contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Month: March, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: AUSTRALIAN DRUIDRY

Highly recommended. Australian Druidry is a great introduction to modern Druidry in Australia. It describes the author’s journey to develop a Druidry for her needs. It shows all of us how to deepen into the wheel of the year, looking for cues in natural shifts rather than our calendars. As part of Moon Books’ Pagan Portals series, it is clearly and succinctly written.

For author Julie Brett, “modern Druidry is a path of nature-based spirituality being walked by many people over the world today. It centres on an understanding that is the ‘wisdom of the trees’ as the messengers of the natural world that can help us find guidance in our lives for peace, learning and personal development”. These principles can be taken to every part of the world, including the huge diversity of Australia itself, and customised to work any specific landscape.

Druidry is also a spirituality of recognition of our ancestors. Describing the people of Australia as “diverse as the landscape”, she defines the ancestors as “all the people who have come before us whether in our family or the lines of teachings we have received in our lives, or those who came before us in the land we live on”. This being the case, Australian Druidry is a not only a path “applicable to the Australian landscape and its inhabitants” but also an “invitation to explore and create”.

The author’s story shows a deep personal commitment to this path. This included ten month’s living in the UK, and particularly Glastonbury, England, where she tuned into the traditional landscape of Druidry, and apprenticed herself to local practitioners, before going on to develop her own distinctive practice in Australia. Returning home, she immersed herself in her own landscape, eventually creating a ‘coastal Sydney wheel of the year’. It is based around eight festivals, but with a distinctive resonance, not just up-ending the North European ones: Fire Festival, Storm Festival, Peace Festival, Moon Festival, Hardening Festival, Flower Festival, Wind Change Festival, Barkfall Festival.

The book includes sections on keeping a nature diary, animal symbolism, tree and plant symbolism, and forms of ritual practice. The emphasis is on offering possibilities rather than laying down a new template for people in the coastal Sydney area, or anywhere else. Having unleashed her own creativity, Julie Brett wants readers to unleash their own. At the end of the book, she invites us into the Druids Down Under Facebook group in the belief that sharing experiences inspires us. Australian Druidry is an inspired and inspiring book.

Julie Brett Australian Druidry: Connecting with the Sacred Landscape Winchester, UK & Washington, USA: Moon Books, 2017 (Pagan Portals)

PRESENT MOVEMENT

“We have been taught to think of ‘the present moment’ as an infinitesimally small slice of time, sandwiched between the past and the future, but that is not quite right. Instead of calling it ‘the present moment’, let’s call it ‘the present movement’ and see it differently: as the present dance of life, this real-time, immediate, vibrant, ever-changing dance of thought sensation, feeling, sounds, smells, urges, impulses, images, memory and dreams.

“When we take a fresh look at where we are, all we ever find is this present movement, not ‘in’ the past or future, but alive and happening Now. Of course, past and future appear here, too, as images and feelings, as memories and projections. There is only this present movement, inclusive of ‘your’ past and future, and it’s all you’ve ever known, and all you will ever know, for it includes all knowledge and doubt, too.

“Now is not a tiny slice of time between past and future, but the capacity for past, present and future, the unlimited potential for experience, and so we can say this:

“You cannot go ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the Now. You are the Now.”

Jeff Foster The Way of Rest: Finding the Courage to Hold Everything in Love Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2016. (Extracted from a longer piece entitled In and Out of the Now.)

 

BOOK REVIEW: RAGNAROK

18 March 2018, Gloucestershire England. Freezing temperatures. Snow covers the ground.I am reminded of A.S. Byatt’s Ragnarok and in particular the coming of the Fimbulwinter.

contemplativeinquiry

The book is A. S. Byatt’s Ragnarok: the end of the gods (1) and I highly recommend it. A labour of love, this piece is part review, part celebration, and part reflection.

Ragnarok is sparely and powerfully written. Above all, it shows a people held in the trance of their own dominant myth. Prediction is predestination. What must be, must be.

“This, they thought, was how it would be when the Fimbulwinter came. The fat sun was dull red, sullen, like embers. She gave little light, and what there was was ruddy or bloody. They longed in their bones and their brains for clear light, for a warm wind, for buds, for green leaves. The winter stretched into another year, and another. The seas froze: icebergs clashed by the coasts, and floated into the bays. This was, they began to understand, not a likeness of the Fimbulwinter, but the thing…

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METAPHOR: A MODERN TAOIST’S PERSPECTIVE

“Spirituality is applied Poetry. Metaphysics is applied Metaphor.

“All the methods that we have for knowing Tao came from observing the outside world and then applying it to the human dilemma. In the past, the body was seen as a microcosm of the universe, spiritual energy was compared to the sun, the duality of the body was matched to the duality of day and night, the habits of animals were copied for their innate wisdom, and the psychic centres of the body were imagined as opening flowers. Even if we apply these ideas today, they yield results.

“Metaphor is essentially a way to shape thoughts. The insights of poetry can often guide us out of our problems; the imagery of an opening flower is often used in meditation. Yet poetry is only a sensation of the mind and there is no opening flower inside of us. Human beings take objective reality and absorb it partially through a poetry of the mind. Without this, there could be no sense of humor, no creativity, and no spirituality. For until we make the connection between all things, we have no way out of the isolation that often infects us.”

Deng Ming-Dao 365 Tao: Daily Meditations New York, NY: HarperOne, 1992

ARE WE LIVING THROUGH A CRISIS OF TOUCH?: AN ARTICLE FYI.

I am re-blogging this post about a suggested ‘crisis of touch’because I like its balanced approach.

Sophia's Children

In intrapersonal reflections and personal conversations, I’ve been thinking and exploring an observation for quite awhile now: we’ve slowly been moving, on some level, to a fear-centered culture-norm of depersonalization, desensitizing, and “high-tech, low-touch” — or, as this article suggests, no touch.

At the same time, research shows increasing levels of isolation, social anxiety, depression, and disconnection, with all of their associated costs and effects.

Smiling faces, loving touch. PD image courtesy of Pixneo.

A no-brainer, right?

Because humans (and other beings) need touch, as it turns out.

We know, for example, that infants can actually die without loving touch — even if they’re receiving adequate food nutrition (1).

But the needforcompassionate, healing, loving touch isn’t just for babies. We know this, too.

Believe me, I’ve always been one to appreciate having healthy boundaries respected, particularly when it comes to someone being all up into…

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SWEENEY’S SHAPESHIFT

Two extracts from Sweeney Astray, Seamus Heaney’s version of the medieval Irish work Buile Suibhne. Reflecting a time of religious change in Ireland, the first beautifully describes a shapeshifting transformation whilst making it the result of a curse. In the second, there is at least a suggestion that it might, rather, have been another route to holiness. Meanwhile Christian priests have taken on Druid powers and roles, – non-canonical forms of cursing and binding, the support of animal allies and directing peace negotiations.

“There was a certain Ronan Finn in Ireland, a holy and distinguished cleric. He was ascetic and pious, an active missionary, a real Christian soldier. He was a real servant of God, one who punished his body for the good of his soul, a shield against vice and the devil’s attacks, a gentle, genial, busy man.

“One time when Sweeney was king of Dal-Arie, Ronan was there marking out a church called Killaney. Sweeney was in a place where he heard the clink of Ronan’s bell as he was marking out the site, so he asked his people what the sound was.

“It is Ronan Finn, the son of Bearach, they said. He is marking out a church in your territory and what you hear is the ringing of his bell.

“Sweeney was suddenly angered and rushed away to hunt the cleric from his church. Eorann, his wife, a daughter of Conn of Ciannacht, tried to hold him back and snatched at the fringe of his crimson cloak, but the sliver cloak-fastener broke at the shoulder and sprang across the room. She got the cloak alright, but Sweeney had bolted, stark naked, and soon landed with Ronan.

“He found the cleric glorifying the King of heaven and earth, in full voice in front of his psalter, a beautiful illuminated book. Sweeney grabbed the book and flung it into the cold depths of a lake nearby, where it sank without trace. Then he took hold of Ronan and was dragging him out through the church when he heard a cry of alarm. The call came from a servant of Congal Claon’s who had come with orders from Congal to summon Sweeney to battle at Moira. He gave a full report of the business and Sweeney went off directly with the servant, leaving the cleric distressed at the loss of his psalter and smarting from such contempt and abuse.

“A day and a night passed and then an otter rose out of the lake with the psalter and brought it to Ronan, completely unharmed. Ronan gave thanks to God for that miracle, and cursed Sweeney.

….

“After that, Ronan came to Moira to make peace between Donal, so of Aodh, and Congal Claon, son of Scannlan, but he did not succeed. Nevertheless, the cleric’s presence was taken as a seal and guarantee of the rules of battle; they made agreements that no killing would be allowed except between those hours they had set for beginning and ending the fight each day. Sweeney, however, would continually violate every peace and truce which the cleric had ratified, slaying a man each day before the sides were engaged and slaying another each evening when the combat was finished. Then, on the day fixed for the great battle, Sweeney was in the field before everyone else.

“He was dressed like this:

next his white skin, the shimmer of silk;

and his satin girdle around him;

and his tunic, that reward of service

and gift of fealty from Congal,

was like this –

crimson, close-woven,

bordered in gemstones and gold,

a rustle of sashes and loops,

the studded silver gleaming,

the slashed hem embroidered in points.

He had an iron-shod spear in his hand,

a shield of mottled horn on his back,

a gold-hilted sword at his side.

“He marched out like that until he encountered Ronan with eight psalmists from his community. They were blessing the armies, sprinkling them with holy water, and they sprinkled Sweeney with the rest. Sweeney thought they had done it just to mock him, so he lifted one of his spears, hurled it, and killed one of Ronan’s psalmists in a single cast. He made another throw with the second spear at the cleric himself, so that it pierced the bell that hung from his neck, and the shaft sprang off into the air. Ronan burst out:

“My curse fall on Sweeney

for his great offence.

His smooth spear profaned

my bell’s holiness,

cracked bell hoarding grace

since the first saint rang it –

it will curse you to the trees,

bird-brain among branches.

Just as the spear shaft broke

and sprang into the air

may the mad spasms strike

you, Sweeney, forever.

….

“There were great shouts as the herded armies clashed and roared out their war cries like stags. When Sweeney heard these howls and echoes assumed into the travelling clouds and amplified through the vaults of space, he looked up and he was possessed by a dark rending energy.

“His brain convulsed,

his mind split open.

Vertigo, hysteria, lurchings

and launchings came over him,

he staggered and flapped desperately,

he was revolted by the thought of known places

and dreamed strange migrations.

His fingers stiffened,

his feet scuffled and flurried,

his heart was startled,

his senses were mesmerized,

his sight was bent,

the weapons fell from his hands

and he levitated in a frantic cumbersome motion

like a bird of the air.

And Ronan’s curse was fulfilled.

“His feet skimmed over the grasses so lightly he never unsettled a dewdrop and all that day he was a hurtling visitant of plain and field, bare mountain and bog, thicket and marshland, and there was no hill and hollow, no plantation or forest in Ireland that he did not appear in that day; until he reached Ros Bearaigh in Glen Arkin, where he hid in a yew tree in the glen.”

 

The second extract, where the Church is represented by the friendlier Moling, describes the end of Sweeney’s life – still as a wandering bird.

 

“At last Sweeney arrived where Moling lived, the place that is known as St. Mullin’s. Just then Moling was addressing himself to Kevin’s psalter and reading from it to his students. Sweeney presented himself at the brink of the well and began to eat watercress.

“‘Aren’t you the early bird?’ said the cleric, and continued, with Sweeney answering, afterwards.

Moling: So, you would steal a march on us, up and breakfasting so early!

Sweeney: Not so very early, priest. Terce has come in Rome already.

Moling: And what knowledge has a fool about the hour of terce in Rome?

Sweeney: The Lord makes me His oracle, from sunrise till sun’s going down.

Moling: Then speak to us of hidden things. Give us tidings of the Lord.

Sweeney: Not I. But if you are Moling, you are gifted with the Word.

Moling: Mad as you are, you are sharp-witted. How do you know my face and name?

Sweeney: In my days astray, I ested in this enclosure many a time

…..

Moling: Look at this leaf of Kevin’s book, the coilings on this psalter’s page.

Sweeney: The yew leaf coils round my nook in Glen Bolcain’s foliage.

Moling: This churchyard, this colour, is there no pleasure here for you?

Sweeney: My pleasure is great and other: the hosting that day at Moira.

Moling: I will sing Mass, make a hush of high celebration.

Sweeney: Leaping an ivy bush is a higher calling even.

Moling: My ministry is only toil, the weak and the strong both exhaust me.

Sweeney: I toil to a bed on the chill steeps of Benevenagh

Moling: When your death comes, will it be death by water, in holy ground?

Sweeney: It will be early when I die. One of your herds will make the wound.

“You are more than welcome here, Sweeney, said Moling, for you are fated to live and die here. You shall leave the history of your adventures with us and receive a Christian burial in a churchyard. Therefore, said Moling, no matter how far you range over Ireland, day by day, I bind you to return to me every evening so that I may record your story.”

 

When Sweeney is indeed mortally wounded by one of the communities’ herdsmen, the rest of the community feel anger and grief.

 

“Enna McBracken was ringing the bell for prime at the door of the churchyard and saw what had happened. He spoke this poem:

“This is sad, herd, this was deliberate,

Outrageous, sickening and sinful.

Whoever struck here will live to regret

Killing the king, the saint, the holy fool.

…..

My heart is breaking with pity for him.

He was a man of fame and high birth.

He was a king, he was a madman.

His grave will be a hallowing of earth.”

 

Sweeney lives long enough to confess and take the sacrament. “He received Christ’s body and thanked God for having received it and after that was anointed by the clerics”. Moling who “with holy viaticum” has “limed him for the Holy Ghost”, also expresses affection for Sweeney and reveals that he, too, has learned something.

 

“The man who is buried here was cherished indeed, said Moling. How happy we were when we walked and talked along his path. And how I loved to watch him yonder at the well. It is called the Madman’s Well because he would often eat its watercress and drink its water, and so it is named after him. And every other place he used to haunt will be cherished too.

“Because Sweeney loved Glen Bolcain

I learned to love it, too. He’ll miss

The fresh streams tumbling down,

The green beds of watercress.

He would drink his sup of water from

The well yonder we have called

The Madman’s Well; now his name

Keeps brimming in its sandy cold”.

 

Seamus Heaney Sweeney Astray London: Faber & Faber, 1983

SACRED ACTIVISM IN A DARK TIME

Book review of Savage Grace: Living Resiliently in the Dark Night of the Globe, by Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker. The book has a U.S. centre of gravity and was written in the early months of 2017, triggered by Donald Trump’s assumption of the presidency.

The ‘dark night of the globe’ refers to an increasing risk of a wrecked biosphere (including human extinction) through runaway climate change or nuclear war. In such a scenario, resilience is a key quality demanded of us. They authors define this as a ‘life-giving ability to shift from a reaction of denial or despair to learning, growing and thriving in the midst of challenge’. The emphasis of this book is as much on essential psycho-spiritual resourcing as it is on direct political action. The authors see these as belonging together, recommending a staged strategy of reconnection, resistance, resilience and regeneration to its readers.

‘Reconnection’ is much like the ‘re-enchantment’ we talk about in Druidry. It is a response to disconnection from “our sacred inner wisdom, from all other living beings as a result of our delusional belief in separation, and from Earth and the reality that we are not only inherently connected with Earth, but, that in fact, we are Earth”.

‘Resistance’ is, first, about discerning “the nature of the myriad enemies of the mind, body and spirit with which we are being confronted in the current milieu” and to learn how to stand for “transparency and integrity in the face of massive assaults on our fundamental humanity”.

‘Resilience’ needs to be cultivated physically, emotionally and spiritually as an “essential life skill” in the face of increasing dangers and uncertainties in our communities and world.

‘Regeneration’ is about committing “to living lives of regeneration in all stages, even in what could be the terminal one”. If humanity is destined to vanish, “what matters most is not the outcome of our efforts, but rather, our inmost intention”.

Savage Grace is built around five main chapters. The first, Kali Takes America, explores the image of a country archetypally possessed by the dark side of the destroyer/creator goddess. Here ‘reconnection’ is about finding transformative possibilities within this predicament. The adoption of Savage Grace as the title owes something to this. Here the authors cite the work of Vera de Chalambert, which can also be found on https://youtube.com/results?search_query=vera+de+chalambert+kali/

The second chapter, Resisting the Modern Face of Fascism in the Age of Trump contains most of the social and political analysis offered in this book. It usefully draws on a 14-point list, devised by Umberto Eco in the 1990’s. on what ‘Fascism’ can be usefully thought to mean, and what makes it dangerous and wrong, given that it will look different in every incarnation, depending on time and leadership. (Eco grew up under Mussolini.) For strategies of resistance, they draw on Naomi Klein’s No Is Not Enough*, already published by the time Savage Grace was completed.

The remaining chapters are entitled Living Resiliently Amid Global Psychosis; Regeneration: the Legacy of Love in Action; and Celebrating Reconnection, Resistance, Resilience and Regeneration. These explore the building of psycho-spiritual resources at the personal, interpersonal and collective levels, and can be successfully accomplished only by looking at our own shadow sides. Otherwise we simply project them on to our opponents.

Savage Grace is written with urgency by authors who have been addressing its core themes for many years. I highly recommend it to anyone who acknowledges the personal and political, inner and outer, mundane and spiritual realms as facets of one interconnected life. No convenient compartmentalizing here. Savage Grace is a document for our historical moment. It asks readers to reflect on where we stand and how we are responding.

 Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker Savage Grace: Living Resiliently in the Dark Night of the Globe. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2017 . (Foreword by Matthew Fox)

For further information about the authors see: www.andrewharvey.net/sacred-activism/  and https://carolynbaker.net/

*Naomi Klein No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics Penguin Random House UK, 2017

AUTHENTICITY IN MODERN DRUIDRY

“Contemporary Druidry is a flourishing creative spirituality that is inspiring people the world over. Is it a closed system that was only open to new inputs several thousand years ago? Or is it an open system that allows for development and evolution?” Philip Carr-Gomm, Chosen Chief of OBOD (1) explores these questions in his foreword to ‘Contemplative Druidry’ (2) adding, “Scratch the surface of any religion and you find that it is made up of a number of influences and elements. Examine a ritual text or liturgy and you can see the bricolage at work.” Moving deeper into the world of Celtic spirituality, he goes on to say:

“Mgr. Mael, the founder of the Celtic Orthodox Church in Brittany … received a series of meditative physical exercises in a vision and taught these as a system of ‘Celtic Yoga’. Are such attempts valid? … And are they not ‘fake’, having been so recently invented, while the Eastern systems are clearly genuine having been around for centuries? As regards validity, a method that is valid is one that works, however young or old it is. As regards inauthenticity, if a method is pretending to be one thing, while in reality being another, then that is indeed inauthentic. If Mgr. Mael had pretended his system of Celtic Yoga was practiced by the ancient Druids, this would have been inauthentic. But since he clearly stated he had received the exercises in a series of dreams, his system is what he authentically stated it to be: a method received in an altered state of consciousness. A false claim to an ancient lineage made for a system that has only been recently created renders it inauthentic, but if no such claim is made, can we use the term Druid to describe it?

“… Modern Druidry has been growing and evolving for the last three hundred years and if we were to throw out any additions to its body of teachings and ritual practice made during this time, we would be left with a small and unworkable set of conjectures. If we didn’t allow ourselves to call something Druidic that has only recently been created, we would have no Druidry to practice. But this shouldn’t mean that we can simply call anything Druidic. Druidry has specific features which help to define what it has become and how it is evolving. … Druidry has developed into a spiritual and philosophical approach that embraces embodiment and does not deny the gifts of the physical world and the body. In addition, it cultivates both inwardness and outwardness – an appreciation of the inner and outer worlds that fosters an engagement with the Earth and with community as much as it encourages an exploration of the depths of the soul and merging with the Divine. The evidence of the centrality of this approach can be found in Druidry’s love of Nature, its reverence for the Earth, and its cornerstone ritual observance: the Eightfold Wheel of the Year. These characteristics define Druidry and they also tell us what it is not.”

Specifically on contemplative Druidry he suggests:

“When it comes to the subject of this book, contemplation and meditation within Druidry, it seems perfectly reasonable to me to talk in terms of ‘Druid meditation’ or to describe techniques and approaches as Druidic, if they fall within the ethos of Druidry, because that ethos is specific: it does not try to subjugate, transcend or deny they body. There is no emphasis on the illusory nature of the physical world. The goal in Druidry, and hence in meditation for Druids, is to enhance our engagement with our embodies life, not to distance or separate ourselves from it.”

  • Order of Bards Ovates and Druids druidry.org/
  • James Nichol Contemplative Druidry: People, Practice and Potential Amazon/CreateSpace, 2014 (Foreword Deep Peace of the Quiet Earth: The Nature Mysticism of Druidry by Philip Carr-Gomm)
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