Radiate, sayeth Moon   Leave a comment

In these ‘crossing days’ between autumn and full winter here in the northern hemisphere, our house soon overheats even with a modest wood fire. Recently a friend talked about the experience of “immersion and absorption” in his spiritual path, a practice he’s kept to for decades. For me an apt metaphor is ‘radiate from a center’. It’s how our wood stove warms our little house, and it’s how any spiritual practice I do feels like it spreads outward from a single point to other parts of my life.

Many people have posted images of the recent Blood Moon. I found its early rising without the dramatic coloring just as interesting as its other hues, for the simple fact of how bright it was.

[November Full Moon, approx. 8:00 pm local VT time shortly after it cleared our eastern hill]

Which is more important?” runs the old Nasreddin Hodja joke. “The sun or the moon?”

The moon, because at night we need the light more“.

It can feel that way at night, with the silvery glow emanating from a single point, with both shadow and light more clearly defined than on a hazy summer day, where daylight seems to pour from every quarter of the compass.

So I take this insight or image and run with it. Because that’s what I do, and because I notice that any spiritual practice I undertake regularly soon begins to highlight things in me that “ordinary time”, or the “mundane world”, often leaves hidden. Both flaws and potentials show up like uninvited guests. What I do with them, how they can serve as tools for growth, and not just as props or punctures of the ego, is part of what I make of my particular path. (They’re a gift that keeps on giving, courtesy of a universe that colludes and conspires to dazzle and dismay in equal measure.)

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Often the self in such moments of highlighting or contrast resembles the face, the persona, that a Hallowe’en pumpkin presents. (My character is often a caricature of the self.)

[Pumpkins at Harlow’s farmstand, Westminster, VT]

And I turn to bards, because so often their art confronts them with the self, just as any sustained practice will, and their determination to make something — anything — of that experience, in all its textures, enriches many of us. Robert Frost battled depression and illness in 1933 when he wrote ‘Desert Spaces’, which closes:

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars–on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

Because this is our human shaping, to measure our lives by our own familiar dimensions, “like one who takes/Everything said as personal to himself”, as Frost writes elsewhere in “The Wood-pile”. And why not? It’s one thing the self is good for, a human scoop to dip into experience and retrieve a day- or life-sized portion of this mortal stuff, this being half-awake and in love with things that keep slipping out of our grasp.

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But ffs mister, can’t you just let moons be moons and pumpkins be pumpkins?!

Well, of course. And they will be anyway, in spite of me or anyone else, though I may pile words on them in an effort to wrest them into something for my purposes. “Moon go away I don’t love you no more” writes Jim Simmerman in a poem and collection with the same title. I’ve known days like that, and so have you. But the sheer regularity of full moon, full moon, full moon invites me to linger under the magic sky, wordlessly, or singing a tune I don’t realize I’m humming under my breath.

Earth rhythms move us into their harmonies. Daytime, moon-time, year-time, their slow drum-beat accords with the blood-beat, music we all hear, whenever we listen. And the more I do, the more I want to.

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Posted 9 November 2022 by adruidway in Druidry

Returns   3 comments

“True voyage is return” — U. K. LeGuin

After a year away, I’m back with material I hope you’ll continue to find of value. Thank-yous to you who’ve supported this blog, returning to read from over a decade of posts, commenting, encouraging, and recommending articles at A Druid Way to others.

Here we are at another time of festival and holiday, which it pays to remember is ‘holy day’, one set apart from mundane time. The English words holy, Old English halig, and hallow, Old English halga, ‘holy one, saint’ also form a verb halgian, to hallow or make sacred. Hallow evening or Hallowe’en, or All Hallows’ Eve, OE Ealra Halgena Æfen, is in many traditions the first of three days, continuing with All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1 and concluding on All Souls’ Day on Nov. 2. Together the days of the period make up Allhallowtide, a holy time.

It’s a great word we could easily bring back to wider use in contemporary life. What are your hallowtides? If you’re observing Samhain or Halloween alone or with a small group, it’s a great theme for meditation, or a ritual question to ask and answer aloud or silently.

On Friday I drove with a friend to one of Mystic River Grove’s celebrations of Samhain. The crisp air, the almost windless evening, let us feast outdoors before ritual, and the sacred fire warmed us as temps dropped to freezing. “All you who have gone before, please listen now, we are listening too” we sang as we processed into the circle. Third of the ancient Celtic harvest festivals, Samhain is truly ‘summer’s end’, as we turn inward to winter. And as with all things, balance persists, whether we discern it or not: the Southern Hemisphere is cherishing Beltane and its celebration of growing heat and light. This is one of the great challenges of our time, especially as Druids: to find the balance, the hinge point or still center around which events and passions swirl.

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With this cycle of the voyage comes a site upgrade, so you can now read without ads.

Third and Fourth Days of Samhain: Spirals and Soundings

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Many years ago now, I participated in an online discussion group that included members of multiple faiths. It wasn’t always a comfortable space, nor did it need to be. We were there for engagement, but not necessarily ease. I recall a sharp criticism of Pagan perspectives on cycles and circles: that a circle is ultimately a cage, a trap, with no escape, and that only a faith that provided an out could offer anything like freedom.

It’s a distinctive view of salvation, or liberation, particularly as a faith rather than a practice. The discussion at the time was also particularly focused on one version of the Goddess as a kind of stand-in for all Pagan belief — a limited perspective the critic brought with him. That is, the (or a) Goddess as immanent, a part of the world, suffering along with mortals, influenced by human actions and wounded by human deeds stemming from ignorance. How, asked the critic, could such a figure ever meet our human hunger for transcendence?

It’s an interesting idea to unpack and explore, rather than simply reacting to. Most traditions have a round of observances, festivals, holidays, and don’t seem to feel bound or constrained by them. I haven’t found Druid practices any different. It’s the combination of the familiar and the new that keeps ritual observances fresh. For that reason, though the circle is a powerful symbol, and a kind of default shape for in-person Druid and other Pagan ritual, the underlying sense I perceive, and another widespread Pagan image, is the spiral. The circle is its two-dimensional version. Energetic movement or potential for movement curls in the spiral, a coil or spring or serpent power. It’s the source of rebirth, regeneration, that ritual glimpses and evokes and embodies. “True voyage is return” indeed, as long as we realize that “everything She touches changes”.

Newgrange entrance. Photo courtesy Spud Murphy/Wikipedia

As a meditation object, a “Samhain mandala”, the spiral is potent. Drawing it, tracing or painting it on the body, can work as well for Beltane, for the energies spiraling into summer that are manifesting in whorls and curls of plant tendrils, of the burgeoning natural world, of seashells and spiral galaxies, of the long spiral of death and rebirth. Enter the underworld at Samhain and re-emerge at Beltane every year, practicing the pattern we live, of dying and being reborn. The festivals mirror and echo off each other across the calendar, across the hemispheres. What have I been born from? asks my Beltane self. What am I building right now as I near Samhain that will emerge in the early summer?

Samhain for me is a well. Maybe a well that opens onto the Otherworld, if I choose to dive in. Or sometimes a sea, endless, restless, caressing or lashing our mortal shores. I attempt to sound it, to measure its depth or outlines, to communicate by way of the thin line of attention or ritual or meditation, a line disappearing into the depths toward that which needs to speak with me. I don’t need to worry about missing it: what I do not heed consciously will work its way to the surface regardless.

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If there’s one thing I know about the ancestors, it’s that they will be heard. Death has not so enfeebled them that they can only speak one time each year, or only with my attention and respect. Rather, my attention and respect are gifts I can offer, so that ancestral patterns, goals, wisdom can emerge within my circle of intention: I can meet in a circle with my ancestors, as with a spiritual council, and know what is afoot, and whether it aligns with what I am doing now. Not all their long-term projects deserve my assent or participation.

And I also bring assets to the council: present understandings, a body and set of experiences derived from being alive now, with links to the future and my own capacities as ancestor-in-training. For this reason, a mirror is one of my Samhain sacred tools: the face of my ancestors is also mine. I reflect a part of what they accomplished, what survives in this world, what may rest in the earth as a potential for them to manifest, should they return to bodies within this particular ancestral line.

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Second Day of Samhain: Nesting

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Our ranch house is small enough to heat easily, but it does sometimes leave us tight for space. Ever since we moved here I’ve made my office in our front entryway, a 7-foot by 6-foot space, with small windows facing north, west and south. It’s cold in winter, but bright enough: even on the most overcast days I can write and read without a lamp. As I started to write this morning, I heard a rustling of birds in the nest above the south-facing door. It’s sheltered by the house to the east, and my entryway-office to the north, and almost every year I hear the peeping of the year’s crop of nestlings. In another hour the sun will hit the nest directly. Some birds still sun themselves there, even now in late October.

Samhain is the start of another kind of nesting season. Beltane is of course a nesting time in more literal ways: birds raising families, and soon enough kicking them out of the nest to get them flying. We nest at Samhain and turn earthy, drowsing, seeking warmth, comfort, richer foods to keep the cold at bay. At Beltane we celebrate the fire in us, and we can do the same at Samhain, especially if we seek more inwardly for the flame. Samhain and Beltane fires differ — you know this in your skin if you’ve observed both holidays in some way more than in your head.

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The other path I follow celebrates its new year this weekend, and enters a year of creativity, one in a twelve-year cycle of named years. A year tuned to creativity: we need it, to work through the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

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I like Susan’s recent comment: “does our breath with intent to our ancestors give breath to them … hmmm I would like to think so.” I try it out — breathing as a way to connect with those who breathed before me, those whose bodies enabled this body, who made it so it could breathe. One communal shared breathing, the same air: beloved ancestors and I, one large set of lungs among us. We keep the breath going, the ancestral lines, the lines of inspiration, taking in what’s handed down to us, and breathing it into new life and possibility. I breathe with intention as I light my tea light, as our local sunset arrives, and send off this post.

makeshift fire altar

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First Day of Samhain: Cardinals

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The stuff of my day
can light me a way

I find myself in a rhyming mode today, and over time I’ve learned to work with it when it comes, because it can often give me light touches and entries and approaches to things that can otherwise be heavy or obscure, or present no handles, no entrance or doorway at all.

On this first Day of Samhain, I’ve lit a small fire in our woodstove. This Saturday’s sunny, but that autumnal nip in the air is real, and the dampness of early morning fog crept into the house. My wife and I were outdoors early and suddenly we were noticing cardinals. Maybe because many of the leaves are already off the trees, we speculated. Maybe it’s easier to spot them. The bright birds match some of the leaves as they darted in and around the trees. Depending on the weather, sometimes they’ll winter over here.

Beltane moon, Samhain moon …

As with dream work, so with blogging: first I have to get words down, a tentative, preliminary, approximate account. If I’ve left off dream study for a while, the direct links between dream and waking consciousness can take some work to revive. (Indirect links never leave us — they filter into reverie, whim, daydream, flashes of intuition and inspiration.) For me, the music of a line or two of verse can help. Other times, reading past dream entries can spark a new dream. I take these into sleep and recall improves, coming sometimes over several days, and slowly, or all at once.

I titled this post “cardinals,” but that’s really a placeholder. The birds aren’t thinking in human words, and “cardinal” evokes the color, which is often more useful than the word itself for many of my purposes. Let me bathe in cardinal red. Words as stepping stones out of our hyper-verbal culture — words simply as light touches, into something other.

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Tonight at dusk I’ll set a match to a tea-light and daydream with it. Scrying with flame? Sure. Drawing a tarot card? Possibly. Maybe literally trying my hand at drawing a tarot-like image. Just being alive is itself a kind of divination. Samhain flame links me to a thousand generations. I take air into my lungs, I let it go. O mortal thing, whispers everything else around me, mortal thing, are you listening?

Prelude: Nine Days of Samhain (Beltane) 2021

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Both fire festivals, so fire can feature prominently in both, if you choose.

Nine Days of Beltane? What’s that? Well, go ahead — create it, if only for yourself! Noon for Beltane, dusk for Samhain. Or some other time that fits you and your season.

Often I try to model these things here on this blog, because so much of Druidry is in the doing. I’ll be starting my own Nine Days tomorrow, Saturday — 23-24-25-26-27-28-29-30-31 — ending on the Holy Evening itself, which is after all what Hallowe’en means. I’m posting today, a day before, in case you want to try it out yourself. Or you could start on the 27th, with Samhain/Beltane as the middle day, and continue for four days after for your count of nine. Or try seven days, or five. The point is to make a shape, and then fill it with a practice, with intention, with doing and experiencing and trying on the shape for size and fit, partly to see how well it actually works.

Much has been written recently about how to deal with toxic ancestors (here’s one example). Do a blog search if you need support in that regard. I’m focusing on a few ancestors I specifically choose to remember. As for inviting their presence, if they’re direct blood ancestors, I carry them in me already, in all their messy humanness. And I can make any invitation to a ritual quite specific: to those who wish me well, whom I respect and love, whose legacy deserves acknowledging, whose imprint helps shape me in ways I benefit from. If I need a further reminder, I can look in a mirror. That I’m here at all, I owe to those who came before me, and built this physical form from their own bodies. If it feels right, include a small mirror for the ritual.

Fire works so well at these times because of the major seasonal shifts occurring — whether into early winter, or early summer. In both cases, fire fits. It signals to the unconscious that something profound is happening, that something elemental is one appropriate response. If I do nothing more each day than light a fire — a candle, a lamp, a blaze in the woodstove or fireplace — and sit in silence for a time with that light, that flame, I am opening a portal for memory and inspiration and deep reflection. As the wisest recipes advise, season to taste.

You might find a star meditation a simple addition. If you’ve investigated ceremonial magic, you’ve likely heard of the rituals of the pentagram, of summoning and banishing forms. Here at these elemental times a full panoply of the Four Elements and Spirit is good to recall, to embody, to honor and enact. With nothing else needed but fire and my own body (“earth my body, water my blood, air my breath and fire my spirit”), I have all I need. Anything I opt to add is a gift, an offering. If I choose, as one part of my simple ritual, I can shape a star in the ethers, the akasha, the astral, drawing it with a forefinger, good as any wand. If I need or choose, I can declare my finger a wand for the purpose of ritual. Or search the day before I start my Days of Samhain for a found object as wand or magical tool. Spirit honors creativity, because we’re doing what It does all the time. We’re awen-izing.

Or I may spend that fire interval of each day’s ritual just journaling. I can mark each entry with a star, or do any other rituals that surround my writing. “Here begins the first day of my fire writing …” and I’m on my way for that day’s entry.

When you start thinking and imagining these things, the ritual also starts taking shape.

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Waxing Towards Samhain: Altars Everywhere

You can feel it, can’t you? The approach of the next of the Great Eight festivals, the holy tide of Samhain. Or across the hemispheres, the advent of Brighid’s day of Imbolc. Fire festivals, both of them. Opportunities for a “deep dive” inward, if you so choose.

Or maybe your inner senses just aren’t tuned to such things. Not a problem. Imagine what it feels like, the energies swirling and eddying around this time. Or if you have a photo of a beloved ancestor, or an object which that ancestor once held, you’ve got a different kind of connection.

Suggestions for where I can purchase an altar? posted a new Druid on a Druid forum. The responses tended toward the repurposed and well-loved piece of furniture. Discarded, scratched and refurbished, that tabletop, desk, nightstand, shelf. One commenter noted, “Half my house is now an altar” with niches and corners lovingly adorned with figures, stones, feathers, driftwood, sacred objects. The cast-off, hand-me-down, yard sale. And out of doors, the sawn-flat stump in the woods, or the stone the septic company excavated while locating your tank, or the natural crook or niche where a tree-trunk meets the ground.

Those blessed with outdoor space in a yard may have room for a permanent circle, or simply an open patch of grass, or a small corner walled on two sides by fencing, where a small figure peeps through the foliage.

The full moon last night and tonight can be a potent altar, as can the human heart, open and listening. Each ritual we do erects an altar in spirit, leaving an imprint in consciousness we can strengthen and reaffirm each time we bring it to mind, or repeat the ritual, each time we gather again in a beloved circle of Others, whether they have their skins on or not.

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Welcome to our newest visitor from Mauritius.

Steps toward Elemental Rebalancing

In the previous post I wrote:

With covid, wildfires, floods and political turmoil, the U.S. exhibits profound imbalances in all four Elements. With air transmission of the virus and a mental haze surrounding our responses, with fire in the west and our over-heated rhetoric, with water leaving its channels in flood and drought, and our emotions swamped, and with stubborn disagreement about whose land this is and how we can best inhabit it together, Druids, we have our work cut out for us.

It was one of those moments when the blindingly obvious actually became visible. We’ve all had those perceptions, and wondered why until now we hadn’t seen them in terms that made their focus clear. And yes, it would be nice to think that a clarified and clarifying perception is all I need to move forward. But as you and I also know, by the time we perceive something clearly, we’ve almost always been working on it for a while already, and we usually stand somewhere around midway on the particular leg of the path we’re walking. The next half of the journey awaits us.

Deborah Lipp writes in her Way of Four Spellbook that Spirit

is what happens when all four elements meet and combine. Spirit is the quintessence, the “fifth essence,” the original elemental whole from which the other elements emerged. Elementals have only their individual qualities. For example, Gnomes will only be Earth, and are incapable of acting in any way but an Earthy way; they won’t feel or be willful. And Salamanders will only and forever be Fire; we cannot ask them to be stable or exercise self-control. But people, and other beings with spirit, have the capacities of all four elements, and the freedom to grow and explore in any direction (pg. 16)

By devoting myself to a particular element, I’ll certainly see results. That’s also how imbalances result: push hard into too much of a good thing and soon I’m no longer in “good thing” territory. We may tend to think that only skilled users of magic obtain results, when almost anyone can and does manifest them — just not especially balanced ones. We’re all magicking ourselves into and out of situations constantly. It just may not be particularly gracefully or intentionally or lovingly.

Lipp notes:

… heavy work in a single element — such as several Earth spells over a period of time unbalanced by other elemental work — might call forth the presence of the appropriate elemental. It is important to pay attention to signs of excessive elemental activity in your life (pg. 19).

We can and should certainly work for elemental balance. Earth, air, fire, water — diet, exercise, staying hydrated, work, routines, “getting enough fresh air”, partners, pastimes, practices — these are almost the definition of the whole ” self-help” genre, the workshops and guides and supplements, the exercises and fixes, the “one-size-fits-all” that almost never does. Balance means something different for each of us.

We’ve all had the experience, too, of a remedy that does work — for a time. Then eventually we need to tinker, adjust, modify, adapt — or yield at last to the need to change, or do a complete overhaul. “People, and other beings with spirit, have the capacities of all four elements, and the freedom to grow and explore in any direction”. We might add that people have the freedom and also the need to grow and explore in any direction.

I’ve found it most helpful to begin with Spirit — because that’s where balance originates. Starting with any other element means I’m guessing that’s where I should work. But it’s different with Spirit. In fact, if I’m looking for a definition of Spirit these days, that works pretty well — “where balance originates”. You can see from that definition that working out its consequences in each of our lives may well take different forms. Your balance isn’t mine, just like your diet isn’t. But your balance is much larger and more encompassing than what you put into your body — than any one element — and we can see common threads and components when we compare our journeys.

What does all of this mean in practical terms?

1. I can take an “elemental inventory”. Where has my attention been recently? Does any particular element seem to dominate my experience, concerns, actions, feelings, thoughts? Is that element one that I need to cultivate and bring into play, or one that’s already present and may need to be scaled back?

2. I can explore a solar and lunar inventory as well. Is there a time in my day that needs attention or love? Are mornings hard to get going? Are evenings lost in fatigue? Has a quick “pick-me-up” started to “put me down” instead? Are there monthly — moon — issues that keep recurring? How can I recognize and address and honor some of the larger cycles in my life? What does my birthday mean to me and bring into awareness? What elemental features does it highlight or emphasize? How about other anniversaries and yearly cycles?

3. What ancestral forces are at work? Ask for insight into ones you might be overlooking. How are you yourself becoming an ancestor as you live your life? We’re all working on it — we hardly waltz into exalted ancestor status just by dropping this physical form in death.

4. What “either-ors” and binaries in your life need a good Druidic ternary or third component to open them up and remove them from a cycle that no longer feels productive? What’s a missing third component? What tensions include an overlooked factor that may clarify and illuminate them? What’s one small thing I can do differently? And what difference does that make?

5. How’s your dream life? Yes, many people think they don’t recall their dreams, and that may well be true, so how is the dream content manifesting in other ways — since it always will? Our hidden lives want to connect with our apparent lives and vice versa, and not be left out or ignored.

6. What numbers or other patterns and dynamics are manifesting in your life? Are you seeing a lot of fives or threes or sixes? These can show up anywhere — odometer reading on your car, dates on the calendar, telephone numbers, billboards, license plates, etc. (I just got a new cell phone number yesterday, and am working out the waking dream of its numeral significance.)

7. What ways and avenues and channels do you have in place in your life for answers to any of these things to reach you? We each develop strategies to cultivate insight and intuition and discovery, and we can each find and explore new ones, too. Maybe you daydream in the shower, or maybe music helps you open up to non-verbal wisdom. Maybe a song lyric or meme reaches you with an insight that resonates. A friend’s casual comment, or a divination your carefully work with. A dream practice, or daily ritual, or fortune cookie. Prayer, meditation, chant. The “chance” detour on your way to somewhere else that brings you a new encounter, road sign, time for reflection, etc.

8. With so much attention on “waking up” and “wake-up calls”, how about some “sleep down” time as well? As one hemisphere of the planet moves deeper into the dark half of the year, even as the other is waking up into spring and summer, how can we use this shifting dynamic that is always taking place in ourselves as well? What parts of us need to make this shift, into rest and restoration, as well as animation and activity? Each hemisphere isn’t one thing only — both these tendencies still manifest. As above, so below; as within, so without.

9. Where (and how, and when) does Spirit manifest in my life? It’s present for everyone, and despite some millennia of bad theology and teaching, Spirit isn’t — or need not be — a matter of “belief”. My stomach digests and my liver purifies my blood without any need for “belief” on my part, thank the gods. Spirit manifests quite as concretely and specifically for each of us, and in ways it pays to seek out and honor and relish.

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A Year in Flags

A year ago in October 2020 I added that flag-counter widget to this site, and it’s been illuminating to me to see where you’re from. Not surprisingly, the majority of you hail from somewhere in the English-speaking (and reading) world. But I deeply thank those of you who make the effort to read in what is a second or third language for you.

A blogger appreciates return visitors, but some of you may have followed a link to a particular article, or the passing comment of a friend, and found what you wanted in a single visit.

Pinnacle Hill Trail, southern Vermont

Beyond where the counter records you, I also know from WordPress analytics which individual posts draw the most visitors. Certainly my blog isn’t “representative of Druidry” in any conscious way, and I write what I darn well please. But in light of those qualities I still try to draw conclusions about how the ideas and inspirations of Druid practice have spread around the planet. So it’s good to see that the countries that would most benefit in making changes in lifestyle and consumption and re-connection to the natural world — challenges Druidry tackles head on — also show up prominently in my readership. And you might extend that further and note that if we “follow the numbers”, the U.S. tops the list and outnumbers any other nation by many times in its need for Druid practice, and the immediate value and applicability and benefit of its ways of living and being in the world.

With covid, wildfires, floods and political turmoil, the U.S. exhibits profound imbalances in all four Elements. With air transmission of the virus and a mental haze surrounding our responses, with fire in the west and our over-heated rhetoric, with water leaving its channels in flood and drought, and our emotions swamped, and with disagreement about whose land this is and how we can best inhabit it together, Druids, we have our work cut out for us.

If we look only at nations with visitors in the triple digits or more, we have in descending order (after the U.S.) the U.K., Canada, Australia, Ireland, Germany, Brazil, Netherlands, France, Italy, India, Spain, Russia, New Zealand and Turkey. I particularly appreciate the opportunity to connect with you because I assume many of you are returnees, and so I’m grateful you find value in what I write here.

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Five for the First (of October)

ONE — October … Winterfilth?

Se téoða mónð, October, Winterfylleð, swá hine cíg[a]ð íġbuende, Engle and Seaxe — Menologium. “The tenth month, October, Winterfylleð, as the island-dwellers call it, Angles and Saxons”, notes the medieval Old English Menologium.

No, not “filth” as in dirt or foulness, but “fullness” — the moon of October that signals the start of winter.

Tolkien, master scholar of Old English, uses many of the OE month-names in his Shire Calendar.

TWO — Samhain

What is there to say about Samhain that hasn’t been said already? Well, it’s always new, each time it rolls around. Part of the newness lies in the perceptions we bring to it. This year, the OBOD celebration of Samhain puts members of New England’s Mystic River Grove front and center as celebrants for the online event on Saturday, 6 November at 3:00 pm EST. You can find more info on the OBOD Facebook page and website.

THREE — Free While Living

Jivan mukti, as it’s called in Hinduism, “liberation while still alive”, is a curious mix of qualities and characteristics that many Druids might well aspire to, as well as perceptions or goals many might shun. Such a person, as the Wiki article describes it, is “humble, high spirited, of clear and steady mind, straightforward, compassionate, patient, indifferent, courageous, speaks firmly and with sweet words”. The jivan mukta, or liberated one, does no harm to living beings, is indifferent to praise or blame, and is as comfortable alone as in the company of others. Insofar as we think of the “ideal Druid”, many of these qualities fit.

How well does my practice illuminate some or any of these qualities, or others? How can I assess whether I even find these qualities desirable?

FOUR — “Into the Woods”

No, it’s not Sondheim, and it’s not so recent (2013), but it deserves wider viewing. Three-quarters of an hour worth spending with the words and images here — a Druid group active in the Chiltern Hills in England, with a Samhain celebration in the final third or so.

FIVE — Stretching the Seams

Pick up Thoreau’s Walden, and scarcely do you begin when in the second paragraph he lobs a request, a “burn”, a dedication and a metaphor at us:

I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men’s lives; such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land; for if he has lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me. Perhaps these pages are more particularly addressed to poor students. As for the rest of my readers, they will accept such portions as apply to them. I trust that none will stretch the seams in putting on the coat, for it may do good service to him whom it fits.

It’s both bracing and disorienting to read writers like this, who disdain ingratiating themselves with readers, and instead set off on their course expecting readers to have sense enough to follow.

The request and “burn” I mentioned go together — a sincere account of our lives, and the rarity of such a thing. Then a dedication: to poor students — and we can number many thousands in that category, though they may never read Walden or ponder its wisdom, or its author.

Whom does the “coat” of the book “fit”? If we work not to stretch the seams, Thoreau appears to be saying, then it will fit. The readers need to engage; the author will not hand everything over. Perhaps the more valuable the contents, the less they can be made to order. In a certain sense, the world is indeed a kind of “one size fits all” dwelling. We all find ourselves here, somewhere on the planet, whether the place where we find ourselves feels very hospitable or not.

“Those who would learn must want to learn in the manner they will be taught”. No customer model of learning, where we cater to student whim and prejudice and ignorance. What is the ‘poverty’ of the ‘poor students’ which Thoreau wishes to address, especially in Walden’s first and substantial chapter, titled “Economy”? Economy, oeconomia, oikos + nomos + –ia — “laws of the household”. Does a well-run, smoothly operating world-house or cosmos follow principles, laws, patterns? Many Druids think so, and to varying degrees we attempt to match and harmonize with those rhythms, patterns, and principles.

My own “score-card” coming soon.

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Emnight, Equinox, Opportunity

A year ago today I posted:

Ah, Emnight — that word I’ve lifted wholesale from Old English emniht, from *efenniht “even-night, equal night (and day); equinox”. (Hail, Kin Down Under at the official start of Spring)!

A good word to revive in modern English, as the waxing full moon (se fulla mōna) strives to match it in our September skies. On emnihtes dæg, ðæt is ðonne se dæg and sēo niht gelīce lange bēoþ, writes Bede in the 700s in his De Natura Rerum. “On the day of equinox, that is when the day and the night be equally long”.

It’s fruitful to consider as well that the moon is a planet-wide marker, independent of season (though it signals different seasons in different lands). Here’s a celestial object that (barring fog or cloud or smoke) everyone on the planet can see within a single 24-hour period.

So here at this 2021 equinox we have the sun and moon together. If you already celebrate a moon ritual, why not combine it with the equinox in a couple days?

[Cool, dude. So where’s your equinox ritual?]

Many magical groups traditionally took special note of the energies around the equinox. J. M. Greer notes in Golden Dawn-focused book Circles of Power:

The spring and fall equinoxes are points of special importance in the Golden Dawn tradition, and are celebrated with special ceremonies in Golden Dawn temples. During the forty-eight hours to each side of the actual moment of the equinox—the moment when the Sun crosses the celestial equator—Sun and Earth stand in a relationship which allows a much more intense flow of energy between them, and the etheric body of the earth is charged and renewed. (Circles of Power: An Introduction to Hermetic Magic, 3rd edition, London: Aeon Books, 2017, pg. 39).

You may feel a number of reactions to this, including indifference, complete mystification, ridicule, curiosity, or even palpable envy that someone, somewhere, is celebrating special empowering ceremonies you know nothing about.

Let me step back a moment. One of the challenges of living in time is an intermittent and creeping sense of “same-old same-old”. This can burn fiercely enough that some people will feel driven to throw off a “perfectly good set of personal circumstances”, changing houses, spouses, sexual orientations, jobs, friends, beliefs, countries of residence and much more. (Before anyone chides me about the unwokeness of “changing sexual orientations at whim”, remember that their reality and impact, versus our awareness of them, can diverge widely. It’s the latter I’m talking about. Isn’t the same thing true about so much in our lives?)

[My patience is wearing thin, dude. Where’s the ritual, and this ‘opportunity’ of the post title?]

The point of mentioning this is to remind myself first, and secondly anyone else who reads this far, that what has been called in the Judeo-Christian tradition the “sanctification of time” is a major strategy of most if not all spiritual paths. That is, how can we vividly mark what matters in life? How do we acknowledge and celebrate — and consecrate — those moments of transcendence we all experience, even if only a handful of times in a typical life? How — for those hungry for more such moments, more connection, more “wow” — do we accommodate such hunger? How can I start to be a little less “typical”, because I’m simply weary of it? What, to sum up, can we do about “all this”?

“Do something about all this” addresses in potentially profound ways the sense of “same-old same-old” that I mentioned above. It’s even more applicable in such WTF* times as these. If we look at societies undergoing profound transformation, as so many are these days (and as the U.S. where I live certainly is), the stress and distress that such changes cause can be eased and understood more clearly, even anticipated to a considerable degree, through spiritual practices that correspond with our lived experience. We can suffer less, and help those we love survive and thrive, if we attend to our deepest wellsprings and connections to the cosmos. We can find renewal, energy, hope, inspiration.

The secret here, if there is one, is that “there’s no OSFA” — no “one size fits all”. The ritual or ceremony or spiritual practice that lights one person up like a flame leaves another scowling or giving up on all spirituality as a stinking puddle of hooey. But with deep misery and anger and, most of all, the widespread fear in these times, we might even begin with the “Litany Against Fear” from Frank Herbert’s Dune series (and past and current films):

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

The initial value of the “Litany Against Fear” is that it gives us something to do besides fear. We can apply the same principle to other rituals and practices. (Often the shift of attention off the problem or issue or concern is an immediate gift of ritual. Another gift is the shift of attention onto something positive, desirable, appealing, wise, lovable, etc. If ritual did nothing else, these two gifts would be considerable. “But wait! There’s more!”)

What am I already doing that I can and want to do more of? (Try to write down five things. Or three. Or seven.)

What can I celebrate that I already do, that has value or importance in my life? (How might I celebrate it? Food, music, a walk, time with family, friends, neighbors, a pet?)

When are there intervals, minutes or transitions in my daily, weekly, monthly life that I can give myself the gift of downtime, however brief, to do these first two things?

The shapes that these acts and rituals take, then, will depend on you, your choices, circumstances, resources. That’s a good thing, because they will fit you better than somebody else’s choices, circumstances, resources. You can start so small it feels almost too easy. In fact, if you find yourself asking Is that all? that can be a good sign to add one more thing. But the first practice should indeed feel almost too easy. Too easy not to do it. And then to do it again.

You may want to consider doing more than this. the regular practice of meditation is the most basic practice in most systems of magical initiation, and for good reason. It develops skills that make every other kind of magical work easier and more powerful, and also brings the kind of self-knowledge and self-awareness that keep the initiatory process on track. Ten or fifteen minutes a day of meditation will take you further, faster, than any other practice that exists (J. M. Greer. The Mysteries of Merlin, Llewellyn, 2020, pgs. 80-81).

Here Greer is writing about meditation as an aid to benefiting from ritual practices focused around the figure of Merlin, but the counsel is sound, as anyone who follows through and sees the benefits he describes can attest.

Another step to deepen the ritual I’ve sketched above — your answers to the three prompts — is to include that detail from Greer’s observations about the Golden Dawn: “Sun and Earth stand in a relationship which allows a much more intense flow of energy between them, and the etheric body of the earth is charged and renewed”.

Using your creativity and imagination, what do these feel like? Look like? Sound like? Make your answers part of your ritual. As with your moon ritual, what tools, props, objects, music, costumes, locales, actions can assist in making this experience more concrete?

As you continue to practice your ritual, ask how the ritual itself can deepen, or change, or spin off and lead to other rituals. Note down any answers before they flee, which they will often do, like dreams when you first wake up. Greer notes:

One core advantage … is that the newcomer to the work can start with a simple form …, work at that level for a period, then use the skills developed at that stage of the work to add higher and deeper dimensions to the practice if he or she wishes to do so (Mysteries of Merlin, pg. 63).

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*WTF is a flexible acronym with a good range of applicable meanings. Beyond its four-letter word version are versions like these: Who to follow? What to fix? Where to flee? Why this fits? Ways to flourish, wisdom to find … keep going with your own versions!

Pieces of Eight!

Here are “eight things on the eighth” in my attention. Is one or more of them as valuable as the historic piece of eight? “You be the judge!”

The FIRST is the celebration of a New England Druid gathering called BAM, happening this weekend. Many of my favorite people will be there. It’s been kept intentionally small as a balanced response to Covid, and the autumn season here in the northern hemisphere means most of it can take place outdoors. (I won’t be attending, unfortunately. It’s a choice; both my wife and I have pre-existing conditions, and we’re trying to stay healthy for each other, and “minimize the avoidables”. We’re aware not everyone has that luxury, and everyone adapts to these global circumstances in their own ways.)

Previous BAM, photo courtesy Cat McDonald

The other SEVEN are from a previous post that served as notes for this post. Often I write that way, talking about something in my attention, but needing a second run at it to firm it up and make it accessible and possibly useful for my readers.

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ONE — As with so much ritual, Pagan or otherwise, it’s useful to reflect from time to time on what still carries meaning, and what we may have retained simply “because it’s always been done this way”.

What’s one thing “I’ve always done this way” that I could do differently, in order to try out a consciously-chosen change that might be advantageous?

TWO — The potency that ritual often celebrates may merge with elements of the ritual itself, and we can end up revering the elements over the original potency, with or without good cause.

Where have I spent energy in transference that I could reclaim or redirect for the benefit of the whole?

THREE — At times we may find ourselves noticing that the ritual begins to feel flat, dim, empty. (It’s the same principle that underlies sympathetic magic, which we’re witnessing in weakened forms in vast swathes of current events, as influences bleed almost uncontrollably from one person and thing to another and another, like a pandemic or flash flood or wild fire. These are both metaphors and realities that have much to teach, if we could begin to listen.)

What (else) are the metaphor and reality trying to teach?

FOUR — Regeneration so often occurs from the roots, so it’s good to examine what these are, and whether we’re caretaking the dead leaves of one season, or nourishing a vital root-stock that sends out green shoots and runners each spring.

What are the roots in my life? Do I know? Can I name them and make them a more conscious part of each day and its tasks and joys?

FIVE — For care-taking is a large part of what we’re called to do, less in the way the word gets used today, where we’re “merely” standing in for the “real owners”, and more in the literal sense: a taking-care, a cherishing and nurturing.

What needs cherishing and nurturing? How am I particularly situated to tend to the cherishing I can do?

SIX — Give the fear and stress and suffering of much of the planet, we might begin with taking care of ourselves, and as it grows, let that care flow outward. Like any valid spiritual practice, Druidry offers tools to do just that.

What tools have I found effective? What other tools could I explore, or am being led to explore?

SEVEN — The commitment of the two people hand-fasting in the presence of the community assembled as witnesses, and with their love and support for the commitment the couple undertakes, and the acknowledgement of the mirth and reverence, the beauty and mystery that characterize the event, offer useful models for action. Which of those elements can I practice today in my life?

Where and how do I (already) support others’ commitments? Where can I further acknowledge mirth and reverence?

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A Baltic Handfasting/Wedding in the Romuva Tradition

“The handfasting/wedding of Dainius and Ineta”

I’m posting this update in part because one of the videos on my first post about Romuva is no longer available. The several hundred views that original post enjoys each year say you’re still interested. The video below celebrates a handfasting/wedding with image and music in the tradition of the revived ancient Romuva faith (Wikipedia link) and practiced in Lithuania.

From the outdoor ceremony on a wooded hilltop, to the symbolism of the rite and the lovely handcrafted objects and garments of attendees and participants, to the presence of the Romuva priestess officiating, this wedding video is both a smooth professional production and an illustration of the vibrancy and appeal of much Pagan practice. The first six minutes in particular capture the ritual. (The rest of the video continues the celebration with friends and family, dancing and cake.)

As with so much ritual, Pagan or otherwise, it’s useful to reflect from time to time on what still carries meaning, and what we may have retained simply “because it’s always been done this way”. The potency that ritual often celebrates may merge with elements of the ritual itself, and we can end up revering the elements over the original potency. At times we may find ourselves noticing that the ritual begins to feel flat, dim, empty. (It’s the same principle that underlies sympathetic magic, which we’re witnessing in weakened forms in vast swathes of current events, as influences bleed almost uncontrollably from one person and thing to another and another, like a pandemic or flash flood or wild fire. These are both metaphors and realities that have much to teach, if we could begin to listen.)

Regeneration so often occurs from the roots, so it’s good to examine what these are, and whether we’re caretaking the dead leaves of one season, or nourishing a vital root-stock that sends out green shoots and runners each spring.

For care-taking is a large part of what we’re called to do, less in the way the word gets used today, where we’re “merely” standing in for the “real owners”, and more in the literal sense: a taking-care, a cherishing and nurturing.

Give the fear and stress and suffering of much of planet, we might begin with taking care of ourselves, and as it grows, let that care flow outward. Like any valid spiritual practice, Druidry offers tools to do just that.

The commitment of the two people hand-fasting in the presence of the community assembled as witnesses, and with their love and support for the commitment the couple undertakes, and the acknowledgement of the mirth and reverence, the beauty and mystery that characterize the event, offer useful models for action. Which of those elements can I practice today in my life?

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31 Days of Lunasa: Day Unnumbered — “Steering the Craft”

[17-18|19-20|21-22|23|24-26|27|28|29|30|31|Unnumbered]

[1-16]

As I begin this post, I borrow the title of U K LeGuin’s book of exercises for writers — “for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew”, as she subtitles it. At this point I have little more than a nudge, a kind of “sunburn of the attention” that I’ve learned is one signal of an impulse that, for writers, becomes writing seeking to take form. We all receive such impulses, and channel them according to our individuality, our training and imagination and skill-set and desire.

evergreen with new growth

And so this blog is often partly about bard-craft as I experience it. Of all the myths we tell about the ordinary people we call artists, those we tell about inspiration and creativity are some of the least helpful. The bulk of any greatness resides in persistence. But we comfort ourselves that it’s “talent” instead, and let ourselves off easy, not really wanting to commit to the long haul that any creative mastery requires. Look at anything you’ve mastered. The same pattern holds, regardless of the focus. You keep at it till you get better. Or you turn aside for something else.

LeGuin’s words about writing apply to the craft of Druidry:

Once we’re keenly and clearly aware of these elements of our craft, we can use and practice them until — the point of all practice — we don’t have to think about them consciously at all, because they have become skills.

A skill is something you know how to do.

Skill in writing frees you to write about what you want to write. It may also show you what you want to write. Craft enables art.

There’s luck in art. There’s the gift. You can’t deserve it. But you can learn skill, you can earn it. You can learn to deserve your gift (pg. xi).

If I take this frame and turn it and play with it to see whether and how it applies to Druidry, it shimmers and wriggles and pulses in my hands. See what you think:

How do you learn the craft of Druidry? (Notice it’s not “What do I have to believe?”) I learn Druidry by using and practicing its elements. What will I have to show for it if I do? Skills — things I know how to do. Crafts I can apply to my life as I live it. Skill in Druidry frees me to live what I want to live — my truth, my experience. It may also show me what that truth and experience are. The craft of Druidry enables the art of living.

The range of skills spans wide. I’ve met Druids who are skilled musicians, who have created and published their own tarot decks, who live sustainable lifestyles off-grid or on, who raise children strong and sane enough to survive the futures we’re creating, who keep Druid workshops and other events and community going through difficult times like covid, who open their lives and pocketbooks and hearts to others, who don’t need politicians of any party to tell them what freedom is or isn’t, who are ornery and blessed enough to live true in ways that inspire and nourish, and in ways others may never know directly but may feel, like sunlight on skin on a winter afternoon.

Would they do these things if they “weren’t Druids”? In many ways it’s not a useful question. People drawn to Druidry are also people who tend to do these things. It’s more a symbiosis than a causal connection. One catalyzes the other.

We all “steer the craft”, the craft or vessel of our lives, yes, as well as the craft of living, of associated tricks and turns, knacks and know-how, the crafts and skills that ease the journey, smooth it for ourselves and those we touch.

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Posted 2 September 2021 by adruidway in Druidry

31 Days of Lunasa: Day 31 and “Not Yet Done”

[17-18|19-20|21-22|23|24-26|27|28|29|30|31|Unnumbered]

[1-16]

This is both Day 31 and also not the final post.

If you’ve been following even part of this month-long series, you’ve noticed several things. Yes, the content and its quality vary widely. And yes, I didn’t manage to post every day. And though it’s the end of the month, I find I’m not yet done with the momentum, the impetus of the series.

full moon half a year ago

These are useful things to notice, and they might inform our practice and our lives, if we let them. First is the commitment to do it at all. While I didn’t write every day, I did post 18 times so far — and that’s 18 more than if I hadn’t committed at all. It’s also more than I usually post in a single month.

If you’re into the numbers, that works out to be 56%. But the power and seduction of number unaccompanied by wisdom is treacherous. 56% is bad odds for Russian roulette, but unbelievably good as a batting average. More importantly, I have posts I didn’t have before, and a handful of them are good enough that they amply repay the commitment.

When we commit to a practice or a person or a passion, we find curious things like this start to happen.

The rhythm of a month, like other natural rhythms our solar system has given us, has shaped our biology and provides useful containers for action. The rhythm of a month, along with the day and the year, offers a harmony with our bodies and spirits that has survived our attempts, conscious or otherwise, to ignore them. These rhythmic observances, if we choose, nest in each other quite neatly, the day in the month, the month in the year, the year in the life. To quote Zora Neale Hurston’s masterpiece, Their Eyes Were Watching God, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer”. Often enough, they’re the same years.

Practice observance of the the “Great Eight” annual seasonal festivals and there’s a satisfying rhythm of a festival about every eight weeks. The four astronomical events, the two solstices and two equinoxes, follow a planetary rhythm, one we can measure objectively, one very ancient in human consciousness around the world. The other four, coinciding with the old Celtic fire festivals in their modern incarnation, fill the spaces between the astronomical four, like dancers and their partners in an annual procession.

The other benefit is a useful momentum generated by action that carries me forward, if I don’t turn it off. Other blog posts linger just out of hearing and sight and conception, attaching themselves to the “31 Days of Lunasa”. That’s partly because Lunasa is longer than 31 days, of course, but also because the action of writing 18 posts on a theme generates its own energy. “How do I know what I think till I see what I write?” certainly holds true. The time- and mind-bending quality of commitment and momentum means that the present will constantly change and re-shape the past. In fact, if I don’t keep seeing the past (and the people, events and choices in it) differently, I’m the one who’s stuck. The past has changed and gone ahead without me, and left me behind.

My grandparents, a century ago

To cite just one example, I spent time doing some genealogical work (lots of free resources available), and these last months have shown me I’ve judged my paternal grandmother too harshly. She always seemed rather forbidding to me (my two female cousins had a different relationship with her), and I never knew her well. She passed to the Ancestors when I was 17. But time spent with her life as I assemble and reconnect its big events have tempered my understanding and awakened compassion. In a little over a decade in the 20s and 30s, she married, had two children, lost both parents after nursing them at home, was widowed, and worked and took in boarders to survive the U.S. Depression. That’s enough to leave its marks, to make anyone come across as more than a little stoic or grim. Looking at my own accumulating decades, I’m a lot more willing to cut the woman considerable slack. We cannot study men, only get to know them, which is quite different, remarked C S Lewis.

Relaxing my grip on time, I can let the Ancestors teach me at any moment, regardless of the punctuation of death or birth.

Posted 31 August 2021 by adruidway in Druidry

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