Beltane 2019: FireFall (Start Here)

20190412 BELTANE 2019 FIREFALL START HERE 1

May is fast approaching. And with it comes Beltane, which officially marks the beginning of summer. It’s one of my favourite festivals – full of joy, thanksgiving, expectation, laughter and more – and it is an ancient Druidic ‘fire festival’, though many others will be celebrating something similar in different ways around this time. What follows is an outline of the festival and a few words that you might like to ponder upon or use as you celebrate the event.

Deep peace of the running waves to you,
Deep peace of the flowing air to you,
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you,
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.

Celtic blessing.

Beltane is celebrated on Wednesday, 1 May 2019 (though some might note that the day, if we follow the lead of ancient cultures, starts the evening before), but many will be celebrating it the previous or following weekend. It’s a time of joy and thankfulness at nature’s growth, fecundity and bounty, so do enjoy it, whenever you celebrate it.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.’ James 1:17, The Book

Beltane comes from the Celtic word/s ‘belo-tenia’ which means ‘bright fire’ or ‘lucky fire’, and as it is held on 1 May, it is known in Wales as Calan Mai (literally, ‘the first day of May’). There, on Nos Galan Mai or May Eve, many would gather hawthorn branches and flowers which they would then use to decorate the outside of their houses, celebrating new growth and fertility.

‘Be like a flower and turn your face to the sun.’ Kahlil Gibran

There is a myth that if you wash your face in the morning dew before sunrise on Beltane that you will have a flawless complexion throughout the year. And if you are eager to ty this, then remember in the northern part of the UK on that day, say Inverness, the sun rises at 5.27am, but in the south, say, London, it rises at 5.33am. And, not forgetting the moon: there’s a new moon on 4 May 2019.

Blessed be you Source of All.
In your greenly greeting you return to the earth.
(To say upon waking) Your beauty cheers and renews as I rise up this morning
(To say at the end of the day) Your beauty cheers as I lie down to rest at this days end.

Tess, Ward. The Celtic Wheel Of The Year

Beltane festivities generally involved fire as this was thought to cleanse, purify and increase fertility. Special bonfires were kindled, and their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective powers. Cattle were often passed between two fires and the properties of the flame and the smoke were seen to ensure the fertility of the herd.

Fire is still the most important element of most Beltane celebrations and there are many traditions associated with it. It is seen to have purifying qualities which cleanse and revitalise. For instance, people, would leap over the Beltane fire to bring good fortune, fertility (of mind, body and spirit) and happiness through the coming year, and some would say a prayer as they did. It’s a wonderful time for handfasting, too!

Ofcourse, this time of year and such celebration are for Druids, Pagans, Wicans and others. Some areas still have the May Queen to represent the personification of Spring, and some have a straw man following, sometimes covered in greenery called Jack-in-the-Green to represent the Green Man. Some also dance around May Poles, and others look on in awe as Morris Dancers dance around in their inimitable style.

Blessed be you, O Living One.
The world is shot through with your radiance,
Reviving the earth, changing lives.
May I/we be aware that this day/night is charged with the splendour of heaven.

Tess, Ward. The Celtic Wheel Of The Year

But, others share this wonderful time of the year, as the Church, too, celebrates a ‘fire festival’, with the coming of Pentecost or Whitsun. It commemorates the time when the followers of the Christ, some two thousand yeas ago, were all together in one place and the Holy Spirit appeared to them as tongues of fire, hovering over them, to signify the outpouring of the Spirit onto all humankind.

More will follow regarding Beltane, but if you’re thinking of celebrating at home, now is the time to think about buying candles, small plants and other items to signify natures growth and abundance.

In Memoriam: Thoughts On Death And Life

20190330 IM MEMORIUM THOUGHTS ON DEATH AND LIFE

As a Druidic- Christian or Christo-Druid, I love to honour the ancestors, and make it a joy to do so. This Sunday it’s Mother’s Day in the UK, and I’ll be buying a huge bunch of flowers.

It’s now been over five years – time flies – since the sweetest and most wonderful lady ‘went home’. A few days later and it will be two years since the gentlest and ‘toughest’ man I ever knew also ‘passed on’. Oh, what child doesn’t miss their parents, following a bereavement?

‘Honour your father and mother…’ Ephesians 6.2a. The Book

It is something many, especially in our culture, don’t like to talk about: death. It can seem such an ugly word. And yet, in balance, I do believe it is healthy to dwell upon it for an appropriate amount of time. Talking about it can be cathartic. However, this article is my opinion and belief (and I accept the following may not be appropriate for the recently bereaved, and won’t be offended should such people stop reading now. If this applies to you, rest assured, you are still in my thoughts and prayers, and even more so).

Death can seem such an ugly word. And regrets? Regret is seemingly just as bad. From ‘our side’, I am sure there will always be a few stray thoughts that ‘bounce’ about. Should I have said this? Should I have done that? Those thoughts are natural, but in many ways they are mentally and emotionally tortuous, and draining, but, once worked through the healing process begins, and death and our ‘departed’ loved-one can be seen in a different way. Healing begins.

‘A deathbed is not a dead place; it can be a place of intense energy’. John O’Donohue

It was a privileged to be there, at the bedside of my mother when she died, and then a few years later at my dad’s beside when he died. There was no ‘additional’ atmospheric phenomena, no rush of wind in the room, no ethereal light seen bathing them, no angelic music that I could detect – such is the substance of tv programs like the Ghost Whisperer, (though perhaps shallow of me, it would have been comforting – but upon reflection who knows what was happening invisibly and inaudibly to me? I now have wonderful thoughts now of just that: light, love, music, angels at every persons ‘departure’. Now, that’s comforting, and the seeming lack of it is only a limitation of current perception).

Then, someone at my side says;
“There, she is gone!”
“Gone where?”
Gone from my sight. That is all.

Part of a poem regarding a ‘heavenly’ sailing boat: carrying a loved-one, entitled ‘I am standing upon the seashore’ by Henry Van Dyke

In each case, however, there was a body with breath one minute, and a body without breath the next. They were present one minute and gone the next, and it was that that was comforting. An absence. A real Presence that was there in each case one moment, but had then gone, had ‘moved on’, and that ‘inner’ feeling of soulish movement and Presence departing was almost palpable.

To see death as loss is to look at it in only one way. There is another way. There is more or ‘Mae mwy’ as my grandmother would say. Something more profound is happening beyond the veil. In essence, many of the events surrounding the journey of death, from our viewpoint, take place in the imagination, but that makes it no less real and no less comforting.

Regardless of the physical circumstances of anyone’s death, they close their eyes one moment and open them, immediately, as a being of Light that they already were. I do believe that no one dies alone. If we were not physically present (or even if we were) those in that invisible-to-us realm are present leading them to Bliss. There is told an old story, a parable, of a poor man who suffered much during his earthly life. When he died, the Master said, ‘the angels carried him to Abraham’s side (a poetic way of describing Bliss. (Luke 16:22b The Book). Whatever our ‘theology’ companions, ‘lights’ will guide us ‘home’.

And, who is to say that the distance between us and a ‘departing’ loved one is a hindrance to them, anyway? I don’t believe it is. Geo-physics doesn’t apply now. [And, additionally, there is a view that the soul remains close until the third day, anyway]. We can feel so guilty, so regretful, and in most (if not all) there is no need – and no desire from our loved ones for us to heap ‘coals of fire’ upon ourselves.

Annihilation? No, I don’t believe that. As a Druidic-Christian I take to heart innumerable promises of the continuance of life and the personality in ancient text, and see the continuing life-death-life cycle in nature around me.

Isn’t it pleasant, at this time of year to witness trees that have been dormant for months coming to life (oh, they were never dead, just sleeping). And in Fulham, London the local council, here, ‘secretly’ buried thousands of daffodil bulbs some months ago that are now busting through their earthly vault, and local parks and commons are wonderfully awash with green and yellow flowers, and much more.

Life goes on. Not just ‘down here’, though it should: those who have ‘gone ahead’ would certainly want us to do our best and enjoy ourselves here. But, it does go on ‘up there’.

And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

Part of the poem: ‘I am standing upon the seashore’ by Henry Van Dyke

It is only my opinion, but life ‘there’ will be totally different to life ‘here’. No more ailments, no more aging, no more death, everything is new and perfect, and peace abounds. All will be light and love. And our loved-ones, our ancestors, the ‘ascended ones’ those inhabitants of Bliss, now beings of Light will prosper in all ways, having come into their ‘fullness’ (though I have a feeling that that change is already happening in each of us, unawares. In that respect it is us who have a perception ‘challenge).

And so, tomorrow, I’ll be putting flowers on the grave that marks the physical resting place of my dear mum and dad, and my feelings will be mixed. Yes, I’m only human and I do miss them; but there’s more! And so, as I honour my mother and father, the ancestors, I know in my heart of hearts that life goes on in a myriad of ways,  much of which we cannot possibly comprehend (yet), and I will give thanks, and look forward to each day in a welcoming and positive way.

Your body is away from me
But there is a window open
from my heart to yours.
From this window, like the moon
I keep sending news secretly.

Rumi

 

Header photo: Photo taken by me in October 2017 having lit a candle in memory of my parents and the ancestors at St Oran’s Chapel (built during the 12th century), Isle of Iona, Scotland. Do click here for that journal/article entry.

 

 

The Caim And ‘The Inner Accuser’

20190221 THE CAIM AND THE INNER ACCUSER

Here’s a story, a childhood memory of mine.There was a time when I was a wee lad that I would sit on my Dad’s stomach as he lay down, his knees bent forming the back rest of an imaginary car seat, and as he held my plastic toy steering wheel my imagination would run riot, and I would be ‘off’. Off where?

I can’t now remember, except years of watching my Dad move a gear-stick and turn the steering wheel in our car, as he drove us all about, gave me desire to do the same: move my hands, changing gear on the steering column and turning that pretend steering wheel. I loved it, and then, it seemed so real. I wanted to get the movements just right – it was important to my playing. Oh, very important to me! Ah, the power of a child’s imagination. Fun. No responsibility. I loved it.

‘Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere’. Albert Einstein

There was a time, many years later, when I was sitting in my Dad’s car, with him in the passenger seat beside me, and I was trying to get that, then, elusive ‘biting point’ on the car as I had my first driving lesson. Beads of sweat ran down my brow as I tried, and failed. And, once again, the car would ‘kangaroo’ forward, start-stop, start-stop.

Once, I had mastered it, ofcourse then I had to work out the gear stick, clutch, ‘gas’ pedal, steering wheel turning, indicators etc . It was extremely important to learning to control that car safely. Not really fun, and some responsibility, but I was determined.

‘To steer, you need both the hands. Try to change the appropriate gear and then ensure both of your hands are on the wheel before starting to turn the steering wheel.’ The UK Highway Code.

Shortly after that, I had it worked out, and then, and you’ll be pleased to know, now, years later, all of the abovementioned has become effortless, and second-nature. Working the gear and pedals, indicators and turning that steering wheel had become quite natural, and I am even able to do ‘clever’ things such as stepping down the gears, as I approach red traffic lights, to slow the car and save the break pads, before applying the brake gradually. Impressed? Now, it is quite fun driving, but still a responsibility to get it right.

Throughout the serious business of learning to drive a car, and in other areas of life I’ve found, and you may be the same, that the ‘inner accuser’ surfaces. You will recognise his or her voice when you’re doing something new or important and he or she says things like, ‘you’ll never master it, so why bother?’, or ‘you’re wasting your time’, or ‘whatever do you want to do that for, especially as you’ll look an idiot’, and so it goes on. Or, does that just happen to me?

Tonight, I sat in a darkened room, with just one solitary candle lit. I wanted to perform a caim ritual. The caim is a profound ‘circling’ prayer or ritual-liturgy that ‘taps’ into the power and energy of the Source of All. It was used by Celts of old, Druids and Pagan, early Christians and by others. It is still used in various forms by latter-day Celts, some Churches who value its benefits, and by some wiccans, pagans, light-workers, mystics and fellow-Druids friends known to me. Individuals as well as groups. Yes, it can be used by anyone who knows the value of prayer or ritual-liturgy.

Tonight, I sat in a darkened room, with just one solitary candle lit, about to perform the Caim and that ‘inner accuser’ spoke words of doubt. Normally I wouldn’t entertain such doubt – I can always address such issues after the ritual – but on this occasion it felt right to do so.

This Caim was, like others, opened by making a circle, turning clockwise. Sometimes I like to visualise that I’m in a wonderful forest and enter a clearing that is well-lit. A kataphatic approach.

That inner space that I entered is liminal space. For me, I call it the imaginal realm. Not to be confused with ‘mere imagination’ as some others call it, and then  immediately dismiss it as powerless.

The Caim is an intermediary space, the gap between the physical realm (which we can all relate to and understand – it is the place of the body) and the ouranic realm (the place of the Spirit, where all that is good and holy originates), and it is the place of power, potential and transformation.

With the UK on the verge of making a political and economic disaster on 29 March 2019 at 11pm, I wanted to enter that circle, with the intention of seeking to empower politicians to make the correct decisions over the next few weeks.

The ‘inner accuser’ came to life. ‘What difference do you think you can make? Do you have delusions of grandeur? Don’t you think that the Universe, the Source of All can do this without you? And, so it went on.

‘And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land…but I found none.’ Ezekiel 22:30, part, The Book

And, that’s where those early driving lessons came back to mind. I recognised that defeatist voice of old. Ah, there may be an element of truth in what it said, but not the total truth. Had the ‘inner accuser’ spoke all falsehoods then he or she could be easily dismissed. But, which was truth and which falsehood? Mixing the two makes what the ‘inner accuser’ says seemingly credible. But, only seemingly.

There was a time when I couldn’t drive a car. A time when I played at it. Then, a time when I went through the motions – moving this hand, moving that foot, checking them mirror, indicating, and then finding that now oh-so-easy ‘biting point’ to move the car.

This memory defeated the ‘inner accuser’ as I sat cross-legged in that Caim, that circle. I had accomplished something then, I can do it now. I might only make a small effect, but that, coupled with many more people doing similar, can have a big impact. And, yes the Universe might be able to do it without us, but it seems to me that the Source of All regards us as co-creators and desires our participation. Isn’t what the way the Universe has configured the universe?

Lucy has to enter the house and read a spell for making hidden things visible. She knows at once that she’s got it right, because colour and pictures start to appear on the pages of the magic book…and wonder of wonder, Aslan himself…is also made visible. ‘Aslan’, said Lucy, almost reproachfully. ‘Don’t make fun of me. As if anything (such as the spell she recited) would make you visible.’ ‘It did, said Aslan, ‘Do you think I wouldn’t obey my own rules?’. ‘The Chronicles Of Narnia’, C S Lewis

You and I can make a difference, and ritual and liturgy coupled with action in the physical world can reap great benefits. The Universe could do it without us but has chosen you and I to be involved. What a responsibility? What a privilege?. And so, what we say and do in ritual is important.

I had opened the Caim ritual as I had many times before. The ‘content’ and aim was different as I had never used the Caim before for Brexit. But, why not? I wouldn’t use it for my own political views – and that’s where responsibility comes in – but it is right, I believe, to intervene and seek, ‘imaginally’, for the right outcome to come about. Our responsibility.

Let your steps dance silently
To the rhythm of the Beloved’s Name.
My finger and my hands
Never move through empty space
For there are
Invisible golden lute strings all around,
Sending Resplendent Chords
Throughout the Universe.

Hafiz

In that Caim, that circle I imagined Parliament and its Members, I imagined ‘cornfields’ of pure power and love, scooped up the latter and ‘hurled’ it, ‘imaginally’ at the former. Later, I closed the Caim, closing that circle. Ofcourse, this is only the Caim in brief, but it was the doubt and overcoming that doubt that seemed to be the important topic, here, just this once

Moving our feet and hands in ritual does have an effect, just as moving our feet and hands propels a car along. Could the car analogy and ritual itself be ‘physical’ metaphors to describe and effect change in the Universe – physical actions leading to deeper, spiritual and invisible (or partially seen) actions? Hafiz suggests so. Hafez, I believe, suggests so. Ritual, moving our feet and hands, as well as uttering words, and intentionality can have an effect, even though the cynic might disagree. Never listen to the ‘inner accuser’ (who is clever enough to use other peoples ‘inner accuser’ against you, if you’re not listening to your own ‘inner accuser’).

Will this Caim I performed be effective? I can’t prove that it will be, but I would like to think that it, accompanied with action in the physical realm, ‘earthing’ action, and with others doing similar will be effective, and good will come out of it. Now, how that then works out  may be the work of the Universe, but we’ll see.

’For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…’ Proverbs 23.7b, The Book

Perhaps as children, with vivid imaginations there is awesome power at play, in play, but that as adults we grow up and lose that recognition and understanding. Certainly, as a wee lad sitting across my Dad’s stomach and driving that pretend car, it seemed real at the time. Maybe, as ‘children’ in the Universe it’s our work and delight to be imaginatively involved in co-creating. Not as children, childishly: but as adults using that powerful and child-like power and faith in ritual, as enabled and empowered by That Which Is Bigger Than Us.

Now, as regards the Caim, I am determined to take it further. Some have emailed me, many others have read and re-read articles about the Caim from yesteryear, and expressed an ongoing interest. And, it seems to me that that interest and the power, and benefit of the Caim is something that can be taken forward in workshops and in online videos.

Ofcourse, you guessed it. The ‘inner accuser’ just woke up. ‘No one will come, everyone is too busy’. ‘Who on earth will watch that kind of video’. ‘You’ll be better of taking it easy and putting your feet up, Tadhg’, the ‘inner accuser’ says. But, guess what? I’m not listening to him or her.

Do watch this space – and for information about the Caim and future events and articles do ‘sign up’ so that you’re notified when articles are published online and events diarised (if you haven’t already signed up to with my FaceBook site, or TadhgTalks (the worpdress blog), or contact me direct.

 

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

 

Poem: Gratitude At Bach Ac Yn Gyflym [Revisited]

20190107 poem gratitude at bach ac yn gyflym

I’m back in Capel Curig, the location of my north Wales ‘cottage’ in the wilderness. I like to connect with the wilderness every so often, and here I am again. Around me is green and grey, around me is grass and mountains, as white wisps of mist embrace me.

Surrounded now by that mist, you could be forgiven for thinking that you weren’t in my garden, as all the familiar landmarks, named trees, much-loved foliage, small rocks have all but become invisible as the cloud descends.

And as I slowly walk on, there it is. That, small, wonderfully inviting rivulet that flows unimpeded. Even if it is unheeded, it flows. It needs no human eye to convince it of its status, but when around, it does indeed invite all to look on in wonder. And, as you look into it in awe, I do believe others look back in a similar manner.

Water, particularly wells, the tides ebbing and flowing on the beach, and rivulets, like this one, are liminal places, ‘thin places’, where here and the Other are unusually close. Could this rivulet be a place for angels, the fae, elementals, the Waters, or the Others, ancestors etc to come near(er)? Who knows. But, there is a presence here, a Presence!

I call this watery friend, this rivulet Bach ac yn gyflym. Welsh geographical place-names are very descriptive, and it seemed right to call this stream by this name. Its name means ‘small and fast’. Very apt. Very Welsh.

Some time ago, deeply moved by it, I wrote a poem, and now as I gaze on at this constant companion, this faithful flow of water, almost mesmerising, I recite the poem to the rivulet, once again.

In this rugged, wild, grey-green place,
Bach ac yn gyflym, that ancient stream flows.
Downstream represents that past, of days gone by,
the old, the familiar and known.
It is an empty plate of cakes, just crumbs, now gone; it is yesterday’s meal.
This flowing water is time.

I surmise that you look upstream! Most do.
Upstream is unfamiliar.
It is tomorrow charging towards us and becoming ‘now’.
It isn’t red-shift; it is blue-shift.
It isn’t the past, it is the future.
It is potential, opportunity,
a ribbon of possibility reaching out toward us.
It is the unknown. A challenge. A risk. An adventure.
Time could be the harbinger of good or of bad,
however we define those mysterious words.
And yet Rumi’s wisdom of old, words of invitation
to accept those who knock at the door of one’s life echo loud.
For in playing host to all,
we may accept a benevolent ‘guide’ from beyond,
and grow in stature.
The flowing water is time.

As I stand motionless and observe, the water flows and yet so do I.
A body that ages.
A mind that thinks.
A heart that beats involuntarily.
A planet that spins. And one that orbits.
A solar system that moves.
Tempus fugit.
Everything is in a state of flux.

And so, like you, I look upstream.
Could this be Bach ac yn gyflym or even Pishon?
But, I crane my neck and look upstream,
for it is from there that the Spirit calls out to all of us by name.
The Bat Kohl whispers in the desolation, the forest, even in the city.
Her activity is recorded in the past, felt in the present, and reverberates to us from the future.
The flowing water is time.

Time moves on.

Is time an illusion? Is it inear? Cyclical? Or a combination of the latter two, a ‘slinky’: repeating itself but with the progress of minor changes and adaptations, new things, along the way? For now, all I know, is that this rivulet has a sameness and a difference in its flow: a paradox. . Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher born in 544 BC. said, ‘No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same man.’

Yes, time moves on. But, ‘chronos’ or ‘kairos’. The former is mechanical time, the relentless tick-tock of the clock which governs our rising and sleeping, our working and relaxing, marking the seasons in the heavens or instructing us of the time of the next bus home. The latter, ‘kairos’ is opportunity, time that allows us to do something. For the ancients, this would have been an important thought, perhaps the most important of the two, for they would say to us; ‘now is the time’.

However, having just glanced ay my wristwatch I am walking briskly back to the cottage now, as time indicates that its breakfast time, and somethings are too important to miss. But, and it is an encouragement to each of us: today there will be times of opportunity, kairos (time) to seize and take hold of, to enjoy and make the most of. Carpe diem.

 

Table Talk: Traits Of The Wise Person. Some Thoughts

20190105 traits of the wise and spiritual person

‘Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small ‘unregarded’ yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.’ Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The scientific name for humanity, so I’m told, is homo sapiens sapiens – not just homo sapiens as that means ‘wise mankind’, but homo sapiens sapiens which means wise mankind that knows he/she is wise.

Don’t you think it is astounding that in all the known created universe we are not only the wise ones, but the wise ones who know we are wise (that is, we have that objectivity to ‘know’ it). Though, some may question the wisdom of some of mankind’s politics and assault on nature, and rightly so. And those thoughts were on our minds as, one by one, we met in a local café in London.

‘It was out of the dynamic of cosmic celebration that we were created in the first place. We are to become celebration and generosity, burst into self-awareness. What is the human? The human is a space, an opening, where the universe celebrates its existence.’ Brian Swimme, The Universe Is a Green Dragon: A Cosmic Creation Story

But if we are homo sapiens sapiens, the universe becoming conscious and celebrating its own existence, how do we define wisdom? As we, a group of us now, sit in the Magic Café in Fulham, we wondered what are the traits of a wise and spiritual person?

What qualities would an individual display, if he/she were wise and spiritual?

As I posed that question to several friends around the café table, we spoke of a number of qualities that most, dare I say, all spiritual people exude, and that we admired.

I’m old enough to know that these qualities know no bounds, and occur in people who are Celtic, Christian, Druid, Hindu, Muslim, Pagans, Sikh, Atheists and others, including those from other nations, and other tribes etc.

And, it’s for that reason that I do my best to surround myself with a myriad of spiritual people, from various tribes. And, somewhat tongue in cheek, I always say that in surrounding myself with such people their wisdom and spirituality exudes from them into my being, like a spiritual ‘osmosis’.

Who is to say otherwise?

It is clear, I think, that we have all sensed when someone deep and spiritual person has been in the room and we’ve ‘felt’ their presence, haven’t we? So who is to say that that kind of ‘osmosis’ isn’t true.

So what would we look for in a wise person, whether such people are Celtic, Christian, Druid, Hindu, Muslim, Pagans, Sikh, Atheists and others, or from other nations or other tribes?

Here’s a short list of traits that I and those around the café table believe that we would see in the wise and spiritual person (and which may be an encouragement for each of us to ‘work’ towards):

A lightness of spirit: There are some who seem to flaunt their spirituality with grandiose claims and words ‘ripped’ from the pages of academia. There may be a case where such seriousness is needed, but not in the Magic Café where I’m now mixing with friends and talking about spiritual matters. Now, there is need for a light touch. A wise person would, I think, maintain perspective and balance, that allows them to navigate the mundane and ‘magical’, and appreciate all as one. They have a confidence of inherent status (that we all possess, and which, sadly, some forget) that allows them not to try to spend energy impress, but to build up the other person.

‘So at the end of this day, we give thanks for being betrothed to the Unknown.’ John O’Donohue

A sense of humour: Just because something is important, it doesn’t have to be mind-bogglingly boring. Weighty matters can sometimes be communicated with humour or in story form, in a childlike manner with awe and the fervour of a ‘beginners mind’ (but this is not to be confused with a childish manner. There is a difference). Humour can lovingly ‘disarm’ our barriers and allow the truth to penetrate deeper, and before we know where we are, we find ourselves saying ‘aha’, declaring that ‘eureka moment’ of understanding. Jesus was a great storyteller.

‘An adaptive mind has better learning capability.’ Pearl Zhu

A degree of flexibility: Society changes, even our words change their meaning, and the spiritual person is one who is flexible, changing, and developing their practices as appropriate. Ofcourse, this will mean that you may, read will be, different to others, but that is half the ‘fun’ of being a unique human. Oh, and you will make mistakes along the way, but don’t beat yourself up. It’s how we learn!

‘Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance…’. Proverbs 1:5, The Book

An accessible manner: There are some, and it may have to do with ego, who claim secret knowledge and want to keep it that way, and want to maintain a distance between themselves and others. But, it seems to me that the wise and spiritual person doesn’t play the ‘secrets game’. Ofcourse, professional workings with clients and others needs to be confidential, and it may be that our outworking of our ritual practices are best conducted in groups that appreciate them, but I do believe there should be an openness in all things as far as possible, so far as is appropriate.

The secret knowledge, in one sense, is still secret but only because many don’t pursue it or open their minds to it, rather than because we want to keep it to ourselves so that we remain special. You are special anyway!

Let’s stop ‘tolerating’ or ‘accepting’ difference, as if we’re so much better for not being different in the first place. Instead, let’s celebrate difference, because in this world it takes a lot of guts to be different.’ Kate Bornstein

A reverence for nature: Perhaps at no other time in history, with out burgeoning populations and machinery that is ultra-efficient, is there such a  great and urgent need to display and work towards a (greater) reverence for nature (of which we are part). Everything contains the ‘fingerprints’ of the Divine, and so there is an encouragement for each of us to be wise stewards in, and of, the world that we inhabit. It is one of the reasons I love the Druidic attention and appreciation of nature, and that its ritual are (usually) conducted in forest groves etc.

‘We are living on the planet as if we have another one to go to.’ Terri Swearingen

An honesty and integrity: Most people have a pleasant instinct always to work with others, and yes, we all occasionally disappoint. Intentionality is all-important here, and the ability to undertake periodic reality checks, is essential, I think. No one expects perfection – you’re human after all, and being human is good. But, in our dealings with others (and perhaps politicians should note, also), honesty and integrity is important. Perhaps, a good maxim is: our word is our bond.

A person that looks normal: Okay, there may be occasions when, for ritual purposes, there is a specific form of attire to wear, but that cloak, the staff, the cassock and chasuble may be inappropriate on the number 211 bus in Dawes Road, Fulham in London.

But, when it is appropriate then adorn yourself with all manner of appropriate attire. In many cases it helps us and others to know that something different, deep and wonder is about to happen, that we’re stepping out of ‘mechanical time’ into sacred time. Although, thinking about it, a long flowing cloak and a Merlin-like staff would certainly get me a seat in a crowded number 211 bus in London!

A desire for knowledge: We never stop learning. The learning can have, and may still be, academic in nature, or it can be an informal and intuitive learning about nature. It is said that an ‘apprenticeship’ for a Druid of old lasted twenty-years, but even then, I do believe a Druid then would say, learning goes on. We never stop learning.

‘A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease.’ John Muir

A person who ‘connects’: I do believe that, often, the wise and spiritual person is, or is somewhere near, the centre of the community or connected to society in many ways. And, they are ware of being connected to Life in its fullness, being aware of the interconnected web of life and nature, of being aware of the mundane world and the spiritual, the outer and the inner, the sacred and secular, of prayer and action, the imaginal and external, and to know that there is no real difference between these.

And then…the conversation in the Magic Café changed, and as we supped our lattes, Americano, Espresso, Flat white and Macchiato coffees, occasionally peering out of the window and watching the world go by, we laughed, talked about myriad other things, and lived life, heartily and in good company. Ah, table talk! I love it.

But, what do you think? And, if you’re in/near London why not join us in the café next time?

 

A New Moon Teaches…: Ephemera: New Moon: 7 December 2018

20181206 A NEW MOON TEACHES NEW MOON EPHEMERA

To the Ancients, Celts, Druids, early Christians and others, the sky held many mysteries, and from discerning the movements of planets and stars great events were foretold or forthtold. With that in mid: there’s a new moon due on Friday, 7 December (at 7.20am to be precise) though looking for it the following day will be just as rewarding.

‘A new moon teaches gradualness
and deliberation and how one gives birth
to oneself slowly. Patience with small details
makes perfect a large work, like the universe.’

Rumi

Viewing The New Moon
The new moon will be in the constellation of Sagittarius. Unlike the full moon, which has the face that is directed to us fully lit up, the new moon is dark – and so it’ll probably be the day after when a slight arc of light, a sliver of the moon is visible, when it will look majestic. Then, the moon will look like the letter ‘c’ in the sky.

However, because the moon at this time of the year and in that constellation will be right near the sun, and appearing to travel alongside it for a few days,  any observation will be difficult and will be during daylight hours.

Hawaiian Myth
We can learn a lot from the moon. Sometimes, especially when the new moon hugs the horizon, rather than look like the letter ‘c’ it can appear like the letter ‘u’. This is called a wet moon. It’s when the ‘horns’ of the crescent Moon point up at an angle, away from the horizon, so that the crescent takes on the appearance of a bowl or a smile. A wet moon occurs when the crescent Moon is low above the horizon and at a point more or less directly above the Sun’s (invisible) position below the horizon.

‘I never really thought about how when I look at the moon, it’s the same moon as Shakespeare and Marie Antoinette and George Washington and Cleopatra looked at’. Susan Beth Pfeffer

The terms wet moon originates from Hawaiian mythology, where it was thought that the Moon appeared as a bowl that would fill up with rainwater. The period when, they thought, this was most common, was 20 January 20 to 18 February, and this corresponds with Kaelo the Water Bearer in Hawaiian astrology. Hence the wet moon. Aslo, according to their mythology as summer comes, the crescent shape shifts, pouring out the water and causing the summer rains. After this, and once the bowl is emptied, it then dries out and rights itself, creating the ‘dry moon’. I find that mythology quite charming.

Cheshire Cat
However, this appearance of the moon looking like the letter’ u’ is sometimes called the ‘Cheshire moon’, because it resembles the smile of the Cheshire Cat from Lewis Carroll’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

However, less charming is the myth, that some adhere to, that the new moon summons Manticores to kill you. Manticores are mythical creatures rather like large lions, but with dragon wings and scorpion tails, and the kill, according to myth. The good news is, both moonlight and sunlight are fatal to manticores. Also, like vampires, manticores can’t enter your house unless you invite them in. But, it is just a myth.

‘When hope is fleeting, stop for a moment and visualize, in a sky of silver, the crescent of a lavender moon. Imagine it — delicate, slim, precise, like a paper-thin slice from a cabochon jewel. It may not be very useful, but it is beautiful. And sometimes it is enough’. Vera Nazarian

Other Cultures
But, there’s more about the new moon in other cultures.

The Islamic calendar has retained an observational definition of the new moon, marking the new month when the first crescent moon is actually seen.

And in Asia, new moon is the beginning of the month in the Chinese calendar. Some Buddhist Chinese keep a vegetarian diet based on the new moon and full moon each month.

Also, the new moon signifies the start of every Jewish month, and is considered an important date and minor holiday in the Hebrew calendar. The modern form of the calendar is a rule-based luni-solar calendar, akin to the Chinese calendar, measuring months defined in lunar cycles as well as years measured in solar cycles. Absolutely fascinating.

‘Each “way of thinking” has its own shape and colour, which wax and wane like the moon.’ Haruki Murakami

And, Finally…The Geminids
And, there’s even more. While you’re gazing upwards, it might be good, should you get a clear, dark sky over the next week or so, in the evening to look out for the Geminids meteor shower.  As the night progresses, the Geminids meteor rate will increase, hitting a theoretical maximum of about 100 per hour.

The best way to prepare to watch the meteor shower is: watch late at night with the naked eye. A telescope isn’t needed and will probably ensure you miss most of the display as they move rapidly through the sky.  Get away from city lights if you can. Give yourself a vantage point where you can look at a large expanse of sky – and the best way to do this is by laying down and just looking at the sky.

‘The moon is the friendliest of the celestial bodies, after all, glowing warm and white and welcoming, like a friend who wants only to know that all of us are safe in our narrow worlds, our narrow yards, our narrow, well-considered lives. The moon worries. We may not know how we know that, but we know it all the same: that the moon watches, and the moon worries, and the moon will always love us, no matter what’. Seanan McGuire,

Yes, the new moon does indeed teach us many things, one of the most significant being that it, the sky, the earth and everything (and that includes us) is the handiwork of the loving Source, the Source of All. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God…’ Psalm 9.1a, The Book

 

An Encounter With Nwyfre In London? [Revisited]

20181127 AN ENCOUNTER WITH NWYFRE IN LONDON

There is a forest not far from where I live in north Wales, old and dense; it is ancient and just walking in it one can feel the weight of the ages there. I love it. And there, after a long, winding trek through the thick forest is a small clearing, stands ‘Y goeden mellt’, the much-loved Lightning Tree. (See here). It was there that I first had an experience of ‘it’ and was able to put a name to ‘it’.

But, I’m still in town, still in the city, still in London, and won’t be back in Capel Curig for at least another few days. And yet….deep in my spirit there’s a restlessness. There are several places where I’ve experienced Nwyfre (pronounced ‘noo-iv ruh’) , and one of those it when in the presence of that Lightning Tree.

Yes, that ‘it’ was, and is, Nwyfre.

Nwyfre, isn’t life, but is Life! It is the activating, animating, creative force that flows through nature. Traditionally, and literally, it has to do with the wind and the sky. If you can imagine fast flowing, light clouds, low in the sky, say, or the wind ‘howling’ of the tops of trees, then that’s evidence of Nwyfre. But, it’s more than just an atmospheric phenomenon – to those with deep awareness, insight, enlightenment, to those who are poets and those who might have a ‘romantic’ inclination, it’s more.

There is always more.

‘Time and attention are the most precious gifts we can give.’ Rob Liano

Nwyfre, at its deepest and most profound, and I would say its most real level, is: Spirit, and the connectedness of everything because of Spirit, and the flow of energy (love etc) between everything. And, rather than an ‘it’, Nwyfre is personal (and can be referred to as ‘he or she’, and preferably as ‘he and she’ (such is the cumbersome limitations of out language). Nwyfre is the Welsh name known to the Welsh, ancient and latter-day Celts and Druids, and others. Nwyfre is known by other names by different ‘tribes’, and perhaps the most well-known (locally, and to Christians) is that Nwyfre is referred to as the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, also known as the Counsellor, Intercessor, Revealer, Teacher, Spirit of Life).

And so, feeling a fair amount of ennui last evening, I went for a walk along the banks of the River Thames in the heart of London. It was late and the air was now cold, very cold, and the wind was howling over the rooftops of nearby high-rise buildings, making a wailing sound like some kind of invisible bansidhe (pronounced ‘ban-shee’). Oh, the wind moaned a deep, mournful, relentless groan.

I felt small in comparison to the power of the wind that raced across city rooftops and shook the trees. I felt separated, as something of a different order altogether to that barometric pressure that moved noisily, and yet invisibly, nearby. And yet, I felt connected, contentment, a oneness. That’s Nwyfre!

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with… the Spirit.’ John 3:8a, The Book

Gazing at the river, only dimly lit by street-lighting, I breathed in – air. Nwyfre! The same wind that blew high above me, that howled across the rooftops, that had come from unknown parts in its journey to who knows where, was now in my lungs and coursing through my veins. I ‘discovered’ that I am no longer separate because of Nwyfre! That which was outside, is inside me. And as I exhale, that which was inside me is now outside. We are encompassed by Nwyfre. Cocooned. Connected. Congruent.

‘The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.’ Carl Sagan

Walking now, to keep warm – it seemed colder than ever, and the fog was moving in – I ‘discovered’ also that I no longer felt that small. Nwyfre! Not separated, not small, but deep in my soul I knew that we are all connected. Connected and powerful. Our status is such that we have great power and great opportunities to do good.

I experienced that at Y goeden mellt’, the Lightning Tree in Wales on many occasions when surrounded by that deep forest, and in solitude; and now in the heart of London – surrounded by ‘mountains’ of bricks and mortar, and ‘trees’ of ‘street furniture (is what the Council call lampposts, traffic signs etc), and in a ‘forest’ of eight million souls  – I experienced Nwyfre once more.

I ‘discovered’ a third fact. And this one that affects you, wherever you are. You too, can experienced that connectedness of Nwyfre. In thinking of spiritual experiences many think of out-of-the-way and difficult places to visit, but that doesn’t have to be only that way. Where you are, right now, is as special, and as sacred, and as holy as Y goeden mellt, and so is every place, too.

‘Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone.’– Margaret J Wheatley

In the heart of London I experienced the connectedness of Nwyfre, and wherever you are, you can too. Ofcourse, if our minds are too busy, or if we’re distracted, then we’ll miss the invitation of Nwyfre. It seems we have a choice. Nwyfre, metaphorically, opens the door, issues an invitation with a ‘silent call’, as deep calls to deep, but we must walk through that door (or not).

‘When you make a choice, you change the future.’ Deepak Chopra

It was now bitterly cold, and as I headed home – about a four minute walk from where I was at that point, I looked at the lights in those high-rise apartments, the glow of tv screens ‘playing’ on curtains and the apartments’ ceilings, and the general busyness of the metropolis, and felt saddened that unwittingly some had made a choice, and had missed the opportunity of encountering Nwyfre. And, the really sad thing is that they never even knew that they had already made a choice to not walk through that metaphorical door.

‘When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is in itself a choice.’ William James.

The abovementioned was written two years ago, and has been slightly amended/adapted, and is still relevant, and contains some truth, I believe, and also it’s relevant because I am back in London for a while, it has got decidedly cold over the last few days and for the first time this year (post summer) river-hugging fog has appeared and has rolled into surrounding streets, and it enshrouds everything, and it is wonderful to see, so otherworldly, and arresting. Pause for deep thoughts.

‘You can’t outwit fate by standing on the sidelines placing little side bets about the outcome of life… if you don’t play you can’t win.’ Judith McNaught

Nwyfre is ubiquitous. And, there’s even more…Nwyfre is inviting you.

 

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.

 

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)