I leave this to you as a series of meditations to explore.)

The steps to draw a labyrinth are simple, once you learn the “seed” or starting design for the figure.

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The picture above is taken from Mid-Atlantic Geomancy, where you can also find the seeds to draw three-, eleven- and fifteen-path labyrinths. (Once you learn one, you’ll see how the others follow organically.) I also wanted to include a picture with the name Jeff Saward (link to pic and brief bio), because he has done so much valuable work on labyrinths over the decades.

Here’s a Youtube video suitable for kids on how to draw a seven-path labyrinth. It incidentally also illustrates how even drawing the figure can have a meditative quality:

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*In recent decades, in case you happened not to notice, there’s been a revival of interest in labyrinths. New Age authors have seized on the labyrinth as a form of “spiritual technology”. Churches as well as parks, and growth-and-retreat centers, offer labyrinth walks and meditations. You can find permanent ones made from wood, green hedges, stone, sea-shells, and other more unusual substances, as well as portable ones made of tea-lights, or painted on canvas that can be unrolled for use, and then rolled back up and stored or carried to a new location. The World-wide Labyrinth Locator can help you find some of the more permanent ones in your region.

Listening to Inwardness–2

[Part One | Part TwoPart Three | Part Four]

The high and honorable ideal of spiritual work that I’d declared in the previous post began yesterday with a day of moving. (In hindsight, how appropriate! What needs to move in our consciousness, to free up space and energy for change? Things ask me that question, but unless I’m paying attention, I may not bother to make any answer. An opportunity missed. And it was one I’d asked for, by the act of making spiritual commitment.)

Moving — no, not a whole house. My wife and I rented a U-haul truck to salvage five used metal filing cabinets for the non-profit historical society she works for. We drove “across the water” of the Connecticut River to pick up a rental truck in New Hampshire, located the engineering firm that was moving to new digs, had finished digitizing its files, and no longer needed the cabinets, shifted them from the third floor of their offices in downtown Concord, NH, into a narrow elevator, loaded them into the rental truck, drove them the 100 miles to Vermont through November rain and sleet, and without the help of two obliging young engineers and their moving dolly, slid and rocked and manhandled them into the historical society’s storage barn (only certain reinforced areas of the old floor are strong enough to bear any weight), dropped off the rental truck at the nearest depot 25 miles away, and finally returned home.

I mention these details not because they’re “special” but because they’re quite evidently not. You’ve all done similar things — one day or most days busy with “mundane” details, challenges, inconveniences, delays, grappling with the physics of objects and the temperaments of people, as if the spiritual and the this-world were different things, rather than one large thing with many faces. We always tend to separate the two, thinking they operate under different rules, rather than in a harmonic of the same rules, and in the process we miss the very thing we’re looking for.

What was I looking for? I awoke this morning in a foul mood, amplified by sore muscles courtesy of the previous day’s move, and lay in bed watching every objection to happiness parade across my consciousness. Well, this oughta be fun, I snarled to myself. Time for some house-cleaning, by which I meant a serious attitude adjustment. My consciousness is my home, after all. I need not abdicate it to things I neither want or need.

I’d photographed the two images below yesterday afternoon, shortly after getting home from the move, and they seem to characterize where I was, where I still am, as I begin a period of “spiritual” work. There’s only one work, says my inner Druid Council. How can I bring more light and joy into the sphere where I’m working? Otherwise, what’s the point?

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November twilight — between the worlds?

But if I’m looking to generate spiritual “lift”, the same way a plane taxis down a runway until it can take off, I need to allow for both time and energy inputs. Try to stay “up” all the time, and I’ll run out of fuel. The old biplanes of a century ago could glide to a landing with engines off. Modern jets typically have a “critical engine” — as in “if no engine, then not enough speed to stay aloft”. As in … crash. In addition to generating lift, I want to glide, not crash. I may not “get there” as fast, but I won’t shatter, either.

Every moment opens up a pathway between the worlds, but some are simply more visible than others, easier to navigate. Twilight , with clouds scudding across the sky in the rising wind, is one of those moments. The Dark Half of the Year sounds properly dramatic — and it is. But it can also mislead me, if I’m not heedful. The Dark Half still holds out a great deal of light, just as the Light Half still includes darkness. The proportions have shifted, that’s all. Are shifting still. Something to keep me on my toes, alert to possibility.

Twilight — an invitation to dream, to watch clouds, to wait as the day fades, as the first deer venture onto the meadow across the road, as the silhouettes of birds wing across a deepening sky, as the first stars peer out from between the clouds.

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stone with lichens

From the kitchen window this stone with its lichen cloak looks yellow now, in November, though up close it’s more subtle, a paling green. A complete Martian landscape, in my own back yard. Lichen is one of the oldest of living things, a partnership of fungi and bacteria, a whole neighborhood. Some six percent of the earth’s surface is covered with lichen, announces the Wikipedia entry . Varieties abound — some 20,000 species. (If the Druid “mentor of the day” takes electronic form, then Wikipedia, today you are my go-to guru. Start where you are, whispers Inwardness. Yes, I hear voices: don’t you?! What matters is which ones we listen to, right?)

In the previous post, I asked, “If I make and mark a dedicated passage of days to mirror and invite a specific passage of influence from one plane to another, what will happen?”

Here then are a few of the happenings. A clearing of the way, a deepening, a coming face-to-face with things as they are, not as I want them to be. Images of where I am and what I’ve asked for. But passages opening, too, because nothing “stays the same”. We each stand with a foot in many worlds. (OK, says the imp in me. If that’s true, then how many feet do I have?!) Passage happens all the time.

Some of the purposes of a period of dedication: to pay attention, to notice the passage, to recall its textures and sounds and colors, and perceive the wisdom it carries with it, to notice as it carries me, too, to someplace new, how that feels, what it offers. To transform.

I keep on arriving, immigrant to shores both familiar and strange. I step out of the boat, half aware of the waves slapping the gunwales, often less than half aware of the pilot, the oars, the sail, the mast. Now onto the beach, up from the shore, on the edges of new country.

Vista, possibility. New vantage points. Welcome, and challenge. Respite, refuge, home — adventure, too — when I’m ready.

Between one moment and the next, eternity happening constantly. Once again, the awen-self a little more awake, and busy with shaping what comes, the partnership of all our days.

On to the next day of listening, of wakefulness.

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Listening to Inwardness–1

[Part One | Part TwoPart Three | Part Four]

Now that we’re nearing the month-away point for the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere, the Summer Solstice in the southern half of the world, it repays listening to inwardness, to meditate on shapes and images for these two planetary and spiritual events.

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Here in a picture is near-solstice light, solstice darkness, light snow dusting our backyard, looking approximately southeast, earlier this morning. In this picture, of course, it’s our back shed that hides the morning star, but on a larger scale, the planet itself blocks the sun, till time moves us back into the light.

If one mythic image for the Summer Solstice is Stonehenge on Salisbury plain — “in the eye of the sun” — a corresponding image for Winter Solstice is the passage tomb of Newgrange, deep in the earth. Till time moves us back into the light. At both summer and winter turning points, the Light still shines. We just see it differently, one in plain day, the other in hidden night, the waking and sleeping of the awen-self, creative always, but often in different modes. You can feel the winter-you drowsing, while the summer-you longs to be up and doing. Sometimes you sense the tug between the two right down in your sinews and bones.

I’ve posted here before of our local Vermont stone chambers, and of Ohio’s Serpent Mound — the serpent power alive in things —  in us, too, as one of those things, willing at intervals to shed its skin and be reborn. We can feel such restlessness in us at each turn of the planet, each shift of the sun.

As J. M. Greer observes in his Mystery Teachings from the Sacred Earth,

Everything in existence exists and functions on one of several planes of being or is composed of things from more than one plane acting together as a whole system.  These planes are discrete, not continuous, and the passage of influence from one plane to another can take place only under conditions defined by the relationship of the planes involved.

This isn’t some kind of Druid theology, of course. It’s not dogma, not something to be swallowed simply because an authority says the words. But it is a valuable experiential observation one person has made and presented to others, something to be explored, poked and prodded, unpacked and tried on to see if it fits usefully or not.

Participation in ritual can help set up those conditions that allow “the passage of influence from one plane to another”. So, too, can personal practice. I can invite such passage by making one out of my days: marking out a dedicated period of inner and outer work, hallowing it with attention and intention.

As above, so below; as within, so without: if I make and mark a dedicated passage of days to mirror and invite a specific passage of influence from one plane to another, what will happen?

Want to try it out with me?

Stay tuned.

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Third Time’s the Charm

What follows below is just my end of an interesting exchange in a Facebook Druidry group in response to a post of this article of a little over a year ago from the Irish Times: “A Magical Vision is Hidden in the Irish Language — We Need to Rediscover It”.

While I have only a nodding acquaintance with Irish (my chief interest is in the Welsh and the Cornish of some of my ancestors), the Romantic in me says Yes! Anything to re-enchant the cosmos! Some languages ARE inherently more evocative than others, whether from their histories, their associations, or other causes.

If, in an alternate world, Irish were the language of the oppressors, that might not be so; we then might turn to English and marvel at its treasure-trove of words like glitter, gleam, twilight, sparkle, gloaming, sussuration, foresight, insight, hindsight, learn by heart, lore, soothe, cleanse, bask, glean. Or its poetic names for things: bone-house for skeleton, day’s eye for the daisy; heart’s ease, love-lies-bleeding, baby’s breath; coltsfoot, lady’s mantle … Or its names for a host of non-physical creatures: basilisk, ghoul, ghost, unicorn, wyvern, griffin, manticore, fae, undine, sylph, brownie, werewolf

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Bridge near a community stone circle in Northern Vermont

Meanwhile, however, the linguist in me (two Master’s degrees — don’t ask!) notes that languages struggling to keep a foothold in people’s lives tend to receive this ‘hidden wisdom, magical vision, etc.’ treatment in the press. The same is true for the traditions and languages of Native peoples here in the States: in a reversal of centuries of discrimination, the vision of the Other is now superior to what the dominant culture/language/people know or understand. (Older languages in general seem to preserve evidence of more subtle ways of looking at the cosmos that we have tended to discount and cast off in our mad rush into modernity. Old English itself offers marvelous linguistic resources for a Pagan way of viewing the world, to give just one example.)

My third reaction — because the resolution of opposites through a missing third element is always good Druid (magical) practice — says that these two perspectives can be combined to our benefit. Learn the language – in this case, Irish — and then I will be more qualified to determine for myself if such claims (and counter-claims) are true.

Meanwhile, I can enjoy them anyway and let them set me challenges I can choose, if I wish or am shown by the gods, to accept.

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Autumn Purposes

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the winter’s kindling, and 8-years-dry oak firewood, for lighting the woodstove

We’re drawn to where the action is. And in the Dark Half of the year, that’s often inward. Things may go to sleep, but they’re dreaming, and so it is with us. “To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose” — not only “under heaven”, as the saying continues, but over and around and within heaven as well.

Southern Hemisphere, enjoy your Turn to the Bright Half of the year, as all the composting, nurturing, imagining, dreaming, and magical preparation burst forth in the physical world as gardens, fruition, construction, birth, renewal — that messy, joyous recreation of the world. Beltane is not somehow “past”, like a carton of milk beyond its “best by __” date, but engaged, active, igniting bird talk and tree bud and a host of things half seen, but nonetheless busy for all that we may not (mostly) be aware of them. Then again, in the half-light of increasingly longer days, you can sometimes catch a glimpse …

And for us “dark-half-ers”, care of the body can become a practice we may explore more fully. What does this bone-house (Old English bánhús “skeleton, body”) ask of me, in order to keep on serving me a while longer? What can I touch — and what touches me — that needs my attention and reverence? Where am I right now? The house is cooling as the temperature drops outside, as rain makes way for snow later today, a polar front dipping down from Canada. Time to step away from blogging and light a fire.

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Sometimes, too much light: woodstove with flashbulb

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“it takes dark to see fire best”: same burn, without flash

Likewise, Brighid isn’t only a goddess for Imbolc, or for the Bright Half. She’s at least as busy minding and reminding us to keep the flame lit the rest of the year, too. Or, if you’re not for the gods (though the gods may be for you), what else asks for your tending? And what is tending you, perhaps outside your knowledge? Particularly in America, loneliness is a common affliction. How deeply are we tended by things we have forgotten! But how do we reconnect, rediscover?

Fire-dreaming can help, says the woodstove. Rain on the roof, too, says November. Light, sound. The savors of root- and bulb-vegetable umami — onions, beets, garlic, turnips, potatoes. Don’t forget tastes, says the kitchen.

A beloved neighbor three miles down the road died suddenly over the weekend, out raking leaves, and we drop off a homemade raspberry cake for his widow. His Siamese is grieving, too — she was his cat, and where is he now? Touch, knows my wife, fitting action to word, making friends gently — respect for the Siamese temperament. Comfort, animal comfort of contact, beyond words.

I am the hallow-tide of all souls passing, writes Caitlin Matthews in “Song of Samhain”, from her Celtic Devotional (pg. 22):

I am the bright release of pain
I am the quickener of the fallen seed-case
I am the glance of snow, the strike of rain.
I am the hollow of the winter twilight,
I am the hearth-fire and the welcome bread,
I am the curtained awning of the pillow,
I am unending wisdom’s golden thread.

 

I pick up that thread again, and I pick it up, always dropping it, always — always — finding it again.

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“On the Third Day of Samhain, My True Love Gave to Me”

Those of you on Facebook may find much valuable reflection in this 31 October ’19 Samhain post from a regular series by the Anglesey Druid Order/Urdd Derwyddon Môn in Wales. Check out the other posts, too — a very worthwhile monthly series of good insight and perspective, from a member of the Welsh Order run by the estimable Kristoffer Hughes.

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Last night before our main ritual, we performed two Ovate initiations with Mystic River Grove — Samhain being particularly appropriate for Ovate work in the inner realms, the Otherworld, the ancestors, divination, etc. We all already do considerable imaginal work, consciously or not, and while photos can help nourish that capacity, at times it also feels right to forbear from posting pictures of private ritual sites, so no images this time.

By “imaginal work”, I mean the content of imagination, dream, and visualization, as well as self-conscious association and emotional loading of experiences. We come to new experiences well-equipped by our previous ones, for ill or good, to accept or reject or transform — and all of this often happens outside of conscious awareness. It can be the task of magic and of ritual and personal work to make such things more conscious, to work more deliberately with the Cauldron of images we each carry around with us, and out of which we supply much of the color and tenor and flavor of our days. Our instinctive likings and antipathies for people, places and things spring from this “pre-loading” of consciousness, and to take charge of our own reactions and responses can serve us very well.

Rather than mechanically pursuing or fleeing things that attract or repel us, we can begin to ask whether they are for our benefit or not. Rather than assuming the attraction or repulsion lies in the person or thing, we can begin to learn that it lies in us — the external is merely a convenient channel through which those energies reach us. Because one way or another, they will — we’re open to them, we’ve invited them in some way, and placed ourselves in agreement with them. The difficult thing that can strengthen us, the seductive thing that may weaken or distract us — this is the Long Work, the magnum opus we are all engaged in: to live out the consequences of our choices, yes; but even more, to choose wisely in the first place, to choose with love and foresight and wisdom how we will spend our lives, even as everyone and everything around us is doing the same.

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A year ago I drew a personal Tarot reading for the coming year and shared it here.

With 3 of the 10 cards coming from Pentacles, resources and the physical world will be a prime focus of the year personally and for the planet. Balancing feminine energies to the mature male energies in play are an immediate aspect of the present and near future. Destiny and past influences at work, though not inevitable, are ones we have both initially set in motion and strengthened by our sharp focus on materiality. Our outer fixation on security and stability may feel reasonable, given such destabilizing forces at work. But while our hopes and dreams focused on these things are valid, pursuing them along a still-material path, even with a renewed youthful vigor, will not return us to what is stable and safe. Other directions we have recently begun to explore can prove more beneficial. We’ll see moon-like changes, darkness and light alternating in phases.

I’ll return to this in a year and see how I did.

As a take on the times, both public and private, little here should be a surprise. (Was my reading too vague, or too influenced by my own perspectives? Quite possibly both.) “Our outer fixation on security and stability may feel reasonable … but pursuing them along a still-material path, even with a renewed youthful vigor, will not return us to what is stable and safe”. I take this most of all as a guide for my own focus: anything I wish to manifest outwardly rises from within, and that is where it is easier, more prudent and far-ranging to work, to spend my energies and time. Whether my region, my nation, my planet chooses to do that is much more out of my hands, unless I opt to engage it through a very large gesture. I could — so could each of us — but most of us will not, through a combination of inertia, distraction and providence. We see such radical gestures —  in the U.S., often accompanied by guns — from people who despair of any other avenue for change, or outcome.

(We always see individual actors attempting these things — check the headlines of your own country or region for the relevant political, military, cultural and economic actors at work in your spheres — but few achieve what they imagine they are pursuing. To look for a moment at my own country, whether Donald Trump or Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders or Joseph Biden becomes president in 2020, most of the issues we face right now will still remain for us to deal with. A change of one face, or even of the faces clustered around that one face, will not easily shift large causes we have already set in motion over time. As egregores of particular vigor, nations have karma, too.)

As for personal applicability of the reading, I find in it valuable reminders of long-term trends and tendencies in my own behavior and outlook that I continue to grapple with and learn from. (Want to know what these are? You have only to read what I’ve been posting here all along!)

Consider doing your own divination, with your preferred oracle. Most of us are already doing this anyway: among our chosen oracles might be a best friend, partner, coin toss, stock market report, a horoscope, whim, toss of the dice, impulse, and so on.

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So — onward to a reading for the coming year, with the Celtic Cross spread. I make frequent references below to Rachel Pollack’s excellent 78 Degrees of Wisdom: A Book of Tarot, Thorsons/Element, 1997, both because many value her insights, and also because they offer me a corrective to my own biases.

celtic-cross-layout-240x3001: Ace of Wands (reversed) — the present, the Self, the querent’s state of mind.

2: 10 of Cups — the immediate influence, problem, challenge, etc.

3: Hanged Man (reversed) — destiny — in some spreads placed above as the “crown” of past experiences.

4: King of Pentacles — distant past, or some spreads, the future.

5: Page of Cups — recent past, or conscious focus.

6: King of Wands — future influence; or the unconscious, the underlying or the true driving force of a situation.

7: 7 of Cups (reversed) — The querent; the querent’s self-perceptions.

8: Knight of Pentacles — external influences.

9: 8 of Wands — inner emotions.

10: Temperance — outcome or final result.

Wands01Wands and Cups predominate in this spread — for me, a reminder of the need to balance fire energy with water, active with receptive, conscious with intuitive. Always good advice! But how might that work, more specifically? How do we “grasp” the fire of Ace of Wands? What “hand” or means do we use? Rachel Pollack in her magisterial 78 Degrees of Wisdom comments: “At the beginning of some situation, no card could signal a better start” (pg. 183). I take reversed simply to mean the challenges attendant on manifesting the energy of a card, or missing the opportunity it brings. The “crossing card” of the 10 of Cups is a Grail, the completing or fulfilling Cup — a balance to the fire of Wands. The third card, a reversed Hanged Man, to me signifies that every time I ignore shamanic, yogic, inner wisdom, I miss the insight of inner experience.

The four elements suggested by the shape of the hanged figure can serve our spiritual intention only when they are in the service of spirit: allowed to be fully themselves, not distorted through social expectation, but liberated from it. Given my age in this incarnation, the personal applicability of Card 4, the King of Pentacles, suggests past (even past-life) successes, which could lead to present complacency, which the fire of wands should help allay. The figure’s greenness in this deck also suggests the natural world. Moving on, Pollack comments that “the Pages all have a student quality” (pg. 192), suggesting that from the Page of Cups issues an appropriateness for a study program or course of discipline to develop intuition or psychic/inner awareness.

While Court cards like the King of Wands suggest people who exert influence in the querent’s life, they can just as well signify aspects of the querent, and also need not be associated with expected gender: male doesn’t have to mean “man”, but a kind of energy (now clouded and confused by our current political correctness, of course, but no more than at other times, with their own preconceptions and misunderstandings) — Angela Merkel or Lady Gaga, Elizabeth Warren or my wife.

The “final four”: for the 7 of Cups, Pollack insightful notes, “it is a mistake to think that daydreams are meaningless because of their content; on the contrary, they often spring from deep psychological needs and images. [But] they lack meaning because they do not connect to anything outside themselves” (pg. 198). The reversed Knight of Pentacles, Pollack suggests, offers a paradox inherent in Knight, even not reversed: “deeply grounded in, yet unaware of, the magic beneath him, he identifies himself with his functions. He needs to discover the real source of his strength, within himself and in life” (pg. 238). The 8 of Wands suggests completion of a cycle, “the addition of Pentacles’ grounding to Wands’ energy” (Pollack, pg. 172), and I’m finishing my 60th year, the fifth of a series of 12-year cycles, significant on the other path I also follow.

The outcome of all these forces and influences, in play for the year, the self, the world?

14-Temperance Temperance — and yet again, Pollack proves insightful. “If a reading shows a person split between say, Wands and Cups, activity and passivity … then Temperance, moderation, and acting from an inner sense of life, can give a clue to bringing these together” (pg. 109).

Adding the digits of its number 14, Temperance is a higher harmonic of 5, the Hierophant. We live in an era that has increasingly often rejected priests or outer spiritual authorities over our lives, so “perhaps the interpretation of the Hierophant as representing secret doctrines suits our age better. For then the doctrine does not tell us what to do, but instead gives us direction to begin working on ourselves” (pg. 55).

This reading suggests much of value to me, but also of value to our nation and planet. The perennial spiritual quest remains perennial, because we always will need the springs and founts of wisdom to be found in the quest.

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Hallows, and Revisiting Romuva

Happy All Hallows’ Eve! (Do we truly mean ALL Hallows? Will we honor ALL holy things?) A “hallow”, historically, is a saint (from Old English halga), not just any holy thing. But I’m taking the word in the latter, larger sense of any expression of the numinous or sacred. It could be the day, but also your cat, your neighbor, or that rock in your back yard. Even, occasionally, in the church down the road (though out of negative experiences, many Pagans would draw the line there, as if the holy could be found everywhere but there. And of course the churches often return the favor. Aren’t we all just hot messes?!).

That’s too much holy, I mutter. Give me one holy thing, and I can (mostly) handle it. But everything holy upsets my sense of “mostly profane, with dollops of holy here and there, if I’m lucky”. Yes, it’s hard to live on the heights all the time.

Finding your holy thing can be a bundle of work. But we keep giving each other hints, and from time to time the holy still peeks out at us from the eyes of things, from each other, and also from sun-rises and -sets, moons, fires, songs, mountain-tops, fogs and clear days, moments of connection and intimacy and kindling.

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I’ve written before about Romuva, the Baltic Pagan religion that managed to survive and has been growing again. The local analogue to Hallowe’en is Vėlinės — you can see an image and read about the holiday here.

Here’s a video of Romuva chant and ceremony by Kūlgrinda, the musical group founded by the late reviver of Romuva, Jonas Trinkunas (1939-2014), in a public celebration. The group forms one of the symbols of the Romuva religion around the 4:03 mark. The minor-key singing can send a pleasurable shiver up your spine.

“Mirth and reverence”, says the Charge of the Goddess.

May you know both, and find and share them in the coming holidays, the Hallowtides.

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Posted 31 October 2019 by adruidway in Druidry, Halloween, ritual, Romuva, Samhain, Samhuinne

Tagged with , , , , ,

Octobering

[Updated/edited 22 Oct 2019]

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S. Vermont, Windmill Hill Pinnacle, looking west. Photo courtesy B. Blair.

Yesterday six of us, along with two malamutes, hiked the trail to the Pinnacle of Windmill Hill here in Southern Vermont. We’re well past the peak of autumn colors, but a blunt beauty remains, as oranges and yellows, ochers and burnt siena take the stage. The sky, restless, is already into November, brooding grayly over it all.

A week or so ago a friend was grieving for the end of a rich garden. The season can work that grief in us, ransacking the fields of our inward spaces, piling on change and loss and uncertainty in a thick melange, along with the aging of our mortal bodies, and whatever other challenges we face at the moment. Throw in the diminishing daylight here in the northern hemisphere, and the frosts and fogs and die-off of green vegetation, and it can hurt like The End, rather than a stage of the journey. One of the remedies she shared was her rediscovery of gratitude for the body, how the simple act of attention to breathing can bring solace. It goes in, it goes out. Draw in strength on the in-breath, then breathe out all that needs to go, that passes in time.

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Sometimes altars find us, rather than the other way around. A large boulder I’ve been meaning to drag and roll to my backyard grove has gained a partial moss and lichen mantle, so I took leaves I’d gathered on the hike yesterday, and a ritual bowl, a quartz stone and my ceremonial sword out into the afternoon sunlight and laid them across the uneven surface and took the photo.

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At the bottom right you can see one of the egg-shaped black walnuts that have been banging on the metal roof of our garden shed when they fall, or rustling as they subside in the grass.

The sword points south, toward the top of the picture, but the other directions don’t line up according to the SEA (standard elemental associations). To the east (left in the picture), our fishpond does its part to throw off the elemental alignments. The stone itself makes do for north, and also the earth, upholding everything else, while the leaves stand in for air. Even the sun seems to have found a different place in the sky than west, the shadows suggesting morning, not mid-afternoon.

You can call the altar a prayer, or a prayer your altar. Sometimes we need to “finesse our fanes”, to turn them on, help them reach us where we are, even as we stretch to find them, extending a tendril of thought, of feeling.

Breathe, and activate air. Drink, and water “comes back online”. Stand on the autumn earth, leaves crackling underfoot, melt from the morning frost glistening on your shoes. Sometimes presence already is prayer, our listening an offering, the few remaining crickets and grasshoppers sluggish in the low sun.

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The Faery Grail … is ultimately about the giving of food as a ritual of hospitality that creates communion between faeries and humans: the wisdom that it purveys is the neighborly consideration of all life that arises in human awareness as a consequence. Those who offer and drink from the cup in peace are the children of one universe, in communion with the natural world even as their ancestors were, who enjoy the ancestral feast. When the rules of faery courtesy are broken by violence, rapine and theft, the Faery Accord in broken. This is ultimately what causes the blight upon the human world that we call the Wasteland: the riches of the Rich Fisher no longer flow. Humanity enters into a warfare with Faery, displaced people wander the land without protection, and even the court of Arthur is visited by mocking and embarrassing tests. Fertility fails when the waters of the Faery Grail are withdrawn: but when they flow again, the land becomes fertile and is repopulated. People are brought once more into communion with their ancestral belonging (Matthews, The Lost Book of the Grail, pg. 274).

Faery Grail or Holy Grail, Christian or non-Christian, both cause and cure are the same, Matthews observes. (It is a symptom of our division and separation that we misunderstand and argue even about that, and suffer.)

Not as the world gives, do I give to you, says the Galilean Druid. Having scorned the gift, and abused the hospitality offered to us, how can we know the giver?

A topic for meditation and ritual and discernment, as the turn of the year that is Samhain approaches.

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“Many people”, this morning’s spam solemnly observes, “today іgnore the ability to see out of [t]heir [v]iew”. Like much spam, it’s badly edited, unidiomatic, and — often — true, albeit in sometimes truly weird ways.

How well do I see “out of my view”? Can I even begin to see out of someone else’s view until I see out of my own? Am I ever “in view of myself”, or am I the one thing I can never actually see? I don’t know about you, but with such questions I can easily pass a whole morning.

If there’s a supreme strength to the practice of Druidry, it’s in its potential to connect us where connection is badly needed — to the world that begins wherever we find ourselves, to our places, starting with our skin and bones, and flowing outward to the skin and bones of the world all around us. But though we named it uni-verse, “one-turn”, somehow we don’t quite believe our own label or the perception behind it — that it’s all turning together, intimately linked in every way. Hence, it often remains a potential, giving us a lifetime of work to explore how it — and we — manifest.

And if there’s a supreme weakness to Druid practice, it’s a naive belief that “it’s all good” — that everything would be fine if we’d just “get back in touch with nature” — that the “human project” can finds its whole purpose and satisfaction within this glorious physical world. Sustainable, reverent, cooperative, harmonious — these are enough.

We need more, because our own consciousness asks for more. Because when this “apparent world” fades, we confront other worlds with different challenges and questions. Now what?! A deist might say, “Pilgrim on earth, thy home is heaven; stranger, thou art the guest of God”. An animist has likely already encountered beings beyond the physical orders we encounter here — beings that wear different bodies than earth ones, clothed in astral or other forms. Even a staunch materialist would probably concede, along with Hamlet, that “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. By “philosophy”, helpful footnotes inform us, Hamlet appears to mean our modern word science. And if there’s one thing most Druids would prudently admit, we’ve barely begun to scratch the surface. Of almost anything.

“As a spiritual tradition based on reverence for and connection with the powers of nature”, writes Emma Restall Orr in her Druidry and Ethical Choice, “more than anything else Druidry teaches us to honour life … Druid ethics are built upon the release of ignorance and the respectful creation of deep and sacred relationships”.

Release of ignorance, I keep whispering wryly to myself — out of humbling, extensive personal experience — is a full-time job.

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Unpacking the Triad Further

[Edited/updated 19 Oct 2019]

But if I’m honest (I’m continuing the conversation, if only with myself), the work I’ve done with my recent Triad is far from complete. My Western and particularly my American individualism needs radical tempering. I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago that I was reading and would soon review Caitlin Matthews’ The Lost Book of the Grail (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2019). Now feels like an appropriate time — but I’ll blend it with further expatiation on that Triad. If the book’s worth my time, or yours, let me show something of that value in my own life.

First, here’s Matthews:

The Grail knights quest on behalf of those who are locked outside the story of hope, reconciliation, or healing, in order to move the stagnation of stasis into another hopeful condition. In the many psychologically based commentaries upon the Grail legend, from Joseph Campbell onward, there has developed a very modern stress upon the individuality of the Grail hero’s journey. However, this stress on the individual has served rather to point out the division in modern consciousness–often expressed as a vague loss of nature or holism–from the collective. The living context of this division speaks of how we are split off from ancestral or faery roots: and those who seek for help today are often weakened or unable to heal because they do not think, work, or imagine from a collective basis. How can we heal if we leave out the rest of the world from the equation? (Matthews, pg. 239).

Samhain is a wonderful time to look for ancestral guidance, to an ancestor who may be myself in a previous incarnation, waiting to reach out to a descendant (who may or may not be me again). And given how, in myth and legend, Otherworld time often runs differently than here, backwards, perpendicularly, non-linearly, a-causally even, we can heal in many directions, receiving and offering healing across what looks like temporal obstacles and barriers. I am inseparable from the collective, I walk with the body my ancestors have bestowed on me, I accomplish whatever work I do with their hands; I look out at you with their eyes. And so do you, with yours.

My little economies in the post on the recent triad — what do I need, what can I do, what needs to be done — ignore that collective. They’re a starting point. But merely squeezing a few more bucks out of some substitutions and shifts of priorities in my one household, while possibly helpful, ignores larger trends and patterns, and closes my eyes to our collective experience until it impinges on my little self to the point where I can no longer avoid responding. (Compound that with a fear of the Other stoked by far too many politicians in too many countries, and you get, not collective consciousness and honour and action, but collective targeting and collective hating and collective bashing. Because, let’s face it, fear is easy, and cheap, earns money for political campaigns, runs like a reflex off the reptile brain in us all, and moves people to pick up causes, banners, and bombs.)

Even gathering with the Massachusetts grove for Samhain on Nov. 1 will help awaken me to a more collective awareness. Stand in ritual with others, and the walls can come down. I can hear the many voices of those who stand around us, skins on or off.

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Rather than a set of OSFA* instructions for how to manifest the subtitle — “The Sevenfold Path of the Grail and the Restoration of the Faery Accord” — Matthews gives us stories and lore and many pointers for our own ways.

[*OSFA — one size fits all]

Here’s Matthews again, talking about origins and directions — the Grail is a kind of vector or arrow through and around time, continually answering human need:

The beginnings of the Grail myth go back to the very dawn of human consciousness, and to the desire of human beings to make some kind of direct contact with the divine, to receive healing, and to make right the wrongs of the world. The Grail appears as a vessel of mercy that, through different spiritual agencies, offers an opportunity to those qualified by courage and belief to bring that mercy. Whether we look to ecstatic and initiatic drinks of the ancient mystery cults, or to the miraculous manna found by the Israelites in their desert wanderings, or to Celtic myths of cauldrons that provide plenty, wisdom or eternal life, we find a collection of vessels from many cultures; each contains a substance that enables those who discover it to be healed, nourished, and experience divine communion (Matthews, pg. 22).

Two pointers right there: courage, and belief. Don’t have either? No problem — there are many others to explore, until I can serve them. I don’t need to have courage, but I can serve it.

Your cauldron 
I drink from it.
Your body 
I wear it.
Your hands
I raise them.
Your spirit 
It flames in me.

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A Note on Magical and Musical Fire

In this post I’d like to touch briefly on a couple of magical and musical principles — the two things often overlap, if you’re paying attention. This is to some extent a Druid-Christian post, so some of you may want to spend time doing other things, if that flavor of Druidry — or Christianity — doesn’t work for you. (For instance, the video here drives my wife absolutely up the wall.)

Below is a 5-minute video of a catchy Christian worship song, “Everything Comes Alive”, from Toronto-based “Catch the Fire” [Wikipedia entry | official website], a non-denominational Charismatic movement. It’s part of an album compiled from a 2016 Revival. Recently it was posted to a Christian Druidry Facebook group, where it garnered likes, but — last I checked — no comments. I’d like to do some thinking out loud with and around it, to make some observations, and hope they will be useful to readers.

First, the video, featuring vocalist Alice Clarke, one of the movement’s worship leaders:

The song clocks in at 120 beats/minute — a tempo that’s splendid for inducing trance — and the Wikipedia entry on trance is particularly detailed and useful, whatever your orientation and interest, and deserves a careful reading, rather than me trying to paraphrase it here. And a look at the gathered worshipers shows many of them well on their way into trance as the song progresses, with its repeating choruses and singable lyrics and melody.

A subsection on general brain activity is revealing — rather than an either-or state, trance is a matter of degree and proportion among the four kinds of brainwaves:

There are four principal brainwave states that range from high-amplitude, low-frequency delta to low-amplitude, high-frequency beta. These states range from deep dreamless sleep to a state of high arousal. These four brainwave states are common throughout humans. All levels of brainwaves exist in everyone at all times, even though one is foregrounded depending on the activity level. When a person is in an aroused state and exhibiting a beta brainwave pattern, their brain also exhibits a component of alpha, theta and delta, even though only a trace may be present.

Music, not to belabor the point, is one of the most widespread and also acceptable ways of changing consciousness. It’s also among the safest. (How many of us “zone out” to a favorite song?!) Of interest is the attention that Catch The Fire pays to quality musicianship — whatever your musical tastes, the keyboardist is skilled, and Clarke has an appealing, ethereal voice. They clearly understand its value and power as a prime expression of spirituality. Or to put things in terms of the article on brain activity, “What am I foregrounding today — or right now?”

Though many Christians might take issue with calling their form of worship a magical act, it fits the definitions and standards quite nicely. Much of the difference between denominational Christianity and Druidry in their musical choices depends on past practices, local influences and expectation, much less on the effect of the music on consciousness. From meditative reflection to transitional interlude to invoking the Spirit, the awen, the Muse, the gods, the Presence, “music magics the moment”.

As I note on my page on Magic:

[E]ach day we all experience many differing states of consciousness, moving from deep sleep to REM sleep to dream to waking, to daydream, to focused awareness and back again.  We make these transitions naturally and usually effortlessly — so effortlessly we usually do not notice or comment on them. But they serve different purposes: what we cannot do in one state, we can often do easily in another.  The flying dream is not the focus on making a hole in one, nor is it the light trance of daydream, nor the careful math calculation. And further, what we ordinarily do quite mechanically and often without awareness, we can learn to do consciously.

As we ponder how to effect the changes in our consciousness and lived experience that we desire (“that we need, that we can do, that needs to be done”), it pays to employ such readily available means as music. Within everyone’s reach is music in some form, either recorded, live from acknowledged performers, or made on the spot by ourselves. We can chant, play a recorder or whistle, find a percussion instrument among pails and cans, create a rattle from pebbles and resonant container of many shapes and sizes, and include such things in our spiritual practice, whether daily, or on special ritual occasions. (I have a small singing bowl I ring as I enter my backyard grove.)

Music draws beneficent energies to us, in our own consciousness, and from other beings around us.

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Miscellanea, September 2019

1) I’m working my way through Caitlin and John Matthews‘ recent (2019) The Lost Book of the Grail: The Sevenfold Path of the Grail and the Restoration of the Faery Accord. When I’m finished I’ll post a review here.

Perceval_à_la_recluserie

Perceval à la Recluserie/Perceval at the Hermitage, XV century. Wikipedia/public domain

The “lost book” of the title is 484 lines of Old French verse from the 1200s called “The Elucidation”, which has been mostly ignored by scholars, though it serves as prologue to the works of Chrétien de Troyes , the French trouvere or troubador who can be fairly said to have launched the Arthurian tradition. Caitlin Matthews and Gareth Knight include their new joint translation of “The Elucidation” in this book.

2) Pillbug, Part 9427

This section isn’t important. You’ve got better things to do. The content has been generated from statistics caused by a wormhole in social media. OK — you’ve been warned.

Why does a post from March 2017 that’s still received no likes in the more than two and half years since it was posted show a 5-month increase in readership? (Yes, I know such things are circular — some of you will now read it merely because I mention it here. I’m trying to minimize that source of views by making you look via the Search box if you really want to read it.)

Here’s one snapshot of the stats for the post that WordPress supplies to the numbers-obsessed:
Created with GIMP

I conclude one or more the following:

+ The post conceals a vital hidden meaning, or cosmic code, that I myself don’t recognize, but that perceptive readers have detected and are studying scrupulously.

+ The post has become a loathsome example of clickbait and you’re just pranking your friends to get them to visit it, laughing maniacally when another feedback loop like this post confirms your success.

+ You’re deeply bored.

3) Like many of you, I distinctly felt the shift around the Autumn Equinox as we continue to enter more fully into the dark half of the year (the bright half for everyone down under). Now is a time of turning inward and attending to rebalancing, harvest, composting, integration and dreaming. (Or renewal, seeding and taking root, augmenting, blossoming and vision.)

I work with an aging hospice patient who’s dedicated his professional life as a doctor and medical researcher to exploring, understanding and addressing the effects of the shifts in the earth’s magnetic field, daily, monthly and seasonally, on the seasonally-sensitive among us. And that includes a wide number of us, when we assemble changing energy levels, seasonal-affectivity and other mood disorders, people sensitive to electrical storms, neuro-degenerative illness, alcoholism, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, certain cancers, irritable bowel syndrome, residence at high latitudes, etc. One particular prescription he offers is to engage with “the meander” in all its forms: walking labyrinths, doing sacred pilgrimages, and attending to balanced meditative physical rhythms of many kinds (tai chi, etc.) to reset our internal harmonics.

4) Tarot reading this morning: hierophant (5), high priestess (2), moon (18). In the dark of the moon today, with a new moon this evening for the eastern U.S., that feels worth my attention on our sacred identities as mediators of holy energies, and the moon beginning a new cycle.

5) “Patience”, says my lectio divina for today, my holy devotions, “is the greatest discipline along the spiritual journey. By patience you can endure hardships, karmic burdens, slander, the pricks of disease and pain. Keep your focus on the goal, returning every time you swerve away”.

6) Some of my Pagan friends on social media have expressed deep delight in this over-the-top column from 26 Sept. 2019 in The Federalist, a strongly right-leaning publication. Headed by a close-up pic of climate activist Greta Thunberg, the article opens, “Climate Worship Is Nothing More Than Rebranded Paganism. We’re seeing sexualized dances, hallucinogens, worshiping nature, confessing sins in pagan animism, worshiping purified teen saints, all to promote a supposedly greater cause”.

“Where do I sign up?” wrote one of my friends.

“Ah, I’m finally starting to remember the Sixties!” wrote another.

“Aw, sh*t! I’ve been doing it wrong!” exclaimed a third.

7) In his poem “The Spoils of Annwfn” Taliesin writes:

Apart from seven, none came back up from Caer Siddi [an Underworld fortress].
I am one who is splendid in (making) fame: the song was heard
In the four-turreted fort, fully revolving.
It was concerning the cauldron that my first utterance was spoken:
It [i.e. the cauldron] was kindled by the breath of nine maidens.
The cauldron of the Chieftain of Annwfn: what is its faculty?
— Dark (ornament) and pearls around its rim–

One of several translators of the poem for a book published a little over a century ago observed that it is “one of the least intelligible of the mythological poems” (Charles Squire, “The Mythology of the British Islands”. London, 1905).

But sometimes ya just gotta run with what comes. I can always work it out later. Meanwhile, why strive to interrupt the awen as it flows, issuing from the Deep (one of the meanings of Annwfn) within us?

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Seven Paths in Freedom: A Prayer-Rant

Druidry, writes Philip Carr-Gomm in his foreword to Nuinn’s (Ross NicholsBook of Druidry,

is a way of working with the natural world, and is not a dogma or religion … Druidry honours, above all, the freedom of the individual to follow their own path through life, offering only guides and suggestions, schemes of understanding, methods of celebration and mythical ideas — which can be used or not as the practitioner sees fit (pg. 14).

You could just stop there, and run with that, because this post eventually descends into a rant. Or irascible prayer. OK, you were warned.

clover

clover overtaking weeds — no mowing needed! (but woodchucks love it)

<begin rant>

The word “honours” matters in the quote above. Not “grants” or “permits” freedom. Druidry recognizes something that’s already there. Druidry says Pay attention, so you can recognize these things, too.

Freedom, guides, suggestions, schemes, methods, celebrations, myths. These are the “seven paths in freedom” I want to look at in this post. Don’t worry, it’s not really a numbered list. A different Song is playing. The Song matters more than any list.

Freedom, that much abused and misunderstood word, is an actual thing we can experience and live from, not merely a “concept” or an “idea”, though it’s these things, too. It’s not only “in my head”. Freedom, like any song, comes first, then we have thoughts about it. It’s a gift, just like our lives. A melody at the heart of things. And like our lives, we can end our own freedom in so many ways. Turn off the music. (At least temporarily, though the Spiral remains, all the way down into our DNA.) If you need to be reminded how, just read the headlines. It’s practically multiple-choice at this point. Fifty ways to leave your lover, sings Paul Simon. Shedding your skin, walking on the other side, is a really good option at this point. We do it every night in dream. How about while awake?

A free person gives freedom to those nearby. Freedom spreads, like air, fragrance, sound, waves. We all know others who take from us when we’re around them, just like we know people who give, who make space, and work not to impose their limitations on us. Sometimes we read of the “torch of freedom” — and though cynicism is a popular defensive shield these days, that’s a live metaphor for the sense of kindling and expansion we feel in the presence of a free person. May we meet — and be — such people!

Don’t want to, or can’t, join a Druid Order? You’re a Druid from the day you accept your freedom, and act from it. An Order’s just a form, a guide, a suggestion, to try or not.

If we act from freedom, we discover everything is a guide, a suggestion. The old challenge, Everything is permitted, provided you can accept responsibility for what you do, is a rich seed for meditation. How far can I go toward testing it?! Not Is it true? but How is it true? When is it true? In what ways is it true? These tests, and their results, work much more creatively and productively, at least for me, than a simple “yes/no” Is it true? Because I’ve found pretty much everything is both not true, and true, depending. So that question’s off the list, until I can come back to it on a higher spiral, when it may turn out useful once again, after I manage to learn a few more things. Consciousness makes all the difference: it’s the “depending”.

Druidry offers some things to try out. (Now I’m imagining that as my quick seven-word answer to anybody who asks “So what is Druidry?”!)

Ground a practice in the things of my world: air, water, fire, earth. Not just ritual, though that too. Expand my rituals. Thinking, this morning, while I wash two-days-dried dirty dishes in warm water: air/thought, water (obvious!), fire/heat of the water, of my blood, of the sunlight streaming through the kitchen window; earth of my bones and flesh, of the food scraps on the plates and pots and silverware, of the sink and walls and world all around.

Brother Lawrence wrote a wonderful classic, Practicing the Presence of God. You almost don’t need to read it, the title says so much. If you do read through, be patient with it and yourself — you’ll need to do some digging to excavate the gold, given the change of cultural understandings.

It’s a practice, not a one-time deal. You get better.

Listen to other beings. The white ants that come every summer to our kitchen have more to teach me than the last book I read, whatever it was. Practice asking good questions. I’ve spent at least four decades on that one, and no sign of stopping yet. You know — magic in, magic out. Or the opposite.

“My God is bigger”, said a Christian to an author friend of mine. “Maybe that’s because your need is bigger”, said the friend.

An infinite abyss separates any two moments in time, in eternity, says one of the Wise. I practice resting there, feeling the lightness of spirit, of creative fire, of the awen as it flows. I set my hand on a blank journal page, a computer screen blog post, and enter that abyss. If like me you flash on vertigo for a moment, know too how weightless is fire, always rising up, climbing the spirals we all walk. If a child falls in a dream, the Senoi people of Malaysia encourage the child to fall, and not wake up to escape the dream. “They taught the children to fall, knowing they wouldn’t be hurt, and to climb, to travel, or fly to unknown places, to unknown cultures, to learn new things. If they woke up instead, they would be advised not to escape from such dreams the next time they occurred”, write Stewart and Garfield in their 1972 book Creative Dreaming. Easier on everybody than the wrenching costs of the rising suicide rates in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Schemes of understanding, patterns, webs, networks, interconnections, links, circuits. Our “marvels of modern technology” work (when they work) by building with earth — metal, glass, rare earth elements. Technology grounds these sometimes abstract, intellectual facets of elemental Air and manifests them, re-alizes them, makes them what Latin calls res — things. Ground and center, counsels beginning practice, again and again and again. I always need to earth what’s goin’ down.

Heirs though we are of two thousand years of Christianized thinking, somehow we’re still more Gnostic than Christian, eager to flee this world, constantly forgetting the god at the heart of Christianity who incarnated, became flesh, manifested, took on a body, got as earthy as anybody can, and died that way too. Eucharist, literally thanksgiving — this is my body, this is my blood. The Things of Earth are holy, divine.

Pilgrim on earth, thy home is heaven. Stranger, thou art the guest of God(s).

And yes, William Carlos Williams, you turn out to be right on both counts: “It’s difficult to get the news from poems, but men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there”. You write about a fracking flower [short / long] and stake us through the heart. Bards, tell us how it is, how it can be. Now take out the comma. Bards tell us how it is, how it can be. I’m still practicing as I listen harder.

Or another take, if you like or need it: “Earth’s crammed with heaven” , says Elizabeth Barrett Browning. “And every common bush afire with God;/But only he who sees, takes off his shoes./The rest sit around and pluck blackberries,/And daub their natural faces unaware …” Another practice, taking off my shoes, and walking through the grass.

And that’s fine, too, says Druidry. The Spiral always waits. No one’s reached the end yet … There are always rest-points. We need ’em.

Methods, celebrations, myths. Five, six and seven, if you’re counting. J. M. Greer says one key is “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”.

Everything’s political? Nope — everything’s spiritual. Or mythical, if you prefer. Politics wants the power and energy, but without bothering about the spirit that powers them. (Zeus tried all that out long ago, and look where it got him!) Things of this world? Sure! But just know where they come from. Get the order right. That’s why we keep screwing ourselves over with men (and it’s still mostly men) of power. Give the women a chance to mess things up, too!

They can’t give us what we really want. But we keep handing politicians our freedom anyway, as if they knew better what to do with it than we do. Reclaiming, Starhawk calls her Witchcraft tradition. Get it back! Don’t give it away again!

<end rant>

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truckpieces

Fallen pine, cut into lengths: edging for more raised beds? Gateposts for my backyard grove?

Solstices.

Just as at the Winter Solstice we celebrate the shortest day and longest night, knowing that light will grow again, so at the Summer Solstice we celebrate the longest day and shortest night, knowing that daylight will now shorten. Here is a teaching of paradox: each peak, dark or light, contains the seeds of its own change. And as Taoist tradition teaches, “When Yang peaks, it shifts to Yin; when Yin peaks, it shifts to Yang.” — adapted from OBOD publications.

I begin again. A couple of deep breaths, to center myself. Then the awen, or another sacred word. Open the inner doorways.

Get out in the sun, advises the OBOD ritual booklet for Summer Solstice. Sit in a shadow. I love these two apparent contradictories, side by side! So perfect! Harvest your garlic. Sunburned, shaded, garlicked, I proceed.

Having neglected to grow either St. John’s Wort or Vervain for our Solstice rite next weekend, I’m on the lookout for them along the road, in fields nearby, or at a farmers’ market. We’re naming the local landscape and its creatures in our Solstice ritual script, listening between the words for their other names, ones they may not tell everyone. Indian Place Names of New England, in a hodgepodge of less-than-complete formatting for online viewing, gives one Native American name for our local Vermont region: Kawassentekwa “barren spot along the (Connecticut) River”! One more way to laugh, to stay humble, to see and work for possibility where, outwardly, things look bare.

Apparent world, crazy uncle at the door, we hug you and invite you in to join us at the Festival table. Meet the others here!

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