Contemplation & Meditation, Holy Wild


Withered Vine on a Concrete Wall
Withered Veins on a Concrete Wall

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. The need for movement, dance, perhaps to somehow dance your way out of imperfection and into harmony, a music molded by the contours of the land. Maybe a land you don’t remember, maybe a place you’ve never been. But it is there in your body nonetheless, an echo of labor — the steady pace over half-familiar hills, the gentle lover’s way of knowing how the roots of every tree in the forest twist and twine beneath the soles of ancient feet. If your footing is now not so sure in the long, flat halls of the new millennium — if sometimes you stumble — it is their stumbling, too. We trip together over the ghosts of long-old roots.

So this is how you do it, then: Speak to them. Speak to them in dream. Sing to them the same lullabies you sing to your children to lull them to sleep. Toss them the rope of your longing. They are the beloved dead, the living memory that still gives shape and skin to your life. They want as much to be whole as you do. They want to move and dance through what new halls or hills your feet traverse.

Imagine how they are woven bodily into this world, pulsing in our veins, wrapped tightly like sinew around our bones. So intimate in blood and marrow we hardly know them from ourselves.

What dancing we must do, a foot in each world, between the ghosts of these roots and the shadows of the branches.

This post is part of the 30 Days of Druidry creative writing project.

This post is also part of the Pagan Blog Project 2012, organized by Rowan Pendragon.
Call it a two-for-one!

Holy Wild, Theology

Gods and Spirit

That word for god — the breath, the gleaming — the shining days like great columns bearing up the sky, buttresses, rafters. Beams that in their falling, hold.

I say the names of my deities, I feel the drop of each sound into silence. They gather on the long, bent grasses in the meadow and the field, *dewos-, the many that glisten in the coming dark. Amulets of sky, jewels of the daylight, coalescing in the movement of my breath, the lingering touch of the wind. They draw themselves, wavering, into the weight and gravity of form.

I open the door, and the gods enter the dark interior of my being. The gust, the call, tracing themselves in the dust of the rafters, the shift that shivers down in drifts of gentle gray and grit, mingling particulates stirring in every corner of the sunlight. What is so small and intimate and strange — numen, spirare — the dancing footsteps of spirit in the air, the vital stir of fear, the silent thrill, calling me to courage in the deep spaces of my birth and dying, the liminal between. I am on the threshold, pouring out my breath in quick libations. I am pouring out my soul-song to mingle on the doorsill with the soft noise of their presence.

And She is rising up again, and rising up, she is the exalted queen and lady of all that rises up — the purifying fire and the wellspring of healing waters, the bright, clean sun at daybreak, the serpent stirring in the mound, all thoughts of justice and beautiful compassion aching towards the perfect, the spark and steam of smithcraft in the forge. She rises up, drawing gravity along in ecstatic going-out to meet the inspired act of making, dragging the anchor of my mind into the light and breath of Spirit. The gulf of the sky widens from heaven to horizon, an archway of blue and exhalation, and I am beneath it and within it, I am spiraling and lifted, small and intimate and strange.

And He is circling and moving, a realm and waste that gives his name and takes it back again — the ebb and flow along the shoreline, the horizon and the deep, the mist, the movement of the winds and storm, the heron gliding on long, still wings through the midnight of the newborn sun. He turns his murmuring immensity to touch my listening, gentle and insistent. He wears away the boundaries of my skin, seeping in to claim me for the flux of Spirit, moving in me with the rhythm of my heartbeat, and I am surrounded and within it, I am spiraling and sailing on the mingling waters on the threshold of my being.

And She is resting in fecundity and promise, the mother of all our naming — she is wealth and self-giving, the firm body of our dancing, the bristling flowers of spring and the high harvest of the fall, the rolling curve of the lands always unfurling, the dark cavern of our tombs grown over with pale, delicate lashes of green. She names the earth and world, the sounds of her children coalescing on her lips like drops of dew, all eddies in the mud and rocks and bones and growing things. All verdant and gold, she stirs in me every corner of Spirit with the weight of praise and gravidity, she makes my heavy form and holds it close, and I am made and move within it, I am spiraling and born in the darkness of my body.

I open the door, and the gods enter. The gods enter with their whispering and multiplicity, each one an opening into Spirit, a shining, an embrace. I settle down into my work like someone opening a window, and the breeze comes winding, finding its way into the center of my grasping and obscurity. A breeze that smells of sunlight and summer days across the field, a breeze that languishes heavy with dew in the gloom of the new morning, a breeze that sings the world’s together-song into the waiting silence. I do the work, I pour libations, I pray and wait and let the Spirit come when it will.

The door is like an eye. It grows wide and hungry in the dark.

This post is part of the 30 Days of Druidry creative writing project.

Holy Wild, praxis

Druidry Day-to-Day

7 AM. The cat blinks at me from his nest of blankets at the foot of the bed, drowsily challenging me to nudge him again and see if I keep all my toes. As I stretch and reach for my glasses, though, he’s up and pacing across the carpet between the bed and the door, between the door and the top of the stairs, up and down the stairs as he waits impatiently for me to make my way into the kitchen where his food bowl is sitting –gasp!– almost half empty!

I pull on my yoga pants (because this Druid is also all Young Urban Professional-y) and manage to get my creaky, not-as-young-as-it-used-to-be body downstairs and onto the mat. In a few minutes, I’m flushed and sweating, my flabby bits jiggling a little as I work to hold each pose. I am not as strong as I want to be. I am not as flexible as I want to be. I am not as young or nubile as I want to be. (Okay, well, maybe nubile, technically, but not for long.) But my body, beloved animal, isn’t minding much what it is that I think I want — her heart pounds, her breath comes long and steady, her blood warms the chill of morning from her bones, and for a moment I am deep in the joy of saluting the sun, my goddess, my intimate star.

Sitting in meditation at the end of my workout, I can feel my soft underbelly opening up under the persistent caress of the sunlight, unfolding slowly into the cool, calm, quiet morning that surrounds me. With each gentle intake of breath, I invite the world within. With each exhalation, I go out to meet the world. We mingle, our boundaries rubbing up against each other, me and the world, each unfolding inside the other. The cat, too, decides he wants in on the affection and runs his long, furry spine along the fingertips of my up-turned hand. His purr is a rumbling like distant thunder or a tiny earthquake. He has forgotten that I have not fed him yet, satisfied with the half-full bowl still waiting for him. We have, each of us, remembered what it is we really came here for.

In the shower, I close my eyes and let the water run over me. Within that darkness behind my eyes, in the depths of my body, my blood courses, kin to the water and to the steam that fills the room. The energy of the morning gives way to connection and flow, finding the balance I’ll need for movement and dance, even if only as metaphors. I whisper a prayer to the sea and storm and mist, that liminal threshold, my god and lord of deep places.

This is a good day. Fruit for breakfast, and a big glass of water. The air is bright and clear outside, and my partner and I open all the windows in the house (much to the cat’s immense but lazy pleasure). The late summer wildflowers in the backyard are nodding to each other under the murmuring weight of the bees. Even in the city, the noise of traffic is muffled by the rows of brick houses and cozy, old apartments criss-crossed with alleys and driveways, yards divvied up by faded wooden fences that all seem to have gates with rusted, broken locks. As I settle down to my work in front of the computer for the day, I feel refreshed and grounded, grateful to be nestled within this beautiful world, buffeted playfully by its currents, shuffled about by its moods.

Not all days are as perfect. My spiritual work is like a filament of intention strung up between pegs — sometimes taut and humming with energy and hope that moves me easily and eagerly from practice to practice, but other times hanging limply in low loops that seem impossible to pull tight again. On those days, I do my best to return to my spiritual work. Breath, movement, attending to the world around me. These are the pegs, those points of nexus and connection, that keep my intention tuned — like the tuning keys on a guitar’s head or along the neck of a harp, that we turn and return to with trust and gentleness, making those small adjustments that keep us singing.

On day’s like today — I find it best not to mess too much with things. To hold my gratitude lightly but firmly in my center, and to get busy making the music that is the Song of the World.

This post is part of the 30 Days of Druidry creative writing project.

Contemplation & Meditation, Featured, Holy Wild

Why Druidry? Revisited

As seems to be the case in a lot of areas of my life right now, it’s two steps forward, one step back as I work my way through the 30 Days of Druidry project. I’m doing my best to see it as a dance.

At the beginning of the month, I wrote a poetic contemplation inspired by the prompt “Why Druidry?” Today, the excellent Druid writer and blogger Nimue Brown shared her thoughts on becoming a Druid, exploring questions of authority and authenticity as they play out in our messy-crazy-beautiful community. She ends her post with these thoughts:

You become a druid, by becoming a druid. And your first job as you take up the path, is to figure out, for yourself and on your own terms, exactly what that’s supposed to mean. To become a druid, you have to plough through all the things you will find and read about other people’s methods and definitions. You will have to cut a swathe through impenetrable and incompatible ideas, and you will be puzzled a lot. For every person who has so far embarked on that journey there will be a different story of routes taken, dead ends banged against, paths that just melted away in the night, teachers who were idiots, books that were unhelpful, rituals that didn’t work. And somehow, through it all, there is a not giving up. That’s probably the core of it. Decide you want to be a Druid. Weather the confusion. Seek your own path. Don’t give up. Get to the point of being able to call yourself a Druid.

Nimue articulates beautifully this sense of Druidry as a process. She doesn’t say that all it takes to become a Druid is to decide that you are a Druid. That journey would be a short and simple one for sure! No, instead she says that to become a Druid, you must decide to become a Druid — and to accept the process of becoming that will spiral out and take root as a result of that choice. Because becoming a Druid is and always will be a process, not an end in itself. It will always be something towards which we strive, through our commitment to learning and exploration, through our service to our community, and through our devotion to Spirit however we understand it.

I shared Nimue’s post on Facebook, where it sparked some discussion between myself and a reader named Jordan. I’m not sure if Jordan considers himself a Celtic Reconstructionist or not, but he brought up some interesting objections to Nimue’s post that I’ve often heard raised by those who are. Most importantly among them, he saw Nimue’s willingness to trust in people’s autonomy to determine for themselves whether or not they fit into the Druid community to be antithetical to the role played by Druids among the ancient Celts. The ancient Druids were required to study for twenty or more years, to memorize a large corpus of key poetic works that contained the histories and genealogies of their communities, and to serve in the capacity of adviser to prominent political figures, chiefs and kings. Not just anyone could call themselves a Druid. And so Jordan objected to Nimue’s claim that “you become a Druid by becoming a Druid,” by weathering the confusion and seeking your own path as a member of the broader Druid community. Wasn’t this exactly the opposite of what the ancient Druids really did?

Jordan’s objection definitely carries weight, and it’s reflected in Nimue’s first response to the question of how a person can become a Druid: “You can’t.”

Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a modern “Druid” as the word was used in the ancient Celtic sense. Even if we knew all of the qualifications that ancient Druids had to possess to be worthy of the title (which, despite the excellent scholarship available in Celtic studies today, we don’t), there would be no way to fulfill some of those qualifications in a modern context because our socio-political structures are vastly different from those of the ancient Celts. Though Jordan compares the practice of Druidry to holding a particular job title, such as that of professor or doctor, this is not really an accurate analogy. The Druid in ancient Celtic society was more akin to the Brahmin in the Hindu caste system, a position within a hierarchical class structure that brought certain responsibilities, privileges and social roles with it. Even if a person today were to earn an advanced degree in Celtic studies, speak and read fluently all of the Celtic languages, memorize the ancient lore, practice the ancient rites as they were practiced so long ago, and even serve as a political adviser to President Obama himself…. it would still not make that person a Druid in the ancient sense of the word. Why? Because the community structures that made the title “Druid” meaningful for the ancient Celts have long since been replaced with ones specific to our time and place in history as modern, multi-faith, multi-cultural communities. In other words, the class system that the Druids were a part of no longer exists.

Those of us who choose to call ourselves Druids today are keenly aware of this disconnect between the past and the present, this disruption in tradition that leaves us sometimes at a loss for how to move forward. Another Druid, Heather, writes about her own on-going struggle with personal and universal uncertainty as a scientist seeking a spiritual life:

What do you do when you reach a point in your life when you don’t know how to go on, when you no longer know where to go or what to do? It feels as though you have found a trail in the forest that looked promising and you followed it faithfully for many years. Over time, however, the path grew fainter and fainter, and you picked your way through the trees and underbrush with greater hesitancy and uncertainty. Finally, you cannot see the path at all and you come to a halt. The forest stretches away from you in every direction, and any path you might take seems equally forbidding, equally full of promise or lack of promise. You cannot even go back, for the path you reached here on has vanished. You know that you cannot remain here, that the key to your survival is your continual movement along the path, but in despair you do not know where to turn and you have lost sight in any light that may have guided you along the path. What do you do? Where do you go?

How closely this imagery echoes Nimue’s description of the Druid’s willingness to “plough through” all the chaos and complexity of living in community with others, to “cut a swathe through impenetrable and incompatible ideas” and to follow “paths that just [melt] away in the night.” This is why Nimue writes of seeking you own path. Not because she’s advocating an “anything goes” attitude (though I think she appreciates and celebrates the challenges of striving for a community that embodies openness and diversity) — but because, as she points out, no matter what external authority we seek to lend authenticity and legitimacy to our self-definition as a “Druid,” that authority will eventually run out. And when it does, we will find ourselves in the midst of a spiritual wilderness, with only our commitment to the work and the sense of our own worth and worthiness to use the name as tools to help us move forward into the unknown.

So why use the name “Druid” at all, if it carries such difficulty and uncertainty with it?

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.

In this way, we choose the name “Druidry” for our religion to honor the archetype and ideal that guides and shapes us, without necessarily treating the name as a title that we take on ourselves in arrogance or self-satisfaction. We call our religion Druidry because at its heart is the ideal of the Druid — in the same way that the central archetype which guides and shapes the religion of Buddhism is the ideal of the Buddha as the “awakened one.” And just as in Buddhism there is the hinted-at promise that each person is capable of aspiring to and embodying the archetype of Buddha in their own life through discipline, study and devotion — even if they were not lucky enough to be born a Brahmin — so too in Druidry do we value and honor the striving that the ideal of the Druid inspires in us.

Of course, people who practice Buddhism have the advantage of avoiding confusion by calling themselves Buddhists, not Buddhas. An accident of language has left us with no satisfactory name to use for ourselves when we follow the Druid’s path, other than to persist in stubbornly calling ourselves “Druids.” Druidist? It just doesn’t have the same satisfying ring of simplicity. (Some of us like to poke fun at our own community by describing ourselves as “Druish.” Plus, Spaceballs reference!) And so, we rally ourselves as best we can, and generally treat the word as a convenient description of our tradition, rather than a personal title. A person who practices Druidry is a Druid, regardless of how much experience or knowledge they might have — and their right to the name rests on their willingness to face all the challenges that that self-definition is likely to provoke from others. In accepting this usage, most of us who are practitioners of Druidry acknowledge that our understanding of religion has changed from what it once was in ancient times, and we now live in a multi-faith society where it is often useful to have a simple label on hand to identify our own primary religious affiliation.

Still, in light of the analogy between Druidry and Buddhism that I’ve drawn above, I also like to think that we are tiptoeing around another kind of Mystery in choosing to call ourselves Druids. As the old Buddhist saying goes, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” Some Buddhist traditions even teach that upon escaping samsara and entering nirvana, you realize that they are in fact one and the same, and you have been in nirvana all along. This rejection of duality, and the irreverence that guards against our natural tendency to transform an inspiring archetype into an unobtainable ideal, might also be captured in our tongue-in-cheek presumption in calling ourselves Druids. We know that, in the most literal, original sense of the word, being a Druid today is impossible. We also know that as an archetype and inspiration, it holds great value and depth even despite its impossibility. As Druids, we take the third way: we leap ahead, we name ourselves what we value most, we celebrate in ourselves our capacity to become that which we aspire to be, and then we buckle down to the long, arduous, uncertain process…. of becoming Druid.

This post is part of the 30 Days of Druidry creative writing project.

Contemplation & Meditation, Holy Wild

Nemeton, Altar and Sacred Grove

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. A gateway between the worlds, a spine, a wellspring, a single tree, a tongue of flame. An altar is all surface, a solid place by which to ground, to grind and sharpen our focus within the center and void of stillness. An anchor that drops into the darkness, trailing the taut length of chain like a ladder behind it.

So, too, my body is the altar in the nemeton of my soul — that small, solid piece of world that settles down like a stone into my awareness. And that awareness in turn is carved by the spiraling torrents of the sacred world, the sun that crafts the seasons out of mud and wind, the moon that pushes the sea to its extremes, the stars that draw the eye into the great distances that yawn open between us, the deer, the jay, the badger, the rustling oak and every being and body that dances through its longing, hunger, fear, curiosity and sleep. All these things turn about the sculpted edge of my nemeton, the sanctuary my soul has made of itself, the self that calls itself “I” and reaches out into the world to touch the chaos that has given birth to it. Sitting in the center of that nemeton is my body, all surface, the appearance of skin and hair and angles and soft curves of fat and loose muscle. Like a ladder that reaches into the dark. A spine, a wellspring, a single tree, a tongue of flame. My body is the altar around which my spirit gathers itself into stillness. Not a temple, but only a simple, useful table where I sit down to do my work.

This post is part of the 30 Days of Druidry creative writing project.

Holy Wild, Poetry & Music

The Elements

Prayer to the Three

Wind, water, stone.
Breath, blood, bone.

I dwell in Nwyfre, energy, force,
I honor Nwyfre, spark and source.
Candle flame and incense rise,
Enlightened mind and brightened eyes.

Wind, water, stone.
Breath, blood, bone.

I dwell in Gwyar, movement, flow.
I honor Gwyar, change and growth.
Libations, rain and river pour,
Humming blood and soul-song sure.

Wind, water, stone.
Breath, blood, bone.

I dwell in Calas, limit, form,
I honor Calas, manifest, born.
Rock and root and herb to pledge
A healthful body and tempered edge.

Wind, water, stone.
Breath, blood, bone.

This post is part of the 30 Days of Druidry creative writing project.

Contemplation & Meditation, Holy Wild

The Three Realms

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. The sky is almost like another sea, a lifting, weightless body that pulls away and ever upwards into eternity. Sometimes delicate and blue, like a porcelain bowl overturned to make a great arching dome. Sometimes dark and clear to the utmost end of imagining, scattered with the shining, shivering dust of distant stars. Here, fire licks the edges of abyss, unfolding into the future in rising plumes. We press our faces upwards against the night, or squint against the sunlight that pours like an anointing oil or libation, warm against our skin — as though we were children pressing our faces to the window that, every once in a while, suddenly gives way like a veil or shift of mist to reveal the great hall that the gods call home. And to our surprise, we find we call it home as well.

These are mysteries, and there is still a third: the land itself. The tiny raft that floats upon the sea. The hard, cool surface of the window pane, the sticky sweat and rough texture of our skin. The neighbor’s cat lounges on the back steps purring, wood and fur and rumbling throat. All around me the trees speak to each other with the breeze. A million ants criss-cross in their purposeful bustle over the dappled gray cement. Root and limb, mud and stone. The body of the landscape rolls between sea and sky, reaching out to every horizon, holding within itself the dark waters. There is a surface to things, and this too is a mystery. Where infinity meets infinity in a crash of splintering Now. Each shard, each facet, each edge — the present moment, the utterly unique and particular, solid, dazzling — here is the birth of both fecundity and lack, where life and death dance through their melodies of color and scent, hunger and pleasure, blood, breath and bone. Here, surfaces give way to new surfaces, every face turning one into another, overlapping transformation. We find the realms again within the land itself, the shapes of weather and the shadows of clouds, the peaks of ocean waves and seafoam on the shore. Communities of spirit given form, nested one inside the other, endlessly.

This post is part of the 30 Days of Druidry creative writing project.