contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Month: March, 2016

CONTEMPLATIVE DRUIDS UPDATE

2016-01-10 16.50.19Update on our presence at public events in 2016. These are the Pagan Federation Wessex Conference on 9 April, the Barmoor Druid Weekend 19-21 August, and our own Day Retreat at Stroud on 1 October. Here are the details.

Elaine and I will be on a stall at the Pagan Federation Wessex Annual Conference for the morning and part of the afternoon. The conference is on Saturday 9 April at The Village Hall, Whitminster, Gloucestershire. If you are going you are welcome to have a chat to us in between the talks, pick up a leaflet or buy a book or an original art work. Doors will open at 09:45 with the opening ceremony performed by the PF Wessex Team taking place at 10:15. The talks are scheduled to end at 17:15.

In the evening the doors will open at 19:30. A fully licensed bar will be available and entertainment will be provided by Tinkerscuss and Finnegans Wok Ceilidh Band.
Tickets for the whole event costs £20 for Pagan Federation members and £24 for non-members. You can also purchase tickets for just the day or the evening. Further details here: http://conference.pfwessex.org.uk/

Barmoor Weekend 2016 On their Facebook page Barmoor Druid Weekend the organizers make this invitation: “For all those on a druid/pagan/nature-based spiritual path, please join us for the 4th annual Barmoor Weekend at Hutton-le-Hole, a delightful village in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park near Pickering. The dates are Friday 19 – Sunday 21 August 2016. The main theme this year is divination but there will also be a variety of other workshops”. One of those workshops will be a contemplative session lead by Elaine and me, and thus far scheduled for the Saturday morning.

The weekend is about sharing friendship, sharing our skills, our dreams and spiritual practices. The cost is £45 all-inclusive of vegetarian meals and accommodation. There is a facility to message the organizers on the Facebook page. Hannah Silcock is the primary contact.

On 1 October we are offering a dedicated Contemplative Day Retreat in Stroud, Gloucestershire, in the group room of the former St. Luke’s Medical Centre. led by James Nichol, Elaine Knight, Nimue Brown and Tom Brown. Tom is an addition to the 2015 team and will be offering a session on contemplative drawing. The day will also include contemplative walking outdoors and our ‘Awen space’ practice. Arrive at St. Luke’s Medical Centre from 10 a.m. for 10.30 start, ending at 4.30 pm. £30 full, £15 concessionary. For full details see http://contemplativedruidevents.tumblr.com and for questions and booking write to grovelight@hotmail.co.uk 2016-01-10 16.50.19

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SOPHIAN MAGIC 101

My Temple of Sophia is a magical space. So what do I mean by magic? What is its place in a contemplative inquiry? What makes it Sophian?

On magic, I tend to take my cue from R.J. Stewart (1). He says: “Magic is a set of methods arranging awareness according to patterns. The serious application of magical methods leads to transformation; it is the transformation that is of value, not the magical methods themselves. The basis of magic is utterly practical and experiential”.

This is very good news from an inquiry point of view. Stewart is careful to say that magic is neither a truth or religion – nor yet a philosophy, though “echoes of profound philosophy” are to be found within magical traditions. In my universe, the Way of Sophia is more than a magical tradition. But magic, with its precise focusing of will and intention, its experimental approach, and its interest in outcomes, has a strong and valued place.

When starting an inquiry, I prefer to start with some sort of model, from which I will depart over time after I have gained enough experience to evaluate and modify it. R.J. Stewart – again – is a good model of Western Way integration, in particular through bringing together Celtic traditions and Kabbalah. In my Way of Sophia work I will be drawing on  Kabbalist patterning – again with the intention of gaining experience and then playing creatively. Indeed, this process has already begun.

I inaugurated my Temple of Sophia at about 4 a.m. on Tuesday 22 March and I am following Stewart in his view of five fundamentals in magical practice. As I move around the circle, I notice a cousinship with my previous OBOD Druid practice, whilst also recognizing difference.

CONCENTRATION – linked to the east, the element of air, and a view of origination.

MEDITATION – linked to the south, the element of fire, and a view of creation.

VISUALISATION – linked to west, the element of water, and a view of formation.

RITUAL PATTERNING – linked to the north, the element of earth, and a view of expression.

MEDIATION – the fifth fundamental, associated with Spirit, and in circle terms at the centre. Stewart points out that in mystical and religious discourse, the word ‘inspiration’ is used as an alternative. But in this context I find mediation the better word, more powerful as well as more specific. In the most general terms, we mediate the “constant power of Spirit”.

I want to say a little bit about all five fundamentals, with a particular emphasis on CONCENTRATION at this stage. Stewart says that before even starting, we need some ability to achieve inner silence, stilling the repetitive dialogue that we all have. In this context we are simply looking for a level of silence that will allow us to switch our focus fully onto the relevant inner disciplines. We are not here in the business of investigating the monkey mind itself. Stewart (1) offers brief exercises specifically for stilling the mind and generating silence. Having achieved this, we launch the work. Achieving silence is the first use of concentration. Holding it throughout the magical working is the next. Will Parfitt (2) has a valuable comment about concentration. It is often seen as strenuous, about being “very deliberate”, indeed somewhat compulsive – and above all an effort. He reminds us that it does not have to be this way. He notes that children at play concentrate effectively – to the point where it is hard to draw them away – yet without obvious strain and effort. This is possible because they are interested and excited. He says “it is that simple – if you are interested you can concentrate; if you are not interested you can’t and would be better off doing something else”. When I re-read this I felt sad for the many children and adults who lack adequate choices in this matter. More happily, I have noticed that I am finding concentration in the Temple of Sophia easy. My will and enthusiasm are behind it.

R.J. Stewart offers concise and simple definitions of meditation, visualization and ritual in magical work, and I will see how I go with these, in this inquiry, as time goes on:

MEDITATION: the discipline of directing consciousness inwardly upon chosen subjects.

VISUALIZATION: the act of controlled image making and development of inner vision.

RITUAL PATTERNING: the fusion of creative imagination with effective expression.

On MEDIATION I need to say a bit more, because this is where I become specifically Sophian. The purpose of my Temple is to mediate the Light of Sophia. For me, at this stage, this involves both energetic and contemplative work.

The energetic work is based around a strong development of Kabbalist middle pillar practice where I open myself to the light presence and light energy of Sophia, and let them fill me. Over the last few days this has had very strong effects. At an inquiry level, outside the Temple, it raises a Kabbalist version of the “are chakras real?” question. I’ll be writing about that in due course. On the contemplative side – again using an R.J. Stewart definition relating to magical work – I enter into a “wordless, formless fusion of consciousness with a chosen subject”.

This is the Light of Sophia – and I sit within the light generated by the energy work, and indeed go through a process that leads, when the work is going well, to the wordless, formless fusion described, wrapped and rapt in a form of Samadhi. But the larger aim is both to be and to represent that Light in the world – to mediate it. I will say more about all this, and what it means, when I better understand the implications for me. So far I know only that I have a strong sense of contact and a general direction. The inquiry itself will show me the way.

  • J. Stewart (1987) Living Magical Arts: Imagination and Magic for the 21st. Century Poole: Blandford Press
  • Will Parfitt (1988) The Living Qabalah: A Practical and Experiential Guide to Understanding the Tree of Life Shaftesbury: Element Books

WESTERN WAYS II: MOVING TOWARDS SOPHIA

In my earlier Western Ways post I talked about a distinction between a ‘Native’ Tradition and a ‘Hermetic’ one, acting as “complementary opposites”. The first was said to be concerned with “ancestral earth-wisdom”, whilst the second was described as a “path of evolving consciousness”. (1)

I am influenced by this idea and the distinction that is being drawn. But I have a different sense of the detail, and a different experience of how these themes have played out in my life. My original choice to ground myself in Native tradition resulted from an experience in the Orkney’s. I was allowed to hold an ancient eagle claw necklace and an extraordinary energy shot through me – ancestral power, certainly, and a lesson in taking the heritage of land and ancestors seriously. However my current  of Druid doesn’t directly follow on from this experience, but is, rather, a contemplative nature mysticism. This is spacious and gentle and from my perspective generally works well in both its personal and collective versions. I feel satisfied with what I am doing and, in a good way, my inquiry energy for it is waning, even as my practitioner energy is present and available..

For me, now, the call of Sophia is more dynamic. It is a call from the other half of the Western Way – though not strictly Hermetic, because not concerned with the Greek-Egyptian figure Hermes Trismegistos. So I have decided to make my Way of Sophia the focus of a new  personal inquiry cycle. It is not like starting something new. It is more about making this aspect of my spirituality more focused and specific.

In my private sacred space I will establish a Temple of Sophia and this will be separate from from my involvement in Druidry. Ultimately there will be an integration and unity, but I’m aiming to craft a coherent overall Way. I’m not happy to treat pick’n’mix eclecticism and pluralism as more than a staging post. I want to give the Goddess her due and discover for myself how these apparently diverse approaches fit together. I hope that this may be of interest to other Druids, since many of us have a simultaneous engagement with other traditions.

I will report developments in this blog, and I will also continue to write posts outside the inquiry, including book reviews, poems, Druid contemplative developments, and other news and events.

  • Caitlin & John Matthews (1986) The Western Way: A Practical Guide to the Western Mystery Tradition: Volume 2 – the Hermetic Tradition London: Arkana

CONTEMPLATIVE INQUIRY IN ACTION

For me, active spirituality is based on inquiry rather than faith. Formal inquiry moves in cycles, and in my experience each cycle has a number of phases:

  • Intuitive musing, gradually distilling into a sense of direction
  • Crystalizing intent, and refining it with the work of preparation
  • Actualizing the intent
  • Relaxing after the intent is achieved
  • Reflection/review on the process and harvesting its fruit
  • Wondering whether the inquiry needs another cycle, which may move me on to more intuitive musing …

I’ve just had a period of down time from intensive practice. For a few weeks I let it go, my attention elsewhere. I’m just beginning to pick the work up again, at a reduced level of intensity. My sense of things after the break is not quite the same as my sense of things before, even though there is a great deal of continuity. Now as I return to the work, I would describe my Druid contemplative inquiry as being in the reflection phase of a long cycle.

Late in 2011 – specifically at Samhain – I was sufficiently prepared and intentional to launch an inquiry into contemplative practice within a Druid setting. This launch was fully ritualized and dedicated to the Goddess in her wisdom aspect. It was both a personal and collective inquiry from the beginning, and in this post I’m thinking mostly about the collective work. From the beginning of 2012 I was reaching out to and involving other people, with the first retreat day in July of that year.

Along the way we have co-created specific forms of group work. By the Spring of 2014 I had enough sense of the work and its direction to devise the questions for the interviews in Contemplative Druidry: People Practice and Potential and in this period I began the interviews themselves. The book was published in the following October. Two years later we have an available and tested means of doing Druid contemplative practice in group settings. Speaking for myself, this has made contemplative Druidry easier to talk about as a community practice, because I have a point or reference which involves things that people do and ways in which we benefit. This helps to keep the conversation grounded.

I now feel confident to let the process evolve by itself. I expect change and development and I expect to have a role in them. I want to reflect on how the process went and draw some conclusions. I will continue to integrate the work into my life. But I don’t think I need another inquiry cycle.

I’m in a parallel process in my personal contemplative practice – also at the reflection/review stage, but I’m not as far on with that and not yet clear about further cycles. More of that later. If there is another cycle I’m not sure that it will be either entirely contemplative or entirely Druid, though it will certainly incorporate elements of both and the learning from them.

BOOK REVIEW: BRIGID

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Timely and highly recommended. Brigid: Meeting the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Forge and Healing Well is shortly due for release in Moon Books’ Pagan Portals series. Author Morgan Daimler describes it as “a resource for seekers of the pagan goddess specifically”, offering “both solid academic material and anecdotes of connecting with Brigid in a format that is accessible and designed to be easy to read”. On my reading, this is an accurate description, and in my estimation Brigid takes its place as a valuable addition to modern pagan literature.

As Daimler points out, the Celtic Goddess Brigid is well known and popular. In the Gaelic-influenced world, she has an alter ego as a powerful Christian saint. Yet what we know, or think we know, is selective and potentially confusing for today’s pagan seeker. “The lore of the Catholic saint is attributed to the pagan Goddess, and some people see shadows of the Goddess in the saint. For many people new to Brigid, or to studying Celtic or Irish mythology, it can be extremely confusing to try to sort out the old beliefs from the modern, to tell the Irish from the Scottish. The end result is that some people who are drawn to honor the Goddess Brigid find themselves lost in a seemingly endless assortment of possibilities”. Yet, in an intentionally short and simple book, Daimler does a great deal to sort out potential points of confusion and help her readers to find their way. She also includes an important chapter on Brigid by Other Names – which include the Brythonic Brigantia, the Gaulish Brigandu and the name Ffraid in Welsh.

Brigid devotes considerable attention to mythology, and to traditional lore and festivals (including a reference to the American groundhog day). But, as a modern Polytheist Pagan, she also has a lot to say about Brigid as she is today, including modern versions of practices like the making of offerings, flame-tending, the creation of altars, divination, meditation and prayer. There is a complete chapter on Prayers, Chants and Charms. Above all, Daimler shares something of her own journey, and the numinous experiences she has had through her Brigid connection from the beginning of adolescence to a present in which she is devising Imbolc rituals with her children. Standing as she does in Irish Reconstructionist Polytheism, she says that “I do not think that the religious framework we use to connect to the Gods matters as much as the effort to honor the old Gods itself. I think that we can all do this respectfully and with an appreciation of history without the need for any particular religion”. Brigid: Meeting the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Forge and Healing Well amply fulfills its author’s aim of helping its readers to benefit from time spent “getting to know Brigid”.