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Archive for the ‘Inner Work’ Category

In the Middle Ages, when glorious cathedrals were built with hand tools and muscle labor, a man who wanted to be a mason would apprentice to a master mason while he was still a boy. He would work his way up from doing menial labor to support the skilled workers, to learning the skills of the craft, to being competent to work on his own. At that point he would be called a journeyman, and he might journey around to work with other masters than his own, to learn new things, to hone his skills. Eventually, he would produce a work, a master piece, that qualified him to be called a master and to take apprentices of his own.

This three-level system of training, in which one master taught small groups of students, applied for hundreds of years in a wide variety of professions. It was paralleled to some extent in other professions, such as the progress of a monk from novice, to junior brother in simple vows, to senior monk in life-long solemn vows. When the symbolic system of masonry passed from the hands of people who actually raised buildings into the hands of educated men with time to speculate on its meanings, somewhere in the early eighteenth century, Freemasonry retained those three levels of training, its three degrees.

In the late nineteenth century, Freemasonry unexpectedly shared its lodge system of government and its three basic degrees with a number of alternative spirituality movements. As a result, the Wiccans, Witches, and Druids of twentieth-century neopaganism usually underwent training programs that involved three degrees. Freemasons speak of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason; the Druid order to which I formerly belonged called its degrees Apprentice, Companion, and Adept. There’s a basic commonality in the descriptions of the degrees across traditions: The first degree is about learning the system; the second degree is about proficiency in working the system; and the third degree is about teaching and embodying the system.

If you have any interest in neopagan witchcraft or Wicca, and have contact with other interested people, for more than about a month, you will start to hear complaints about the proliferation of “Wicca 101” books and the dearth of advanced materials. Month after month, year after year, new books for beginners in witchcraft get released, books about the first degree, while if books on second or third degree topics are being written, they’re not getting published. And if you peruse a few large bookstores, or the websites of a few prominent publishers, you will see that the complaints are justified.

I achieved First Degree in my Druid order, but not Second. I could never quite get myself organized to tackle it, which in retrospect was probably a sign that I should have given up on the druid system much sooner than I did. Sometime last year, I began to think about the three degrees and the teachings of the Church and to ask myself, What would it mean to be a second-degree Christian?

It’s not that the Church doesn’t have equivalents to the degrees, at least theoretically. Ascetical theology speaks of three stages in the spiritual life: purification, illumination, and unification. The devout soul moves from being purged of sins and vices, to being illuminated with knowledge and love of self, others, and God, finally to being united with God. At times people in these three stages were spoken of as beginners, proficients, and perfects, although I think the Cathars rather ruined that for everybody else in touting their celibate, vegetarian perfecti as superior to the not-very-celibate or self-denying Catholic priests of their day. Even the common, external progression from baptism to confirmation to vocation (marriage, monastic life, holy orders, or some combination of the above) suggests the three degrees, although I think the analogy is a false one.

In my early twenties, while I was working at a Christian bookstore, I came across a book that took seriously the idea of what you might call second-degree Christianity. That book was Christian Proficiency by Martin Thornton, a priest of the Church of England. It made a deep and permanent impression on me, and it must have done so for other readers as well because it’s still in print. For Thornton, a proficient was any Christian who was willing to embrace a Rule of Life and commit to regular Eucharist and Sunday worship, daily formal prayer (such as Morning and Evening Prayer from the Prayerbook), and some kind of private prayer. To make Christianity a practice rather than just a theory of life made one a Proficient.

I decided last year that I was going to take myself seriously as a Proficient, a Christian of the second degree. I was out of practice, so to speak, but I was far from a beginner in the way. I had a large knowledge of theology, spirituality, Church history. I had some experience with living by Rule. And I had, and have, a genuine desire to pray more, pray better, pray more deeply than I ever had before.

Being second degree means showing up at church on Sundays and holy days, regardless of how I feel. (Usually this is not a challenge, as I actually feel better *after* Eucharist than I did before.) It means saying the Office regardless of how I feel, and doing it with some solemnity. I have always liked to have candles and incense with daily prayer, and recently I began wearing a dedicated shawl during times of prayer, which makes me feel I have a vestment. I do spend more time in private, informal, open-ended prayer than I used to, though still not as much as I want to. (Sometimes one gets sucked into the Internet, or the newest levels of Angry Birds.)

Perhaps the hardest thing, strangely enough, has been carrying out my decision not to read “Christianity 101” books any more. Today, for example, I finished a book on Julian of Norwich that I seem to have begun back in November of last year. It was only around 275 pages long (and that includes a copious portion of notes), but there were times that reading it was like banging my head against a brick wall. At times I actually moved my lips while reading it, or read parts of it aloud. I never blamed the author, just my failing eyes and my tired middle-aged brain. But today I finished it, I felt like I understood it, and I began reading another scholarly Julian book that started life as a doctoral dissertation. I’ve been reading and studying Julian for thirty years; I don’t need any more Julian 101 books. I need to have the courage of my experience.

What topics can you stop reading introductory-level books about? What do you need to read, or do, or change in order to work the system, to make your Christianity a practice and not just a theory? How can you solemnize your commitment to prayer, peace, justice and love? And what might it look like, feel like, be like, for you to be third degree, to know some kind of unity with God? I think more of us in the Church need to step up, light our candles and put on our prayer shawls or whatever feels right, and start answering those questions. Out loud.

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We observed the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord at my church this morning. We don’t observe many holy days that aren’t Sundays, outside of the biggies at Christmas and in Holy Week, but this feast conveniently fell on a Sunday this year. In his sermon, my rector remarked that when he was searching online for information about the feast, he found more posts from witches than from Christians.

In the old reckoning, before the twentieth century’s liturgical reforms, before the Gregorian calendar, this day was the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of spring. Once it was called the Purification of Our Lady, and the main focus was on the ritual purification required by the Mosaic Law for a woman who had given birth before she could be reintegrated into the community. The Law prescribed a withdrawal of forty days for the mother of a son, eighty for the mother of a daughter; hence, this feast made Christmastide, too, a season of forty days.

Despite the joyous nature of its festivals, Christmastide is often harder on me than Lent. I don’t deal well with winter. This year we’ve had unusually cold temperatures and unusually large amounts of snow, by Mid-Atlantic standards; my snow boots are starting to show some wear after sitting in the closet, pristine and pure, for several years. I long for longer days and temperatures above freezing, for a chance to wear the cute fleece jacket I bought in late autumn instead of my heavy black down-filled coat, for more light, more light.

All the Scriptures and songs of Christmastide are about light. The divine Light comes into the world, embodied in Jesus, and the natural light grows as the earth tilts and turns and we celebrate the growth of the Word made flesh. But not fast enough; not fast enough. Even now there’s a winter storm approaching my area, and if there are any snowdrops or crocuses out there, they may be covered over by morning.

Yet the shift in nature’s energies that occurs at this moment of the year, whether you call it Presentation, Purification, Candlemas, or Imbolc, always brings some relief to me, and perhaps to others who suffer from the loss of light for three months. Already there are signs that, as so often happens, my creative energies have been renewed, and they’re ready to push up from the darkness like sprouting bulbs, showing new and unexpected flowers. The orchid I’ve had for over five years has put out a stalk with buds for the first time since I’ve owned it. I think I, too, will be putting out some new things in the coming month.

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I’ve been reading a lot of Aidan Kelly lately, ever since Jason at The Wild Hunt linked to a post on Aidan’s recently inaugurated blog. I’ve read every post on the blog; in addition, I’ve read Hippie Commie Beatnik Witches, his book on the formationof the NROOGD and his short novel Goddess Murder, in which he does what Dan Brown was trying to do in his most famous work, only better.

In HCBW, he records some of a group conversation amongst himself and the other people most closely involved in researching and writing ritual for the group. In this discussion the group talks about “having an intuitive sense of what our pattern is, or we couldn’t have looked at all the bits and pieces of traditional information and figured out which ones would fit into a pattern for us and which ones wouldn’t.”

This rang a bell with me, a bell which chimed again when in a recent blog post Aidan discussed  the intellectual discipline which advancement in the Craft requires and said, “You must read Murray and Graves and Gardner, for starters, as theology, not history.”

This work, the seeking that Aidan describes the NROOGD doing as a group in its fledgling years, the picking up of pieces from a pattern, the fragments of a jigsaw puzzle, the shards of a vase, is the work I am doing right now. It’s the work of creating a system of philosophy and practice, a system which will probably only ever be mine and mine alone, but which will be tested by experience and have enough internal consistency and practicality to be shared with other people. This system need not have a name, except “what Mam Adar does”. It will include magic and devotion and creative work; it will owe something to Wicca, Druidry, Buddhism, Feri, Northern traditions, hermetic magic, and the Prayerbook and Hymnal that taught me what religion and liturgy should look like and sound like.

One way that I am doing this work is by exploring the practices of one of R.J. Stewart’s more recent books, The Spirit Cord. The book teaches methods of working with one of the simplest of all magical tools: the Cord. I braided three strands of hemp thread together, good tough vividly dyed thread bought at my local bead shop, knotted off the ends, dripped a bit of beeswax on the knots, and I was ready. I have not so far done much formal sit-down work, except for the three rounds of three different dedications which Stewart prescribes as preliminary to the work, but as I have carried it on my person and slept with it under my pillow, my dreams have strengthened, my daily practices have stabilized, and I’ve begun to see, feel, and sense (to borrow one of Stewart’s favorite phrases) the pattern which belongs to me and into which my pieces fit.

The joyful part is that things are working, things are fermenting. The frustrating part is that I was clued in to this pattern some twenty years ago, and I got distracted from it, repeatedly, by a lot of different things. Stewart’s books are part of the pattern, and so are the works of John and Caitlin Matthews; the Druid Revival is part of it, but so is pre-Christian Celtic religion; Wicca has some pieces of it alongside Druidry, Buddhism has some pieces alongside Christianity (and Buddhism has been invaluable in giving me a picture of what an intact, complete religious/magical system looks like and how it works).

Is that eclecticism? is it syncretism? I don’t know and I actually don’t care. What I do care about is following the thread of this pattern, like Theseus in the labyrinth, and not getting distracted again, whether by my own fears and doubts, or by other people’s critiques of what I’m doing. The five feet and four inches of my slender hand-braided cord are my vow not to get distracted or derailed again.

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For as long as I’ve been able to read, I’ve loved to read about religion. Whether it was my own religion, Protestant (Episcopal) Christianity, or the more exotic forms of Christianity in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, or other religions entirely, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, it was all interesting. I started with picture-heavy tomes on Religions of the World, went on to children’s retellings of Greek and Norse myths, and branched out into adult books on archaeology, mythology, and comparative religion. For most of my life (I could already read when I entered kindergarten), religion has been for me one of the most fascinating things in the world.

When I discovered The Spiral Dance at thirteen, the same year it was published, what I discovered was not just that some people believed in a Goddess, or The Goddess, or gods and goddesses. I discovered that people like me believed in them, worshipped them, took them seriously, right now today. People who were Americans, who were brought up as White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, who weren’t ethnic or exotic or distant from in time or space. People like me.

As soon as I finished the book, I was quite certain I was actually a Witch, or at least a Pagan, and that I always would be. My observance took the form of writing a lot of bad poetry about spring and fall and my two favorite deities, Athena and Dionysus. Well, I was only thirteen. Then when I was sixteen, my grandmother died, after no illness and a massive heart attack and on my birthday, and within two years, I was back at my little Episcopal church, because there was a new priest there and absolutely no community, no support, in my solitary poetry-writing paganism.

In the last twenty years, I have identified variously as a Neopagan, an Anglican, a Druid, a Magician, and a Buddhist. I have been a member of two different druid organizations, trained in a Hermetic magical system, flirted with Greco-Egyptian syncretism, and taken refuge and bodhisattva vows. I have kept and abandoned and restarted this blog multiple times. I have read not only on Druidry, magic and occultism, and Tibetan Buddhism, but on Zen, Santeria, Wicca, Feri, Reclaiming, Asatru and the Northern Tradition, and Thelema.

In that same period of time, I have been happily monogamously married to one man, my husband, my best friend, my lover. Being sexually and emotional faithful, being true to the traditional Christian wedding vows we made, has not been difficult or challenging in the slightest. Admiring beautiful people and swooning over beautiful, talented actors has not interfered with my commitment to one person and our life together.

A lot of people find long-term sexual/romantic commitment difficult, even impossible. They cheat on spouses, adopt serial monogamy, or try the path of polyamory. Yet they might not have a problem adopting one spiritual path, one system of practice, and sticking to it. I know people who have been Wiccan or Heathen or Buddhist for decades, as contentedly as I have been married. If someone asked me for relationship advice, as somebody with a successful marriage, I would have no hesitation in giving it. But if someone asked me for spiritual advice, well, I have to admit, finally, that I remain in many ways a beginner, because I have never stayed the course and gone deep with anything.

Right now I’m reading Dedicant: A Witch’s Circle of Fire by Thuri Calafia. In the introduction, she describes her system of study in the Craft as a circle of five stages corresponding to the elements: Seeker (Air), Dedicant (Fire), Initiate (Water), Adept (Earth), and Master (Spirit). The Initiate, Adept, and Master stages correspond to the First, Second, and Third Degrees of coven-based Craft. Here is how Calafia describes the Dedicant:

The Dedicant becomes very passionate and fired up about this religion, and begins by learning to use his will as he learns about himself and the Craft.

And the Initiate:

The Initiate (in traditional Wicca, the first-degree) falls in love in a whole new way with her religion as she comes to understand how deep she must go to truly know and love herself and her gods.

Somehow, I have never crossed the threshold from the enthusiasm of the Dedicant to the commitment of the Initiate. I’ve gotten engaged a lot of times but never made it to the altar.

Why is it that a sexual, relationship commitment has been easy for me to make and maintain, but a spiritual commitment nearly impossible? Why does the grass always look greener to me in somebody else’s circle? I don’t have an answer, but this is a question I am going to be exploring for a while.

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Do I choose the stories I retell, or do they choose me?

I frequently see lists of favorite books online, or of formatively important books, or of great classic books you ought to have read, so bold the ones you did read and feel ashamed for all the ones you didn’t. (Usually when that list goes around, the only classic I’ve read is The Lord of the Rings.)

I’ve listed and written about some of those favorite or formative books–In This House of Brede, The Spiral Dance–and could easily name others–LOTR, the Chronicles of Narnia, Original Blessing–but instead, I’d like to talk about stories. Irrespective of authorship, certain stories have obsessed me and nourished me over the years, and I’ve repeatedly come back to their original texts and to writers’ variations on them.

The first story I have to name is The Star Trek Story. A story I watched came before any story I heard or any story I read. To some people, Star Trek is the story of a future that will never come true, of an onward march of progress that is unrealistic and unsustainable, and of a certain kind of U.S. liberal politics writ large upon the cosmos. To me, Star Trek is the story of people who went out with seeking eyes and open hands to meet new people and new kinds of people and to bring home new knowledge about the universe. It is the story of people who are different, sometimes vastly different, learning to live together as neighbors and even as friends. If you think that Kirk breaking the speed of light and the Prime Directive equally often is all that Trek is about, I urge you to read Kendra James’ tribute to Deep Space Nine’s Captain Ben Sisko on Racialicious.

Next after The Star Trek Story comes the Mabinogion. I think that Lloyd Alexander’s five-part series of the Chronicles of Prydain was really my first exposure to the world of the Mabinogion. The Chronicles of Prydain are original fiction for children, not a retelling of any specific story, but the names, characters, themes, and atmosphere are drawn from the Four Branches, the Romances, and the “Hanes Taliesin”. There is Taran, the protagonist, an orphan boy-of-all-work and Assistant Pig Keeper of Hen Wen, the oracular white pig; great names like Gwydion, Math, Arawn, and Achren figure in his adventures. And there is Flewddur Flam, the king who would be bard, and his somewhat unreliable harp, which tends to snap a string if he embellishes a tale too much; Gurgi, a mysterious shaggy person who seems to be neither man nor beast; and the talkative princess Eilonwy, who is not as scatter-brained as she seems.

Later, I encountered Evangeline Walton’s retellings of the Four Branches: Prince of Annwn, The Children of Llyr, The Song of Rhiannon, and The Island of the Mighty. These were fantasy works for adults, occasionally slightly racy for a ten-year-old, and deeply influenced by nineteenth-century anthropology and esotericism. Walton pitted the New Tribes, patriarchal warriors epitomised by the clueless Pwyll, against the Old Tribes, matriarchal magicians who recognized the Mother as the source of all life, epitomised by the shrewd and reserved Manawyddan. Both Pwyll and Manawyddan marry the unforgettable Rhiannon, the beautiful sharp-tongued faery woman who may actually be the goddess herself.

Closely related to the Mabinogion, of course, is the Matter of Britain, the great Arthurian corpus. I’m sure I read Sidney Lanier’s adaptation, and some of Pyle’s, along with his Robin Hood (which I liked better than his Arthurian books); Rosemary Sutcliffe’s trilogy on the legends, The Sword and the Circle, The Light beyond the Forest, and The Road to Camlann, plus Song for a Dark Queen, her take on Boudicca; and then, of course, The Mists of Avalon and all of its sequels, and most recently the excellent series by Gerald Morris, The Squire’s Tales. I even devoured Meg Cabot’s Avalon High when I discovered it in Kindle format.

The D’Aulaires’ beautiful volume was my introduction to Norse mythology, closely followed by Padraic Colum’s The Children of Odin with its marvelous Art Nouveau line drawings by Willi Pogany. No one who has seen it could forget Pogany’s image of Loki, his long hair swirling out about his bitter, pointed face, eating the burnt heart of Gullveig the witch. I was about equally in love with Greek mythology, yet there is no one book that stands out in my memory; I know I read a good deal of Bulfinch as well as quite a few children’s retellings.

Unpagan as it may seem, the stories of the Bible are always going to be part of my personal canon and a source of meaning for me. The great advantage that the canonical Gospels have over all the noncanonical materials, fascinating though the latter may be, is that they are stories, stories of an interesting person who has interesting things to say. The Maeve Chronicles by Elizabeth Cunningham are to the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles what The Mists of Avalon is to Malory’s Morte D’Arthur: A retelling from the point of view of a female character that stands the whole story on its head (and shakes out its pockets and forces it to make some sense). They are also both comedic and comic, unlike the Avalon books: Hilariously funny and hell-bent on a happy ending.

The stories of the Old Testament, of the Torah and historical writings, also continue to interest me. I actually wrote a short fanfic based on Saul’s encounter with the witch of Endor, “Hearing Voices”, for an online festival of transformative works based on the Hebrew Scriptures. A few years ago The Red Tent, a novel about Jacob and the women in his life, became a best-seller. Madeleine L’Engle wrote a trilogy of books reflecting on the patriarchs of the book of Genesis, and I hear there was a miniseries based on the narratives of Saul and David, which is something I’ve always wanted to see. How a story as full of sex, violence, politics, intrigue, sex, adventure, homoerotic subtext, and did I mention SEX? as the books of Samuel and Kings could become a miniseries and get cancelled is beyond my understanding. Alas.

Finally, I must mention a series of books that debuted when I was a teenager and have remained important to me, though I have grown far older than the characters: The Young Wizards series by Diane Duane. Long before anyone had heard of that English boy whose mean relatives made him live in a cupboard under the stairs, Nita Callahan and her partner Kit Rodriguez were fighting the heat-death of the universe with heroism, courage, poetic words, and an array of unlikely-looking allies. This review will give you a good idea of the series, though it’s focused on the first book.

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On Saturday we went to our favorite pizza place for lunch after our morning yoga class. The owner was there, a lovely friendly man who happens to be a Muslim; I’d guess he’s Egyptian based on the name of the restaurant. After he took our order, he went back to the table where he usually sits between customers. From somewhere behind my back, I heard a low rumbling noise.

I spoke softly to my husband. “Is he chanting the Qur’an?” He nodded.

I’ve often seen him with his Qur’an, a large, handsomely bound copy, the size of an American “family Bible”. I’d seen him read it but not noticed him chanting, singing it aloud. As I waited for my pita sandwich, I thought about a PBS show on India I had watched, maybe last year, where a woman scholar displayed a manuscript written on palm leaf, unbound, wider than its height. She identified it as the Rig Veda and, pointing to the first lines on the page, chanted them aloud.

It occurred to me then that chanting or singing is what one does with the sacred Word. It is what Brahmin priests and Tibetan lamas do with their Vedas and sutras. It is what Christian monks do, or did, in their celebration of the Daily Office; St. Benedict says in his Rule that brothers who cannot read must be given time apart from work or prayer to memorize the Psalms and other Scriptures. It is what the synagogue cantor and the boy having his bar mitzvah do with the Torah, the Tanakh. And it is what the bard and the scop did with the hymns and histories of the Northern peoples, before they were written down.

Behind all of those sacred texts, pre-Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Christian, behind all of those written words, lie layers upon layers of singing and chanting. On their album The Sacred Bridge, which features Jewish and Christan music of the Middle Ages, the Boston Camerata performs Psalm 114, “In exitu Israel”, alternating between the Hebrew text and the Latin. The tune is the same for both, the Hebrew melody that the Church adopted and called the tonus peregrinus, the wandering tune.

Even when literacy became a primary skill of learned people, reading still meant “reading aloud” when it did not mean “singing together in ritual”. The greatest minds of Europe up to the modern era moved their lips when they read and would have thought it bizarre to be told not to do it. But what happens when the sacred Word becomes primarily, even exclusively, a thing preserved in a book and read silently to oneself in private, outside a community of those who teach how to sing it and how to understand it?

What happens is fundamentalism. The most eccentric doctrines of American Evangelical Protestantism, such as the Rapture and the quibbling between pre- and post-Millenial Dispensationalists, come out of the minds of men who read the Bible to themselves, for themselves, in private, absolutely confident of their right to understand it in private, apart from 1500 years of the Church’s interpretation. They were no longer interested in singing the sacred words in community, or in what the Fathers of the early Church had to say about a passage; they were certain that the Holy Spirit was directing them to see a long-neglected truth, an essential part of the Christian message. But the end result of their confidence is the televangelist, the Left Behind books, a theology that predicts the day and the hour that Jesus bluntly said no one knows and says that Real True Believers will not have to die to enter heaven–they will simply be whisked away to watch in comfort while everyone else suffers.

I love books. I work with books. I practically worship books. But the sacred Word in a book too easily becomes the dead letter that Paul of Tarsus said can kill. The Spirit gives life–the spirit being the breath that carries the chant, the spoken word, the song sung, the memory of the people.

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Two months ago, I wrote about coming back to druidry after a long hiatus. Since then I have experienced a number of twists and turns on the path that I was very much not expecting. I went through several detours on which I thought I might settle down with Zen Buddhism, or with some kind of Egyptian paganism. Eventually I turned back to something that hadn’t let me down yet: The tools of the New Hermetics magical system.

Every day for a couple of weeks, I have performed the New Hermetics Grounding and Centering, our equivalent to the standard Pentagram Rituals. I have intoned the Middle Pillar into my aura. I have sat down to do the threefold meditation of the Synergistic Meditative Flows: breath awareness, energy work, and visionary scrying.

Last Sunday, I called my magical mentor, Jason, to talk to him about my daily practice and how it was going and to catch up on life in general. I said, among other things, that I just did not think druidry was going to work for me any more, but that I very much wished it would.

He asked me the same question I’ve asked myself over and over: Why druidry? why this path and no other? And the ancillary question, though he did not ask it: Why has finding a place in druidry been so damned difficult for me?

I didn’t really have an answer for him, except that nature spirituality is important to me. I don’t live on a farm, I don’t grow my own food, I don’t keep chickens (I’d rather like to), but I am absolutely certain that my urban trees, my courtyard birds, the wind and clouds, the drenching rains of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, the movements of sun and moon, are just as much Nature as the daily life of a farmer living off the grid. And to build cities seems to me to be part of human nature; I want us to build them more greenly, more sustainably, more humanely, not to stop building them.

Sometimes you ask a question and don’t get an answer. Sometimes you ask a question and don’t get an answer at the time you expect it. The answer to “Why druidry?” came to me in the shower this morning, unexpected but welcome, as shower-borne inspirations usually are. When it popped into my head, I knew that I wanted to share it and that I was ready to start blogging as a druid again.

  • Why druidry? Because the druid is a magician, a priest or priestess, and an artist, and I am all of those  things.
  • Why druidry? Because nature spirituality, in the midst of the city, is an integral aspect of my personal spirituality.
  • Why druidry? Because druidry was imprinted on me as an ideal in a formative period of my life, and connected with stories of deep significance to me.

I’ve often talked about my background as an Episcopalian and how it taught me the importance of song, poetry, and story in religious life, religious meaning. At the same time that I was imbibing the Hymnal and the Prayerbook, I was reading works of fiction that would influence me permanently, and not just Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede. The “druidic” books that took root in me were children’s retellings of the stories of King Arthur (principally Pyle and Lanier), the Prydain books of Lloyd Alexander, inspired by the Arthurian romances of the Mabinogion, and the Mabinogion Quartet of Evangeline Walton, adult retellings of the Four Branches (very adult–a bit sexy for a young reader, at times, but I didn’t tell anyone).

Those books were crowned, in my teen years, by the publication of The Spiral Dance and The Mists of Avalon. It’s fashionable now in some quarters to sneer at both those books, but as to the first, there were very few other books like it when it was new, and as to the second, it was so damned convincing. I have a lot of issues with Mists when I reread it, as I also do with The Lord of the Rings and other staples of my childhood reading, but Bradley made sense of Malory in a compelling way. And while the druidic magic of the Avalon universe has very little to do with historic druidic practice as we currently understand it, it has everything to do with the Western Mystery Tradition and the work of Dion Fortune and her successors.

It may sound strange–or childish or quixotic or foolish–to settle on a spiritual path because you read about it in a book as a kid. But not only is that what a lot of pagans do, it’s very much what most Christians do, and what anybody does who simply adopts the mainstream religion of their culture. They accept what others tell them as children, go along with the stories they’re given, unless and until they think it over for themselves and change church, or change religion, or reject religion, for their own reasons.

I think I have made druidry hard for myself by not seeing and accepting those simple answers to the question “why druidry” and thinking instead that my druidry had to look like someone else’s, had to conform to external standards. I’m the sort of person who usually works well with clear and specific requirements, as I did in my New Hermetics training, as I do on the job. But in this case, I think I need to strike out on my own, make my own path through the forest, carrying with me the tools that have served me best so far: Song and story, meditation and magic, the ideas of the Sword and the Grail and the Table Round, Merlin the mage and Morgaine the priestess, and a great deal of Capricorn determination.

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