Archive for the ‘Spring Equinox’ Tag

Spring Equinox/Alban Eilir

A blessed Spring Equinox to all!

Moonrise earlier this evening …IMG_3481

La Vie en Vert: Life Greens

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On an overcast, mild and rainy day, the stones of our backyard firepit emerge at last from the retreating snow.  No thing exists “entire of itself” or for itself only. It also touches things around it, making and meaning for them a whole range of significances. For the moles in the lower yard, warming weather soaks the earth with snowmelt, and that means flooded burrows. For the deer who’ve survived the New England winter, fresh browse as the grass greens again under the strengthening sun, with the tender shoots of new growth burgeoning everywhere. For the returning birds, nesting material, the first bugs, and surfacing worms.

One of the core teachings explains that the macrocosm (literally ‘the great universe,’ the universe around us) and the microcosm (the ‘little universe,’ the universe within us) are mirror images of each other.

Thus, we can look to the world of nature around us for help in understanding our own nature, recognizing that if a theory about the nature of the universe proves to be a mistake when tested against the world around us, it will also prove to be a mistake when applied to the world within us (Greer, J. M. Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, pg. 15).

Inner turmoil, strange dreams I can recall only fragments of on waking, a sense of being reminded of — and held to — a standard I agreed to long ago. A sense of being on the cusp of some ordination, relied on for a spiritual responsibility. “Ready or not, here I come”, says Spirit.

“Every human being is already a priest”, says John Plummer in his book Living Mysteries,

in a very primal sense. We stand between earth and sky, like pillars in an ever-moving temple. We find ourselves within and among other humans and many other orders of being (stones, plants, animals, elementals, angels, etc.) with energies flowing back and forth, consciously and not … Our outer personalities mediate the sacred presence at the core of our being, more or less well. We are all points in an extraordinarily complex web, through which divine power moves. That power … is much greater than us, and not particularly concerned about whether we understand how it is working, at any given moment (pg. 13).

Whether baptized or called by the spirits, pursued and confronted by an animal guardian, taught in dreams, initiated through suffering or illness or other trauma into a spiritual quest, roused by the shakti of a guru or the accumulated potency of intensive meditation, ignited by our own unanswered questions and a divine discontent, or turned off all spirituality by its many fakes and shams into a formidable and rationalistic atheism, we are called.

Plummer continues:

… we cannot turn our back on it. If we try, it will come knocking louder and louder, until we re-open the door. We have to feed it from our own substance, letting it grow through us, and then hand it forward to those who come after us, whoever they may be. To fail to transmit what we have received is to dam a stream until it becomes a stagnant pond, rather than free-flowing, clear water (pg. 15).

And so we come to this weekend, both April Fools’ Day and Easter, that lovely Pagan celebration — after all, it does take place on the first day of the Sun, after the first full moon, after the Spring Equinox — a true Pagan Triad of Light.

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Gulf Coast Gathering ’17, Live Oak canopy

Water and Light, and the holy Trees as witnesses.

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Greer, J. M. (2012). Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth: An Introduction to Spiritual Ecology. Weiser Books.

Plummer, John. (2006). Living Mysteries: a Practice Handbook for the Independent Priest. Berkeley, CA: Apocryphile Press.

In Praise of Altars

Brenda Ash

photo courtesy Brenda Ash

OBOD Chosen Chief Phillip Carr-Gomm at this weekend’s Gulf Coast Gathering in Louisiana. The Alban Eilir/Equinox altar features Spanish moss and whelk shells. I didn’t attend, but through a magic as palpable and marvelous as any, an image consisting of light particles carries this moment from the event to all of us. Surely we can number images among our altars — beloved photographs of dear ones, of family and friends gathering, of the large moments and smaller ones of our lives.

And in the image below, Mystic River Grove’s Equinox celebration, which I was able to attend, processes through the March snow toward their ritual site in a Massachusetts park.

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photo courtesy Anna Oakflower

Here are many altars: the altar of the event, held in imagination and expectation. The altar of the location, a park, a dedicated space of a different kind: the will existed to preserve a natural space from development and for the public, an acknowledgement of common wealth, re publica, for which the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is named in aspiration. The altar of each body present, beaver (broad tails slapping the water when we edged too near), birch, stone, water, human (about 25 of us gathered in eastern Mass.), avian (crows, and an owl hooting during an Ovate initiation preceding the main rite), canine (coyotes yipping just at the close of the ritual and as darkness settled in).

“I make of my intentions an altar”: something I can practice doing at any moment, if and when I remember. And how often the moment makes its own altar, if I pay attention: sunlight and silence on an afternoon walk, or a caucus of crows startled into flight and talk. A found stone that perfectly fits your hand. The first drops of needed rain finally beginning to fall. The greeting of a passing jogger or hiker out like you for word from the sun and the air and the world around us.

These are the democratic altars of existence, moments and openings of life and energy accessible to all. In them lie the origins of Druidry and so many other practices, a “momentary stay”, as Frost says, “against confusion”. Even the effort to “stay”, or simply to celebrate as it all passes by, is an altar, a focus.

We gather after the ritual at a long-time member’s home, another kind of ritual. Two soups go onto the stove, chicken and potato-leek. A salad comes together, and — warmed by a generous assortment of alcoholic contributions, an altar of bottles on the kitchen counter — several of us nibble at irresistible dessert cookies while the main course warms. We glow a little brighter in each other’s company, another altar we make by choice and effort. We could have stayed home for any reason, but we didn’t. An important altar. Others — a parent’s death last autumn, remembered; an upcoming surgery and a request for prayers; a first home and all the discoveries of ownership.

The “secular” is the “world” — Druidry recovers the world in all its sacredness, a human forgetting changed into human recollection.

Trees, humans too, we stand against the sky, a grove of profiles, outlines against the sky. Feeling our ways along, delighting — given half a chance, making one for ourselves — in all the altars of our worlds.

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March Sanity

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one tree, two trunks — our old willow

We stand a little past the Equinox, and here, east of the Green Mountains (a hopeful name!), the snow’s half-gone, or going. As of today where I live in southern Vermont, sunrise came at 6:46 am, and sunset tonight will clock in at 7:06 pm — the day now 20 minutes longer than the night.

As always and forever, the planet — and that includes our neighborhoods on it, wherever they are — matters more pervasively, and holds more true and enduring interest, than whatever’s shrieking for our attention in the media. Politicians trade places, and learn with us the pointed lessons of one kind of power. Meanwhile, another and greater power plays across the earth, in our marrow, in our hearts and the roots of things.

IMG_1854Here in the Northern Hemisphere, flocks of geese wing towards hatching grounds in Canada, foraging along the way in snow-fields, and shivering in half-frozen ponds and lakes. A mated pair of cardinals bob and swing at the feeder in the front yard, now up again after the bear alert.

The first brave flowers push through snow, snowdrops here, and a friend in Boston, two hours to the east and moderated by the Atlantic, reports honeysuckle and monkshood. In the back yard, boulders with their thermal mass warm each day in the strengthening sun and thaw a semicircle in the snow around them.

The willows everywhere hold out their green-yellow twigs, waiting, preparing. I stand for a moment with the great willow in our lawn. Last autumn a large upper branch snapped in a storm, and amazingly it hasn’t yet fallen, half-supported by a nearby pine. In another few weeks I’ll climb and saw it the rest of the way. Willow deadfall — the tree sheds like a Labrador — light and punky once it dries, has served as our principal kindling all winter long.

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backyard blueberries, red sap rising

Here in Vermont, NG, a Druid in the north part of the state, has launched our first seed group, the initial step towards forming an OBOD grove. As with seedlings, the first steps of care ask for our regular attention. We may gather at midsummer to bless the young sprouts and tender shoots of that initial intention — it depends on whether we reach the critical mass all groups need in order to move from idea into manifestation. There are possibly a half-dozen of us so far around the state linked by a mailing list, a May website.

This afternoon I’ll gather with Mystic River Grove in Massachusetts for their Alban Eiler/Equinox rite. Members and friends come from Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont. After, it’s feast time, a chance to (re)connect with the many members of OBOD’s first and largest Grove in the U.S., see how we’ve all wintered, and celebrate the turn towards warmth and light. “By the power of star and stone …”

May the light, clarity and sanity of March bless you all.

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Gulf Coast Gathering 2017

Highland Oak Nemeton, Fontainebleau State Park in Mandeville, LA, the magic of assembled Druids, and a sunny weekend of Gulf Coast weather in the 70s and 80s worked their cumulative spell on the 50 or so attendees of this year’s OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering. The spirits of the land witnessed Druids from OR, CT, VT, PA, FL, TX, LA, NE, VA, MI and other states make their way to the south-central U.S.

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image courtesy Steve Cole

The workshops explored the Gathering theme “Opening The Seven Gifts” of Druidry. OBOD offers a lovely 2:30 video that presents the Seven Gifts more attractively than a bald recital could.

Our presenters kept the topics lively, sharing insights and fielding comments. Druidry needs no “outside experts” — the spiritual path generates its own.

Nonetheless, it’s always a draw to have a visiting speaker — and once again we welcomed the always-fabulous Kristoffer Hughes, one of Her Majesty’s Coroners, author, professional actor, OBOD Druid, and head of the Anglesey Druid Order in the U.K.

Kris spoke on “When the Last Leaf Falls: Death, an Awfully Big Adventure”, examining Western attitudes toward, and treatment of, the dead, and ways Druids can respond creatively and spiritually to the frequently dysfunctional nature of the Western “death industry” and its dehumanizing and ecologically destructive practices. He also urged us to bring each other in on, and discuss, our own plans for our deaths, disposal of remains, and the types of memorials we want.

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Kris during his talk — photo courtesy Kezia Vandilo

Dana dispelled stereotypes of magic during her evening talk around the fire our first night, the opening ritual fresh in our memories. The following morning Richard addressed the core of Druidry — getting back in touch with nature.

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Richard and Dana

Lorraine helped many meet a new animal guide, Gabby drew us to consider healing, Jacob turned our thoughts to philosophy, and I explored the awen and the potentials for inspiration. Even if [below] my gesture at one point suggests a fish story — “the big one that got away”.

Me--KV

photo courtesy Kezia Vandilo

We initiated three Bards and five Ovates, held opening and closing rituals, along with the Seasonal Alban Eilir (Spring Equinox) ritual, went on nature walks, and visited the Seven Sisters Live Oak in nearby Mandeville, LA.

Below is our Welsh Druid guest communing with the tree, estimated to be over 1500 years old, and below that is a more distant shot to suggest something of its size.

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John Beckett captured an image of the atmospheric Spanish moss parasitic on so many trees south of the Mason-Dixon line.

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photo courtesy John Beckett

Storytellers and musicians, notably Jacob Pewitt and Brian Van Unen, made the slowly cooling evenings magical around the fire.

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Jacob and Brian — photo courtesy John Beckett

What better way to leave behind the 18″ of snow in Vermont from the recent March nor’easter?!

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Always, always, it’s the faces, the reunions, the collapse of miles between us, and the conversations that make each Gathering so memorable.

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Don’t know anyone before you arrive? You will before you leave!

Kathleen and Kezia -- KV

Kathleen and Kezia — photo courtesy Kezia Vandilo

 

 

 

WDIGFH?

Where do I go from here?

All right — I’ll admit the title-as-opaque-acronym is at least a little clickbaity. (I do like the “dig” in the middle of it — it fits one of the themes for this post.)

But more importantly, this is the question I find my life keeps asking, in ways both small and large. What next?

Large: like many cancer survivors, I monitor numbers from regular blood tests. The slow rise I’ve seen over the past 5 years in undesirable antigens means I can’t grow complacent. “Leave nothing on the table,” counsels an elder I know who’s grappling with dementia. A life lived within limits isn’t a disaster: from everything I’ve seen, it’s the only way life happens. Nobody “does it all”. (The young adult novel I’ve got one-third finished won’t get completed on its own. It’s up, and down, to me.)

Small:  a Meetup group I’ve been nurturing patiently is finally large enough to gather for an Equinox/Ostara potluck. A member’s offered her home, and we’ve got several people committed to bringing a dish to pass. One more chance to practice savoring the shoots and leaves of new growth that spring makes its specialty.

In-between: unable to afford to buy a bigger house (we opted 9 years ago for small), or encouraged by any leads to move out of state for jobs, my wife and I focused on asking how to flourish where we are. She eventually found part-time work, and we built an addition to give us breathing room. I’m getting good writing ideas faster than I can get them on paper or screen.

How to survive, yes, of course. But how to thrive, the deeper quest.

IMG_1658Sometimes the big picture isn’t what I need, though I thought it was. Sometimes, instead, it’s just the next step, it’s the phone call I remembered to make this afternoon, it’s the contemplation or ritual tomorrow morning. It’s the short walk that reveals sudden green beneath melting snow. It’s the porcelain hare my aunt gave me 50 years ago.

I think “half a century” and don’t know what I feel. Then I think “half a century” again, and I say to myself, “I’m still here, still wondering what comes next”. I take the delicate figure down from the shelf and blow from its pink and white ears the dust from a season of wood stove ash. The picture’s not quite in focus, but my camera doesn’t do closeups any better. A piece of wisdom: it doesn’t have to be perfect.

And I open for the 100th time the demanding draft of a workshop I’ll be giving at Gulf Coast Gathering on “30 Days and Ways to Tap the Awen”.

Well, I remind myself, you asked for them. The inward sap bucket fills, after a winter’s dry season. Now the trick of a moment (a life): to open my heart wide enough to receive.

 

Fallowing and “Afters”

I google “fallow” and the first entry (from dictionary.com) reads:

  1. (of farmland) plowed and harrowed but left unsown for a period in order to restore its fertility as part of a crop rotation or to avoid surplus production
  2. (of a sow) not pregnant

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“Befores” we’re good at celebrating and often taking to extremes. Expectation ramps up busy-ness of all kinds. (Valentine’s chocolates and flowers fill cash registers even if they don’t always pair up hearts that hoped they would.) Imbolc gave us its foretaste, the simple melody that will add a harmony at the Equinox, then turn in its own time to a full-throated chorus at Beltane.

We know how hopes and dreams have inspired countless songs, battles, marriages, investments, acquiescence to impossibly long odds, and reams of bad verse. A longed-for future, person or event feeds endless fantasy and often remarkably sharp focus. Who hasn’t hungered for what seemed a sure thing? Advertising, debased popular magic that it is, targets us squarely in our weakest nooks and crannies with images and sensations built almost entirely of non-physical energies. We’ve almost all strapped ourselves into a jet-fueled “before” and launched ourselves heavenward.

In fact, anticipation draws many of us right into the astral plane where even the least imaginative among us find our inner senses heightened. “It’s so close I can almost taste it!” we exclaim. While it’s sight and hearing that line up to deliver the astral experiences we’re most accustomed to, every physical sense has its correlate — “As above, so below, dude!” whispers the demon in aviator sunglasses at my elbow. Ghostly encounters are filled with accounts of phantom limbs brushing our very physical bodies. Touched by god or devil, we know the planes open and blur at times. The “Great Eight” yearly festivals celebrate and take advantage of this palpable fact.

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after the snow stopped yesterday

“Afters” on the other hand arrive far less domesticated. The let-down, the hangover, the next morning, the wake-up, the harsh light of day, the after-glow, after-image, aftermath — we know these well, even as we watch the outgoing tide surge past our ankles, that current that promised so richly, so gloriously, but dropped us forlorn among all the other flotsam and jetsam on the shore.

Riding the wave is a core skill that can demand a lifetime to master. We know those life-acrobats and artists who can step away from the wreckage and carry on as if little to nothing has happened. With everyone around shaking their heads in envy-tinged astonishment. We also know others who never recover. We ourselves may be one or the other of these.

Next month at the Equinox, as a portion of a Gulf Coast Gathering workshop on the awen and tapping our creative potential for transformation, I’ll take on our fallow times and dark nights and blocked intervals. Where do we find again the slow-burning love that never truly leaves us? How do we rekindle, re-ignite, plant ourselves in the hearth of the cosmos, plug into the Original Generator? Where are the embers we can blow again to living flame?

Dream chalice, spirit guide, cauldron sound, inner sap bucket, fire mirror — slowly I gather items from my toolkit, from experiment and fumble and learning, for the booklet I’ll distribute at the workshop. With time and further focus, it may become a book. I’ve mentioned several of these techniques on this blog, and will continue with them in future posts. Guard the mysteries, constantly reveal them, as the old Craft saying goes. Fallow is its own energy. Fallow is the way back. Fallow is a sure guide.

Honoring the dark times, the brooding, the fecund blackness, the inky abyss, the low and listless is a potent part of turning with the cycle. I re-learn (and re-learn) how important it is to “hallow the fallow”. Sometimes a cycle that’s finished here announces a new one on another plane. Fat lot of help that is to me here, now, I grumble. But the astral and other planes herald changes that may only show up later on the physical plane, so it’s an excellent place to look for insight, to peer down the road a little. But meanwhile the work here can be precisely to enter the fallow as completely as possible. Rather than resisting and thereby delaying the fulfillment of the cycle, acquainted with griefs and grief as I am in my 50s, I finally let myself sink into it.

I’m not talking drama or pity-me. This time, as it happens, I mourn no great tragic loss, merely the accumulation of small things that deserve memorializing and release. When my night dreams go dark as they have in the last week, and whole days find me depressed, there’s deflected grief and fallowing that begs for tending. No, it’s not just seasonal affective disorder! In the West we’re often busy enough we think we can leap from crest to crest and never endure a trough, a downturn, a rest. But then the flu, an accident, a lay-off, a family spat — something arrives to shove me into fallowing. Sometimes I even remember to make room for it instead of waiting till it insists. Slow learners, all of us.

deerbonewhistleWaning (and especially dark) of the moon says fallow. February is Hunger Moon — Full Snow Moon, one of my sources calls it. Here in the ebb tide of Valentine’s Day, after the Full Moon, riding away from Imbolc, wintering out the second half of the month, I gingerly caress a small chunk of obsidian, I blow a short deer-bone whistle*, shrill and high. I find myself longing for touch, for texture, the skin of the world.

I make entries in my gratitude journal. I run — no, I walk — through the ways I ground myself. I seek out the solace of umami, that fifth taste, the savor of earth and wintering over and time. Fish, soy, cabbage, cured meat, tomato, cheese, spinach. The Wikipedia entry helpfully informs me that many of us first encounter it in our mother’s breast milk. Umami — taste of the Mother.

“The tree by the well in the wood” in Damh the Bard’s song from a few posts back sinks its roots into the earth, drinking from underground sources. I sit in that formless darkness we all have behind the eyes. From there I gaze out on slowly growing light.

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*whistle: mine comes from the museum at Serpent Mound, Ohio.

Image: deer-bone whistle.

Thirty Days of Druidry — 1

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After a complete slug-down from posting, brought on by a harsh bout of flu and subsequently a general lethargy, A Druid Way is back for a 30-day series on each day’s energies and perspectives. (Say awen, somebody. And all the freeze-dried grasses in my lawn say it, in their rustling speech. The tree limbs say it, and the twigs and branch-ends that have reddened and yellowed and greened with rising sap say it wordlessly, all night and all day long.)

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Long-time readers know I largely shy away from big social issues of the day. You’ll see very few comments here about politics, gay rights, abortion, race, the primaries, terrorism, climate change — the stuff of American and world headlines and the churn of the news cycle. I’m more interested in the opportunities each of us has to grow and love more in the small chances and changes right here. You could say that’s a kind of pure selfishness. And it is. We’re all engaged in self-crafting, one way or another. One way doesn’t negate another, I hope.

And I find these moments most easily not in the noise of our sometimes poorly-wrought human world, but in the silences when our human chatter subsides. When we can’t hear ourselves think, we too often think things that aren’t worth hearing. Or saying, though we keep on talking. Consider this blog a partial fast from the noise of the moment. Of course it’s a a fast in words, but paradox should be an old friend by now.

Don’t worry — if you really miss the latest batch of outrage and disaster and doom, they’ll keep till you’re done here. Rest easy, now. A few clicks will bring you right back into the middle of them. Many traditions invite us into silence, not to live our entire lives there. Speech matters. But to live always next door to silence, to befriend it, to let it teach us, to be rest and a refuge for us, as a true friend can.

The noise of the moment is of course one more testing ground. You CAN find many valuable lessons there, and you can hone your sense of rightness and justice and value to a keen edge, burnish them to a high sheen. (How much does my activism activate?) But we live mostly in the spaces between such tension points, and there I find rich terrain that never grows stale or flat. A half hour in the air and light, with birdsong or fog or frost and wind, is enough to restore a balance point that can go badly awry if we neglect the spiritual recalibration nature offers. Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers, says the poet.* But that’s only because what we mostly expect and work to get and spend a bunch of things that do not serve our highest good. How does a tree spend its powers, and does it have anything to say to me today?

Here for a reason, I say. Others scoff. Well, make your own reason. Then improve it. Better than drifting without one at all. Been-there done-that material. BTDT, as my wife and I say to each other. So try something you haven’t done, go somewhere you haven’t gone, says the awen in me, the awen spread across this blue cool late March sky.

springmoonEquinox energy is real. You can feel it in the stirring of so many things, blood and light and dream, storm and desire and birdsong. Not by accident do many magical and spiritual orders align their rites and festivals to the Equinoxes. Initiate then, in any senses of the word, and you catch a wave that can take you very far indeed. Out to the far isles beyond the horizon, where the Otherworld beckons beyond the ninth wave. In to the inner-verse that is always waiting like a beach after storm, strewn with all manner of oddments and debris, the flotsam and jetsam and occasional treasure you’ll find nowhere else. The one thing you need right now, washed up on your own shore, ready for the receiving into your hands. The spring break of the spirit, drunk with fear and longing and possibility.

Ah, tonight, first full moon of spring, rising in us, mounting the sky, stepping toward mystery.

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*Wordsworth.The Bards still keep trying to reach us, teach us, anything that doesn’t merely preach to us but means what we seek.

IMAGE: moon

Initiation and Spring Equinox 2015

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Rook and partial eclipse, March 2015. Unretouched photo, Roger Brady, Kinsale College of Further Education, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Republic of Ireland

In this time of balanced energies, an image of bright and dark — rook and partial eclipse at the Spring Equinox.

This morning waking from dream, another image: a shining snake. A little poking around online brought up this fascinating connection from Greywolf’s blogpost for March 19, 2015 (bolded text is Greywolf’s):

The first Solar eclipse of 2015 happens with the New Moon in Pisces, joined by Mars and Ketu. Ketu is the tail of the celestial serpent, Rahu its head. Astrologically, they are the south and north nodes of the Moon. Eclipses occur when the serpent swallows the sun. This eclipse / New Moon will clarify and challenge our beliefs and spirituality, both Pisces themes. When Sun and Moon come together near the Node an eclipse results, producing a momentary disconnection and darkening our power source, the Sun. This literally leaves us feeling in the dark, and we may tempted to pursue the shadow side, or quick fix spiritual solutions, escaping into drug abuse or New Age fantasies. Be careful of such lazy, cynical options during the next 30 days. This eclipse happens in Uttara Bhadra Nakshatra, ruled by the God Ahi Bhudnya, the celestial serpent. This divine cosmic force is associated with clearing the last bits of dirt that are blocking the soul’s liberation.

I will accept this gratefully as divination, a clue to work with in the coming days, a time for (re)dedication.

Equinoxes are ideal times for initiation because of the access to energies they provide as the earth-moon-sun system shifts. A solar system triad!

While initiation can of course take place at any time, there is a formal and cosmic rightness to this twice-yearly period that can empower such rituals, as I know from experience.

Here is John Michael Greer on initiation. (You can read the full article online here — it forms part of a rough draft of his excellent book Inside a Magical Lodge.)

The idea that secrets will be revealed in an initiation creates a sense of expectancy, and can also give rise to a certain kind of fear; both of these are useful in the work of initiation.

The production of this receptive state forms the first phase of the initiatory process. Once it has been reached, the process of lodge initiation moves to a second phase, in which a set of carefully chosen images or events are experienced by the initiate, and then explained. These experiences and their explanations are heightened by the receptive state, and are intended to offer a new pattern for some portion of the initiate’s mental map of the world; the pattern may also be encoded, more subtly, in the underlying structure of the ritual itself. If the initiate accepts this new pattern — which does not always happen — the initiation has “taken.”

At this point, the process enters its third phase. The new initiate is given a set of conceptual, verbal and somatic triggers for the new pattern. Just as a memento from an emotionally charged event in the past can awaken not merely memories but states of emotion and consciousness, these triggers reinforce the new pattern every time they are used. They serve, in an important sense, as anchors for the initiation.

The three-phase process of initiation can be handled in various ways, and has been handled with various levels of effectiveness in the initiations used by different magical and fraternal orders. Like any other art, the art of initiation has its failures as well as its masterpieces. Making the situation more complex is the fact that most orders of both kinds use a series of initiations — the usual terms are “grades” or “degrees” — to carry out an extended program of transformation, each change building on the ones already made. In the fraternal orders, the goal of this program is typically nothing more profound (or more sinister) than basic personal maturity. In magical orders, by contrast, the possibilities for change are far greater.

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Spring Equinox on Monadnock

Almost a month ago now I got the nudge to visit the major peaks in the area — Monadnock (NH), Hogback and Ascutney (VT) — starting on Alban Eilir, the spring equinox.  Energy-lines and Native American paths have been in my thoughts since the new year, and yesterday I climbed through snow and ice to within bowshot of Monadnock’s stony peak at 3165 feet.  The mountain is a New Hampshire state park, and lies a short distance north of the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border, southeast of Keene and west of Jaffrey, NH.

Monadnock, or Grand Monadnock, to distinguish it from other lesser monadnocks in the region, has the reputation for being one of the most-climbed peaks in the world.  Thogh my wife and I have lived off and on in the area since 1991, I’d never visited.  From what I saw yesterday, a summer climb would still be strenuous, but I’m glad that with the ice and cold, I had the mountain nearly all to myself.  Or, more accurately, the mountain had me.  All wild places have a presence, and the berg-geist or “mountain spirit” of Monadnock made itself known most of all in a listening silence.  I met just six other people, and all in the first half hour of my climb. All were descending.  After that, no one but the mountain and me.

The first leg of the southeast ascent rises gradually, just enough to get you conscious of your breathing.  The temp at this point was in the low 40s — it just looks colder in these shots.

M1-foot

The new season really is here, though a 4″ fall of heavy wet snow two days ago seemed to give the lie to that. When I left the ranger station at the foot, the sun shone through scattered clouds.  Ice doesn’t rule everything any more. A small spring had broken free of ice and ran across the trail.

M3-spring

The climb begins in earnest once the trail splits into White Cross and White Dot.  The trail map showed similar elevations and roughly equal distances, so I opted for White Cross.

M2-signs

Besides, to paraphrase Frost, “it was snowy and waited there.”  As the map warned, “trails are not necessarily marked for winter use.” Painted arrows and keys on the rocks often lay below the snowline.  Markers on a few exposed boulders showed  and the prints of those ahead of me provided enough guidance.  But I was mindful of the sky — a quick change could easily leave me lost in fog or snow showers, as the map also warned.  It was easier, not just prudent, to pay attention, because I was alone.

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Many states in the U.S. still retain versions of Native American place-names.  Vermont and New Hampshire bristle with them: Bomoseen, Skatutakee, Memphremagog, Ascutney, Monadnock.  The Wikipedia entry obliges with the following information about the mountain’s name:

… “monadnock” is an Abenaki-derived word used to describe a mountain. Loosely translated it means “mountain that stands alone,” although the exact meaning of the word (what kind of mountain) is uncertain. The term was adopted by early settlers of southern New Hampshire and later by American geologists as an alternative term for an inselberg or isolated mountain.

As I climbed, the temperature dropped at least 15 degrees. No birds here, unlike at the foot where a few sang tentatively overhead. The higher elevation showed visibly in pines coated with ice.

M7trees

I didn’t wear crampons or any special footwear beyond a pair of good winter boots.  Only in a few places was ice a problem.  The snowfall of the day before was a gift — it coated the ice of thaws and freezes beneath it, and made for easier going.  The ascent continued to sharpen, and I remembered bones and muscles I’d forgotten about since late fall.

Vistas offered compensation.  Here’s the view to the west and south, during a particularly clear interval.

M6hills

White Cross and White Dot rejoin about half a mile below the peak.  I was tired by now, though I chuckled at the mixed message of this sign:

M8sign2

It was soon time to descend.  The rock of the final 500 feet was too slick, the weather worsened by the minute, and leaving now would bring me to the foot again before twilight.  Here is the peak over the treetops.

M9peakview

I’m including this final image, though it’s blurred, because this is the highest I climbed, and it captures the berg-geist in winter:  I have been here a long time, and I am still here.  You are flesh — I am stone.

M10Little ceremony — that wasn’t my intent when I climbed.  A few words and gestures to the trees, the sky, the rocks, the snow and brisk fresh air. The mountain, always answering, said nothing.

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