Archive for the ‘spiritual practice’ Tag

Druidry 201, and Spiritual Dryness   Leave a comment

So you’ve made your way as a solitary practitioner, to the point where you know your land, the compass directions you salute, the spirits you greet and work with, the seasons, sun and moon, and the local weather-signs that signal storm or heat or simply change. You may well hold to an idiosyncratic practice that nevertheless works for you, drawn from dream, instinct, wide reading, the place you find yourself, discoveries that have proven to work, chance, ancestral memory, trial and error, divination, or direct instruction from a tree, guide, spirit, the land, another person.

If none of the foregoing sounds like you or your path — if you’re not a Druid, but Druid-friendly, or Druid-curious — nevertheless you can describe your path (and might benefit from putting such an overview into words, if only for yourself, as a record, a milestone, a signpost, a witness).

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Spring, says Kipling in The Jungle Book … “the time of New Talk”

Or you’ve joined an order or grove or ritual group, you meet intermittently or regularly, you’ve settled on a basic ritual format that you spin variations on, you have your favorite festivals and ritual locations, and after a time you may start leading or writing your group’s rituals, or holding informal talks, or teaching divination, healing, permaculture, magic, and so on.

In either case, how many things can a Druid study or practice? Yes, you get the idea: the reach of it all widens far beyond the circle of the horizon.

In other words, you’re no longer a beginner at this stuff. You’re at least a “201-er” (following the numbering of university courses in many places, with 100-level classes signalling no prior knowledge or prerequisite coursework, and 200-level and above indicating intermediate and more advanced levels). You may not (ever) feel ready to write a book on what you know (though you could do so, nonetheless). You may never be approached by students eager to learn what you’ve painstakingly put together on your own (though that could happen, too). But you know enough, have learned enough, that when you act (or refrain from acting), things ripple from that choice, and you know it.

What’s next? Or what work lies ahead? And how do you figure that out?

The challenge of naming such next steps partly explains why there are so few non-beginner books and guides.

If you’ve stayed with any path long enough, and kept growing, you’ve learned how to begin taking those next steps, or — if they haven’t yet come into view — at least how to look and listen for them. You’ve also probably experienced “spiritual dryness” as well, those periods of inner drought where nothing’s kicking, and you just go through the motions like a wind-up toy. Patience is our greatest discipline and practice, says more than one spiritual teaching. Like trees and mountains, sometimes we need to weather for a while. And that can be the hardest work we do.

From the outside, even to close friends or family, it may look like we’re doing precisely nothing, when in fact we’re holding on and letting go all at once, questing for doors, gates, guides, signs, hints and clues, treading water, running in place, flexing all our limbs to stay as supple as possible, or — sometimes — dissolving into a complete funk and thinking we may just chuck it all. Heave a lifetime into the garbage bin and start fresh. Or abandon the whole project of having a project in the first place. Go fishing. Get and stay drunk, maybe for a few years. Have a midlife (or late-life) crisis. You’d run away, if it didn’t take so much energy. (Find a quiet corner and huddle there for a while, muttering to yourself. Yes, you’ve become one of those people now.)

201 is a point, or interval, where diverse spiritual traditions find considerable overlap, and the insights from one tradition can aid people in another. The most dogmatic and inflexible practitioners of any tradition usually haven’t wandered away from the home fires of their own hearths to the edges of the Forest, or into it. (You know what the capital letter stands for.) Or if they have, what they experienced there so terrified them that they fled and returned, hearts thumping wildly in their chests, determined to erect barriers, rules, ideologies, locks, guardians, gatekeepers to prevent others from enduring the same.

201 takes us into myth, archetype, confronting the self. 201, to borrow from Tolkien for a minute, drops us between the worlds of Man and Elf:

The real theme for me [in my fiction] is about something much more permanent and difficult; Death and Immortality: the mystery of the  love of the world in the hearts of a race ‘doomed’ to leave and seemingly lose it [Men]; the anguish in the hearts of a race ‘doomed’ not to leave it [the Elves]. — Letters, no. 86.

To paraphrase and summarize a conversation between Elf and Man I can’t locate right now (probably from the Silmarillion, or from Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, the Discussion between the Elven King Finrod and the Mortal woman Andreth), “Which of us should therefore envy the other?”

Meanwhile, the Renewers of the cosmos, whoever they are, send us challenges to sweep us beyond such dichotomies. What does Life or Death have to do with the Song of Awen endlessly pouring forth through everything? To one stifling in spiritual dryness, the endless streaming of Awen all around can form part of the suffering that may accompany us during such periods. “Why is so much happening and flowing and flourishing all around me, while I sit here, a husk, waiting, endlessly, for something — anything?”

But write such things in a 201 book, and most readers would burn the damn thing, if they read it at all. Sometimes it can seem our patience and persistence have merely enlarged our capacity for suffering. And that’s really not what you want to share with anyone who casually inquires “So how’s it goin’?”!

Ubi sapientia invenitur? goes the old query. Where can wisdom be found?

If you know Kate Chopin’s “Story of an Hour” (and if you don’t, go read it right now — it’s very short, a matter of just a few minutes rather than an hour — so that the very next few phrases and sentences aren’t spoilers for you), you know that the main character, with a weakened heart, faces freedom and dies.

We’re called to live, instead.

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New growth at the tips will be the most tender and sensitive, counsels the Green World.

Often the best cure is service. Not unwilling drudgery. But something worth doing. Find some way to give back, to unblock the flow of awen, of deep spirit, that has steadily been growing, pooling and accumulating, and now is a torment, because we can no longer give enough of it away, fast enough. (The cauldron is full to bursting. The weight of water in the reservoir builds and builds. Give more away, for the love of the sweet green earth!)

Instead of following a scripted plan for service (unless that appeals to you), ask for how you can serve. (Our talents can be used in ways we enjoy.) Then trust what comes, even as you test it step by step.

That, I’m still learning, turns out to be one of the bargains the universe, or the Gods, like best.

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Druids and Death   Leave a comment

No, this isn’t the D&D you’re looking for. Or perhaps it is.

Last month, on the way home from our nephew’s Southern wedding, my wife and I met my two Pennsylvania cousins for breakfast. We hadn’t gotten together since their father, my uncle, passed on almost two years ago. In his mid-90s, he’d wanted a minimal funeral: “No reason to prolong your grief, or spend money doing so”, he’d said. The rite ended up so modest and unannounced only his daughters and grandkids attended. We were just hearing details now.

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Our front-yard rhododendrons, with winter-kill on top, and the lower (snow-protected) green branches

Because of course funerals are very much for the living, too. And in spite of our callous and oblivious Western cultures so uncomfortable and unhelpful around death, we don’t “get over” grief after any fixed period of time. My younger cousin, I know, still carries hers around, like a tight knot in her chest, a cannonball of hurt.

“We’re not supposed to die!” she exclaimed at our breakfast, and I bit my tongue not to offer Druid things to her, knowing she still took a hard Evangelical Christian line about death: that it’s a punishment for sin, not a natural part of a cycle in worlds of time and space; that it’s a penalty for disobedience, not the consequence of wearing bodies that will, over time, wear out. Are autumn and winter unnatural?

Sometimes you just need to be heard in your grief, without judgment, without reply or attempts at comfort that, for you, ring false. No need to argue about death, for anyone’s sakes. I only hope she’ll find upcoming deaths, and her own, not a punishment but another step on our long journey.

Of course Druids no more “believe the same thing” than any other group of contrary, year-marked, and opinionated humans. One of my techniques, field-tested over my decades, if I can remember to turn to it — rather than bothering with belief, or non-belief — is to ask how is it true? When or where is it true, has it been true, will or can it be true again? These, to my mind, are larger, “better” questions, questions that still sidetrack me very helpfully, and fascinate me — much more than trying to lock down the moving target of “what a person can reasonably be expected to believe these days”. The answers, often spinning on to more questions, also fit poet Mary Oliver’s criteria: “so many questions more beautiful than answers”. Yup, says my inner Druid, trust the bards on this one, too.

Or as an artist friend said last night in Brandon VT, at her first major show of approximately 40 exquisite watercolors, quoting her mentor: the artist’s job (all our jobs, really) is to “deepen the mystery”, to pay attention.

As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, I don’t so much believe in life after death as I suspect there’s life after death. It’s a hunch, an itch, a ripple up and down the spine, one way to make sense of too many experiences that otherwise don’t fit. This life is already so strange and unexpected, that to be here at all is no more or less unlikely than to continue after the change of death.

Another way to understand it: any “afterlife” has already begun. I just wasn’t paying attention. This is the afterlife of my previous life: what am I gonna do with it? Fried chicken and beer, operas and curry, sex and drugs, art and amazement, fasting and penance, profit and politics — each of us finds a set of pleasures and purposes to round out the strangeness of being here at all, along with any other projects we try our hands at.

Or, with a turn toward pop culture, with some Appropriation for Druid Purposes: “Ye best start believin’ in ghost stories, Miss Turner”, says Captain Barbossa in Pirates of the Carribean. “Ye’re in one!”

Alastair Reid writes in his poem “Curiosity“:

… that dying is what the living do,
that dying is what the loving do,
and that dead dogs are those who do not know
that dying is what, to live, each has to do.

And because you know I rely on our bards to heal and guide us, here’s Mary Oliver again, one of our master Bards, on grief, with a perfect Druid triad:

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Another chance for Bards to have the last word:  a page of ten particularly apt poems on the immense range of our griefs and losses.

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Plucking the Web: Strands for Reflection   5 comments

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tree swallows sunning themselves — mid-April 2019

In a comment to John Beckett’s blogpost of March 28, Gordon Cooper covers several topics and throws out material very rich for reflection and experimentation.

Cooper first addresses the development of modern polytheism:

How can polytheists who honor non-Indo-European gods replicate the successes that Druidry has had?

I would suggest that the success OBOD has had and continues to have is rooted in some fairly simple and old fashioned tools — a correspondence course, mentors, and lots of engagement by the members. The first time I went to the OBOD Lughnasad gathering at the Vale of the White Horse, I was deeply impressed by the amount and quality of work I saw. One person learned ceramics, built a hand-painted and fired series of tiled walls on her properties with elemental dragon meditations she’d realized. Others had voluminous scrapbooks filled with meditations, plant studies, ritual walks, etc. Their other secret weapon is Philip. He’s an international treasure for all druids, at least in my experience.

The combination of well-thought-out instructional materials and mentors, together with a dedicated and generous leader, and the developing nature of most strands of Druidry as supportive and inspirational practices, have proven its value yet again. If the non-European gods have means of access to power in this realm, through their priests and their own natures as deities, can they inspire and help manifest similar supports for their devotees and adherents?

And yes, much of modern Druidry and Paganism in general finds a priceless resource in books. Cooper continues:

If a group chooses to start from Nuinn’s [Ross Nichols, founder of OBOD] druidry, as it seems to be articulated in “The Cosmic Shape” it is possible to arrive at a non-IE druidry by treating this as an embodied expression in ritual, artistic and land-based practices that manifests over time and space differently in each era and place. I strongly encourage reading the entirely of ‘Cosmic Shape” as one point of departure.

Cooper next tackles a particular source-text — Iolo Morganwg’s Barddas (link to complete text at Sacred Texts).

Moving to the Barddas as a possible base, regardless of how one considers the authenticity of Iolo’s writing, his notions around ritual, nature study and the sciences, poetry and justice are values that I think can be applied to many circumstances and cultures. Besides, anyone borrowing from an Egregore that includes Iolo, William Blake and a French Spy-cum-Mesmerist alchemist is likely to be in for an artistic and interesting ride.

All of us have experience with egregores of groups we’ve joined, been born into, or witnessed from outside as they variously manifested their energies. Political parties, churches, families, clubs, sports teams, other special-interest groups and so on are non-magical examples. Consciously-created and energized egregores deployed magically are potentially just “more so” — stronger, more durable, more capable of great (and also terrible) things. The principle at work is “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Magic as an amplifier simply magnifies that whole.

Cooper then goes on to suggest provocatively, in a quick paragraph, one way to develop a valid Paganism or Druidry that grows organically from wherever we find ourselves, one that need not worry over cultural appropriation or validity:

I’m working on a very small group-focused practice that’s designed from the ground-up to be derived from the local biome and skills of the folks living there. It is being field tested in Bremerton [Washington state] now with the Delsarte Home Circle. It incorporates Ecopsychology, poetics, local kami, nature studies, personalized and group moving meditations and other meditation forms along with a customized ritual calendar derived from the specific region. It is appropriation-free and includes classical Spiritualist training. If interested, please contact me for details.

On the issue of Pagan or Druid chaplains, Cooper also speaks from (local) experience:

I’d say that Pagan chaplains in hospital systems are likely to find themselves in an ethical bind from time to time, as they’d be called on to engaged with YWYH on behalf of ill or dying patients in hospitals or elsewhere.

The VA Chaplains don’t serve or acknowledge the validity of druids and witches, at least at the Seattle VA. This isn’t going to happen with the current staff, and as I receive all of my medical services there, I am not inclined to fight an uphill and contentious battle.

Not all of us are called to fight outwardly — a misconception activists of all stripes are especially prone to. Following your own path is often powerful enough — the patient persistent effort of being a genuine self in a world of delusion and false directions is a forceful life stance, an essential kind of witness both to others and oneself, with consequences we often do not see. Not all music is scored as trumpet fanfare. Some of us are strings, oboes, flutes, drums, or the rests and silences between notes.

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“Little We See” — a Meditation   4 comments

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Go to the Bards, I tell myself yet again. The answers have lain there long. (You can tell I hang out with Bards new and old, even if I don’t always listen to them all that well — I use words like lain.)

Wordsworth, Old White Guy, still has something to tell us:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away.

Do we want some hints for living? Do we want some uplift, to know that positive change — and more important, joy — are still possible in this crazy world?

Bards offer a how-to for the spirit. These four lines yield some solid pointers.

Back away when you can, from the world, into the World. In the heart of even the most urban areas on the planet, green things still can find a way to thrive, sometimes with a little human help. A bee in the bathroom, a bug on the doorbell, a spider webbing the space between light-switch and corner cupboard — the living world keeps knocking. Find the green. Find the World. (Help the bug or bee outdoors again.)

“Late and soon”? Unplug from time, from the apparent world we’ve built for ourselves, into contemplation. We know it’s good for us, and with images, mandalas, music, incense on hand, we can enliven our dips into our own inner pools of calm and wisdom each time with something different, if we crave variety, or with the same deepening familiar artistic companion to our sojourns. It may be a walk with the dog, a time spent folding laundry, a half-hour gazing at the reflection of a pond, working with paints, or clay, or fibers. I turn to a longtime friend, the oooooo at the heart of the ah — oo — en Awen, the HU of the Sufis, a holy name not contaminated with profanity or dulled by careless use. Sing the names holy to you.

Our “powers”? So many of us are facing our powerlessness. In some cases we’ve given what we have away — “laying waste” our own abilities to shape and choose, however meager they may feel and seem. Yet if we turn from buying and selling, things that can’t be bought will reappear for us: time spent with loved ones, time spent in nature, time spent on diving deeper into our own creative selves, uncramping some of our little-used faculties and skills and talents. Reclaim our powers, one at a time if necessary. (No waiting for the next election to give us back what is native to us. No one can hold them back from us, once we recognize them again.)

“Little we see in Nature that is ours”? Let go of possessing, I tell myself, and things will come to me of themselves. Sit still enough, and the birds will light on my head and shoulders like they did with St. Francis, like they continue to do today on those who spend time being still, loving the stillness that keeps opening into something larger and more beautiful. If I hog the road, of course I’ll see little else — I’m what’s in the way. But more and more beings become companions along the way, if I share the path.

If I look in the rear-view mirror of Time, I see the Ancestors waving.

How have I “given my heart away”? Excuse me, I whisper. I’m taking my heart back. I gave it and you didn’t value it. Let me bestow it where it will be cherished for what it is.

Bad news, you say of Wordsworth’s lines? Blaming the victim? No — showing the victim how to unvictim. Empowering the victim with what’s right here, turning off the victim switch others have flipped. No special monastery, ashram, growth center, workshop. These may serve their turn, but they are kindling, not Essential Fire. If I make it, I can unmake it. If I’ve shut it down, I can open it up again. If I’ve created my life, I can change my life.

It can be long work. But what else am I here for? Oh, so many things, many things, sing the birds. Everything, whispers the wind. Come find out, says the path into the greening woods.

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Walking the Major Arcana, Part 6   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7]

I love these next three arcana — so over-the-top! People write and talk about fearing the appearance of the Tower, or the Devil, in a spread or reading. The Star not so much, though we still invest so much emotion in all three images. I ask myself: need I fear reality? What would that even mean?

The DEVIL

15-DevilDevil’s Tower, Devil’s Hole, Devil’s Triangle, the New Jersey Devils hockey team, Devil’s Food Cake (to be distinguished from Angel Food Cake), Devil’s Advocate, even DEVILS, the Deep Extragalactic VIsible Legacy Survey. Anyone looking for mixed messages? Should we even bother to try to untangle this complex of images and associations? We just keep piling more on more.

Untangle? Absolutely! Or not so much untangle as explore.

For me, one powerful key to the Devil is his connection with the Magician, a harmonic or further spiral, 17 (7×2) removed. The hand positions of the Devil mirror the Magician’s, the right in particular matching the Hebrew letter for sh, Jewish El Shaddai Almighty God, that resembles a “W” (= Hebrew letter shin ש), the handsign that accompanies the priestly blessing, made famous in an entirely different context by Leonard Nimoy as Spock in Star Trek, as a sign for “V” for his planet Vulcan.

live_long_and_prosperThe Devil is the Magician is Us. It’s an image of the power humans have at their disposal, bend it as we will — and do. We can live long and prosper, or pervert the same power. As we all have, and no doubt will continue to do, on our long spiral journey.

Courtesy of a Judeo-Christian cultural surround and philosophical filter, citizens of European-based cultures may think of “evil” either as something non-existent (if God is “dead”, then so must the Devil be), or as a force from outside a normal, ordinary, essentially good universe. Time spent in the natural world can disabuse us of either notion: there are simply energy flows, some constructive, others contrary, and human choices often do much to amplify both kinds. (No surprise, I take it personally when I suffer, and I agitate for relief from my own particular suffering.) But both forces remain roughly balanced on the physical plane — hence a return to equilibrium in the flow of Tao that is one principal focus of Taoist practice.

We still tend to give “good” too little credit and “evil” too much, but that’s perhaps a further legacy of Puritanism and of dualistic thinking. Such over-simplification haunts American politics all too deeply, as intelligent foreign observers have long noted: Thus, on the American Left, we just don’t call it “evil” any more, but attach some other and often political label to it, as if it can be legislated away with the “right” people in office, if we can only vote out the backward, benighted, ignorant, toxic, patriarchal, gun-and-Jesus-loving, gay-bashing, hypocritical Deplorables that hold back all that is Good and True, and Progress will finally become the eternal norm. On the American Right, evil is alive and well, and successfully marketed in flavors both religious and secular, along with generous doses of paranoia, and typically describes things that snowflake Liberals, America-hating socialists, Pagan Greens, atheists, man-hating feminists, hidden-agenda homosexuals and baby-killing Darwinian believers support and advocate.

Both sides dearly love to loathe their Other. Do we all project much?!

The Christian sense that this is a “fallen” world in need of redemption compares to a Druidic sense that working with natural systems themselves can teach us how to sidestep a great deal of unnecessary grief in the first place, and wise observation and study can ease much of the unavoidable remnant that comes from living in a world subject to physical laws, time, change, aging, illness, death and rebirth. After all, it’s not humans alone, but animals, trees, mountains, our planet and the cosmos itself wear down and are renewed. “Everything She touches changes,” goes one Goddess-chant.

In the Arthurian deck, the card numbered 15 is the Green Knight. Aptly named, he is the force, as Dylan Thomas names it (links to whole poem),

that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.

And “answers” or elaborations to this come oftenest — you guessed it — from other bards:

To live at all is miracle enough.
The doom of nations is another thing.
Here in my hammering blood-pulse is my proof.

Let every painter paint and poet sing
And all the sons of music ply their trade;
Machines are weaker than a beetle’s wing.

Swung out of sunlight into cosmic shade,
Come what come may the imagination’s heart
Is constellation high and can’t be weighed.

Nor greed nor fear can tear our faith apart
When every heart-beat hammers out the proof
That life itself is miracle enough.

The Trappist monk and author Thomas Merton observed “Nothing has ever been said about God that hasn’t already been said better by the wind in the pine trees”. This is a “gospel in 20 words” that Druids and Christians could share.

“A church that doesn’t provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed — ​what gospel is that?” — St. Oscar Romero. How do we reconcile this healthy sense of activism with Druidry’s deep love and desire for peace? Are they actually opposed, or do they — can they — spring from the same source?

“Speaking truth to power” has never been more necessary — it’s the Magician’s power, in hands we always need to question and challenge.

Matthews’ notes in the Hallowquest handbook accompanying one edition of the deck that the Green Knight “represents the challenger whom all seekers meet on their quest. He answers questions and gives advice, but he also sets riddles and puzzles. Those who think that they know everything he leads astray and torments. His greatest desire is to be bested by a worthy opponent” (pg. 52).

The TOWER

16-TowerTowers everywhere: in the Christian West, from Babel onward. And before that, too: ziggurats and pyramids and the earliest “towers” of all — mountains. Connections with Mary Magdalene, “Mary of the Tower(s)”. For the U.S., the association with the destruction of the Twin Towers of Sept. 11, 2001. We say “Never Forget” about too many things, as though holding on to painful memory is sufficient tribute, a kind of vicarious participation. It isn’t enough, if I’m to continue the journey the Fool — I — started.

Like the frequent occurrence of Mercury in Retrograde, once you start paying attention, sometimes we just seem to be traveling through continuous “tower time”. Maybe it’s a good practice to uncouple from the Tower. Stop climbing it, sighting it in our viewfinders, walk away for a time.

But then, too, falling from a height is an old primate dream. How many of us have experienced falling dreams, or a sense of vertigo shortly before falling asleep, a sensation strong enough to startle us awake again?

Let ourselves fall, and what do we discover? All the way down, and our perspective might change.

We might see in the Tower a challenge to the ego, to the self we manufacture as an interface between ourselves and experience. In many ways the self is the Tower. Edgar Allen Poe in “The City in the Sea” writes “from a proud tower in the town/Death looks gigantically down”. (For further information, consult your amygdala [link 1link 2 | link 3].)

Is there much more to say about the Tower? Of course!

The STAR

17-StarHow many of us long for, or follow, a guiding star? Do we star in the drama of our own lives? Lucky star, rising star, star-crossed, shoot/aim for the stars — we know no lack of idioms. Has life starred certain experiences, talents, people, memories, etc. for our life-long obsession or dedication? A dis-aster is an ill-starred event. How much of our experience of imagination, emotion, vision and dream involves our starry or astral bodies?

As with the previous two arcana, this arcanum resonates in so many ways. Meditation on each of the arcana returns deepening insight, and the Star is no exception.

For Christians, associations with the Star of Bethlehem and the lore of the Magi reverberate strongly, while Revelation 12 depicts “a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars”.

Tolkien plays on this ancient cultural resonance in The Lord of the Rings with Gandalf’s recitation of a piece of lore linking Numenor with Minas Tirith in Gondor:

Tall ships and tall kings
Three times three,
What brought they from the foundered land
Over the flowing sea?
Seven stars and seven stones
And one white tree. (The Two Towers, Bk. 3/chapt. 11; “The Palantir”).

Again we see in the Card a nude figure with limbs — conscious links or connections — in more than one element. The eight eight-pointed stars connect with the seven heavens of Medieval lore, with the eighth, the region of fixed stars, above them. As a doubling of the elemental four, the Star is a higher octave of activity. Seven cards from the Hermit, it links to the cultivation of solitude and (spiritual) perception.

You might assume that reaching such an exalted state is the end of the journey. After all, Dante ends each of his three Books of the Divine Comedy — a book abounding in numerical and astrological symbolism — with reference to the stars. And the 33rd and final canto of Paradiso, the last of the three, closes like this:

ma già volgeva il mio disio e ’l velle
sì come rota ch’igualmente è mossa,
l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.

but already my desire and will were moved,
like a wheel which equally/smoothly is moved/turned
(by) the love that moves the sun and the other stars.

But four more arcana remain for us to consider.

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IMAGE: live long and prosper;

Walking the Major Arcana, Part 5   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7]

I’m dancing with Tarot in this series, not aspiring to any profound system of interpretation, but skating with images across a frozen pond, juggling globes of fire, listening for the music the stars make overhead.

In this, as so often on this blog, I’m listening to bards here, rather than scholars. Recall Billy Collins’ wise “Introduction to Poetry” If you don’t know it, or haven’t read it recently, take a moment right now. Try it out, as I do frequently, as an antidote to too much right-brain-ness.

The HANGED MAN

12-Hanged-ManSo what does the Hanged Man, card 12 of the Major Arcana, represent? Odin? Jesus? Both? Neither?

This kind of question, one that assumes that if you can ask it, there’s a reasonable, logical, unambiguous answer to it, reflects a confusion of planes, categories, realities, etc., that we all fall into from time to time.

“But what does it mean?” looks like an innocent query, even though it’s often anything but. Yet we keep on asking, tossing the grenade, just like we keep on believing (for a short time, anyway) anyone with enough authority to state categorically, emphatically, beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt, once-and-for-all-time, that X “means” Y. (If X “really” meant Y, they’d be the same thing, and we wouldn’t be asking the question. Or we could simply all become goddess-devotees, knowing that “one thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother”, and that certain questions just have to be un-asked, if we’re to get any sleep at all.)

Something’s going on with this hanging dude, or dudette. He or she has a “fire in the head”, and looks at surprising ease all inverted there, suspended on a tau-cross, like some gnostic St. Peter, who asked to be crucified upside-down, so as not to aspire to equal honor with his Master. (Invert that sh*t, says the imp in me.)

Then, too, we have the figure 4 the legs make, about which much ink has been spilled. (Run with half a dozen interpretations as long as they last, and report back to your cerebellum at the conclusion.)

Certainly I’m a hanged one, as are you — we all are, at least at times. In Matthews’ Arthurian deck, the card is the Wounded King, the ruler of a wasteland in need of healing and restoration.

W. B. Yeats of Golden Dawn fame knew this — the Tarot features largely in the Golden Dawn ritual and symbolism — and Yeats gave himself the magical name Daemon est Deus Inversus, abbreviated DEDI (which not too incidentally is Latin for “I gave”). Demon is God upside-down. Or vice versa. For more than you want to know about the name and its significance, here’s just one of the links Google will offer you, should you opt to enter the phrase (and you should, as a form of spiritual roulette) in that innocent-seeming search box:

Iamblichus’s doctrine that the immortal soul becomes mortal is puzzling for Platonic scholars. According to Iamblichus, the embodied soul not only becomes mortal; as human, it also becomes “alienated” (allotriōthen) from divinity. Iamblichus maintains that the alienation and mortality of the soul are effected by daemons that channel the soul’s universal and immortal identity into a singular and mortal self. Yet, while daemons alienate the soul from divinity they also outline the path to recover it. Iamblichus maintains that daemons unfold the will of the Demiurge into material manifestation and thus reveal its divine signatures (sunthēmata) in nature. According to Iamblichus’s theurgical itinerary, the human soul—materialized, alienated, and mortal—must learn to embrace its alienated and mortal condition as a form of demiurgic activity. By ritually entering this demiurgy the soul transforms its alienation and mortality into theurgy. The embodied soul becomes an icon of divinity.

Why are both Jesus and Satan called the “morning star” in the Bible, and both referred to as serpents? For we have Jesus making the arresting observation: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). Here’s one of our challenges, then, to run through a series of metaphors: to lift up the serpent, to raise the kundalini, to recover the divine in our deeds, thoughts and words, to become, in Iamblichus’s words, an icon of divinity. Or you can scratch any interpretative itch with an Orthodox reading, or canonical understanding, and miss a good 9/10 of what it might possibly say to you.

All this, for a person in red tights, hanging upside down …

Take the card into contemplation. Hang for a while, and see what you learn. Far better, as I keep saying, what you discover on your own, than what you merely read here, words from another. Pointers, merely; fingers toward the Equinox moon. Transform, transform …

What needs inversion in my life? How are my values or outlook upside down? What can I see differently from a radically different stance? Will I let myself relax into such a changed awareness, or immediately “set myself to rights”? If I were Odin or Jesus, would I “do things differently”? If so, how?

DEATH

13-DeathLike the Tower, Death and a few other cards manage to freak out a substantial number of people who work with the Tarot in its many guises.

“Death on a pale horse” comes riding straight outta scripture. (You can choose whether the background sun is rising or setting.) Figure out the banner Old Bony is carrying, and you might be on your way to insight. Death meditations are useful; there’s clear indication that at least some bardic initiations included them, and death-and-rebirth rituals help re-establish a healthier perspective than the ever-popular “life at all costs” obsession current in much of the West. Death, in spite of much bad advertising and spiritual teaching to the contrary, is not an “enemy” but a gateway, an arm of the spiral, a servant of life.

How apt that Death should have the number 13. (“Four” does similar duty in Japan and China, with the word for four a homonym for “death” or “death” [shi in Japanese, si in Mandarin Chinese]. Some Asian hotels go so far as to renumber their floors, avoiding the 4th altogether, just as we get all superstitious and tingly on Friday the 13th. “Friday the 4th” just doesn’t have the same feel at all.)

If you can put yourself into the landscape and know yourself as the Hanged Man, do the same with Death. And since there are other figures on the card, try out being the church official, pope or bishop, in front of Death’s horse.

In the Matthews’ Arthurian deck, this card is the Washer at the Ford, a harmonic of the Morrighan, the Goddess, the Dark Initiator.

What horse am I riding right now? What lies dead all around me? What am I killing by my insistence on my current identity? What needs to die in my life, so other things can be born?

TEMPERANCE

14-Temperance“… in the very torrent, tempest, and (as I may say) whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness”, says Hamlet. The figure suggests elemental transformation. In the whirlwind of passion, can I also find smoothness, equilibrium, balance?

Two-thirds of the way through the journey, the Fool has learned something about moderation — not narrowly “abstinence from alcohol” (unless that’s the form your particular practice of moderation needs to take), but something much more valuable. The angelic figure bears the elemental symbol of fire on its breast, and pours liquid from chalice to chalice, while standing with one foot on earth and one in water: all four elements present and working.

A curious and provocative insight from R. J. Stewart’s The Well of Light:

Do not forget, ever, that you are already Elementals. There is not one, but several of them, most likely a large complex number, within yourself. Our bodies are made of Water, Earth, Fire, and Air.

Our consciousness and energies are Elemental; that is, the philosophical or metaphysical concept of the Four Elements as relative states of motion and energy, but not limited to the modern idea of elements as defined in chemistry and physics. So, to find Elementals, we need look no further than our own bodies and moods. And, I propose, we should pay much more attention to the way our bodies and emotions interact with places and with weather changes.

And a prayer or visualization Stewart uses in many of his books, that I find helpful:

In the name of the Star Father, The Earth Mother, The True Taker, The Great Giver, One Being of Light.

How have I transformed — in spite of myself? What needs tempering in my life? What elemental presences can I honor and bring forward as keys to directions my life might beneficially take? What is this Equinox saying to my earth, my air, my fire and my water?

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Walking the Major Arcana, Part 4   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7]

If the holy terrain between Druid and Christian calls to you, better your way than one belonging to another person that doesn’t fit you where you walk on your particular arm of the Spiral Journey. A week’s worth of your own meditations surpasses anything I can write here. These themes are suggestions, prompts, points of departure. They’re mine, and they may not be yours. Their use is as sparks, kindling, tinder, fuel, provocation. Your particular path may grow out of resistance or contradiction. Thus are (spiritual) muscles strengthened.

If you’ve (mostly) survived your adolescence, held down a job, learned to deal with roommates, siblings, coworkers, parents, teachers, traffic cops, jerks, (holy) Fools, the DMV, followed a dream, fell in love, lost a bet, failed at something, succeeded at something else, and arrived here, it’s pretty likely you’ve accumulated enough insight to learn something useful when looking at cards intended to evoke insight from your experiences! We can also never fully know how our words on such subjects may be exactly what another needs to hear.

The HERMIT

09-HermitHermits abound in world-wide lore and legend, running the gamut from hell-bound to holy. Depending on your temperament and the rebuffs that life generously doles out to all of us, you may find in the Hermit a kindred spirit, someone who chooses, as the French have it, reculer pour mieux sauter: “to draw back in order to make a better leap” back into the fray. Or eremitic withdrawal may become the theme for a lifetime, or a whole series of them. Plenty of secular examples come to mind as well, especially if you’re rich enough to build a life from your eccentricities, like billionaire Howard Hughes.

Modern examples include Thomas Merton, whose hermit tendencies can be summed up in the name of the monastic order he eventually joined: OCSO, the Order of Cistercians of Strict Observance, or Trappists. Not content with the already spartan nature of the Order, Merton withdrew further to a hermitage on the grounds of the monastery. His books and poems and increasing fame were one vital source of balance shaping his character into the wise monk, priest and author he slowly became.

J M Greer illustrates a Druid-focused model for practice just as potentially rigorous, especially for the solitary: the Gnostic Celtic Church. Greer highlights some of its distinctive features:

… the GCC does not train people for the standard American Protestant model of the clergy—a model that assigns to clergy the functions of providing weekly services to a congregation, “marrying and burying,” offering amateur counseling to parishioners, and pursuing political and social causes of one kind or another, and defines training for the ministry in terms of the same style of university education used by most other service professions.

This model evolved out of the distinctive social and theological requirements of American Protestant Christianity and has little relevance to other faiths, especially those that do not have the financial resources to support full-time ministers.  It has nonetheless been adopted uncritically by a great many alternative religious traditions here in America. It was in response to the very poor fit between that model and the needs of a contemporary alternative religious movement that AODA [Ancient Order of Druids in America] chose to pursue an older model better suited to its own tradition and needs.

Instead of growing from a single and largely American Protestant model, the GCC focuses on what it calls the Rule of Awen, because

there is certainly a need for men and women who are willing to embrace a new monasticism centered on a personal rule:  one in which the core principle of aligning the whole life with the spiritual dimensions of reality can express itself in forms relevant to the individual practitioner and the present age, in which a rich spiritual life supported by meaningful ceremonial and personal practice can readily coexist with whatever form of outward life is necessary or appropriate to each priest or priestess, and in which the practice of sacramental spirituality can be pursued apart from the various pathologies of political religion.

Greer always packs a lot in his sometimes academic prose: following Christ’s admonition, this means in short to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. We say we want freedom, but how many of us trust our own inner guidance sufficiently to discern what is “necessary or appropriate”, and avoid the “pathologies of political religion”?

As always, the simplest and purest way contains with it the hard-earned wisdom of lifetimes. Greer lays out the central challenge we all face:

… find and follow your own Awen. Taken as seriously as it should be — for there is no greater challenge for any human being than that of seeking his or her purpose of existence, and then placing the fulfillment of that purpose above other concerns as a guide to action and life — this is as demanding a rule as the strictest of traditional monastic vows. Following it requires attention to the highest and deepest dimensions of the inner life, and a willingness to ignore all the pressures of the ego and the world when those come into conflict, as they will, with the ripening personal knowledge of the path that Awen reveals.

How many of us have even begun to recognize and creatively respond to all the myriad “pressures of the ego and the world”? (After all, this is much of what I’ve long been practicing in my own way, as recorded in this blog, and you have ample evidence here of the challenges one person has faced.)

The Matthews’ Arthurian deck depicts the Grail Hermit: “Neither Druid nor priest, as hermit he mediates the functions of both”.

Where is the “third element” in each of my life experiences? As neither pole of a binary, how does it serve both and thereby a greater whole?

The WHEEL of FORTUNE

10-Wheel-of-FortuneThe Wheel or Spiral, the lungo drom or long road of yearning of the Romani, the Wheel of Becoming in Hinduism, “what goes around comes around” of folk wisdom, all point to the circular nature of life and the resonances that our actions establish.

Or as the Lakota holy man Black Elk puts it,

Everything the power of the world does is done in a circle. The sky is round and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were.

The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.

Worldwide, this circle or wheel is also quartered, divided into four fields or domains or regions. Yes, it’s impossible to square the circle , and the link will lead you into exquisite mathematical detail why this is so — but using this holy glyph or mandala as a teaching and learning device, as a tool in ritual, is another order of response to such an intersection of worlds. What is materially impossible is — often — spiritually essential. Or to put it another way, walking a spiritual path means squaring the circle every single day. (Or if you seek a spiritual practice based in mathematics, check out this origami link.)

For more insights that can lead to a unique personal practice with sacred geometry, and not incidentally provide further rich linkages between their profound influence in both Druidry and Christianity, check out Michael Schneider’s A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe: Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art, and Science.

JUSTICE

11-JusticeIn Matthews’ deck, the corresponding figure is Sovereignty: “our true self and the land are one”. The justice of this inner truth emerges in the great rebalancing that earth is currently experiencing, as the consequences of our past actions come home to us, and we begin to accept responsibility for them and to work off their effects. But we need not merely suffer them passively; we can work with them creatively for the purposes of transformation, which is what cause and effect are placed to afford to all who seek.

In the traditional deck, the figure is garbed and presented so that gender is not immediately clear. Latin justitia is a feminine noun, yet the figure of Justice as we have it here has a seated, balanced, imperial quality of the previous male figures in positions of traditional masculine power and authority.

As a further harmonic development of the Magician, Justice is a balanced expression of power: the upward right hand holds a sword, while the left grips a balance. The two pillars of manifestation again frame the seated figure, and a curtain conceals the region behind it.

What has been lost on the way to Justice? How is its expression still incomplete, indicating the need for further growth and unfoldment? What does rebalancing and attainment of a new equilibrium conceal or distract me from? What further currents of change and transformation remain that ask for my attention, and allow me to anticipate future expressions of Justice, of balance and recalibration and harmonizing?

The triple crown of Justice can be seen to reflect the magical current inherent in groups of three, and in the physical universe. The card commentary for this card in Matthews’ Arthurian deck includes this observation: “…the Goddess of Sovereignty gives three drinks from her cup, purveying the white milk of fostering, the red drink of lordship and the dark drink of forgetfulness. These she offers successively in her aspects as Foster-Mother, Consort and Renewer”.

“Mother, foster me to your service. Consort, empower us both through our union. Renewer, ease me as I strive to fulfill my vows to you”.

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