Archive for the ‘winter solstice’ Tag

Nine Days of Solstice 9 — Monday

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Blessings of the Solstice to you! From the South to the North, from the East to the West.

Five of us from Vermont’s seed group, Well of Segais, gathered for a Solstice Zoom last night. For all their quirks and e-glitches, such technologies have helped so many connect over these past months, when the need has been great. The size of a Zoom gathering, as many have discovered, seems to reach optimum around a dozen or fewer. Beyond that, unless the group has evolved good strategies for careful listening and turn taking (or had them imposed by organizers), participants can end up talking over each other. A ritual helps enjoin a more meditative pace, good for helping members sink into reflection and attention. Without a physical ritual circle, more of the work is open for doing inwardly.

During the ritual meditation, I saw each of us five braiding ribbons of light that encircled us. It’s rare that events like this bring vision with them for me — often the experience is more subtle. Beyond any accompanying intuition and emotional response at the time — useful in themselves as part of the “barometer” of an experience — the value of it lies in what I do with it. I’ve recorded it, and it will serve as a subject for contemplation. Recalling it, as I’m doing now, evokes gratitude. In the future, it’s useful confirmation, one more link in a sequence of experiences and encounters, insights and hunches, that make up the trajectory of my life. In a few months I may have forgotten it, until I re-read it: “Sunday, 20 December 2020. Alban Arthan/Yule/Solstice ritual with Well of Segais …” Though forgetting is now less likely, because I’ve grounded it by writing about it, reflecting on it.

As a visualization, it reminds me of my links to everyone else, and how we can all choose to tend such connections with care and love, or otherwise. A blessing on the power of human choice! In the middle of the next challenge I will face, it goes to form part of my toolkit. “Braid now for light, braid for love …” If any of this post resonates with you, it comes to form part of your toolkit as well. And so each gift we receive can ripple outward.

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Each of the “Great Eight” seasonal festivals bears its attendant blessings. They’re not all the same, in part because we’re not the same, when we arrive at the time and place of them. Thank you for walking with me thus far, whether you’re new to this blog, or a long-time reader.

If there’s a ritual for the closing of this sequence of nine posts for Solstice, part of it surely comes in the form of the Scottish blessing that opens my “About” page on this site, which I’ll end with here. If you will, say the words aloud with me:

May the blessing of light be on you — light without and light within.
May the blessed sunlight shine on you like a great peat fire,
so that stranger and friend may come and warm themselves at it.

And may light shine out of the two eyes of you,
like a candle set in the window of a house,
bidding the wanderer come in out of the storm.

And may the blessing of the rain be on you,
may it beat upon your Spirit and wash it fair and clean, and leave
there a shining pool where the blue of Heaven shines,
and sometimes a star.

And may the blessing of the earth be on you,
soft under your feet as you pass along the roads,
soft under you as you lie out on it, tired at the end of day;
and may it rest easy over you when, at last, you lie out under it.

May it rest so lightly over you that your spirit may be out
from under it quickly; up and off and on its way.
And now may the Spirit bless you, and bless you kindly.

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The next post will be the Top 10 A Druid Way Posts for 2020.

Nine Days of Solstice 8 — Sunday

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“I could be bounded in a nutshell”, exclaims Hamlet in Act II, “and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams”. All right, Hamlet: Dream better.

That’s often the kind of advice we receive. On the face of it, it’s sound, solid. But utterly useless. “If I knew how“, many find themselves thinking, “don’t you think I would?”

Maybe that’s one reason the “how” has interested me for so long. How did you get where you are? How do you go where you want to go? How do you even find out there’s a “where” worth going to? And sometimes: What can I do right now, starting today, that will make any difference at all?

As even part-time readers of this blog know (and are probably weary of hearing me say), a practice is essential for all of these things. Most likely, you’re already doing a version of it and can build on it. It certainly needn’t look like somebody else’s practice. If you do something for love, you’re already half-way there. Nobody starts from scratch. Once you have that kindling, that’s where the Secret Fire lies. As my teacher likes to say, then you start with one small thing, and do it with all the love and attention you can. It may be tying your shoes. Sometimes starting that small is just right. Build from that single step, on your way to your kingdom. Our power lies in how far we can extend that kind of dedication and devotion over time. As it opens, you get caught by the vision, by the good dream, and you’re on your way.

A practice, it needs to be said, isn’t all easy going. Sometimes you run across barren patches. In a 2012 post I wrote:

On first sight (or much later, depending on the particular script we’re following), the world can be a forbidding place. We all go through emotional and psychological winters at times. Nothing seems to provide warmth or comfort, so we hunker down and endure. And we can get so good at this kind of half-life that we mistake merely surviving for full-hearted thriving. Well-meaning friends or family who try to console us with various messages of hope or endurance (“This too shall pass”) can’t budge us from our heaviness.

“Wind and ice are the only deciders of symmetry”, writes upstate New Yorker Linda Allardt in one of her poems. “Survival makes do for grace”. The instinct to survive, one we share with our animal kin, is often what carries us through. There’s a stoicism there which can serve us, if we don’t take it and make it our only stance worth cultivating.

The Solstices are times to watch for change and chance. The hidden changes implicit in the imminent shift of energy and consciousness which Druids symbolize and celebrate in the seasonal festivals also find expression in the starkly beautiful lines of “First Sight” by British poet Philip Larkin.

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth’s immeasurable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.

For that is how at least some changes arrive — immeasurable, ungraspable, unlike anything that went before. With a practice, we’re more able to work with their energy and momentum, rather than merely be swept up and along with them, or miss them entirely. In many ways, Druidry provides tools for navigating change.

A key insight I’ve found true in my experience sees expression in R. J. Stewart’s observation about magic. “The purpose of magical arts” — and here we can accurately substitute spiritual practice, or devotion to a craft or art — “is to enable the changes within the individual by which he or she may apprehend these further methods inwardly” (Living Magical Arts, pg. 3). A kind of teaching takes place through our practice. Our determination to persevere, to dig deeper, sets in motion a series of insights tailored to our particular circumstances and purposes, which gives us the experience Jesus talks about when he says “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. We find the spiritual principles that work for us because they meet us where we are.

These things can be hard to talk about for obvious reasons. Either one looks arrogant or deluded, or often enough a combination of both. But anyone with similar experiences can nod in recognition — and share their stories. J M Greer reminds us that

Druidry means following a spiritual path rooted in the green Earth … It means embracing an experiential approach to religious questions, one that abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit.

Until you have the experience of it (whatever it is for you), you may have a range of beliefs about it, for sure, but it’s your insight flowing from your own contact with the realms of nature and spirit that counts more, and longer. The path, the only path worth walking, the “path with heart”, is to continue that contact, to see where it leads, to trust it, because trust also opens doors that will not otherwise open. Part of Greer’s point is that any authority worth having comes from within, not from another person. Our human tendency is too often to look for the next Holy Magister 27th-Grade Ipsissimus Archdruid Deluxe Squared for “the answers”, which usually won’t be our answers anyway. (For some amusing insights on this, do a search of my posts on One Genuine Real Live Druidry — OGRELD).

south yard, yesterday, after clearing the way to our woodshed

The most that any outside authority can do is help us recognize the fire inside us, to suggest ways of keeping it burning, to point out directions towards firewood, to guide us to lighting up the path along the way.

Our inner Sovereignty, you might say, can often look like a hearth.

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Nine Days of Solstice 7 — Saturday

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What now, after making the Star? It’s a good question. After what feels like the completion of a cycle of manifestation, it can be a challenge to identify the next steps.

Ah, Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits—and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!

says the Rubaiyat 73 of Omar Khayyam. We’re into the third Triad of the Nine Days of Solstice. What more? Well, the Bards have one corner of it, as usual. Khayyam lays it out for me in this stanza, if I’m willing to walk even some of the way with him, and listen. There’s a triad in human affairs, as in so many things: you, me, and “Fate”. Or as we could also call it, karma, the momentum of things we’ve already launched, that we’ve set in motion. The “sorry scheme of things” is one perspective on our making so far (not the only one, to be sure), and as with most human choices, once we receive what we wished for, we almost immediately aspire to something better. That’s an excellent feature of human consciousness, if I remember to treat it wisely and prudently. And yes, we can “remould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire” with the same abilities we moulded it in the first place.

The Green World is always green, whatever other colours it takes on.

The challenge for me is to decide on what plane I will do my remoulding. Try to do all of it here, I find, and I run into everyone else’s vision of Hearts’ Desire. I am indeed creating my possible futures — and so is everyone else. Our visions bump into each other, as often as not. I find that the place to focus the predominant part of my work is inwardly. Change my consciousness to match my desire, and the effects manifest far more easily than trying to the change the world first. It ripples out from each of us individually, when we do the work. That’s how the mass consciousness changes — one of us at a time, till we reach a critical inflection-point. You see it in birds preparing to migrate for the winter. Ones, and twos, and then larger practice flights, till it spreads like yeast through bread, “the whole is leavened”, and the entire flock is ready to take wing.

Jesus’s counsel to his disciples is clear: “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world”. The common denominator of mass consciousness, sometimes useful in brief bursts during ritual when properly tuned, isn’t something to try to sustain all the time. The apparent world isn’t the last word on much of anything. Part, just not whole. I can begin to overcome the less desirable effects of mass consciousness by breaking my agreement with it. Look at the vision of the world held out to us in most social media, and there’s not much to choose from. I can target where to place my attention, for the simple reason that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. How can I even know my “heart’s desire”, let alone manifest it, “remould” things nearer to it, if everything else is tugging at my attention, away from where I need to be looking?

Holding the Star in my vision, the Four Elements and Spirit, I pick up the Work again.

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Nine Days of Solstice 6 — Friday

[Prelude |1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9]

The series of pictures below illustrate the folds to make the 5-pointed Star. There are 9 folds, a good piece of symbolism, and then a single cut of scissors. It may take a few tries till it comes out right it. Start with a piece of scrap paper.

If you like, treat this as a “ritual of making”. As you practice the Nine Folds, try out a prayer, chant, rhyme, etc. This can be a fun exercise to do with a child.

AAAAA

You need a sheet of paper in the proportions of 8.5 x 10. Size is up to you. (For many, that’s almost a standard sheet of loose-leaf or photocopy paper, with the bottom 1 in/2.5 cm cut off.)

BBBBB

FOLD 1: Fold the sheet in half horizontally, top edge to bottom edge.

CCCCC

FOLD 2: Next, fold the sheet in half vertically, left edge to right edge, then open it again.

DDDDD

FOLD 3: Fold the sheet in half vertically, top to bottom, then open it up again.

EEEEE

FFFFF

FOLD 4: Fold the right edge in to the center fold, then open it again.

GGGGG

You now should have these guide-lines for the next folds.

HHHHH

FOLD 5: Fold the top left corner to the center horizontal fold crease.

IIIII

FOLD 6: Fold that same corner back on itself, flush with the left edge.

JJJJJ

KKKKK

FOLD 7: Fold the top right corner back on itself, in the same way. You should have two right triangles of the same size.

LLLLL

Turn the star over, back to front.

MMMMM

Here’s the vertical guide line for the next fold.

NNNNN

FOLD 8: Fold the star vertically to the right, back onto itself.

OOOOO

FOLD 9: Fold the top flap to the right, back onto itself. Then open it out again.

PPPPP

Turn the star 180 degrees, so the point faces down. The crease/fold about 1.5 in/3 cm above my thumb is an important guideline for the next step.

QQQQQ

Line up the scissors so you cut across the intersection of lines toward the point to the right.

RRRRR

SSSSS

After the cut.

TTTTT

Start to unfold the bottom piece.

UUUUU

The Star …

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Nine Days of Solstice 5 — Thursday

[Prelude |1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9]

“Then came there a great snow, and so greatly it snowed as if a great fleece had fallen …” The Old English dictionary I use sometimes offers inscrutable abbreviations for its sources of quotations — in this case, simply “Nar”. But I love this description, and I’m (mostly) grateful to live in a region that experiences four distinct seasons.

18 in / 46 cm at 9:40 am this (Thursday) morning, and still coming …

Winter’s finally arrived, ghostly guest. Somehow the whiteness of the snow at winter solstice always feels to me like an outward image of the inner fire burning all winter long. We light it, or it kindles us, at Samhain, when it leaps to and from the inner worlds, and it accompanies us right through to Beltane. I gaze at a candle-flame for a few moments, until I sense something of that world, that companion.

Snow both obliterates and illuminates, like any proper fire. Sometimes the track of spirit, of the presences in our lives, can be difficult to discern. Let snow-fire — or as a friend might write it, snow-fyre — illumine the way, and things can clarify. We see by contrasts — a powerful lesson in and of itself. In these worlds, it can take snow for us to see better.

The distinctive horseshoes of neighbourhood animals, tire-tracks and human footprints

Do I step on prints made by those who’ve gone before me? Many four-leggeds do this naturally, rear feet landing nearly where the front have just been. Sometimes weather helps map the trail, the spoor of my predecessors clear to be seen. Other times I walk trusting that when I need to know, I’ll know. Way-showers, as I follow you, let me likewise help show the way to those who come after.

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I’m posting below the first page of a rough draft for a workshop. You might find the points helpful, as I do, when you assess where you already place your energies and attention, and consider where they best belong for you, as you look ahead to the coming year.

It feels right to close by repeating the opening from the above image, a piece of dearly-bought wisdom for many: “Your consciousness — your awareness — is ALWAYS the final judge of what is right and appropriate for you. Yield it to no one“.

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Nine Days of Solstice 4 — Wednesday

[Prelude |1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9]

Sometimes we need to talk ourselves into our discoveries. That’s only fair, because we’ve talked ourselves out of them until now. When we listen to others’ counsel but ignore our own, when we look for dreams anywhere but in our own hearts, when we yield up our Sovereignty, precious possession, to anyone else, then in spite of a cosmos trying at every moment to get us to claim it, we just …

Ah, what to do with beings such as ourselves?

I turn to remembered wisdom, from a praying mantis, from a post in 2017: Often the best sacrifices are ones you can keep doing. The point isn’t burnout. Make it sacred, sacri-fice it, so you can make it sacred again.

One challenge of sacred time, of holy time, is re-integrating it back into what we are pleased to call our “daily lives”. Where to stash the spiritual uplift so I can draw on it when I really need it?

Part of the reason behind a spiritual practice is to help us begin to see just how the “mundane” is also absolutely overflowing with spiritual energy. (It’s another instance of easier said than known.) We need to re-charge, yes: so we can flow again. Or to put it another way, my ability to tune in to a seemingly “ordinary” interaction in line at the supermarket, or pumping gas, or climbing the steps at work can transform the apparently mundane into a spiritual connection. The “apparently mundane” in all its flatness and dullness is our workshop, laboratory, spiritual opportunity. Empty canvas.

It’s easy (or at least easi-er) to perceive and ride the spiritual currents during retreats, workshops, seminars, gatherings. Each of us throws our offerings into the common cauldron and voila! — energy stew. We sup from it throughout the weekend, workshop, gathering. Then I get to return, to practice during “everyday life”. I am transformer, I am catalyst, I am pathway in and of myself. It can always begin again with each of us. Oh, Spirit … just show me how again, one more time?

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One of the site searches over the past several days has been in Cyrillic, for звезда шаблон из бумаги zvezda shablon iz bumagi or “star pattern made of paper” as Google-Translate clumsily renders it. Cutting a five-pointed solstice star is an excellent seasonal craft, for reasons that deserve contemplation. We’ve got the planetary conjunction (link to an informative PDF by the Astronomy Club of Asheville, NC) or “great convergence” coming up on the 21st, along with the Solstice, we have the traditional association with stars at Christmas, and we know the star or pentagram is a spiritual symbol with a world-wide spread long preceding modern Pagan associations.

So without further ado, here’s the clearest and most useful guide I’ve yet found for creating a near-perfect 5-pointed star from paper, with a series of folds, and a single snip of the scissors.

https://www.origamiplayer.com/orimath/embed560.php?ori=betsyrossstarfroma4

After all, it’s Day Four of this series — four the number of manifestation.

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I’m looking for a sheet I made for a workshop, with similar instructions — if I find it, I’ll post it on Day 5.

Nine Days of Solstice 3 — Tuesday

[Prelude |1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9]

With a nor’easter building to the south of New England, and a forecast of several nights with temperatures in the single digits, I turn to Thecu Stormbringer. It feels like a good point to draw from today, because while the solstices (like the weather) are objective physical events anyone in the world can observe, celebrate, or ignore as they choose, one person’s subjective experiences, like mine of a goddess, simply aren’t. Even after you read my posts about Thecu, you may think nothing more about the matter. But enter “solstice” in a search engine and you’ll get a range of sites, some offering “all you need to know”. Inviting as that may sound, I tend to shy away. If I can find out everything I need to know from a website, why pay any attention to the actual event? But “knowing about” and “knowing” are two different things. One’s a head experience, the other we feel in our bones and blood.

One link between the objective and the subjective is awen, inspiration, the flow of spirit, which lets us evoke in others an echo of our original experience. Let the echo be strong enough, let our understanding of this thing called being human, and our skill in working with it, run equal to the task, and music, image, voice, story, object of craft can all serve to unite us in the experience of mystery. An echo from outside awakens a resonance within us.

Many things can open to the awen. Our inner awareness hums in sympathy with it, and the skill of our hands, the deep yearning of our hearts, rise to answer its call. Mystery, unlike mere obfuscation, only deepens as we explore it. We don’t exhaust the “meaning” of a forest by walking through it once or twice, any more than we do with a piece of music. Yes, I can obsess over a person or a fiction or a place, and in doing so lose much of the freshness which was so inviting at the outset that my obsession took shape there. But that doesn’t “use up” all mystery, merely one piece of it I’ve temporarily drunk dry. Time-walkers, awen-workers, we’re given capacities we’ve just begun to explore.

Solstice is one interval when can hear the original, after the echo has drawn us closer. Many religions offer a rule, or rules, for this. Initially the rules seemed designed to help this happen, to catalyze a connection. What I love about Druidry is that it sets out a rhythm, a melody, instead. Hear that Song, feel its rhythms as you move to them, and you’ll begin to follow it back to its source, to yearn for more of the original music.

The late Medievalist, theologian and fantasy author C. S. Lewis delivered a series of radio broadcasts and included a chapter in at least one of his books titled (more or less) “Right and wrong as a clue to the meaning of the universe”. At least as interesting and significant, to my mind, is relationship as a clue to the meaning of the universe. Right and wrong ultimately serve relationships, rather than the other way around. The former are means, the latter’s the goal. Hear the Song, learn how to work in increasing harmony with it, and these things start to fall in place with less struggle and effort. What we are relating to, and that music “on the edge of things”, begin to converge. Praise the Mystery!

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“We are wise”, John Beckett writes about the process of discernment,

to focus our attention on our actions rather than on our beliefs. But our actions generate experiences, and in our attempt to interpret and understand our experiences we form beliefs. Our experiences may be so strong or so frequent we are certain our beliefs about them must be right, but if we are honest with ourselves, we can never be completely sure they are right.

But we can ask ourselves if our beliefs work, if they conform to known facts, and if they help us lead better lives. If we can answer yes to these three questions, we can be confident that they are as right as they can be.

So I return to experience, to relationship, to that Song behind all things.

Posted 15 December 2020 by adruidway in awen, C S Lewis, Druidry, winter solstice

Tagged with , , ,

Nine Days of Solstice 2 — Monday

[Prelude |1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9]

Look ahead, look back, look to now. Following the nudge, I’m posting links to previous Solstice posts I’ve made, part of my own looking back, as well as other events I can recommend.

Here’s a Beltane ritual with notes and suggestions that can be readily adapted to a Solstice celebration.

A year ago in December 2019 I posted a three-parter called “Gifts of Solstice” 1 | 2 | 3.

Solitaries and groups with a meditative bent may find these 13 suggestions helpful: Thirteen Gift-Day-Flames for Solstice Solitaries.

Here are 19 Ways to Celebrate Summer Solstice that can be adapted for Winter.

And on Saturday a friend reminded me of the earth song we all can enjoy as residents of this planet, which I wrote about here: 111 Hertz — Our Ancient Song of Healing and Attunement.

Those of you interested in an OBOD Alban Arthan/Winter Solstice ritual can find this year’s on both Facebook and Youtube. You can also find a solo ritual here.

John Beckett of “Under the Ancient Oaks” is offering one on Friday evening, 18 December (link to his specific blogpost, with discussion) which you can watch on Youtube (link to ritual).

Massachusett’s Mystic River Grove is holding one via Zoom I’m participating in. Our fledgling Vermont seed group celebrates one on Sunday, the eve of the Winter Solstice.

You can watch Stonehenge Winter Solstice live here.

A reminder to check out these links in advance, in case of technical glitches, to minimize disappointment.

Pause for an Anglo-Saxon interlude. I’m tutoring a small group of students of Old English via Zoom, and yesterday we spent a pleasant hour discussing an Old English riddle. The richness and density of Old English is everywhere, and often subtle, and in it echoes of ancestral wisdom, if I listen. As I was drafting this post, the refrain from the Old English poem “Deor” came to my mind regarding our current challenges. The line gets widely quoted: Þæs oferéode; þisses swa mæg – “That’s passed by – so can this”. But to me it expresses more than a medieval version of “Just suck it up, baby!”

Yes, it’s true we’re often we’re called to patience and perseverance, invaluable spiritual practices our ancestors knew well — often because they had no other alternative. Patience and perseverance can be hard work, and those “Two P’s” can feel awfully small and negligible in times like these, though they’re huge.

The refrain notes that this can (mæg) pass by, not merely that it “may” pass, which is a mis-translation. There’s room in our situations for our own efforts, our mægen (approx. “mayen”) — a related word — our spiritual strength. It’s our “might and main“, the descendant of that word mægen, and pronounced almost the same. Our mægen can make a difference, even — and especially — if we can’t see it at the time.

Mægen is part of our inheritance as living beings. One way to think of it is the Western version of chi, and it also can vary widely in quantity. Trees respond to it, and can help us replenish it, as many Druids have discovered. They can also help take away the blocks and leaks in our reservoirs of mægen if we approach them respectfully, and offer a gift in return, to help build the relationship and serve the balance, rather than take and take and take. I can learn to hoard my mægen like any good dragon, because my stash of it can run low, get depleted — and also recharged and topped off by skilful means. If you’re reading this, you very likely already know a fair bit of what I’m talking about. If not, life is laboratory — you can test it and find out for yourself.

Today is Monday, day of the Moon. I seek móna-mægen — moon energy — which need not be wholly dependent on the physical moon phase. Our human ability as time-walking beings means that, living in time as we do, we can nevertheless walk outside of time as well, and connect with ancestors for help and relationship, although they already oferéodon — have passed over. In the same way I can also align to a phase of the moon inwardly that may not be in outer manifestation. Even the saying of it, and the playing with it, begin to manifest it.

And so Matthews offers a meditation for Mondays of the Winter Season:

“Wise-men, Wise-women, Holy Ones of all generations, I call to you to send a blessing upon all who are stuck in the past and walk the spirals of an inturning maze: may your wisdom lead them by fresh and fruitful pathways to the blessing of the present moment”.

As we begin to move into our own identities as Wise and Holy Ones ourselves, we begin to send — and receive — these blessings, among the most powerful things we can do for ourselves and others. For I am Wise and Holy, as well as stuck here and there in the past. I carry both identities within, learning from them as I go. What we do for ourselves, we do for Others.

May Solstice wisdom lead you by fresh and fruitful pathways to the blessing of the present moment.

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Nine Days of Solstice 1 — Sunday

[Prelude |1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9]

This day of Sun begins in mist, and I’m in some discomfort. The aging body adds its voice to the chorus — so often you need to choose what deserves your attention most, a practice all its own. We may look to others for uplift when it’s hard to find on our own. I turn as I often do to Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional*, to the page of meditations and poems for Sundays in the winter season:

“Wise teachers and friends of my Winter’s pilgrimage, I seek to arrive in safety; please assist and inspire me through the dark Winter days, as I go on my pilgrim way, seeking the answers that my soul needs”.

So often others do help us. In addition to neighbours, friends, family, beloved animals, we have at hand the inspiration from centuries of singers and writers and painters available online. Yet as the plague rages across the lands, we still follow that pilgrim way, now from necessity, perhaps, rather than by choice. How often have our ancestors spoken and thought and felt these same words?

The other path I follow asks for a monthly written reflection, and it’s good practice. Often I find myself blocking as I sit to write, itself a useful signal: “Oh, I have nothing to say, or nothing’s been happening, or it’s just the same old stuff — nothing’s shifted or moved”. Really? “Which voice deserves my attention most?” becomes an even more valuable question in the face of acedia, that old devil of sloth and inertia and indifference and the doldrums that dog the heels of anyone on pilgrimage. If I want to sail, I can wait for good winds, I can tack across existing less-than-good winds, or if I’m utterly becalmed, I can unship my oars and start rowing. Sailors knew these things once, and the archaic language tells me both that the way is ancient and I haven’t used the words enough. I need to relearn them, or find a new idiom, and make it mine. On foot, it’s much the same. We all know it: “Can I even get out of bed to start the day’s journey?”

A friend shared his approach to the monthly ritual of reflection: he writes three things he’s grateful for, three insights, three requests or questions. A triple triad. Each month thus has the previous and the coming month as fuel and as a starting point. Often that’s enough to break the ice, to mix metaphors, but appropriate to this season, to drive off the acedia, and launch us well. Sometimes it’s possible to begin with real joy, and the discoveries mirror it as they come as the mist clears.

Then we take up the option of mailing in the reflection, or keeping it in our journals. A magical, spiritual act all its own, a trust that I can release it on its way to fulfillment.

I look at winter and mind the nearing peak of summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. It pays, I find, to attend to what the planet is doing “on the other side”. Maximum light and warmth, zenith, high point. And in the midst, the mist, whatever the season, I seek that still point, the spiritual hinge as I initiate the next step. The opportunity to begin is a priceless one, whatever the weather.

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What do I need to “hold an initiation”? The idiom’s a profound one. To hold an initiation, to tend and cherish it, to brood it as a chicken does a clutch of eggs, to warm and birth it with my attention and intention, to make it mine, as it already is in embryo. Never do we start from nothing. Nature — and Spirit — “abhor a vacuum”. The Fool rushes in where angels fear to tread. Bless the Fool! S/he’s gone on ahead, to clear the way, even a little — a priceless gift.

So much that we do in what seems our “off-season”, like this winter season may seem to be, is the work of roots, beneath the surfaces. If “nothing” is happening, something is indeed happening. When all looks barren, that’s when to marvel at what lies hidden, in preparation, hibernating and dreaming. Yule in many ways is the completion of Samhain, its fulfillment. The center of activity has shifted, and my quest becomes tracking the hub of energies to its Castle, to the place it radiates from, to bring the Grail Quest imagery into play. What helpers and hinderers will I meet on the way? What companions travel with me, and (com– “with” –pan– “bread”) share my bread? What and who blesses my quest? What’s at stake? Do I know?

What soul needs is the quickening that will manifest more openly at Imbolc. Now is a time of preparation, and tools in hand.

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*Matthews, Caitlin. Celtic Devotional. Fair Winds Press, 2004.

Prelude to Nine Days of Solstice

[Prelude |1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9]

As I did during the Samhain season this year, I’m planning a solstice series to honour Nine Days of Winter Solstice, starting tomorrow, Sunday 13 December, and continuing through the Solstice on the 21st. Because writing is one of my principal spiritual tools, it helps me deepen my awareness and gratitude for the gifts that are given to us each day, in the midst of all the tumult and discord we see around us on this planet. Without those gifts, our experience would be far more grim and difficult.

ice on our evergreens

Is there an “official” Nine Days of Solstice? No and yes. You can always find people asking questions like that. Sometimes it’s newcomers, wanting to “get it right” which is an impulse we can celebrate. But nobody needs permission for such things. Who would give it? The Ancient and Noble College of Druids? That’s fun to imagine — maybe a plot detail for a fantasy novel. How about a national government? Not for decades, if ever. And what would “official” mean? Wider recognition? Signs and decorations in public buildings? TV specials? News anchors on cable wishing each other “Happy Solstice”? Human interest stories about how others celebrate the Nine Days? Official lighting of candles or torches at public venues on each each of the Nine Days?

Yes, there could be pleasant acknowledgements of the season, ways to introduce children and young people and the Druid-adjacent and Druid-curious to its rhythms and dynamics. But the end-of-year holiday season is already crowded enough with numerous cultural events and celebrations. Many Druids already acknowledge and celebrate one or more other traditions. I find that acknowledging the days around a seasonal festival can provide useful private space for reflection and re-dedication. If the Nine Days of Solstice became a “thing” — if others celebrated it, too — that’s fine. But the initial impulse for me comes as an inner signal to pay attention.

Which, as someone said in an online forum recently, is 3/4 of Druidry.

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Solstice Season 2020

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My friend B’s sauna stove — fire in midwinter, fire of midsummer.

Light balancing north and south, nights and days in their interchange, sleep and waking and the opportunities during each for connection and discovery. May we hear the earth speaking, may the Ancestors alive in us show us the good paths, may each encounter give us space to practice our hard-earned wisdom.

French Visitors

2020-06-10

A burst of over 50 views from France so far today! Bienvenus, mes amis! Que les benedictions soient! A quick comment on any post is helpful — something you’re looking for, or would like to see more about in the posts here? Please let me know!

Winter and Summer Solstices

That time again … The solstices, winter and summer, are just a little over a week away. Our solstices — let’s claim them, not as something we “possess”, but as intervals and energies that embrace and sustain us. Alban Arthan, Alban Hefin [links to short posts on the OBOD Druidry.org site], the names OBOD uses for Winter and Summer Solstices, are often rendered respectively as the “Light of Arthur” and the “Light of the Shore”.

You can find some of my previous posts on Solstice here, for both Winter and Summer seasons. First, a three-part series from last winter, December 2019: Gifts of Solstice 1 | 2 | 3.

Flaming toward Solstice looks at the lead-up to our Vermont Summer 2019 celebration, and then there’s this  post of mostly images from that celebration. 13 Gift Day Flames for Solstice Solitaries offers practices for either Solstice. Days of Solstice can also apply to both seasons. 19 Ways to Celebrate Summer Solstice is pretty self-explanatory. But while focused on summer, it also suggests practices adaptable to winter.

Ritual of Installation of a New Chosen Chief

Solitaries, ritualists, O.B.O.D.-friendly Druids and anyone interested in ritual surrounding a transition of leadership in Druid Orders may find the recent OBOD installation of Eimear Burke worth time spent with this 25-minute Youtube audio-only recording. Close your eyes as the introduction suggests to increase your attention and you may gain additional insight from that focus.

Welcome, Eimear, and blessings to Philip for his 30+ years of service and leadership.

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Gifts of Solstice, Part 3

[Part 1 | 2 | 3 ]

Much of what I write here is inward-facing. Writing’s a core component of my spiritual practice. For me it’s a vital means of discovery, of turning over an experience or perspective until — often enough to keep me going — it falls into place, takes on a new aspect once it gets put in words, gains a solidity or heft that lets me examine it more clearly, or links up with daily events, the weather, the experience of wearing skin, conversations, dreams, things Others are communicating as they go about their varied lives. Words through these short days and long nights, words that at least sometimes prove useful to you as well, a solstice gift.

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to the west, across the road from our living room window

Tonight my wife and I included among our celebrations of Solstice one event we’ve attended for several years running. A local church hosts ‘Into the Silence’, inviting a duo called Coracle to play Celtic-themed music and recorded natural soundscapes like whale-calls, birdsong, coyotes, or — like tonight — “owls with sleet falling”. The music alternates with periods of silence. There’s no introduction or closing, no announcements, in fact no human voices at all, beyond a few whispers, and some creaks from the wooden pews, velcro fasteners and zippers opening as participants settle in. The only illumination comes from a score of candles on the altar that a congregant lights at the beginning, and from a solitary Christmas tree trimmed with tiny white bulbs. In some ways it’s ideal “Druid Church”. The possibility of spiritual encounter feels larger without words.

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Now that my wife has finally recovered from a bout of food poisoning, she’s back in her weaving studio. This morning when I went out to start a fire there, the thermometer on the wall read 29 F / -2 C. Considering the last few nights have been below 0 F / -18 C, that’s heartening. It also turned out to be a sunny day, which helped the stove to get indoor temps up to a more comfortable range, so she could work for some hours on her warp.

The pleasure of kindling a fire in the house each day all winter, with a second one in the studio some days, sweeping ash, chopping wood, never diminishes for me. Yes, some mornings like this one, I’m shivering as I begin it, and sometimes the wood takes a while longer than usual to lift the stoves into the most efficient zone where they can burn hot and clean, but the work itself answers the effort.  (If you only let her, Brighid blesses it.) As Thoreau quips in Walden,

Every man looks at his wood-pile with a kind of affection. I love to have mine before my window, and the more chips the better to remind me of my pleasing work. I had an old axe which nobody claimed, with which by spells in winter days, on the sunny side of the house, I played about the stumps which I had got out of my bean-field. As my driver prophesied when I was plowing, they warmed me twice—once while I was splitting them, and again when they were on the fire, so that no fuel could give out more heat.

Warmth, a direct connection between labor and result, recovery from illness, sunlight, outside air and snow both cold and dry enough that the coverlet of white powders off when I bang each log against the pile. Pleasures of solstice — gifts, all of them. And when we returned an hour ago from the solstice celebration of music and silence, a sky dotted with the distant fires of stars.

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Gifts of Solstice, Part II

[Part 1 | 2 | 3 ]

Solstice — sometimes called the “world’s oldest holiday” …

Arthur, the “Christmas King”, because according to some traditions like those established by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his “Medieval bestseller” Historia Regum Britanniae, (History of the Kings of Britain) and Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Arthur’s birth (or death) takes place on Christmas, just as his coronation (and wedding to Guinevere) take place at Pentecost. Alban Arthan, one name for the winter solstice — the “Light of Arthur”, as it’s sometimes translated.

A multitude of holiday carols, because there are plenty, whether or not you’re Christian, to sing and celebrate the season. Like some kind of hemispheric fanboy, I can never resist the Australian adaptation of Christmas to summertime temperatures and kangaroos (“boomers”) rather than reindeer, in the form of Rolf Harris’s 1960 holiday song “Six White Boomers“, with its chorus (according to some versions):

Six white boomers, snow white boomers,
racing Santa Claus through the blazing sun.
Six white boomers, snow white boomers,
on his Australian run.

(This gives the silly, snarky meme “OK, boomer” a whole new feel.)

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time of the Oak and Holly kings/image courtesy learnreligions.com

The battle between Holly King and Oak King. (Brothers, enemies, both needed for balance. According to some accounts, they’re servants of the goddess Arianrhod, with the vanquished king retiring to the astral plane until his opposite, victorious solstice.)

Blended traditions that tell how the crown of thorns Christ wore to his crucifixion, and the Cross itself, were both made from the holly. The “rising of the sun” and the “running of the deer” in the ancient carol, “The Holly and the Ivy”:

 

Antiphony’s gorgeous and light-hearted version of Kim Baryluk’s “Solstice Carol” (and the Wyrd Sisters’ meditative version):

 

Contrasts. Nowhere in the year is there such a contrast between light and dark, hot and cold — whether you’re on the eve of Summer Solstice and the Long Light, or the Winter, and the Long Dark.

Solstice gifts, all of these.

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Gifts of Solstice, Part 1

[Updated 1 July 2020]

[Part 1 | 2 | 3 ]

If we change just one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words (“longest”) in The Great Gatsby, he has Daisy Buchanan, that quintessential summer person, exclaim, “Do you always watch for the shortest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the shortest day of the year and then miss it”. (Those of you in the southern hemisphere can take your Gatsby solstice straight up, summery, and un-revised.)

Because the “Great Eight” festivals of the calendar are worth remembering, let’s not “miss it”, but watch and celebrate the shortest day.

A day the whole planet shapes is one of the gifts of solstice.

Older festivals, and revived ones, acknowledge the otherworldly aspect of the season. The central European tradition of Krampus as the alter ego and companion of St. Nicholas balances the season with a parade of gruesome and frightening figures.

Likewise, the Welsh custom of wassailing with Mari Lwyd, the “Grey Mare”, is equal parts festive and otherworldly. Here’s one of the traditional Welsh songs, “Mari Lwyd”, by Carreg Lafar:

The first lines announce the wassailers:

Here we come
Dear friends
To ask permission to sing …

And here’s a very impromptu and lively short clip of outdoor singers and answering singers indoors:

We can say that such human responses to the seasonal change are another gift of the solstice.

The third gift is the monuments that cultures and civilizations have built worldwide to mark and commemorate the seasons — especially the solstices and equinoxes. Standing stone complexes like Stonehenge, menhirs, passage tombs like Newgrange, earthworks like Serpent Mound, and so on all celebrate and commemorate a planetary event many have long recognized as significant.

Here’s a 2013 video of the creation and lighting of a labyrinth made from 2500 tea-lights at the Holy Cross Church in Frankfurt am Main, Germany:

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Listening to Inwardness–3: Labyrinth

[Part One | Part TwoPart Three | Part Four]

Beneath the snow, the holly — 
behind the clouds, the sun …

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Where the verse is going, I have no idea. I’m still listening for the rest of it.

I like how the tiny red holly berries in this photo from yesterday morning are barely visible under the light dusting of snow, but also how once you see one or two, you start to see lots of them. Living as I do in New England and enjoying our glorious winters, I’ll still readily admit to a special fondness for things that stay green all year …

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In Part One of this series, I observed:

If one mythic image for the Summer Solstice is Stonehenge on Salisbury plain — “in the eye of the sun” — a corresponding image for Winter Solstice is the passage tomb of Newgrange, deep in the earth.

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440 BCE coin from Knossos — Wikipedia image

For most of us, a solstice visit to Newgrange in Ireland isn’t in the works this season, but a ready and powerful alternative — one native to the whole planet, really — is the labyrinth.

Working with the labyrinth can parallel the inwardness that places like Newgrange invite us to experience.

[The Wikipedia entry at the link in the previous sentence deals with the double meaning and usage of the word. The Cretan labyrinth associated with the minotaur — the deadly monster at the center — is actually a maze, intended to bewilder those who enter and cause them to lose their way at the very least, if not get eaten. “Amazed” is originally confused. But as the entry goes on to note, many even early representations of that most famous of labyrinths were unicursal — not really mazes at all. Instead, like the coin image to the left, they have a single course or path — one way in, and one out. You can’t get lost.

It’s as if the deeper symbol overtook the old story of Theseus, Ariadne and the monster, or ignored it. The labyrinth is not a trap, then, but becomes an image of return, rebirth, a “there and back again” experience that a certain Hobbit would recognize immediately.]

It’s this labyrinth, the classic “seven-path” version, that I want to explore here*, in part for the value of the number seven and its associations.

Walking the labyrinth has been demonstrated to have beneficial effects. Much of the evidence is admittedly anecdotal and needs further study. But the one thing that is clear from the experience of many people is that as a meditative experience, walking a labyrinth can induce a profound state of centeredness and re-equilibration. Much like the parallel and balanced movements of tai-chi, movement through the labyrinth consists of alternating directions, whether moving out from within, or in from the outside.

3-2-1-Seq-crpIf we number the pathways in order from outside to the center, we get a diagram like this. Whether the labyrinth opens right or left, the sequence of pathways is the same: 3214765. (In addition to forming a pleasing musical sequence if the notes are matched up 1C 2D, etc., on the C-scale, many other associations are possible. Chakras … Tarot cards … I leave this to you as a series of meditations to explore.)

The steps to draw a labyrinth are simple, once you learn the “seed” or starting design for the figure.

labyseedgrow

The picture above is taken from Mid-Atlantic Geomancy, where you can also find the seeds to draw three-, eleven- and fifteen-path labyrinths. (Once you learn one, you’ll see how the others follow organically.) I also wanted to include a picture with the name Jeff Saward (link to pic and brief bio), because he has done so much valuable work on labyrinths over the decades.

Here’s a Youtube video suitable for kids on how to draw a seven-path labyrinth. It incidentally also illustrates how even drawing the figure can have a meditative quality:

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*In recent decades, in case you happened not to notice, there’s been a revival of interest in labyrinths. New Age authors have seized on the labyrinth as a form of “spiritual technology”. Churches as well as parks, and growth-and-retreat centers, offer labyrinth walks and meditations. You can find permanent ones made from wood, green hedges, stone, sea-shells, and other more unusual substances, as well as portable ones made of tea-lights, or painted on canvas that can be unrolled for use, and then rolled back up and stored or carried to a new location. The World-wide Labyrinth Locator can help you find some of the more permanent ones in your region.

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