Archive for the ‘ritual’ Tag

Nine Days of Solstice 6 — Friday

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

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

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

AAAAA

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

BBBBB

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

CCCCC

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

DDDDD

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

EEEEE

FFFFF

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

GGGGG

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

HHHHH

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

IIIII

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

JJJJJ

KKKKK

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

LLLLL

Turn the star over, back to front.

MMMMM

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

NNNNN

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

OOOOO

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

PPPPP

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

QQQQQ

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

RRRRR

SSSSS

After the cut.

TTTTT

Start to unfold the bottom piece.

UUUUU

The Star …

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Nine Days of Solstice 5 — Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nine Days of Solstice 4 — Wednesday

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

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

Ah, what to do with beings such as ourselves?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nine Days of Solstice 2 — Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can watch Stonehenge Winter Solstice live here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Prelude to Nine Days of Solstice

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

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

ice on our evergreens

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

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

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

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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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The Daily Menu, and the Specials

A good metaphor gives you a form, a shape to attach stuff to. If you have a free mantle or shelf, you can arrange pictures and other beloved objects on it. On Halloween, out come the black cats and the carved pumpkins. With a Christmas tree, you’ve got a place for the decorations that live most of the year in a box, in a basement, closet, or attic. Here’s a menu — a useful metaphor for any spiritual tradition.

Sometimes we need to pass through a portal in order to see a new menu. Or sometimes just turn a page. What metaphor works for you? Which ones “become real”? Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com.

Most traditions share at least one feature of their menus — they urge you to a daily practice. What shape that takes can be remarkably varied. But you generally know where you are with the daily menu. You’ve got your go-to’s. Like exercise, the morning or evening prayer or meditation or ritual or reading or other exercise or observance helps you keep in shape. Not only does each day tend to go better as a result of your improved spiritual and physical muscle-tone (you sleep better, you’re more flexible, you bounce back sooner), but you’re building a foundation for bigger things, too. You’ll be better able to handle the inevitable next set of changes.

That includes both challenges and blessings. Which is which can depend on my daily practice more than I anticipate. One thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother, sing the Goddess-worshippers.

My wife and I do a short chant each morning to re-align and tune back in. (To what? you ask. Well, what do you want to connect to? There you go.) On those handful of days every month when we neglect it, we feel the lack. The reason doesn’t matter — the intrusion and bustle for a scheduled appointment, an unexpected phone call, a minor household emergency — something intervenes and calls us away from our routine. Both of us have our own individual practice, too — we just like to build couple energy as well. It’s something we’ve added to our lives, and now we can depend on what we call “positive inertia” to keep it up. Using our human habit-making tendencies to support a spiritual practice can be a winning strategy, especially if you tend toward laziness like I do.

The menu for my day is my regular practice, along with whatever longer-term project or planning I’m doing. A piece of that can be reading. It’s almost always writing, even if that’s just in the margins of my reading. Talking back to books, to other writers. Every few days, it includes posting here. (And thinking about and drafting posts, some of which will remain in draft form.) In cold weather, building a fire, which for me is both a practical and ritual act. In warm weather, hanging laundry on the line, which is likewise a form of concrete worship I’ve come to appreciate.

Sometimes the Specials are the “discoveries, insights and unexpecteds” that arrive in everyone’s day, if we give them even a little space to flower. A practice can help that to happen. The dream fragment, the chance comment, the meditation image or sensation or hunch, the phrase in my reading or in the day’s conversations gets into my journal, or not, depending. If it does, it’s one more help, one more gift. One and one and one and one and one do accumulate over time into a weight and a presence that have increasing value. And much of that value is how they talk to each other, echo and comment on and reinforce and confirm. Patterns, tendencies, directions, guidance, a path — a lifetime.

We encounter the Specials also in the larger events, like a full moon and a new moon every month, and every six weeks or so, one of the “Great Eight”, as I like to call them: the seasonal festivals of modern Pagan practice. They’re paired — the solstices and equinoxes that whole planet experiences, and the cross-quarter days of Celtic record, with their evocative names of Samhuin, Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh — the four holidays of choice, you might say. Then all our individual and family birthdays and anniversaries, and the cultural holidays on the calendar of our nations.

These don’t come along every day, so their appearance pleasantly disrupts our routine in good ways. We human mysteries long for “something new” and “something familiar” in such varying and idiosyncratic proportions that no ritual calendar can wholly satisfy us. But let a friend message me with ideas for ritual, let a neighbour send a photo, let us hold a special Zoom with family far away or an online class or discussion or ritual, and the Special also takes shape. What’s on the menu? Ultimately, we are.

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E=MC(2): A Druid Equation

No, not Einstein’s famous equation: effect = mastery X cause2!

Our weird, worrisome and wondrous world is among many other things a laboratory for working out cause and effect. (In many ways, that’s what evolution is. Trial and error, with lots of discards. False starts, dead ends.)

“As above, so below” — just how far does it go? Can I ever really know?

Try out any current headline, fit it into the equation, and you see the same thing: lots of causing, little mastery, and voila! — a cascade of undesired effects from what initially might even have been a halfway-good idea. (We’ll discount our worst ideas here out of compassion for our own human shortsightedness.)

We introduce a natural predator to bring down the population of a creature we label a pest, and our solution becomes the new problem. [Wikipedia notes: “Harmonia axyridis (the harlequin ladybird) was introduced into North America from Asia in 1979 to control aphids, but it is now the most common species, outcompeting many of the native species” and is a pest itself in many areas.] We warm and cool ourselves with splendid new technologies, and end up overheating our world. We choose leaders trying out their own causes, and we become part of effects they set in motion that we did not anticipate.

If we work with the proportions that this version of the equation suggests, even a little bit of mastery goes a long way toward manifesting more of the effects we wish. A dash of cause and a truck-load of mastery looks like the way to go. Fewer broken dreams, broken bones, broken planets.

Because when I try changing the proportions — lots of cause, just a little mastery — the equation definitely shows how the effect will still be huge. It just won’t be what I wanted in the first place. Like almost any kitchen recipe, there’s some leeway once you know what you’re doing. You learn workable substitutions, you pick up subtle touches and turns and tricks, and in the process you learn a great deal of lore. (What does “season to taste” mean in this case? How much is a “dash” of cumin? How much longer should that turkey bake, since it’s bigger/smaller than last year’s bird, which took X hours? What does the dough feel like when it’s ready?)

Until then, though, I can’t exchange proportions of flour and salt “just because I want to” and expect anything other than disaster. Yes, freedom is my birthright; yes, I shape my universe and create my reality. So does every other being all around me. We’re all still learning, and our realities and universes keep banging into each other as we work through the lessons. (Often it looks like the trees and the bees already know valuable things we’re still figuring out, or are in serious danger of forgetting.)

What does mastery consist of in such situations, at least from a Druid perspective?

Much of Druidry, at least at the start, is a practice of learning how to harmonize with the many other causes all around us, human and non-human, before we barge in out of ignorance and arrogance and try to be causes ourselves. (In the old Greek myth, Prometheus stole fire from the gods and brought it to suffering mortals. In addition to cooking dinner, we’ve been burning ourselves and everything around us ever since. But is the point of the story that humans should give up fire?)

Part of it is simple math: the number of beings around me also launching causes into the cosmos far outnumbers me. Part of it is the very real possibility that over time some of these same beings may have learned things I don’t yet know, things I need to know before I set big causes in motion myself. And a third part, because threes are cool like that, is that as I learn about causes and effects from these other beings, I’ll also learn what I need for my own growing mastery.

A part of our practice is that as we learn about causes and effects from these other beings, we’ll also learn what we need for our own growing mastery.

“Doing Druidry” means we perform rituals, small or large, unintentional or highly planned, simply because we’re ritual beings. We strive to acknowledge and participate more consciously in the cycles of the seasons and our own lives. We meditate and pray, dream and imagine. We talk with trees, listening to their “slow gestures”, as U K LeGuin calls them. We study herbs, divination, the lives of birds and beast, bugs and branching things, out of amazement and empathy and neighbourliness, and simply because we find ourselves here alongside them, dying and living and experiencing what it’s like to walk around in these shapes of flesh. Occasionally a spirit or god flashes across or onto our path, and we try to find out what that means, too.

We’re called, in short, to pay attention.

Refusing to acknowledge cause and effect, yielding up our training for mastery, invites its own effects. Among the Wise in several traditions, it is said that the earth has rejected the initiation of cause and effect. In several of the older maps of the cosmos, the earth is the outermost realm. Within is the realm of emotion and imagination. And within that realm is the realm of cause and effect.

Now we “get” the physical world in many ways. We’ve become quite adept at working many of its laws of force, mass, acceleration and energy to achieve remarkable effects. And look at our cultures, with all our many images and arts and crafts, our music and stories.

We also get much of the second realm: we’ve learned how to evoke in other minds whole worlds of feeling and sensation and possibility. What we’ve just begun to do is work with the third realm, and choose whether the effects we can create should be created, and how to unravel tapestries we’ve woven that no longer serve us. We may say of the “next generation” of a thing that it’s both “new” and “improved”. While we do indeed get much of the “new”, we still struggle with the actually “improved”. Rapidly multiplying imbalances abound, and ripple outward all around us — unintended effects we often try to wish away, rather than owning. (We’re still calling many of them “side effects”, even when they’re fatal.)

One great beauty of Druidry is that it empowers people to find strategies and solutions from the bottom up. We’re directed to look to “what works”, which is an excellent rule of thumb. Druidry, you might say, is a way of domesticating a whole set of “rules of thumb” as a spiritual technology.

Cause and effect, which is our “classroom curriculum” for mastery, is also the thing that teaches us why we need mastery in the first place. And Druidry, which is after all a set of human understandings like anything else we may use to make our way through the curriculum, is one source of help with the challenges of mastery that lie before us.

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Is all — or any — of this “true”? As many have said who’ve come before us, while we may never know if there “really are” gods and spirits, or magic (or a “curriculum”), the universe does often seem to behave as if they exist. I don’t know about you, but to me that’s well worth exploring for its own sake, far more interesting than spending time arguing whether or not it’s “true”. One test for truth is freedom; you know the old saying that “the truth shall make you free”. (Merely arguing about truth, without actually being free, doesn’t feel like freedom to me.) Part of my practice is acting as if I were free …

And “as if” seems right up there next to “cause and effect” as a important part of the curriculum.

Deepest Refreshment: Ninth Day of Samhain (31 Oct. 2020)

[Updated/edited 12:34 EST]

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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Why “deepest refreshment” (apart from its appearance in C. Matthews’ Celtic Devotional)? Before you read further, spend some time reflecting on why and how Samhain might provide such a thing for you. What can you do to help it manifest, at whatever scale matches this last day of October 2020?

Your reasons, hunches, nudges, inklings and flashes of insight can become part of your Samhain experience. Trust them. I’m blogging about Druidry today because Slowly, Idiosyncratically, Reflectively, Imaginatively, and somewhat Skeptically — SIRIS — that’s the track I followed. (I use acronyms a lot.) So I’m commending that as one possible option for you, too. Y gwir yn erbyn a byd “The truth against the world” really is a Druidic ideal for many, and now at Samhain is as good a time as any to try it out. In many ways, while visitors are welcome (after covid) at our circles and most events, Druidry isn’t particularly a spectator sport. Get your truth on!

front yard by moonlight at 3:30 am this morning

The Breakfast Six celebrating the last day of the season at our favorite spot. Sharing is the most human, communal and Samhain-y thing we do. Chef Michael is standing, masked. I’m in lavender hat on far left.

So here we are today, approaching Holy Evening, which is what Hallowe’en means, after all. Or alternatively, Hallows (all ultimately from Old English halga “saint, holy”) are the Saints that make it Holy. The Church certainly thought so, and overlaid its festivals of All Hallows Eve (Oct. 31), All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1), and All Souls’ Day, or Day of the Dead (Nov. 2) on the older Celtic observance.

I’ll be spending a quiet Great Hallows tonight with two other Vermont Druids via Zoom. Together we’ll do a meditative reading of OBOD’s Solitary Rite, because it’s more flexible than the group rite for accommodating any latecomers on our mailing-list who didn’t reply or let us know they’re joining us. (Easier to change pronouns — and actions — from one to several!) And if it’s not snowing or too windy, I’ll light a backyard fire in our fire circle and enjoy a blaze under the full moon. I’ll also be meditating on and listening to a specific ancestor who came into my attention in contemplation yesterday morning. Last and next, if I’m still up at midnight, or I wake later while it’s dark, I’ll be making notes for this year’s Nanowrimo — National Novel Writing Month.

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The last words of the main OBOD rite come from the Ancient: “… a new time begins … may it bring us whatever things are needful, support our bodies, nourish our souls and give radiance to our spirits. May it show to each one their true path, by the light of the Oak, the Yew and the Silver Birch”.

The blessings of Great Hallows to you all.

Without Samhain-sight.
With Samhain-sight. (Actually, with night-vision camera setting.) From kitchen facing East.

Cauldron of Memory: Eighth Day of Samhain (30 Oct. 2020)

[Edited/updated 20:18 EST]

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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First snow this morning. Facing east.

The late author and teacher Raven Grimassi published a 2009 book* with the same title as today’s post, and among several techniques he discusses for connecting with the ancestors, lucid dreaming has particular advantages:

If you have trouble with visualizations, or with pathworking in general, there is another method of ancestor contact at your disposal. This is accomplished through the Dream Gate, which is a portal to a particular area of dream consciousness.

There are essentially two states of consciousness in the dream state. The first level is the one in which the dream dictates a series of events or a storyline. At this level we are subject to the dream and we react to whatever is taking place. In effect we are a drafted actor without a script. In the common dream state our subconscious mind is operational but our conscious mind is a passive spectator.

The second dream level is one where we take conscious control and shape the dream as we wish. This is often referred to as lucid dreaming. The advantage of lucid dreaming (in an occult sense) is that we can come into contact with inner plane realities with both halves of our consciousness fully operational. This allows us to function in the magical setting of the subconscious mind (where anything is possible) while at the same time having the benefits of the conscious mind (where everything has connection and direction) (Cauldron of Memory, pgs. 140-141).

Now your reaction may be “But I don’t remember my dreams, so that’s not gonna help”. This is where the dream chalice technique from an earlier post in this series can prove useful. For many people, the light trance that sitting around a night-time fire brings can also help provide another alternative practice. Through such access-points we can stand at the doorway, and decide if we wish to go any further. Another of the many functions of ritual itself can be a similar light trance that we induce through repeated words, chants, gesture and dance.

berries through the snow

Simple candle-gazing also works well for solitaries. You may wish to establish a quiet period, perhaps with few other lights, so that the semi-darkness helps with focusing on your candle-flame. As with any ritual, what we bring to it makes all the difference. How we feel about it, how we set it up, what props we include, what significance we assign to them, what we do with our experiences, whether we choose to record them, and where they fits in with everything else that we are — these things build our spiritual lives piece by piece. And as we learn to choose where we place our attention, rather than letting it be grabbed by whatever is shouting most loudly, we reclaim a priceless spiritual tool.

The metaphor of a cauldron is a potent one. Some of us may experience memory as a thread, or the roots of a tree. Exploring our metaphors can reveal new practices. If memory is a cauldron, bringing to ritual, to our bedside, to our imaginal lives, an object to represent memory can be most useful. Magic shops market small cauldrons for such purposes, and you can make your own from clay. Those with foundry skills may find making a cauldron a remarkable project. Found objects, gifts and other things may serve as cauldrons. A bowl, piece of driftwood, a sea-shell — my own cupped hands — can all be cauldrons in dream and in ritual.

Alternatively, if memory is a tree, then images of trees and their roots, working with a favorite “tree of memory”, drawing or photographing trees, and meditating on the linkages between “roots and recall”, between the solidity and stability of a tree, and the persistence of memory, even memories we have stored deeply, can turn the experience of remembering into a magical and imaginal exploration.

This same cauldron or tree of memory includes “memory of the future” — visions and dreams, hunches and nudges, all part of our largely untapped ability to gaze up and down the time-track. Most of us get glimpses, while some may get more. We live in a particular time and place in the physical realm, because such focus is powerful and has its special lessons to teach us, but we can also learn to look and attend elsewhere, and remember/(re/dis)cover what is needful, whatever things in our long lives we have set aside, and take them up again and use them today, leaving other things in turn for our tomorrows.

What do I wish to leave in safekeeping for my future self, and for my descendants of blood and spirit? What is the spiritual heritage I am building day by day? Making a practice out of consciously leaving things for the future helps shape the futures we both desire and earn.

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*Grimassi, Raven. The Cauldron of Memory: Retrieving Ancestral Knowledge and Wisdom. Woodbury, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 2009.

Gates of Welcome: Seventh Day of Samhain (29 Oct. 2020)

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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At the start of this third triad of three in this series, I want to address briefly my conscious sidestepping of most current events. Plenty of Pagan and Druid forums are grappling with current events and the often polarizing conversations that have developed around them, and you can engage them there, where there are people much better informed than I am about up-to-the-minute developments, about the unfolding of events, about history and context. My practice of Druidry points me toward tools and strategies for insight, discovery, exploration and survival, so that’s what I’m choosing to focus on and share with you here.

That doesn’t mean Druidry is somehow values-neutral, that it equips you with a wand of power, then stands back as you wave and cast however you want. A wide range of political expressions may follow on Druid experiences and perceptions, but they won’t slot neatly into one or another political party. Extremes within either U.S. party, for instance, while they generate much of the current outrage and controversy, polarize opinions and attitudes, and grab headlines, aren’t especially productive places to find keys to human happiness and growth. It’s at points of balance and equilibrium between poles where creative tension often flourishes most successfully. Druidry reminds us that liminal spaces draw our attention for very good reasons, because that’s where worlds meet. And Samhain is a prime instance of the liminal or boundary experience.

Do the Gates allow me to look through in both directions?

“Gates of Welcome” is an excellent subject for exploration and meditation. A guide to practice: where do I feel welcomed? And where in turn can I make the things and people and experiences I want in my life feel welcome?

And what practices? Journal entry, prayer, wordless communion outdoors, an artistic response to “gates of welcome” in painting, music, sculpture, etc. Each of these can acknowledge the gates right for us, gates where we feel welcome, gates we may indeed already be passing through.

(What is my True Name? What is my Quest? Because this IS a spiritual quest.)

Snow in the forecast for tomorrow/Friday here in Vermont, with a low of 13 F / -10 C. We’ve had a fire in the stove for the past several days, mostly against the damp. The most daily things, preparing and eating a meal, building and maintaining a fire, washing and hanging up clothes (which we do outdoors in warm weather, indoors on racks by the fire in cooler weather) can become chances for epiphany — moments of spiritual transparency where we see that lived life is holy, that incarnation is a gift, that life is sacrament.

What are your triads today? What are the Three Gates of Welcome? What music do you find yourself singing?

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Grandmothers, Grandfathers: Sixth Day of Samhain (28 Oct. 2020)

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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When I realize it’s not “about me”, my sense of “me” can often enlarge, and — paradoxes teasing us and breaking up our rigidity as they do, gift of the gods to ease us open — I may know myself a part of all that is. Most humans, if we judge by interviews, polls, sociological surveys, etc., have experienced such moments. Consciousness expands, barriers drop away, and we re-connect. The ecstasy that can accompany such moments underlies a surprising amount of experimentation with altered states of consciousness — through drugs and alcohol, ritual, chant, jogging, yoga, dance, and so on.

Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional offers a “Threshold Invocation for the Festival of Samhain (to be said at the front door of the house on the eve of Samhain, 31st October, in the evening)” that begins:

Grandmother Wisdom, open the door,
Grandfather Counsel, come you in …

This sense of living ancestors, of cultural guides and totems, of others with us who simply join in “without their skins on”, still flourishes among many traditional peoples. It’s one of the things much of Druidry has also striven to reclaim and re-animate in our lives.

Part of our experience of these things lies in any welcome we give or withhold. Last night I joined a Zoom discussion on inner guidance. We talked about trusting what we receive, about learning to recognize its signs, those nudges that aren’t merely fear or ego or desire, about staying alert for the confirmation that often comes in outer circumstances that we’re on the right track.

For Christians, Jesus says “I stand at the door and knock”. As far as we can tell, there’s a lot of knocking going on in our lives. Yes, sometimes the message is urgent enough we may receive a visit uninvited. But in either case, what we do or don’t do in response often forms a core part of the significance of the visit. My listening, my acceptance, my questioning or doubt — in sum, my engagement in some way — is a good half of most experiences of contact and connection. In the language of his day, Winston Churchill remarked, “Men [i.e., humans] occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened”. In Heather Hughes Cullero’s The Sedona Trilogy, one character says, “This is the gift of Spirit to you. What you do with it is your gift to Spirit”.

East Coast Gathering, 2017. Spirit may take any form to reach us.

If you’re fortunate to know the names of your ancestors, particularly beyond your four grandparents, you may more readily gain an intimate sense of the curious timelessness of forming part of an immense ancestral line. Though my wife and I don’t have children of our own, we stand in the middle of just such a Long Line, like everyone does. As I mentioned in a previous post, live to 70 or 80 and that puts us squarely in the lives of five to seven generations within our living memory and connection. I recall my late grandmother who died at 81 in 1977, and I know her living descendants down to her youngest great-great-granddaughter Ashley — five generations already.

Try out the implications of reincarnation, and you could easily be one of your own ancestors. Take stock, look at family patterns, and it can often help clarify things: who I was then is part of who I am now. Step outside this world and its particular laws, and others come into play. Lifetimes like beads on the string of spirit, linking this brief span of decades to others, backwards and forwards. (Do I want to know the future? I’m building it day by day.)

Rather than being that flaky guest at parties who insists he was Julius Caesar or Rasputin or Charlemagne — that she was Cleopatra, or Madame Curie or Queen Elizabeth I — why not explore the major themes at work in life today, and link them up to nudges and hints about “who we were before”, to help map out a larger spiritual purpose and vision? (It sure beats the hell out of watching and worrying over current headlines — though that has its place, too, if we choose — if it doesn’t choose us.) Even as a purely imaginative exercise, it can open up perception and awareness — which seems to be one of the purposes of reincarnation anyway. (Is everything a metaphor?!)

Grandmother Wisdom, open the door,
Grandfather Counsel, come you in …

Yes, you can purchase Matthews’ book — it’s a good one. You could also use this as a prompt for your invocations. Grandmother Wisdom, what message do you have for your descendants? Grandfather Counsel, how can I best move through the next year? Among other things, Samhain is about tapping into the larger Selves we all are. The rest is often “just” holiday bling, Halloween decorations. But like the family heirloom or old metal toy or yellowing photo, such seemingly small things can loom large, and offer a link between generations.

We hear about ancestors of blood and also ancestors of spirit. If I have a difficult family, or one divided for any reason, my ancestors of spirit, and the current family I make out of friends and loved ones — families of choice — matters just as much. Mentors, supporters, our own cheering section, school classmates, colleagues, “chance” acquaintances who become beloved, spiritual ancestors whose art or music or books matter deeply to us — all of us gather such ancestors in addition to the people in blood relationship to us. These too are our ancestors at Samhain, and can form part of remembrances and prayers and invocations.

Bard initiates with Kristoffer Hughes (left, back row) at East Coast Gathering. What is the awen saying?

Samhain is not, or not primarily, “darkness and death”, but the realities deeper than these, which may wear them as masks. (The masks themselves can be fun, depending.) One measure of our lives is how and when spirit works to get our attention, whether it can keep it this time around — and what we choose do next.

morrigan
The Morrigan personifies the challenges that prove and test us all. Photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty.

Thresholds, Doorways: Fifth Day of Samhain (27 Oct. 2020)

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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Some of you may know author Leigh Bardugo and her recent (2019) novel Ninth House. Set in New Haven, Connecticut, it takes place mostly on the Yale University campus, where it re-imagines the school’s actual secret, elite “landed” societies or Houses like Skull and Bones, Book and Snake, Scroll and Key, Berzelius, Wolf’s Head, etc. as occult organizations, each with its magical specialties. Certainly those names are wonderfully evocative all by themselves!

Berzelius House or “tomb” at Yale University / Wikipedia.

Spoiler alert: one of the novel’s characters, familiar with portal magic, encounters what he thinks is just another magical portal, until he realizes — too late — that it’s a mouth instead.

A little Samhain shiver, of the kind that horror movies offer their fans.

The mouth of what? you ask. So do Bardugo’s readers, who await the sequel. But the metaphor is an apt one, outside the novel and at large in what we are pleased to call the “real world”. We resist change for this among other reasons — that the opportunity, doorway, portal will swallow us whole. Nothing left. Gone. Yanked out of our old life, which for all its problems and burdens is at least familiar. Sucked, tossed, flung into some new and terrifying realm where none of the old rules apply, and at the very best we have to start all over again. And at worst? Well, it just doesn’t bear thinking about.

Fear is a favorite emotion these days. It sells! And it rouses us from lethargy, it pulls in donations and ramps up political action. Right and Left both doing their level best to drum up every imaginable terror at the thought of the evil Others taking control at the next election. In the U.S., November 4 looms for far too many like a shape of fear brighter and darker than any Samhain hysteria.

At best these are distractions from something far more important.

In a 2015 post, “Reclaiming the Wild Self“, I quote Clarissa Pinkola Estés (author of Women Who Run with the Wolves), who writes:

The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a saner life, that is a door.

In part, the doors Estés refers to are a matter of human time. Live long enough and you’ll very likely acquire such scars, carry such stories, cherish such loves. One way to find common ground with others is to focus on these doors. And one of the best ways to access them is by careful listening to ourselves and to each other. (Yes, it’s a “slow fix” which, in case we haven’t noticed, is the only effective kind.)

Often enough, we may fear such a world and such a self as much as we yearn for it. A doorway means change. Even if it just opens onto another room, it’s not the room we were in a moment ago. Fears can outline such a door, too — including fear of a door itself. If you’re anything like me, you know or have been someone who at one time or another has walked into a cage and exulted as it clanged shut behind you, reassured that at least you wouldn’t have to walk through yet another damned door.

How many horror movies give us spider webs across the face as a sign we’ve passed a portal? Can we do it without fear for once?!

How to recapture the sense of the preciousness of these doors, as Estes calls it? For in the end our own longing compels us to find them and walk through. Ritual is one way, though by no means the only. By defining boundaries in ritual we can make a door easier to see and peek through. If the past is difficult country for me, I can approach it with safeguards in place. Ritual can help with its prescribed beginnings and endings, its containers of energy and wisdom we can safely draw on at need for balance and perspective and protection. A holiday like the upcoming Samhain, like Halloween, a holy evening for remembering who and what has passed from our lives, offers a safe space to honor and to say farewell to what is gone. Sometimes all that is needed is for us to agree that we can finally let go.

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Samhain can be good “portal practice”. Every year we already walk through many doors, whether we choose to or not, so why not practice doing it consciously? (Or if we choose not to walk through a door we face, that too is valuable.) By ritualizing our experience, we get to explore it, viewing it from several perspectives, and if we’re part of a community, a ritual circle, a group of friends, we get to do this together.

One of the advantages of Samhain (a fruitful subject for meditation all its own) is of a holy day “outside of time”. During Samhain we can gaze up and down the time track, the pathways of our lives and those of our ancestors.

The ritual words of the OBOD Samhain ceremony address the uncertainties and doubts that we may face:

“Is it then possible, during the celebration of Samhain, to pass without risk or fear from one world to another: the living to the realm of the dead, the dead to the span of the living?”

(Those with recall of past lives whisper to themselves “It sure ought to be — after all, how many times have I already done this before?!”)

One good answer: if we do it with love, the answer is yes. Many of us have made the journey already in meditation and dream, meeting loved ones where the boundaries are less daunting, unless we close ourselves off to such experiences. No rush, no need to force these things: we will know when the time is right.

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

[Edited/updated 13:53 EST]

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shrine of Sleep: Second Day of Samhain (24 Oct. 2020)

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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What offerings do I bring to the shrine of sleep these days?

In some ways we resist the dark on a national level. In most of North America and much of Europe, the season of time changes is upon us, where we turn back our clocks one hour to bring more daylight to our mornings. But much of the rest of the world doesn’t do this, and some regions even within the time-changing nations don’t change either.

Mystic River Grove ritual

Samhain, like Beltane, is a time when “the veil thins” — when the distinctions and barriers between levels of reality are less sharply defined, and it’s often easier to move back and forth between realities. Many of us have had dream experiences that open us to such possibilities. (Whether and how we choose to respond to these opened doors and gates and windows is another matter.)

Twice a year, potential experiences of a larger cosmos unroll into our awareness, unasked. (The rest of the time we may need to make more effort.) The mingled fear and curiosity we often hold for such enlargements tell us much about the social controls at work in our lives. While some explore lucid dreaming, yoga nidra and similar practices, for many of us the twice-yearly opportunities of vivid and insightful dreams, if we invite them, offer plenty to work with. Anyone who has kept a dream journal, and worked with recurring dreams, dream sequences, symbols, guides and ancestors, knows the value of dreamwork. As with so many practices, what you reap mirrors what you sow.

Animal companions can often walk with us to help us with comfort and reassurance, if we’re exploring other worlds. A familiar object — a photograph, seashell, feather or stone, handled before sleep over several nights, can travel with us into the dream, appearing within our dreams to remind us of our intent and our desire, and help shape the dream experience. Some people find that gazing at their hands, as a reminder of our capacity to effect change, to accomplish tasks, to shape our lives, can be another dream tool.

Personalized affirmations, repeated verbally, written in a journal, kept in the attention during the daylight hours, can also help incubate a dream. Here are a couple of examples:

At the shrine of sleep I dedicate my intent to ___, this object/animal companion to ___, my hands to ___ . Change whatever needs changing for your personal circumstances.

As this candle comes alight, so I seek a dream tonight, a holy gift of deep insight. Meditate with the candle, then extinguish it, knowing you carry the light of your intent into sleep for blessing during this time of Samhain.

Likewise, many have found the dream chalice practice an effective one:

Dedicate a goblet, glass or other cup as your dream chalice, placing it on your nightstand or otherwise near your bed before you sleep. Each morning when you awake, drink from the chalice, knowing you are drinking in the wisdom of your dreams. Keep a record of your impression, thoughts, feelings, memories, and images that occur to you over the next three (or seven) days.

May you dream richly at the Shrine of Sleep!

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