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Hail! — Part 2   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 ]

Woodenbreath makes a valuable point in his recent comment: “Why I didn’t write anything down, was because I’ve been caught in a deep feeling, like a meditation”. Me too. That in fact was my first experience, a signal that alerted me to things in words that became part of this two-part reflection.

You’ll obviously experience the video in Part 1 in different ways, depending on your previous life experience — and that itself is a valuable guide and reminder. In so much of human experience, “There’s no OSFA” — no ‘one size fits all’. Half of living is finding out and learning how — and how much — we need to adapt what we encounter to our own lives and circumstances. And another third is learning who to ignore and who to listen to for guidance. ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’, said the wise Galilean, who might be expected to know what he was talking about. I’ve never encountered the sacred in the abstract, only in forms I can recognize, accept, work with. If it exists, it’s probably already embodied in my life.

rhododendrons, front lawn

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Here are some of my notes and responses to the video in part 1. No real order here, because.

A single voice begins the music.

Sometimes I sing alone because I am alone. But mysteriously, the sound of a solitary so often echoes and resounds and draws others. In a paradox of the sacred, the more inward-focused I am, at times, the stronger the outward call I make to others who resonate with me. Others join the solo voice in community. Sometimes I hear those already singing with me, if I listen. And they may not always be human. If we’re Druids, the chances rise to very high that many of the voices will be other-kin.

The elements

Air, and song, inspiration. The pauses, silences and rhythms that make up music, especially music of the voice. The drone in the background, the awen always singing to us. The earth beneath the feet of the pilgrim walking, the stones she caresses so intimately, the body itself, in postures of reverence. Water, the surf against the shore, the springs and rivers, the hand dipping into the water, the mist. Fire, the human spirit, the sun glimpsed through the mist at the end, the red of the scarf or shawl on the pilgrim’s shoulders that wants to carry symbolic weight, if we let it. Earth my body, water my blood, air my breath and fire my spirit. The old chant still, deep in us.

Pilgrimage

An ancient practice, most apt and fit for our practice today. Many of us have a favorite walk. Pilgrimage. An annual or every-decade reunion. Pilgrimage. A daily practice. Pilgrimage. Coffee or tea each morning or afternoon or evening at a longed-for hour. A small pilgrimage of calm and centering.

Grounding

I loved the physical intimacy of touch in this video. Again and again the imagery is of grounding. Literal groundedness, feet touching the earth. Seeking out grounding, touching the stones. Bowing before the holy to touch the earth. Groundedness in chant and devotion and song. Groundedness in color, in taking in all the hues of our worlds. Acknowledgement of our own bodies, made of heavy, earthed substance.

Color

We’re beings that can perceive color, so it’s little surprise that colors evoke so much for us. How can we use color as part of sacramental experience? Many churches deploy color and changes of color as part of their liturgical year. Some Druids do the same.

A holy mountain

Every culture has one or more. “I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence comes my help”, goes a prayer from the Jewish Bible. A good contemplation seed. In form, the holy mountain is often a kind of altar. Most of us have one of those, concealed as something else. A corner of the nightstand, or of the desk, part or all of a shelf, a cupboard, a backyard statue or rock or stone circle. If I don’t have one, and I feel the call to start one, it’s easy to begin right now.

Barefoot

Children know this practice instinctively, as soon as school is done or summer starts, as soon as the car door opens at the beach or grassy park. Only connect, writes E . M. Forster. The pilgrim in the video walks barefoot.

Earth’s crammed with heaven,/ And every common bush afire with God,/ But only he who sees takes off his shoes … Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Another contemplation seed. Or reverse a truth to test it, stretch it: Only those who take off their shoes may see

Gesture

The praying hands of the vocalist partway through. The postures and gestures we make all our days. The prostration before the boulder. The raised arms to the air, the sun, the bird. The arms outstretched at the closing.

Altars and the Bardic Arts

What altar do I currently worship at? (Everybody has at least one.) Can I discern its shape? Do I worship there consciously or unconsciously? Is this a good altar for me? The bard has words, voice, chant, song, music, inspiration to explore other altars, to feel their shape, sample and savour them. The shape of the altar is the shape of your own consciousness, says one of the Wise. The bards carry us with them on their journeys, so that we may choose, if we wish, to begin to explore on our own.

Veil, clothing, fog

What do I veil, and how? What was veiled that has now become clearer to me? Which veils do I respect, and which do I need to part and pass through?

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Posted 30 June 2021 by adruidway in Druidry, spiritual practice

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Hail! — Part 1   2 comments

[Part 1 | Part 2 ]

First, music and image. On June 21, the Irish group Rainbow Starlight released the ‘Hail Mary’ in Irish, set to new music.

Before you bother with anything that I have to say about this video, make a gift to yourself and write down your own reactions, thoughts, experiences. Listen a second or third time. (And obviously if you’ve experienced negative things surrounding Christianity, and this prayer to the Mother in a Christian guise remains inaccessible to you, claim your own wisdom by all means, and go do something else that heals and helps.)

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I’m writing about this because words are a way I’ve used all my life to manifest what is speaking to me. And this video feels to me, among all the other things it is and can be, one example of a way forward, of manifesting the solstice blessings we’ve received, even of making ourselves aware of them in the first place, which is often the first needful step in manifestation. The video, in other words, suggests a practice.

But it’s all in Irish! Yes it is. I don’t know Irish, beyond a few words. I know enough to recognize a text as Irish, and I know how the language works linguistically as one of the six surviving Celtic tongues. Like many, I respond to its beauty as a vehicle for song. Traditional Irish music, prominently featuring many women as vocalists, can carry a current often missing in much of the contemporary musical scene. For lack of a better word, we can name that current the mystical, the introspective, the inward-facing. Though that isn’t exactly right, either. In this song, a profoundly Druidic meditation, we can experience it directly, as it opens into an engagement with a landscape.

After you’ve gotten down in writing — a whole practice in itself — your thoughts, experiences, insights, etc, consider how the video points toward a practice.

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If you opted not to write down your experience with the video, ask yourself why. Then at least write down your answer, and return to it to ponder it more than once.

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Sé do bheatha, a Mhuire,
atá lán de ghrásta,
Tá an Tiarna leat.
Is beannaithe thú idir mná,
Agus is beannaithe toradh do bhroinne; Íosa.
A Naomh-Mhuire,
a Mháthair Dé,
guigh orainn na peacaigh,
anois, agus ar uair ár mbáis.

Amen.

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With my breath, with the tide beating on my shores, let me begin.

More in Part 2.

Solstice glow, “if our lake be still”

Still basking in Solstice glow, or want to be? You can find several hours of programming on Youtube from the recent OBOD Solstice celebration (links to separate videos follow), including the ritual itself, as well as talks by Ronald Hutton on “Sacred Waters” (around the 29:00 mark), John Matthews on “Druids and Fairies?“, Penny Billington on “Sacred Landscapes“, and the Eisteddfod (performing arts) portion. Eimear Burke, Chosen Chief of the order, opens the event (4:00 mark), then introduces Damh the Bard (7:00 mark) who as the Order’s Pendragon briefly describes what the typical in-person event feels like in Glastonbury, and reveals the Order’s sword:

Behold this, our Order’s sword, drawn from the lake of still meditation and returned to it again, ever sharp and ever with us, if our lake be still.

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One of the profound bardic gifts is the discovery (accessible to anyone, more perceptible with some training) that what we first imagine, or encounter in the form of image or metaphor, can take on full reality in the other worlds. (It may manifest here as well, in poems, songs, crafts, groves, meditations, changed lives.) Are we creating it, or did it always exist, waiting to be realized? An important question, one to be answered individually through repeated experience with different worlds and their energies and realities. But even more vital is the effect on us of such experiences. They link us to what humans have always experienced, as Hutton’s and Matthews’ and Billington’s talks attest in their own ways.

The efforts and experiences of others across time pool with our own. Sometimes the solitary Druid may experience this sense of connection more vividly than the member of an active grove. The Sword is ever sharp and ever with us, if our lake be still.

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You can hear an interview on the most recent episode (# 171) of Druidcast with Dana O’Driscoll, author of Sacred Actions which I recently reviewed here. In the interview Dana talks with the same grounded, practical, wise insight her book offers and which has won her devoted blog readers at The Druid’s Garden. (The interview begins around the 10:50 mark.)

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Welcome to our newest visitor from Cuba!

Solstice — The Standing Sun

Whether North or South, Summer or Winter, the path the sun takes from the earth’s perspective stays virtually unchanged for some days on either side of the Solstice. Solstice is literally “standing sun”.

Each summer we witness the sun rising higher each day, reaching its highest point at the summer solstice and dropping to its lowest in the winter. For these Solstice days, then, we can rest and take shelter in one of the still points of the year. We can quite rightly speak of a solstice season. Even from the vantage point of three or four days on either side of a solstice, any change in the sun’s path is still difficult to detect without sophisticated instruments.

Dawn and twilight can be good times to listen deeply and draw in this energy. If it’s overcast where you are, or too hot today, there’s tomorrow or the next day. These liminal intervals, these times of transition, offer us both metaphorical and literal pauses in the flow. The Still Point of Solstice is more properly a wider swath of stillness laid down twice a year.

Marvelous things emerge from Solstice stillness!

Devil’s Paintbrush, Solstice 2021

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Mid-Year Solstice 2021

Blessed Solstice! I was searching for a term for the solstices that would include what the sun is up to in both North and South, and “Mid-Year” and “End-Year” make do until I find better ones.

This Farmer’s Almanac pic helps — one of the clearer and more informative diagrams I’ve encountered:

I’ve written several posts on the Solstice, just about evenly distributed between winter and summer, and assembled links to a few of them below:

Nine Days of Solstice

Solstices Before Us

Gifts of Solstice (a 3-parter)

Solstice Season 2020

13 Gift-flames for Solstice Solitaries

May you find the warmth and illumination you need burning in your heart.

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A Local Druidry

What would a local Druidry look like if I built it from the ground up, from what I can perceive today, right now? What do I bring to this moment? What does this moment bring to me?

daffodils waiting, saying more than any blogpost can …

After all, Druidry begins like most spiritual paths with “Here I am — here we all are. Now what?”

One of the most obvious things we can acknowledge and celebrate is day and night. A walk at sunrise and sunset. Standing in the doorway or at a window, facing east at dawn or early morning, west at sundown or in the early evening. A photo or picture on the wall, a small shrine to the direction. A prayer, song, chant, charm or rhyme, for these times, or for just after waking, just before sleep. Write/collect a set of them, to vary them according to season or month or intention.

We learn to “curate our consciousness”. Because if I don’t, plenty of others will jump at the chance, telling me how to feel, what to think, what to buy, where and how to live. (Half of Druidry is exploring ways of using my life for the best purposes I can choose.)

What does this attention bring me? What do I see and hear, feel and smell and touch? What touches me?

crocuses crocusing

Perhaps some other part of the cycles of your life interests you, or draws your attention. Maybe your lunch-hour or midday is most significant in your schedule. Or perhaps returning home each day after work. The specific rhythms of our lives offer an excellent place to offer honor and gratitude for their gifts, to acknowledge exchanges of energy, to honor the life in them. They’re ours, after all — we’re unique beings in unique circumstances, so why not build our practice from these experiences?

We may justifiably rebel from the ordinary, the mundane and humdrum and commonplace — until we find a key to transform them.

Waiting for that key … If you’re like me and practically everyone else on this planet, we can be quite passive toward our own lives, waiting for “something to happen”, till we begin to see how much we shape our experience by assumption and attitude and attention. A small step toward “making things happen” will have effects all out of proportion to its beginnings. Doubt it? Try it out and document your experiences. Yes, you’re on your way, a key in hand.

What keys are the apparent, mundane, ordinary facts of my life trying to hand me? Where am I turning them away? Again, rather than judgment, treat it as the story-line out of a fairy-tale. “I am the seventh child of the seventh child, and this time I will take the key … when all my sisters and brothers and cousins turned away …” Because right now the key awaits in the most unlikely likely place.

“The highest good is like water” — Tao Te Ching

What am I looking at right now, and does it deserve my attention, my time? What can I shape and beautify and charge with my desire and intention and joy? Because if I don’t, I’m simply yielding the floor to the desires and attentions of others, and they’re almost never more fitting for my life than my own. Not wrong, or bad or “evil”, necessarily — just not as appropriate. Bless them and let them go. Apply a triad to actions, a “sieve for consciousness” like one attributed to Rumi: “Is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?”

Sifting priorities. The time I spend online can be a sample illustration of this powerful tool. Because it affords a magnificent and piercing sieve of my actions and intentions and will. Let me log on consciously, with a blessing on my interactions. Let me stay as long as I need to, in order to check in with those I care about, to make worthwhile posts and comments. Let me pass by any distractions that don’t serve me. No judgment, just choice in action. Let me log off with another blessing.

The weather both today and seasonally invites me to other celebrations. Beltane in the wings …

Full moon, waxing, waning, new — we can also make attention to our sister planet part of our Druid practice, if we choose. What phase of the lunar cycle calls to you? Or if none do, pass by, without judgment, to where you are called.

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Mooning the Druid, Druiding the Moon

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

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

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

How bright the darkness, how dark the light …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Welcome, new visitor from Ecuador!

Awen’s Music

Recently there was a heartfelt inquiry on a Druid forum asking for suggestions for adapting to a new home in an unfamiliar region. We all face this challenge in some form, either connecting to a landscape with ancestral presences, or finding our way in a new place. And how many times must our ancestors also have faced a similar experience?

Other helpful responses from commenters included making offerings, walking the land, asking for guidance, and — because Kris Hughes’ marvelous new book is still buzzing in my awareness — here’s this edited version of my response.

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My instinct is to begin with individuals, along the lines some others have described. That particular tree, this stone, that stream, and so on. Often they can be an individual welcome-point. (Not all trees pay attention equally, at least where I live. Some don’t talk as much, either, while some talk a lot.)

Kris Hughes writes wonderfully about this in his latest book, Cerridwen: Celtic Goddess of Inspiration:

“I recall quite vividly a workshop where I was given the task to go and speak to a tree and glean any wisdom from it or anything indicative of communication. I failed miserably … How could I be a Pagan if I couldn’t speak to trees?”

“It took one sentence from someone completely unrelated to trees or Paganism to transform the way I perceived communication. It was a Welsh documentary about Bardism, and within it, one of the interviewees casually said that regardless of how different we may perceive ourselves to be from any other life form, we all have one thing in common: we all sing the song of Awen. The Awen’s music is the same in everyone and everything, it is the lyrics that differ according to one’s experience. The resulting song is unique, and it is the tool by which the Awen and, in turn, the universe experiences itself through the countless windows of expression. So I took to thinking that if I contain the music of Awen, then so would that rowan tree I was trying desperately to communicate with. The lyrics, of course, would be different, mine based on the fact that I am a human being … But how on earth would I hear her song?”

“It still didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I needed to do something that would bridge that logical side of my mind with the subtle, invisible spectrum. And the answer to that was to sing” (pgs. 241-242).

So I sing to the trees and the stones, the waters and the land.

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Greetings to a first-time visitor from the Dominican Republic. (I find the flag counter app in the sidebar a great reminder every time I see it that Druidry and an interest in understanding and honoring and celebrating our home are worldwide.)

Review of K. Hughes’ “Cerridwen” — Part 2

Part 2 — because how can a book of lore that also offers a path of initiation and suggestions for a regular practice be properly reviewed in a single take?

Kristoffer Hughes has helpfully made Youtube recordings of some of the Welsh that appears in this book, because the sound of the language is one approach among others to entering into sacred space with the goddess. As of today, there are four videos on his Youtube channel: “Ritual to meet Cerridwen”, “Welsh ritual phrases”, “Guide to Welsh pronunciation”, and “Cerridwen: glossary of words”.

The dedication page is brief: I Cerridwen — Mam yr Awen: “To Cerridwen — Mother of Awen”. And because she is Mother, Kris reminds us, we are Plant Cerridwen — the children of Cerridwen.

All of us, whether we’re Welsh or not? Of course. But a caveat … As Kris notes in the opening paragraphs of his first chapter, “The Quest for Cerridwen”:

The current New Age trend of spiritual commercialism has dissected the mysteries to their component parts … This has profoundly affected our relationship with the mysteries … The permanent individuation of the gods to the exclusion of the landscape in which they exist does them a disservice, for the landscape inspires and breathes life into the divine … (pgs. 1-2).

Yes, those wishing to enter relationship with Cerridwen and gain initiatory wisdom and insight from her mysteries can do so anywhere. No, she is not “a universal goddess, never mind what we call her”. So if we wish to avoid “damage to an archetype” as Kris calls it, a real possibility if we wield our indifference like a blunt instrument, and thereby miss much that Cerridwen asks of us and offers in return, there are several things we can put into practice. One that should come as no surprise is observance of the Wheel of the Year.

Such observance “causes us to stop, take heed, and observe a world that we believe we are familiar with. To those who fully engage, they begin to sense more to the world than first meets the eye” (pg. 202). The “apparent world fades”, as OBOD standard ritual reminds us — a world largely created by the inner chatter that, unchecked, fills our waking hours. “To sense the subtle and perceive the space between spaces that connects all beings, we must learn to be still and identify that space within our own beings. In my tradition we have a name for this process: we call it finding one’s taw” (pg. 202).

In a section titled “Appropriate Appropriation”, Kris addresses such concerns head on:

There is a strong possibility that you, reading this book right now, may not be Welsh or even have a connection to Wales. But somehow, by some means, you have found your way to reading this particular book. Cerridwen has found a way to seed within you the spark of Awen. You are the sum totality of all things that went before you, including the magic of the Welsh bardic tradition, which is held somewhere deep in the recesses of our species memory. By all means, learn a little Welsh or at least strive to understand the complexities of the history that brought Cerridwen into the light of twenty-first century Paganism. Know that you are equally expressive of the Plant Cerridwen and have as much right to claim that title as any Welsh person.

Whilst it is important to develop honest, nonappropriative practise, do not ever think that you don’t have the right to claim Cerridwen as a goddess that is valid for you … she is more alive today than she has been for the last four hundred years (pg. 261).

Kris then offers 13 excellent suggestions for ways to develop a non-appropriative practice that will not cramp anyone’s style. He also states clearly that any limitations we face as modern people can serve as opportunities for creative work-arounds:

I cannot see Cerridwen physically–she does not possess a carbon based physical body–so the manner by which I develop my relationship with her must somehow address these limitations. Nothing beats heading over to Bala for an afternoon spent at her lake, for there is a sense there that is different to anywhere else on earth–there is a tangibility to her presence in that location, as if the landscape holds a different kind of lyric. However, Bala is just over an hour from my home, and my schedule does not permit me the luxury of going there every day. Therefore I have re-created a sense of what I feel at Bala at home, and it is centred around my altar … (pgs. 264-5).

This book is rich in suggestion and opportunity, with keys Kris draws from personal experience. Visualization proves difficult for many, and Kris supplies a most helpful tool in the form of sigils — several appear throughout the text. As he notes, “… application of the magic will invariably have a physical aspect to it” (pg. 204). Just like humans need to ground and center, magic needs that grounding too, or it remains a mental head-trip the other parts of ourselves never take.

It is perhaps inevitable that some readers will merely skim the book and zero in on the section “Stirring the Cauldron”, with its wealth of suggestions for practice. But practice often runs dry without roots, which the text amply supplies, and a practice unmoored in understanding and respect for a tradition will soon leave the restless seeker wandering off to the next book. The fulfillment of anything that worthwhile books promise can only come from the same thing such books usually counsel us to remember and put into practice — full immersion.

For us to practice such immersion, the Welsh traditions of song and awen, poetry and inspiration, silence and speech have literal significance and application:

The Awen is active, and to sense its blowing through us, we must actively vocalise and energetically move into its power. We live on a unique world, a place where expression is facilitated by the atmosphere that surrounds and imbibes us. Breath is the bridge between the density of the physical and the lightness of spirit (pg. 246).

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Review of K. Hughes’ “Cerridwen: Celtic Goddess of Inspiration”– 1

Hughes, Kristoffer. Cerridwen: Celtic Goddess of Inspiration. Woodbury, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 2021.

Quick take: In his latest book, Hughes gifts us with a marvelous resource. Drawing on native Welsh sources — his first language, his place of residence, his own spiritual practice, and the central Celtic myth of several Druid orders — he writes with passion and profound insight.

In-depth Take: Unlike my other book reviews, this one will have several parts, as I begin to work with and through the rich material Kris provides here and to offer what can only be provisional insights. That is as it should be.

A personal note: I’ve met Kris several times at Gatherings in the States, where he was the special guest and main speaker. Most recently, at East Coast Gathering 2018, he gave a Tarot workshop, with this book already very much on his mind — so much so, that when he spoke briefly but movingly of awen and Cerridwen, several of us begged for him to say more. “That’s another workshop”, he replied. “And another book — this one”, he might have added.

Let’s start with the cover: we see only part of Cerridwen’s face — fitting for a goddess of mystery and initiation. Whatever your stance toward the divine, Kris notes in the introduction,

“This book does not expect you to conform to the manner by which I work with and experience deity. There are a number of ways that people may develop relationship with what some may refer to as god or goddess, and neither is right or wrong. In that spirit, I do not expect you, the reader, to even be a theist, or an individual that works with deity. Cerridwen is flexible enough to be a psychological component to those who may be atheistic or nontheists. The rise of a figure to the status of deity is a process referred to as apotheosis, and this is important, for often the main complaint and criticism of modern-day Pagan practitioners is that they connect to and are often devoted to deities that may not ever have been identified as such in the past. I shall delve deeper into the function of apotheosis in the coming chapters” (pg. xix).

This richness of perspective and detail, drawn from personal experiences which Kris shares throughout, makes the book both a wisdom-meditation and a guide. Often in Druid books we get the distillation of insight, but without the personal component that lets us in sympathetically, imaginatively, emotionally. And “letting ourselves in” — in this case, into relationship with Cerridwen and similar deified energies and persons — is what this book accomplishes so well.

“The journey into relationship with Cerridwen and her myth is not safe — how can it be? For in so doing, one potentially positions oneself at the edge of the cauldron of inspiration and transformation. Your life may never be the same again” (pg. 27).

Of course many books promise much — good marketing is a part of how they sell, after all. But the substance that underlies any promise is where Kris prefers to focus. Issues of cultural heritage, appropriation and authenticity still loom large for much of the Pagan world. Ideally, such grappling will eventually lead to greater clarity and integrity.

Kris notes:

“The difficulties that people face when attempting to move into relationship with mythologies, particularly those that they may be culturally removed from, is the perception that the very words on paper contain the mystery. Modernity has preserved the words themselves whilst simultaneously causing many to consider that only the words themselves matter, and the eye is taken away from the vast space between the lines — wherein lies the magic” (pg. 16).

One key to crossing the river gorges and chasms along our paths is finding useful bridges. Not everything that “takes us across” leaves us where we want or need to be. Kris notes:

“The promise of sweet mystery may well turn sour during one’s exploration, particularly if one cannot make the content applicable in practice … The Pagan traditions work best when orthodoxy, something one believes in, is combined with orthopraxy, something that one does. This book will provide keys to effective and essential practice in order to transform myths from static stories to elements of spiritual practice, illumination and inspiration” (pgs. 13-14).

This core insight is a key that anyone can use, with any mythology — that is, with any story that makes sense of the cosmos. If we love and cherish the story, how do we light it up with life and fire? (That’s what can happen, what Kris wants to help happen for us, when we’re in relationship with a deity.) Christianity excels in orthodoxy, in instructing its communities of believers about what to believe, to the point where recitations of creeds have become the primary identifying feature of different denominations. What Christianity often lacks, and what has led people to find instruction elsewhere, are effective practices that make its teachings something one can actually begin to embody concretely, hour to hour, outside of “church”.

Do people nowadays “know Christians by their love”, as the Christian song lyrics say? It remains an open question. Likewise, do we recognize Druids by a characteristic wisdom and inspiration?

Part 2 coming soon.

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Paths, Order, Rights, Gods — It’s all PORG!

This morning, a post on a constructed language forum I frequent asked how one might go about expressing what we mean by “rights” in English. There’s a lot of talk these days about rights and freedoms, but much less about what these things are. Whenever we use unexamined words in such prominent ways, it pays to take a look at what we’re talking about. We often use words like “rights” and “freedom” to mean something we presume is self-evident, but it seems that much of our disagreement arises because they actually don’t mean the same thing to everyone.

Depending on the era and the culture, rights are given to us by gods or culture heroes; or they’re baked into The Mix from the outset; or they’re balanced — and dependent on — our fulfillment of obligations that are paired with each right we desire; or they’re human creations, meaning they’re entirely under our control. When I look at my own understandings, I see flavors of each of these perspectives. No wonder we’re struggling. (If you’ve figured it out, are you running for office? Or do you have a workshop we can attend for more money than we make in a month?)

If you see rights as something given, they’re not up for revision. But if you think we humans created them, you’re more inclined to tinker, and to recreate them to fit your current vision.

In older cultures like that of Vedic India, the cosmic order or rta is “the principle of natural order which regulates and coordinates the operation of the universe and everything within it”. Rta is something to find out, to discover, to align with. It can’t be legislated into or out of existence. Regardless of human law and laws which may come to overlay it, it persists as a foundation — or the foundation — for how the universe works. It takes in physics as well as morality. We can’t cancel gravity, in spite of its behavior. There may be comparable things at work within humans that we’ve overlooked.

There’s a certain Druidic sympathy for much of this view. The natural world embodies a significant expression of the harmony we aspire to. We choose nature as one of our teachers, birds and beasts and trees as fellow-travelers with us, each possessed of their own truths and gifts. Nature, we’re still learning, offers healing and wisdom for many of our ills, if we can learn to re-apprentice ourselves to it.

Many people feel that morality is much less (or not at all) “built into things” but instead more or entirely a matter of human choice, consciousness and active shaping. There are physical laws, but human society is a created thing, a part of human culture. That means, or should mean, that we can make it whatever we want it to be. Any injustice is a human choice, therefore, as are the inequalities of our social order. If we made them, the thinking goes, we can change and improve them. Resist such an obvious good, goes the thinking, and you’re just on the wrong side of history. You’re selfish, wrong, null and void, past your expiration date, hateful and evil, and above all you deserve to be outed and stopped.

One of the ancient insights of established religions is that there is a force, principle, entity, counter-balance — something or Someone, depending on your predilection to personify — that often causes our best-laid plans to go off the rails, turn awry, flounder and founder and crash and burn. Raven, Loki, Trickster, that strange neighbor — take your pick. We readily find reasons to blame some Other for mucking things up, not ourselves. But many ancient wisdoms would point us to tendencies within each of us that we need to face and work with. Gods know we’ve certainly all had long enough to get it right.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings, says Cassius in Julius Caesar. What’s so wonderful about Cassius’ words is that they are both beautifully true in general and evilly true in particular. We want to revolt, but against whom?

“A country without justice is a country that calls for a revolt …” Justice for who? How?

It’s certainly an accurate diagnosis that we often and too readily yield up our sovereignty to others — gods, partners, friends, corporations, the majority, the Party, The Man, the Patriarchy, the evil Leftists/Rightists/Centrists, etc. — and then we complain when they act in their own interests, and make us suffer, whether intentionally or not. We all repeatedly make ourselves “underlings” in amazingly short-sighted ways, then struggle long and bitterly to reclaim our power. Along the way, it seems we have to reinvent the wheel each time, making enough mistakes that at least half the time we’re Part of The Problem we’re trying to fix. Slow learners, every one of us.

Some religions call this tendency in us evil or sin. We might use vocabulary from physics or biology and just as reasonably call it inertia, finiteness, self-preservation and a number of other observable tendencies that carry less judgment with them. As Andy Dufresne says in The Shawshank Redemption, “you get busy living or get busy dying”. How often do we think we know which one we’re doing, only to discover to our dismay that we’ve been doing the opposite. The natural/organic/biologique food we pay more to buy turns out to be slathered in pesticides by an unscrupulous grower. The journalist we abused for critiquing our favorite new governor turns out to have been right after all. Someone oughta pay! Too often, it’s us. And along with us, the planet, the truth and others’ trust.

We’re constantly told to “just be ourselves”. Seems obvious. But do we know how? Why is that apparently so hard? Hundreds of solutions on tap, and not a single one working for everybody. Part of this — THIS — is that we have to find our own path. Though it will — blessedly — intersect many times with the paths of others.

One of the great insights of Druidry is that working with the awen, with our creativity, is a profound and pleasurable way to restore and reclaim much that we have lost. It is not The Sole Solution (though it’s a Soul solution), but it IS a practice that can lead us toward solutions more productively than much else we’ve tried. When we align with Spirit and our own genius and connection to the worlds, beautiful and inspiring things result.

We can always use more of that.

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Welcome to Bangladesh as the newest first-time visitor!

Image: Pexels.com

Cruce Celtica 3

[Cruce Celtica | Cruce Celtica 2 | Cruce Celtica 3]

Cheryl Anne recently commented:

In the mornings, after I have prayed at my altar (which is in the East), I trace a Celtic Cross over my heart, then rise and take the candle from the altar, bow, then make my way sunwise round to the North and sing a prayer/blessing for the Directions: “May the Life and Hope of God, May the Light and Peace of Christ, May the Love and Healing of the Holy Spirit, be in the North…then South…West…East…bowing again to the altar in the East, then turning to face the Center…be throughout the Whole World”; then extinguish the candle for the spreading of the Light throughout the world. Carlo Carretto (1910-1988) wrote of the Trinity as Life, Light, and Love. I have found this way of understanding the Trinity to be very helpful and beautiful as I weave a Way of Being which honors all that is meaningful to me. I am very happy to have found your writings!

This is a wonderful illustration of finding ways to personalize what we do, and how we walk our paths. You can feel it as you read it.

“To honor all that is meaningful to us”: a piece of the Great Work each of us is called to do.

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To those who find Christian imagery and language a useful guide, one might see in Cheryl Anne’s practice a concrete demonstration of the “priesthood of all believers”, practices that reflect a capacity for devotion and service. The phrase “priesthood of all believers” itself is one that some have developed based on 1 Peter 2:9. While the Wikipedia entry for “universal priesthood” highlights this belief and practice as something that’s more characteristic of Protestantism than other traditions in Christianity, one need not see priesthood as an “either-or”. Dedication, service and devotion are definitely not the exclusive possessions of any one tradition or practice.

A Druid, for instance, might well perceive that when we are in right relationship with Others, all beings, human and non, have the potential to minister to each other, to serve as the hands and feet and eyes and mouth and heart of Spirit. And we’ve all had experience of such harmony, though often only briefly. At our best, we mediate light and love, life and law to each other, four forces traditionally associated with the Four Directions. And at our worst — well, we know all too well what we’re capable of at our worst. One tradition I know asks its clerics to be intentional about displaying outward symbols and signs of their position. When they’re not at their best, they’re asked to remove any outward signs that mark them as clerics, until they’re able to honor the call once more. Priesthood in this sense is a renewable aspiration, and an ongoing opportunity for discernment, for re-dedication, for service.

The topic of priest(ess)hood comes up from time to time in Druidry. We may already know our formal and informal leaders. Some are authors and speakers and workshop leaders. Some are priested, and some are not. It can be easy to confuse charisma, or a gift for teaching, or leadership skills, or learning, with a call to priesthood. It’s helpful to remember that many priests, perhaps most, work in the background. So if I imagine myself as a priest, let me apply the first test of our crap detectors, the test of ego: does the appeal, the romance, the glamour of “priesthood” drop away, if no one else ever knows about the call I’ve answered? Does the call still sound its voice inwardly?

As Druidry develops, it will find appropriate tools to assist those with various spiritual calls. Christian training for priesthood begins with a process of discernment. Is what I’m experiencing in fact a call? Who is calling? Is the call still alive a year from today? How have I responded to the call, if at all? What practices do I have in place that may focus or scatter my awareness of the call, my commitment to respond? What do I imagine will happen if I ignore the call? And so on.

Here, too, is an opportunity to practice the “as if” principle. If I am a priest/ess right now, how does my life demonstrate that spiritual fact? Can I serve as a priest starting this moment, without the need for the label, the bling, the recognition of others? If I can and if I do, what does that look like in concrete terms?

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Cruce Celtica 2

[Cruce Celtica | Cruce Celtica 2 | Cruce Celtica 3]

How might I incorporate insights from the recent “Cruce Celtica” post into my practice?

(As with other posts here, if you’re still working through negative associations and experiences with Christianity, you’re better off just passing by this post. No need to irritate or anger your emotional body. Your other bodies will thank you.)

ONE

Make the sign of the cross as a way to call the Four Directions. After all, that’s what much Druid ritual does already: the opening rite of the standard OBOD format moves us from North to South, from West to East. Depending on where you’re facing, crossing yourself, that’s forehead to heart, left shoulder to right shoulder. Much Hermetic magic also relies on such gestural associations, symbolism and visualizations with Medieval and Biblical symbolism.

TWO

Visualize the presence of spirit in nature, Hebrew immanu-‘el “with-us God”, Emmanuel, in each of the Four Quarters. If you’d like a more Druid focus, use a set of common associations: for instance, bear of the North, hawk of the east, stag of the south, salmon of the West.

For a more Christian focus, try the Four Evangelists (or Archangels), or their ancient symbols: an angel for Saint Matthew, a lion for Saint Mark, an ox for Saint Luke and an eagle for Saint John. These symbols come from the first chapter of Ezekiel, appearing again in the fourth chapter of Revelation. The early Church Fathers interpreted, explored and developed them further.

In the Tarot, the World card depicts these four, one in each corner disposed around the central human figure. This card might serve as a meditation focus.

A more explicitly Christian opening could use “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” from Psalm 24.

Spirit fills the worlds, and everything in them.

THREE

These gestures, visualizations and forms could serve for a house blessing, one for each of the four corners (that’s assuming you’re not living in a geodesic dome, or a yurt, or some other non-four-sided dwelling!). Looking for a particular verse that’s more appropriate? Consider Psalm 127: “Except the Lord build the house …” Or Psalm 118: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone …”

FOUR

These forms also offer themes for portions of an hour (15 minutes each) or a day (6 hours each). Or for a month’s worth of workings, ritual, blessings, meditations, etc. Try them out as a preliminary shape or container for prayer, meditation, ritual,

FIVE

From a favorite verse in each of the four Gospels, make a directional sigil. Here’s Matthew 20:16 for an example.

First, cross out any repeated letters …

In the making of the sigil, you may sometimes “find” a second “hidden” verse — here, “so the law be a friend” suggests itself fairly transparently — which can spark further meditation. What law? How a “friend”?

Then make the sigil. Freehand is often best. Let the shapes of both lower and upper case blend. After all, you’re doing this for you, not for anyone else. The making of a sigil can be a meditative and ritual act. Here’s my freehand sigil of the 14 letters s-o-t-h-e-l-a-w-i-b-f-r-n-d.

SIX

Once you have the sigil, you can use it in a wide variety of ways. Again, the making of sigils is itself a magical and blessed act — or it can be. The resulting sigil may be a focus for meditation, a tattoo, a ritual object to place in an appropriate place, a mark to consecrate another object, etc. Write it with safe vegetable inks on skin and it can be licked off and swallowed. Or ground up and incorporated into an oil for anointing. Or kept in a pendant as a charm. And so on.

If your first reaction to any of these suggestions is surprise, suspicion, repugnance, disgust, etc., ask yourself why. Nothing in any of these acts is inherently different than decorating a birthday cake, signing a name, initialing a form, writing shorthand, etc. Most of us have swallowed pills, capsules, etc. with trademarks on them. Why not hallow, bless, consecrate, sanctify?

SEVEN

I invite you to try out and experiment with further uses yourself. In such exploration you may find inspiration from doing one or more of the foregoing as a starting point — a priming of the pump — as with the found verse, or the final appearance of the sigil, the original verse or other piece of language that you sigilized, and so on. Any of these are things you could do with children, too. They are ways to materialize, concretize, manifest, make palpable, things which can otherwise seem too abstruse, ethereal, incorporeal, transient.

Part of our magic as makers — Tolkien’s “we make still by the law in which we’re made” — is to bring spirit into forms we can experience and apprehend more immediately and readily than before.

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Sing Me into New Worlds

A recent discussion about Atlantis on a Druid forum is the seed for this post. Many commenters reacted negatively to the Romantic image of Atlantean teachers and wise guides fleeing the destruction of the ancient continent and bringing to Europe the outlines of what would become Druidry. Any evidence for such a thing is less than paper-thin, the reasons ran. So why perpetuate a suspect origin-story that distracts from what Druidry is and can accomplish today?

After all, if you’re looking over antiques, or your tastes run to vintage, you may well seek a certificate of authenticity. Value lies in age and pedigree. What it was, who owned it, where it came from, what materials went into it — these things are part and parcel of what it is and means and is worth today. For wines, think terroir, think the year it was bottled. Or if the uniqueness and caché and associations and fame of the original object make replicas a viable trade — and not everything can be replicated — you accept a skillful replica or reproduction as the “next best thing”.

But for anything that can handle daily use right now, you go for practicality. Is it well-made? Will it hold up? Does it do what it says it can do? Is it flexible or sturdy enough to change as needs change?

My suspicion is that some sources and texts in Druidry generally and in the OBOD coursework specifically are often presented not so much to ground Druidry in undeniable fact or documented history, so much as to inspire us with potent images that can help begin to take us to other realms. We may come at first because we “want the facts”, because our modern era has convinced us that data is superior to images and the imagination. We may come to a life philosophy and spirituality like Druidry out of bitter experience with too many “true fragments” of the Grail, too much mythologizing, too much outright deception and abuse by those claiming authority over us and our lives. Our suspicions are trigger-ready, on high alert. To quote The Who song, “We won’t get fooled again”.

But often it seems that Druidry would rather point us toward images to awaken the awen, because inspiration and imagination have often proven to be better problem-solvers than fact alone. After all, we’ve “had the facts” for decades, and look where we are right now in early 2021.

A re-connection to nature is the first key and gift Druidry offers. We re-align our priorities and focus of effort. We listen to where we find ourselves, and find our ways under sun- and moon-light, with birdsong around us, and leaves, land, water and sky among our teachers. Without that, no amount of correct, factual, documentable historical background will help us live in better harmony with the earth, just as no government policy on the right, left or center will do so. Or at least it hasn’t done so thus far, and I’m not holding my breath for it happening any time soon. Only actually living in better harmony with the earth can do that. And that starts with each person who makes a choice today, a choice tomorrow, and so on through our days.

Rather than primarily feeding the intellect about itself, Druidry (mostly) attempts to ignite the emotions and imagination and sing us into better accord with our own worlds.

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Hello, Costa Rica — the most recent new visitor.

What Does “Beyond 101” Look Like?

And how can I recognize it when I encounter it? [Looking for a different take? Here’s another post of mine on the subject from August 2020.]

Part of the “recognition challenge” we may face is that “Beyond 101” can vary so widely from person to person. (That’s a good thing.)

Stick with Druidry long enough — as with any path with heart — and you’ve already entered “Beyond 101” territory. Maybe slipped in without even noticing. Almost certainly no welcome committee, no flags or fireworks. Of course, if that’s true of you, then you’re probably not asking what Beyond 101 looks like, because you’re busy doing it. From time to time, though, you may well ask the question as you stand on this side of the border, just like the rest of us mortals.

If I start by looking at some of the practices I list in “Druiding without (an) Order“, I can get a first approximation of what at least some of the “Beyond” landscape may look like, because that’s where those practices lead to. Druidry helps us grow into ourselves, to bloom and blossom in season.

And if I look at my own singular and not-particularly-representative journey, much of what I discover, to use another suitably Druidic image, is a spreading root system. One thing leads to another — “knowing how way leads on to way”, Robert Frost puts it.

So these are two directions this post will take, or two themes: where beginning practices may point us, and what I can conclude from my own “decade in Druidry” and forty years on another path.

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Druidry starts where we do.

Druidry eases us open to encounter.

In some ways, Druidry takes us through the musical of our own lives: “I love you, you’re perfect, now change“. So do most spiritual paths worth the walking which connect us to an Other or Others. One difference is that Druidry acknowledges changes will happen regardless, because they’re characteristic of our existence here and now. Life initiates us without our say-so. And so we can learn to sail the winds of change, or be buffeted more than needs to happen. (Sometimes it looks like both at once.)

Druidry points us toward the natural world as a guide and image for what living is like, what it can be, where it can take us, and how to experience all these things more richly and deeply.

Following the first path of the 13 starting points from my “Druiding without (an) Order” post above, if I “learn the trees and plants, birds and animals of my region”, I may well become an herbalist, a healer, an environmental activist, a workshop leader, a teacher, and so on. Druidry can help me activate potentials.

If I opt for “Path Number 2”, and set about learning all I can about a subject, self-taught perhaps because no one else exists who can teach me, or because my life has taken a turn away from the class-and-credential route others may follow, such knowledge will again take me where I may not have foreseen, into encounters with people or places or ideas I wouldn’t have imagined before I began. Druidry can help me navigate new directions and opportunities with its tools and practices. In the process, I may learn to appreciate and value the difference between head-knowledge and heart-wisdom.

Some who turn to follow Path 3 will become Bards: singers, musicians, performers others recognize for their art. Some may remain inward Bards, alive to word and song, but unknown except perhaps to partners, family, close friends — and sometimes not even to these. (Perhaps only a garden, or god or goddess, knows what the awen says to you.) Or this path may lead variously to a life of travel and performance, to teaching the instrument of your Barding, to supporting the rituals of your group or grove with word and melody and chant, and so on. What will you do with the song in your heart?

With just these three paths, you begin to see some of the varied forms that Beyond 101 can take.

Almost always, Druidry will help enliven in us the impulse to explore more than one path, though a particular path may call more strongly, and become a dominant theme during a lifetime. “Beyond 101” is, often enough, a series of “taking up a new direction”, but with the wisdom of the practice of one path there to guide and guard you, and to deepen as it does so.

And what of following more than one “larger” path, Druidry and Christianity, or Druidry and Medicine, or Buddhism and Druidry, and so on? As with all our close relationships, they will enrich us, train us (and strain us!), taking us to new places.

I’ve discovered over time how if my practice of one path goes dormant, or even feels lifeless, exhausted, or at some frozen stopping-point or impasse, the other path can help, may paradoxically intensify, compensate, engage me in new ways, or open up insights into the other path. Walking two paths has reduced the blind spots I might otherwise experience on either path. That’s rarely a comfortable experience, however desirable it seems from the outside — and proves to be.

Druidry, like any other path, can’t “save” me — but my practice of it can.

Often when we seek something “beyond 101”, we’re looking for inspiration, kindling, a pathway through an apparently lifeless winter landscape. Or some indication of what’s going on, what’s shaking loose, where to put attention and energy — or where to conserve them. Divination remains popular because we want to “know the future” — not so completely that no surprises remain in life, but so that the pace of change doesn’t swamp and overwhelm and drown us.

Those in our groups and groves and circles of friends who frequent the terrain beyond 101 may not immediately stand out to us. They may fall silent around the talkers and gossips. They may sit off by themselves with one or two others, or they may seem “perfectly normal” or utterly quirky and eccentric.

C. S Lewis wrote in his Space Trilogy: “I happen to believe that you can’t study men; you can only get to know them, which is quite a different thing”. In our quest for Beyond 101, frustrated at our capacity to sense the terrain ourselves, we turn to those who look like they walk it, or claim to do so. Then we may strive to imitate them, reading their books, attending their workshops, in some cases lingering with them to swim in their charisma, catch their vibe.

The paradox arrives in our discovery that the tools they provide, the models and examples they put before us, if they are worthy teachers and mentors, ultimately show us not who they are, but more of ourselves, and how to fulfill who we are — slowly, slowly — becoming.

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Image 1: Pexels.com; image 2: front yard

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