Archive for the ‘wisdom’ Tag

Unchanging Wisdom: Third Day of Samhain (25 Oct. 2020)

[Edited/updated 13:53 EST]

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

[1st | 2nd | 3rd | 4th | 5th | 6th | 7th | 8th | 9th]

One reason the Old Ways still call to us is that they’re replete with earth-wisdom and heart-truth. For dogma, read experience. For doctrine, read rule-of-thumb. Our favorite childhood stories, our fairy-stories, legends, myths and tall-tales all seem to take place in such a cosmos, where the smallest actions spin out their consequences, where magic flourishes, and where hopes and dreams come true. Samhain wisdom.

It’s a revealing expression, come true. This world of change and manifestation is constantly arriving, shaped as much by our misunderstandings and mistakes as by our grasp on truth, all tangled up in the physics of a cosmos that’s often far weirder than we imagine. Samhain cosmos.

[Here’s John Beckett’s post today on the Veil Between the Worlds.]

Often we’ve jettisoned belief in a single truth-with-a-capital-T, but in the process we’ve also often forgotten that cause and effect still play out in our lives, and not all of our personal truths are equally viable. (That’s how and why we keep learning and growing, after all. We test our understandings against our lives. I don’t know about you, but I’d not want to jump back to 14-year-old me and my beliefs, doubts and fears of that time.) Samhain truths.

In place of our traditional and healthily provisional/experimental perception of what spirit is and how it works, we’ve turned to all manner of beliefs and disbeliefs, forgetting that spring keeps coming every year, that the power that underlies and sustains things still pulses through them regardless of our human awareness or obliviousness. Rather than bothering so much with belief, it might help us to find out where and when and how things are true, under what circumstances they can be true, and so on. Less church, more laboratory. Samhain practice.

Even words like wisdom and truth and evil have fallen out of fashion, because we think we don’t believe in them any more, until they bite us where it hurts. (Well, wisdom still manages to stick around in a few places — especially if it comes from somewhere exotic, and can be bottled and marketed as hidden or never-before-revealed or traditional.) Sometimes we even notice that most of the “new and improved spirituality” on offer is our traditional wisdom with a hip contemporary makeover. Samhain fashion.

But catch the spirit of Samhain and I get plugged back into a cosmos alive under my skin and in my blood and flaming in the autumn leaves. Get out in the cooling air and I smell the old earth-year. I watch the moon swell to fullness this time coinciding with the last day of October. Samhain reminds us we are alive in time and space, here and now, but also that the world turns, whether we will or no. The chorus of the old goddess chant deserves meditation: “Hoof and horn, hoof and horn/Those who die shall be reborn./Corn and grain, corn and grain/Those who fall shall rise again”. Where and when and how is this true, under what circumstances can it be true …? Samhain questions.

And what of Samhain music? It’s in our blood, a human heritage. Wisdom makes a song we all know by heart. We hear echoes all the time — a fragment of a melody that arrests us in the middle of whatever we’re doing when we hear it. A phrase in a speech or book or conversation that makes us sit up straighter, or slip into reverie. All the things we tend to discount in our humanness, things we rarely talk about. Samhain stuff.

Earth of Samhain, bone and boulder. Air of Samhain, breath and breeze. Fire of Samhain, ______ . Water of Samhain, ______ . What draws us to fill in those blanks we might call the gravity of Samhain, the tug of the time on us. Things have a particular shape, fit into a certain space and no other. Aptness. Identity. Fire of Samhain, heart and hearth. Water of Samhain, blood and brook.

Turn those phrases toward however they work best for you. Then do it. (For counsel on what your particular it is, consult the season of Samhain, your left ventricle, your right hemisphere, you animal guides, and the blessed time you spend outdoors under trees, listening.)

/|\ /|\ /|\

The Beltane Fire Society will hold a digital Samhuinn this year, with live events posted to Facebook and Youtube.

The Feasts of Lugh

Our Vermont seed group, the Well of Segais, met for Lunasa yesterday at Mt. Ascutney State Park. And Down Under, it’s Imbolc, the feast of Brighid — a parallel deserving meditation on its linkages and subtle connections.


Ascutney summit parking lot — looking south

The haze of August already lies on our hills. Here’s a shot from the car as I drove north along Rt. 91 toward the park. In a state of so many hills and higher peaks, Ascutney doesn’t immediately claim particular status. (At 3130 feet/954 meters, it’s the second-highest peak in our county.) But begin the ascent to the summit, and if the pitch of the climb doesn’t clue you in, you pass into cooler air about halfway up — a most welcome change in the heat of the last several weeks.



We held a quiet, meditative ritual in what has become our favorite location, in a grove next to a pavilion overlooking a valley to the north. A couple arrived midway through our ritual, and settled into the pavilion to talk quietly, just as we were saying “each person here is a blessing”.


Lugh swims into my awareness this time of year, around his harvest festival — I honor him as I would a majestic tree. “Believe” in Lugh? Standing under the branches of a tree, belief in that tree is a strange thing to concern oneself with. Instead, I prefer to inhale the scents of the grove around me, noting the evergreen cones on the ground, feeling the shade against the summer sun, hearing the birds in the branches.


A sometimes-frantic concern with what one believes, or should believe, belongs to other paths — it needn’t trouble Druids, unless they find value in it. There is much more to explore that meets us halfway, rather than folding our thought into shapes that may or may not have any connection to what is already all around us, shapes prescribed by those who came before us, because they arose from their lives, experiences which need to be tested, along with other such legacies, for their applicability to us today.

The “apparent world fades”, whispers the ritual. “With the blessings of earth, sea and sky”,  we “cast aside all disturbing thoughts” and attend more carefully and lovingly to what is going on all around us. (Billboards proclaim, “God is still speaking”. Druids strive to keep listening.)

Belief can be a useful tool, and indeed it does shape our experiences, along with much else. But it is so often subject to change, to distortion, and to incomplete knowledge — as exhibit A, witness the political landscapes these days in so many nations. Wisdom, though harder to gain, has proven more trustworthy as an aid to living my life. (Discerning the difference between them, and living from it — ah, there’s a journey worth anyone’s dedication. Let’s meet there!)

/|\ /|\ /|\

What Lugh has to say to me, or I to him, may manifest in ritual, or before, or afterward, in my interactions with those I celebrate with, meet at the park entrance, on the road, at the gas station on the way home. Meanwhile, festival communion is our ritual, a priming for honing the attention, for honoring the day and its gifts and our lives.


Steps on .7 mile/1100 meter footpath to the Ascutney summit

In Vermont, Mt. Ascutney seems a fitting place to honor Lugh and his festival, a place of heights and vistas, a place of green quiet and perspectives, in keeping with his attributes as a storm god and warrior, with links to Mercury and Apollo.

Lugh “has several magical possessions,” notes the Wikipedia entry. “He wields an unstoppable fiery spear, a sling stone, and a hound named Failinis. He is said to have invented fidchell (a Gaelic equivalent of chess), ball games, and horse racing”. His Welsh counterpart is Lleu Llaw Gyffes, the “fair-haired one with the skillful hand”. In Welsh tradition, from his mother Arianrhod he receives a tynged, the Welsh equivalent of a geis, an obligation or prohibition, a taboo linked to one’s destiny. His story, along with Blodeuwedd, comprises the second and third branches of the Mabinogi.

All these details suggest directions for possible Lunasa rituals and activities.

/|\ /|\ /|\

I arrived early before our ritual gathering, partly to check on locations and partly to re-visit the “sleeping dragon” stone along the footpath to the summit.


True, without that near-horizontal gouge suggesting a closed eye, the stone might not evoke the name I give it. But as far as I can tell, the gouge is natural, a result of the stones tumbling about each other that make up the summit and its paths.

Below is the “slab” indicated by the sign above — the camera foreshortens the dimensions of the sheet of broken stone that extends over 100 feet/30 meters up the mountain.


Sometimes a place with dimensions of its own, not immediately convenient for humans, is a helpful reminder and subject of meditation. The slab, like the slot, requires effort to navigate successfully.

/|\ /|\ /|\

I’ll close with this meditation, plain water after the potent mead of ritual. VT poet Charles Butterfield writes in his poem “Matins” of the natural world:

it is enough to know
here is something
that does not require
your presence
but of which nevertheless
your presence is a part.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Seven Druid Advantages

Edited 10 Jan 2018

[No, I’m not talking about the “open-source analytics data store designed for OLAP queries on timeseries data”. How the word Druid ever got patented and copyrighted, I’m not sure. Imagine trying to do the same with Christian or Hindu or Muslim!]

Recently the word “privilege” has accrued all manner of emotional loading with connotations of wokeness and political correctness, while one of its primary meanings — advantage — remains largely untouched. While I do see the seven points below as privileges, an accurate synonym is advantage, and so it’s this sense I want to examine here. Note also that I’m not claiming these advantages belong only to Druidry. But in my experience, Druids seem aware of them in uniquely Druid ways that contribute much to the experience of Druidry.

LA -- J Babin

Gulf Coast Gathering ’17 — photo courtesy Julie Babin

Seven Druid Advantages

1–Druids (and Pagans generally) are so clearly a minority in the West that they enjoy a built-in remedy against arrogance. The misconceptions about Druidry and Paganism still rampant can, at their best, make a person laugh. Yes, there’ll always be individuals who try on an inflated self to see just how far such a blimp will carry them. The cosmos deflates most swollen and bloated things in its own good time. But for the rest of us, humility is a useful place to begin almost any human activity. Except maybe politics. Minority status points Druids naturally towards humility and humor.

2–Druids do community about as well as anyone. (Visit a Druid camp or Gathering and test this firsthand.) While acknowledging the valleys and caves and hermitages our solitaries occupy — many community folks are solitaries, and vice-versa — we get plenty of practice in loving others. Because in the end, that’s why we connect. The currents and energies of the cosmos also dwell in other people. Looking to power a rite or discover a richer truth or share the inspiration of awen? When we attempt these things, we draw on each other at least as much as on the sun, moon, stars and spirits. Living things make up much of “the power of the land within and without”, as the OBOD invocation puts it. Druid community is practice for love.

3–With the practice of Druidry comes a discovery of the need for discipline. No one checks up on us. If we want something to happen, we need to be open to it and also help set it in motion. Achievement takes work, a basic truth we seem in danger of ignoring in Western culture. Through making a choice for a particular practice of discipline, we gain increased self-respect. We’ve earned what we know. (If we haven’t, someone will probably point it out to us.) The opportunities Druidry offers to practice self-discipline also build self-respect.

4–Because of the diversity of training, experience, location and heritage among Druids, our practices help keep us open to surprise. Whether we meet in community or keep in touch through books and online, we’re always encountering new insights, ideas, perspectives and techniques. We’ll never know it all, and that’s part of the wonder of the path. We gather in circles, and they always open into spirals. The path doesn’t stay the same, and neither do we. Druid practice helps keep us open to surprise.

5–An experimental mindset powers much of our practice, as it does our gardening and beast-craft and spiritual exploration. “If it’s operational, it’s true” goes the old tag from the 60s, and it still has validity for most Druids. From this attention to reality comes a particular integrity in the Druid experience. Dogma still creeps in from time to time, but attention to what’s happening to the land, to what the spirits and guides are showing us, to what our studies reveal, and what our dreams and visions and hunches direct us to consider, mean that unlike religions that center on professions of faith, Druids are busy exploring to find out for themselves. Once you know, you no longer need to believe. Belief’s often a useful tool, but it’s just one among many. The experimental mindset that Druidry encourages promotes spiritual integrity.

6–Druid teaching, ritual and practice spark many Druids to explore their artistic and creative sides. Yes, Druidry is a spiritual path that specially honors and fosters creativity. Meet and talk with Druids and you’ll also discover how creative people are drawn to Druidry because they seek a path where imagination plays a primary role in spiritual experience, rather than a suspect behavior leading to heresy, diabolic influence and poor choices. Druidry knows passion and vision and creative exploration are spiritual gifts.

7–The Great Mystery that lies at the heart of the manifest and unmanifest is what powers Druidry. It sparks humans and other creatures, burns at the heart of planets and stars, and shines out of the cosmos whenever we pay reverent attention. The open-endedness of Druidry, its sense of a new horizon beyond the next hilltop, make it both  welcoming, exciting and challenging. The heart of Druidry is both spiritual welcome and provocative challenge.

/|\ /|\ /|\

A Triad on the Mighty Ones

triskele“Three reasons for supplicating the Mighty Ones: because it is a pleasure to you, because you wish to be a friend of the Wise, because your soul is immortal” — traditional.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Like many I revere Brigid. This time of year it’s easy in our house — the fire in our woodstove reminds me of one of her domains, and the lovely orange and blue flames of well-seasoned wood could wake any heart to poetry. I honor her in thought whenever I recall her, I honor her in action by lighting the fire, a daily practice this time of year. To see the wood take flame, to feel the house temperature begin to rise each morning once a good burn gets going and I can close the flue — how could these not be a pleasure, a cause for celebration?

the_godsI love that none of the usual default reasons that our monotheistic culture provides for supplication or prayer come up in this Triad: to save your soul, or to avoid hell, or to please a god or God, or to make up for some human weakness. No, the reasons here are splendidly other, and the first — the first! — is pleasure. Ask yourself, “Do I actually like the company of the Divine? If not, why spend time pretending I do? But if I do … ‘Can I have some more, please?'”

Or perhaps I don’t know either way. So why not find out? One reason to revere and honor and supplicate — lovely old word! — the Mighty Ones is find out what happens if I do.

immortals-the-godsAnd to be a friend of the Wise? For me that means I value wisdom, value those who aspire to it, and aspire to it myself. It’s a measure of our times that wisdom isn’t a word we hear very much. Maybe because it’s fallen out of favor. Maybe because many have abandoned it for cheaper thrills online and off. The company and friendship of the Wise! This, too, is a pleasure I hope you’ve had.

/|\ /|\ /|\

s-la-lost-horYesterday out of a mix of nostalgia and procrastination at improving my Nanowrimo word-count, I was skimming through James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, which gave us the fabulous Shangri-La. (I first read the novel in high school, at the insistence of an English teacher who also pulled us through Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf. You can practically determine my age to within a few years just by those details, if you happen to follow — or yourself suffered through — trends in U.S. secondary education. You can find Hilton’s work online at Project Gutenberg Australia here.)

Hilton gives us the following wonderful exchange between Roberta Brinklow, a British missionary, one of a number of Westerners stranded in the Himalayas at the monastery of Shangri-La, and the English-speaking Chinese monk Chang, who is the principal go-between for the little band of Brits and the Tibetan natives.

“What do the lamas do?” she continued.

“They devote themselves, madam, to contemplation and to the pursuit of wisdom.”

“But that isn’t DOING anything.”

“Then, madam, they do nothing.”

“I thought as much.” She found occasion to sum up. “Well, Mr. Chang, it’s a pleasure being shown all these things, I’m sure, but you won’t convince me that a place like this does any real good. I prefer something more practical.”

“Perhaps you would like to take tea?”

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy stories that deal with the meeting of cultures and the delightful misunderstandings that inevitably result. Of course, my sympathies in this instance lie where Hilton’s also appear to — with the long-suffering Chang.

What good does wisdom do?! Oh darlin’, if you have to ask …

/|\ /|\ /|\

And the best reason of all which the Triad gives us (if like us the Celts saved the best for last)? Because we recognize the gods are our kin — because what is immortal in us answers the call of what is immortal in them.

I don’t need to have any belief about this either way (“More slackness!” as Hilton’s Miss Brinklow might have said).  I can experiment instead. Am I immortal? Let’s see if I can actually get some inkling either way. Do the gods have something worth my learning, something that may touch on just this issue? Why not supplicate them and find out for myself? Could there be a connection between an experience of the divine and a greater understanding of what it is to be human?

Wherever did we begin to imagine that such questions ought to be matters of belief rather than personal experience?! As if we were asked about the taste of fresh berries and cream on the basis of our knowledge of somebody else’s report, rather than the bowl of them sitting right in front of us! Here’s a spoon. Dig in …

/|\ /|\ /|\

IMAGES: triskelegods of war — Deviant Art; immortals — the gods; Shangri-La.

Answers and Tools


Our lean-to, with wood drying for next winter, ’16-’17.

After a long absence, Wadin Tohangu stopped by again to talk. The old Druid grinned broadly at my surprise in seeing him.  Though I shouldn’t have been so surprised, I know. Usually, if I’ve been thinking about him, he appears sooner or later.

The unseasonably warm November weather in the 70s over the last few days made it a perfect time to be outdoors. I was carrying log lengths of willow to our woodpile after some trimming and pruning work by a tree service company we’d hired a few weeks ago.  Willow is a soft wood and isn’t all that suitable for burning. It doesn’t provide much heat, but it can be useful to work with for other purposes. Some of it might form the edging for a new compost pile, and rot back into the earth itself.

Without any preamble, Wadin got to the point. “You’ve been doing some firming up of your understanding. I can see changes in you.”

“That’s … interesting,” I said, letting an armful of logs fall to stack later. “I feel less certain about a lot of things I thought I knew. Like what love is, and what my purpose or focus should be, for instance. You’re sure you’re not seeing doubt and uncertainty instead?”

He chuckled, and pushed a log into a firmer position between two others. “Part of deepening understanding can mean you rely less on ready verbal formulas and definitions, and in their place you turn more to any wisdom you’ve earned. It may feel less certain, because you can’t summon it in quite such a convenient mental form, or immediately rattle it off if someone asks. Do you do any cooking?”

“Um, yes,” I said, still surprised sometimes by Wadin’s quick shifts as he developed a point. “Mostly baking, actually.” I turned to walk back to the pile of fresh-cut willow lengths. The wheelbarrow I’d normally use to make quicker work of this had a flat tire. But I didn’t mind. The weather was just too splendid to miss.

“Well,” said Wadin, keeping pace beside me, “if you bake bread, for instance, you know at several points that familiarity with the process lets you make decisions about timing that you learn best by practice, not by rule.”

“True,” I said, grabbing an armful of logs. Wadin did the same. “Bread dough that’s going to rise well has a certain feel to it. And up to a point, there are tricks and back-ups you can do with a batch that’s not turning out so well.”

“But,” he said, shifting the logs into a more comfortable position, “that feeling and those tricks aren’t easy to put directly into words, even though you know them well.”

“True,” I said.

“People often treat understanding the same way. They may say, ‘I want answers,’ but they could find that a tool might be more useful to them in the end than any answer.” He dropped the logs and brushed his hands.

“Would you explain that a little more?” I asked him.

“Answers tend to have a compact form,” he replied. “Someone else has done at least part of the thinking, so when we ask a question, the answer arrives with a definite shape and size, and maybe even drags with it some definitions, or some do’s or don’t’s attached to it. It may not fit our needs and awareness. It can be like a key in a lock. Sometimes the key just doesn’t fit. Nothing turns. Even though that key may open plenty of other useful doors, it doesn’t open this one.”

“I guess I understand what you mean. So what about tools?” I picked up three more smaller logs. Wadin grabbed the last couple of strays.

“A tool isn’t meant to provide a final conclusion,” he said. “It simply helps with a particular step, or with a set of steps. It’s part of an open-ended process. A screwdriver applies force, or rather torque, in a way that the human hand unaided cannot. It doesn’t do this by itself — a human hand must wield it. But a screwdriver allows us to open or close things with screws, or do some light prying of covers, perhaps. The screwdriver goes back in its slot (at least in a neat work-area) until you need it again.”

“O.K.” I said, thinking.

“An answer, though, often implies a close, an ending.” He dropped his armful on the pile. “A tool keeps things moving. One helpful strategy is to practice seeing all your answers as tools. There’s nothing final about them, and neither is there anything wrong with that. They’re exactly what they’re supposed to be. They just help move you to the next step you need to take. Put them away when they don’t achieve that, keep them all in good condition, and find another tool that will do what you need at that moment.”

“So you’re talking about a kind of flexibility.” I leaned against a woodshed post.

hammer“Yes,” he said. “The same tools are generally available to everybody, but in the hands of a master craftsman, the right tool saves time, accomplishes the task smoothly, and contributes to the flow of work. The master doesn’t curse his tools, or despair when the tool he insists on using doesn’t do what he wants it to. He knows what each tool can do, just as he knows how each tool feels when he uses it. Part of his mastery is knowing from the feel of the tool in his hand whether it can accomplish what he intends.”

“And part of the joy of mastery is knowing there’s always more to learn. What would it mean, after all, if there was nothing more to aspire to? If you truly knew it all, you’d get bored. What’s the point? The beauty of mastery is its delight in always learning something new, not being discouraged by it, but inspired instead by endless possibility. Sharing what you have learned, communicating that delight simply by doing, and marveling how each person develops an individual style. All right. That’s enough for today.” He smiled and turned toward the afternoon sunlight. I blinked, and he was gone.

If I asked “Is he real?” or “Was he really here?” any answer I received probably wouldn’t be as useful as what I learned. His gift wasn’t some kind of proof that he “existed,” but simply a few more tools he left for me to work with. Answer, tool. A useful distinction. I sent out gratitude, confident it would reach its destination.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Images: hammer; saw.

Initiation: To Serve in Order to Know (2) — What About Power?

woe-leg[Updated 28 May 2020]

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3]

[For a previous series on this topic, go here.]

What I want to talk about here, others say well and beautifully, so this post will invoke quotation for these two potent magics. And in anticipation of what’s to come, if you haven’t given yourself the wise pleasure of reading Ursula LeGuin’s fantasy A Wizard of Earthsea, promise yourself you will soon — your library may well have its own copy or can get you one through interlibrary loan — a “magical familiar” as powerful as any in the pages of medieval grimoires.

A “young adult” fantasy, Wizard has as much to say about magical power as any book I know. If you haven’t read it, I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, and I feel I succeeded. And if you know of a book that teaches more than Wizard about these things, please send me the title!

Here’s more from J H Brennan as he continues to recount his first steps in magical training:

What actually attracted me to magic was not service but power. Nothing grandiose, of course. I had no burning ambition to rule the world or enslave hordes of beautiful women. (Well, maybe just one or two beautiful women…) But I was undoubtedly a prey to a disease which is becoming even more prevalent with the increasing complexity of modern society: a feeling of helplessness.

There are many reactions to such a feeling. Some people embrace political credos. Others get religion. A few (usually male) take to beating their spouses. I turned to magic, which seemed to me to be the ultimate antidote: for what is magic if not a secret system which promises control of damn near everything?

You will be desolate to learn it did not work. Although I spent some nine years in daily Qabalistic training and learned a great deal in the process, I remained Clark Kent: no amount of magical leaps into ritual phone boxes could turn me into Superman.

(J. H. Brennan, Foreword, The Ritual Magic Workbook, p. 4.)

If you’re honest, your first reaction to Brennan’s admission may well be, “Then why bother with magic?!”

In fact it’s a deeply legitimate response, tangled with helplessness. In so many peoples’ lives today — I’m thinking only of our own time — so much anger, pain, suffering, despair, all because we sense a deep truth about ourselves, but one that the world does much to discount, deny and distract us from: our spiritual selves are strong. LeGuin captures this wisdom at the outset, in the first chapter of A Wizard of Earthsea. Her mage hero Ged is still young, but even untrained, in a moment of crisis he draws on a profound truth about himself: “He … raged at his weakness, for he knew his strength” (A Wizard of Earthsea, Bantam Edition, 1975, p. 8).

Our detestable weakness never quite overwhelms that inner knowing, though we may well go under without a lifeline, without support, without confirmation, without some practice that sustains us, whether it has the label “spirituality” or not. Despair at not being able to get at our strength has destroyed many lives. It’s cruel, that despair. In our search for a door to the power in us that we dimly recognize, but which seems to elude us day after wretched day, we may clutch at a cause, as Brennan notes — politics, or religion, or magic — or, if we’re half-under already, at abusive behaviors that may not target others in our lives, but ourselves, though all abuse brings “collateral damage.” Which is double-talk for karma.

The appeal, the draw of power, is clear.

Ged’s teacher, a wizard named Ogion, tries to show Ged the realities he faces in a world where power can be used well or badly. After Ged encounters one who uses her power in a questionable way, and has had his own terrifying encounter with a dark spirit just before this conversation, Ogion admonishes him:

The powers she serves are not the powers I serve. I do not know her will, but I know she does not will me well. Ged, listen to me now. Have you never thought how danger must surround power as shadow does light? This sorcery is not a game we play for pleasure or for praise.  Think of this: that every word, every act of our Art is said and is done either for good, or for evil. Before you speak or do, you must know the price that is to pay!

When we hear this, it’s too much.  More evasion, more powerlessness! We’ve apprenticed ourselves to those who claim to know, and instead of — at last! — affording us even a little taste of power, they scold us for not knowing anything, and set us instead to memorizing, or visualizing, or some other repetitive task that smacks of elementary school drills. (For of course that’s where we are — in school, at a beginner’s level. Again. How long this time?!)

Predictably, Ged rebels. Note what motivates his response:

Driven by his shame, Ged cried, “How am I to know these things when you teach me nothing? Since I have lived with you I have done nothing, seen nothing–”

“Now you have seen something,” said the mage. “By the door, in the darkness, when I came in.”

We seek power, yet once we commit to a magical or spiritual path, often the first thing we meet is darkness. In ourselves. Distinctly not fun.

Ged was silent.

Ogion knelt down and built the fire on the hearth and lit it, for the house was cold.

There it is in plain words — Ogion demonstrates literally the “Path of the Hearth Fire” that is one of the magical and occult paths we can take.  And he does it not in words but in actions LeGuin describes — the daily tasks of an “ordinary life” that can be done with magical awareness of their place and purpose, a responsibility that we can serve while we learn — a way that actually leads to our ideal “inner Hogwarts” without fleeing from the obligations of our “mundane” world which have far more to teach us than we know.

Then still kneeling [Ogion] said in his quiet voice, “Ged, my young falcon, you are not bound to me or to my service. You did not come to me but I to you. You are very young to make this choice, but I cannot make it for you. If you wish, I will send you to Roke Island, where all high arts are taught. Any craft you undertake to learn you will learn, for your power is great. Greater even than your pride, I hope. I would keep you here with me, for what I have is what you lack, but I will not keep you against your will. Now choose …”

(A Wizard of Earthsea, Bantam Edition 1975, pgs. 23-24.)

Power greater than pride: Ogion nails the issue. As J. H. Brennan notes, implicating many of us:

The problem with arrogance is that it is a quality for which I have a sneaking admiration. Consequently it plays a greater part in my character than it really should.

(J. H. Brennan, Foreword, The Ritual Magic Workbook, p. 4.)

There’s a whole book of wisdom to be unpacked from Ogion’s words, which deserve extended meditation. I’ll zero in on the last two: “Now choose.” How can we choose before we understand the consequences of choice? As Tolkien says (in talking about translation*), “We constantly need to know more than we do.”

Choice? That’s another post …

/|\ /|\ /|\

Images: A Wizard of Earthsea — cover.

*translating Beowulf. In J R R Tolkien (ed. Christopher Tolkien). Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, pg. 191.  For much more on this that you probably could EVER want to know, come to the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, MI this May 2015, where I and many others will be delivering papers on Tolkien’s translation — and in my case, on his peculiar theories of “correct style” and how this intersects with his whole legendarium and the power of imagination.

OGRELD Redux: Spoofing Our Way to Wisdom

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI mentioned OGRELD in an earlier post — acronym for that “One Genuine Real Live Druidry” that never existed. But for a non-existent thing, it’s proven surprisingly lively in my thoughts. Every time I scratch my head and say about somebody else, “How can you do that?” when they do or believe or say something that doesn’t match my quirky and partial understanding of the universe, OGRELD raises its fictitious head, pretty frisky for something that isn’t.

But then “existent” and “non-existent” together comprise a pretty useless category anyway, from what I can see. Hit a paradox, seek for a unifying truth behind it: basic tool in my toolkit. Do I really think that what became my mother and my father flashed into existence from nothing some eight decades ago, mucked around, made a life, made me (thank you!!), and disappeared again forever? That’s far less likely, far harder to believe — a major mismatch with my and others’ experience of the universe — than an alternative take on things: that what manifested as my parents, as me, as all the birds and animals and plants and everything here and there and everywhere, the Ten Thousand Things, is something the universe excels at doing.


Rodent of Unusual Size

Why? Because, first of all, it just keeps doing it. Blessedly, bountifully, provocatively, right under our noses, before our eyes, in our ears, right on hand, at the tips of our tongues. And that, more than anything, spells out my sense of any immortality that may be: this wonderful energy keeps changing form, so don’t get too attached to forms. Roll with it. Dance with it. See where it wants to go next, and follow. Get sufficiently intoxicated in the flow, and its apparent ending is just a wave against a rock, a splash in the endless current. Real? Definitely. Splashy and messy? Yup. But not the whole story by any means. The story goes on with the current. The form (the previous chapter, where we left our hero/ine dangling from a rope above the rapid or the ‘gators or the Rodents Of Unusual Size*) gets left behind. Life 101. What do they teach in schools nowadays?! Move along, move along. These aren’t the Druids you’re looking for.*

But our sneaking suspicion of a truth underlying things also brings with it an annoying tendency for us to think that anything out here, in the manifest world, equals that underlying truth completely, finally, once and for all. That’s a mistake in categories — doesn’t work that way. Instead, it arrives provisionally. Approximately. We encounter any “underlying truth” through time, not all at once. You get your piece, I get mine. For today. Tomorrow we need to reconnect, re-source, re-build. Not “two steps forward, one back,” but instead, keep moving or stagnate, bleed and breathe or fossilize, innovate or institutionalize. Where we are today is always somewhere on that continuum (and almost never at either pole, however much the shrillness of current headlines wants us to believe otherwise. Exhibit A: Anti-Christ Obama / Exhibit B: A New Hope).

So OGRELD can seduce us along every one of its points. “One”? Unity is a tough one for human beings. We see it as a goal, but it usually happens intermittently, then we retreat to our local tribes.

“Genuine” and “Real”? Think of the money in both advertising and purchasing for whatever is “authentic, genuine, real.” But in spite of how those qualities have gotten cheapened, or rather because of it, we long for them more than ever. (The Velveteen Rabbit became real because he was loved. Could be we’ve been looking in the wrong places. “Genuine” and “Real” aren’t in other things, but in ourselves, or nowhere. Whether that’s an improvement, a miracle, a discovery, a revelation, Good News, depends on where you’ve been spending your time and energy.)

Even “Live” can be problematic. (That’s one sign of human genius: we can make problems out of everything.) It’s a game — as long as we remember we agreed to play, and as long as we know that the solution or the victory or the endgame is a solution for today. Tomorrow the games reboot. We’re back with the starting pieces and our own ingenuity and creativity. If we know it’s a game, it’s delightful. If we take it too seriously, it’s pure and absolute Hell for everybody. Oh, we know these things. OGRELD (fill in your preferred means of deliverance here: god, sex, liquor, drugs, the Singularity, Progress, Apocalypse), lead us into your truth!

And “Druidry,” the final component?  It’s just as problematic as the rest. It’s not for everyone — not because it excludes, tolerant** little sucker that it is — but because, as with most “solutions” we pose to the problems we created, we exclude ourselves from it. We’re better at no than at yes. If you’re looking for an idol to worship (and we all have one or more already), make sure it’s the best damn idol money can’t buy.

So make a list: what do you want in your job/mate/religion/diet/life? Then interrogate that list. If you actually had X, what would that let you do or be? Keep going through a few more cycles of interrogation: if you then had Y, what would that let you do or be? Stop when exhausted, or when you’ve arrived that the truth that underlies the “truth.” (If you don’t know what that is, there’s a project/problem for you. Have at it!)

/|\ /|\ /|\

*There are times when an excess of pop-culture movie references can mar an otherwise perfectly decent blog post.

**Some brands of Druidry are more tolerant than others. In some forms of Druidry, you’re encouraged to invest your time and energy exploring almost any tradition and practice EXCEPT Christianity — shamanism, Egyptian polytheism, Reiki, permaculture, Hinduism, Voudon, veganism, Asatru, Wicca, Buddhism and onward to the ends of the earth. But not Christianity. (If you think Jesus didn’t also teach good Druid principles, you’ve missed substantial insights from both Druidry AND Christianity.) Not true for all flavors of Druidry by any means, but Christian Druids tend to hang out together, or practice solitary, or stay closeted, or drift away, from what I’ve seen. But see OBOD’s page on Christianity and Druidry.

Images:  labyrinth — a fine instance of Druid (Pagan) and Christian imagery working synergistically; “Rodents Of Unusual Size”: photos and accompanying article at The Huffington Post, from an article from June ’13.

Updated 7 April 2015

Fake Druidry and Ogreld

I’m a fake Druid.  So is everyone else who names Druidry as the path they walk. And I’ve come to love it.

In a guest essay on the ADF website, J. M. Greer notes,

The very last of the ancient Druids went extinct in the ninth century, and the surviving scraps of their teachings and lore are so fragmentary, diffuse, and contradictory that they don’t form anything like a workable system. All modern Druid groups—OBOD, ADF, and everyone else—were invented in the last three centuries by people who used some mix of scholarly writings, personal spiritual insight, speculation, and sheer fantasy as raw material for their concoctions.

Thus if “real Druidry” is defined as the sort that was practiced by Druids in Celtic countries before the arrival of Christianity, all modern Druids practice fake Druidry. That can’t be avoided, since “real Druidry” hasn’t existed anywhere for more than a millennium. What differentiates one modern Druid tradition from another is the particular kind of “fake Druidry” each practices.

Of course, Greer writes here as an outsider might see it, to try on a truth many still feel uncomfortable to admit.  As Archdruid of AODA, he obviously doesn’t habitually dwell on his particular flavor of Druidry as “fake.”  And when I practice my Druidry, it doesn’t feel like a “concoction” at all.  It coheres, because like anything used — steps, coins, dishes, skin, planets — the edges get smoothed, a few chips and dents show up, and everything takes on that “lived-in” look, that patina that makes antiques look antique, that gives worry-stones their shine, and faces their habitual smile or frown lines.  I make an offering at an altar, I join my Druid brothers and sisters at a festival, I sit for an hour in moonlight meditating, and whether a group of people 300 years ago rediscovered things most traditional peoples have long known doesn’t really concern me.  Clearly, the moment itself offers me better things to do.

Greer continues:

The Druid community has on occasion been racked by squabbles between traditions, caused as often as not by simple misunderstandings that could have been quickly cleared up by people familiar with more than their own tradition. Since none of us have any right to claim possession of the One Genuine Real Live Druidry, a willingness to share the world with other Druid traditions, and to participate with them in celebrating the cycles of nature and the miracle of the living Earth, is a virtue that may well be worth cultivating by Druids of all kinds.

Ah, “One Genuine Real Live Druidry” — Ogreld, I’ll call it. My new tradition, founded right now as you’re reading this.  Here we go … unlike every other practice and belief on the planet, Ogreld sprang into existence full-grown and perfect, without parents or kin.  To get that essential temporal edge over other faiths and practices, Ogreld is the original “source faith” of humanity, practiced when people first became human. In fact, to top it off, it was Ogreld that made them human.  Now we’re cooking!  … This is faking with a vengeance.  “I’m faker than you are.  Na-na-na-na-na!”

In the Egyptian afterlife, the human heart is weighed against the feather of Maat, who personifies truth and justice.  The Wise among us understand that whether I acknowledge three elements of earth, water and air, or four elements of earth, air, fire and water, or a god whose elements are bread and wine, my rituals will still work in accordance with the reverence and love I bring to them, and the holy presences that empower them.  Whether I have helped or hurt the earth and its inhabitants will matter a lot more than the color of my robes, the rank I’ve achieved, or the number of gods I pray to.   The only real Druidry is a “path with heart,” a way of walking the earth that wisely honors all paths with heart.  I’m busy faking that wisdom, practicing till I get it “righter” than before.  Insofar as faking is doing something, it’s generally better than not doing anything at all.  So yes, I’m a fake Druid.  Have you met any other kind?!

Full Moon Reflection 1: “In every corner of my soul …

“there is an altar to a different god,” wrote the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935).  Perhaps that’s some explanation for the often mercurial quality of being this strange thing we call the self, ourselves.  We can’t easily know who we are for the simple reason that (often, at least) we aren’t just one thing — we consist of multiple selves.  We’re not individuals so much as hives of all our pasts buzzing around together.  Whether you subscribe to the reality of past lives or see it as a possibly useful metaphor, we’re the sum of all we’ve ever been, and that’s a lot of being.  And with past lives (or the often active impulses to make alternate lives for ourselves within this one through the dangerous but tempting choices we face) we’ve known ourselves as thieves and priests, saints and villains, women and men, victims and aggressors, ordinary and extraordinary.  When we’ve finally done it all, we’re ready to graduate, as a fully-experienced self, a composite unified after much struggle and suffering and delight.  All of us, then, are still in school, the school of self-making.

Doesn’t it just feel like that, some days at least?!  Even only as a metaphor, it can offer potent insight.  The Great Work or magnum opus of magic, seen from such a perspective, is nothing more or less than to integrate this cluster of selves, bang and drag and cajole all the fragments into some kind of coherence, and make of the whole a new thing fit for service, because that’s what we’re best at, once we’ve assembled ourselves into a truly workable self:  to give back to life, to serve an ideal larger than our own momentary whims and wishes, and in the giving, to find — paradoxically — our best and deepest fulfillment.  “He who loses himself will find it gain,” said a Wise One with a recent birthday we may have noticed.  We all learn the hard way, for the most part, because it’s the most profound learning.  Certainly it sticks in a way that most book learning alone does not.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Druid of the Day (3)

Author, Episcopal priest and current professor Barbara Brown Taylor has written An Altar in the World, a splendid little book on simple, essential spiritual practices which anyone can begin right now.  She writes from a refreshingly humble (close to the humus, the earth) Christian perspective, and a broad vision of spirituality pervades her words.  Because of her insight and compassion, her awareness that we are whole beings — both spirits and bodies — because of the earthiness of her wisdom, and her refusal to set herself above any of her readers, she makes an excellent Druid of the Day.  I hope I will always remember to apprentice myself gladly to whoever I can learn from. As the blurb on her website page for the book notes, “… no physical act is too earthbound to become a path to the divine.”

Taylor brings a worthy antidote to the bad thinking and fear-mongering so widespread today.  Here’s a sample:

… it is wisdom we need to live together in this world.  Wisdom is not gained by knowing what is right.  Wisdom is gained by practicing what is right, and noticing what happens when that practice succeeds and when it fails. Wise people do not have to be certain what they believe before they act.  They are free to act, trusting that the practice itself will teach them what they need to know …  If you are not sure what to believe about your neighbor’s faith, then the best way to find out is to practice eating supper together.  Reason can only work with the experience available to it.  Wisdom atrophies if it is not walked on a regular basis.

Such wisdom is far more than information.  To gain it, you need more than a brain.  You need a body that gets hungry, feels pain, thrills to pleasure, craves rest.  This is your physical pass into the accumulated insight of all who have preceded you on this earth.  To gain wisdom, you need flesh and blood, because wisdom involves bodies–and not just human bodies, but bird bodies, tree bodies, water bodies and celestial bodies.  According to the Talmud, every blade of grass has its own angel bending over it whispering, “Grow, grow.”  How does one learn to see and hear such angels? (14)

/|\ /|\ /|\

Taylor, Barbara Brown.  An Altar in the World.  New York:  Harper One, 2009.

%d bloggers like this: