"Queen of Wands," by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law © 2010
Holy Wild, Mythology & History, Theology

Q&A: What is the Song of the World?

The latest issue of the Alternative Religions Educational Network’s newsletter just came out this past weekend, and I was excited to be included as one of those featured in an interview with the editor, Christopher Blackwell. We chatted about my background being raised in a liberal Catholic tradition flavored by my father’s Irish heritage, and how that shaped my spiritual journey towards Druidry as I live and practice it today. It was great fun! You can read the whole interview here.

"Queen of Wands," by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law © 2010One thing we touched on was the Oran Mór, or as I usually call it, the Song of the World. The Oran Mór is, in my view, very much like the concept of the Tao: it is both “the way of things,” a guide or path to follow, and also “the way things are,” the complex and irreducible nature of existence itself. Chris asked me to talk a little bit more about how this cosmological concept is reflected in my Druidry. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

Christopher: You refer to something that you call the World Song. Could you explain a bit more of what that you mean by that?

Alison: This idea of the Song of the World is open for debate in modern Druidry — I don’t know many other Druids who work with it, although it’s become a central aspect of my own practice. There is a phrase that is found mostly in the oral traditions of Scotland and Ireland, known as the Oran Mór (or “Great Song”). In Christian times, it became one of the names used to refer to God, although there’s some evidence in Celtic mythology and folklore that suggests the idea goes back to pre-Christian times.

For me, the Song of the World is something like Divine Harmony — it’s not a personal creator god, so much as the on-going creative process of the universe discovering itself, unfolding playfully and joyfully in an endless and infinite variety of ways, all of which are part of an exquisite harmony that is inherent to existence yet always changing and deepening. In his book The Salmon in the Spring: The Ecology of Celtic Spirituality, Jason Kirkey explains it this way:

“The concept of the Oran Mór makes explicit a belief that existence is song and therefore a process rather than a thing. God, to the Celtic imagination, is Being not a being; the process of Becoming rather than something which creates; the on-going self-creation or atuopoiesis of the cosmos.”

This isn’t exactly monism, because the World Song isn’t a “substance” or a deity. Just as you cannot create a symphony with a single instrument alone but must have many instruments playing together in harmony, and yet you can still experience the symphony itself as a unifying whole in which all of these individual instruments participate.

In the same way, each of us has a song that we are singing by the way we live our lives — the ways we move through the world, the very physicality of our embodied selves, create vibrations (quite literally! but also metaphorically and spiritually) that participate in and actively create the Song of the World. We join with it our own voices, the music of our bodies humming, pumping blood, inhaling and exhaling, neurons and nerves buzzing. The air we move through shifts around us with every stride, and our laughing and crying shape it. When we sing and move and live in harmony with the World Song, our own songs are amplified, modulated and carried along — our lives become beautiful, our hearts become soft and permeable, our minds become nimble and familiar with the patterns of how things dance.

This idea — that we each have a song, a soul-song, and that everything, the landscape and the gods and the world itself, has a soul-song as well — underlies a kind of lovely animism that permeates everything, everywhere, and fills it utterly with life and movement. It bestows a special sacredness to space, to limits and the separation of necessary absence through which limited, finite beings move. The Song of the World offers us a way to understand our unity and community without sacrificing our individuality and uniqueness, our creativity and our freedom.

~~~

We talked about so many topics, this is just a small taste! So I hope you’ll head on over and check out the rest of the interview, as well as the other interviews and articles featured in the issue. (And thanks again to Chris for the chance to share with his readers!)

Meanwhile, I’m curious: for those fellow Druids out there, is the Oran Mór part of your approach to Druidry? Does it shape your beliefs or practices in any way? If so, how? And if you’re not a Druid, do you have a similar concept in your own tradition?

Let me know in the comments!


Have another question for the Q&A series? Leave it in the comments below, ask me on Tumblr, or email me.


Photo Credit:
• “Queen of Wands,” by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law © 2010 [source]

Holy Wild, justice

Steampunk Shamanism & Cultural Appropriation

It’s come to my attention that my recent post on the magic and mysticism of steampunk is causing some controversy on Facebook and Tumblr, and a few people have stopped by to share their thoughts and ask questions (albeit pretty sarcastic, rhetorical questions) that I’ve tried my best to answer in the comment thread.

I wanted to take some time to highlight that now, and to share my own thoughts about cultural (mis)appropriation and syncretism, particularly as it pertains to steampunk.

To begin with, I feel like I’ve stepped on a hornets nest of controversy that was there before I even arrived on the scene, and now I’m getting stung. In retrospect, though, this is no excuse — the ground is just the kind that might shelter a hornets nest, and I should have been watching my steps more closely to make sure I wasn’t treading thoughtlessly and causing harm. So I want to begin with an apology to anyone who has felt personally offended or hurt by my post. Please know that it wasn’t intentional.

From what I can gather, the steampunk aesthetic already has a reputation among some for being appropriative of other cultures. I am, admittedly, not actually very big on the steampunk scene, and so I wasn’t aware of this reputation. But like I said, that’s no excuse for insensitivity — I’m thankful for this opportunity to learn and think more deeply about this particular aesthetic and all its many implications. I hope that those of you who have arrived here angry or offended will have some patience with me as I explore where I was coming from when I wrote my original post, and where my thoughts have led me since.

When I wrote “The Gears of Chance,” I was thinking of steampunk primarily as a way of reclaiming an imagined future-past in which many of the mistakes of the industrial revolution and the Western addiction to oil (including not only the ecological and environmental damage, but also the imperialism and colonialism that the industrial revolution helped to make possible) were mitigated and circumvented, and creative alternatives like steam and wind power were captured by the inventive genius of skilled explorers and intellectuals. That, to me, was the “steam” part of steampunk — an ecological response of imaginative and sacred ambivalence to modern industrial culture, in which we acknowledge the advances we’ve made while still regretting (and, through fantasy and invention, try to explore alternatives to) the damages those advances have caused.

The “punk” part of steampunk was, for me, a concern for social justice that subverted the rigid social norms of class and gender found in the Victorian and Edwardian eras of European history. Modern steampunk’s creative blending and combination of historically “upper class” and “working class” clothing and style subverted the strict class distinctions that were enforced at the time. A similar approach to stereotypically male and female styles to create deliberately ambiguous or transgendered aesthetics in modern steampunk was a form of ritual “deep play” (in the postmodern sense), exploring the fluidity and complexity of gender and subverting the strict polarity that separated men and women in Europe for hundreds of years. (The Victorian era, especially, is known for its prudish sexual repression, particularly directed at women.) By playing with and intentionally subverting the social norms of the past regarding class and gender, I saw steampunk as deeply concerned with social justice in the same way it was concerned with ecological responsibility and sustainability.

But that’s not to say that steampunk doesn’t embody a certain ambivalence of its own. This is best captured in my favorite modern steampunk novel, Lev AC Rosen’s All Men of Genius, in which an upper-class girl dresses up as a man in order to trick her way into a renowned scientific academy. Rosen’s novel deals deftly with all of the social conflict and ambivalence of the Victorian and Edwardian historical periods that steampunk draws on for its aesthetic, and challenges the assumption of man’s control over nature even while celebrating the creativity and inventiveness of scientific study and technological innovation.

It was in this spirit, as a Pagan and animist who holds deep reverence for the natural world and appreciates the ambiguous role of science that gives us both appreciative insight into and destructive power-over that world, that I wrote about the “steampunk shaman.” Shamans and trance-workers in many cultures around the world and throughout history have occupied a liminal place in their communities, challenging social norms through their spiritual work. In many cultures, the shaman was one who suffered a particular illness or deformity, and that sickness was a sign of the shaman’s power and the place they occupied, a manifestation that they were already partly attuned to the spirit world. Shamans, ecstatics and mystics in many religious traditions have sometimes dressed in clothing of the opposite gender (or gone partially or fully unclothed), undermining community expectations about the rigidity of gender and sexuality. Shamans all over the world communicate with the spirits of plants, animals, landscapes and the elements through ritual, trance-work and other forms of ecstasy (including sometimes the use of entheogens), for the benefit of their community. In the steampunk aesthetic and its emphasis on skilled invention and creative genius, I saw a similar appreciation for the techniques of working with the material world and its living spirits in ways that could transform society, but which remained respectful of the natural world and its raw elemental power. The use of fetishes (objects of power that connect us to the natural world and the artifacts of our own culture) is a natural extension of a religious perspective that sees the physical world as imbued with spirit.

None of this, to me, is cultural misappropriation. Shamanism has arisen in many diverse forms all over the world even among cultures that have had no direct contact with one another. My theory is that steampunk is one such example of a new, emergent form of shamanism indigenous to modern Western culture, which is uniquely adapted to handle the ambiguities and uncertainties of a modern, industrialized society seeking a reconnection with the natural world. Although the word “shaman” can be controversial, most people no longer use it to mean only the traditions of ancient Siberia, but instead to refer to any similar role or function in the many different cultural contexts all over the world and throughout history. In this case, the role I wanted to explore and articulate was best described with the word “shaman.” (I considered using “priestess” or “mage,” but neither of those words capture the specific role of the shaman or trance-healer as a liminal presence in the community who mitigates between this world and the spirit world.)

I want to make myself very clear: Although I appreciate the vital role of respect and appreciation for cultural context, I do not believe that any one culture “owns” shamanism, any more than I think any one culture “owns” religion, or science, or soccer. I do not support the belief that white people should be prevented from exploring and developing their own culturally-appropriate and contextualized form of shamanism simply because they are white.

That said, the question of cultural misappropriation is still a very big deal in the steampunk aesthetic, for one very obvious reason that I overlooked in my last article. And that is: it draws on eras of European history that were themselves deeply colonial and appropriative. Some of the defining features of the Victorian and Edwardian aesthetic were their incorporation of cultural artifacts from the indigenous peoples they conquered and colonized. Compounded by inventions that allowed for greater communication, globalization and technological progress, they were times when social justice often took a backseat to exploitation and consumerism (much like today, in fact) — and this included the “consumption” of aesthetically appealing aspects of other cultures without respect or regard for their meaning or context.

As Jaymee Goh pointed out on Twitter:

To recognize the heinous colonialism of the VIctorian era within steampunk requires respect for indigenous peoples. Steampunk is not rooted in European history, but in alternate history. Hence we expect greater sensitivity of such issues.

Jaymee (who writes a blog devoted to deconstructing narratives of colonialism and imperialism within steampunk) is absolutely right and calls attention to the very important fact that steampunk is alternative history, not history itself. Yet by drawing on these historical eras, steampunk evokes the ghost of colonialism and cultural insensitivity that are still very active in haunting us today, and we have to be very clear in dealing with those ghosts if we are to move forward with mutual respect and understanding. Jaymee probably assumes, because I am a white Westerner, that I am insensitive to the issues of continued cultural misappropriation and oppression directed against indigenous peoples — and she has no reason, based on reading only a single post of mine, to think otherwise. I don’t fault her for that. If anything, it goes to show just how important cultural context is, and how we can have misunderstandings and disagreements even among people who are all working for the same cause of social justice.

I think that steampunk — as a punk-aesthetic that deliberately seeks to confront and undermine social injustices — can handle (and work to redress) the inheritance of European colonialism in a healthy and respectful way. But it can only do so if people like me, who talk and write about the steampunk aesthetic, are careful to acknowledge the harm that has been done in the past by white European colonialism and cultural misappropriation. I failed to do that in my last article, which was a mystic-mythopoetic exploration rather than a cultural analysis of the steampunk trend. For that, I deeply apologize, and I hope that some of what I’ve written here helps to clarify my position.

Steampunk isn’t going away any time soon. It speaks to a deep ambivalence that many of us hold about the modern, industrialized cultures that we live in — societies in which computer technology seems each year to get more obscure and esoteric, in which skill and creativity are treated as less important than fame and wealth, in which ecological damage and environmental destruction persist despite our vast scientific knowledge about how the ecosystems of the world work and our own role in that destruction, and in which strict gender and class norms are often subtly (or not so subtly) reinforced even in the same breath as we congratulate ourselves on our diversity and tolerance. Steampunk looks back to the historical roots of modern culture in the generations before the first world war, picking at old scars and still open wounds, exploring what went wrong and what we might have done differently. It is absolutely vital that we engage in that process, even in the face of ghosts we would rather leave undisturbed.

The shaman, in all cultures, is the person who stands on that threshold of time and space, who enters the world of spirits and strange creatures, who has dealings with the ghosts of the restless dead, who seeks after the soul-shards that have been torn off and left behind through past trauma — and he or she does that work in order to restore the community to health and wholeness. I think that steampunk can open the door to this kind of sacred work. If we are careful, and respectful, and undertake that work with love.

Holy Wild, Rite & Ritual

The Gears of Chance: Steampunk Magic

I turn the gears of coincidence, I turn the gears of chance.
This is my magic: the fulcrum, the lever, the steam, the fire, the dance.

Chronospheres

The Clockwork Universe

We turn through a world of tension and pressure, movement and poise. Cycles within cycles that turn together, their teeth in rows — the still center of being, that emptiness around which every gear circles.

This is the clockwork of the universe, a shining mandala of interconnection and interrelationship.

The delicacy of craftsmanship expressed through the primal forces of the elements: forged metal, fire, water, steam and space. All these have their place, turn their way, in an intricate dance with one another.

This is not the Old Man Watchmaker’s dull work, some bauble set loose after a few quick windings to tick quietly in a pocket until it softly runs down.

This is a dance of power, a great engine of spirit churning. The hum and whirr of gears and springs, the hiss of steam, the roar and crackle of flame, all these are the melodies that make the Song of the World. A mandala of turning cycles and spirals, glimmering, polished and slick with grease. The work of soul is to keep the dance going, to slip into those spaces and join hands in the dance.

The Steampunk Shaman

The steampunk shaman knows the intricate patterns of the dancing world. Her wisdom penetrates the delicate work of friction and force, knowing exactly when to introduce the slightest pressure, and where, and how hard. Time Travelers PicnicNo brute or bully pushing her will onto the world, she turns, she gives way, she waits in the center of stillness and open space, waits for the gears to shift into alignment.

When her work is done, you might say it was all just coincidence, the wheels of fortune spinning out through inexplicable chance. This is the work of the steampunk shaman: she turns the gears of coincidence. Through creative nonaction, all action is done.

Like shamans of the ancient times, she dresses herself as her animal kin: leather and silk and feathers, fetishes and objects of power woven into her garments and hair. Practical, worn soft, stained dark here and there from the hard work of dirty hands. Delicacy married to hardship, beauty contrasted with sweat. She plays in the polarity of gender and class.

When she moves, the buckles of her boots clink like the sound of far-off bells chiming in some otherworld. She wears the chains and charms of her trade, delicate gems set in polished metal imitating the gears and springs of the clockwork universe, an ornamental mandala, meditative adornment.

These are objects of power and transformation, too: the artificial eye, the brass mechanical wings. The blending of humanity with the elements of earth come alive at a touch — the hard gleam of metal and the transparency of glass.

The Alchemy of the Forge

Magic is the work of transformation. The steampunk shaman knows the transformative work of the forge. She brings together will with love, ferocity with joy, as fire meets water in the darkness amidst hot sparks of light.

blacksmith: spiral on fireFrom the forge of her soul, will and love arise mutually tempered, sharpened to a point — a blade that will never go dull. Like the butcher who cleaves precisely between flesh and bone, slipping his knife into the emptiness within all things, she moves through the clockwork world with power and purpose, always sharp, poised, polished to a smooth edge.

Just so she also knows the mystery of the inventor’s workshop, of steam and pressure. She is friend to the elements, to fire and water — and the polarity between them from which tension arises into creativity, necessity into invention. She brings together will and love into fierce joy, held in careful check by a trained and skillful hand.

Her wisdom penetrates the delicate work of force and friction, knowing exactly when to release that pressure, let slip that quick hiss of steam that will turn the gears of chance and move the world.

Spring, Tension and Ritual Time

Time, too, is a spiral, the turning seasons and cycles spinning past, never quite repeating in their steady, interlocking motions.

Yet the steampunk shaman stands with one eye fixed, turned to that strange beyond-time. She watches the seconds sweep past as a hand across the face of the world, a thin wand turning around a central axis.

This is the dreamtime, this is the time of myth and ritual. Here and now, day and night flash past, millennia span no more than a blink of the eye, and the present expands as a presence whose circumference is nowhere and whose center is everywhere.

The steampunk shaman in her magical work enters the dreamtime of spring and tension, winding her circle about herself with a few steady turns. All time is now-time, past and future condensed, held together by the tension of her will. She compresses the spiraling spring of time into a perfect unending circle of space, marked off by the horizon, screwed tight to the axis of the world.

It is in this circle that she holds her power ready, moving delicately here and there, tinkering in the emptiness of the spacious present. Love and will build to fierce joy and power contained within the dreamtime of her magical work — she knows, in her wisdom, just when the release the pressure, to let the power go.

And when she does, the circle unwinds her will into past, present and future, time springing back into shape to move the world anew.

When her work is done, you might say it was all just coincidence, a series of events begun long before the magical act itself was even conceived. You might say it was simply the wheels of fortune spinning out through inexplicable chance.

This is the work of the steampunk shaman: she turns the gears of coincidence. This is her magic: the fulcrum, the steam, the dance.

one eye on the time


This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project 2012.
Why not join in?


Photography Credits (under the Creative Commons license):
– “Chronospheres,” by Gita Rau
– “Time Travelers Picnic,” by Anna Fischer
– “blacksmith: spiral on fire,” by Bernat Casero
– “one eye on the time,” by Scribe

Holy Wild, Theology

Back to Basics

Goddess of SpringWhat is it that I believe? This question has troubled me on and off ever since I left my childhood Catholicism and began wandering in the wildness and wilderness that is modern Paganism.

When I was a Catholic, the question of belief didn’t trouble me all that much. Not because I had been told what to think and believe unquestioningly, but because I had two thousand years of theologians, mystics, philosophers and saints who’d explored these questions before me and come up with myriad ways of answering them, more than imaginable. Choosing what to believe was like a hunt for buried treasure among a rich tradition nourished and nurtured by elders and wise men for generations. And it was a hunt I was encouraged to go on, an invitation to adventure and not a threat of “getting it right” or facing some awful punishment (at least this was true in the liberal, intellectually curious Catholicism that I was raised in, a kind of Catholicism that seems to be rapidly disappearing these days). After a long hunt, I discovered that the treasure I’d uncovered — that “pearl of great price” — did not belong exclusively to Christianity, and in fact had a great deal more in common with the ancient, pagan traditions that knelt close to the earth, sinking loving fingers into the soil and dancing down the rain. It was a treasure born of the natural world, the poetry of my Celtic ancestors, the music of the World Song singing in the roots of the trees and the stones of the burial mounds and the caressing waves of the ocean lapping against the shore.

So I left Catholicism behind and began wandering in the wilderness. Druidry was the path I took, one that resonated with me deeply for many reasons. But as with most young traditions, I quickly discovered that modern Druidry, and much of modern Paganism in general, had only shallow roots that ran up far too quickly against the bedrock of lost heritage, oppression, disruption, colonialism and the uncertainty of intervening millennia. What were the traditions of the ancients that I hoped to rediscover, and even if I did manage to find them or piece them together from the few clues left, how could I be sure that they would be relevant and meaningful to me as a woman in the (post-)postmodern world?

The search for answers to my theological questions took on a new anxiety. Where once I could sift through the opinions of philosophers and mystics for the truths that resonated with me on a personal level, now I found myself striving to become an Expert In All Things Pagan, trying to build a whole new tradition for myself on the uncertain foundation of the ashes and dust and old bones of the beloved dead and the competing interests and egos of contemporary Pagan leaders, some of whom were (let’s be honest) not always very kind to newbies and neophytes (or even people they’d only just met who, for lack of a reputation, they merely assumed were newbies). As the Joni Mitchell song goes, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…”

Without a larger, well-established religious community to offer support and acceptance, without the tether of discernment and long-cultivated wisdom that allowed me to safely wander far into the depths of the unknown along my own spiritual path — I found myself incredibly anxious about straying too far from the herd. I tried for years to be a “good polytheist” with an anxiety and uneasy eagerness to prove myself that I’d never felt as a monotheist. Suddenly, it wasn’t enough to profess a belief in my gods; I also had to prove that my knowledge of them was founded in solid, up-to-date research by only the best scholars. I had to pronounce names in unfamiliar languages with perfect accuracy during rituals, I had to demonstrate my knowledge of exactly how the Irish Manannan mac Lir differed from the Welsh Manawydan fab Llyr, I had to strive to believe in a “hard” polytheism that took for granted deity identity much less fluid than even the identities of my fellow human beings, I had to guard against eclecticism and syncretism as naughty words, or even the whiff of these that might waft off of sources and authors who weren’t considered approved reading. Personal experiences that fell beyond the carefully constructed box of modern polytheistic practice was tactfully labeled “UPG” and left to shiver out in the cold of solitary practice where it was easy to wonder if maybe I was just crazy after all.

Much of this was my own personality. I’ve always wanted to do well at whatever work I take on, in love with the challenge that learning, exploration and skillful mastery can provide. I hate doing things half-assed, and as a Gemini, you might say that I have two whole asses to worry about putting on the line. I fling myself into all kinds of work with a passion, and that includes spiritual work, the Great Work. But sometimes, in my enthusiasm, I don’t spend enough time paying attention to whose standards I’m striving to measure myself against. I do value scholarship and academic rigor, and I appreciate nuance and intellectual subtlety as much as poetry, art and damn good ritual — and so it took me a long time to realize that the anxiety I was feeling about my spiritual life as a Pagan was not the healthy passion to explore, but the sinking feeling of dread at being laughed off as crazy, wrong or — gods forbid — just perpetually silly and “noob”-ish.

I’m beginning to think that this is a pretty common experience for Pagans. Some of my favorite fellow Pagans have a deep ambivalence about the community and the label itself, sometimes feeling boxed in or trapped by it, unable to relate to others who use that term or the communities they represent. I have been lucky in finding some strong, supportive Druid communities who help to keep me firmly tether to a process of discernment and honest exploration — but among the greater Pagan community, the anxiety persists. In recent months, I’ve realized that the anxiety has grown so great that there are times when I’m not even sure what it is that I do believe anymore, so long have I been paying more attention to the delicate dance of group opinions than to my own personal convictions.

So what exactly do I believe? To answer that question, I have to go back to basics. And in going back to basics, I have to face my fear of being forever shrugged off as a newbie fluff bunny who can’t be taken seriously. It’s easy to say, “So what? What do you care if people take you seriously?” But as a member of a scattered, small community, a minority religion in a predominantly Christian culture, it can feel pretty devastating to be shrugged off or shuffled aside even by those you thought would welcome you with open arms. But that’s the risk you have to face if you want to cultivate an open and free relationship with spirit and the sacred world. The world is far stranger and wilder than the books and experts would have you believe.

So what, at the most basic and deepest level, do I believe?

  • I believe in the Song of the World, a harmony of interweaving melodies woven from the chorus of atoms and earthquakes, of wind and fire, of sun and starlight, of misty woods at dusk, of the butterfly’s dance and the call of the heron, of rainstorms and rivers, of ocean tides and cresting floods, of blood and gore spilled red upon the white purity of snow and the black of the raven’s wing, of rosebuds and the smell of summer grass, of the gods in their myriad forms, of the beloved dead, of the spirits of the land. I believe this World Song is what the Taoists call “The Way of Things” — both the deep, resonating essential nature of all that is, and the guide of natural harmony that shapes the world and the land around us and within us.
  • I believe in fire and water, the sacred duality that dances at the creative heart of existence, born of that numinous unity which moves through the melody of the Song of the World. Fire and water move. They are the complimentary opposites that give rise each to the other, fire licking upwards, water trickling down, one bright and one dark, one hot and one cool, one active and one receptive, yet both liminal still, embodied best in movement not in form, consuming and all-permeating, the first spinning of unity into expression but still not yet manifest. I find that my guides to understanding this sacred duality are my primary gods: Brighid, goddess of fire, sun and stars; and Manannan, god of mist, storm and sea.
  • I believe in the Three Realms of land, sea and sky, and the three Druidic elements of nwyfre, gwyar and calas (wind, water, stone; breath, blood, bone; force, flow and form). These triplicities are the dynamic manifestations of the marriage of fire and water, day and night, above and below, and all such sacred dualities. But they are not static, nor forced into a stable, permanent form — they move and turn, each arising from the others. Above, below and center. Transcendent, immanent and manifest. The in-breath, the exhalation, and the moment of stillness between. Like a three-legged stool, the stablest of all, these triplicities embody a dynamic, ever-changing stability of the natural world. And as three points define a plane, the Three Realms define the sacred space in which we live and move and have our being, while the three Druidic elements describe the processes of that life, that movement, that being-becoming dance of existence.
  • I believe that the gods (however we conceive of them), the ancestors (however we remember them) and the spirits of the land (however we experience them) all play active, meaningful roles in shaping our lives and our selves. I believe that we in turn can cultivate meaningful, mutual relationships of love and respect with them through ritual, prayer, meditation and contemplative attention, and that these relationships offer us connection and opportunities to seek to live in harmony with the World Song through intention and free will even in the face of forces that are so much bigger than we can even imagine.
  • I believe that all things are manifestations of Spirit, the Song of the World, and that all things also have spirit, unique selves which embody the myriad ways in which the world experiences and is conscious of itself. Rocks and whirlwinds possess a consciousness just as humans and house cats do, not to mention oak trees and gods and computer circuitry. This belief is generally called animism, or sometimes pantheism (though usually pantheism is a kind of non-theism that does not include a belief in individual deities). Either way, it celebrates the raven-ness of ravens and the mollusk-ness of mollusks, the utter tree-ness of a tree and the stone-ness of a stone as sacred expressions of the numinous, each with its own gift of awareness and experience to give back to the World Song.
  • I believe that living rightly and mindfully in the world requires us to cultivate an integrity of balance and harmony with all these other beings that share the world with us, and that this naturally leads us to desire lives of sustainability and ecological awareness, as well as a reverence for nature. This reverence for nature is not only a love of the wildness and wilderness of landscapes and sacred places untamed and untrammeled by the controlling machinations of humans, but also a sacred acceptance and gratitude for the essential nature of reality itself, the Way of Things, the Song of the World. This reverence for nature leads us to see that nature is, indeed, everywhere, and cannot be otherwise but everywhere, for it is the essential, inalienable quality of the world itself. And realizing this, we no longer seek to exert control over nature, but to understand it and live according to nature in all its manifestations, including our own deepest, truest natures as human animals, members of this planet Earth.
  • I believe that ritual, like poetry and art, can open us to more authentic relationship with the nature of things, the Song of the World, and all of the beings who share the world with us by engaging us in the sacred play of creativity, imagination and creation. Through ritual, we experience space and time in new ways, and discover the diversity of experience embodied in the myriad beings of the world. Through ritual, prayer, worshipful devotion and meditation, we cultivate our ability to attend to new perspectives and to connect to the beauty inherent in all things, including the beauty and meaning within ourselves.

I believe in a great many more things, but these beliefs are at the very foundation of my Druidic practice and my spiritual life.


This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project 2012.
Why not join in?

Contemplation & Meditation, Holy Wild

Cosmology

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.

And through that dance, ten-thousand things. My eyes adjust, and the shadows thrown by that dancing light invade the corners of my mind, wave upon myriad wave of strange and foreign beings pouring, gathering, shuffling in to replace the dark. The almost imperceptible sound of a fire burning, of water sloshing, of the wax candle knocking gently against the curved, smooth side of the blue bowl. The smell of sulfur lingers, mixed with rising incense. The touch of firelight against my skin, the cool currents of air coaxing goosebumps, the prickling of blood as it moves through my veins. My senses are alive to ten-thousand things. I awake to myself as a body in the world, as an animal embedded in the thick sensory slush and swirl of the earth. I know myself as part of the mystery of ten-thousand things.

I open my mouth to draw a breath, drawn deep into the still center of my being. At the beginning of every ritual, at the opening of every moment, there is a song.


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