Posts Tagged ‘winter’

“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.


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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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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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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–is this musing by Cat Chapin-Bishop on the Dark.

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It’s been a whole season in pagan time since I last updated: Alban Arthuan, the celebration of the Winter Solstice, has given way to Imbolc, the first wakening of the earth, commemorated by the Church and popular culture as Candlemas, the feast of St. Brigid of Kildare, and Groundhog Day. While my part of North America has had unseasonably warm and even humid weather during this time, I’ve been undergoing an appropriate hibernation, a cold and dark winter of the spirit that I think is just beginning to lighten.

I dislike using the words “dark night of the soul”. St. John of the Cross, who coined that term, meant something specific by it, specific to his type of Christian mysticism. While I don’t claim to understand what he meant, I do feel sure that a good many people who use the phrase are not having the experience Fray Juan had out of which he coined that description, especially if they are using it to mean a depressed and sleepless night in a comfortable bed. So I won’t say I had “a dark night of the soul”. “A winter of the spirit” seems to work, however. If the external weather was more like late fall than deep winter, if even January was warmer than it’s wont to be, my internal weather has been pretty bleak. Magical work has ground to a halt. The gods who seemed so present, so communicative, for most of last year, fell silent and seemed to disappear, as if they’d gone south with the birds. There were days I did not know how much longer I could bear getting up before the sunrise, waking my companion birds in order to feed and water them, working in a windowless office, then coming home after dark. The one bit of leaven in this heavy loaf was that I began writing in a notebook again, keeping a journal on paper, doing Morning Pages a la The Artist’s Way, and generating lots of raw creative material in daily writing practice.

I spent a lot of time thrashing around, internally, flailing helplessly, starting things and not finishing them, and asking the gods Why? and Where are you? and What have I done? I didn’t make any progress flailing and thrashing, and I haven’t gotten any answers to my questions. But as so often after these periods of trying to save myself from drowning by an agonized dog-paddle that has me going round in circles, I find myself back where I started, ready to get my feet under me. I always come back to quoting “Little Gidding”, from Eliot’s Four Quartets:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

After all my exploring, in the dark, I arrive again at Druidry and know it as for the first time, know that no other name better fits my spirituality, no other spiritual tradition best fits my need. My Anglican background is deeply important to me, and I watch the fighting in the Anglican Communion from a safe distance and with dismay, fearful lest all that is good in that tradition be lost to literalism or progressivism. I learnt the practice of magic from the New Hermetics, and I’m excited as I’m about to undertake teaching my first student in that tradition. There is room in Druidry for those Anglican influences, there is room for the magic of the New Hermetics, there is room for the creative writing that has obsessed me at least since first grade, there is room for sacred housekeeping and sacred sexuality and a center for all these in nature spirituality, in a luminous world.

The world was luminous this morning as I walked to work under clearing skies. Sunrise is getting earlier, sunset later, and the sun’s daily track higher across the sky. I felt more alive than I did yesterday. May your world be luminous also.

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