Archive for the ‘Kristoffer Hughes’ Tag

31 Days of Lunasa: Days 5 & 6 — Falter, Fallow, Follow

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What do you do when you falter in a commitment?

Here’s Kris Hughes in his most recent book, writing about the goddess Cerridwen, and also about how we can meet halfway whatever it is that we aspire to. Rather than lamenting no post for yesterday, or beating myself up about it (no fun unless masochism inspires me), I can collect a number of really helpful pointers:

I cannot see Cerridwen physically–she does not possess a carbon-based physical body–so the manner by which I develop my relationship with her must somehow address these limitations. Nothing beats heading over to Bala for an afternoon spent at her lake, for there is a sense there that is different to anywhere else on earth–there is a tangibility to her presence in that location, as if the landscape holds a different kind of lyric. However, Bala is just over an hour from my home, and my schedule does not permit me the luxury of going there every day. Therefore I have re-created a sense of what I feel at Bala at home, and it is centred around my altar … (pgs. 264-5).

First, acknowledge limits — something still not fashionable these days, in spite of broad hints and clear evidence not just from the day’s headlines but all of human history. Often what I want to connect to doesn’t have a physical form, “so the manner by which I develop my relationship … must somehow address these limitations”. Nothing beats direct experience, the right location or doorway or person — “as if the landscape holds a different kind of lyric”. But working with my “howevers” may mean among other things re-creation of the remembered ideal in a new setting, and a focus helps immensely. In Kris’s case this re-creation is “centred around my altar”.

But we all do this already — we re-create in so many ways. No one starts from zero. The trick is to open the tap even incrementally — to increase the flow even a little. Commit to 31 days of blogging. Commit to a cat, another person, a goddess, a garden. The point, after all, may not be to get there, but to get here — more fully.

I cannot see what I desire, but let me marry earth with fire … Often a rhyme will launch me toward where I wish to go. Self-enchantment is a delightful skill. I happen to do it with words, but your preferred mode may be other: a walk, gardening, cooking, some other craft, martial arts, a relationship. The fire of the imagination, a south to the north of earth, balances the path to recovery, discovery.

I take the word “howevers” from earlier in this post and play with it: “who-verse”. In the world where I currently reside — or one I wish to (re)enter — what verse will take me to who I’m looking for? The “who” may be a version of me, the verse may be the song I can’t stop singing. So many pointers, so many paths. Or the “who” is a deity knocking, knocking to make herself heard over my human noise. Who cares if I don’t believe in a god? It’s enough some days that she believes in me.

You see, I know how much I talk myself into many experiences and states of being, unawares, or unintentionally. Like most of us, I’m (still) just starting to claim my power and trying do it a little more intentionally. This blog is my trail, my track, my spoor. It’s true that the more personal I get, the more universal I become. Up to a point. Sometimes, though, I just turn oracular, and have to wait until I can untangle what I wrote in order to interpret it to myself, let alone anybody else.

Sometimes you just need to show up, not bump into the furniture any more than you must, and grow whatever your equivalent is to a suitable Druid beard. In other words, stall for time. Make sh*t up. Because when you do, I’ve noticed, something always turns up. We accumulate momentum with even small efforts, and that carries us into the next moment. With any luck, singing — and no apologies to the naysayers, the donkeys braying. But even if not, there we can pick up the trail again, climbing to see what’s over the next hill, what the vistas reveal, how we may serve a greater vision than before.

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Welcome to the newest visitor from Ethiopia.

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.)

Apparent Worlds and “Druid Choice”

There’s been a lot of talk in recent decades about choice, and about freedom. Do we know what these things are, or how to perceive them? And if we know and perceive them, what do we do with them? What will we create?

Spring Dreaming … 15 Mar 2021

“As this circle is cast, the enchantment of the apparent world subsides”, says the first part of standard OBOD ritual. These are the words we hear at the same time we see — feel — hear — another Druid physically creating a ritual circle. The ritualist’s circular movement achieves this, along with any intention that person has as they cast the circle. The ritualist doesn’t stand alone, but enjoys the help of anyone else participating, with or without skin on. Visualizing, intending, choosing, celebrating, focusing energy, inviting the circle to manifest. Seeing and sensing it do so.

Any participants in the ritual are already standing in a circle before they hear the words — a kind of reversal of the usual affirmation: as below, so above. The physical reality of people gathered at the event precedes the circle that will be completed inwardly. You might see this as a Druid version of “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace”. Or in fact is this too part of the enchantment — that we may confuse outer and inner, or think that one “precedes” and the other “follows”? Are they, or can they be, facets of the same thing, standing outside time even as they manifest within it?

Each person participating may also hear and experience the “subsiding of the apparent world” differently: as a gentle suggestion, or as a simple statement of fact. Or maybe it’s a ritual assumption, something “you do during ritual”. Or perhaps it’s “just words, like all the rest of the ritual”, a kind of communal game or sport or play: ritual theater. Or it’s an observation about transformation and magic. Each of us inhabits multiple apparent worlds already. Literally, worlds that appear to us, that invite or seduce or beguile or convince us in turn, that lure us with promise of their own particular enchantments. If they appear, they also may disappear. Ritual invites us into this possibility of choice and transformation, suggesting we may choose and create more consciously and intentionally. (We may just need to choose an appropriate world, rather than insist on forcing one that may not be the best stage for manifesting a particular choice.)

Which worlds deserve my attention? Which one(s) am I in at the present moment? Can I achieve my purposes best by focusing on this particular world, or are there others where I may be freer to act and to fulfill my intentions more joyously? Does one need to recede so I can better focus on others?

“Come! Be a physical body, experience touch and time, change and pleasure, death and birth, loss and love,” one world invites us. “Ah! Wear a body of light, and move across the cosmos to serve where you are needed”, sings another world. “Won’t you join others in their quest to X?” whispers a third.

Or if this is the only world there is, then when the “apparent world” fades, what’s left? Where am I? Do I jump into “ritual vertigo” if I let go of this world? Is ritual in fact “safe”? And so I enter yet another world with its own answers to such questions, if I choose to accept them.

One link, or common thread, or clue, or all three at once and more besides, for me anyway, rests in the awen. As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, this is the longest practice I’ve kept up, to enter the world of primordial sound and creativity.

As with most Druid practices, this isn’t one that requires me to believe anything, but simply do something. Over time I may well come to believe certain things, much as someone who has seen the sun rise in the east for decades might begin to be confident it will to do so again tomorrow. I can’t “prove” it, but proof just isn’t all that interesting to me anymore. There are much better things to focus on, more interesting and deserving worlds to choose.

In his new book Cerridwen: Celtic Goddess of Inspiration, Kristoffer Hughes notes that when we enter this soundscape and world of awen, “several things will happen on a number of levels. On a physiological level, something particularly magical happens with the systems of your body. Song and singing profoundly affects almost all of our senses, and the vibratory quality of the sound is particularly affecting, having direct action on the cells of your body…” (pg. 243). He goes on to explore other effects of awen as a practice, on other levels, as a way to communicate with life and lives. Even a little singing or chanting can produce results.

I return yet again to an observation by Philip Carr-Gomm which strikes me as uncommon good sense in these challenging times:

Try opening to Awen not when it’s easy, but when it’s difficult: not when you can be still and nothing is disturbing you, but when there’s chaos around you, and life is far from easy. See if you can find Awen in those moments. It’s harder, much harder, but when you do, it’s like walking through a doorway in a grimy city street to discover a secret garden that has always been there – quiet and tranquil, an oasis of calm and beauty. One way to do this, is just to tell yourself gently “Stop!” Life can be so demanding, so entrancing, that it carries us away, and we get pulled off-centre. If we tell ourselves to stop for a moment, this gives us the opportunity to stop identifying with the drama around us, and to come back to a sense of ourselves, of the innate stillness within our being. And then, sometimes, we are rewarded with Awen at precisely this moment.

Rather than judging one world as “good” and another as “bad”, I can simply note if I’m pulled off-center while I’m in it. (Sometimes the distraction is the point!) If you’re like me, you may only realize this after the fact. Then I ask if that’s what I want. If I’m pulled away from myself, and if I’ve identified with the drama around me, rather than with what I am, I can test a world further: can I act freely and creatively as the presence of awen in this moment? The awen I sing, from the deep I bring it, sings Taliesin. Can I do that right now? Can I come back to a sense of myself and act in my best interests?

If I can, the way of awen is a good way for me. And if I can’t? Then the way of awen might be a good way for me …

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This post has offered a number of seeds for contemplation and practice. As we near the equinox, a time of balance, they can give us fruitful ways to manifest and mirror what the seasons are doing around us.

Review of K. Hughes’ “Cerridwen” — Part 2

Part 2 — because how can a book of lore that also offers a path of initiation and suggestions for a regular practice be properly reviewed in a single take?

Kristoffer Hughes has helpfully made Youtube recordings of some of the Welsh that appears in this book, because the sound of the language is one approach among others to entering into sacred space with the goddess. As of today, there are four videos on his Youtube channel: “Ritual to meet Cerridwen”, “Welsh ritual phrases”, “Guide to Welsh pronunciation”, and “Cerridwen: glossary of words”.

The dedication page is brief: I Cerridwen — Mam yr Awen: “To Cerridwen — Mother of Awen”. And because she is Mother, Kris reminds us, we are Plant Cerridwen — the children of Cerridwen.

All of us, whether we’re Welsh or not? Of course. But a caveat … As Kris notes in the opening paragraphs of his first chapter, “The Quest for Cerridwen”:

The current New Age trend of spiritual commercialism has dissected the mysteries to their component parts … This has profoundly affected our relationship with the mysteries … The permanent individuation of the gods to the exclusion of the landscape in which they exist does them a disservice, for the landscape inspires and breathes life into the divine … (pgs. 1-2).

Yes, those wishing to enter relationship with Cerridwen and gain initiatory wisdom and insight from her mysteries can do so anywhere. No, she is not “a universal goddess, never mind what we call her”. So if we wish to avoid “damage to an archetype” as Kris calls it, a real possibility if we wield our indifference like a blunt instrument, and thereby miss much that Cerridwen asks of us and offers in return, there are several things we can put into practice. One that should come as no surprise is observance of the Wheel of the Year.

Such observance “causes us to stop, take heed, and observe a world that we believe we are familiar with. To those who fully engage, they begin to sense more to the world than first meets the eye” (pg. 202). The “apparent world fades”, as OBOD standard ritual reminds us — a world largely created by the inner chatter that, unchecked, fills our waking hours. “To sense the subtle and perceive the space between spaces that connects all beings, we must learn to be still and identify that space within our own beings. In my tradition we have a name for this process: we call it finding one’s taw” (pg. 202).

In a section titled “Appropriate Appropriation”, Kris addresses such concerns head on:

There is a strong possibility that you, reading this book right now, may not be Welsh or even have a connection to Wales. But somehow, by some means, you have found your way to reading this particular book. Cerridwen has found a way to seed within you the spark of Awen. You are the sum totality of all things that went before you, including the magic of the Welsh bardic tradition, which is held somewhere deep in the recesses of our species memory. By all means, learn a little Welsh or at least strive to understand the complexities of the history that brought Cerridwen into the light of twenty-first century Paganism. Know that you are equally expressive of the Plant Cerridwen and have as much right to claim that title as any Welsh person.

Whilst it is important to develop honest, nonappropriative practise, do not ever think that you don’t have the right to claim Cerridwen as a goddess that is valid for you … she is more alive today than she has been for the last four hundred years (pg. 261).

Kris then offers 13 excellent suggestions for ways to develop a non-appropriative practice that will not cramp anyone’s style. He also states clearly that any limitations we face as modern people can serve as opportunities for creative work-arounds:

I cannot see Cerridwen physically–she does not possess a carbon based physical body–so the manner by which I develop my relationship with her must somehow address these limitations. Nothing beats heading over to Bala for an afternoon spent at her lake, for there is a sense there that is different to anywhere else on earth–there is a tangibility to her presence in that location, as if the landscape holds a different kind of lyric. However, Bala is just over an hour from my home, and my schedule does not permit me the luxury of going there every day. Therefore I have re-created a sense of what I feel at Bala at home, and it is centred around my altar … (pgs. 264-5).

This book is rich in suggestion and opportunity, with keys Kris draws from personal experience. Visualization proves difficult for many, and Kris supplies a most helpful tool in the form of sigils — several appear throughout the text. As he notes, “… application of the magic will invariably have a physical aspect to it” (pg. 204). Just like humans need to ground and center, magic needs that grounding too, or it remains a mental head-trip the other parts of ourselves never take.

It is perhaps inevitable that some readers will merely skim the book and zero in on the section “Stirring the Cauldron”, with its wealth of suggestions for practice. But practice often runs dry without roots, which the text amply supplies, and a practice unmoored in understanding and respect for a tradition will soon leave the restless seeker wandering off to the next book. The fulfillment of anything that worthwhile books promise can only come from the same thing such books usually counsel us to remember and put into practice — full immersion.

For us to practice such immersion, the Welsh traditions of song and awen, poetry and inspiration, silence and speech have literal significance and application:

The Awen is active, and to sense its blowing through us, we must actively vocalise and energetically move into its power. We live on a unique world, a place where expression is facilitated by the atmosphere that surrounds and imbibes us. Breath is the bridge between the density of the physical and the lightness of spirit (pg. 246).

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Review of K. Hughes’ “Cerridwen: Celtic Goddess of Inspiration”– 1

Hughes, Kristoffer. Cerridwen: Celtic Goddess of Inspiration. Woodbury, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 2021.

Quick take: In his latest book, Hughes gifts us with a marvelous resource. Drawing on native Welsh sources — his first language, his place of residence, his own spiritual practice, and the central Celtic myth of several Druid orders — he writes with passion and profound insight.

In-depth Take: Unlike my other book reviews, this one will have several parts, as I begin to work with and through the rich material Kris provides here and to offer what can only be provisional insights. That is as it should be.

A personal note: I’ve met Kris several times at Gatherings in the States, where he was the special guest and main speaker. Most recently, at East Coast Gathering 2018, he gave a Tarot workshop, with this book already very much on his mind — so much so, that when he spoke briefly but movingly of awen and Cerridwen, several of us begged for him to say more. “That’s another workshop”, he replied. “And another book — this one”, he might have added.

Let’s start with the cover: we see only part of Cerridwen’s face — fitting for a goddess of mystery and initiation. Whatever your stance toward the divine, Kris notes in the introduction,

“This book does not expect you to conform to the manner by which I work with and experience deity. There are a number of ways that people may develop relationship with what some may refer to as god or goddess, and neither is right or wrong. In that spirit, I do not expect you, the reader, to even be a theist, or an individual that works with deity. Cerridwen is flexible enough to be a psychological component to those who may be atheistic or nontheists. The rise of a figure to the status of deity is a process referred to as apotheosis, and this is important, for often the main complaint and criticism of modern-day Pagan practitioners is that they connect to and are often devoted to deities that may not ever have been identified as such in the past. I shall delve deeper into the function of apotheosis in the coming chapters” (pg. xix).

This richness of perspective and detail, drawn from personal experiences which Kris shares throughout, makes the book both a wisdom-meditation and a guide. Often in Druid books we get the distillation of insight, but without the personal component that lets us in sympathetically, imaginatively, emotionally. And “letting ourselves in” — in this case, into relationship with Cerridwen and similar deified energies and persons — is what this book accomplishes so well.

“The journey into relationship with Cerridwen and her myth is not safe — how can it be? For in so doing, one potentially positions oneself at the edge of the cauldron of inspiration and transformation. Your life may never be the same again” (pg. 27).

Of course many books promise much — good marketing is a part of how they sell, after all. But the substance that underlies any promise is where Kris prefers to focus. Issues of cultural heritage, appropriation and authenticity still loom large for much of the Pagan world. Ideally, such grappling will eventually lead to greater clarity and integrity.

Kris notes:

“The difficulties that people face when attempting to move into relationship with mythologies, particularly those that they may be culturally removed from, is the perception that the very words on paper contain the mystery. Modernity has preserved the words themselves whilst simultaneously causing many to consider that only the words themselves matter, and the eye is taken away from the vast space between the lines — wherein lies the magic” (pg. 16).

One key to crossing the river gorges and chasms along our paths is finding useful bridges. Not everything that “takes us across” leaves us where we want or need to be. Kris notes:

“The promise of sweet mystery may well turn sour during one’s exploration, particularly if one cannot make the content applicable in practice … The Pagan traditions work best when orthodoxy, something one believes in, is combined with orthopraxy, something that one does. This book will provide keys to effective and essential practice in order to transform myths from static stories to elements of spiritual practice, illumination and inspiration” (pgs. 13-14).

This core insight is a key that anyone can use, with any mythology — that is, with any story that makes sense of the cosmos. If we love and cherish the story, how do we light it up with life and fire? (That’s what can happen, what Kris wants to help happen for us, when we’re in relationship with a deity.) Christianity excels in orthodoxy, in instructing its communities of believers about what to believe, to the point where recitations of creeds have become the primary identifying feature of different denominations. What Christianity often lacks, and what has led people to find instruction elsewhere, are effective practices that make its teachings something one can actually begin to embody concretely, hour to hour, outside of “church”.

Do people nowadays “know Christians by their love”, as the Christian song lyrics say? It remains an open question. Likewise, do we recognize Druids by a characteristic wisdom and inspiration?

Part 2 coming soon.

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Ways and Means to the Holy

We don’t have to “go anywhere” to contact the sacred.

“Everything that lives is holy”, William Blake declares. Fine, Billy, but how do I reconnect when I’m just not feeling it? In my better moments I may know it’s all holy, but I’m kinda down right now, dude, and I could use some help.

Druidry, after all, delights in “doing something” as a spiritual solution to many problems. Christianity may stereotypically insist “Ye must be born again!” as a prerequisite before anything else can happen, while Druidry as stereotypically suggests “Let’s go for a walk in the green world”.

What if neither of these is a viable option at the moment? Suicide hotlines get callers who’ve often tried every option they can lay hands on, and they’re still suicidal in part for that very reason: nothing’s working. And even those of us not in crisis at the moment can feel overwhelmed by events beyond our control.

If we step even one pace beyond the stereotypes, we find in counsel like “Be still and know that I am God” a place where Druidry and Christianity can draw closer. Something happens in stillness that all our elevator music and muzak and noise and ranting and partisanship try to overwhelm but cannot silence, because it is already silent. What is it?

In a post from Oct 2017 I wrote:

“The practice of sacramental spirituality can be pursued apart from the various pathologies of political religion”, notes John Michael Greer in his essay “The Gnostic Celtic Church“. In sacrament rather than creed lies one potent meeting-place for Druid and Christian.

What to do when one of our most human, instinctive and immediate responses — to touch each other in comfort with a hug, a hand on a shoulder — are actions dangerous to our health?

If the sacrament of touch is denied us, what other modes does spirit have?

The Sacrament of Hearing

“The Voice of the Beloved sustains us”. Whether it’s a telephone call to or from that particular person, or a special video, or piece of music, sound can carry us into spirit. The human capacity for memes and mantras and ear-worms is one we can use to our advantage. Set up what I actually want running through my inner worlds, and I’m halfway home.

And — paradox alert, because that’s much of human experience — in the sacrament of hearing, of listening, we may hear what is singing behind the silence …

Kaisenkaku Asamushi Onsen in Aomori prefecture, northern Japan / Wikipedia /

The Sacrament of Washing

Taking a bath or shower, and visualizing the gunk leaving our bodies down the drain and away can be a spiritual practice. Many traditions urge sacred bathing. (Besides, in lockdown we can let ourselves get pretty grody.)

A Hindu turns if possible to Mother Ganges, Catholics visit holy sites dedicated to manifestations of Mary, it’s a lovely Japanese custom to visit an onsen, and followers of Shinto and plenty of non-religious people as well find hot springs, saunas and mineral pools to be restorative.

The Sacrament of Blessing

Seven words make up a lovely blessing some of my friends use often: “Bless this day and those I serve”. If I live by myself, I’m one of the people I serve. Let’s remember to bless ourselves. We need it. Pets or other animals, and houseplants, may rely on me for food and shelter and affection, so I can add them to those I bless. Outward to friends, neighbors …

What else can I bless? Asking that question thoughtfully can open many doors.

The Sacrament of Prayer

Prayer has long been a potent sacrament in the lives of many. The words and sounds can help restore our connections to spirit, partly because they’ve done so in the past. Like a spiritual battery, they’ve accumulated a charge. We jump-start more often than we realize.

The words of the Druid’s Prayer, or of a song or poem not “officially recognized” as a prayer may turn out to be your prayer. Sometimes we need something even more compact — just a few words from a longer form, a sacred name, a whisper — or a shout. If you’re alone, that’s easier. Try it, and note the power of prayer at the top of our lungs.

Grant, O Spirit, your protection

One simple prayer available to everyone is simply breathing. We hear in the Gospel of John: “The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit”. Experiencing the spirit in our own breathing is a doorway for some. It’s there — sacrament in the life action of our bodies.

You may see in several of the above sacraments how touch has managed to find its way to us. Hearing involves sound waves touching my ears, bathing makes me intimate with water, and so on.

The Sacrament of Cooking and Eating

Some of our most common acts are sacramental in potential, and we can activate them by according them the respect they’ve earned in our lives. Food and drink keep these bodies alive and moving. Preparing food has often been a holy activity, at least around our holy-days, if not every day. Combine eating with blessing, as many do, and I can heighten my awareness of spirit-in-substance. A blessing on the incarnate spirit which sustains us.

The Sacrament of the Image and Object

Photographs, statues, objects collected from a walk or a ritual or as gifts from another — all these things bear a power to tend us. They can evoke memory, their physical substance is imbued with all the times we’ve handled them before (touch seeks us out, once again!), and they have a power to shift our attention to specific places and times.

The Sacrament of Ritual

I talk a lot about ritual here, because we all do ritual constantly. Each of the sacraments above is a ritual, or has ritual elements in it. Part of the sacrament of ritual is to recognize how many things can become rituals — and more importantly, how much of their already-existent ritual power helps shape and influence and move our lives.

A barefoot Kris Hughes, recreating Iolo Morganwg’s simple summer solstice ritual on Primrose Hill in 1792, at East Coast Gathering 2015. Photo courtesy of Dana Wiyninger.

A friend of mine makes a ritual out of starting to write. He lights a candle, or some incense, and invites the muse of the moment to his writing project. A few other friends explore the meditative and sacramental power that wood-carving and weaving and knitting have, as well as enjoying their concrete manifestation, resulting in useful objects and garments.

May you find and feed your lives with sacraments that mean and matter to you.

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Porth i’r Byd Arall — Gate(s) to the Otherworld

[Part 1 | Part 2]

So reads a sign at Llyn Cerrig Bach, a small lake on the Welsh isle of Anglesey or Môn.

porthirbydarall

photo courtesy Kristoffer Hughes

Porth “door, gate”, related to portal; i “to”; (y)r “the” byd “world”; arall “other, another”.

(Incidentally, one of the best online Welsh dictionaries is maintained by the Prifysgol Cymru/University of Wales.)

How to find and pass through such a gate?

In addition to the photo above, Welsh Druid chief and author Kristoffer Hughes [Facebook link / Voices of Modern Druidry entry] offers this bilingual triad on his Facebook page:

Dyma dri o roddion Môn,
Traed y Derwyddon ar y Tir,
Cylch tragwyddol y Môr,
Coleuni diderfyn yr Awyr.

The three gifts of Môn,
The feet of the Druids upon the Land,
The eternal circle of the Sea,
The Sky’s unbounded illumination.

Here are the Three Elements of Earth, Sea and Sky — Tir, Môr and Awyr. The Welsh names work very well all by themselves as a chant and prayer: tir [teer], môr [mohr] and awyr [ah-weer].

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In 1942, a hoard of some 150 objects was discovered near the end of the lake, apparently deposited there as votive offerings. Among them is this splendid bronze plaque, now held in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff:

torc-LCD

crescent plaque / Wikipedia

How do we find and pass through portals to the Otherworld?

I invoke the Three Gifts of Môn,
and seek entrance to an Otherworld,
to where it is right and fitting for me to journey.
Feet of Druids, guide my steps.
True return I seek, for I have been there before,
not merely in dream and vision, and in desire,
but fully, born out of it into this life,
in the eternal circle of the Sea,
returning to it after time and times have ended here.

In this air I make the sacred sign
[with the forefinger of your dominant hand,
draw an infinity symbol in the air].

By the power of Earth, Sea and Sky,
assist me to make the journey anew,
and recall what I discover there,
so that I may share it after
for the good of the whole.

Recording the experience, whatever comes, is a valuable tool for making any subsequent journeys, and as a landmark of our practice. By making a record, I learn how I journey, which may be very different from the path others take. It may be that I recall with different senses active. Some see, but others hear, or touch, or return with no distinct impressions until they lift a musical instrument, or write a poem, or paint or draw. The more different kinds of outlets we provide in our lives and practice, the more the Otherworld can touch us here, and we can locate and recognize and draw on its inspiration.

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For more information, and images of other signposts like the “Gate to the Otherworld” mapping the region, visit “Anglesey Visualizations installed” at Monumental UK.

For an 8-minute Youtube interview with Kristoffer Hughes about the history of Druids in Wales, and their shamanic background, go here.

 

A Triad, and a Window

Many variations on the following theme exist. Socrates receives credit for it, among other thinkers. Sometimes it’s called the “Three-Way Filter”. So no, it’s not originality I’m claiming, but utility. As a simple but profound guide in these challenging times, this triad answers a deep and pervasive need. It asks us three questions, in a form so compact we can’t help but use it if we wish:

Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

Twitter would mostly dry up, if we followed this Triad. Social media as a whole would shrink to a more appropriate and sane size, and not co-opt reason and good sense. My wife and I attribute our durable marriage to both of us practicing this Triad with each other. Because where else do we live our lives most deeply except with our loved ones? If it works there, our way of life, it might even work elsewhere.

Imagine how our patterns of consumption and our interactions with others would approach something more conscious and intentional. Politics as we know it would change radically. And the shaming of others that we indulge in for not meeting standards we ourselves also fall short of would also shrink. (And again: if I can practice this with my partner whom I love, I gain skill for practicing it with others whom I may not love as much.)

Why?

Because often enough I can say “yes” to two of the three criteria. And though the song lyrics tell us “two outta three ain’t bad”, aiming for all three remains the goal. “Why not excellence?” asks ADF, one of the major Druid orders today. Why shouldn’t we aspire?!

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When we push against this apparent world, and see it begin to pixelate, a new path can open for us …

It’s interesting to me that, of the three criteria, “kind” is most often the criterion that catches me. I don’t normally think of myself as a particularly heartless or cruel person, yet “kind” is often my sticking point. We reach to claim the moral high ground with “true” and “necessary”, but I end up where it’s kindness that’s lacking.

Try imagining this Triad as a political platform, I say to myself, whatever my place on the political spectrum. And if I can’t, what does that say about my politics, or about my hopes for any kind of justice?

Or as “the only morality I need”, how does it stand up? It’s remarkable how thoroughly the Triad reaches into choices, values, treatment of others — a whole range of ethical issues.

Now let’s couple this Triad with the famous Christian Triad of Jesus: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. You can derive a whole series of useful meditations on the various pairings of the Three of Jesus with this other Three. And not just the obvious linkages, either — for instance, “Is it necessary?” is a truth we often toss aside, because in our self-indulgent age we feel justified simply if we want something. Voila — no further criteria needed! Likewise with freedom, at least in 21st-century America: if anything constrains me, it must violate my rights. Never mind that it’s good for the whole. Never mind that a whole range of behaviors are denied me, that laws constrain me and would have constrained me during most major civilizations we have knowledge of, because much of “what I want” may not be good for others. (We each have our lists.)

But is any of this Druidic? asks my pesky inner Druid. Well, consider the Instructions of King Cormac, and let me know how well this Triad of Truth, Kindness and Necessity lines up with the counsels of the King.

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Which brings us to death, which can seem a very un-Druidic subject.

First ethics, then mortality. Wow, you really know how to market yourself to your readers, and offer upbeat blogposts.

So it’s fitting that one of the most irrepressibly cheerful Druids I know should speak about death, and from daily, intimate, firsthand knowledge. Here’s Welsh Druid Kristoffer Hughes speaking on the subject on the occasion of the re-issue of his meditation on mortality, under the new title As the Last Leaf Falls. As someone who deals professionally with dead bodies and the bereaved every day, as a mortuary worker (in the States we’d say morgue), he knows the death industry firsthand.

“You can tell an awful lot about a society just by the manner they deal with the dead”, notes Kristoffer. He traces much of our contemporary Western outlook, practice and ritual to Queen Victoria, who dressed in mourning for 40 years.

 

 

Dip in at any point in this half-hour talk and you’ll gain something of value. “The medicalization of death and grief profoundly impacts all of us in the West”, Hughes says, around the 8:00-mark. “Death always brings in the big questions and the Spirit — but that is not the domain of medicine … We’ve created institutions of death whereby the indignities of death can occur without offending the sensibilities of the living. And I see that every day quite viscerally …”

At the 9:00-point, he notes “A basic anxiety runs through humanity … we are all going to die. And that sound quite depressing, doesn’t it? I might need a mouthful of gin just to offset that. But please don’t judge me. I’ve been in a morgue since quarter past 7:00 this morning”.

“Life … a terminal sexually-transmitted infection …”

“There’s no fundamental universally-correct truth that will alleviate everyone’s anxiety …”

“We need meaning … significance … transcendence …  When there’s no meaning, we find people under their desks sucking on Valium the size of their heads …”

“We’re told to conform to other people’s meaning … and that can be a frightfully difficult task”.

“So often when people shine too brightly, [other] people might want them to dim their light. And I say to you never dim your light. Ever. Shine. ‘Cause that’s the purpose you are here. Your eyes are windows through which the universe experiences itself. How can you not shine? If anybody tells you to dim your lights, tell ’em to buy a pair of shades …”

Later (around 16:25) he cites Taliesin: “Know what you are when you are sleeping. Are you a body or a spirit or an occult radiance?” Sleep, he says, the “little death” we each experience every night, is a prime key to insight and awareness about what death actually is.

Re the Covid-19 virus, he says, we lack meaningful rituals to cope that we used to have. “Ritual has fractured”, says Hughes. And the emotional relocation that is grief is far more difficult to navigate. So we need new rituals to help us travel the emotional relocation of grief, of honoring the living and the life of those who’ve left.

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“On the Third Day of Samhain, My True Love Gave to Me”

Those of you on Facebook may find much valuable reflection in this 31 October ’19 Samhain post from a regular series by the Anglesey Druid Order/Urdd Derwyddon Môn in Wales. Check out the other posts, too — a very worthwhile monthly series of good insight and perspective, from a member of the Welsh Order run by the estimable Kristoffer Hughes.

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Last night before our main ritual, we performed two Ovate initiations with Mystic River Grove — Samhain being particularly appropriate for Ovate work in the inner realms, the Otherworld, the ancestors, divination, etc. We all already do considerable imaginal work, consciously or not, and while photos can help nourish that capacity, at times it also feels right to forbear from posting pictures of private ritual sites, so no images this time.

By “imaginal work”, I mean the content of imagination, dream, and visualization, as well as self-conscious association and emotional loading of experiences. We come to new experiences well-equipped by our previous ones, for ill or good, to accept or reject or transform — and all of this often happens outside of conscious awareness. It can be the task of magic and of ritual and personal work to make such things more conscious, to work more deliberately with the Cauldron of images we each carry around with us, and out of which we supply much of the color and tenor and flavor of our days. Our instinctive likings and antipathies for people, places and things spring from this “pre-loading” of consciousness, and to take charge of our own reactions and responses can serve us very well.

Rather than mechanically pursuing or fleeing things that attract or repel us, we can begin to ask whether they are for our benefit or not. Rather than assuming the attraction or repulsion lies in the person or thing, we can begin to learn that it lies in us — the external is merely a convenient channel through which those energies reach us. Because one way or another, they will — we’re open to them, we’ve invited them in some way, and placed ourselves in agreement with them. The difficult thing that can strengthen us, the seductive thing that may weaken or distract us — this is the Long Work, the magnum opus we are all engaged in: to live out the consequences of our choices, yes; but even more, to choose wisely in the first place, to choose with love and foresight and wisdom how we will spend our lives, even as everyone and everything around us is doing the same.

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A year ago I drew a personal Tarot reading for the coming year and shared it here.

With 3 of the 10 cards coming from Pentacles, resources and the physical world will be a prime focus of the year personally and for the planet. Balancing feminine energies to the mature male energies in play are an immediate aspect of the present and near future. Destiny and past influences at work, though not inevitable, are ones we have both initially set in motion and strengthened by our sharp focus on materiality. Our outer fixation on security and stability may feel reasonable, given such destabilizing forces at work. But while our hopes and dreams focused on these things are valid, pursuing them along a still-material path, even with a renewed youthful vigor, will not return us to what is stable and safe. Other directions we have recently begun to explore can prove more beneficial. We’ll see moon-like changes, darkness and light alternating in phases.

I’ll return to this in a year and see how I did.

As a take on the times, both public and private, little here should be a surprise. (Was my reading too vague, or too influenced by my own perspectives? Quite possibly both.) “Our outer fixation on security and stability may feel reasonable … but pursuing them along a still-material path, even with a renewed youthful vigor, will not return us to what is stable and safe”. I take this most of all as a guide for my own focus: anything I wish to manifest outwardly rises from within, and that is where it is easier, more prudent and far-ranging to work, to spend my energies and time. Whether my region, my nation, my planet chooses to do that is much more out of my hands, unless I opt to engage it through a very large gesture. I could — so could each of us — but most of us will not, through a combination of inertia, distraction and providence. We see such radical gestures —  in the U.S., often accompanied by guns — from people who despair of any other avenue for change, or outcome.

(We always see individual actors attempting these things — check the headlines of your own country or region for the relevant political, military, cultural and economic actors at work in your spheres — but few achieve what they imagine they are pursuing. To look for a moment at my own country, whether Donald Trump or Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders or Joseph Biden becomes president in 2020, most of the issues we face right now will still remain for us to deal with. A change of one face, or even of the faces clustered around that one face, will not easily shift large causes we have already set in motion over time. As egregores of particular vigor, nations have karma, too.)

As for personal applicability of the reading, I find in it valuable reminders of long-term trends and tendencies in my own behavior and outlook that I continue to grapple with and learn from. (Want to know what these are? You have only to read what I’ve been posting here all along!)

Consider doing your own divination, with your preferred oracle. Most of us are already doing this anyway: among our chosen oracles might be a best friend, partner, coin toss, stock market report, a horoscope, whim, toss of the dice, impulse, and so on.

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So — onward to a reading for the coming year, with the Celtic Cross spread. I make frequent references below to Rachel Pollack’s excellent 78 Degrees of Wisdom: A Book of Tarot, Thorsons/Element, 1997, both because many value her insights, and also because they offer me a corrective to my own biases.

celtic-cross-layout-240x3001: Ace of Wands (reversed) — the present, the Self, the querent’s state of mind.

2: 10 of Cups — the immediate influence, problem, challenge, etc.

3: Hanged Man (reversed) — destiny — in some spreads placed above as the “crown” of past experiences.

4: King of Pentacles — distant past, or some spreads, the future.

5: Page of Cups — recent past, or conscious focus.

6: King of Wands — future influence; or the unconscious, the underlying or the true driving force of a situation.

7: 7 of Cups (reversed) — The querent; the querent’s self-perceptions.

8: Knight of Pentacles — external influences.

9: 8 of Wands — inner emotions.

10: Temperance — outcome or final result.

Wands01Wands and Cups predominate in this spread — for me, a reminder of the need to balance fire energy with water, active with receptive, conscious with intuitive. Always good advice! But how might that work, more specifically? How do we “grasp” the fire of Ace of Wands? What “hand” or means do we use? Rachel Pollack in her magisterial 78 Degrees of Wisdom comments: “At the beginning of some situation, no card could signal a better start” (pg. 183). I take reversed simply to mean the challenges attendant on manifesting the energy of a card, or missing the opportunity it brings. The “crossing card” of the 10 of Cups is a Grail, the completing or fulfilling Cup — a balance to the fire of Wands. The third card, a reversed Hanged Man, to me signifies that every time I ignore shamanic, yogic, inner wisdom, I miss the insight of inner experience.

The four elements suggested by the shape of the hanged figure can serve our spiritual intention only when they are in the service of spirit: allowed to be fully themselves, not distorted through social expectation, but liberated from it. Given my age in this incarnation, the personal applicability of Card 4, the King of Pentacles, suggests past (even past-life) successes, which could lead to present complacency, which the fire of wands should help allay. The figure’s greenness in this deck also suggests the natural world. Moving on, Pollack comments that “the Pages all have a student quality” (pg. 192), suggesting that from the Page of Cups issues an appropriateness for a study program or course of discipline to develop intuition or psychic/inner awareness.

While Court cards like the King of Wands suggest people who exert influence in the querent’s life, they can just as well signify aspects of the querent, and also need not be associated with expected gender: male doesn’t have to mean “man”, but a kind of energy (now clouded and confused by our current political correctness, of course, but no more than at other times, with their own preconceptions and misunderstandings) — Angela Merkel or Lady Gaga, Elizabeth Warren or my wife.

The “final four”: for the 7 of Cups, Pollack insightful notes, “it is a mistake to think that daydreams are meaningless because of their content; on the contrary, they often spring from deep psychological needs and images. [But] they lack meaning because they do not connect to anything outside themselves” (pg. 198). The reversed Knight of Pentacles, Pollack suggests, offers a paradox inherent in Knight, even not reversed: “deeply grounded in, yet unaware of, the magic beneath him, he identifies himself with his functions. He needs to discover the real source of his strength, within himself and in life” (pg. 238). The 8 of Wands suggests completion of a cycle, “the addition of Pentacles’ grounding to Wands’ energy” (Pollack, pg. 172), and I’m finishing my 60th year, the fifth of a series of 12-year cycles, significant on the other path I also follow.

The outcome of all these forces and influences, in play for the year, the self, the world?

14-Temperance Temperance — and yet again, Pollack proves insightful. “If a reading shows a person split between say, Wands and Cups, activity and passivity … then Temperance, moderation, and acting from an inner sense of life, can give a clue to bringing these together” (pg. 109).

Adding the digits of its number 14, Temperance is a higher harmonic of 5, the Hierophant. We live in an era that has increasingly often rejected priests or outer spiritual authorities over our lives, so “perhaps the interpretation of the Hierophant as representing secret doctrines suits our age better. For then the doctrine does not tell us what to do, but instead gives us direction to begin working on ourselves” (pg. 55).

This reading suggests much of value to me, but also of value to our nation and planet. The perennial spiritual quest remains perennial, because we always will need the springs and founts of wisdom to be found in the quest.

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Flavors of Druidry

This is a brief post to celebrate flavors of Druidry elsewhere. Below, a shape of awen formed of human shadows — photo by Welsh Druid Kristoffer Hughes.

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Australian Druids just celebrated Lughnasadh, and Serpentstar, the free OBOD newsletter for Australia, has just published its most recent issue — you can read it online or download it as a PDF here. Lovely images and articles offer a glimpse of the Land and Druids Down Under.

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Cornwall actively promotes its language and culture, and that includes Cornish Druidry. Here’s a prayer to Brighid in Cornish, with an English version, from Trelawney Grenfell-Muir:

brighid-cornish

Brigid a’n Kugoll, gwra agan kyrghynna.
Arlodhes an Eyn, gwra agan kovia.
Gwithyades an Oeles, gwra agan enowi.
Yn-dann dha gugoll, gwra agan kuntelles,
Gwra agan daswul dhe gov.

Brigid of the Mantle, encompass us,
Lady of the Lambs, protect us,
Keeper of the Hearth, kindle us.
Beneath your mantle, gather us,
And restore us to memory.

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East Coast Gathering 2018

[Posts on previous Gatherings: ECG ’12 ][ ’13 ][ ’14 ][ ’15 ][ ’16 ][ ’17 ][ MAGUS ’17 ][ MAGUS ’18 ]

How to convey the distinctive experience of a Gathering? Perhaps you come for a group initiation, having already performed the solo rite.

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initiates and officiators, after the Bardic initiations

ECG initiated 10 Bards, 4 Ovates, and 1 Druid in three rituals over the four-day weekend.

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Nearly-full moon on the night of Ovate initiations — photo courtesy Gabby Roberts

Or maybe the title of a particular workshop or the reputation of a presenter draws you. Though registration records for ECG show that each year about 40% of the attendees are first-timers, guest speakers and musicians play a role in swelling the numbers of multi-year attendees.

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Kris Hughes

Returning special guest Kristoffer Hughes gave two transformative talks: “Taw, Annwfn and the Hidden Heart of Awen”, and “Tarot Masterclass”.

The first talk effectively conveyed how awen is much more than we typically conceive it. As the “Heart-song of the World”, it pervades existence, from Annwfn, often translated as the Celtic “Otherworld” but more accurately rendered the “Deep World” (which the Welsh word literally means), through Abred — this world we live in and conventionally treat as reality, and which Annwfn underpins, all the way through Gwynfyth and Ceugant. As for “the hidden magic that swims within the currents of Awen”, excerpted from the description of the talk on the ECG website, awen is available to us and links us to other beings resting and moving in the Song. And “one practice that can open these connections is to sing to things. Sometimes trees talk, and sometimes they listen. Especially when we sing to them. And we may find they sing back”, Kris remarked.

With his characteristic wit and insight, Kris illustrated parallels between the secular Welsh eisteddfod bardic competitions and the work and practice of Druidry. We want to practice ways to increase the flow of awen, whether we’re poets in a competition or living our everyday lives. “You’re Druids. You’re busy. You’ve got sh*t to do and trees to talk to”.

At the height of the bardic competition, if no poems that year meet the eisteddfod standard, the eisteddfod assembly hears the terrible cry of the Archdruid — “There is no awen here. Shame!” But in most years, when a winner does succeed and is crowned, the Archdruid “whispers a secret into the Bard’s ear, changing him or her forever. Learn what that secret is”. The “appeal of the secret” flourishes long after childhood; Kris remarked that the secret is a three-vowel chant a-i-o, one form of the “sound of the awen”, without consonants, which cut off the flow of sound. So we practiced vowels, with Kris remarking that even the word awen itself, minus the final -n, can serve very well as one form of the chant.

What of the taw of the talk title? It’s the Welsh word for silence, or more especially, tranquillity, translatable, Kris writes in a related blogpost, “as a deep inner silence, stillness and peacefulness … not simply the external expression or desire for Hedd (peace) alone, but rather how Hedd transforms the internal constitution of the individual. And to achieve this we utilise Taw“.

I took extensive notes for the Tarot talk, for which Kris relied to some degree on his Celtic Tarot book, but for this talk on awen and taw,  I listened. Kris writes, “Taw is when I sit in the woods, or on the edge of my local beach, with starlight painting dreams in the night sky. Within it I sit in the delicious currents of Awen and allow it to flow through me. What sense I make of that comes later. How can I hope to bring Hedd into the world if I cannot find the Hedd within myself? If I cannot inspire myself, how on earth can I inspire anyone else? I need Taw to cause me to remember who I am and what I am”.

And he closed this talk, saying, “I’ve been Kristoffer Hughes, and you’ve been … the awen”.

Image at Llywellyn Press site for Celtic Tarot:

khughes celtic tarot

I include this because I asked Kris about his experiences with publishers and about where best to order the book (I like to meditate and ask if I need a particular book rather than buying it on the spot.) Kris said, “Through Llywellyn I earn about $1.40 for each book. Through Amazon, because of their deal with Llywellyn, I earn about 12 cents”. So if you’re inclined to purchase this stunning set and learn Kris’s no-nonsense and eminently usable techniques — “you don’t have to be psychic; you need to be able to tell stories, which is something Druids do” — bear those numbers in mind.

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This year for the first time, rather the ECG staff manning the kitchen, the Netimus Camp staff took over meals, freeing up camp volunteers and doing an excellent job of feeding and nourishing us.

Chris Johnstone’s Sound Healing workshop greeted us Thursday, the first day, an excellent antidote to the stresses of travel to reach the camp, and a reminder, always needed, that we never abandon foundational practices of centering and meditation, ritualizing and balance.

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“pasta awen” — Druid humor. Photo courtesy Russell Rench.

Gabby Roberts’ workshop, “Energy work–Grounding, Centering and Releasing”, deepened the reminder, and gifted us each with polished onyxes to take with us. “Awareness and Connection with the Land: A Druidic Perspective”, with Thea Ruoho and Erin Rose Conner, detailed the many unconscious moments we can transform in order to be more conscious and mindful living on the earth. Thea and Erin ended their talk with an invitation for us to recycle, burn in the fire circle, or give back the “sacred crap” we can accumulate, that litters our shelves and altars, but contributes no energy.

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Gathering attendee prepping for Druid Staff workshop

I missed Christian Brunner’s provocatively titled “A Journey to the Very Old Gods” due to an important conversation I needed to continue; the same thing happened a second time with Frank Martinez’s “Connecting with the Plant Community Through a Druid’s Staff”. Thus go the rhythms of a Gathering, which for me, anyway, almost seem to require a rhythm that may take you away from one or two sessions to something or someone else, calling you with imperatives all their own.

Most days of the year, of course, we’re all solitaries, whether we practice alone by choice or necessity, or enjoy the intermittent company of a few others in a local Pagan community, an OBOD Seed Group, or a full Grove. Each day we greet the light and air and season, attend to bird and beast and bee and tree, and our own bodies and lives, and listen for that heartsong. So a Gathering, camp, retreat, etc., is no panacea, but it does give us a chance to reconnect, recharge, recalibrate what we do and where we’re heading. Its ripples persist after the “hour of recall” comes at the close of a Gathering.

On Saturday, the last evening, the ECG organizer announced at dinner that this 9th year of the Gathering has seen the fulfillment of its initial goals and will be the last year. ECG has served newcomers well, linked practitioners over the years, offered a family-friendly space (which not all camps choose to do), helped us forge friendships, seeded new camps and Gatherings — including Gulf Coast Gathering and Mid-Atlantic Gathering U.S. (MAGUS), and provided a supportive venue for group initiations for those wishing that experience.

A Council is already in place to help organize a new event that will launch next year, with new energy, goals, and intentions. As the organizer exclaimed, “Watch for it!”

OBOD standard ritual closes with these words: “As the fire dies down, may it be relit in our hearts. May our memories hold what the eye and ear have gained”.

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Images: Kris Hughes; Llywellyn Press Celtic Tarot.

Solstice and Druidry from Wales

Note on the Welsh stories of Taliesin as one source of widespread contemporary Druid training and myth:

[They] belong to the islands of Britain and to anyone who connects to them, regardless of one’s position on the planet. The tales arose from the landscape of Britain and were relevant to the inhabitants of these lands then as they are now, but the mysteries contained within them cannot be confined to location. The origins of the tales’ creation may well be locality-specific, but the mysteries they contain are soul-specific – they apply to anyone, anywhere …

— Kristoffer Hughes. From the Cauldron Born. “Introduction”

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Fans of the Druid author, the wonderfully articulate Kristoffer Hughes, will particularly enjoy this 23-minute video, “Kris the Pagan”, in Welsh with English subtitles, from Welsh National TV. But anyone who’s been following this blog can find something of value and pleasure.

The video dates from the time Kris’s book From the Cauldron Born appeared (2012), and includes much of interest to Druids and Pagans generally, as well as friends of Kris: images of Solstice and Wassail celebrations, an overview of Druidry, a visit to the Pagan publisher Llewellyn Press in Minnesota, images of Kris on Anglesey, and Kris narrates the whole thing.

The video could also serve as a good introduction to the feel of Druidry, as distinct from a dry lecture, as Kris keeps it warmly personal and reflective. (And if you love the sound of Welsh, as I do, that’s just an added bonus!)

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East Coast Gathering 2015

This last weekend marks the 5th East Coast Gathering I’ve attended, the 6th since its launch in 2010, and another gift of Spirit and mortal effort.

You can read my accounts of three of the previous years: 2012 | 2013 | 2014. A special thank-you to John Beckett, several of whose professional photographs illustrate this post. You can visit John’s own articulate and insightful blog “Under the Ancient Oaks: Musings of a Pagan Druid and Unitarian Universalist” over at Patheos here.

Camp Netimus -- photo courtesy Krista Carter

Camp Netimus — site of the ECG. Photo courtesy Krista Carter

 

Registration for the weekend filled within 20 hours of opening this last spring. Gatherings like this answer an obvious need in the Druid and Pagan community, and more are in the works in other locations. It’s on us to help make them happen. A dedicated team can bring the same joy, support, inspiration and community to other regions.

Yes, we’re all solitaries some or much of the time, but every solitary benefits from celebrating and learning in the company of others. That chance conversation, ritual insight, day- or night-dream, word or phrase that lights up just for you, the hugs you give and receive, the opportunities to serve the community through offering a workshop, cooking, cleaning, organizing, driving — these make Gatherings like this such richly rewarding experiences. The dark and light halves of each year are real, and we need all the help and laughter we can find to thread our way through the labyrinth of time.

 

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I arrived Thursday afternoon early enough to check in and unpack before the opening ritual. My cabin mates had already hoisted a banner, which also made the building easier to distinguish from the others in the dark, when the “9” on the door was no longer readily visible.

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Cabin banner. Photo by A Druid Way

 

Equinox marks the shifting energies of days and nights, rebalancing the world. A lovely moon bore witness, waxing each evening through wonderfully clear skies, lighting the path to evening events like the Ovate initiation ritual and illuminating the short uphill walk from the cafeteria to the nightly fire circle.

The crescent moon. Photo courtesy John Beckett

Crescent moon in a twilit sky. Photo courtesy John Beckett

 

The theme this year was ritual, and the whole weekend focused our attention on its magical possibilities through a dozen workshops, demonstrations and ceremonies. You can get a sense of the range of approaches from the list of workshops here. We also welcomed returning U. K. guests Damh the Bard, Cerri Lee, and Kristoffer Hughes.

Cerri Lee, Damh the Bard and Kris Hughes. Photo courtesy John Beckett

Cerri Lee, Damh the Bard and Kris Hughes. Photo courtesy John Beckett

 

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Damh’s workshop on “The Bardic Voice” underscored the centrality of the Bard in Druidry. Like many Druid groups, OBOD orders its teaching in the sequence of Bard, Ovate and Druid. But they do not form a linear progress or erect a hierarchy of achievement. They spiral. In an Ovate breakout group a day later, several people mentioned how they often return to the Bardic coursework, its insights deepening through their Ovate practice. And likewise with the work of the Druid grade.

Damh is a fine teacher, an animated storyteller and ritualist of deep experience. With his wife Cerri he leads Anderida Grove. [For an audio inspiration, listen to his hour-long recording for inner journeying here.]

Damh in teaching mode. Photo courtesy John Beckett

Damh in teaching mode. Photo courtesy John Beckett

 

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Reminders of ritual possibility filled the weekend. Below is a picture of a labyrinth, another gift of the weekend, lovingly constructed by Cat Hughes and friends.

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Labyrinth by day — entrance. Photo by A Druid Way.

 

Volunteers switched on each light every evening, then turned them off again when everyone else had gone to bed.

Labyrinth by night. Photo courtesy Damh the Bard.

Labyrinth by night. Photo courtesy Damh the Bard.

 

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Kris’s workshop, “Laudanum, Literature and Liturgy — the Ritual Legacy of Iolo Morganwg,” featured the ritual — in Welsh — that Morganwg first performed on the Summer Solstice on Primrose Hill (London) in 1792, launching the Druid Revival and establishing the Welsh Gorsedd of Bards. Morganwg is also the author of the Druid’s Prayer, still used in many modern Druid groups including OBOD, and a major influence on generations of Druids from his time to the present. Kris’s Celtic eloquence in praise of Morganwg and his passion for Druidry took him off script and left many of us with tears in our eyes.

Kris during his workshop on Iolo Morganwg. Photo courtesy of Dana Wiyninger.

Kris during his workshop on Iolo Morganwg. Photo courtesy of Dana Wiyninger.

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Bill Streeter from the Delaware Valley Raptor Center, the charity designated for this year’s Gathering donation, brought six birds and made a fine presentation on raptors, their abilities, the dangers (mostly human) facing them, and the challenges of rehabilitating injured birds.

Bill Streeter of the DVRC with a golden eagle. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Bill Streeter of the DVRC with a golden eagle. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

These magnificent birds have often suffered neurological injuries that worsen over time. Though both the eagle above and the owl below look normal, both are blind in one or both eyes, or suffer other injuries like crippled wings, and thus could not survive in the wild. But the birds help save the lives of their kin through their appearances in info sessions like this one.

Great Horned Owl. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Great Horned Owl. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

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The Alban Elfed ritual celebrating the Equinox includes gifts from children, guests and each of the three grades of Bards, Ovates and Druids. Here are Chris and I holding bowls of acorns, part of the Ovates’ ritual gift, just before the ritual procession into the Circle.

Chris and I just before Alban Elfed ritual. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Chris (r) and I (l) just before Alban Elfed ritual. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

The evening eisteddfod (music and poetry circle) one night featured a splendid duet from Kris and Damh — see the image below.

Kris and Damh singing at the fire circle.

Kris and Damh singing at the fire circle. Photo courtesy Hex Nottingham.

Below is another pic of the fire circle one night. Our enthusiastic and skilful fire-makers Derek and Brom love large, carefully-constructed bonfires.

Fire. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Evening bonfire. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Once again Dana set up her meditation tent on the campground for all to visit and enjoy.

Approaching the tent. Photo courtesy Dana Wiyninger

Approaching the tent. Photo courtesy Dana Wiyninger

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Altar in Dana’s meditation tent on the camping field. Photo courtesy Hex Nottingham.

A small group made a side excursion to nearby Raymondskill Falls. Here’s a view of one of the waterfalls.

Raymondskill Falls. Photo courtesy of Gabby Batz Roberts.

Raymondskill Falls. Photo courtesy Gabby Batz Roberts.

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And for those of us who can’t wait an entire year, the Gulf Coast Gathering will celebrate its second year in March 2016. Blessings of the Equinox to all!

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

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