Ritual & The Dream: An Encounter At Twilight

20190129 ritual and the dream

I hear your voice on the wind
And I hear you call out my name
“Listen, my child,” you say to me
“I am the voice of your history
Be not afraid, come follow me
Answer my call, and I’ll set you free”

Brendan Graham, and sung by Celtic Woman (see here)

Even with my eyes closing, I saw her. In a clearing in a forest at twilight, she was there, dressed in a long white flowing robe. It was quite dark but I was able to see more and more as my eyes slowly grew accustomed to the darkness.

There was no one else around, and yet I could sense somethings or some ‘people’ nearby. It was like the heaviness of air pressure due to an approaching storm, but there was no storm. Like the energetic cacophony of a room, ‘noise’ made up of many voices but without being able to distinguish any one voice. It was like the faint echo of something that had been said but was said no more. And yet, a presence or presences, invisibly persisted.

Even with my eyes closed, I saw her in my mind’s eye. She lit a small candle and placed it at her feet.

‘What is the purpose of ritual?,’ a kindly, deep Voice enquired from the forest around the clearing. Without hesitation she answered, ‘It is to wake up the ancient mind within each of us, and to weave the personal and communal in such a way as to relate the local to That Which Is Larger Than Ourselves’. Silence filled the forest once more. As I looked on and listened, it seemed the Voice had been edified.

‘What is the origin of ritual?’, another Voice enquired from the forest, the voice ‘hidden’ amongst the trees. It sounded feminine, evoking beauty, patience and youth, and almost encapsulated a laugh, gaiety as words tripped toward the woman. The woman turned to face the area where the Voice seemed to come from. ‘Rituals arise from the land and its guardians, and enter the imagination of all people, though some are unaware. They reflect the totality of our lives: the terrain, animal and nature in all its glory, the weather, stories and myth, individual and communal wounds, and hope’, she said. Silence filled the forest for some minutes. The Voice seemed content with now knowing that truth.

I moved closer to observe the woman. As she spoke I noticed she moved her hands as if ‘signing’ similar to that used for the hearing impaired, indeed her whole body was in motion when she had spoken. I was intrigued.

‘What is the benefit of ritual?’, yet another Voice asked from another part of the clearing, sounding rather like a child’s Voice this time, and making several attempts to get the sentence out. It seemed that the owners of these Voices were an inquisitive lot, eager to learn and enthusiastic with deep and searching questions. The woman, ‘signing’ and swaying gently, answered and said, ‘In ritual we become transparent and open to That Which Is Larger Than Ourselves. It ensures that the tears of our souls, those deep wounds, sometimes forgotten or buried, and which we all experience are sutured and repaired’. The forest fell silent again.

Sometime past and no Voice spoke. In a somewhat trembling Voice the woman added, ‘And in ritual that which is within us shimmers and shines, and aligns itself with the Source of All’. She smiled in my direction. Then there was silence. I looked around to gauge where the next Voice might come from.

Suddenly a loud, booming Voice, very loud infact, but benevolent, came from behind me, but alarmingly close to me. ‘What does ritual provide?’, it asked. Without hesitation and very confidently the woman turned to face the Voice, looking at me and beyond me, and replied, ‘It helps in our transformation. Fear, grief, rage, shame, or worry, hopelessness, confusion, that borne by the individual, community or nation is transformed with the aid of That Which Is Bigger Than Ourselves’. The forest fell silent once more.

After what seemed like an age, the women bowed to the four quarters, the cardinal compass points, picked up the candle and walked slowly toward me. As an observer I expected to ‘wake up’ at this point, or perhaps for her to pass right through me as if in a dream, but she stopped in front of me. Unnervingly I was aware for the first time that she was aware of me now, and had been all along.

She stopped and through my nervousness I spoke to ‘break the ice’ and to fill that silence with something. ‘You answered the Voices well, and instructed them in the essentials of ritual. You must be pleased?’, I said to her.

She smiled, half laughed and sat on a nearby felled log in the clearing, and invited me to sit, too, and she put the candle the candle on the log between us. ‘You have it all wrong, she said, the Voices are not students but the Teachers.’

‘So, you’re the student and they were testing you?’, I enquired. ‘You’re getting closer to the truth, but you’re not there yet,’ she said, ‘The Voices are indeed the teachers, and if you like I was their assistant, but the student is you and those that read what you write!’.

I thought about it, and drew a breath to ask a question. ‘There is more, but not just yet’, she said. She blew out the candle flame and the forest went totally black. Somehow I knew that she and the other presences, the Voices had left, and I was alone. After what seemed like many minutes, I opened my eyes, with her voice saying ‘There is more’, clearly echoing in my mind. Just a dream?

A few days later, I tuned the radio into a Sunday morning ‘thought for the day’ type of short program. The voice of an elderly gentleman could be heard. ‘And’, he said, ‘there is more… We need to build faith in ourselves as ritually literate people that can dress the wounds of suffering…’.

‘There is always more’, my grandmother used to say but in Welsh (which is: mae mwy). Perhaps those Voices (the bat khol, the Source of All, elementals, angels etc are speaking to us always, in our sleep and in our imagination, through our neighbours and other people, through the man on the radio program, and at other times, too, but, perhaps we seldom listen. Just a thought.

 

Drws I Fyd Arall (Revisited): The Voice

20190121 drws i fyd arall revisited the voice poem

The Voice. Since the dawn of time humankind has heard that inner voice. Many tribes of old, the Ancients, Druids, Celts, The Ancient Texts testify to the Voice in the desert or wilderness places, or atop mountains.

There is a clearing in the woods behind my garden in Capel Curig in Wales, where, as a wee lad, my friends and I would play. It was almost as if there was something, or someone that was drawing us to that place. In that clearing there were two bowed, arched, silver birch trees.

My friends and I, then as children, loved sci-fi programs on our old black and white televisions, back then, and so, playfully, we called those two arched trees, Drws i fyd arall (pronounced ‘droo zi fid arrah’). It means ‘door to another world’. And we would run back and forth through the arch, laughing, and giggling and let our imaginations run riot as to where we might have been transported, as if we were in a sci-fi tv program.

With hindsight I think something or someone, the genii loci, the Presence, the Source had prompted us to call it that. The trees are still there, and it is still a special place.

I am back at that place again, and it’s cold, dark, late. And it’s wonderful. The Presence here. A benevolent one. This is, indeed, a ‘thin place’ – where Here and The Other meet.

As I stand here now, memories of yesteryear flood my mind. Wonderful thoughts, great memories, powerful recollections abound.

One night, about three years ago, I woke up from a shallow sleep and went for a walk to this place, and this is what I wrote:

A warm feeling enveloped me. Palpable. And not only an external feeling, but internal too, pervading my whole being. And then, as has happened albeit infrequently in this place in the past, I heard the Voice once again. Some will say that it’s only imagination, but I can only say, to me, it was and is, more, oh much more.

From an interrupted, shallow sleep I awoke early,
and walked into the night, as if called by a Voice deep within.

The Voice?
An elemental? An ancestor? My imagination? The Bat kohl?

The air was cold and damp,
the darkness seemed to envelope me,
the trees ‘closed in’, and all was quiet.

Nothing stirred.
Nothing at all.
And with some trepidation,
into a forest clearing I slowly strode.

A fallen tree provided a seat,
and I sat, and waited.

The air felt ‘electric’ as though something would happen,
like a ‘silent storm’ approaching.

And I waited. And shivered.
Waited. And got damp.
Waited.

And then from within, or without,
almost undetectable, a quiet, loving, voice was heard.

The Voice.
Slowly, unhurriedly, powerfully, the Voice said:

“As above, so below,
there are things you should know.”

“Human words are powerful, they are a door,
your actions are effective, they are pure metaphor.”

“And so I speak of humanity’s cosmic task,
To be revealed, evidenced, enjoyed, without any mask.”

“And so, don’t just sit, but take heed and do,
these are worded-actions-prayers for many, and for you.”

“And so, again I say, as above, so below,
remember these things; they are things you should know.”

“Through prayer, does that which is unseen, unmanifest,
reveal itself and take form in the blessed.”

“And so, I mention,
with your hands at your side, walk humbly,
take seven half-steps forward, its a journey of intention.”

“And now, raise your hands in simple ‘surrender’,
and point both to Heaven, that domain of awesome splendour.”

“Widen your arms, and so scoop, and harvest
pure energy, pure ‘gold’, and be prepared to be feel blessed.”

“Draw in that power, by folding your arms like an ‘x’ on your chest,
and feel its benefits, its warmth; you’re at peace, at one, ‘at home’, at rest.”

“Then stretch forth your arms, and mould with your hands
as if a ball, that ‘globe-like’ power-blessing from the ouranic meadowlands.”

“With one foot leading, and with knees part bent,
sway back and forth, in preparation for that ‘goodness’ to be sent.”

“In your mind, name the loved-one, the recipient, the friend,
and in your heart, see them, imagine them, to that end.”

“‘Push’ with your hands, that power-blessing from you to them,
and sigh the sound of the ages, the ‘so be it’, the ‘amen’.”

“And then, your hands drop to your side,
power has gone out; but there is no lack,
for the power-blessing that went forth, also comes back,
in another way and at another time, and so you, too, are blessed.”

Having done everything as directed,
I stood there in awe.
The air was cold and yet I felt warm,
the night so dark but in my mind’s eye it seemed to glow.

The Voice had gone.
The Voice? An angel? The Deity? The Awen?

You decide.

I do believe The Voice speaks wisdom to us all. I don’t think we need to go to special places – though sometimes that seems to be something that we, as humans, need to do to prompt us, to jog our memories or put us in the right frame of mind of openness. But, I do believe The Voice speaks still, perhaps in the city. Can you hear it?

 

Ritual & Ceremony: Essentials: Attire

20190111 essentials rituals and ceremony attire

There was once a time when things were much simpler. To the Ancients, to Druids, Celts, Pagans, early Christians and those of other faiths life was, back then, much simpler. Oh, if you’re old enough, like me, to have seen those 1950s and early 1960s tv programs of Robin Hood you will know.

As a wee lad I used to love those programs and would sit on the sofa, sandwiched between my mum and dad, and eagerly gaze at our old black and white tv (405 lines, but that may not mean much to many people, today), and join in with the opening song: ‘Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen; Robin Hood, Robin Hood, with his band of men; Feared by the bad, loved by the good; Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Robin Hood’.

And, if that wasn’t enough: In that tv program, each week Maid Marion would look lovely with her coiffured hair, Robin Hood and his merry men would be fit and well-fed, have great teeth and wonderfully ‘Brycreemed’ hair. Except, some years later, I was to discover it wasn’t quite like that. It couldn’t have been.  If Maid Marion and Robin Hood and his men had lived in the forest, times would have been tough, clothes wouldn’t have been very clean and pressed, and they may even have been missing a few teeth, even Maid Marion. Times were tough.

‘The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it,’ said Galadriel. From The Hobbit by J R R Tolkein

Nevertheless, there was once a time when things were much simpler. Tougher, yes; but simpler. This is not to disdain modern technology which if, it’s advantageous, we should embrace, but the world has changed and many have lost something in the process.

And so, in preparing for a rather formal baby-naming ceremony, which was to start in ten minutes, I put on the cassock – do you know how many tiny, fiddly, little buttons are on cassocks? It can be in the region of 33-39 buttons!

Having donned the black cassock, next came the white cotton surplice. They always remind me of the ‘cape’ they use in mens barbers, and, as always, care needs to be taken that it, the surplice that is, is put on straight. Not too much material at the back, not too much at the front, otherwise it would look… well, it would look odd. But, dressing up like this, does take its time.

‘Playing dress-up begins at age five and never truly ends.’ Kate Spade

Maybe there are some traditions that need changing?

And so, the last item to put on was the stole – they look rather like long scarfs that are worn similar to a Dr Who scarf – just draped around the back of the neck, hanging down the front. But, which one? Ah, the white one with butterflies and a rainbow on it. Yes, that would look good, do justice to the important occasion. And then, I suddenly realised I needed to visit the bathroom. Good manners forbids me to say anything here other than, the apparel just mentioned had to come off in reverse order, and then several minutes later was put back on in the appropriate ‘forward’  order. Why so many fiddly, little buttons on cassocks?

‘Fashion is very important. It is life-enhancing and, like everything that gives pleasure, it is worth doing well.’ Vivienne Westwood

Maybe there are some traditions that need changing?

The baby-naming ceremony went off very well. The baby’s mum and dad were very pleased, family and other guests were also pleased, and yes, on this occasion (and it doesn’t always happen) the baby, when in my arms for a few minutes, behaved himself impeccably. Obviously I have the ‘power’ (until next time).

And, several hours later, I reflected on the event.

There are traditions that shouldn’t change (if we can help it). That’s right: They shouldn’t change (after all).

In many cases we need traditions: we need ceremony and ritual to mark the times, denote special occasions and define rites of passage, to remind us that there is more. Without ritual we are prone to get stuck, and everything seems to stay the same. It is for that reason that I (also) mark time by new and full moons, enjoy the changing seasons, and love family rituals etc, as did/do the Ancients, Druids, Celts, Pagans, early Christians and those of other faiths.

Nowadays, with much of society having lost the wisdom of ceremony and ritual in daily life, we are urged to buy this or that and be better for it, to perform better, to ‘do’ the right thing, and are encouraged in a myriad ways to be (more) successful. Instead of liminal experiences, we have the liminoid.

I do believe there is an inner connection to the outward; there is an outer connection to the inner life. And so, the ‘being stuck’ outwardly, can affect us inwardly. That can result in powerlessness or the opposite and result in an abuse of power. Dualism can lead to imbalance.

The Ancients, to Druids, Celts, Pagans, early Christians and those of other faiths and beliefs, however, emphasized balance and harmony, and wholeness. Any religion that promotes mere moral requirements (don’t to that; do this etc) just leaves people see-sawing between the extremes of feeling very guilty or very smug. No, the Ancients etc, in their rituals and thinking, possessed a wisdom that led them to search for balance and harmony – darkness and light, winter and summer, angels and demons, death and new life etc. It is for that reason that, occasionally, I love to join others in forests (and in buildings, sometimes) to celebrate the seasons. Don’t forget Imbolc is coming up soon.

It takes a contemplative, non-dualistic mind to be content with the paradoxes and mystery and that can be tough at first, especially as our twenty-first century minds work in a binary fashion. But, ritual and ceremony based on the contemplative and mystical is uniting, it opens the way to ‘imbibe’ wisdom, to draw nearer to the Source of All. Try it.

‘It unveils the Great Spirit in all things, and in us, and then we are able to live with all the seeming contradictions in between, with no primal need to eliminate them until we learn what they have to teach us.’ Richard Rohr.

And so, having named the baby, others at the event, as we ate and drank coffee, tea (and some alcohol) talked about other rites to me: such as christening, baptism, handfasting, engagement, marriage, funerals etc. But, I also encouraged them to think on, and we talked about house blessing, maturation events, graduation thanksgiving ceremonies, marriage renewal, pet blessings etc; as well as marking the seasons and moon phases (perhaps one good example of the latter being Easter).

Ceremony and ritual are important, and I would encourage you to find any (reasonable) way to use ceremony and ritual for yourself and family. Not only does it bring people together, but it teaches us that both dark and light, joy and grief, life and death and new life, good and negativity are part of the journey that each of us are on. It can be great fun, too.

And, as I further reflected on the day and looked at the cassock, surplice and stole gently draped over an armchair it occurred to me that everyone dressed up for this baby-naming occasion, and so, why not me?

After all, firemen dress in protective uniforms, police dress in identifiable uniforms and those are two good reasons for those leading (and/or taking part in ceremonies and ritual) to ‘dress up’. But, why so many buttons on a cassock. Why not a zip! Why not Velcro?

And yet, I smile to myself. All the ‘dressy’ paraphernalia added to the specialness of the day and a element of seriousness or purpose, was well-liked by those that attended, it was fun, and I think it pointed all to the fact that we had ‘entered’ sacred space for a time, and it enhanced the ceremony.

I guess, there are traditions that shouldn’t change, but that we should revel in them and enjoy. So embrace your cassock, surplice, stole, cloak, cape, tabard, special shirt or top, kilt, dorchau pen (Welsh for ‘head wreaths’, and yes, I do wear them (appropriately) sometimes), or whatever you wear that is appropriate ritual wear. What we do does matter.

‘The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.‘ Pilgrim At Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

 

Liturgy For Alban Arthan: Winter Solstice & Christmas 2018

20181216 LITURGY FOR ALBAN ARTHAN 2018 A

I love liturgy. Not only can words cause us to pause and think deeper, but the words of liturgy can have an even more beneficial effect. Words have power. With a word all that is visible and invisible was created and is sustained. With a word we make life-long promises to each other. And, with a word we can encourage someone or, sadly, dehumanise them.

Through the words of liturgy we can be ‘transported’ to, and dwell within the realm of the liminal, that ‘gap’ between Here and the Other, a place of power and potential, where things happen, and where we can be changed.

‘The magic of words is that they have power to do more than convey meaning; not only do they have the power to make things clear, they make things happen.’ Frederick Buechner

Liturgy can have a greater and more far-reaching positive effect that we can possibly imagine as your thoughts, intentionality and energy affect the web of connectedness.

The following liturgy is a suggestion, and one that I find useful in connection with my ‘path’. I offer it to you to use, if appropriate to your ‘path’ at this time of the year. If it isn’t, then please adapt it.

In the Druidic and Celtic tradition the name of this season’s festival is ‘Alban Arthan’, Welsh for ‘Light of Winter’ (although some may refer to it as the ‘Light of Arthur’. Whichever you prefer to use, in the lead up to this time, the following liturgy can be incorporated within another ceremony appropriate for the season that you might be using, or adapted, as you wish.

‘Words are containers for power, you choose what kind of power they carry.’ Joyce Meyer

Requirement: 5 Candles and a candleholder (Advent-style). The candles can be lit five days before Alban Arthan (Friday, 21 December 2018) or Christmas day, or all at once of a time of your choosing. Remember, it is intentionality that is important, and ritual serves you, to bring you closer to the Source of All.

The following may be recited, as the first candle is lit:
All: We walked in darkness, but you showed us the light. We pray for those (individuals and nations) that walk in darkness, that they, too, may see the light that shines in the darkness, and rises (like the wind) in the east. (Based on Isaiah 9.2)

The following may be recited, as the second candle is lit:
All: The light shines in the darkness, still. And the darkness did not comprehend it. We give thanks for the light continues to shine and guides us on the right path as the sun that shines in the noonday, the southern sky. (Based on John 1:5)

The following may be recited, as the third candle is lit:
All: You are the light of all that is, and indwell all of creation, so that we, too,  let our light shine. We seek ways to live out that light in our life, in service to all as water flows through the land to the western sea. (Based on Matthew 5:14)

The following may be recited, as the fourth candle is lit:
All: There will be no night there, because Your light will illumine us. We praise you for that great promise of light as we stand firm with our feet on the earth, looking to the north. (Based on Revelation 22:5)

The following may be recited, as the fifth candle is lit:
All: Light from Light Eternal, Spirit incarnated this happy morning, we greet you. (Based on a carol, based on ancient sacred text)

You might like to personalise the liturgy and add peoples names, or the names of countries or towns or places in need. There is a need for the light of wisdom to be established in the world, to bring up the plight of humankind’s damage to nature and the climate, to ponder injustice etc. Do adapt the liturgy as needed.

Also, you might light to turn to the four compass points as part of your ritual. Do adapt, do keep it simple, do make it meaningful for you or your group, and do enjoy it.

‘Your words become your world.’ Nadeem Kazi

 

Ready For Christmas/Winter Solstice: Thoughts For The Discerning

20181202 READY FOR CHRISTMAS READY FOR WINTER SOLSTICE

It will soon be Christmas, soon the Winter Solstice, and tv, newspapers and magazines are awash with ideas of what to do for the season. Here are a few ideas they might not have mentioned. Such as:

  • Yule clean(s)ing
  • Yule log (or light)
  • Christmas (tree) blessing
  • Giving
  • Home altar
  • Seasonal Music

More about these topics is listed below. You might like to try them as they might take you out of your usual tradition or ‘comfort zone’, and you might like to use (and adapt as necessary).

’When was the last time you did something for the first time?’ Anonymous

The ancient Celts and Druids, and others, knew that this time of year, Christmas, the Winter Solstice (Friday, 21 December 2018) was the longest night of the year—and that meant that the sun was beginning its long journey back towards earth. It was a great time of celebration, and for rejoicing knowing that soon, the warm days of spring would return, and the dormant earth would flower once more.

So, here’s some thoughts and ideas that you might like to put into practice.

Yule Cleaning
About now would be a good time to ‘de-clutter’, and dispose of anything you don’t really need, and the less physical clutter you have about the house, the easier it will be to function (better) on a spiritual level. You’ve heard of spring cleaning, well now it’s time for Yule Cleaning. There is someone out there that could appreciate that little something.

Ofcourse, if you (also) wanted to perform a simple ritual in each room about the house, a sort of Yule house cleansing of a spiritual kind, that would be good, too. And you can find an example of that by reading Gruffyd and Megan’s house blessing of two tears ago (but which is so relevant, and can be adapted by you), here.

Yule log (or light)
It started as a holiday celebration in Norway, and then on the night of the Winter Solstice it was common to put a giant log, the Yule log into the hearth to remember the heat of the soon to be returning sun and lighter evenings, when the Earth was, in the northern hemisphere, at its coldest and darkest.

‘The light shines in the darkness… John 1:5a, The Book

It could be that you don’t have a hearth and use an alternative form of heating, such as central heating. Don’t despair. I think, as an alternative to the Yule log, to remember the heat and light of the sun, you might like to set one of those (festive) battery-operated candle bridges on the window ledge or somewhere in the house. Any candle will do – but do be safe and keep naked flames away from children, pets, fabric etc.

Christmas (Tree) Blessing
Whether you use a real Christmas tree or an artificial one, how about setting aside some time to bless it or bless others using the tree as a focal point? You can do this alone, or with family and friends. It can take the form of a few words and/or a drink or two with mince pies.

As regards the blessing, how about this:

Source of all,
as the sun rises over the woods and sets upon the same,
bring your Yule blessings of good cheer.
As the fire rises (in the hearth),
Bless all with the warmth of your love.
As the gift is given in the quiet of the darkness
Bless me/us, and all I Know, with surprise of your nearness.

(A blessing (adapted) from The Celtic Wheel Of The Year by Tess Ward)

Giving
In many modern Celtic, Christian, Druidic and Pagan communities, an emphasis is placed on the idea of helping those in need. This can be done by donating clothing, canned goods, toiletries, books, and even pet care products to local groups, churches, groves etc, or to a local charity shop. Before you donate it, you might like to consider praying over it, invoking the goodwill of the Source of All on the unknown recipient, or send your personal light and love with it. Or, perhaps you could give a few hours of your time to those who might be lonely and feeling unloved. If that’s not possible, or you have mobility challenges, you can always remember those in need in prayer (and perhaps use the Caim).

Home altar
Yes, I am an advocate of that one special place in the home that can be a place of focus and quietness, a place of re-membering, a place energy and power: the home altar, although it’s known by various names.

‘Celebrate the idea that you don’t fit in. Find your own fit. Stay unique.’ Betsey Johnson

If you haven’t created one, or if you’ve had the same one for several months, now might be a good time to create one for Christmas and/or Winter Solstice. Sometimes the simplest ones are the best, but it can be a table or ledge containing items that are meaningful to you at this time and which bring to mind the season, and so it could have candles, mistletoe, holly, a crib set or a symbol to bring to mind your own spirituality.

‘May you be blessed
With the spirit of the season, which is peace,
The gladness of the season, which is hope,
And the heart of the season, which is love.’

(An old, traditional Irish blessing)

In the header photograph to this article you can see a table (top of my filing cabinet) in my office, and the seasonal altar that is taking shape. It’s meaningful to me, but yours may be very different – just ensure it is meaningful and pleasing to you.

On my altar right now I have a star and a crib set to remind me of the Nativity. That event is meaningful to me – the day the Source of All took on flesh. Amazing. I’ve also got three small Christmas trees (as I’m Trinitarian) as part of that altar, three candles to remind me of the three realms, and two candles at the back (to remind me that prayer or good wishes and action is needed, or to remind me ‘as above, so below’). I confess I do love candles. You’ll find them everywhere around the place, here.

Experiment, have fun, but make it meaningful to you.

Seasonal Music
Why not spend some time, maybe an evening, just relaxing and listening to seasonal music, and perhaps consider listening to some from outside of your comfort zone or from different spiritual ‘tribes’. This can be a form of meditation, and way to ‘encounter’, to ponder deeply about the meaning behind the season.

‘Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.’ Lao Tzu

I’ve selected three examples of seasonal music that I like a lot, and that you might like to consider listening to. Such as:

Christmas carols from King’s College, Cambridge [here].

Christmas carols by Libera [here].

Christmas carols by The Piano Guys [here]

And, how about Celtic/Druidic ‘home grown’  song for the season:

The Circle is turning,
we celebrate winter.
The Circle is turning,
we celebrate winter.
The Circle is turning,
we celebrate winter.
And nature sleeps, as the darkness falls.

The trees, they slumber,
deep roots are dreaming.
The trees, they slumber,
deep roots are dreaming.
The trees, they slumber,
deep roots are dreaming.
I’m listening to the winter’s sacred rest.

The snow is falling,
the earth is bless-éd.
The snow is falling,
the earth is bless-éd.
The snow is falling,
the earth is bless-éd.
The hope of spring, ye-et to come.

The Circle is turning,
we celebrate winter.
The Circle is turning,
we celebrate winter.
The Circle is turning,
we celebrate winter.
And nature sleeps, as the darkness falls.

Words by me, Tadhg. The tune to this is an old, traditional Irish folk tune, Fear a Bhata (The Boatman), and the tune/video can be seen/heard [here]. The tune for the four verses above is the same, and is the tune on the video, played between 10 seconds and 56 seconds there.

‘My personal hobbies are reading, listening to music, and silence.’ Edith Sitwell

Wishing you and yours the blessings of Christmas/Winter Solstice, Tadhg

 

All About Mistletoe: Meaning, Myth & ‘Magic’

20181124 ALL ABOUT MISTLETOE

Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low…

We’ve looked at holly recently (see here), and then we looked at ivy (see here), and associated with this time of year, with Christmas and the Winter Solstice coming up, is mistletoe. And, we’ll look briefly at mistletoe from the botanical view, mythological and historical point of view, and current uses for Christians, Druids and others, with some ideas for yourself about its use.

It is a most wonderful shrub.

Botanical View: Science & Nature

From a botanical point of view mistletoe is fascinating. It is a semi-parasitical evergreen shrub, but caution is needed: mistletoe leaves, stems and berries are all poisonous.

Common name: mistletoe, also known as European mistletoe, European white-berry mistletoe, common mistletoe
Scientific name: Viscum album
Family: Santalaceae

Its scientific name aptly reflects its sticky nature – viscum comes from the Latin ‘visco’ meaning sticky.

Mistletoe has a positive effect on wildlife. The white berries of mistletoe aren’t usually sought out by birds as they often prefer those that are red, orange or purple. But, some will eat white berries. It is an important source of winter food for the mistle thrush, redwings and fieldfares.

Several species of insect are mistletoe feeders, such as the mistletoe marble moth (Celypha woodiana) and mistletoe weevil (Ixapion variegatum).

All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Some one came, and kissed me there.

Mythological & Historical View: Ah, Mystery

There is a tradition that mistletoe can ward off evil. It was/is thought that mistletoe brought into the house at Christmas, or mid-winter when the days were darkest, or at the time of the New Year should be kept hanging for a full 12 months, and this would protect the house from negativity or  evil.

Ancient and latter-day Druids believe mistletoe to be sacred. It was at the Winter Solstice ( ‘Alban Arthan’ by the Druids) that, according to Bardic Tradition, the Chief Druid would cut the sacred mistletoe from the Oak using a golden sickle on the sixth night of the new moon after the winter solstice.

According to Pliny the ancient Druids would climb the tree to harvest it, cutting the mistletoe and let it fall naturally to be caught in a cloak before it touched the ground. If it did reach the ground it would lose its special properties.

Branches of mistletoe were/are then cut into many sprigs and distributed to the people to take inside their homes or hang the sprigs  over doorways as protection against thunder, lightning and other evils.

Tired I was; my head would go
Nodding under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe)…

And, ofcourse, that event which can be fun, lovely and/or embarrassing takes place: kissing takes place under mistletoe. But, why?

Well, there is an ancient Scandinavian custom that led to the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. This tradition went hand-in-hand with the Norse myth about Baldur whose mother was the Norse goddess, Frigga. When Baldur was born, Frigga made each and every plant, animal, and inanimate object promise not to harm her son. But Frigga overlooked the mistletoe plant, and the mischievous god of the Norse myths, Loki, took advantage of this oversight. Loki tricked one of the other gods into killing Baldur with a spear made from mistletoe.

According to a happier ending of that legend, Baldur’s mother wept tears onto the arrow which turned into white berries that she placed onto Baldur’s wound, bringing him back to life. Overjoyed at new life springing forth in her son, Frigga blessed the mistletoe plant and promised a kiss to all who passed beneath it. Now you know it is a positive symbol of new life, resurrection, and in many ways symbolises eternal friendship.

Also, when the first Christians came to Western Europe, although some tried to ban the use of Mistletoe as a decoration in Churches,  many still continued to use it! York Minster Church, in the UK, for instance, used to hold a special Mistletoe Service in the winter, where wrong doers in the city of York could come and be pardoned. And, many church buildings are gaily decorated with holy, ivy and mistletoe today, and look splendid, indeed. I love.

Today, mistletoe still has some interesting English connotations and traditions attached to it.

And Today: You & Me

The English town of Tenbury Wells, on the Worcestershire/ and Herefordshire border is famous for its annual mistletoe auctions. However, in 2004/5 the owners of the  market site in town said they were closing the site and leaving town. A small group got together to think of other ways to keep the mistletoe traditions alive and the result was the Tenbury Mistletoe Festival which now runs alongside the auctions.

Did you know that 1st December (or usually the first Saturday after the beginning of December) each year is National Mistletoe Day?

Another fixture is the Mistletoe Queen, crowned on National Mistletoe Day. She is the Head Girl of Tenbury High School and is accompanied by the Holly Prince, the Head Boy. A new tradition in the making.

No footsteps came, no voice, but only,
Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,
Stooped in the still and shadowy air
Lips unseen—and kissed me there.

So, what to do today?

What to do with mistletoe in our faith groups and groves, or by ourselves?

Well, maybe cutting or buying some mistletoe to hang in our homes for tradition-sake and/or for protection is one suggestion, and you can always continue the kissing-tradition under it.

How about giving some mistletoe away to someone special, in the same way an ancient or latter-day Druid might cut springs of mistletoe on the sixth night of the full moon to give to others the following day – though I think, in the spirit of this, there can be great flexibility (and so if the intention is there, the moon phase need not hinder you from doing that noble deed).

At home, individually, or in our faith groups and groves, especially at the time of Winter Solstice or sometime over the Christmas period we can meditate upon mistletoe and/or recite some words which have meaning to you, or a classic poem (such as the one used here aptly called ‘Mistletoe’ (indented, above), and penned by Walter de La Mare).

Meanwhile, many blessings to you and yours, Tadhg.

 

Ephemera: Full Moon: The Dark Moon, Meaning & More

20181120 EPHEMERA FULL MOON DARK MOON 23 NOVEMBER 2018

’The moon looks upon many night flowers; the night flowers see but one moon.’ Jean Ingelow

I love full moons. I know many like the energy and vibrancy of the new moon, but for me it’s the full moon in its radiant glory and power, that charming smile that gazes down upon us all, and the brilliant energy that beams in the darkened sky, that makes me pause in wonderment.

And, the next full moon in November takes place in the early hours of Friday, 23 November 2018 (at 5.39am using UK times), though it will appear full the evening before and later that day.

It will be in the constellation of Taurus, and a couple of days later it will be sitting only 1.5 degrees from Aldebaran, that bright reddish star that marks one eye in the triangular face of Taurus the bull.

To some Celts and Druids (and that includes me) this was, and is known as the Dark Moon. To others it is known as the Tree Moon, the Beaver Moon and the Hunter’s Moon. In medieval England it was known as the Snow Moon.

‘And the sun and the moon sometimes argue over who will tuck me in at night. If you think I am having more fun than anyone on this planet, you are absolutely correct.’ Hafiz

The Moon has, in some quarters, had bad press over the years, and infact even from ancient times myths and ‘magic’ have abounded about the moon and its relevancy and effects upon humankind. Here’s four interesting ‘facts’:

One: The Roman goddess of the moon was Luna, and it’s from her name that we get the terms lunacy and lunatic, an ancient belief that the moon was responsible for causing madness – something which we carry over into our modern day language.

It was also thought that sleeping in the light of a full moon could make a women pregnant, and the full moon was when werewolves turned from their human form into their lycanthrope stage, and the latter, ofcourse, is a well-loved theme of Hollywood.

’When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained… Psalm 8:3. The Book

If all of this makes you fearful of the full moon, then the term you need to know is: selenophobia.

Two: There is evidence, as we know, that the moon was very important to the ancient Celts and Druids. The Welsh goddess Arianrhod is viewed by many as being a lunar deity. It is thought that her name means ‘silver wheel’ – an obvious reference to the moon as it speeds wonderfully across the sky. Cerridwen is another possible Welsh deity with lunar connections. Her name means, ‘bent white one’ and this, too, is likely to be a reference to the crescent moon as it hangs in the sky.

’The moon does not fight. It attacks no one. It does not worry. It does not try to crush others. It keeps to its course, but by its very nature, it gently influences. What other body could pull an entire ocean from shore to shore? The moon is faithful to its nature and its power is never diminished.’ Ming-Dao Deng

Three: The Earth’s oceans are massive, and yet the moon exerts a twice-daily gravitational surge on them: even over the size of relatively smaller bodies of water such as the Great Lakes of the USA, this tidal effect can be measured in inches. Scale that down even further to human size and the effect is minuscule, but theories abound that, for example, the Moon’s gravitational influence on the water in our brains can cause us to be affected by the moon in some way. Unlikely, but you never know!

’We are going to the moon that is not very far. Man has so much farther to go within himself.’ Anais Nin

Four: Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon where the brain tries to make recognisable shapes where none exist – the face we see looking at us from the moon could be said to be an example. Just a ‘trick’ of the mind, pareidolia, or maybe something more?

Talmudic tradition says that the image of Jacob is engraved on the moon, and ancient Chinese tradition says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chango’e has been living on the Moon for 4,000 years. It is said she was banished to the moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband and consumed a double dose of it. She is also accompanied by a small group of ‘moon rabbits’ that live on the Moon, an image that human mind has perceived through the centuries, in the face of the Moon.

‘When the storm is over and night falls and the moon is out in all its glory and all you’re left with is the rhythm of the sea, of the waves, you know what God intended for the human race, you know what paradise is.’ Harold Pinter

Celebration: So, this full moon – as the Circle of the Year moves ever onwards, as seasons change– whatever our belief, it’s time to give thanks to the ‘silvery face’ that smiles down upon each one of us, regardless of our circumstances, and time to give thanks to the One who is behind it and sustains it for our benefit.

Why not Light a candle this full moon and spend a few minutes meditating upon it, or walk in the moonlight (and perhaps see your moon-shadow) and bask in its light, or raise a glass of wine (or fruit juice) in its honour, or say a silent prayer to the Moon-Maker.

O Divine Presence
Bless to me the lustre of your signs and wonders,
traces of our final home in land and sea and sky.
As you have made the mark of heaven in a human face,
may I see your imprint of your family likeness in every living* thing
that your blessing may radiate
each day and each night,
until heaven and earth are one.

(The Celtic Wheel Of The Year. Tess Ward)

* [My preference, being an animist, is to say ‘every created thing’]

Do pause in your busy schedule and just gaze upward to the moon (or where it may be, if cloudy). My encouragement would be to do something, however simple, however brief, to celebrate this most wonderful full moon, and be thankful.

Blessings to you and yours at this time of the Dark Moon, Tadhg

 

[Many thanks to Pennie Ley for the use of the moon ‘header’ photo above. Copyrighted]

All About Ivy: There’s More To It Than Meets The Eye

20181117 ALL ABOUT IVY MEANING MYTH AND MAGIC

Oh, a dainty plant is the Ivy green,
That creepeth o’er ruins old!

(Charles Dickens)

Much misunderstood, and the subject of myth and magic in the winter season, Winter Solstice and at Christmastime, Ivy is a wonderful ‘climber’ that has a story of mystery to tell from over a millennia ago. Ivy can be viewed from a botanical point of view, as a friend of nature, and as a plant of myth and magic. And, each is fascinating and spell-binding. So…

Botanical view
Ivy grows well throughout the UK and is native to Europe, western Asia, and North Africa, and can be found in many habitats including woodland, scrub, wasteland and on isolated trees. It quite likes shaded areas, and can live in all but the most dry, waterlogged or acidic soils.

Common name(s): Ivy, common ivy, Atlantic ivy, English ivy, British ivy, European ivy
Scientific name: Hedera helix
Family: Araliaceae

It is an evergreen plant so its easily identifiable leaves can be seen all the year. It flowers in September to November, and fruits ripen in November to January.

But, there’s more to Ivy than meets the eye
Fast he stealeth on, though he wears no wings,
And a staunch old heart has he.
How closely he twineth, how tight he clings,
To his friend the huge Oak Tree!

(Charles Dickens)

It is a woody climber which can grow to a height of 30metres. It has two different forms – juvenile and mature. It climbs trees, walls and building, using specialised and adapted hairs which help it ‘stick’ to surfaces as it climbs.

There are many views as to whether ivy climbing on brickwork damages the brick. It seems its doesn’t crack or damage brick but exploits any cracks and damage that were  already there – but if you have ivy on your house etc it’s best to take professional advice.

As creeping ivy clings to wood or stone, And hides the ruin that it feeds upon, So sophistry, cleaves close to, and protects Sin’s rotten trunk, concealing its defects.

(William Cowper)

But, it is not a parasitic plant, and has a separate root system in the soil and so absorbs its own nutrients and water as needed.

But, there’s more.

Friend of nature
Some may be inclined to pull ivy off a tree fearing that it will harm the tree (though in individual cases it may need to be trimmed back), but Ivy growing on trees does no harm to the tree, and, indeed, it provides an abundant supply of food for insects and birds.

Ivy is the wild lady of the greenwood; she gathers us all together, entwinning and embracing.

(Danu Forest)

Nectar, pollen and berries of ivy are bountiful during autumn and winter when food is scarce. And it provides shelter for insects (especially hoverflies, wasps and bees), birds, bats and other small mammals.  It is also an important food plant for some butterfly and moth larvae. It’s a wonderful plant.

But, there’s even more.

Myth & More
As an evergreen plant ivy (along with holly – and we looked at holly recently: please see here) was seen as an especially powerful symbol during winter, and it was brought into the house to keep negativity and evil spirits at bay.

In ancient Rome wearing a wreath of ivy leaves around ones head was supposed to prevent one from getting drunk –  unlikely, I would think  – and the Roman god Bacchus, the god of intoxication, was usually depicted wearing a wreath of ivy and grapevines.

However, Ivy was also seen as a symbol of intellectual prowess, then, and wreaths were used to crown the winners of poetry contests.

That headlong ivy!
Not a leaf will grow,
But thinking of a wreath,
Large leaves, smooth leaves.
Serrated like my vines, and half as green.
I like such ivy, bold to leap a height,
Twas strong to climb! as good to grow on graves,
As twist about a thyrsus , pretty too,
(And that’s not ill) when twisted round a comb.

(Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

In ancient Greece wreaths were also given to winning athletes, and they were also seen as emblems of fidelity, and priests would present a wreath of ivy to newly married couples. Even today it is still often the custom for bridal bouquets to contain a sprig of ivy. Ah, sometimes the old ways and wonderful traditions live on, even unbeknownst to many.

English ivy also has a tendency to travel along the ground – and who hasn’t tripped in the matted roots system as it spreads over the ground. Sometimes, if its growth is unchecked it can travel from one plant to another, binding the plants together, and this binding ability sometimes has a deeply symbolic meaning.

But, like ivy, we grow where there is room for us.

(Miranda July)

Some early versions of the medieval legend of Tristan and Isolde, refer to the ability of ivy to bind.

Here’s the story: Tristan, a Cornish knight went to Ireland to ‘claim’ Isolde, an Irish princess, as a bride for King Mark. During the arduous journey back to Cornwall, Tristan and Isolde drank a love potion made from ivy and fell madly in love. [But, please don’t emulate them in making or drinking any Ivy concoction as it’s poisonous, and so this story is for historical and mythological study purposes only). For them Ivy ‘binded’ them together.

In some other versions, Tristan and Isolde do die and are buried in separate graves by King Mark so that even in death they cannot be together. However, in that story, an ivy vine grew out of each grave towards the other one. The ivy vines, then, met and entwined around each others body, forming a loving and eternal connection. And, even when the King Mark cuts the vines they regrow and reconnect. Wonderful story.

For ancient Celts, Druids and medieval Christians, Ivy represented peace, perhaps because of its ability to bind different plants or even different kinds of plants together. And it is for that reason I would advocate you buying and bringing in some Ivy into your house, especially at the darkest part of the year when we celebrate the Winter solstice and/or Christmas.

It’s also for the reason of peace and fidelity that many Celts and Druids of old, and today (including me when conducting a handfasting or marriage ceremony) wear holly wreaths at some events – do see an earlier article where I did just that, which included the line: ‘‘You’ve got grass on your head, mister’.

Also, during the winter solstice, in years gone by, there was a tradition of a nominated boy wearing a holly wreath, and a girl wearing n ivy crown to symbolise the different sexes, the ‘battle’ between sun and moon, between dark and the barrenness of winter and light and the green fecund world, the endless turning of the circle. Yes, the ivy is a wonderful plant full of mystery and magic, and surely has a place in our homes this yuletide.

For the stateliest building man can raise,
Is the Ivy’s food at last.
Creeping on, where time has been,
A rare old plant is the Ivy green.

(Charles Dickens)

Table Talk: One Day In November. [Elementals/Angels, Life, Quantum Physics, Dogs’ Souls & More]

20181114 TABLE TALK ONE DAY IN NOVEMBER

Have you ever thought about ritual and the need to go to certain locations, ever wondered about quantum physics, whether dogs have souls and other gnawing questions? Seven people did!

It had been a couple of months, but a few of us met earlier today in a local café, and as we ate croissants or pain au chocolat, and imbibed various types of coffee with seasonal syrups we sat back and talked about those lofty themes. We all aired our views, asked our question, all learned something from each other, and laughed a lot. It was a great time of deep and meaningful fellowship.

‘Learning life’s lessons is not about making your life perfect, but about seeing life as it was meant to be’. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

There was no set agenda, and what follows is a record of our ‘table talk’, albeit a brief outline of what followed.

Someone asked: So, is it important to go to specific places to perform a ritual?

Tadhg replied: Ah, the answer is no and yes. But I don’t think you would be happy with me if I left the answer just there.

In one sense, it isn’t important to go to a specific place to perform a ritual, because you could perform it, as a group or by yourself, anywhere, even in your house.

On many occasions I’ve used the caim and other ritual, and used visualisation with it, using my imagination to imagine being at that place in my mind. If intentionality is important, and it is, then a ritual in a substitute place, will suffice and be effective. So, if sending light and love to an area in need or of concern to you, to say, Chengdu in China, or to California, USA, or Jaipur in India, one doesn’t need to visit. A ritual, time set aside, somewhere else,  with time to visualise and imagine deeply is just as effective.

‘Ritual is able to hold the long-discarded shards of our stories and make them whole again. It has the strength and elasticity to contain what we cannot contain on our own, what we cannot face in solitude.’ Francis Weller

Having said that, there are times when it may be good to go to specific places, physically. For instances, I’ve been invited to a wedding, and to support the bride and groom I will attend, physically. And, it would be bad banners to stay away.  Other Druidic and Christian, and other faith celebrations do sometimes mean physical attendance is needed to show support, to give ‘out’ to others, and to ‘receive’ from them. For the benefit of others.

I went to Maen Lli in Wales to perform an Earth-Healing ritual, and in that case, I felt it necessary to actually go there to do that ritual, in part because it would mean something even deeper to me (or to others looking on). It was a kind of pilgrimage. So, it was mainly for my benefit in that case. But, being there, on that occasion, meant so much more.

Someone asked: So, what then are the important ‘ingredients’ to ritual, at the essential and deepest level?

Tadhg replied: Two major ‘ingredients’ are intentionality and sincerity, and those attributes I do believe, can change things.

In the strange, infinitesimally-small world of quantum physics/mechanics it is scientifically accepted that matter, at its deepest level, acts differently when it is observed by humans compared to when unobserved. The Universe changes the outcome depending on human input. Also, Carl Jung talked about the collective unconscious and the way it affects humankind, and perhaps in some way we are adding or changing this in some way by ritual at the deepest level.

‘If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.’ Attributed to Richard Feynman

I think it is not too great a step to imagine a changed outcome when ritual (done with intentionality and sincerity) is employed. Ofcourse, the outcome may be subtle, it may be delayed or work its way out in a way that we cannot perceive, but I do believe ritual (prayer etc) changes things.

Someone asked: Each of us sitting around this believe different things – some minor difference and some major. How do you reconcile this?

Tadhg replied: It could be that we’re closer to a unity of belief than we thought. For instance, which one of us holds the same kind of belief that we held, say, ten years ago?

I hope there has been some change because that denotes growth and a maturing. Anything else means no growth! So, our commonality is that we’re all on a journey the same journey, experienced in different ways. And, maybe we’re all at differing stages of development? And, that’s the area for fundamental comparison. It’s good to discuss with others their belief and ours, as in part, that’s how we grow together, if done in love – but if we discuss our individual changes and growth then we understand each other and the Universe a bit more than we would otherwise have done. Then, our task could be to build each other up, further, along our chosen paths.

’In essentials, unity; in differences, liberty; in all things, charity.’ Philipp Melanchthon

Also, where we have differences maybe they could be because of different words used, or seen as different metaphors of the same thing? You might see an angel, I might see an elemental, others might see a ghost? Who is to say what is more accurate?

What we can say is that each of us saw something awesome, unusual and other-worldly.

I might talk of the soul, others might use the term psyche, and yet others might use the word ‘atman’. A Jewish person talking of God’s bounty might refer to the miracle of manna and quail in the desert, whereas a Christian might refer to the first miracle at Cana – the changing of water into wine by Jesus. Others might tell the story of Brighid changing bathwater to beer to quench the thirst of weary travellers. All declare the provision of the Source of All.

‘The longer we listen to one another – with real attention – the more commonality we will find in all our lives. That is, if we are careful to exchange with one another life stories and not simply opinions.’ Barbara Deming

We have more in common, and a closer affinity to each when we understand our fundamental beliefs, than we can at first imagine.

Someone asked: Do animals have souls?

Tadhg replied: That’s an interesting question. You will find a huge amount of research on this. Many mainline Christian denominations and many Jewish groups, and others, are adamant that only humankind have souls.

Rabbi Moses Cordovero,  a leading mystic in 16th-century, recognised that animals do have some kind of spiritual energy, which he calls nefesh heyuni, but his view was that it was not a soul in the conventional sense. Once the animal dies, nothing survives.

‘A Druid is likely, then, to acknowledge a tree, river or stone to have spirit, or soul, or consciousness. This consciousness is as different from human consciousness as a stone’s nature is different from human nature.’ Druid Network

However, Plato on the other hand believed that animals and plants possess souls, and he’s quite convincing, as were some of the saints of old.

It’s noteworthy that St Francis Paola called his pet animals by their names even after their earthly lives had ended. He apparently believed they continued to exist after their deaths. And let’s not forget St Francis of Assisi who preached to animals and creation for a reason. Why preach to them if they have no soul?

‘That is why such a person never ceases to pray also for the animals… that they may be preserved and purified’. St Isaac.

I am convinced that all animals, plants, indeed all of creation possess a soul and continue on – they live, they die or change and continue on, made new; and that’s part of my Druidic Christian (or Christo-Druid) belief.  I have no misgivings in blessing animals or any part of nature, or organising a ritual for animals’ healing etc, and have done so in the past, and infact I consider it a joy to do so.

‘And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Revelation 21.5a, The Book.

Someone asked: Earlier you mentioned ritual, and visualisation, but what about actions, what about action or work. Aren’t they necessary.

Tadhg replied: Another good question. Once you’ve experienced a ritual, or visualised or made a prayer request, there is usually a need to ‘do’ something allied to the ritual, visualisation or prayer.

If for instance I am concerned about the plight of those caught in the California fires and who need shelter, after a ritual, visualisation or prayer for them I might be led to ‘do’ something. Now that could be something connected with that situation and might involve sending money to the American Red Cross, but it could be something loosely connected with it, such as planting a tree (or sending money to a tree-growing charity) so that each time you look at, or think of, that tree you’ll remember those caught in the California fires.

‘You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth. For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons… When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.’ Kahlil Gibran

So, action or work may be needed, but it need only be loosely connected with what the ritual, visualisation or prayer was about, and it can be a token action and something achieved within minutes. Don’t ever feel you need do so much that is becomes a burden and troublesome. You may not be called or able to resolve the issue. Small efforts can reap huge benefits.

Conclusion: Now you know what was on the hearts and minds of friends in that café. Do stay in touch, do sign up to receive notifications of future articles. Also, the thought occurred to me to have ‘open’ or limited-number café events in London so that you might be able to savour the experience of ‘table talk’ if in/near to London?

Would you believe this is the 500th article I’ve written. Thank you for reading this, and for being loyal and reading my previous articles. Do stay in touch, even if it’s to say ‘hello’.

Much light and love be to you and yours, Tadhg

 

All About Holly: Now The Holly Bears A Berry…

20181109 ALL ABOUT HOLLY

There was a specific time of the year when, much younger than I am now, I would wistfully sit at a window in my grandmothers’ cottage, perhaps kneeling on a chair so that I could comfortably look out, and I would wait. At the time of the year when night came early, I would gaze, for hours, looking at the trees and nearby bushes shrouded in white, in a seeming coating of cotton wool because of the first snowfall. I wait to be told that I could go outside. Yes, I would wistfully look out of the window at that wonder, landscape-changing snow, and for a reason.

My grandmother was a patient woman, and as a wee lad of six years of age, I was anything but patient, but I waited, because I wanted my first encounter, that year, with December snow to be extra special.

And then, having wrapped herself in layers, and I had donned an outdoor coat, and wellington boots, and a woolly hat, she would lead the way, and hand in hand we ventured forth.

As she opened the outside door, the warmth of the kitchen gave way to an icy, cold, and very refreshing breath of fresh air. It took my breath away. We had stepped over the threshold and, as our feet made a ‘scrunching’ sound as we compressed snow underfoot, it was as though we had entered another, liminal realm.

It was an annual event: to collect holly for indoor decoration at first snowfall in December, and it was something that I liked to do, even at that young age. My grandmother was the one to wield the secateurs, and my mission was to collect the holly branches and twigs that she gave me, and to carefully transport them back to the cottage.

And the first tree in the greenwood
it was the holly.
Holly! Holly!
And the first tree in the greenwood
it was the holly!

At the farthest end of the long garden, near a brook that marked the boundary, there was usually a huge amount of holly to be had. My grandmother would take her time, inspect the holly as I waited beside her, and I admit I would be rather impatient by then. But, it was a though she was lost in thought for a time.

Could it be that my grandmother was saying a prayer before cutting off holly twigs?

Was she asking permission?

Was she thinking of which bit would best suit her need for decoration?

There are some today, and certainly in ages gone by, who would say a prayer before lopping off part of a tree. And, why not? We live in an age when loggers can fell many trees in an hour, but there is something precious in taking time in giving thanks to the Great Provider for what we harvest from nature, and that includes holly. To take time, to pause, to extend gratitude is vital.

There are some who believe that each part of creation has its own soul, and some who believe only humankind possesses a soul. But isn’t there something special in taking time to acknowledge that life exists in many forms, and though it might be necessary to take from nature, it is also right to consider, and ask? Soul or no soul, such a practice would guard against the thoughtless use and misuse of nature and her resources.

Ofcourse, my grandmother could have just been thinking which holly twig was best for the purpose of indoor decoration.

That tradition of holly cutting persisted for many years, and even as a teenager I would want to be involved. And, as time went by, I asked her what she was doing, each time she was about to cut some holly?

It seems my grandmother was doing all those things: giving thanks to the Source of All, seeking permission to cut holly and so ensuring that each piece of holly was considered from nature’s perspective, and also thinking about how best to usefully use that holly. It was a three-fold practice that was instilled in me from a certain age, and for which I give thanks.

And so, she cut the holly and I would carefully carry it back to the cottage. That evening she would further cut the holly, and she and I would fashion it and make holly wreaths, or place the holly over or around the hearth, and make ‘holly triangles’ to stand on tables, bookshelves and shelves, or near beds to ensure good dreams and/or a good nights sleep, or for wisdom.

From my grandmother’s stories at that time of year (about December) I heard about the Holly King and the vying for supremacy (ie the struggle between light and dark, the Oak King and the Holly King, and how summer gives way to winter, only for winter to give way to summer). The Holly King was ‘born’ each year but his role was that of a sacrificial king. He would live for a while, many would benefit, and then die, only to be born once more. A very liminal time, indeed.

Now the holly bears a berry
as red as the blood

Holly wreaths were also used during the ancient festival of Saturnalia, celebrated by the Romans on 17 December but, later changed to 23 December to coincide with winter solstice. At such times there would be much feasting, revelry, and gift-giving. Sounds familiar? Saturn was the Roman god akin to the ancient Celtic Holly King, and subsumed by some into Christmas Day celebrations and the awesome the story behind it: A child born to die (and wasn’t that the significance of the myrrh – an embalming oil, the symbol of death?). As well as being called the holly, its is also known as the hulm tree, the holy tree, and (with Easter in mind) Christ’s thorn.

Now the holly bears a berry
as black as the coal

Whichever account, myth or story you subscribe to, something awesome happened in ancient times, and it continues, even today! It is a great event that spans time and space, and even different cultures, religions and belief systems, albeit told in different ways; and it is one that enjoins the use of the holly in an annual ritual and celebration as the darker days of the year approach. Holly is that important as a reminder and more!

Now the holly bears a berry
as white as the milk

It is also said that carrying holly can rekindle desires, and hung over a bedpost it will rise the marital ‘life force’. Ofcourse, many would regard this as superstition, and yet still seek a kiss by raising a piece of mistletoe aloft! Ofcourse, it’s just for fun. Or, is it only fun? Is there something more?

Holly was, and is used by some, to seek protection. Brought into the house, the house and family would be protected. The same protection would be afforded by placing a holly wreath on the front door of the house. Oh, the things we do today even without realising it. But, don’t stop! It’s that time of the year.

And so, at that young age of six, I had enjoyed my first snow fall of that year, had been productively engaged in collecting holly (and later on, cutting – yes, there was an age I reached when I would be trusted to use the secateurs) and fashioning it into various ‘tools’ of protection etc and wonderful seasonal decorations to celebrate that time of the year (however I interpreted it then, and now).

Holly has many uses and many meanings, and though each person reading this may have his/her own view, it is without a doubt a versatile and ‘deep’, thought-provoking shrub, and full of ‘magic’, and at this time of the year it is a timely reminder of darker days ahead in winter, and that the circle turns.