Archive for the ‘Taliesin’ Tag

Grail 1: Exploring the “Cauldron Sound” of Awen   Leave a comment

[Don’t Go Away Just Yet, Grail] [Grail 1 | Grail 2 | Grail 3 | Grail 4 | Grail 5]
[Related: Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth — “Arthur king who was and will be”]

Image result for awenWant a good overview of the awen in the life of another Druid? Don’t just take my word for it. Read Druid-in-two-traditions Dana Driscoll’s account here. [I’ve written about it, among other times, here and here.]

Looking for the lost melody of your life? For that sense of spiritual freedom you may have touched as a child? For the heart-song that so often eludes us in the busy-ness of 21st century living?

If there’s such a thing as a “container” for the awen, beyond the bodies of all things, it’s the Celtic Cauldron, proto-grail, womb, goddess symbol, under- and other-world vessel, humming on the edges of our awareness. To participate in its sound is to begin to manifest some of its properties. Put myself in sympathetic vibration with it, and I discover its powers of transformation. It accomplishes change through vibration — no surprise, when we know that every atom of the cosmos vibrates at its own particular frequency. That’s also part of why every major spiritual tradition on the planet includes chant, song, mantra, spoken prayer. The whole thing sings. When the bard Taliesin exclaims in one of his poems, “The awen I sing, from the deep I bring it”, he points us toward the pervasiveness of awen, its habitation in the heart of things, its flow through us, both lesser and greater, as we sing, and bring.

Dana observes, “One of the most simple things to do is to invoke Awen regularly as part of your practice.”

A tangent. An article from a few days ago somewhat ruefully acknowledges that there’s actually a specific day — January 17 — when Americans see many of their New Year’s resolutions fail. (Your own culture, if you’re not a Yank, may exhibit lesser or greater persistence.) Since we seem to addicted to bad news these days, feel free to indulge here in some delicious negative thinking, if you wish. But then read closer: “Contrary to widespread public opinion, a considerable proportion of New Year resolutions do succeed,” notes a psychology professor in the article. Even at the 6-month point, according to studies, some 40% of resolutions — and their “resolvers” — stick with it. While the data pool may well need refining, still, that’s an astonishing figure. Better than the best baseball average. While “two outta three ain’t bad”, as the Meatloaf song tells us, even “one outta three” is pretty damn good, in so many human endeavors. And if you’ve read this blog for a while, you know my strategy for success with resolutions. Start so small that it’s next to impossible not to begin. “Oh, anyone can find 30 seconds a day”.

And this holds true with so many practices, spiritual or otherwise. A habit is simply an expression of equilibrium. The resistance to change is the resistance of all set-points and stasis and inertial systems — their first “response”, if we think of them for a moment as conscious beings, is to absorb the new thing rather than change on account of it. It’s a survival mechanism, after all, evolved over eons, to prevent dangerous over-reactions and hyper-compensations to what are often only temporary blips in the environment. We can’t afford to be thrown off by “every little thing”.

Why would this apply to something like the awen, a pervading cosmic sound and vibration? It’s already flowing through us, at a sustaining level, keeping us alive, the heart beating, the electrical system of the body sparking along. But upset that equilibrium unwittingly, kick the carefully calibrated network of bodily systems, and you risk the same thing rash occultists and yogis do when they raise the kundalini unprepared, force their way onto the astral plane too abruptly, shift the body’s and psyche’s equilibria by force of will, and then face all the unexpected consequences — illness, accident, poor judgment, disharmony — all the attendant symptoms of dis-ease, of a complex equilibrium under abrupt, too-rapid or even violent change.

So I begin small, and gradual, and see how it goes, if it’s worthwhile, if it adds to and builds on my life — as I already live it. This latter point is keenly important, I find. And I encourage you to try the awen, or — if you’re drawn elsewhere — its kin in other traditions. (Maybe one living near you: Om, Hu [link to an mp3 sound file], etc.) Give it a year of serious practice, and I will personally guarantee positive change, or your karma back. Other practices have their established value, but sacred sound is special.

The “rewards” of such a practice are not always easy to “calculate”. (Revealing that we even use such language). But practice, as you’ll discover, opens many doors we didn’t even know were there. As OBOD Chosen Chief Philip Carr-Gomm notes,

Try opening to Awen not when it’s easy, but when it’s difficult: not when you can be still and nothing is disturbing you, but when there’s chaos around you, and life is far from easy. See if you can find Awen in those moments. It’s harder, much harder, but when you do, it’s like walking through a doorway in a grimy city street to discover a secret garden that has always been there – quiet and tranquil, an oasis of calm and beauty. One way to do this, is just to tell yourself gently “Stop!” Life can be so demanding, so entrancing, that it carries us away, and we get pulled off-centre. If we tell ourselves to stop for a moment, this gives us the opportunity to stop identifying with the drama around us, and to come back to a sense of ourselves, of the innate stillness within our being. And then, sometimes, we are rewarded with Awen at precisely this moment.

“The Holy Grail won’t go away” — and for very good reasons.

Next post: A Path, By Walking It.

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Review of The Broken Cauldron   Leave a comment

Smithers, Lorna. The Broken Cauldron. Norfolk, UK: Biddles Books, 2016.

Change the names, goes the old Latin tag from Horace, and it’s a story about us.

Smithers, a Lancashire awenydd, poet, blogger at Signposts in the Mist, and devotee of Gwyn ap Nudd, has mediated in her latest book a challenging prophetic vision of psychic and environmental shattering in the image of the Cauldron, that ancient and present manifestation of birth, wisdom and regeneration. Spiritual vessel, military-industrial grail, the Cauldron contains both dream and nightmare.

Through prose retellings of Celtic myth and legend, through poems that grapple with this world and that Other that has always deeply haunted us, Smithers links voices, times and places. She revisits the central Druidic myth: Gwion Bach’s transformational encounter with — and theft of — the Three Drops of Inspiration. Holding it up for careful scrutiny, she underscores its immense cost to species and planet. In one retelling she speaks in the voice of Ceridwen’s grotesque son Afagddu, “Utter Darkness”. It is for him that Ceridwen has set the Cauldron brewing in the first place, hoping for his transformation, posting the hapless Gwion to tend it. In a painfully apt contemporary twist, Gwion’s a negligent employee at a chemical plant, daydreaming through a reactor disaster, though acquitted in the subsequent court case.

But Afagddu’s gifted with his own preternatural wisdom, knowing Ceridwen still apologizes for him, even as she dreams of him “suave, clean-shaven, the head of the company in a priceless suit with ironed-in creases” (pg. 74). How we persist in our stubborn lusts and blind dreams.

The five subtitled sections of the book capture something of its span: “The Broken Cauldron and the Flashing Sword”, “Ridiculous”, “Drowned Lands”, “Operation Cauldron” and “Uranium”.

What will we do, we whose minds are “shrunken and empty of gods”? Smithers’ patron deity accuses us all in the person of Arthur, whose profaning raids on the Otherworld have gained humanity a magical treasure, true, but loosed a devastating tide of death. In a triad of admonition to human raiders on Annwn, the Otherworld, Gwyn ap Nudd declares: “Lleog, lay down your sword. Taliesin, cast your mind from praise poems. Arthur, be true to your bear-skin past, hear your bones and the star of the north” (pg. 10).

Listen to our bones, heed the stars: a quest each of us may still accept or decline.

For it is the Otherworld that restrains the increasingly violent rebalancing we have brought on ourselves. And it is there we find “a cauldron that is whole and filled with stars, the infinite reflection of the womb of Old Mother Universe” (pg. 7).

As a solitary, Smithers turns here from a mythos that has long troubled her. She declares her preference for Afagddu, refusing “complicity in the mysteries of Taliesin” whose limitless hunger to despoil and pillage and consume “can only lead to the world’s end” (pg. 8).

It lies in grappling with the double edged-ness of the “flashing swords” of the raiders on Annwn, I would add, that we may at last learn wisdom. Can we learn to gauge and compensate for both gain and cost? Whether we do or no, the Otherworld will assert its balance. A unique book.

Thirty Days of Druidry 12: J3D!   Leave a comment

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J3D — “Just Three Drops” — is shorthand for the experience of Gwion Bach, the servant boy in the Welsh story who tends the cauldron of transformation for … how long? Yes, perhaps you’ve already guessed it — a year and a day. The magic brewing in the cauldron is, alas, destined for another, and Gwion is sternly charged to keep the fire carefully. Never let it die out. Always maintain a steady flame. Haul wood, carry water. Be sure the contents continue to simmer and seethe and stew as they slowly wax in power.

After Gwion faithfully tends the fire for that long, sooty and tedious year of drudgery, at last the mixture nears completion. One day the cauldron boils up, spattering a little, and three drops spill onto Gwion’s hand, burning it. Instinctively he lifts the burn to his mouth to soothe it. Voila! In that moment he imbibes the inspiration, awen, chi, spirit, elemental force meant for another, and so begins the series of transformations that will make him into Taliesin, Bard and initiatory model for many Druids and others who appreciate good wisdom teaching.

An accident? Has Gwion’s year of service led to this? Was it sheer luck, a “simple” case of being in the right place at the right time? Does blind chance govern the universe? (Why hasn’t something like this happened to ME?) Is the experience repeatable? Where’s a decent cauldron when you need one? Can I get those three drops to go? J3D caps, shirts, towels, belt-buckles on sale now! Buy 3 and save.

J3D in some ways can mislead you. “Visit us for your transformational needs. Just three drops, and you too can become a Bard-with-a-capital-B!” The ad seduces with the promise of something for almost nothing. (May the spirits preserve us from clickbait Druidry!) Such glibness leaves out the inconvenient preparation, the lengthy prologue, the awkward context, the unmentioned effort, the details of setting everything depends on. (Doesn’t it always?) It’s true: Just three drops are all you need, AFTER you’ve done everything else. They’re the tipping point, the straw that moved the camel to its next stage of camel-hood. J3D, J3D, J3D! The crowds are chanting, they’re going wild!

Curiously, J3D is a key to getting to the place and time where J3D’s the key. It’s the sine qua non, the “without which not,” the essential component, the one true thing.

Fortunately, the way the universe appears to be constructed, we can locate, if not the ultimate J3D, still very useful versions of it, tucked away in so many nooks and crannies of our lives. If I didn’t know better, I’d even suspect that the universe in its surprising efficiencies has shaped every environment for optimum benefit of the species that have adapted themselves to live there. Which means pure change and perfect intention are pretty much the same thing, depending on the local awen you’re sipping from. Paradox is the lifeblood of thinking about existence. Or as one of the Wise once put it, the opposite of an average truth may well be a falsehood. But the opposite of a profound truth is often enough another profound truth.

When the first glow is gone, the spark has dimmed, the lustre has worn off, you’re probably at the first drop. When any possibility of an end has faded from sight, when you’ve forgotten why you’re doing it and you’re going through the paces out of what feels like misplaced devotion or pure inertia, if you even have enough energy to stop and think at all, you’re likely in the neighborhood of drop 2. When you’ve given up theories, regrets, anger, hope, denial, bargaining, and grief itself, and you simply tend that fire because you’re able to tend that fire, and lost in reverie you feel a sudden burning, the third drop announces itself.

At that point the experience may well appear as three quick drops in succession, erasing any memory of the earlier drops, the practice for the final event, slog to get to that point. Or the long intervals between each drop find themselves renewed, deepened, intensified in the pain the third drop brings. Somehow, though, all that has gone before either falls away, or the pain of change is so intense it fills your whole awareness, crowding out all else, a white and scalding fire from horizon to horizon. Or in a vast hall of silence, the only sound is a whisper of the soft flesh of your hand soothed by tongue and lip. Then you know the transformation is upon you.

J3D.

Bringing It   5 comments

welsh-taliesin-picThe Awen I sing,
From the deep I bring it,
A river while it flows,
I know its extent;
I know when it disappears;
I know when it fills;
I know when it overflows;
I know when it shrinks;
I know what base
There is beneath the sea.

(lines 170-179, Book of Taliesin VII, “The Hostile Confederacy“)

Oh, Taliesin, how do you know these things? I say to myself. How is it you enchant yourself into wisdom?

I have been a multitude of shapes,
Before I assumed a consistent form.
I have been a sword, narrow, variegated,
I have been a tear in the air,
I have been in the dullest of stars.
I have been a word among letters,
I have been a book in the origin.

OK, you know it because you’ve been it, I say to myself and the air.

When I sing, I hear a music that both exists and does not exist until I open my mouth. We create in the moment of desire and imagination. “From the deep” we bring things that flow like rivers while we sing. But before the song, or after?

Contrary to what I may think in the moment, so many things are matters of doing rather than believing. Challenges behave much the same as joys. When I’m afraid, I have a chance to show courage. What else does courage mean but to be afraid — and to attempt the brave thing anyway?

And when I sing, that takes a kind of courage too. I mean by this that singing when the sun shines is easy enough. Necessary, too. A gift. But singing in the dark, singing in pain, singing in uncertainty — or singing in joy when joy itself is suspect and the times are bad — there’s a song of power Taliesin would recognize.

The Awen I sing,
From the deep I bring it.

Another tool for my tool-kit. Sing it and you bring it. Make it come true when before, without you, it not only hasn’t yet arrived, it won’t and can’t arrive until you do.

IMAGE: Taliesin.

Persistence   Leave a comment

Persistence, and its twin patience, may be our greatest magic.  Sacred writings around the globe praise its powers and practitioners. So it’s hardly surprising, here in the too-often unmagical West, with its suspicion of the imagination, and its demand for the instantaneous, or at least the immediate, that we are impatient, restless, insecure, harried, stressed, whiny, dissatisfied and ungrateful.  We bustle from one “experience” to the next, collecting them like beads on a necklace.  The ubiquitous verb “have” leaves it mark in our speech, on our tongues:  we “have” dinner, we “have” class or a good time, we even “have” another person sexually, and one of the worst sensations is “being had.”  We do not know self-possession, so other things and people possess us instead.

The “slow food” movement, the pace appropriate for savoring, craftsmanship, care, reflection, meditation and rumination (slow digestion!) all run counter to the ethos of speed, promptness, acceleration that drive us to a rush to orgasm, speeding tickets, the rat race, stress-related illness, and so on.  None of these problems or the observations about them are new, of course.  But we remain half-hearted in our efforts or understanding of how to “pursue” their remedy.  We chase salvation as much as anything else, as a thing to collect or gather or purchase so we can be about our “real” business, whatever we think that is.  Spirituality gets marketed along with orange juice.  For a sum, you can be whisked off to a more exotic locale than where you live your life, spend time with a retreat leader or guru or master or guide, and “have” (or “take”) a seminar or class or workshop.

Anyone who has adopted a spiritual practice and stuck with it has seen benefits.  Like regular exercise, it grants a resilience and stamina I can acquire in no other way.  I sit in contemplation and nothing much happens.  A week or a month goes by, and my temper might have subtly improved.  Fortunate coincidences increase.  My dream life, or a chance conversation, or a newspaper article, nudges me toward choices and options I might not have otherwise considered.  But usually these things arrive so naturally that unless I look for them and document them, I perceive no connection between spiritual practice and the increased smoothness of my life.  From a slog, it becomes more of a glide.  But the very smoothness of the transition makes it too subtle for my dulled perceptions at first.  It arrives naturally, like the grass greening in the spring, or that gentle all-day snow that mantles everything.

I abandoned a particular daily practice after many years, for complicated reasons deserving a separate post, and I needed only to read the notebooks I kept from that earlier time to recall vividly what I had lost, if my own life wasn’t enough to show me.  My internal climate faced its own El Nino.  I was more often short with my wife, mildly depressed, more often sick with colds, less inspired to write, less likely to laugh, more tired and more critical of setbacks and annoyances.  Set down in writing this way, the changes sound more dramatic — didn’t I notice them at the time? — but as a gradual shift, they were hardly noticeable at any one point.  I still had my share of good days (though  I didn’t seem to value them as much), and my life was tolerable and rewarding enough.  “But I was making good money!” may be the excuse or apology or justification we make to ourselves, and for a time it was true enough of me.  Then came the cancer, the near-breakdown, the stretch of several years where I seemed to move from doctor to doctor, test to test, treatment to treatment.  If you or anyone you know has endured this, you get what I’m talking about.  It’s distinctly unfun.  And while I won’t say lack of practice caused this, it’s an accompanying factor, a “leading indicator,” a constituent factor.  Doctors might very profitably begin their diagnoses with the question, “So how’s your spiritual practice?”  Our spiritual pulse keeps time with our physical lives.  They’re hardly separate things, after all.  Why should they be?

In the story of Taliesin I mentioned in my last post, the boy Gwion, so far from the future Taliesin he will become, is set by the goddess Cerridwen to watch a cauldron as it cooks a magical broth meant to transform her son Afagddu, a mother’s gift to her child.  A year and a day is the fairy-story time Gwion spends at it.  A full cycle.  The dailiness of effort and persistence.  The “same-old,” much of the time.  Gwion’s a servant.  The cauldron sits there each morning.  The fire beneath it smoulders.  Feed the fire, stir the liquid.  It cooks, and Gwion “cooks” along with it, the invisible energy of persistence accumulating as surely as the magical liquor boils down and grows in potency.  Through the spring and summer, insects and sweat.  Through autumn and winter, frost and chill and ice.  The cauldron has not changed.  Still at it?  Yes.  The broth slowly thickens as it bubbles and spatters.

One day a few drops (in some versions, three drops) fly out onto one of Gwion’s hands, burning.  Instinctively he lifts the hand to his mouth, to lick and soothe it with his tongue.  Immediately the magic “meant for another” is now his.  He did, after all, put in the time.  He sat there daily, through the seasons, tending the cauldron, stirring and keeping up the fire, swatting insects, breathing the smoke, batting sparks away, eyes reddened.  Yes, the “accident” of the spattered drops was at least partly the result of “being at the right time in the right place.”  It is “luck” as well as “grace,” both operative in his life.  Part, too, was the simple animal instinct to lick a burn.  And the greater portion was the effort, which catalyzed all the rest into a unified whole.  Effort, timing, luck, chance, grace:  the “package deal” of spirituality.

And the consequence? For Gwion, his growth has just begun.  It is his initiation, his beginning.   In his case it distinctly does NOT mean an easier path ahead for him.  In fact, just the opposite — more on that in a coming post.

The Hopi of the American Southwest call their ritual ceremonial pipe natwanpi, “instrument of preparing.”  The -pi suffix means a vehicle, a means, a tool.  Tales like this story of Gwion can become a natwanpi for us, if we choose — part of our preparation and practice, a tool, a way forward.

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Fast food

Transformation

Hopi blanket

Keys to Druidry in Story   Leave a comment

Those inclined to criticize contemporary Druidry have made much about how the specific practices and beliefs of ancient Druids are forever lost to us simply because they left no written records, and because the references to Druids in the works of classical Greek and Roman authors are mostly based on secondhand accounts and sometimes markedly biased. Without such historical continuity, they claim, it is impossible to be a “real” Druid today, and thus all contemporary Druidry is a kind of whistling in the wind, at best a version of dress-up for adults.  But what such writers and speakers often forget is the surviving body of legend, myth, teaching and wisdom in Celtic literature.  Here is Druidry in compact and literary form, meant to be preserved as story, a link-up with the perennial wisdom that never dies.

To pick just one example, the stories from the Mabinogion, the Welsh collection of myth, legend and teaching have wonderful relevance and serve as a storehouse of much Druid teaching. Sustained meditation on these stories will reveal much of use and value to the aspirant after a Druidry that is authentic simply because it is grounded in knowledge and practice.  As a pragmatist more than a reconstructionist, I’m much more interested in what works than in what may be historically accurate.  The former leads one to inner discoveries.  The latter is engaging as a worthwhile scholarly endeavor first, and only as a possible source of spiritual insight second.  And that is as it should be.  History is not spirituality, though it can inform it.  But even if we can accurately deduce from an always incomplete archaeological record what a Bronze Age Druid may have done, it’s still not automatically fit and appropriate for a contemporary 21st century person to adopt.  That’s a decision we must make apart from the reconstruction, which cannot guide us by itself.  Stories, however, though formed in a particular culture, often reach toward universals far better than physical objects and actions.

The story of Taliesin (this link is to a public domain text — more modern and well annotated versions are available) in the Mabinogion moves us into a world of myth and initiation.  In the tale, the boy Gwion passes through ordeals and transformations, becoming at length the poet and sage Taliesin, whose name means “shining brow” — one who has a “fire in the head” and is alive with wisdom and poetic inspiration.  As with figures from other traditions whose heads are encircled with halos, or shining with an otherworldly brightness, Taliesin belongs to the company of the “twice-born,” who have fulfilled their humanity by making the most of it.  In my next post, I’ll talk about the first key in the story — persistence.

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First image is a triskele or triskelion, a pan-European symbol associated with the Celts.

Second image is of Taliesin from Caitlin and John Matthews’ Arthurian Tarot.

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Updated 9 September 2013

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