Jeff and I spent last week enjoying the beauties of the Oregon coast, where I got my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean in earnest, and then went on to attend the amazing and inspiring Wild Goose Festival during Labor Day weekend. More on that in an upcoming blog post, but for now I'm still catching up on things like email and sleep. So in the meantime, here are a few glimpses of the gorgeous Pacific Northwest that I now call home.
Part of my identity as someone with a Celtic spirituality is the inescapable fact of exile. I am not only a person with Irish heritage living in the multicultural milieu of modern America, but I am also a polytheist and Pagan trying to connect with my ancestors across millennia of lost traditions from my place in a monotheistic, Abrahamic mainstream culture. It is within that diaspora — that exile — that I will have to discover, or forge, an authentic spiritual life.
I expect an eclipse of moon to be a kind of dilation, corona blaze of blue iris flaring out from the pupil- depths of midnight sky cast, in its center, suddenly to shadow by coy sunlight. I expect a god, his gaze past the austerity of bare trees, sharp eyelashes against the pale cheek of hill, and the thrill...
I've lived so long among ghosts, / the puffed up shells, / watery husks / shimmering transparent skins / that shiver in the wind. / Like so much sea foam, / they shrink away / from the outstretched hand, / fall back into their emptiness.
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."
Never fear. Though it's no longer August and I'm only two weeks from my wedding day, I have not abandoned the 30 Days of Druidry project. In fact, you can consider this a sneak peek at my up-coming post on Spirit and the gods. This amazing timelapse video was made by Randy Halverson (dakotalapse.com). It features stunning images of the milky way as part of a grand starscape turning above wheat and sunflower fields as thunderstorms blow in. This is definitely one video you should watch full-screen. Click to watch.
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.
In my latest post over at No Unsacred Place, I talk about my mixed reactions to the news of the hydro-fracking spill up in northern Pennsylvania last week, and my struggle to stay grounded in my love for the local landscape as a living, holy presence while I confront the injustices and ignorances that cause such saddening destruction. I also highlight some of the inspiring news coming out of local communities in Pennsylvania, where citizens are standing up against pressure from oil and gas companies and working together to protect the lands they love from harmful development: "Local communities are fighting back, resisting the enormous pressure from gas and oil companies (and the politicians they've financed into office) to take advantage of the Marcellus Shale deposit that lies beneath nearly two-thirds of the state's mountains, forests and fields..."
When I began exploring polytheism, I began to understand that the monism underlying some Pagans' conception of Spirit did not jive with my experiences and observations. If I believed in the intimate relationship between the material, physical world and the spiritual world that was its home and source, it seemed unlikely that the embodied world could be so varied, mottled and marvelously complex if the nature of Spirit was a kind of homogenous, undifferentiated aether or spiritual soup. So the beginnings of my own polytheistic theology was this idea of the many-in-the-One, the "ecology of Spirit." This was an ecosystem of living and interrelated beings, some embodied in all the unique ways that embodiment brings, and some just as unique without the solid weight...