Three nights of waiting, building power under the dark moon. I have done my preparation. I have cleared the space in the waning light. I have drawn the circle around myself in salt and stone, strength and love. The borders of my life are bare. I have released the old attachments that will no longer serve. I have made peace with the yammering beasts and bitches, buried them in the dirt beneath the forest floor, given them to the earth to hold and keep and break open and transform. I have felt the night air cool on my naked skin. Now, I have three long nights of waiting to begin.
What is She? Who is She? Celestial, ephemeral, pristine and pure, delicate, new, grace itself, fresh and bright. Earthy, dark and grounded, sweat and dirt and hot breath, the hard flex and tension of muscle, the rough power of fire and stone, the burning fluidity of molten ore. Primal, deep and ageless, utter stillness and distance, utter light in the darkness, spun out, flung out, fragmented, holographic, the whispering wholeness buried within each disparate glint of limit and form.
Imagine how we are woven bodily into this world, pulsing veins and sinew wrapped tightly around bone. Blood and marrow so intimate in the secret recesses of our structure. This is what connects you to them. Your whole life presses forward. Like a single thread pulled taut until it aches, the spun-spiraled blood and body of your life pulls away from the past, yet anchored there by the fact of your birth, the stubborn persistence of your being. They had that too, and now here you are. What strange and unwieldy imperfections make up the beauty of your body, the lumpy joints and stringy tissue. And the tension in you, it is theirs as well.
There's a lot of navel-gazing and turning inward in the Pagan and New Age communities, as people seek an antidote to the self-sacrifice and self-denial found in so many Christian traditions. But this focus on the self can so easily become an excuse to withdraw, to flinch away from the difficult work of putting down roots and reaching out to find nourishment and connection in others. Connecting with others always means an ebb and flow of energy, a willingness to give as well as receive. Establishing healthy, porous boundaries takes work — and when a person already feels drained and powerless, it can seem like too monumental a task to face. But by turning away from that task, by refusing that connection in order to "take care of ourselves first," we so often discover that we've cut ourselves off from our own deeper power. Instead of feeling rested and revived, we only end up feeling weak and even more vulnerable. Our roots are too shallow to feed our hungering souls.
What struck me was the absence, how it stretched out in all directions. Indistinguishable. The trees were stunted and small, scraggly things, as flimsy as old paper dried up and twisted and left to the dust of the endless desert landscape. From the ridge, they spotted the ravine's slope here and there all the way down to where it met the empty, mud-cracked stream bed. Out here, they called that a river. They had the nerve to mark it on a map. When I looked down into the ravine from the top of the ridge where I was standing, a sense of vertigo swept through me. The unfamiliar shrunken size of the trees tricked the eye, so that even shrubs which I knew were only a few feet down seemed to stretch the landscape into an odd but persistent sensation of distance. A gradual slope dropped away in an optical illusion of dizzying depth. I blinked. I thought, this was what the Discworld Witches called "gnarly ground."
To me, Druidry will always be a kind of mysticism or mystery religion, a spiritual path grounded in the ecstasy, creativity and vision that takes root in wildness. As a religion, modern Druidry has grown up around the archetype of the Druid as the wise sage, the inspired poet, the bright-eyed seer and the lover of nature. That archetype of the Druid is the acorn from which the oak of Druidry as a religion grows and expands, reaching limbs in all directions, sending down roots deep into the earth and the present moment. The Druid archetype is the ideal that helps to shape and guide the religious lives of those who practice Druidry — just as the acorn contains within itself the genetic patterns necessary to create the mature oak, and yet each oak itself must draw nutrients from its immediate environment and will grow in its turn to fit its own place and time. No two oaks that grow in the wild will be the same, and that process of growth is never-ending as each new branch, twig, leaf and root seek their own way towards sunlight and soil.
What is the sacred grove? The nemeton, sanctuary of spirit. A place set apart, a respite from wildness. Amongst the trunks of sacred trees — thick, tall pillars of rough bark etched in rivulets and knots that watch like eyes as light and shadow dance across the land — there is a space, within which all wildness, noise and dancing gives way to stillness. The grove is the eye of the world, as the storm has its eye that watches calmly from the very center the turning, roiling winds that utterly surround it. But this is no hard-edged circle, a gate that slams shut against the sacred mess and buzz of the world. The grove is made of wildness, too, an edge sculpted by wind and rain and sunlight, an eddy in the currents of energy. It is an in-drawn breath, a going-in amidst the goings-on, that opens up a center deep in the very heart and flux of things. And in the sacred grove, there is the altar where we do our work. A center of gravity, a pole that runs the length of the universe and patiently turns the worlds around itself.
First, I knew the sea. The dark waters and the deep. That seeping, salty body that sloshes crest to trough and back again, ebb and flow in a dance with the moon. We carry an ocean in our blood, blue or purple beneath our skin, and only sometimes flushed pink or deeper red. The sea, like the past, seeps into the hidden depths within us where it works its erosion through memory and dream. Ancestors trickle through our fingers like water, each one of the beloved dead like a raindrop that enters the river that runs to join its source again. You can feel it sometimes, just as you are drifting off to sleep — that spinning, floating, rocking — as though the present were only a tiny raft upon a great heaving sea of time. And then there is the sky. The bright air, the heights that hold the stars and sun like mighty pillars, fluted columns circling to make a temple to the gods.
I look up from my work at the computer and notice for the first time the gray curtain of rain outside my window. That sacred presence that crept upon the land so slowly, opening itself up into a downpour over this city of steep hills and huge rivers with such unrelenting patience that it's easy to believe the rain could go on forever, pounding over the black slate rooftops and gathering into the gutters. And it does. I turn off the air conditioner and open the windows to let the breeze and noise-song of the storm in. The smell of summer is delicious and sweet and warm in my lungs. The red brick of our neighbor's house darkens to a deeper, mottled red across the narrow span of the alley. Our tiny garden nods and nods...
A match is struck — the flare in the darkness, the smell of sulfur, the quiet roar and hiss that is the first whispered melody of the cosmic dance. Energy and matter, process and emptiness, fire and water, the dance of relationship. Each sacred rite begins this way. The match is struck. The world begins again. I light the small white candle floating in the deep blue bowl. What was before this? Nothing and void, pure potential. The flame licks and eats the air, the waters beneath swirl and turn, the soft wax of the candle hangs suspended in between. The wax melts, shining and dripping into the waters. The wax evaporates, lifting in invisible currents into the air. The fire stretches and curls, its edges sharp against the darkness, its movements as fluid as blood or rain. The waters grow still, a hard surface like the mirror reflection of some greater night, infinite as space and full of stars. The Three Realms unfold, dynamic in their spiraling dance of self-giving and welcome. Land, Sea and Sky created and re-created again, the cosmos reborn with every prayer.