Posts Tagged ‘30 days of druidry’

In the past couple of weeks I’ve gradually been moving my focus of practice at home from a shrine atop a marble-topped chest of drawers, with a deep windowsill behind it, to a smaller shrine on my desk, with a shallower windowsill behind it. Part of this process has been relocating our home computer so that the big desk can be *mine* again. I can write in my journal, light candles and incense, and gaze out the window at the courtyard in front of our house, with its large Japanese maple tree, even larger magnolia, and small tiered fountain.

So far the shrine consists mainly of my staff, hung with a grapevine wreath that I decorated in orange and brown ribbon; a candelabra for seven votive candles in seven colors, straight out of the Pyramid Catalog; a cauldron full of ash and sand for incense and a tea light; a blue-glazed cup for water; and a pretty good reproduction of the Apollo Belvedere draped with a strand of amber beads in honor of my patron, Grannos, who was often syncretized with Apollo. A piece of art paper in sage green with brown leaves covers the white-painted windowsill. A cheap cloth runner in brown and black embroidered with a few green and orange leaves hangs over the desk. (I bought the runner and some other goodies at a Michael’s craft store.)

What is a sacred place? What is a holy place? What is the difference between sacred and not-sacred, holy and not-holy? I’m not sure I know. Many books on pagan paths, Wiccan, Druid, and other, recommend making an altar or shrine or some kind of sacred place in the home as a first step in practice. That was something I didn’t have to be told; I’ve had a home shrine on and off since I was a teenager and began saying the Episcopal Daily Office. I sat on the bed looking toward a statue of Maria Kannon and read the Psalms and prayers. My husband has a shrine at his own desk; there are deity statues and candles on all three of our bedroom windows, and the mantel over our gas fireplace hosts gilded Buddha statues, traditional icons of Mary and Jesus, and a plaque of the Lares and the family Genius.

Terra cotta plaque depicting the Penates.What is a holy place outdoors, a sacred place in nature? Again, I’m not sure I know. The weekend before last, my husband and I went walking, or maybe I should say hiking, in a local park. After taking light rail to the park, we circled the lake on a track that eventually wound away to the northwest and came out from under the trees by the side of a busy road. We ate lunch seated on a fallen log covered with filmy fungus and reluctantly decided our best bet was to retrace our steps–about a two-hour walk, having come that far. By the time I was halfway back to the light rail stop, my feet were throbbing in my inadequate shoes. By the time I boarded the train, everything ached from my waist down. We stopped on the way home to buy frozen lasagna, ibuprofen, and epsom salts. But it was worth it to see the lake, the trees, the jolly dogs pulling at their leashes, the diversity of people exploring the trails. Did I have any great spiritual or mystical experience? No. But it was unquestionably part of my druid practice.

I learned religion in a small stone building defined by the smell of incense and the nature of its acoustics. A church doesn’t feel like a church to me unless it smells of beeswax, incense, Murphy’s oil soap, unless it houses the reserved Eucharist, unless the ministers of the altar wear special clothes. It is consecrated, sacred, set apart. Before we passed from the church hall into the sacred space, we crossed ourselves with holy water, a purification, a reminder of baptism. If my ancestors built temples, they were mostly of wood; if they worshipped in sacred groves, those groves are long since cut down.

John Michael Greer once had this bit of wisdom concerning the druid grove: “A grove is a druid’s field of action.” That is, where your druidry happens, that is your grove. Where your druid practice is centered, that is your grove. Where you live, think, feel, and act as a druid, there is your grove. Which means that your neighborhood, your workplace, your city streets or county acres, the whole planet, the galaxy, the universe, are all, at least potentially, part of your grove.

Everything is sacred. Everything is holy. Find a small part of it to pay attention to as your sacred, your holy, your altar, your grove–your reminder that everything deserves that kind of attention.

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When people begin to talk about “the elements”, they begin to make tables. Even more than when one talks of the Three Realms, when one talks of the Elements, the urge to make lists and tables, to pile on correspondences, to organize things so that they can be memorized (and so that one can insist that students memorize them). A whole day can be spent in explaining, discussing, or arguing, as you please, whether the Element of Earth belongs to the North or the South, whether Air is the Element proper to the East or to the North, what your teacher said, what my teacher said, and so on and so forth ad infinitum. And that’s without even addressing the magical/pagan use of the word “element” vs. the scientific use.

Here again, the map is not the territory. The word “elements” also means “rudiments, basics, fundamentals”. What do you need when you get down to basics?

There are four things that a human being needs to stay alive: air, water, heat (in the form of clothing and shelter), and food. Without food, we starve; without water, death comes sooner than by starvation; without air, death is quick; without adequate heat and protection from weather, sooner or later, the individual will perish.

Air is our breath. Breath leads to speech, speech leads to song, and usually, though not inevitably, speech and song lead to writing, which leads to reading, and sometimes to printing.

Water is what we drink, what we weep, what we sweat. As urine it carries out waste; as blood, it runs through us as rivers through the land. The uterus cradling an embryo becomes a tiny ocean; when the time of birth comes, we call the vagina “the birth canal”.

Our bodies generate heat, need heat. With our sparse body hair, our naked feet, we need the pelts of other animals, the tough fibers of plants to protect us. We build fires, we dance to warm up, we couple under covers in the chill of winter. We need heat in order to live, light in order to see, fire in order to cook. The more complex our cultures become, the more fire, the more energy they need.

Food comes from animals who eat plants, from animals who eat other animals who eat plants, and from the plants themselves. Plants grow out of the earth, and they need sun, air, and water just as we do. Their out-breathing is our in-breathing; our in-breathing is their out-breathing. Without air, water, and light, we have no plants and therefore no food.

That is all the Elements are, all they have to be. Our basics. The things we cannot do without. The bedrock realities we share with other creatures that live and die on planet Earth. Air, water, fire, earth.

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It is one of my peculiarities that I lose my way very easily indoors, but I never get lost outside. I am easily turned around by corridors and cubicles, but as a life-long pedestrian and rider of public transport, I always know where I am on the street. I know which way is north and south, east and west, where the city center lies, and which side of the street to catch the bus that will take me home.

Wicca has given the Neopagan movement an abiding awareness of the Four Quarters, and that fourfold symbolism is echoed in many traditions around the world. Native American cultures, Tibetan Buddhism, Hermetic traditions, and native Celtic ones, to name just a few, assign meanings to the East, the place of sunrise; the South, the place of sun’s height; the West, where the sun sets; and the North, where the sun never crosses the sky. Whether or not the concepts of the Elements come into it, the Quarters are significant; wherever you are, you have a basic awareness of Before and Behind, Right and Left, and every tradition has a default direction for facing the Sacred.

But if you’re standing up, facing East, say, what’s over your head? What’s under your feet? Life is three-dimensional. The sacred space has four quarters, but it also has three realms: Land, sky, and sea.

What’s over my head? The sky. Well, what’s in the sky? Light, for one thing: The sun (not that we’ve seen much of it lately, after two or three months of record rainfall), the moon, and the stars. Even here in the middle of a respectable-sized city, I can see and identify some of the major stars and constellations. I can observe that the sun and the moon don’t rise and set in the exact same place every day, but move back and forth on the horizon in a regular pattern. I can be wakened by the morning sun on a lazy Saturday or by the full moon shining into my bedroom in the middle of the night.

Clouds are in the sky, too, the visible signifiers of weather. Rain comes down, and snow, and various mixtures of precipitation. Clouds form, move, shift, dissipate, hide or reveal the sun, moon, and stars. Clouds reflect back the lights of the city at night and make me wish I could see more of the stars.

Birds are in the sky, and treetops. Of course a great deal of my awareness of nature is observation of the birds who live in my city or pass through it in fall and spring: rock doves, mourning doves, house sparrows and starlings, robins, gulls, cardinals, oven birds and juncos who winter in my vicinity because I feed them. But birds have the unique potential of belonging to all three realms, land, sea, and sky.

If sky is above, what is below? In Celtic tradition, that answer might be “the land”, but it might also be “the sea”, or the waters. Britain and Ireland bequeathed to Druidry the sense of the world we live in as an island, open to the sky, surrounded by the mysterious potential of the sea. But they also bequeathed the sense that water is a thing which wells up from under the earth, a gift of the Underworld. Dig a well, and you tap the chthonic powers. Find a spring, and you receive their gifts. Folk traditions still honor those powers with gifts, cloths tied on nearby trees, offerings to the waters, just as Bronze Age peoples offered jewellery, weapons, tools, and even chariots.

Sky above us, land below us and about us, waters below us, sea about us. Here in the city the land is paved over, concrete and asphalt, the underworld upflow only mimicked by fountains, but trees still grow in dirt, and in every sidewalk crack, moss, grasses, mushrooms, and other growths seek a foothold and flourish if they are not driven out. I would like to see our cities acknowledge that fecundity, work with it instead of fighting it, plant gardens for flowers and vegetables instead of laying out straight lines of pavement and lawn. We cannot be separated from the realities of the Three Realms, no matter how hard we try. The tallest buildings must sink deep foundations and take account of the stresses of wind in their structures. The need for drinking water and transportation leads cities like New Orleans to be built and rebuilt where wind, rain, and river converge. Traditional Japanese cities used more wood than stone because wooden buildings caused less damage during earthquakes and were more easily rebuilt afterward. Life is three-dimensional, and you don’t need 3-D glasses to know that, only an awareness of before and behind, right and left, up and down, within, around.

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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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When you look around and make a map of where you are in relation to Everything Else, what you get is cosmology. All cosmologies start from the question, “Where am I?”, and usually they answer it by saying, “You are at the center of things.”

Stand up. Look around. Stretch your arms out at shoulder height. Look up. Look down. You have just defined a cosmology. Every map of the universe will tell you what’s in front of you, what’s behind, what’s on your right, what’s on your left, what’s above you, and what’s below you. But that map is going to change depending on where you’re standing.

Traditional mythical cosmologies describe the universe from the perspective of a human person looking around from the center of things. Not that the human is the center–the sacred center is often a tree, or a mountain, sometimes a well or a cave–but that in order to see things properly, a sacred center and a human presence, a human participant, are required. The universe itself may be a human body, a human person on a cosmic scale.

Years ago, I had a splendid t-shirt that was black with the whole of the Milky Way blazoned on it, the outer-space view that showed the galactic core, the spiralling arms, all the stars. Down on the lower right side in an outer arm was a small dot with the words “You are here.” That’s the perspective from which science describes the universe: The perspective of an observer, not a participant, not necessarily a human being, looking in from outside, rather than outward from the center.

The universe cannot simultaneously be a huge chaotic place in which a human being is a life-form on a rather small planet that circles around a not terribly bright or hot star in one arm of a very ordinary barred spiral galaxy, and a giant tree growing out of the Underworld on which the planets hang like jewelled fruits. It cannot simultaneously be the Spheres and paths of the Tree of Life and a three-tired system of Heaven, Earth, and Underworld, or four continents around a central sacred mountain encircled by multiple oceans, or a disk on the back of a turtle.

Or, actually, the universe can be all of those things, because all of those descriptions are maps, and a map is not the territory.

What is a druid’s cosmology? It depends on where the druid is standing, and where he or she is trying to go. You are at the center of the universe, looking out. You are on the fringes of the cosmos, looking in. You are here.

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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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