Archive for the ‘trees’ Category

Review of Dana O’Driscoll’s “TreeLore Oracle” and “A Magical Compendium of Eastern North American Trees”

Longtime readers of this blog know of Dana O’Driscoll’s splendid work as permaculturist, author, artist, Archdruid of AODA, blogger at The Druid’s Garden and dedicated “walker of her talk”. It’s a pleasure to explore the rich harvest of this deck and companion book she has illustrated with her own eco-prints, and as importantly, put it to work in my own practice. [You can view images of every card, read more about this 12-year project, and find ordering information here at her blog: https://thedruidsgarden.com/treelore-oracle ]

Direct and to the point, O’Driscoll sets forth the purpose of the Oracle and Compendium in her Introduction:

One of the most important things we can do to address the challenges of today’s age is to build authentic, lasting and meaningful nature-based spiritual practices that are localized to our own ecosystems. We can build deep connections with that land and take up our traditional ancestral role in tending and honoring nature. The nature-based spiritual, divinatory, and magic practices we use are more meaningful if they are rooted in our local ecosystems (pg. 7).

A relationship with the trees of one’s home region is a pre-eminent Druid practice. This gorgeous oracle deck invites both touch and meditation, which if I reflect for another moment is another kind of touch, but with the inward senses. The trees in my yard that I know and work with — black walnut, mountain ash, hemlock, white pine, various oaks — connect with me in ways that Dana’s book highlights for each of the 35 species she covers here. And with the tools she provides, you can extend your work with your own local trees, using the techniques she suggests for your own locale.

The Compendium’s subtitle expands on the material O’Driscoll offers readers here — “Ecology, History, Lore and Divination”. But the author is no ideologue, and finds her own wisdom to share:

One important thing to note is that trees — just like people — have multiple faces and aspects of personality. Thus, a single tree can hold different and sometimes contradictory meanings and no tree represents only one thing … I think it’s useful to consider tree personalities like a person: each person you meet has different sides: perhaps their work persona, the person they are with their closest friends, the person they are with their family, themselves as a parent, and so forth. Many of the trees are like this — they are multifaceted. They may choose to show you different meanings than I have, and that’s OK (pg. 11).

While anyone can deploy the Tree Oracle as a stand-alone divination deck, making deep use of the companion Compendium allows for a multitude of different ways to literally internalize the wisdom that a divinatory spread offers a querent. With recipes, crafts, symbolism, history and more, a reader can work towards profound connections with “neighbor trees”. We eat the nuts from the Black Walnut in our back yard, sharing bags of nuts with friends, watching the rhythms of the tree in productive and spare years. We use the oils to preserve wood surfaces, enjoy the red and black squirrels contending for their share of the nuts, learn more about other moisture-loving trees nearby (like our old willow, at least 100 years old) who aren’t put off by the infamous juglone the walnut secretes to regulate its own environment and drive off pests. We connect with our magical mountain ash in our front yard, which puts on a show in every season, flowering white each spring, fruiting in summer, turning bright red in autumn, and feeding birds in winter. I gather fallen and dead twigs, with permission, and craft them as ogham staves for friends. And I’m learning to make songs to sing to my trees, as one among many ways to connect, with new themes that O’Driscoll’s oracle and compendium suggest.

Awen’s Music

Recently there was a heartfelt inquiry on a Druid forum asking for suggestions for adapting to a new home in an unfamiliar region. We all face this challenge in some form, either connecting to a landscape with ancestral presences, or finding our way in a new place. And how many times must our ancestors also have faced a similar experience?

Other helpful responses from commenters included making offerings, walking the land, asking for guidance, and — because Kris Hughes’ marvelous new book is still buzzing in my awareness — here’s this edited version of my response.

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My instinct is to begin with individuals, along the lines some others have described. That particular tree, this stone, that stream, and so on. Often they can be an individual welcome-point. (Not all trees pay attention equally, at least where I live. Some don’t talk as much, either, while some talk a lot.)

Kris Hughes writes wonderfully about this in his latest book, Cerridwen: Celtic Goddess of Inspiration:

“I recall quite vividly a workshop where I was given the task to go and speak to a tree and glean any wisdom from it or anything indicative of communication. I failed miserably … How could I be a Pagan if I couldn’t speak to trees?”

“It took one sentence from someone completely unrelated to trees or Paganism to transform the way I perceived communication. It was a Welsh documentary about Bardism, and within it, one of the interviewees casually said that regardless of how different we may perceive ourselves to be from any other life form, we all have one thing in common: we all sing the song of Awen. The Awen’s music is the same in everyone and everything, it is the lyrics that differ according to one’s experience. The resulting song is unique, and it is the tool by which the Awen and, in turn, the universe experiences itself through the countless windows of expression. So I took to thinking that if I contain the music of Awen, then so would that rowan tree I was trying desperately to communicate with. The lyrics, of course, would be different, mine based on the fact that I am a human being … But how on earth would I hear her song?”

“It still didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I needed to do something that would bridge that logical side of my mind with the subtle, invisible spectrum. And the answer to that was to sing” (pgs. 241-242).

So I sing to the trees and the stones, the waters and the land.

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Greetings to a first-time visitor from the Dominican Republic. (I find the flag counter app in the sidebar a great reminder every time I see it that Druidry and an interest in understanding and honoring and celebrating our home are worldwide.)

Tree Prayer

Tree Prayer

Oak, shade my path. I welcome your wisdom.
Birch, green my way. I call on your courage.
Hemlock, heal my heart. I fast under your foliage.
Pine, scent my dreaming. I gather your gifts.

Tree companions all, I seek the shelter of your boughs.
May my days make return for your abundance.

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I’m still working on and tweaking and listening to this prayer, as I say it out under the trees. I suspect we’re composing it together.

I invite you to try out this prayer — really out — outdoors, and to post your experiences, revisions, smoother versions, and so on.

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Interlude: “Southerning”

Three pictures along the way during our recent car-trip to Florida for our nephew’s wedding — all from Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, South Carolina. The morning we left Vermont greeted us with an inch of new snow. Then a few days later, these, to balance all things …

Camellia in bloom

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Bridge of flowers reflected in pond

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Live Oak (quercus virginia), with me studying a name plaque. The curious streaks and slightly off color both feel impressionistic — a clearer version ended up less magical, so I went with this one.

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Talking to Trees

This article in an Atlantic of some three years ago about emailing trees resurfaced online recently, and in case you missed it, still offers a fine blend of longing, whimsy, technology and Druid tree references to satisfy a diverse audience. The subheading says it all:  “The city of Melbourne assigned trees email addresses so citizens could report problems. Instead, people wrote thousands of love letters to their favourite trees”.

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tsuga canadensis,  north of the house

Writing to trees may not (yet) be proven to lower blood pressure, but expressing gratitude and affection never hurts. I write to the stand of hemlocks some twenty feet north from where I’m sitting indoors on this cold day in mid-December. “Your bark glows reddish brown in the late afternoon sun. I send you strength and healing against the hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) that slowly eats at your bark and branches. Live, neighbors. May we learn more about how to help you so that your beauty and height remain to grace the land”.

 

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And just as the Atlantic article came up for air, so did a positively Druidic sentiment among my Facebook friends: the lovely Welsh idiom dod yn ôl at fy nghoed, which means to “return to my right mind, to my senses, to a balanced state”. But literally it means to “come back to my trees”.  (Nghoed is the mutated/possessive form, after fy “my”, of coed “woods, trees”.) A wise admonition coded in language, every time we say it! May we all come back to our trees, the trees that oxygenate and potentially heal us, that feed and nourish and shade us, that transform landscapes, shelter a myriad of birds and beasts, and help make the planet home.

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Posted 10 December 2018 by adruidway in Druidry, gratitude, hemlock (tree), trees, Welsh

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Thirty Days of Druidry 10: Both Trees

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In Tolkien’s legendarium, his two trees of Valinor, Telperion and Laurelin, are silver and gold, both fruit-bearing, and the originals of the moon and sun.

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Either-or? How about both-and?

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The jury’s just heard the last of the testimony. The voices of the four defendants — two humans, one animal, one deity — still seem to echo in the paneled courtroom.

The DA rises slowly from his chair and approaches the jury to give them their charge before sending them off to deliberate. As he stands before them, he leans forward a little, resting his hands on the railing at the front of the jury box. At such close range, they can see shadows under his eyes. His suit is rumpled, and the once-crisp blue tie is stained and hangs loosely knotted. His trim physique looks pale, and his eyes rather glassy behind the heavy metal-framed glasses he has worn each day as this case goes forward. He speaks:

OK, folks. You’ve heard everyone involved tell their side. The facts are clear: God plants a garden in Eden, puts the man there, makes all kinds of trees grow out of the ground, good to look at and good for food. In the middle of that garden stand two trees. Let me refresh your memories here: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The DA pauses and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. He looks around slowly, catching many eyes. Then he resumes his summary.

God tells the man, “You’re free to eat from any tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When you eat from it, you will die.” Note that God doesn’t say “if” but “when.”

God realizes it’s not good for the man to live alone, and after a dry run with animal companions who just don’t fit the bill, he puts the man to sleep, and from him makes a woman.

The serpent says to the woman — and everyone agrees on his words — “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman answers, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” It’s here that confusion enters the record. Does Eve know which of the two trees to avoid? Or has this all-important distinction already been lost?

I know we’ve arrived at the appearance of “he said-she said,” but it’s important to note everyone still agrees what was said.

“You certainly won’t die,” the serpent says to the woman. “God knows when you eat your eyes will be opened, and you’ll be like God, knowing good and evil.” Again, “when,” not “if.” Up to this point everyone agrees on what was said.

Now the serpent claims he tried to get Eve’s attention at this point, before she moved from her spot in the middle of the Garden, staring at the Trees of Knowledge and Life, and took that famous fruity bite. His words don’t appear in any of our official transcripts, and here’s the first disagreement. But I repeat his testimony here:

“Hey, Eve. Eve! EVE! A piece of advice. Eat from the Tree of Life FIRST! The tree of LIFE!”

Again the DA pauses, rubbing his eyes and cleaning his glasses, which he prefers over contacts. This time he takes so long that the judge is just about to admonish him, when he suddenly resumes, as if startled out of a dream.

When Eve sees the fruit of the tree is good for food and good to look at, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she takes some and eats it. My next question to you is this: how does she know these things before she eats?

Folks, to make short work of the rest of the story, which again nobody contests, God finds them. There’s an ugly episode of shirking responsibility and buck-passing to the serpent who can’t blame anybody else (though you might look again at God).

God curses the three of them, serpent, Adam and Eve. And this is my final observation to you. In spite of what we’ve heard today, neither Adam nor Eve dies for many more centuries.

Consider these things carefully, and you can only arrive at one verdict. All right, ladies and gentlemen. You’re dismissed.

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But what is the verdict? Is there, can there be really only one, in spite of how we often interpret the story? A better question or at least a more Druidic one: what’s the range of possibilities?

My apologies to those of you who know this story well. I taught it in high school for a decade and a half in a “Bible as Literature” unit, and we looked at characterization, at gender, at issues of truth and specificity, and the implications of distinctions like if and when, and what the story may subversively teach below and around and in spite of what we’re traditionally told it teaches. (A small detail: as many of you also know, there’s no apple anywhere to be found.) And we looked at over-reading the story, too, which teachers are infamous for doing, and which I do here.

I’ve also manipulated the story, and added to it, for my purposes. The “if/when” distinction, however, does appear in the New International Version, which comes in for its share of criticism for instances like this, and many others.

Student atheists in my class often didn’t know the story, Jews and Christians who actually did know it (and not all did as well as they thought they did) expressed often widely disparate views on what the takeaway is or could be. It’s safe to say all our eyes were opened. If we left some discussions feeling uncomfortable, it was a useful discomfort.

Among the reasons I like this story as a Druid is that trees are mediators of such potent energies as wisdom, moral law, and life. And as the song “The Wisdom of Trees” says, “Church bells ring, and I’m glad they do, but …”

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Therese1896Let’s refuse to choose between wisdom and life. Like Thérèse of Lisieux, when presented with a choice, will I say “I choose all”?

IMAGES: Therese.

“An infinity of tragic shapes …

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to make thinking difficult.”

So run the final two lines from Charles Simic‘s poem “Letter.”

Except often it’s just not (only) about us. Trees loom and leaf for their own sake, expressions of energy just as valid without any human presence to comment on them or arrogate them for a poem, however talented or honored the poet (Simic won a Pulitzer in 1990). And I say this as a bard, a devotee of words and their crafting. I like some of Simic’s work very much.

Yes, human presences make their trails, but the seasons also have their say, wordless though it is.

Here’s an autumn view of a hill on a neighborhood walk that blesses my wife and me whenever we take it.

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And here’s the same path as winter dresses it:

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We make our paths through a world immeasurably larger than we are, a great comfort, I find. Sometimes the part of the Druid is listening, without comment. Of course, by itself listening doesn’t get the poems written, the blogposts online, the books and songs and stories heard and known and loved. But listening … oh, listening and looking, may you two always come first, springs of lasting wonder.

East Coast Gathering 2014

Camp Netimus path -- photo courtesy of Carolyn Batz

Camp Netimus path — photo courtesy of Carolyn Batz

[Here are reviews of ECG 12 and ECG 13.]

East Coast Gathering (ECG) ’14 just celebrated its fifth Alban Elfed/ autumn equinox in the wooded hills of NE Pennsylvania. Along with this year’s theme of “Connecting to the Goddess,” 114 people reconnected to each other and the land, the lovely land. New participants and old remarked on the kindness of place, the welcoming spirit of Netimus, a flourishing girls’ camp founded in 1930 that now plays host off-season to other groups, too.

[For another perspective on this year’s Gathering, visit and read John Beckett’s excellent blog “Under the Ancient Oaks.”]

After a wet summer in the Northeast, the camp showed richly green — mosses, lichens, leaves and light all caressing the gaze wherever you looked. And keeping to our tradition of inviting guests from the U.K., we welcomed Kristoffer Hughes of the Anglesey Druid Order and returning guests Penny and Arthur Billington, this time accompanied by their daughter Ursula, a mean fiddler with Ushti Baba (Youtube link).

For me what distinguished this year’s Gathering, my fourth, was the pure joy in so many people’s faces. And it just grew over the weekend. Over and around travel fatigue, colds, tricky schedules and stresses and waiting commitments — everything — they didn’t matter: the tribe was together again. To you all (from an interfaith week I participated in): “Thank you for the blessings that you bring. Thank you for the blessings that you are.”

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Dana’s Goddess Shrine in a tent on our ritual field was also a wonderful addition and a focus for many of us.

Goddess Shrine -- photo courtesy of Nadia Chauvet

Goddess Shrine — photo courtesy of Nadia Chauvet

Natural offerings accumulated over the weekend — mosses, lichen-streaked stones, acorns, leaves, a small sun-bleached animal skull — were returned to Netimus, and the other items packed up for next time. A workshop I led, on making a Goddess Book, drew me back to the shrine several times for reflection and inspiration. (Here’s the link I mentioned at Camp to a video on making the “Nine-Fold Star of the Goddess” — seeing the steps in 3D should help make my hand-drawn images on the handout easier to read once you practice a few times. A series of divinations and meditations were to follow which I never got to in the workshop — though over-planning is usually better than under-planning. Material for a subsequent post!)

I continue to meditate on a surprising goddess experience during Penny’s workshop, which I may be able to write about in an upcoming post. One of the potencies of such gatherings of like-minded people is the spiritual crucible that can form and catalyze discoveries in ways not always easily accessible in solitary practice.

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Our fire-keepers outdid themselves this year, building enormous pyres (one with an awen worked in wood) to provide the centerpiece of each evening’s gathering after supper, workshops and initiations had concluded.

Awen bonfire ready -- photo courtesy Nadia Chauvet

Awen bonfire ready — photo courtesy Nadia Chauvet

evening bonfire -- photo courtesy John Beckett

evening bonfire — photo courtesy John Beckett

 

As always it’s people who carry the spirit of Druidry. Here as they tour New York City, just prior to the camp, are Kristoffer, Renu, Ursula, Penny and Arthur.

Renu with our UK guests in NY — photo courtesy Renu Aldritch

Shinto and Shrine Druidry 3: Spirit in Nature

[Related posts: Shinto & Shrine Druidry 1 | 2 | 3 || Shinto — Way of the Gods || Renewing the Shrine 1 | 2 || My Shinto 1 | 2 ]

Below are images from our recent visit to Spirit in Nature in Ripton, VT, some eight miles southeast of Middlebury as the crow flies.  An overcast sky that day helped keep temperature in the very comfortable low 70s F (low 20s C). At the entrance, Spirit in Nature takes donations on the honor system. The website also welcomes regular supporters.

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As an interfaith venture, Spirit in Nature offers an example of what I’ve been calling Shrine Druidry, one that allows — encourages — everyone into their own experience. Everyone who chooses to enter the site starts out along a single shared path.

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The labyrinth helps engage the visitor in something common to many traditions worldwide: the meditative walk. The labyrinth imposes no verbal doctrine, only the gentle restraint of its own non-linear shape on our pace, direction and attention.

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Beyond the labyrinth, a fire circle offers ritual and meeting space. Here again, no doctrine gets imposed. Instead, opportunity for encounter and experience. Even a solitary and meditative visitor can perceive the spirit of past fires and gatherings, or light and tend one to fulfill a present purpose.

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Beyond the circle, the paths begin to diverge — color-coded on tree-trunks at eye-level — helpful in New England winters, when snow would soon blanket any ground-level trail markers. When we visited, in addition to the existing paths of 10 traditions, Native American and Druid paths branched off the main way, too new to be included on printed visitor trail maps, but welcome indicators that Spirit in Nature fills a growing need, and is growing with it.

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The Druid Prayer captures a frequent experience of the earth-centered way: with attention on stillness and peace, our human interior and exterior worlds meet in nature.

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The trails we walked were well-maintained — the apparently light hand that brings these trails out of the landscape belies the many hours of volunteer effort at clearing and maintenance, and constructing bridges and benches.

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A bench, like a fire pit and a labyrinth, encourages a pause, a shift in consciousness, a change, a dip into meditation — spiritual opportunities, all of them. But none of them laid on the visitor as any sort of obligation. And as we walk the trail, even if I don’t embrace the offered pause, the chance itself suggests thoughts and images as I pass that the silence enlarges. I sit on that bench even as I walk past; I cross the bridge inwardly, even if it spans a trail I don’t take.

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Sometimes a sign presents choices worthy of Yogi Berra’s “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

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Perhaps it’s fitting to close with the North, direction of earth, stone, embodiment, manifestation — all qualities matching the interfaith vision of this place.

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This is the 200th post at A Druid Way. Thanks, everyone, for reading!

Re-vision

This unretouched image of trees and sky, courtesy of Druid Debbie Brodeur, was taken from a moving car.  How much glory lies just behind the “ordinary.”  Our eyes insist there’s “nothing new,” while all the time endless wonders dance past us.  It’s possible to remember to “look again,” to re-vision things, even a few more times a day.  Small steps, to see the world new again.

Digging for the Future

One of the challenges for contemporary Druids is to reconnect with the land where we live and find old and new paths of harmony to walk on it.

Back in CT for the coming year, we won’t need right away most of the firewood we’ve carefully stacked in VT, except to warm the house during the occasional weekend jaunt back north to check on pipes and windows, and stay over for a night or two.

Seeing woodpiles, our own and others’, makes me realize how they’re among the treasures of the landscape, this long-inhabited place it’s our turn to live in and re-learn.  Energy for the future.  Trees cut locally (to limit  the spread of arboreal pests) mean an opportunity for a new generation to leaf and grow.  Once almost completely deforested in colonial times, both VT and NH are well-treed now.  We get it, our green gold.

And we’ve held on as well, as much of the U.S. has, to the legacy of at least some of the old names and their stories: Ascutney, Memphremagog, Queechee, Maquam, Missisquoi, Sunapee, Ossipee, Winnipesaukee, Monadnock, Merrimack, Nubanusit, Contoocook … and my personal favorite, because my wife tells NH family stories about it, Skatutakee (pronounced skuh-TOO-tuh-kee).  The names evoke for me a landscape of moose and bear, autumn fogs and spring mud, glacially fresh chill air and sky-blessed summer days, maple syrup and heirloom apples, blueberries and squash, small town greens and sheer church spires, seasonal tourist hordes and perfect frigid midwinter stillnesses.  A marvelous locale to be all Druidy in.

But here in CT I’m drawn back into the local landscape too, the names of trees on campus, copper beech (fagus sylvatica) and charter oak and smaller ornamentals we just don’t see in VT.  So I’ve resolved to “meet the locals,” and visit them in all four seasons, as we were reminded at the Gathering to do if we truly want to begin to know them well.  My goal is to learn 25 new trees this year. (I’ll let you know how it goes in a future post.)

Digging for the future is putting down roots, knowing your place — not in the submissive way that the expression is used so often, but literally.  How many of us have passed years of our lives and never known the trees who provide the oxygen we breathe, and shape the land we pass through and live in?  I know it’s many times I’ve ignored them.  But once the trees made themselves known to me, it seemed downright rude not to greet them every time I pass by, to cheer them on, if I’m walking to touch them, to cast my affection abroad, rather than hoard it tight in my heart.  I dig for the future whenever I lay down a layer of my life that will become part of the contours of next year, or five years, ten years on.  Excavation in reverse.  Living fully now helps excavate what’s yet to come, brings it into view, lets it breathe and stretch and begin to grow towards its own good self.  And trees?  Trees were the first Druids.

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Updated 26 Sept., 10:27 pm

East Coast Gathering 2012

The OBOD East Coast Gathering offers a chance for Druids to walk among friends, attend workshops, and (re)connect with a beloved landscape in northeastern Pennsylvania.  Here’s the OBOD banner, the color easy to see, the three-rayed Awen symbol of the Order a little harder to make out.  (Photo by John Beckett)

The camp which hosts the Gathering offers both tent areas and basic cabins.

With more people attending this year than last, the ample space helped.

The area is splendid for large group rituals as well.

The rainstorm over the weekend brought with it cooler weather, which just made us all the more grateful for hot drinks and the varied meals our staff of Druid volunteers cooked for us.

(Dining room photo by John Beckett)

I didn’t arrive in time for the opening ritual.  But the Closing was held on the same grounds, with the same altars.  Here are shots of the two entry cairns seen looking south, along with the four directional altars and their banners: Stag of the South, Salmon of the West, Bear of the North and Hawk of the East.

One of the added pleasures this year was the attendance of more Druids from different orders, including ADF.  Here are members of Cedar Light Grove assembled around their grove banner (photo by John Beckett).

OBOD groves brought banners too.

And this year, the third Gathering and my second, yet another draw was the chance to meet and learn from both OBOD’s Chosen Chief Philip Carr-Gomm, and AODA’s Archdruid John Michael Greer.

The first photo is of Philip giving a talk in Storyteller’s Grove a little north of camp.

The second shows John Michael during one of his morning talks in the Pavilion.

In the third, both join for a conversation and Q&A. (3 photos by John Beckett)

And of course no Druid gathering would feel complete without the ceremonial garb that makes the rituals visually distinctive and memorable.

Here are JM Greer and John Beckett:

Topping off each day were the evening fire-circles and drumming, music and song and ample home-brewed mead, cyser and sack from our resident firekeeper and brewer, Derek.  Then came the Hour of Recall, truly.  The Closing ritual, goodbye hugs, departures, promises to keep in touch, to plan events, to meet again.  Another remarkable East Coast Gathering comes to an end, with opened hearts and subtle changes to take away and live through for the coming year.  Till 2013!

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Return

After my father passed away in the winter of 2008, I wasn’t able to scatter his ashes the following spring as I’d planned.   A cancer diagnosis laid me low soon after his final decline, and his childhood home in Niagara Falls in western NY state, as well as the farms he had owned and worked for decades, and where I grew up, were 450 miles from my wife’s and my home and jobs in CT. During my medical journey, we’d also bought a house in VT, and with follow-up radiation and a personal leave from our work, along with numerous loose ends to tie up, there’d simply been no good time.  And the task and my intention, if not my father’s, deserved good time.

My dad had always been indifferent about the whole thing.  Beyond asking to be cremated, he seemed to feel, perhaps from the many animal deaths and births that inevitably accrue in a lifetime of farming, that one more dead body was something to dispose of, but nothing worth much fuss.  “Throw me on the manure spreader when you go out next, and toss me at the back of the cornfield,” he’d  always say in his wry way, whenever I asked him one more time about his wishes. That was what we did with the occasional calf that died of pneumonia or scours.   In six months, crows and time would eventually leave just whitening bones. But at the time of my dad’s death, we no longer owned the farm, and in any case, beyond a certain undeniable fitness to his request, a desire to make that one last gesture for the good of the land, as human fertilizer, there was the small matter of legality.)

This summer a family reunion in Pittsburgh provided the opportunity to attend to this final matter.  My wife and I drove there and back, and on the way out last Friday afternoon, after a slow cruise along Lakeshore Drive that hugs the south shore of Lake Ontario, we made our way to downtown Niagara Falls and then over the  bridge onto Goat Island.  So around 2:00 pm or so, you could have seen me squatting at the edge of the Niagara River, a few hundred yards above the Falls, on the second of the Three Sisters islands that cling to rocky outcrops in the rapids. The day was overcast but pleasant — typical of western NY, with its delightfully mellow lake-effect summers.  Between my feet rested the heavy plastic bag of dad’s ashes, in the plain box the funeral home had provided.

I had nothing to say — no particular ceremony in mind.  Words earlier, words around and after his death, words a week or so ago in a dream, but nothing now.  This was for experiencing, not talking. Six years before, I’d returned my mother’s ashes to the Shellrock River in the small Iowa town of her childhood.  That day, the easy meander of the river, the June sun on my back, the midday stillness, and the intermittent buzz of dragonflies skimming the water lent the moment a meditative calm.  As my wife and two of my mother’s cousins watched, I slowly poured the powdery ashes into the river, and the water eddied and swirled as it bore them downstream.  Watching the ash disperse downstream, I felt peace. Thus we can go home.

This day was different.  A steady damp breeze rustled the leaves of the trees.  On another treeless outcrop a short way upriver, the harsh voices of the flock of gulls were only intermittently inaudible over the tumble of water and the dull roar of the falls downriver.

I sat, heels in mud, watching the current on its endless course past and away.  When I opened the bag of ashes, a sudden gust of wind caught some and dusted my left arm, which startled me, then made me smile.  It was as if my father approved — that behind his gruffness, the elemental beauty of the spot, a family favorite, might matter after all.  I brushed off my arm, and then poured the chalky ash into the spinning waters and watched it spread and then, eventually, the water cleared as it washed away.

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In the grove the Druid sits

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

In the grove the Druid sits.  In my grove, the one I’ve constructed in an inner world, via imaginal energies.  With the tall slender trees of entrance standing on either side of the portal, a space between them wide enough for a single person to pass through.  And he is welcome here, though I don’t remember inviting him.  He is always welcome, a friend who will never presume.

Today he indulges me by wearing Druid robes — they make him familiar, with his dark brown skin, that homely, beautiful face  I would know anywhere — and I relax into our conversation.  I know him from somewhere else, too, someplace on the edge of awareness, a realm or time not quite pushing through to full consciousness.  He does what he needs to in order to reach those under his guidance, and to put them at ease so that he can work with them.  Awe or fear or worship is useless to him.  Attention?  That he can use.

His words issue from a place quiet and full of listening.  I’ve come to trust him instinctively, the way wild animals do in the hands of those who love them with touch and gentleness, a welcome of care and compassion for a fellow being in the worlds.  They know that touch, that presence, and their knowing has nothing of the talking human about it.  It’s a language older than words.

He knows when to use words, too, and now he’s speaking about a past I’d forgotten.  I remember it as he speaks, things I didn’t know I knew, things I have not needed to remember until now, because until now they would find no place in me to live, or have any value or significance.  They would feel like they belonged to somebody else, foreign to me, alien, no more at home than a bird of the air caught in a small chamber, fluttering at the windows.  What is it that stands between me and freedom, this transparent flat barrier I never knew was there, blocking me, hard as thought?  But no, I have no wings, I’m not the bird.  But for a moment, there …

The Druid turns to me, a look deep as evening in his gaze.  “You are all you have ever been. Do you remember our first meeting, long ago?”

“It was a market,” I said.  “And I remember.  I was … I was drunk.”

“Sitting slumped against a wall.  When I walked by, though, you spoke to me.”

“What was it I said?  ‘Keep walking, don’t talk to me now.  I don’t have anything left in this life for you.’  Something like that.  I was embarrassed.  I didn’t even know you.”

“Yet you gave me some fruit from your stand …

“Yes, I remember.  A handful of marula.”

“Where were we?” he asked me softly.

“It was … West Africa.  Africa was my home then.”

“Yes. What else do you remember?”

But somewhere in the distance a dog is barking.  My focus falters, pulls me away from this place and back to my room in our Vermont house.  The neighbor’s dog, Jim’s — barking as he always does, every afternoon, impatient for Jim to get home, release him from the chain and walk him, feed him, let him back into the house.

Damn, I think.  It’s all gone, the vision’s gone.

But he’s still with me.

“Dogs bark on all the planes,” he’s saying.  “They’ll bark, and then for a time they’ll be silent again.  You can use them as a guide, or a distraction.  Is there a dog barking near this grove?”

I listen.  “No,” I say.

“Good.  You’re back.  Now, let’s continue …”

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Updated 23 April 2015

Celebrating “Manhattanhenge”: Sparks of Urban Druidry

Our green world and ready contact with its natural rhythms can sometimes feel remote in urban settings.  Because so many people live in one of the “mega-metro” areas on the planet, their appreciation of the natural world may often burn more brightly than it does for the small-towner who has lived all her life surrounded by cows and trees.  With Tokyo, Seoul, Mexico City, New York and Mumbai heading the list at over 20 million souls each (counting their greater metro areas), it’s good to celebrate the green world particularly when it makes itself known among the girders and concrete.  The first entry in my “Druid of the Day” series, just started, was a nod in that direction.  Manhattanhenge is another one, and much larger:

If you follow Yahoo, you probably caught it.  The caption for yesterday’s image reads “The sun sets during ‘Manhattanhenge’ on July 12, 2011 in New York City. The Manhattan Solstice is a semiannual occurrence in which the setting sun aligns west-east with the street grid of the city.”  There’s a short sequence of similar images worth visiting.

We need such rhythms — to calibrate our biological clocks, to remind us how the world nourishes and sustains us, and how we need to remember it in our daily decisions — not out of piety for the Earth Mother (though nothing’s wrong with that, of course) but for the very real reason that this world is home.  Whenever we can truly celebrate, our hearts open.  And in a time when so much “news” doesn’t help us live better, stopping to enjoy the sun looking down the city streets is a good thing.

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For those interested in astronomical details and explanations, Wikipedia’s entry for Manhattanhenge helps.  The event occurs twice a year, in May and July, on either side of the planetary solstice, as the sun makes its (apparent) journey north and then south again after the solstice.

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