Archive for the ‘triad’ Tag

“Everything is Broken Up and Dances”   Leave a comment

Google the title of this post, and chances are you’ll unearth three seemingly disparate connections. One is the title of a recent (2018) book by Edoardo Nesi. You might also find the Youtube trailer of a 2016 Israeli film by Nony Geffen with the same name. The third — the link between them, well down the list of URLs and capsule summaries — is the original, from lyrics by Jim Morrison of The Doors, where this line appears at the end of a stanza in “Ghost Song” off the 1978 album American Prayer.

In their own ways, both book and movie use the lyric line to evoke ghosts. Nesi’s book on economics is subtitled “The Crushing of the Middle Class”, while Geffen’s movie focuses on the story of a soldier suffering from PTSD after the third Lebanon war. In each case it’s the ghost of something lost, which makes living in this glittering, fragmented present of ours a hallucinatory journey. The Door’s album was issued after Morrison’s death, using recordings of his spoken word poetry, so that his ghost also looms over the work.

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not here yet — coming, coming …

The prayer of the album title is not just “American”, though some of its song references are. Like any prayer, it grapples with the worlds we live in, worlds of memory and dream and imagination, of the physical senses and of the possible worlds that time and human choice may unfold.

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A facile reading of “Ghost Song” might suggest we can dance along with the fragments — make the best of the situation. This is a strategy that may work for some of us — I silently add it to my spiritual toolkit — but the current troubles tug and gnaw at us in ways that dancing may not ease. The loss of jobs and “normal” life, the stress of disease and the threat of disease, put us right in the middle of the break-up and fragmentation.

No single remedy exists. But multiple remedies do, and humans are remarkably resilient creatures. Most of us already have ways for dealing with the present craziness, and we’re always on the lookout for new ones. Yes, the snake-oil sellers and spammers and scammers crawl out of the woodwork in times like this to snare the vulnerable and careless, but that doesn’t negate our search for new practices, solutions, promises. Like any green thing we send out runners and branches questing for new soil, for air and water and light.

For Christians this weekend is about hope, about resurrection. No surprise, the festival comes at the start of spring in the northern hemisphere. Christians in the southern hemisphere might consider matching their festivals to the season — Easter in September, Christmas around the June solstice — in order to align with a natural order they know God established. Likewise with Pagans down under. Samhain in May, and Imbolc in August. While celebrating beginnings as the leaves fall, or endings as the world greens all around us, may teach wisdom and the ability to distinguish other worlds from this apparent one, it’s out of harmony with the dominant dynamic the season is inviting our bodies to join and participate in.

If we look at the rest of “Ghost Song”, the first word commands us: “Awake”. I could stop there, or rather start there, and need nothing else. Awake, and keep awaking. But I keep going.

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already past — what’s to come?

American Prayer” opens with vital questions: “Do you know the warm progress under the stars? Do you know we exist? Have you forgotten the keys to the Kingdom?” Read the rest of the lyrics and you see how Christian imagery pervades the song, how the song itself asks deeply Christian questions, which means questions for everyone, in spite and because of its obscenity and “politics”.

Without the profane there is no sacred. And often enough, though we don’t like to admit it, they trade places.

All right — but what can I do with this possibly useful fact?

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One of the headlines in yesterday’s Guardian reads “Sesame Street’s pandemic advice for parents: ‘Find rituals, be flexible, take a breath'”. I take this Triad and meditate on its seven words “for parents”, and for children, too. Right now that boundary shrinks. We’re all parents and children too, looking for comfort and reassurance (assuming we’re not honing our skills at denial) and for the first hints of “what next?” We “parent and child” each other right now in all kinds of ways.

Sometimes the only ritual I can manage is to take a breath. But that’s a good one, because without it I won’t make it to any of the others. Let me re-order the advice: “take a breath, be flexible, find rituals”. Bend, breathe, ritualize. Breathe, ritualize, bend.

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Bless, and the blessing spreads outward. We are blessing-bearers.

 

Triad for Rhododendron   Leave a comment

The recent snowfall just after the Equinox brought 8″ (20 cm) to our hilltop. I took these pics several hours apart to capture one particular flowerbud.

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If you know rhododendrons, you know they keep their leaves all winter. But you can also tell if the temps have dropped overnight with a quick look out the window — the rhododendron curls and tightens its leaves, as if to say, Cold for me, too!

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And the bud unharmed, around noon the next day.

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Rhododendron resilience to you all.

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Posted 27 March 2020 by adruidway in Druidry, rhododendron, triad

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From the Druid’s Prayer Outward   Leave a comment

Ri, a’h Isprid, do iscod …

Grant, o Spirit, thy protection …

If I pray, or make a vow, in a constructed language like the one I used to translate the Druid’s Prayer two months ago, is the prayer worthy, or the vow valid?

One direct test: does the spiritual world take them seriously? How do I know? And what, in turn, can that tell me about intention, creativity, awen and gods I may not worry about “believing” in, but whom I’m happy to work with, if I ask and if they choose?

(O Bríd and Oghma, for the gift of speech already I thank you …)

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eastern counter-glow over our roof at sunset

“Sound”, says the Old Irish In Lebor Ogaim, The Book of Ogams or the Ogam Tract, “is the mother of Og(h)ma, and matter his father”. Sound becoming language, the tongue of human beings, mediated by a god. The awen you sing, from the deep you bring it. And I pray you will.

No, I’m not claiming for my nascent Celtic con-lang any sort of special divine or holy status. (At least not in advance.) All languages are holy, or could be. But yes, I am working magic, going with an intention, asking blessings on it, charging it with desire, putting in a sustained effort, sailing with the wind, trusting to its fulfillment in time, doing my part, perceiving it from the vantage point of already-manifested, working with the as-if principle, feeling it as much as thinking it — because feeling charges an intention till it begins to spark, and it kindles (mostly) along paths we’ve laid for it, following the principle of the path of least resistance.

“I look forward to seeing where this goes as you work through the details”, writes Steve.

So do I, whether he was referring to the language or the prayer behind it, or both, or something else. “Working through the details”, the concrete form or mold into which we invite the magic to pour, helps give it shape. But whether it fills that form, or another more open to its flow, isn’t wholly up to us. If you’ve been at all involved in the building of a house or barn, with concrete being poured, you’ve run across stories of the concrete forms blowing out, and the heavy wet stuff flowing everywhere you didn’t want it. Magic is alive, god/dess is afoot, as much when I stub a toe or mash a finger as when the magic shifts my life to wonder and growth. Force flowing into form.

More than a little humility can help keep us from acts of outright stupidity in the face of divine power manifesting. Insisting that magic go a certain way is like commanding the tide: the tide always wins. But not seeing it as a contest, but as a chance to sail on the seas of magic, lets me ride the waves, tack across the wind, or run with it, and reach harbor. A light hand on the tiller, a boat that isn’t an ego project, a “vanity vessel”, but a seaworthy ship.

Expecting the wind to drive my boat out onto the waves, steer it where I want to go, and deliver me without any further effort on my part beyond the “ask”, is folly beyond telling. To put it more crudely and memorably, in words a friend said to me recently, it’s just naive as f*ck.

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So what lies “outward from prayer”? (Between sacred and profane may lie the merest hair’s breadth. Live, pure, wise, fire and true are also among our four-letter words.)

Make the turn, just don’t insist on logic as the link.

The Great Triad of Jesus is familiar to many, but too often we forget the hard-earned admonition that immediately precedes it:

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

I know I squander the holy far too often, casting it aside like a paper wrapper around the candy of what I think I “really want”. After all that asking, seeking and knocking, I just let it slide from my fingers. So I take up the task again, asking, seeking, knocking — until I find that supple, elusive thing I need like blood and breath.

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I’m slowly reading two related books (like many “bookies”, I almost always have more than two going at any one time), to listen to them echo and ricochet off each other: Thomas Kunkel’s Enormous Prayers: A Journey into the [Catholic] Priesthood, and Rev. Lora O’Brien’s A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood. The first volume I’d salvaged free from the last day of a used-book sale where any remainders were given away to clear space. The second I recently bought used, though it appeared in 2019.

We still grant to “priest” and “priestess” an aura of magic and mystery — tarnished, yes, by years of unfolding Catholic scandal among others, while also reclaiming, often from non-Christian sources, new resonance and imagery and sacred fire. As one priest in Kunkel’s book exclaims, “… people are starving today for mystery, the power that grounds, suffuses and surpasses all things, that ever-present but elusive reality … as a result, our souls are withering from underuse and lack of nourishment.” And we know this because “people have a sickness that no psychologist or physician can cure …”

We need to move beyond prayer to find that use and that nourishment. Fortunately, many are beginning to wake again to themselves, and to reclaim that holy task, rather than yielding it to any other.

Priests and priestesses? Needed, yes. Needed very much at times. But not essential. The life we each hold (a trust, a sacred heirloom, a gift from the ancestors) is enough.

And may you know blessing as you too reclaim, and name, and flame.

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Kunkel, Thomas. Enormous Prayers: A Journey into the Priesthood. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998.

O’Brien, Rev. Lora. A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2019.

Urgent Druidry: A Triad   2 comments

Three things to work for: what I need, what I can do, what needs to be done.

(Adjust as needed to fit your path — that may be one of things that you need, that you can do, that needs to be done.)

You could think of these three as three concentric circles. The smallest? What I need. Though it may consume my waking hours (even hound me in dreams), it’s still small. However large my need feels, it’s also smaller than what I can do — the next circle. My need is smaller than my life. And even that circle of what I can do, of my living today, lies enclosed in what needs to be done, the largest, outermost circle. Fortunately, I’m not the only one working on what needs to be done. Most of that largest outer circle we will tackle together.

How do I know this? Because that’s what we all already do every day. And by “we” I mean humans, spirits, birds, beasts, bugs, beeches, and everything else known and unknown. We’re in this together. The noise that passes for news, for much of social media, for political fear-mongering, is a very small part of our Great Doing. Meanwhile, sun and moon are faithful. (If the sun and moon should doubt, they’d immediately go out, sings William Blake.) If there’s one thing our ancestors have to teach us, it’s survival. We’re here because of them. We’re a remarkable part of their Doing, a testimony, a witness, an arrow of hope shot into the sky, a carrier pigeon winging a prayer towards whatever god is listening.

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And an equally “urgent” corollary to the Triad: I can work toward all three of its elements. While need may appear to stand between me and my next step, I can still work toward, with and (if need be!) around that need. And part of that is discerning whether it’s a need or a want. What economies can I practice, in the old sense of the word — laws (nomos) of the household (oikos) — Greek oikonom-ia, Latin (o)economia?

And such economies are indeed plural, for we all juggle several of them, balancing them against each other, splurging in some places, paring back in others. My wife and I make do with one car, but it’s showing its age at over 350,000 miles (560,000 km), now eating upwards of a quart of oil a week — we know we’ll need to replace it within the year. But doing at least some shopping online cuts back on driving, often enough, to more than one store just to find what we need, so keeping our home internet connection — at first glance a luxury we could sidestep by going to local libraries with free wifi and computers — turns out to pay for itself in gas and time saved.  Come winter, we need to add clearing the driveway with a snowblower, with its own diet of gas and oil. (That itself was an economy — the cost of hiring a neighbor with a snowplow for a single season pays for a snowblower.)

Such relative economies differ for each household and nation. What appears a clear indulgence to one may be a clear necessity to another. A car is nearly a necessity in the States, as absurd as that may sound to much of the planet that gets along fine without one. No car, no phone, and you don’t stand much of chance even to qualify for 80% of the jobs available.

Life, I keep learning (the gods keep teaching), is never OSFA — one size fits all. We find a balance as we can. And this isn’t just a gluttonous West vs. struggling Third World: if my wife and I had remained in Japan, we’d never have needed a car — the train system is that good. Economies are still local, despite the global economy we keep hearing about.

And these are just physical needs. So often my physical life stands in for what’s happening with me spiritually — the physical is indeed a metaphor for the spiritual, a ready barometer, especially when I’m not connecting with the divine cleanly enough to hear its guidance in any other way. Assuming this is a random universe is not only supremely boring, it’s way more fun to see how spirit can reach somebody even as thick as I can be, and through the most “mundane” circumstances. That pesky stomach bug, the delay in traffic, the unexpected medical invoice for what insurance doesn’t cover, the collapse of carefully-laid plans for Saturday’s outing to see the autumn leaves — all are my teachers, if I haven’t checked in lately with spirit. My daily life drags me kicking and screaming to the altar, if I don’t (won’t) walk there on my own. It’s quite simple, really, whispers spirit. Offer flowers, or blood.

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13 Things that Make a Druid   5 comments

“What makes a Druid a Druid?”, asked a recent post to a Druid Facebook group I follow. The question, and the responses that followed, are both wonderfully instructive. I’ve distilled a large number of comments into thirteen ways of addressing the question. Below are the condensed originals, along with my indented comments.

1) A sickle, a white robe and a beard. What else?

This is one popular image, which we can trace to the Roman historian Pliny (link to short excerpt from his Natural History). Though it ignores the reality of female Druids in both the past and present, it does show that rather than a set of beliefs, Druidry suggests a set of tools that one uses in roles that Druids fulfill. In this case, harvesting the sacred mistletoe from the oak.

Ellen Evert Hopman likes to point out that white is really impractical — it shows dirt. Some of the oldest surviving Irish Druid materials talk about certain colours and patterns of cloth set aside for Druids — but not white. Wearing white stems partly from the influence of Pliny and partly from practices of the Druid Revival of the 1700s and onward.

2) A desire to seek knowledge regardless of belief or faith, a desire to keep that knowledge safe and a desire to share that knowledge with those able to understand it.

A good first draft of a Triad: “Three desires of the Druid: to seek knowledge, to preserve it, and to share it with others”. But many of us linger in desire without ever bringing it into manifestation. Desire alone won’t make a Druid.

3) Knowing when to put the kettle on.

Though it’s another piece of humour, timing of course matters deeply, and the “trick” of “catching the moment” reveals a great deal. Alertness to the hints the world is constantly giving us can guide our days. Likewise, obliviousness to such nudges and intuitions simply means our lives will be that much harder and less joyful. Nature so often is our first teacher.

The 21st century and most of its challenges reflect how often we’ve missed catching the moment and willfully ignored the many hints coming our way. Now we’re simply going to learn the hard way for the next few centuries. Neither Apocalypse nor Singularity, damnation or salvation: but a good deal more schooling in what we didn’t bother to learn the first few times round.

4) Initiation.

As a one-word answer, “initiation” points us in an important direction. But what we think it is, where and how we seek it, and what we do with it once we “have” it — those are places we can trip up.

As one commenter noted, “a Druid isn’t a ‘what’ – it’s not a thing to be initiated into. A Druid is what you are – you can be initiated into Druidry, but that doesn’t make you a Druid”.

Though, as another commenter observes, “self-initiation is a thing”, we are never alone: spirit, spirits, the ancestors, animal presences all participate in both “self” and group initiations.

In a larger sense, too, “initiation” happens to everyone. Life itself initiates us, through love, suffering, birth, death, the seasons. In that sense, we’re all “Druids in training”. Some opt to work with such energies more consciously and deliberately.

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The Morrigan personifies the challenges that prove and test us all. Photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty.

5) Membership in an Order.

For many — and it can be a valuable step — what “makes a Druid” is membership in an Order. The path of the Solitary means doing preliminary training on one’s own, and the requisite patience and listening and discipline of the Solitary aren’t for everyone as a starting point. Solitary work can feel trackless at times — how do I know where to focus? How do I assess my efforts? An Order can lay out for us its set of answers to such questions. However, to do more than merely “belong” or “be a member” — to grow into Druidry — still requires that same patience and listening and discipline which the Solitary practices.

6) Doing the necessary work.

As a commenter says, “Whether as a solitary or as a member of an order, WORK is required. Otherwise, to call oneself a Druid is meaningless”.

7) Study, reverence, work in nature, and commitment.

For most Druids I know, one or more of these may flag at times. It’s unavoidable. Jobs, relationships, changing health and life circumstances all demand much of us. Returning again and again to pick up the work is what “makes a Druid”.

“Persistence …” says one of the Wise. “Is not this our greatest practice?”

8) Alternative answer: you have to be able to summon a unicorn or a dragon. You can also grow a tree that grows/attracts its own dryad.

Again, though a bit of humour, these answers point to Druidry as something people do rather than something they merely believe.

9) Living in honourable relationship with nature, the Gods and the tribe. (And the evidence that we’re doing this?) The ability to model and teach all of that.

10) There is a special badge you get that says “I’m a Druid” on it …

Ask a silly question …

If you’ve been at some Druid or Pagan events, you may on occasion have wondered whether it’s the bling that makes the Druid. Fortunately, no.

Theme for meditation: what says “I’m a Druid” to the non-human world around us?

11) Practice, experience, and listening.

Another good Triad to take into meditation. Each of the three informs and feeds the other two. What am I listening to? Is it nourishing the deepest part of me? If not … What have I learned from experience? How can that shape my practice? Does either practice or experience show me new things to listen for? What is teaching and guiding me today, right now? What is my next step?

12) 19 years of study … at least for the ancient Druids.

As others have pointed out, the dozen or more years of modern education most of us undertake account for a chunk of those 19 years, but by no means fulfill or equal all of them. A Druid who persists on the path finds in the end that those symbolic 19 years cover just the “introductory material” anyway …

13) You are a Druid when your community says you are — fulfilling the role.

This presents a paradox of sorts. It means I practice and work on fulfilling the role, though recognition may or may not come right away — or ever. But that’s not why I’m practicing. I’m not a Druid until I possess that inherent authority of experience that others recognize, yet I won’t possess that authority or experience unless I practice despite all lack of recognition. My indifference to such recognition as I practice is often a more sure way than any other to attain it.

One advantage of membership in an Order is that the community of members will come to recognize this authority. People will begin to turn to a wise and compassionate Bard, even though others who’ve completed the “higher” grades may also be present.

Another commenter reflects: “Because being a Druid is defined by function, it’s not something you can be in isolation. You can train as a teacher, and maybe even qualify. You can call yourself a teacher. But you are not in reality a teacher until you have taught someone, just as you are only a healer if you have healed someone. You are only a Druid if you carry out the role of a Druid”.

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Colouring Outside the Lines   Leave a comment

“But what can we do?” people often ask. Whatever the need, the question is a perennially valid one. What action is best for me to pursue, yes. But also, what can I do before I act, before the main event, so to speak, so that I can choose more wisely how to act on that larger scale? The Hopi of the American Southwest use a ceremonial pipe they call natwanpi — literally, “instrument of preparation”. What can I do to make of my actions a natwanpi in my own life as often as possible? How can I act now to prepare for the next action needed? How can my deeds begin to form a shining set of links, not merely a random assemblage?

Philip Carr-Gomm writes,

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.

Of course, one key is to practice the Awen when it IS easy, so that it becomes a skill and a habit to draw on when “life is far from easy”. Right now I take this advice, pause from writing this, and chant three awens quietly.

After all, what good is any spiritual practice if it doesn’t help when I need it most? I find this holds true especially with beliefs, which is why so many contemporary people have abandoned religious belief, and thereby think they’ve also “abandoned religion”. All they’ve done, often, is abandon one set of perhaps semi-examined beliefs for another set they may not have examined at all. “Carried away, pulled off-centre” — we’ve all been there. But each moment, in the wry paradox of being human, is also calling us home, “back to a sense of ourselves”.

A few weeks ago I had cataract surgery on my right eye. I was surprised how the looming procedure, with its success rate of above 95%, kicked up old fears in me from the major cancer surgery I’d experienced a decade ago. Coupled with that was a series of dreams I’d had a few years ago about going blind. Altogether not an enjoyable mindset to approach a delicate procedure on the eyes.

But instead of the victim version of the question “Why is this happening to me?” I can choose to ask the curious version of the same question. Insofar as anything in my life responds to events and causes I have set in motion, it’s a most legitimate question.

The answers, I find, can be surprising.

I feared loss of spiritual vision, because I was drifting away from the other spiritual path I practice. This is clearly a cause I’ve launched. I didn’t approach the surgery as some kind of superstitious opportunity for the universe to “pay me back” for spiritual neglect, as if the cosmos operates like a sinister debt collection agency. But if I approach my whole life as an instance of an intelligent universe constantly communicating with me, my fears have a cause, and an effect, and my experiences will mirror all that I am and bring to each moment. Not out of some sort of spiteful cosmic vindictiveness, but because all things, it seems, prod us along the next arm of the spiral. We’re all part of the Web. The same force, I believe, that pushes up the first flowers in spring, in spite of the lingering danger of frosts, the force that urges birds to nest and hatch a fleet of fledglings, even though a percentage will die before reaching adulthood, is the same force alive in me and in my life and the lives of every other being on this planet. Even our seemingly static mountains weather slowly in wind and rain, frost and sun.

Christians focus closely about “being in right relationship” with God. Druids and other practitioners of earth-spirituality are likewise seeking harmonious relations with the world around us. Though a god or gods may not have exclusive claims on me, still, if one makes herself know to me, it’s not a bad idea to pay attention. Same with anything else that knocks for my attention — and deserves it. Day-to-day practice of an earth path like Druidry is an ongoing opportunity to seek out new kinds of harmony as well keep to ones I’ve tried and tested, an opportunity to balance claims of allegiance and attention and energy, to make good choices, and to stand by them as much as I can. (Of course I’ll mess up from time to time. Part of the fun is seeing if I can mess up in a new way this time, to keep myself entertained, if nothing else. Why hoe a row I’ve already weeded, unless it really needs tilling again?!)

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With Lunasa in the northern hemisphere comes Imbolc in the southern one. The ley lines linking the earth festivals around the world deserve my attention, I find, as much as the lines of connection between hills and wells, trees and stones on my continent.

So it is that Brighid of many skills, healing and poetry and smithcraft among them, pairs well with Lugh Samildanach, Lugh “equally gifted” in all the arts and crafts. Both at Imbolc with the kindling of a new cycle of birth and growth, and at Lunasa as first of the harvest festivals, we’re reminded of origins of the crafts of civilization. With human and divine inspiration and gifts supporting our lives, we draw our existence today. I eat because my ancestors tilled the earth and lived to birth and teach the next generation. I wear this body because spirit clothed itself in this form among all the other forms it takes. I peer out at the world and at all the other forms who are likewise looking at and listening to the ongoing waves of existence. From this perspective, how can I not celebrate in simple amazement?!

We’ve all felt those moments when life seems paradoxically dreamlike and marvelously real. Robert Frost, bard of New England and a Wise One I keep turning to for counsel, says,

Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes.
Is the deed ever truly done.
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

Where love and need are one: how often do I separate them? Do I respect my need enough to love it, or truly need what it is I think I love? Can I align these two and make them one? Mortal stakes: is what I spend the greatest energy on actually contributing to life, my own life among others? After all, Druidry urges me to consider that each life is worthy and valuable, mine no more but also no less than others.

A Frostian triad emerges: There are three things fitting for the aspirant to wisdom — a seeking after unity of love and need, a work which is play for mortal stakes, and deeds done for heaven and the future.

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After the builders finished the weaving studio addition (visible on the left), they seeded the lawn with clover, and now we have a lovely nitrogen-fixing, weed-inhibiting perennial I refuse to mow. The bees have been loud and happy, cheering at my choice, and the crop will also hold down the still-loose soil against runoff, and help it firm up.

You can see, too, in the foreground the edge of the recent delivery of firewood I need to go stack.

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Triad for Rekindling Sacred Fire   Leave a comment

[5 May 2020 Update — Druid Magazine has been removed from online. Only paper copies remain.]

NOTE

A version of this post appeared on pg. 32 of the summer/fall 2017 issue (large PDF) of Druid Magazine. I’m grateful to the editors, and to their liberal policies that actually recognize the ownership of authors!

In the Southern Hemisphere, Beltane has recently passed, and we can, if we choose, draw on the “opposite” energies here in the North in November, in a six-month harmonic with the South. (Isn’t it always Opposite Day anyway?) It’s Spring in Autumn, Christmas in July, your six-month birthday.

Because when don’t we need sacred fire?

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1–Finding Fire

Every Druid tradition I know of honors fire in some way. “It is the hour of recall”, go the closing lines of OBOD ritual. “As the fire dies down, let it be relit in our hearts”.

Here is the promise of elemental fire, never quenched, always ready to rekindle. But so often I find myself dry, cool, grounded, earthed—all excellent things after ritual, ideal for smooth re-entry into our lives, but hard to live from when we crave and need the flame again.

I’ve detected more than a fair portion of Earth in my makeup: a little reserved, suspicious of quick flares, with a tendency to solidity, inertia even. Does a spark still smolder in the heart of a person like that, waiting to be relit? Can I coax it to flame again? I hold the answers like twin children, one in each arm: of course, and not today. As I write this, I look out the window at fog and wet pavement. Where do I look for flame? In moments like these, it seems a more than reasonable question.

Yes, in the electrified West, we turn a key to start the car, we flip any number of switches all day along, expecting and usually seeing instantaneous lights, readouts, computers booting, phone screens lighting, and hums and rumbles of devices jumping into action. If, like me, you happen to heat with wood, you lay paper and kindling, strike a match, and flame obliges. Praise be to Brighid!

But for all that, I keep reminding myself, we do not command fire. In her The Way of Four Spellbook, Deborah Lipp notes:

Fire has always been set apart from the other elements, because Fire alone has no natural home on the earth; Air has the sky, Water the sea, and Earth the land, but only Fire stands apart from geography. In nature, Fire is the outsider; it is out of control, and it conforms to no known rules (pg. 10).

This is lovely and poetic, evocative and wise, and, as a friend remarked when I quoted it to him, it’s also bullshit. The only place fire happens is geography, just like with every other element. Heart, fire pit, computer screen, creativity—we light and relight them constantly. It’s our extensive craft with the fire principle that’s made much of civilization possible. But mastery in the end means service, and our wizardry rings hollow whenever we forget this.

2–Serving Fire

“I am a servant of the Secret Fire,” declares Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien, 2004, p. 330). Not a bad magical declaration. So I turn to the Indo-European past and summon reconstructed ancient words* to say something like it: *Ambikwolos esmi yagnos ogneyes [Ahm-BEE-kwoh-lohs EHS-mee YAHG-nohs OHG-neh-yes], which roughly translates to “I am a servant of the sacred fire.”

So I ask how I already serve fire, because contrary to an adolescent tendency in us to see our lives as all-or-nothing, we have a starting place within us for anything that can manifest—or so some Wise Ones have told me. How else can we recognize a lack or hole or void except by feeling the outline of what’s missing, of what’s supposed to be there?

Now, when I need to reignite the fire of the sacred, and that includes writing about it, my daily practice, my own “hour of recall”, hopefully guides me to embers that still throw off heat. (If it doesn’t, I know I need to fine-tune what I do each day.) I keep re-learning that we never really extinguish sacred fire. We merely smoor it—that lovely old Scottish word—not “smother” or “suffocate” as some dictionary entries render it, but bank it, setting it to smolder till morning, when it can be breathed and fed to flame again. Peat excels at smoldering, but so do woods like hickory, and so do our human spirits.

While preparing a fire workshop for MAGUS Beltane, out of ruminations like these, I made a list of questions I found I kept asking myself, so I shared them with attendees. Here are seven from that list you might use in your journal, or for a series of meditations. And if one or two of them call you away from reading this, go with them for a while along your own green and shining path. Your responses are more valuable, after all, than “finishing the article”.

1) What does it take—literally and intentionally—in order to kindle you, and in order for you to kindle other things in your life?

2) What offering, if any, do you make to help you kindle? What else could you bring into your practice? What could you discard?

3) What is sacred to you? How do you find, invite, welcome, increase the sacred? What sacred ways are a part of your life right now that can help you kindle?

4) What ways, if any, do you tend to discount, push away, ignore, or feel “aren’t my way of connecting with the sacred”? What can you learn from your attitude towards them?

5) Where are you already kindled? What is burning, warm, or fiery in your life right now?

6) Where do you desire kindling? (Where do you need to bank a fire and cool off?!) Or to put it another way, what needs to catch fire in your life?

7) How has sacred fire already honored your practice and flames inwardly for you?

3–Building a Ritual Fire

In reconstructed Indo-European, one of the words for “altar” is *asa. If you want to expand your ritual declarations and charm-making, you can say *asam kwero [AH-sahm KWEH-roh] “I build an altar”. And if you’re consecrating a talisman or another person, you might add *Yagnobi ognibi tum wikyo! [YAHG-noh-bee OHG-nee-bee toom wee-KYOH!] “I hallow you with sacred fire!”

What to burn on that altar? Here your judgment, tempered and instructed by divination, practice, dream, and study, matters more than anything I might suggest. But if you’re seeking such a suggestion, here is one. Druid and Pagan traditions speak of Nine Sacred Trees suitable for kindling sacred fires (Steward of the Woods, 2015).

What about an altar? You may well have one already, whether backyard fire pit or space cleared on a bookshelf for images, a piece of quartz found on a walk, Tarot card for the day, incense of the season, and so on.

Evidence from several different traditions tells us that squares of sod or turf were a common form that a ritual altar could take. The Aeneid (Mandelbaum, 1961, p. 117) mentions a sod altar. Records from the Scots in the 1700s (Frazer, 1929) talk of building May Day fires on an altar of sod. And the Æcerbōt, the Anglo-Saxon “Land Remedy Spell”, amounts to a ritual for creating sacred space and restoring the land’s fertility (Jolly, 1996). To do so, it instructs the ritual performer to take one sod from each of the four directions of the land to build the ritual altar. Ceisiwr Serith (2015), an experienced ADF ritualist, author, and Indo-Europeanist, gives more supporting info in an article on his excellent website, “Proto-Indo-European Religion”.

In closing, I turn for words to the Rig-Veda 1.26.8: “For when the gods have a good fire, they bring us what we wish for. Let us pray with a good fire” (Three Cranes Grove, 2007; To Pray with a Good Fire).

Note on reconstructed Proto-Indo-European:

The * asterisk is a conventional notation for indicating a reconstructed form. You can never know enough about linguistic prehistory to do more than mangle reconstructed languages. Even graduate study like mine in historical linguistics inoculates precisely nobody from error. (Though a professional career demands pursuing the unattainable.) So in releasing perfectionist worries over Indo-European reconstructions and pronunciations, I cherish the advice of the great medievalist scholar, teacher, and author John Gardner. In advising readers when trying to speak Middle English aloud, he remarks,

“Read aloud or recite with authority, exactly as when speaking Hungarian – if you know no Hungarian – you speak with conviction and easy familiarity. (This, I’m told by Hungarians, is what Hungarians themselves do.) This easy authority, however fake, gets the tone of the language …” (1978, p. 315).

Tone, we might say, covers a multitude of sins.

If you’d like to learn more, two readable, popular, and authoritative books are by West and Mallory, included in the bibliography. Work through them and you won’t need me or anyone else. You’ll be writing your own reconstructed Indo-European phrases and rituals with “conviction and easy authority”.

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Gardner, John. (1978). The Life and Times of Chaucer. New York: Vintage Books.

Jolly, K. L. (1996). Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: Elf Charms in Context. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Lipp, D. (2006). The Way of Four Spellbook. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.

Mallory, J. P. & Adams, D. Q. (2006). The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Steward of the Woods. (2015). “Nine Sacred Woods: A Druid Walk in the Park”.

Ovid. (1929). Fasti (J. G. Frazer , Ed. and trans.). London: MacMillan and Co. (Original work published in 8 AD).

Serith, C. (2015). Proto-Indo-European Religion.

Three Cranes Grove. (2007). To Pray with a Good Fire.

Tolkien, J. R. R. (1987). The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Vergil. (1961). The Aeneid ( A. Mandelbaum, Trans.). New York: Bantam Books.

West, M. L. (2007). Indo-European Poetry and Myth. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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