contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Month: June, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: ELEN OF THE WAYS (SHAMAN PATHWAYS)

jhp5135021762fb1Highly recommended both to a core readership interested in British indigenous Shamanism and to anyone uneasy with a world where loss of connection with nature (and thus spirit) is so prevalent.  Author Elen Sentier describes herself as “awenydd, a spirit weaver and tale keeper from a long family lineage”. The word is from British Celtic tradition, but it is being used to name a quality of being extending back much further in time, and of universal application. “Walking the deer trods is to learn how close we are to nature … how we are connected to anything whether or not it appears inanimate and this is what the awenydd knows”. The presiding spirit of this path is the elusive deer goddess  Elen of the Ways, who the author encountered as a young adult, thereby entering a lifetime of service to her. This book is about both context and story of this service, an invitation to “open yourself to Elen’s complex, multiple and beautiful ways”.

Elen Sentier takes us back to an archaic northern world in which most people lived by following herds of reindeer on their migrations – following rather than leading or managing: the deer decided when and where to go. She evokes the culture and spirituality of this relationship, describing a hunter gatherer society that once lived well without private property or long hours of work. She talks about communities that understood reciprocity and interdependence and lived by a practice of gift-giving and receiving both in the everyday world and that of spirit – themselves seen as hardly separated from each other. She sees this as a culture of sensitivity to all life, including the interconnectedness of “what you eat and what eats you”, and alive to the energies of the land itself.

The book traces this history through iconography and myth – with the figure of the antlered reindeer goddess standing for the Sovereignty of the land. It also describes “journeying” as a here-and-now practice for being in natural settings, tuning in with respect, entering relationship, preferably with a minimal reliance on satnavs, compasses and maps. Here is nourishment for spirit, available if we are.

CONTEMPLATION AND ACTION

I’ve been thinking about action and contemplation – and their relationship. I think they belong together. Both modes are engaged. Neither is passive or indifferent.  I am coming to see them as qualities that arise together and remain interdependent, rather like the paired opposites described in the Tao Te Ching:

For being and non-being arise together

Hard and easy complete each other

Long and short shape each other

High and low depend on each other

Note and voice make the music together

In progressive Christian circles, this kind of relationship is demonstrated in organisations such as Richard Rohr’s Centre for Action and Contemplation. Andrew Harvey would be another example.  In my ‘contemplative Druidry’ home group, I’ve noticed that a high proportion of the members are politically and socially engaged (mostly in the kind of causes currently packaged as ‘Green’). And I’ve also noticed that these different commitments support each other, rather than getting in each other’s way. On the one side it’s something about self-care, time for refreshment and renewal , and remembering to pause a little, able to maintain a spacious rather than frantic or tunnel-visioned awareness. On the other side it’s about enacting our interconnectedness and service, our commitment to the life of the world.  Right now it’s nudging me in the direction of activity.

BOOK REVIEW: DANCING WITH NEMETONA

jhp52e769df7b29aThis is my Amazon book review for Joanna van der Hoeven’s latest book.

Highly recommended. With an ease and lightness of touch, this book reflects on the sacred in relation to physical and subtle space, relationships and boundaries, safety and risk, liminality and letting go. Sacred time too – I liked the author’s definition of ritual as “taking a moment, taking time out, to celebrate or honour a specific moment of time”.

A modern Druid, Joanna van der Hoeven uses her personal journey to illustrate her themes and suggests practices to explore them – within the home, within the forest and within the inner world. These practices, and the book as a whole, are accessible to beginners or non-aligned seekers as well as those already grounded in Druid and Pagan tradition. This is helped by the careful arrangement of the book in six chapters: Lady of Boundaries and Edges; Lady of Hearth and Home; Lady of the Sacred Grove; Lady of sanctuary; Lady of Ritual: Lady of Everything and Nothing.

The last chapter opens the way to reflections on personal identity and the no self/true self paradox of Zen and other non-dual traditions. To enter into “immersion into the entirety of being … to be at one with existence, to truly experience life”, there seems to be a necessary letting go of our customary self-sense and a finding of true self through being in the moment, returning to the core. In this way the book continues the journey of the author’s earlier and well-received Zen Druidry.