Now it is the end of autumn, I lay my body down. A hush. The hill is still humming with the day's warmth, the sun sinking into the far shore of the lake. For a moment, I can see it, as though with other eyes, submerged, rippling beneath the waters in arcing liquid wings of flame and dusk, flexing, alternating, a thousand of them, wings sprouting from the round, warm body settling into the depths. Then the vision is gone. I creep silently along the shore, my bare feet numb and rustling through the long, dried grasses of autumn. The mud is moist and rough on my soles, each step sending echoes of energy sliding up my calves.
In my latest post over on No Unsacred Place, I share the story from Welsh mythology of Mabon, son of Modron, in honor of the coming autumnal equinox. This story was originally published on the former site of Meadowsweet & Myrrh back in 2009. In the comment section of the original post, a reader asked, "I've never understood the connection between this tale and the Equinox. Can you help with that connection?" This was my reply: "In Druidry, the autumnal equinox is not actually called Mabon, but instead goes by the name Alban Elfed/Elued (Welsh, meaning 'Light of the Water/Sea'). ..."
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.
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.
There is, I think, an old, white-bearded man who has taken up a place in my soul, like a seed of light or a hermit's lantern held up in the surrounding dark. His staff is heavy, planted in the ground. His brow is bright. In his dark eyes, that have seen such sorrow, there is still a star, a gleam like wisdom or stubborn joy. And he is a leader of a people, and he would lead them into the wilderness, that they might make of themselves whole constellations with the patterns of their dancing. That darkness is my body. That wilderness is my spirit. That constellation is the soul-song rising, woven from the sound of my breathing and the blood turning through my gnarled, twining veins.
The significance of Beltaine reaches beyond merely being an agricultural festival focused on fertility and fecundity in service to the community, with romance acting as a bit of grease we can indulge in now and then to keep the Wheel turning. The holy day at the height of spring is also a day of ecstasy in the original sense, a day on which the attraction of life-force can pull us beyond ourselves and into communion with a larger Mystery, beyond tensions that might keep us too rigidly locked into unhealthy or hampering community bonds once they have outlasted their benefit. Along with Samhain, the other hinge of the year, Beltaine serves as a liminal time, a time of thresholds and permeable boundaries. The great ecstatic mysteries of sex and death dominate both these holy days.
We consent to our own destruction, with the passing of time, with the changing seasons, with the restless intensity of living and breathing. Above the cold concrete and glass of the city skyline, sharp-wedged forms of birds wheel and tip in the dark, blustering sky. I find myself thinking again that it takes an awful lot of courage to live in this world sometimes, knowing that winter is coming, the dark is coming, and death, too, will eventually arrive to claim us. It takes courage to release ourselves, to enter willingly into the wild dance that whirls in this liminal space between life and death, creation and destruction. In my mind, the image of birds crashing through wind currents and swift-driven clouds commingles with the image of the warrior, poised in grace on the edge of chaos.