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Archive for the ‘Nature Awareness’ Category

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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On my way to work this morning, I saw buds on the tulip magnolia trees by the Episcopal church. It’s a funny thing: The tulip magnolia buds in November, and the fuzzy buds endure the whole of winter, rain snow sleet and hail, before they open in April. When they bloom, the flowers are on the trees for two, maybe three weeks, at most, if the weather is perfect. The buds wait all winter for their two weeks of glory. I wait with them because I know how splendid it will be.

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I’ve borrowed my title from a post by Nimue at Druid Life in which she writes feelingly of this sense of belonging as a distinctly Druid idea and as a basis for ethics and practice. “If we belong first and foremost to the land,” she writes,

… then we do not belong to our human communities above all else. We are not the property of the state, or owned by our employers. This affects how we perceive ourselves and our human relationships. We are not owned by the job, or by the demands of human expectations. We belong instead to the land, and consciousness of that allows us not to be ruled so easily by misguided cultural norms, or social pressures. We are also less inclined to see the land itself or anything that lives upon it as property to be owned by humans. We belong to it, it does not belong to us.

I’m not sure I would agree that the sense of belonging is the defining characteristic of Druidry, but I certainly agree that it’s an important one. What I want to point out here is that Nimue lives in Gloucestershire, in southwest England, and I live in Maryland, in the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S., in North America. The land to which Nimue belongs is not the land to which I belong. The United States of America is an enormous land compared to the island of Britain, but while I have travelled some, I have never lived anywhere but this one city, in this state, not too far from the western edge of the Atlantic.

I think there is a challenge for those of us who are Druids in North America, Australia, South America, or indeed any place but Northern Europe and the U.K. to belong to the land we live in and not imagine we belong to the land our traditions come from. At least, I know it’s a challenge for me, and I imagine I’m not alone. Many of the trees of the Ogham grow in North America as well as Europe, but they are not the same species. The British holly and the local holly are not identical; the British robin and the American robin are two entirely different birds, alike only in their orange bosoms.

I dream of visiting England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales. I imagine that I might feel more at home there than I do here, in the only place I’ve ever lived. But unless I actually move to the U.K. (not bloody likely), the land to which I belong is the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and my Druidry has to work with that fact. So I’m working on it.

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A mourning dove and a small flock of sparrows are foraging in the bushes just outside my front door. After watching them through the window for a bit, I grabbed the only bird guide I could find (where is my Peterson’s???) and tried to identify the sparrows. They are not the English house sparrow but a true, native sparrow with a distinctive white “eyebrow”. I turned a page in my guide and saw the entry on the dark-eyed junco, a frequent visitor to these parts and one I have no trouble recognizing. When I looked up from the book and out the window, I saw the first junco of the season coming in to forage under my bushes.

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One of the chief reasons I am a druid is because “nature spirituality” is important to me. But when I ask myself, “What is nature spirituality? What is ‘nature’?” I find I don’t have any easy answers.

The root of the word “nature” is the Latin “natus”, which means “born”. Nature is that which is born, not made. That which is made is culture, artifice, artificial; that which is born is natural. Nature vs. culture, nature vs. nurture.

You and I were born, not made. Born live from a mother’s womb and suckled at her mammal breast, or by a facsimile thereof, we are nature.  Creatures that hatched from eggs, sprouted from seeds, formed in the earth from heat and stress, they are also nature.

Birds build nests. Beavers build dams. Spiders build webs. Humans build houses, villages, cities. The sleekest, most computerized automobile is made by human art and craft from materials drawn from nature. To make things, to create culture, is part of human nature.

Years ago I read a statement by Z. Budapest to the effect that the Goddess is part of nature because there is nothing outside nature. At the time I did not understand what she was saying, but I think I do now. We talk about things that are supernatural, or paranatural, paranormal, unnatural. But from a pagan perspective, and I think from a Buddhist perspective as well, it’s all nature. Gods and goddesses, angels and demons, land-spirits, animal spirits, all these things are part of nature.There is no super-nature, no way outside nature, no “away” where we can throw things and they won’t affect us. To be a druid is to affirm that Susan Griffin is right:

We know ourselves to be made from this earth.
We know this earth is made from our bodies.
For we see ourselves.
And we are nature.
We are nature seeing nature.
We are nature with a concept of nature.
Nature weeping.
Nature speaking of nature to nature.

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Yesterday I saw a dead rat, squashed-looking and rather decomposed, covered with pink petals from the blooms of a nearby tree.

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I may try to ignore it, but I feel the energies shifting around me.  It hasn’t really been summer for weeks.  We had three weeks of our worst heat and humidity at the beginning of August, after a comparatively mild summer; when it broke, driven away by tropical storms drifting up the Atlantic coast, I began to see feathers on the sidewalks, the first sign of fall.  Pigeons, sparrows, mourning doves, mockers, they’re all finished their breeding season and had begun to moult.  My own companion parrots have been cranky for weeks as they moult along with their outdoors neighbors.

Today is wind and rain and chill.  Temperatures in the low sixties feel chilly when it’s raining and the wind is pushing the wet underneath your umbrella, into the recesses of your hood.  Walking under the pin oaks near the swim and tennis club, I saw red-bronze leaves blown down and slicked to the ground next to tumbled acorns.  The children have returned to school, the birds are moulting, leaves are turning red, and Mercury dances backward across the sky for the last time this calendar year:  It’s autumn.  I celebrated the harvest last weekend by a trip to the state fair, where I ate locally produced food, saw local livestock compete, admired local 4H projects, and gazed rapturously on a tamed turkey vulture.

It’s autumn.  A few weeks ago, when it was still summer, the founding lama of my Buddhist sangha came to town to give teachings.  In addition to leading a lot of meditation sessions, many of them on the back porch of a member’s house while dogs yapped, bugs sang, and neighbors partied, he taught on the practice of Green Tara and gave the bodhisattva vows.  I formally took the vow to seek enlightenment in order to help all sentient beings.

I have said that same vow every time I sat down to practice with my sangha.  I have said it repeatedly in private meditation.  I made a vow very similar in spirit when I reached adeptship in the New Hermetics.  The difference, when I took the vow in August, was that I made it as a Buddhist, witnessed by a teacher of my tradition and by fellow members of that tradition.  I made it as a significant commitment to the Mahayana path.

I still rather squirm at identifying myself as a Buddhist.  I have consciously refrained, for some time now, from identifying myself as a Druid.  But I have no qualms whatever about identifying myself as a Mahayanist, as someone who believes in working on the self for the welfare of all.  Reginald Ray, whose teacher was the great Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, puts it best when he says simply (in his teachings on Buddhist Tantra), “You can’t pursue a spiritual path just for yourself. You really can’t.  It doesn’t work.”

That is the core of what I believe and seek to practice.  I find it most clearly explicated in the teachings of the Buddha; I also find it in the teachings of Jesus, if not always in the Church’s teachings *about* Jesus.  I find it buried in the teachings of the Western magical traditions; I see it coming to the surface in various traditions of Neopaganism.  I think I had better start looking for it in the traditions of Druidry, and bringing it there if I cannot find it… because the wind is changing, the equinox is approaching, and it appears I am still a Druid, somehow.

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