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Posts Tagged ‘druid’

I’ve renewed my membership with Ar nDraiocht Fein and am looking again at the Dedicant Path program. I have Michael Dangler’s helpful book that lays out the requirements over a full year.

I’ve enrolled in the Bardic grade of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. I’ve only wanted to do their study course, which is how one becomes a member, for about twenty years. I stopped telling myself I couldn’t afford it.

Today I took the three pictures of Antinous that I printed off from the ‘net weeks ago and mounted them neatly on a piece of cardboard to form a triptych. An artist friend of mine took me shopping yesterday for appropriate materials and gave me some tips on how to safely cut heavy cardboard with a knife.

And, not least, I purchased a nice fleece robe to wear around the house and a bottle of Mrs. Stuart’s Bluing for Whiteness so I can rehabilitate the white robe that I originally bought for druid work and have something else suitable to wear when I’m chilly. I hope the bluing works on the tea stains.

Wish me luck.

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“The holidays are upon us,” I keep hearing, meaning Thanksgiving-and-Christmas, the season of spending large amounts of money on friends and family to prove our love for them and eating large amounts of food which we will be called upon to ritually repent in January.

“The holidays” are upon us, if I believe the advertising I see and hear, the jolly red-and-white covers of December issues of magazines that I check in at work, splashed with candy canes and cake recipes, and we are expected to rejoice. As for me, I’m always grumpy and refractory, this time of year. It’s still November and I’m thinking about the dead–my Aunt Margaret, whose birthday was yesterday; my father-in-law, whom I ought to pray to and for more often; my mother, dead 26 years on the 22d, who still in many ways haunts my life.

And I’m thinking about Advent, about apocalypse stories, about the Rapture and the great zombie takeover and what the Mayans did or did not predict. Just for the record, I don’t think they or anyone else predicted the End of the World on 21 December 2012. I definitely don’t think Jesus is coming at any minute to waft away all the True Believers and punish the rest of us with gruesome special effects. As for the zombies, well, we are the zombies, aren’t we? Mindless consumers who will eat everything in sight until there is nothing left, and we eat one another, and die off.

Well.

But it might just be the late-afternoon, early winter light making me feel this way, right at the moment. Remembering the beloved dead is not necessarily a sad thing. It’s remembering the not-so-beloved dead, like my mother and our problematic relationship, that is hard. And for an introvert like myself, the over-cultural exhortations to cook, eat, buy presents, spend money, drink egg nog, ho ho ho, ha ha ha, always make me want to lock myself in a dim room and listen to austere Gregorian chant until it all goes away. That doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to the Thanksgiving meal with family, or to exchanging gifts with those I love. It just means I want to do so in my time, not at the corporate world’s demand.

Long-term readers of this blog (if there are any–one or two) are no doubt used to my vacillating between religious labels: Am I a Druid, an Anglican, a Buddhist, or something else? Is there anything I haven’t tried and found wanting? Maybe I, myself, have been tried and found wanting, by the gods or the egregores of a tradition or at least by my readers. I was raised an Episcopalian, and I will probably always be able to quote the Prayerbook and sing hymns from the Hymnal 1940 with gusto. But the Christian tradition that in large measure formed my spirituality has done a lot in the past ten years or so to kill my love and admiration for it. Granted, it’s been helped along by the atrocities of a number of other Christian traditions–the Roman Catholic hierarchy protecting its pedophile priests, the right-wing Evangelical Protestants in the U.S. doing their best to control female sexuality and reproduction throughout the population–but I cannot hold the Anglican Communion blameless any more.

Nor can I ignore the fact that I just don’t believe any more. I don’t believe or accept many points of Christian doctrine, as a description of reality. I don’t believe in, trust, have any significant relationship with Jesus. Jesus makes most sense to me now as a buddha or bodhisattva, a fully enlightened human being, a teacher of wisdom and compassion who, like Amitabha or Padmasambhava, has his own pure land, the heaven he offers his followers.

I have failed to find a place in Druidry, or to make a druidry for myself. Nobody can say that I haven’t tried, but Druidry has been for me a very beautiful, very attractive garment, in all my favorite colors, that just Does. Not. Fit, no matter how much I squirm or fuss. It is a cloak I cannot wear, a house I cannot live in, no matter how much I like and admire those who can wear the druid cloak and live in the druid grove.

Buddhism continues to provide me with invaluable perspective on managing my mind, on the purpose of spiritual work, on ethical questions, on how the scattered branches of the Western tradition, like the scattered limbs of Osiris, might fit together again into a living whole. Yet it remains a school of practice that is not for me, perhaps because of its cultural contexts, perhaps for more individual reasons. I’m not certain I agree with Dion Fortune‘s dictum that Western people must follow Western paths, but it does seem to me that Westerners who genuinely “convert” to Buddhism, for lack of a better word than “convert”, often come from a background in which there was no significant religious commitment, a secular Jewishness, for example, or a twice-a-year mainstream Protestantism, not from deeply committed practice in a Western tradition.

So where does that leave me? Actually, despite my gloomy start to this entry, I am not left alone in the cold, dark winter night of an atheistic existence. (Getting dark where I am, at the moment, but not terribly cold or wintry.) I still have my training in the New Hermetics, otherwise known as That Thing I Tried And I Finished The Whole Course And It Worked Really Well For Me. I also have, unexpectedly, a new devotion–to Antinous, the Bithynian Boy, the beloved of the Roman Emperor Hadrian who was deified, in accordance with ancient Egyptian tradition, when he drowned in the Nile.

There are a lot of interesting connections between Antinous, Hermetic magic, and stuff in my life, which I think I should save for another post. As I contemplate that, I’ll also be contemplating whether to change the name of this blog, or start a new one, or just muddle on with the name recognition of “Confessions of an Urban Druid” while I blog about magic, Antinous, and my media intake. Cheers.

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Another holy day, and it snuck up on me while I wasn’t looking. I’m abashed to see that I haven’t posted since the sixth, and now here it is the autumn equinox: Mabon to many Wiccans and Neopagans, Alban Elfed or Elved or Elued to Druids, a week shy of Michaelmas in the Christian calendar, and sometimes I just call it Harvest.

Signs of the season: A live ovenbird foraging beneath the bushes outside my door; a dead warbler spotted on my route to work, green back and fulvous belly, probably collapsed while it was migrating. Ovenbirds are quite rare in Maryland, or so I’ve been told, yet every fall a few of them drop by on their way southward. Once an ovenbird hopped through my open front door and took refuge under the dining table.

Last Sunday my beloved stepdaughter was married to her beloved of seven years in a full-scale church ceremony that included the Eucharist and the best choral music her choirmaster father could provide. The reception afterward included cocktails and hors d’oeuvres and a sit-down dinner served buffet style. The newlyweds led off the dancing with a solo dance to “The Best Is Yet to Come”, inspired by its appearance in a Deep Space Nine episode, immediately followed by the Time Warp: They met in college when my daughter auditioned for the Rocky Horror performance troupe. They are in New Orleans right now on their honeymoon.

The week before the wedding, it was all I could think about. Immediately afterward, a dear friend of mine was laid low by a severe infection and crashed with my husband and me for a few days. The two days I had scheduled off to recover from the wedding, plus one extra, were devoted to getting her on the road to recovery. I returned to work yesterday and touched bases with my boss before she departed on her own delayed honeymoon.

I’m pretty well exhausted now and the change of season has somehow taken me by surprise. But I expect to refill my personal well over the weekend and celebrate the holy day in ritual on Sunday. I hope to return to regular posting next week–one reason I feel utterly drained is that I haven’t written very much in the past two weeks, not even in my notebook journal.

A happy feast of the autumnal equinox to all my readers.

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I was a member of the Ancient Order of Druids in America for over five years. I attained the First Degree of three. I sweated and procrastinated and flailed a long time, wondering why I couldn’t get myself organized to study for Second Degree. I am no longer a member of the Order.

I have been a member of Ar nDraoicht Fein for a year three or four different times. I procrastinated and flailed some more, wondering why I never got my feet on the street and went to one of their High Day rituals, seeing as they had a permanent grove location not far off a convenient bus route. I’m not a member of ADF any more.

I’ve wanted for two decades to join the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, but joining means subscribing to their correspondence course, and I’ve always been put off by the cost.

I have books I treasure by members of AODA, ADF, and OBOD. My druid practice looks like the unlikely offspring of AODA and ADF as reared in the forest like Percival by OBOD. I am grateful for all that I have learned from these disparate organizations and their traditions. But I practice alone.

Maybe that was the idea all along. Maybe I should have known. Ever since I discovered Julian of Norwich in my late teens, I’ve dreamt of the solitary religious life. I have often thought that if I hadn’t met my husband at the right time, I might have become a nun, or that if he died suddenly, I might enter celibate religious life rather than looking for another spouse.

I’m not so sure about that any more, but I am finally sure of this: I am a druid, and I am a solitary. I do best practicing alone, following my own path through the forest. Perhaps others will come behind me and use the path that I have cleared; if not, I know that when I return from my grove to the town, the fruits of my practice will be the gifts I have to give the world.

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Terra cotta plaque depicting the Penates.I was making the offerings one day this week when it hit me: Yes, I *am* a priestess.

“Priestess” is a title I have shied away from in my paganism. It was too intuitive, too psychic, too witchy, perhaps too femme. I’ve often joked that if my husband and I were Wiccan, *he* would have to be the High Priestess because he’s the sensitive, intuitive one, the one who sees past the Veil. In some approaches to Tarot, his name equates numerologically to the Judgment and High Priestess Trumps, but mine to the Moon and the Hermit. He is the psychic, the visionary, the mediator; I am the solitary, the wanderer, the way-shower.

But as I lit the candles, poured out water, and lighted a stick of incense, as I do everyday at the hearth (the fireplace is gas, but the mantel is original to the building), I realized yes, I am a priestess. Not as a servant or mediator of a particular deity, not as a minister to a community, but simply as The Woman of the House, the senior adult female (albeit the *only* adult female), and the person in the household who does these daily rites. I represent my household and my neighborhood, where I work as well as live, where I eat and shop and sleep.

For me “druid” is the name of my path and practice, not a role I undertake for others. I don’t lead group ritual, divine for clients, or teach classes on druidry. I don’t belong to any order or organization. For a long time I have seen my writing, as a blogger and as a writer of fiction, my singing, when I was doing it liturgically, and my day job, too, as my druid work: Providing the community with knowledge, inspiration, stories, ideas, and beauty through speech and song. But I am at last starting to see those daily offerings as more than my personal devotion, but as something I do for others, and from my hearth, my household, who knows where that work will spread out?

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In late Advent I returned to one of my core spiritual practices: Saying the Daily Office from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The Office of Morning and Evening Prayer involves repeated exposure to Scripture; each day there are psalms, canticles, and readings appointed, a reading from the Old Testament, another from the Gospels, and a third from the rest of the New Testament, in a two-year cycle.

This week, the first Sunday after Epiphany, the lectionary begins reading the book of Genesis, the Gospel of John, and the letter to the Hebrews. It will continue to read these books at least until the beginning of Lent. This is by no means the first time I have read these texts with the lectionary, but it’s been a few years since I opened either Hebrews or Genesis.

The book of Genesis is where it all begins, literally. The Hebrew title of the book, Berishith, literally means “beginnings”. It’s a book about the beginnings of the world as the ancient Hebrews understood it, about the beginnings of human culture in their part of the world, about the beginnings of their identity and history as a people. Right now Genesis is one of the two most contended books of the Bible, the other being Revelations. Stories of beginnings, stories of endings, how they should be interpreted, what they are meant to tell us–these are things the Christians are arguing about amongst themselves and with non-Christians, particularly scientists.

The last time I read all the way through Genesis, I noticed something interesting. It’s not just about the beginning of the world or the universe, not just about the beginning of the Jewish story–it’s about the beginning of storytelling. Through the course of the narrative, the narrator learns how to tell a story, in prose, with skill and artistry.

Genesis begins, of course, with the magnificent poem of the seven days of creation. This is the first reading at every Easter Vigil, the signal that as we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection, everything begins anew. It is a narrative, but it is distinctly a poem, with its strong parallel structures and its repetition of certain key lines: “… and God saw that it was good…. And it was evening and it was morning, a third day.”

The early chapters of Genesis of full of what a writer might call “plot holes”, those gaps in the narrative that skeptical readers love to exploit: If Adam and Eve are the first humans and they have three children, Cain, Abel, and later Seth, then who does Cain marry? How long did the flood last, and did Noah take two of every animal, or seven of the “clean” animals and two of the “unclean”? Did he send out a raven or a dove or both? Scholars explain this as the result of multiple versions of a story being combined (clumsily) into a single tale.

The narrative hits its stride with the introduction of Abraham. The peripatetic Abraham, his wife Sarah, his kinsman Lot, and their children and dependents will occupy the rest of the book, culminating in the saga of Joseph. By the time Jacob’s other sons, desperate and hungry, meet the Egyptian official who is, unbeknownst to them, the brother they tried to get rid of decades ago, the narrator has achieved mastery of his art. He’s able to portray Joseph thinking one thing while saying another, using the Egyptian language in front of his brothers and employing an interpreter without giving away that he understands what they’re saying, and playing on the advantage that he recognizes them, but they don’t recognize him. All the techniques of storytelling are in place, and the story of Joseph might just be the most sophisticated storytelling in the Tanakh.

After I had formed this theory, that Genesis is as much about the beginning of storytelling as about the beginning of the world and of the Jewish people, I read a book about Genesis that confirmed my theory, since it was a scholarly author, an expert on the book of Genesis, saying the same thing. My memory tells me that this book was called The Genesis of Narrative and was by Robert Alter; however, neither my library’s catalogue nor Amazon.com can confirm for me that Robert Alter ever wrote such a book. He is the author of The Art of Biblical Narrative and of a translation of Genesis with commentary, but I’m not certain that either of them is the book I read. (I work in a library; I read or skim a lot of books that I don’t afterward buy.)

Some years later, I read John Michael Greer’s The Druidry Handbook, which was written as first-degree study material for the Ancient Order of Druids in America. Greer covers a good deal of material which came out of the Druid Revival of the eighteenth century and makes it accessible and meaningful, demonstrating that it’s not just an elaborate forgery with a lot of Welsh names thrown in. He begins his exposition of Druid lore, appropriately, with a creation story:

Einigen the Giant, the first of all beings, beheld three rays of light descending from the heavens. Those three rays were also a word of three syllables, the true name of the god Celi, the hidden spirit of life that creates all things. In them was all the knowledge that ever was or is or will be. Beholding the rays, Einigen took three staves of rowan and carved all knowledge upon them, in letters of straight and slanted lines. But when others saw the staves, they misunderstood and worshipped the staves as gods, rather than learning the knowledge written upon them. So great was Einigen’s grief and anger at this that he burst asunder and died. When a year and a day had passed after Einigen’s death, Menw son of Teirwaedd happened on the skull of Einigen, and saw that the three rowan staves had taken root inside it and were growing out of its mouth. Taking the staves, Menw learned to read the writing on them and became famous for his wisdom. From him, the lore of the rowan staves passed to the Gwyddoniaid—the ancient loremasters of the Celts—and ultimately from them to the Druids. Thus the knowledge that had once shone forth in three great rays of light, passed through many minds and hands, now forms the wisdom of the Druid tradition.

(Greer, John Michael (2006-02-20). The Druidry Handbook: Spiritual Practice Rooted in the Living Earth, pp. 50-51. RedWheelWeiser – A. Kindle Edition.)

Greer refers to this story, rightly, as “the origin myth of the Druid Revival”. That is, it’s not so much about the beginning of the world as about the beginning of a movement, of how a group of people who came to identify with (what they knew about) the ancient Druids began to look to nature for meaning and to interpret that meaning in story and poem. As I see it, it’s also a story about the origins of the creative process. Einigen sees a light which is also a word, something to be heard and said. He records his experience in an act of art and craft, the carving of newly invented letters on pieces of wood. The words he carved on wood emerge from his mouth as green shoots, new words that are seen and understood by Menw. Those who saw the letters and worshipped them without trying to understand them missed the point; the point was the transmission of meaning from rays of light to letters on wood to mind and mouth, through the creative process.

I think the creation story in Genesis is also a story about the origins of creativity. And like the Druid Revival, which was after all created by men who had been formed by Christianity and the Bible’s stories, the book of Genesis locates the origins of meaning, of creativity, and of story in words. Just as God creates everything by speaking it, naming it, telling a story about it, so the Jewish tradition, and the Christian tradition that inherited its stories, creates meaning by telling a story. The Talmud is the record of generations of argument, discussion, and debate of those stories, an Internet forum before there was an Internet. Jewish tradition also gives us midrash, stories about the stories of the Scriptures; one story can best be commented on by another.

The lector reading or the cantor intoning the Scriptures, the old guy talking about his youth, your grandmother’s stories of when your mother was little, and we bloggers pouring our words into this digital Talmud–we create and recreate the world.

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I have been a pagan
I have been a Christian
I have been a finch in a cage
I have been a cardinal in a tree
I have been a mockingbird on a stop sign
I have been a nun, I have been an oracle
I have been an Anglican in a choir
I have been a mushroom in the wood
I have been a courtesan in a monastery
I have been an anchorite in a city
I have been a Buddhist, I have been a witch
I have been burned at the stake
I have set myself on fire in Viet Nam
I have written angry letters
I have meditated in silent peace
I have been an eagle soaring toward the sun
I have been a vulture waiting for the dead to ripen
I have been Lilith, I have been Eve
I have been Mary, Martha, and Magdalen
I have been Sophia Acamoth
and Shekinah with her tent on her back
I have been a wanderer
I have been a Jew, I have been black
I have been dark but comely among the horses of Solomon
I have been a druid, I have been a valkyrie
I have walked the streets and walked in vision
and no one knew who I was
I have been all things to all, like Paul,
that I might by all means save some
I have been a heretic and a bodhisattva
I have been three times in the prison of Arianrhod
but I have not yet heard all her stories
I have drunk under moonlight from the cauldron of Cerridwen
but never yet reached the bottom
I have been a housewife, I have been a cook,
I have cleaned toilets and washed dishes
I have risen in the night with a vomiting child
I have answered phones when I could barely speak
I have worked in a library and sung Christ’s reproaches
I have been your mother and you have been mine
I have walked the labyrinth and am still walking
and it is not known whether I am spirit or flesh

(Originally posted to my Druidry blog, 31 March 2009.)

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