Archive for the ‘service’ Tag

Deconspiracizing & Druidry   Leave a comment

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through the branches, opening doors

Depending on where you lurk on the Net, you may have run across this passage:

Be sure the patient remains completely fixated on politics. Arguments, political gossip, and obsessing on the faults of people they have never met serves as an excellent distraction from advancing in personal virtue, character, and the things the patient can control. Make sure to keep the patient in a constant state of angst, frustration, and general disdain towards the rest of the human race in order to avoid any kind of charity or inner peace from further developing. Ensure the patient continues to believe that the problem is “out there” in the “broken system” rather than recognizing there is a problem with himself.

Keep up the good work,
Uncle Screwtape

“Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis ~1942

One of my cousins posted this recently on Facebook.

Also depending on your alertness and your familiarity with Lewis and his works, you may or may not have additionally spotted the following caveat. “Screwtape’s ‘fixated on politics’ quote”, notes Joshua Dance, “is not by C.S. Lewis. You and I may like the idea, but proceed with caution.”

How perfect for my purpose here: to use a wrongly-attributed quotation in the process of desconspiracizing ourselves. What ideas do we like, and how cautious are we — can we be — should we be — with them as we proceed?

And does this piece of wisdom still retain any value, once we uncouple it from its famous but misidentified source?

If you think it does, I invite you to keep reading. (If not, here’s the new-as-of-June trailer for Voldemort — Origins Of The Heir, a fan-film.)

Human liking for conspiracy theories is by almost all accounts wonderfully unbiased in its spread. Liberal, Conservative, Libertarian, Communist, Anarchist — whatever colors I fly on my mast, I’m just as susceptible to a theory that fits my prejudices as the next person. No one’s immune. In my book that qualifies as a “problem with myself”. Fortunately, remedies exist. Maybe not cures, but remedies.

Here, after a completely unscientific search, are seven news links [ Paul RatnerThe Independent | The Telegraph | Time | The Guardian| Conspiracies.net6 True Conspiracy Theories ] to some of the most popular conspiracy theories out there in the English-speaking world. (Those of you with a foot in other linguistic and cultural communities have your own favorites that you know far better than I.)

And if you’d like just one of many available pages pointing out the logical fallacies underpinning conspiracy thinking, here’s an example that offers 13 fallacies.

My main goal in this post? I want to remind myself most of all, and any of you so inclined, to  continue the work needed to minimize the effect of conspiracy thinking. Secondarily, I want to refresh my understanding of ways of thinking and doing — like Druidry — that can “distract me from the distractions”.

Two things I’ve learned over decades to treasure and nourish in myself and my dear ones more than anything else: what I choose to attend to, and how I choose to attend to it. In other words, attention and attitude.

We know how valuable our attention is because advertisers and politicians work so hard to get it and hold on to it. Our attitude matters just as much: everyone wants to tell us how to feel, rather than letting us discover that on our own.

Once someone has my attention hooked, and my attitude in their pocket, they own me.

So here’s one of my triads for action:

1) Love what I can see, touch and talk to most often — daily is ideal. This includes family, friends, trees, pets, the garden, ancestors, my community, and the people I meet. “I bless you in the name of what you love most deeply” is a silent prayer I can offer for everyone I meet. An even briefer version: “Bless this day and those I serve”. (I also find it’s very useful in stopping me from mechanical reactions for or against, from forming pointless opinions based on superficial details like age, weight, dress, gender, etc. — or for cutting me off in traffic, or tailing me much too closely. So I “repeat as needed”: “I bless you in the name of what you love most deeply”.)

2) Whatever time and energy I can give, work so that it will benefit others as much as myself. This blog is one of those things. My years in teaching, and in holding open discussions on spiritual topics in our local library, are a couple of others. A chance conversation in a shop or store that acknowledges another’s humanity and dignity can be a profound service to others. I don’t try to be selfless; I try to enlarge my sense of who is part of the Self. Because I’m  still learning, whenever necessary, I start small.

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backyard willow on wash-day

3) Thank everyone and everything that helped me do the first two things. Gratitude may be too simple for our complex and suspicious age, but, I notice, it never goes out of style. Again, it may be silent just as often as something to express. Yes, this can be a dangerous age to live and be generous in. But I find a wise kindness works well.

If I focus more on my attitude and attention, I can diminish the moments of “angst, frustration, and general disdain towards the rest of the human race in order to avoid any kind of charity or inner peace from further developing”.

The more I experience the inherent joy in using my attitude and attention skilfully, the more I find myself energized to keep on practicing with them. These are some of the truest things Druidry has helped me discover.

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Speaking Trees: a Reading   2 comments

danas reading

photo courtesy Wendy Rose Scheer

At MAGUS ’17, Dana (on the left — check out her excellent blog The Druid’s Garden) generously offered readings for several of us, using her set of tree staves. You can see four of us (I’m on the right) sitting bundled in every layer we brought with us — the weather had turned cold.

I’d sat in on a couple previous readings (with permission!), and Dana’s infectious love of trees and tree lore made each reading memorable and full of wisdom. With her combination of hands-on experience and extensive reading in herbals and Native American lore, each of us learned anew how Druidry has much to teach. I say “how” because any time spent in Druid practice shows us we go just as far as we’re willing to put in time and energy.

If we’re new to divination we may bring to it our skepticism, or an uncritical acceptance of whatever we hear, or a cherished obtuseness to anything outside our blinkered perspectives. Having run through these and a range of other even less useful inner “sets” in the past, I tried simply to listen. Drawing for an awen spread of three staves — past influences, present circumstances and future tendencies — can help give a sense of dynamics that may be working through some part of our lives.

My notes here are a merging of Dana’s reading, my own study and insight from subsequent meditation and reflection.

Here are the three staves I drew: birch, white pine and cottonwood.

Birch (genus Betula) is a common hardwood, with species ranging worldwide throughout the northern hemisphere. The northeastern U.S has perhaps a dozen species. The bark, famous for canoes, also makes excellent kindling, I’ve discovered, even when it’s damp, because its oils will still burn. With medicinal, cosmetic and industrial uses, the birch is widely used. It’s also a pioneer tree, adaptable to varied conditions, among the first to appear in pastures, meadows and burnt areas. As such, birches frequently represent beginnings, initiations, growth, renewal, and so on. The associated ogham is beith. As part of my Ovate work, I’m identifying the trees on our 2 and a half acres, and there are nearby birches to get to know.

The past is a beginning. It’s not destiny, but simply a direction taken. I find the past a surprisingly fluid thing. (The birch is flexible). Because as I grow and change, I perceive my own past differently, coming to value some difficult experiences for what they taught me, and seeing whole decades in a different light than they appeared at the time.

To choose just one example, my first serious relationship, shortly before I met my wife, dragged me along an emotional roller-coaster, passionate and full of drama at the time. But it taught me patience, dispelled a fair amount of romantic nonsense, and showed me that kindness more than anything else should grow at the core of my relationships if I want them to last.

Rather than a fixed past, I find it’s the future that’s fixed — at any single moment. But then the moment shifts, my awareness and choices enter in, and the future shifts as well. Taking a reading is like sounding the depth of coastal waters — it’s accurate for that interval, but you need to know if the tide’s coming in or going out. Twelve hours earlier or later, to say nothing of twelve days or twelve years, conditions will have changed. Birches aren’t especially long-lived, but they “open the way” for others.

White Pine (Pinus strobus), like the Birch, is a common tree in the northeast U.S. Other Pinus species flourish in Europe and Asia. A softer wood, a long-lived tree (the record in the U.S. is 500 years), the white pine is prized for woodworking, lumber, and medicinal properties. It’s the “peace tree” of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois, and it has also produced the tallest trees in the eastern U.S. (the famous sequoias take the prize in the west). Pine needles contain quintuple the vitamin C of lemons, and a needle tea is a healthful drink — a good medicine for me, because I’m prone to lung and skin problems. Algonquian tribes in the region knew other uses — the Adirondack Mountains in New York take their name from the Mohawk adirodaks, meaning “tree-eaters”, their term for the Algonquians.

As a guide to the present, white pine tells me, in Thoreau’s words, “be not simply good, be good for something”. And as a Druid, to me this means to be good at something, too. For a long time I’ve worked with words, making a living as teacher and writer. Druidry urges me to expand my knowledge and practice, and learn my neighbor trees better. It’s time to give back more, to support trees in distress, learn the landscape and do my part to help the biome as it adjusts to climate changes. (Both for its useful info and for its misleading title, spend a few minutes with “American trees have started migrating west and no one knows why“.)

As I delve more deeply into the Ovate grade, and improve my knowledge of healing, otherworld mysteries, and divination, white pine is a worthy signal tree and spiritual landmark. “If not this, then something better” has been my mantra during a protracted job search. Looking outside my accustomed region/specialty is both good job-search advice and good  physical-spiritual foraging advice, too. Go further afield.

Cottonwood (Populus species) is the third stave. Dana and I laughed at this one. At least the cottonwood she had in mind is not a native to the east, but a western tree, so this third stave seems to confirm and extend some of the energetics present in the white pine above. (Some species do inhabit the eastern U.S.)

Cottonwoods constitute a varied group of trees, including aspens and poplars. Populus trichocarpa is the first tree species to have its genome sequenced. It grows fast, and can reach nearly 60 feet (18 meters) in about a decade. Varieties of cottonwoods have flourished in unlikely places, and helped re-tree barren areas, notably the Faroe Islands and Iceland. Like the birch and white pine, it has food and medicinal uses.

As a tree speaking about the future, the cottonwood is a good reminder both to play to strengths and also to try out new areas, to adapt, to “do my own thing” while finding new niches where that “thing” can thrive. “Grow where you’re planted” isn’t bad counsel as a start — we all do that inevitably anyway, at birth. It’s flowering after that that’s the work of our days. “To go to seed” isn’t a bad thing, despite the connotations of “seedy”. How else to pass along who we are, what we’ve gained? To give back as we do, completing the cycle, walking the circle, answering the Druid call to service.

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Image courtesy Wendy Rose Scheers.

 

Initiation: To Serve in Order to Know   4 comments

[Part Two]

During the year and a day of your training, you’ve studied, practiced, visualized, rehearsed, memorized, subjected yourself to physical and psychological tests and disciplines and — perhaps in spite of your own better judgment of your readiness — you’ve finally been chosen as a candidate for initiation.

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The day of the ceremony arrives. You may be dressed in a particular ritual way, or you may have bathed and simply be wearing new clothes. Perhaps a single jewel or ring you now wear gives you something you find yourself toying with as you wait. Probably you’ve been given specific instructions to help prepare you and assist you in entering the desired state of consciousness. Or the absence of such instructions has the same effect.

You’re nervous, too, and the other members of the group who are participating in your initiation don’t do anything to dispel that nervousness. In fact, they may be sympathetic and kind to you, and their very kindness will only increase the mystery. What am I getting myself into? you ask yourself. This and other questions are good ones to ask — though they may have no answers.

In many occult and magical orders, potential new initiates face a challenge when they enter the ritual space where their initiation will take place. “What do you seek?” goes one variant of the verbal part of the challenge. Depending on what you’ve been taught or are expecting, the rumors you’ve heard, or the nature of the particular group you’re with, the question can catch you off guard. It’s meant to.

In an intro to an online magical training document by Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, J. H. Brennan relates his own experiences, and doubtless those of many other people, here (see pg. 4) . He comments wryly that, not surprisingly, why we seek is often a bigger determining factor in our experience than what.

We all do things for the best possible motives, of course; and nowhere more so than in the esoteric arts. It is relatively easy to discover that the only really acceptable excuse for magical study is embodied in the statement I desire to know in order to serve. That was the answer I was prompted to give to the ritual question during my own initiation. I dutifully gave it; and it was a lie.

What actually attracted me to magic was not service but power.

“I desire to know in order to serve” has its motivations all lined up for inspection. It’s a “good doggy” answer.  It’s noble-sounding, and as the “really only acceptable excuse,” it’s comforting to give it and feel good about having such an answer to give. Because in this logical and scientific age of ours, don’t you need an excuse for something as wacky and bizarre as the study of magick — especially spelt with a -k — that doesn’t make you sound like a raving loony?!

So let’s reverse it. “I desire to serve in order to know.”

One of my teachers said this yesterday.  It rang true to me because he demonstrates service in what he does, in how he listens to the people he meets, and in how he stills his own agendas and instead of what he thinks, he strives to hear what’s needed. He does these things with humility. And just as important, he models this for others, not as something he turns on to impress others and then drops once he’s “offstage,” but as something he’s continually practicing until it accompanies him, his words and his actions like a fragrance.  And that makes you want to do the same.

A few months ago I encountered a goddess in contemplation. I heard her name, an epithet — Stormbringer — and a little more. The only way I can find out more about her is to serve her. Slowly I gain a clearer vision of who she is and why she is manifesting to me, now.

I can enlarge my understanding of service. I serve when I grow — a larger vision spreads its fermentation through human consciousness, because my actions emerge from what I hold in my heart and thoughts.

We serve when, rather than getting bogged down in irritation, anger and fear, we assume a playful approach to problems. Then the lightness of spiritual insight and creativity can lead us to solutions we might not have found on our own. And our playfulness, when it’s respectful of others, can help lighten their loads, too, and smile, if possible, or laugh. We serve in small things, done without thought for anything except the doing, and the doing well.

(OK. Got it. Dang — give you a soapbox and you just don’t let up, do you?)

I serve when I open myself to receive love from others , and find I must “enlarge my spirit to receive the gift,” as Ursula LeGuin describes it in her fantasy A Wizard of Earthsea.

giftinhandI serve when I ask to understand the causes underlying an issue or problem in my life, not just to remove the problem so I can get on with my agenda. (Often enough, my agenda is the problem. The apparent problem is a gift, to show me something I need to learn. Otherwise it wouldn’t keep coming back again. And again. Funny how much easier it is to see in other people’s lives.)

Difficult gift, what do you have to teach me? Can I enlarge my heart for you, too? Right now, when you come knocking again, when it’s really not convenient at all? Can I let my impatience dissolve and make my listening a gift to you?

We serve when we recognize ourselves in others, when we recognize others in ourselves, and see the Great Mystery, as the Lakota Sioux call it, the Wakan Tanka, in the eyes of those we meet every day.

We serve when we practice gratitude. A powerful practice I’ve proved to myself: keeping a gratitude journal, with daily entries. Just reading it over can jump start me out of depression and back into engaging my life. Gratitude grows and spreads to others its divine infection.

And so, in serving, what do I know that I didn’t before? Has knowing become less important, and service more?

Now, about power

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Images: guide and initiate; gift in hand.

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