Archive for the ‘sacred’ Tag

Samhain/Samhuinn 2019   Leave a comment

Ah, here we are, two weeks out from Samhain, Summer’s End, Samhuinn, All Hallows Eve. (And for those in our sibling hemisphere, Beltane approaches.)

And here for your delectation is an excellent 8-minute clip of Scotland’s Beltane Fire Society’s 2017 celebration of Samhuinn:

With it you can experience a taste of the whole event, different each year: celebration, and mystery.

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Hallowe’en, we often forget, is a hallowed evening, a sacred time, however we may treat it today. (The sacred doesn’t just vanish when we ignore it. It jabs us in our most tender spots instead, until we wake up again and pay attention. Exhibit A: Almost every headline you can find today.)

I wrote in 2017 (around the summer solstice) that

the sacred is a celebration. Cultures throughout human history set aside days and places to witness and commemorate seedtime and harvest, greatest light and deepest dark. The solstices and equinoxes are human events as much as astronomical ones, and predate any written scripture by thousands of years. We likewise mark births and deaths, and we make vows and promises to uphold our marriages, friendships, communities and nations.

Moses (ever tried a desert solstice celebration?!) gets to say it in Deuteronomy 30, that what we seek

isn’t too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It’s not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who’ll ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may do it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who’ll cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may do it?” No, the word is very near you; it’s in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

Oh, hear talk of “obeying” and perhaps you resist. I know I often do. Too many times we’ve been ruinously misled by over-trust and heedless obedience. (Republican or Democrat, or whatever the party platform, it hasn’t let up yet.)

As author Peter Beagle describes it, “We are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discoverers—thieves planting flags, murderers carrying crosses. Let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams” (“Introduction”, The Tolkien Reader). What we can rightly “obey” shares an affinity with dream. It’s what resounds in us most deeply, if we turn off the jangle of the other voices. Rightly, if not always safely. The sacred is no more “safe” than love is. Both can lead very far from where we thought our lives would go. But the “wrong” voices? What is mass culture but a form of consciously-accepted schizophrenia, if we end up listening to every voice except the first one, the original?

For any authority the sacred wields is not a “command” so much as the first law of our being. To “disobey” it, or attempt to deny or ignore the sacred, is like trying to live outside our own skins. A human without the sacred is exactly that — something eviscerated, no longer alive. We use the sacred itself when we deny it — we employ energies on loan to us even as we refuse them or cast them aside. What else will we do with them?

May our doing, our discovery, our celebration, take us ever deeper to the sacred heart of things.

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Triad for Rekindling Sacred Fire   Leave a comment

NOTE

A version of this post appeared on pg. 32 of the summer/fall 2017 issue (large PDF) of Druid Magazine. I’m grateful to the editors, and to their liberal policies that actually recognize the ownership of authors!

In the Southern Hemisphere, Beltane has recently passed, and we can, if we choose, draw on the “opposite” energies here in the North in November, in a six-month harmonic with the South. (Isn’t it always Opposite Day anyway?) It’s Spring in Autumn, Christmas in July, your six-month birthday.

Because when don’t we need sacred fire?

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1–Finding Fire

Every Druid tradition I know of honors fire in some way. “It is the hour of recall”, go the closing lines of OBOD ritual. “As the fire dies down, let it be relit in our hearts”.

Here is the promise of elemental fire, never quenched, always ready to rekindle. But so often I find myself dry, cool, grounded, earthed—all excellent things after ritual, ideal for smooth re-entry into our lives, but hard to live from when we crave and need the flame again.

I’ve detected more than a fair portion of Earth in my makeup: a little reserved, suspicious of quick flares, with a tendency to solidity, inertia even. Does a spark still smolder in the heart of a person like that, waiting to be relit? Can I coax it to flame again? I hold the answers like twin children, one in each arm: of course, and not today. As I write this, I look out the window at fog and wet pavement. Where do I look for flame? In moments like these, it seems a more than reasonable question.

Yes, in the electrified West, we turn a key to start the car, we flip any number of switches all day along, expecting and usually seeing instantaneous lights, readouts, computers booting, phone screens lighting, and hums and rumbles of devices jumping into action. If, like me, you happen to heat with wood, you lay paper and kindling, strike a match, and flame obliges. Praise be to Brighid!

But for all that, I keep reminding myself, we do not command fire. In her The Way of Four Spellbook, Deborah Lipp notes:

Fire has always been set apart from the other elements, because Fire alone has no natural home on the earth; Air has the sky, Water the sea, and Earth the land, but only Fire stands apart from geography. In nature, Fire is the outsider; it is out of control, and it conforms to no known rules (pg. 10).

This is lovely and poetic, evocative and wise, and, as a friend remarked when I quoted it to him, it’s also bullshit. The only place fire happens is geography, just like with every other element. Heart, fire pit, computer screen, creativity—we light and relight them constantly. It’s our extensive craft with the fire principle that’s made much of civilization possible. But mastery in the end means service, and our wizardry rings hollow whenever we forget this.

2–Serving Fire

“I am a servant of the Secret Fire,” declares Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien, 2004, p. 330). Not a bad magical declaration. So I turn to the Indo-European past and summon reconstructed ancient words* to say something like it: *Ambikwolos esmi yagnos ogneyes [Ahm-BEE-kwoh-lohs EHS-mee YAHG-nohs OHG-neh-yes], which roughly translates to “I am a servant of the sacred fire.”

So I ask how I already serve fire, because contrary to an adolescent tendency in us to see our lives as all-or-nothing, we have a starting place within us for anything that can manifest—or so some Wise Ones have told me. How else can we recognize a lack or hole or void except by feeling the outline of what’s missing, of what’s supposed to be there?

Now, when I need to reignite the fire of the sacred, and that includes writing about it, my daily practice, my own “hour of recall”, hopefully guides me to embers that still throw off heat. (If it doesn’t, I know I need to fine-tune what I do each day.) I keep re-learning that we never really extinguish sacred fire. We merely smoor it—that lovely old Scottish word—not “smother” or “suffocate” as some dictionary entries render it, but bank it, setting it to smolder till morning, when it can be breathed and fed to flame again. Peat excels at smoldering, but so do woods like hickory, and so do our human spirits.

While preparing a fire workshop for MAGUS Beltane, out of ruminations like these, I made a list of questions I found I kept asking myself, so I shared them with attendees. Here are seven from that list you might use in your journal, or for a series of meditations. And if one or two of them call you away from reading this, go with them for a while along your own green and shining path. Your responses are more valuable, after all, than “finishing the article”.

1) What does it take—literally and intentionally—in order to kindle you, and in order for you to kindle other things in your life?

2) What offering, if any, do you make to help you kindle? What else could you bring into your practice? What could you discard?

3) What is sacred to you? How do you find, invite, welcome, increase the sacred? What sacred ways are a part of your life right now that can help you kindle?

4) What ways, if any, do you tend to discount, push away, ignore, or feel “aren’t my way of connecting with the sacred”? What can you learn from your attitude towards them?

5) Where are you already kindled? What is burning, warm, or fiery in your life right now?

6) Where do you desire kindling? (Where do you need to bank a fire and cool off?!) Or to put it another way, what needs to catch fire in your life?

7) How has sacred fire already honored your practice and flames inwardly for you?

3–Building a Ritual Fire

In reconstructed Indo-European, one of the words for “altar” is *asa. If you want to expand your ritual declarations and charm-making, you can say *asam kwero [AH-sahm KWEH-roh] “I build an altar”. And if you’re consecrating a talisman or another person, you might add *Yagnobi ognibi tum wikyo! [YAHG-noh-bee OHG-nee-bee toom wee-KYOH!] “I hallow you with sacred fire!”

What to burn on that altar? Here your judgment, tempered and instructed by divination, practice, dream, and study, matters more than anything I might suggest. But if you’re seeking such a suggestion, here is one. Druid and Pagan traditions speak of Nine Sacred Trees suitable for kindling sacred fires (Steward of the Woods, 2015).

What about an altar? You may well have one already, whether backyard fire pit or space cleared on a bookshelf for images, a piece of quartz found on a walk, Tarot card for the day, incense of the season, and so on.

Evidence from several different traditions tells us that squares of sod or turf were a common form that a ritual altar could take. The Aeneid (Mandelbaum, 1961, p. 117) mentions a sod altar. Records from the Scots in the 1700s (Frazer, 1929) talk of building May Day fires on an altar of sod. And the Æcerbōt, the Anglo-Saxon “Land Remedy Spell”, amounts to a ritual for creating sacred space and restoring the land’s fertility (Jolly, 1996). To do so, it instructs the ritual performer to take one sod from each of the four directions of the land to build the ritual altar. Ceisiwr Serith (2015), an experienced ADF ritualist, author, and Indo-Europeanist, gives more supporting info in an article on his excellent website, “Proto-Indo-European Religion”.

In closing, I turn for words to 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” (Three Cranes Grove, 2007; To Pray with a Good Fire).

Note on reconstructed Proto-Indo-European:

The * asterisk is a conventional notation for indicating a reconstructed form. You can never know enough about linguistic prehistory to do more than mangle reconstructed languages. Even graduate study like mine in historical linguistics inoculates precisely nobody from error. (Though a professional career demands pursuing the unattainable.) So in releasing perfectionist worries over Indo-European reconstructions and pronunciations, I cherish the advice of the great medievalist scholar, teacher, and author John Gardner. In advising readers when trying to speak Middle English aloud, he remarks,

“Read aloud or recite with authority, exactly as when speaking Hungarian – if you know no Hungarian – you speak with conviction and easy familiarity. (This, I’m told by Hungarians, is what Hungarians themselves do.) This easy authority, however fake, gets the tone of the language …” (1978, p. 315).

Tone, we might say, covers a multitude of sins.

If you’d like to learn more, two readable, popular, and authoritative books are by West and Mallory, included in the bibliography. Work through them and you won’t need me or anyone else. You’ll be writing your own reconstructed Indo-European phrases and rituals with “conviction and easy authority”.

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Gardner, John. (1978). The Life and Times of Chaucer. New York: Vintage Books.

Jolly, K. L. (1996). Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: Elf Charms in Context. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Lipp, D. (2006). The Way of Four Spellbook. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.

Mallory, J. P. & Adams, D. Q. (2006). The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Steward of the Woods. (2015). “Nine Sacred Woods: A Druid Walk in the Park”.

Ovid. (1929). Fasti (J. G. Frazer , Ed. and trans.). London: MacMillan and Co. (Original work published in 8 AD).

Serith, C. (2015). Proto-Indo-European Religion.

Three Cranes Grove. (2007). To Pray with a Good Fire.

Tolkien, J. R. R. (1987). The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Vergil. (1961). The Aeneid ( A. Mandelbaum, Trans.). New York: Bantam Books.

West, M. L. (2007). Indo-European Poetry and Myth. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Keys to the Temple   Leave a comment

Solstice blessings to everyone! What are they? Read on!

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devil’s paintbrush, 21 June 2017

Solstice time is sacred time. That picnic or party you’re holding on the Solstice, alone or with friends, is just as sacred as my Druid ritual, or the monk or nun at prayer, if you’re comparing (un)conventional symbols and images.

As much as anything, I’m found, the sacred is a habit. It’s not only a habit, of course. But a desire to experience the sacred, and the placing of yourself in spaces where experience of the sacred can happen, help it along.

The front lawn I’ve resisted mowing for two weeks now flares with devil’s paintbrush (Pilosella aurantiaca), a weed here in the U.S., though protected in parts of Europe. Also called fox-and-cubs, orange hawkweed, and other names, for me it’s been a harbinger of high summer since I was in my mid single digits, just old enough to ask and remember its name.

I sit on the lawn and begin to count other plant species nearby. Quickly the number extends beyond my skill to name. The first wild strawberries of a few posts ago yield their lovely tartness when I reach for a few to taste. Clover is spreading over the north lawn, and I welcome it, since both bumble- and honey-bees love it, and it crowds out weeds and nitrogenizes the soil. When I was a boy we re-seeded our pastures every few years with clover because it’s such good food for cows and other grazing animals.

The sacred is a kind of love. It feels always new. Sitting on the lawn I forget everything else as I look around, breathe, listen, and feel the warm earth beneath me. Six months from now the ground here may be frozen, perhaps covered in snow, but that will not negate the marvel of earth underfoot, air in the lungs, the sky always changing overhead. Who has not longed for and known the kiss of the beloved? With these bodies and senses we greet the world each day.

The sacred is a celebration. Cultures throughout human history set aside days and places to witness and commemorate seedtime and harvest, greatest light and deepest dark. The solstices and equinoxes are human events as much as astronomical ones, and predate any written scripture by thousands of years. We likewise mark births and deaths, and we make vows and promises to uphold our marriages, friendships, communities and nations.

Moses (ever tried a desert solstice celebration?!) gets to say it in Deuteronomy 30, that what we seek

isn’t too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It’s not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who’ll ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may do it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who’ll cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may do it?” No, the word is very near you; it’s in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

Oh, hear talk of “obeying” and perhaps you resist. I know I often do. Too many times we’ve been ruinously misled by over-trust and heedless obedience. (Republican or Democrat, or whatever the party platform, it hasn’t let up yet.)

As author Peter Beagle describes it, “We are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discoverers—thieves planting flags, murderers carrying crosses. Let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams” (“Introduction”, The Tolkien Reader). What we can rightly obey shares an affinity with dream. It’s what resounds in us most deeply, if we turn off the jangle of the other voices. Rightly, if not always safely. The sacred is no more “safe” than love is. Both can lead very far from where we thought our lives would go. But the “wrong” voices? What is mass culture but a form of consciously-accepted schizophrenia, if we end up listening to every voice except the first one, the original?

For any authority the sacred wields is not a “command” so much as the first law of our being. To “disobey” it, or attempt to deny or ignore the sacred, is like trying to live outside our own skins. A human without the sacred is exactly that — something eviscerated, no longer alive. We use the sacred itself when we deny it — we employ energies on loan to us even as we refuse them or cast them aside. What else will we do with them?

A habit, a love, a celebration. These are among the keys to the temple. “In every generation” (can’t you hear the movie trailer voiceover for that summer blockbuster, as it proclaims the words?!) whether we throw the keys in the grass, or take them up, use them to open marvels, and pass them along to those who come after us, the temple — oh blessedly and forever! — the temple always awaits.

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Touching the Sacred, Part 2   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4]

In Part 1 I wrote about the approaching Festival of Beltane and our longing to touch or encounter the Sacred. It keeps calling to us, and will not be ignored.

Here I’ll talk about how we fulfill the call inside us to touch the Sacred.

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Zora Neale Hurston, from her novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God”

One way to understand this call is as a sacred vow that our lives require each of us to fulfill. Being born means we agreed to it. Don’t remember making the vow? Each of us promised to make good on it. “Will you do what only you can do, because only you live your life? Will you listen to what there is for you to hear? Will you keep growing? Will you remember to celebrate all that can be celebrated?”

Our lives ask us such questions, and we answer with how we live. We honor the call, the sacred vow, when we’re fully alive. We catch intermittent glimpses of this in our lives. This joy is for you, it says.

Often we don’t trust it. A girl I was serious about before I met and married my wife was convinced we shouldn’t trust it. Every happiness has to be paid for with sorrow, she said.

Or we see it, this joy, in the lives of others. A light seems to shine around them, and in their presence you feel better, more balanced, more you. They seem to practice the sacred like a dance or song. That can be a powerful way to live. Life as practice. Not as a thing to be perfected. Life’s bigger than perfection, it seems to say. More ornery, stubborn, lovely and changeable.

But it’s something we can also study, perform, explore, try out, test, demonstrate, play with, give away and take back. Sometimes with each breath. Sometimes over nearly a century. Perfection’s a dead thing. Not alive, slippery, mysterious and intoxicating. Try out what lies on the other side of perfection. Not just play the hand I’m dealt, but take or drop a card. Reshuffle. Paint my own deck. And sometimes, change the game.

Right, says the skeptic. You just believe that if you want to. But ignore such hints and outright shoves, and likewise we can often feel both restless and spiritually dead, a truly wretched combination, when we’ve done less than our lives ask of us.

We all know this intimately, too, in one form or another. It prods young (and older) people to find themselves, it burns in those who are spiritual hungry to go on inner and outer quests that may take years or their entire lives, it launches many a mid-life crisis, a dark night or decade of the soul. It slaps you upside the head, and will not stop. It passes go, it drives up onto the sidewalk, it drops you off on the wrong side of town. Or it slows down, even stops, parks in a driveway, kills the engine, offers you the wheel — then tosses the keys into the bushes.

fb-addict

And the call troubles some people enough that they retreat into things in order to try to hush the call, to drown it out because they despair of ever being able to answer it. And the things — possessions, pleasures, addictions — being finite, can’t replace the call either. They just rub it raw. Who needs the sacred if it’s such torture?! No thanks, I say. These aren’t the droids I’m looking for.

Fortunately the sacred doesn’t just sit around waiting for us to find it like the fabled pot of gold at the rainbow’s end, like the toy in the bottom of the cereal box. It bounces and squirms and growls and seeks us out, constantly breaking through into our awareness. Hence the difficulty of avoiding the call, and the frequency with which we encounter it.

These Festivals like Beltane, or even newer observances, like Earth Day today — they don’t come out of nowhere. Sure they do, says your friendly neighborhood internet troll. OK: who ya gonna believe?

Where do we find the sacred — or where does it find us?

humanbeauty-stovka

“Human Beauty”/Jano Stovka

We may touch the sacred when we experience beauty. And beauty not only meets us in familiar ways that marketers box and package and try to monetize, but also in less conventional ones, if we pay attention. And sometimes even when we don’t.

Experience beauty and we’re lifted out of ourselves, stopped in our tracks, slapped, arrested, pierced with Cupid’s arrow — the language we’ve used throughout history in poems and songs to describe the experience can sound violent, because we may not expect beauty, or recognize it when we face it, or want it when we do recognize it.

Or we do all of those things, and our hunger for it just grows and builds. Or it makes us weep or laugh, or act in other ways that don’t fit or which leave us uncomfortable. Wait, say our lives. You thought this was going to be easy or simple?!

Encounters with the sacred can come in isolation, too, of course — away from others. We may turn our backs on people who disappoint us or who are simply so loud in our lives that we need silence, or at least other sounds. Wind, crickets, birdsong, water. We set out by ourselves, convinced this is IT. This is the way.

Walk alone and some cultures, at some times, will understand and recognize and support you. They’ll assist the solitary walk in unique ways that other cultures may not be doing at that moment. Time, space, acceptance, easing the transition in or out.

Oominesanji_stairs

Stairs at Oominesanji, Kii Mountains, Japan

No single culture does it all — culture’s a human thing as much as anything else is. But the natural world is a powerful ally — what we’re born from, where these bodies end up after a few decades. The in-between, where we convince ourselves we’re not a part but apart: the natural world offers remedies for that illness that we recognize every time we let it.

In Part 3 I’ll look at some more ways we touch the sacred.

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4]

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Images: years that ask; addictionOominesanji Stairs; human beauty/Jano Stovka

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