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)

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

 

Deep Calls To Deep: When The Caim Becomes Kything

20181107 WHEN THE CAIM BECOMES KYTHING

And so, they called to the Quarters. In a forested area, about thirty people, firstly, faced and addressed the east, then turned to face the south, then the west and then, finally, the north. Through ritual, through intentionality, a circle of power had been formed. A type of caim now existed.

’I live my life in growing orbits which move out over this wondrous world. I am circling around God, around ancient towers and I have been circling for a thousand years. And I still don’t know if I am an eagle or a storm or a great song.’ Rainer Maria Rilke

The circle is important. Within the circle of the caim there is power and potential: things happen. Sometimes the caim can be a physical circle in which a practical ritual takes place, usually for a group. On many occasions the caim can be used by just one person, and then the caim starts with a physical circle and then as one mediates one goes on an ‘inward’ voyage.

The caim has many uses, and have been the theme of previous articles. See here for one example.

And so, on this occasion of a solo event, I wanted to go ‘inward’ to bless someone in a special way. The way of blessing is many and varied, and usually there is no need for elaborate ritual, but on this occasion the decision the person in mind, a dear friend, was to make was so important to them that I felt I wanted to do a little more.

And so, the caim sprang to mind.

The caim can be a simple but powerful, and effective ‘circle’ ritual that moves one ‘inwardly’ to that inner sacred place, that place of communion, le pointe vierge – the virgin point, that which is at the centre of our being at a point of ‘nothingness’, untouched by illusion.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field, I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other”
doesn’t make any sense.

Rumi

Many, today, for sole event caims, use a minimalist three-stage approach to the caim at least in the beginning of their caim practice. This is:

  •  making a caim and
  • using a prepared ‘set’ prayer, or liturgy, or creative visualisation, and
  • closing the caim and an act of ‘earthing’ it.

Once in that ‘inward’ meditative state, in my mind’s eye I visualised a protective ‘bubble’ around me, in a ‘sea’ of stars, unseen to others. The caim is a circle, but in three dimensions it can be viewed as a sphere, a ‘bubble’.

‘When you pray, go into your room. Close the door and pray to your Father, who can’t be seen. Your Father will reward you, because he sees what you do secretly.’ Matthew 6:6, The Book

In that secret place I imagined this friend as outside the caim ‘bubble’ I was in, and a short distance away. And then, as I looked in that direction, to my surprise, I imagined them to be in a similar ‘bubble’. Astounding. Could it be that at times when we intend to use the caim for others, that our spirit can communicate with their spirit, and at such times their spirit (unknown to them) is also embraced with a caim, a bubble, a ‘shield’ of power and potential for them (even if they are physically unawares)?

Not wishing to be distracted from sending power, light and love to assist this friend in their impending I wondered briefly. Usually, I wouldn’t let any other thoughts distract me at a time like that, but on this one occasion I did allow thoughts to flow.

Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist, was imprisoned in a concentration camp during the second world war. Seeing the horrors around him, he was sustained by the loving connection he felt between his wife and himself. Though physically separated by thousands of miles, he felt a close, spiritual connection. In that concentration camp he wrote:

‘As my friend and I stumbled on for mile, slipping on icy sports, supporting each other time and time again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise’. Viktor Frankl

In that caim I saw my dear friend though many miles away, in that imaginal realm, which some may believe to be real, whilst others may believe it is unreal. I believe the former. And, my friend, too, inhabited a caim, a circle. Viktor Frankl’s experience was indeed a spirit-to-spirit presence, and I do believe that the caim can, in some cases, also be used in such a way – for spirit-to spirit encounters of the imaginal kind.

Have you ever been in someone’s company and come away knowing more about them than what they have just spoken about?

Have you felt that you have got close to someone, closer that just words have permitted, but at a soulish or spiritual level?

And, have you had the experience where you may have met someone for the first time, or perhaps have known them for some time, and just knew that words were not needed, and just basked in a knowing silence?

These are examples of the kind of encounter I’m referring to. A spirit-to-spirit, deep calls to deep, encounter. Kything?

Roger Gerard calls this kything. Kything, then, is like spiritual intuition involving another person. It is a going beyond being present to their body, emotions, mind, to something altogether deeper, more mysterious and fundamental. When you kythe you are in touch with the spirit or soul of another. Some may say this encounter is very real, others would say it is metaphorical. I believe the former. But in any case, if it is metaphorical and viewed as not real in substance , and we view the encounter as a prayer or well-wishes etc, isn’t intentionality the all-important factor here? If so, in either case is it is acceptable, and still worthwhile, and remains a powerful strategy.

Later, I continued with the caim and sent energy, light, love, power, and prayer to that person in need, seeing them in my imagination, and in a new and vital way because of this caim event.

But after coming back to physical space (but do we ever leave that sacred space/time?) and ‘grounding’ myself, and opening my eyes, I couldn’t but help think further about kything and its benefits to you and I, and will write on it further, soon.

‘With kything, you may also work through forgiveness for a past offence even I that person is no longer physically accessible, either because of…distance…or refusal to meet.’ Louis M Savary and Patricia H Berne

A Walk In The Woods: Liminality And Its Benefits. Three Stories

20181010 A WALK IN THE WOODS LIMINALITY AND ITS BENEFITS

The imagination of the Ancients taught them wisdom that is lost to many today. Ancient Celts, Druids, Pagans and others knew more than we can guess, and yet many of the practices they observed are open to us today. They were ‘connected’ in a way that is only just being (re-)discovered, and the benefits, especially as regards liminality are enormous.

It was evening and the sun was sinking behind Cadair Idris, that wonderful mountain at the southern end of Snowdonia in Wales, that I frequented a lot as a teenager. Cadair Idris means the ‘Chair of Idris’ and was the giant warrior poet of Welsh renown. But, it was the setting sun that caught my attention.

The air temperature was dropping considerably as I stood on the mountain side, and long shadows ‘overwhelmed’ me, as the setting sun took my breath away. As I gazed in its direction the sun changed colour, diminished in brightness, but it was awe that embraced me, and that was so overpowering.

‘I have a thing for doors. I always think of them as a threshold to something new’. Jada Pinkett Smith

Yes, it was a liminal moment, a threshold event, a peak experience, a door to something or somewhere else as some might describel it.

Many shy away from the word surrender, but witnessing that awesome event, with no real thought prevalent in my mind, I basked in silence, motionless at the experience. I was in awe, connected to the universe and all that is. I had surrendered to the event, the handiwork of the Source of All, and the Source of All was palpable to me in some strange, unexplainable way. And, it was good.

Indeed, a liminal experience. Just then, the thought of capturing the moment occurred and I reached for the camera hanging around my neck, lifted it, took aim and photographed that amazing sunset. At I gazed through the camera’s viewfinder my eyes welled up, as I realised that I had left that liminal moment behind. In trying to preserve that wonderful moment of connectedness, I had lost it. Gone.

It was a group event, a workshop, and the first exercise was for the group to close there eyes, and having mentioned centering, beforehand, each member of the group was asked to imagine a walk in an imaginal forest, a walk in the woods, that started in the corner of the room they were in. The forest had a defined path, it was evening and quite dark, but in the distance there was a light, and each group member was asked to, imaginally, walk towards it. The path led to a clearing, and there each member was encouraged to imagine themselves sitting on a bench in the middle of the clearing and just ‘be’. After ten minutes I asked them to journey back on the path, out of the clearing and back into the room.

‘There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception’. Aldous Huxley

This was the first exercise of the day and was an essential step to cover the wonderful themes on the days curriculum, but in sharing their imaginal journey, it was clear that this was, indeed, the first step of many. Some shared and described the wonderful forest they were in and related as to how, as they sat in that imaginal forest, it took them back to their childhood. Another, related how a bird’s song sounded like a mobile ‘phone and they they really must ‘phone an old friend. Another, recounted how they felt cold and a small wind was rustling leaves and wondered if the central heating was on at home, and so it went on.

The first exercise of that workshop (as it was meant to) showed how easy it is to fill our minds with thoughts – the monkey mind – when meditating or when on an imaginal journey, as that exercise was, and what could be a liminal event of ‘being’, can so easily turn into a non-liminal event of thinking or ‘doing’. We then ‘step out’ of that liminal time and so miss out, or worse, we fool ourselves into thinking that we have had a liminal event when it was only a liminoid event (a near miss, but not the real thing).

‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.’ Albert Einstein

I was about nine years old, and my grandmother, having finished one of her amazing stories, looked at me and said, ‘It’s time for something a bit deeper, dear one. Time for an encounter’. The grandfather clocked had just chimed 7.30pm. ‘Good,’ she said, ‘No interruptions’.

She asked me to sit up, breathe regularly, close my eyes, and I did. She mentioned a few preparatory things to do, and then talked about a forest in the corner of the room, a walk in the woods, and asked me to imagine it, and to imagine that I was walking along a path. It was fun, and very easy for me to do – my childhood imagination worked ‘overtime’ at the best of times (and, still does!).

With my eyes closed, she asked me to imagine that I was walking towards a clearing, where there was a bench in the middle, upon which I was to sit, and do nothing else. I did as she asked, and in my mind’s eye saw an old stone bench in the middle of a large gap, a clearing in the trees. I approached it, and sat on it, and waited.

‘I looked for someone among them who would…stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land…but I found no one’ Ezekiel 22.30 (part), The Book

A few thoughts arose, and a stirring in the undergrowth at the edge of the clearing caught my attention, but I knew that I wasn’t to hold onto these thoughts, but just let them go. I sat. Little or no grasping thoughts arose, and it seemed to get easier, and I waited patiently.

As I sat there, in that imaginal clearing, even the trees and the edge of the clearing seemed to dissolve and to become unimportant. Was I sitting or standing? No thought arose, as whatever I was, was (just) there. There was silence. There was darkness, or was it light? There was nothing.

Just then, I heard my grandmother’s pleasant and melodic voice call out to me. ‘Tadhg, it’s time to come back’, and she guided me to that path I had taken earlier. In my mind’s eye I was walking along that path and back to the room, and sat down’. You can open your eyes now, but do it slowly, little one’. She also ensured that I was ‘grounded’, and then told me to relax. I did.

She asked about my experience, but all I could say was that, during the few minutes of the exercise, nothing had happened. ‘Aha, then you encountered for sure’, she beamed.

‘Encountered what? And, why did it last only a few minutes?, I pleaded as if I had been short-changed by the experience.

‘The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough’. Rabindranath Tagore

‘Ah, those are good questions. Some believe they encounter elementals or their guardian spirit, others say that they encounter angels in silence and invisibly, and others say they encounter the Source of All. So, you did encounter Tadhg. You did’, she said. She was so pleased.

‘So, it’s like being in the company of a friend that you can’t see, can’t touch, can’t speak to, and can’t hear’, I said somewhat sarcastically, and looking a bit puzzled I think. ‘Exactly’, she replied, and laughed. ‘Exactly, so!’.

‘Then how do I know I encountered?’, I asked.

‘Well, you’ll know, you’ll just know, but usually always after the event’, she said in her lyrical Welsh accent. ‘The One you wanted to encounter is more eager to encounter you, so whether you know it or not, an encounter takes place,’ she continued.

‘What you seek is seeking you’. Rumi

Just then, the grandfather clocked chimed. It was 8pm. My grandmother gave me a knowing look! And smiled. She knew!

Even at that young age I was struck by the fact that that imaginal journey seemed to take less than five minutes, but it had, infact, lasted thirty minutes. I knew I had encountered. I knew I had experienced the liminal. Such thresholds are indescribable, take one’s breath away, affect us at a soul or spiritual level, and skew time, my grandmother later explained.

’But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.’ 2 Peter 3.8, The Book

As I look back, bearing in mind there have been numerous encounters, and I’m a regular traveller of imaginal journeys and meditation even today – I lead individuals in such imaginal journeys; both kataphatic and apophatic, but more of that soon – I often wonder, when time goes by so quickly in those sessions, what is actually happening? And at what level? Physical? Soulish? Spiritual? But, it doesn’t really matter. An encounter is an encounter, and it is beyond reason. It isn’t irrational, but ‘arational’. It is above and beyond, and it is good.

The benefits of such encounters, of which the accounts above are but one type, and there are many, are transformational. I would encourage you to undertake such imaginal journeys to encounter, and to be alone with the Alone.

 

As Above, So Below. Thoughts On Status & Responsibility At The StarDisc

I’m in Derbyshire, England for a few days, and soon to have the privilege of leading a baby-naming ceremony. But, I’ve ‘built’ some rest and relaxation into this trip, which means exploration and adventure, and who knows what might happen. 

Right now I’m at the heart of Stoney Wood…known as the Gateway to the stars. It’s been raining on and off for the last two hours, there’s a wind blowing and the clouds are grey and low, and I’m now venturing ever closer to the StarDisc. My first encounter. 

The StarDisc is a wonderful work of art that is arresting, intriguing and profound. It is a 21st century stone circle and celestial amphitheatre created by Aidan Shingler. It spans 12 meters (40 ft). Carved into black granite floor is a star chart that mirrors the night sky of the northern hemisphere. The surface of the stone circle is inscribed with the constellations and their names, and also a depiction of the Milky Way. Around the perimeter of the StarDisc are twelve silver granite blocks which are seats denoting the months of the year.

I’m gazing at the StarDisc, standing on it, looking down. I can seen the stars etched into the black granite floor, but with a light coating of rain on the surface I can see the reflection of the clouds (and little patches of blue sky, now) as I look down. As above, so below. 

The fact that we can glimpse and in a small way comprehend something of the universe declares the paradox that we find ourselves in when we think about our status in the universe. We are part of the universe, built of clay (or carbon) and yet we have the ability to see the universe. Are we not the universe looking at the universe?

The tallest, and heaviest,  and richest, and grandest of us pale into seeming insignificance when measured against the vast distances involved in the planet we inhabit. Becoming less significant as we think about the solar system in which out planet could go unnoticed. Then consider the millions of solar systems, many of them larger than this one, in the galaxy, and then – yes, mae mwy, there’s more – and the millions of galaxies, some of them ‘super galaxies’ that populate the known universe. And now scientist suspect other universes. We’re small. And our status matches this? A paradox.

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving, how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension, how like a god!’ Hamlet, William Shakespeare 

It’s a paradox because although we are seemingly small and seemingly insignificant we are here because That Which Is Bigger Than Us has called us into be, chosen us from before the beginning of time. You being here is not an accident. Seemingly small, we are bigger. Seemingly insignificant, we are significant. We are loved by The Source of All.

As I look down at that black granite floor I cannot but be in awe that we, humankind, have the ability to ask questions, posit answers, and gain wisdom. We are sufficiently mature to know that we know a lot, and yet know that we need to be in a state of humility for there is much more to know. Like children.

You are…’the lifter up of my head’. Psalm 3.3b, The Book.

As I look down, in the rain-soaked reflection I am seeing what is above – not just the star fields of the night-sky etched into the granite floor which is awesome, but the clouds and sky reflected to. In moments of quietness and solitude, in meditative states, and when humble we ‘see’ more. As below, so above. 

So in our ‘small-bigness’ what are we to do? 

We each have a responsibility. That maybe a word that some shun, but just as a parent has a responsibility and knows the joys of parenthood, so we have a responsibility and can realise the joy of being chosen for a specific task (or many) in ministering to others.

But, the ego can ‘kick in’ here. There are some who would say that much training is needed, and that may be so. But, the ‘trap’ seems to be to remain in a perpetual state of training for the ‘big day’ when you and I will be ‘ready’. The ‘big day’ never arrives. We then never mature, and others will never hear your words or be ministered to by your actions. Ofcourse, some training is needed, and the alternative ‘trap’ is to eschew any training at all and just leap into ministering without much foundation. Balance is needed.

I believe in trying to get a balance between individual freedom on the one hand and social responsibility on the other. Chris Patten

As I look at the StarDisc, which has a Stone Henge feel about it I cannot but feel humbled that those who built Stone Henge and those that worshipped there some time later, though they never left written records, did leave us a legacy, from which we can benefit, because they took their responsibility seriously. They studied and trained, and gave out – they ministered in thought, word and deed. And I dare say, some of them sometimes got it wrong. But I do believe that That Which Is Bigger Than Us understands. Better some study and then ministry, than all study and no ministry, or all ministry and no study.

What is our responsibility? No answer can be given here to the level of maturity we each find ourselves at, or need. Some may need much training before ministering (however we define that word, or believe our calling to be). But, some practical outwork is always needed so that study isn’t all…well, study. Some, may know that they have only studied and for such a long time that ministry is long overdue. Balance is needed. 

And, perhaps that is where the Anamcara, the ‘soul friend’, is useful. The Anamcara, and it could be a good friend acting in that role or it could be a latter-day Anamcara, is someone who has a mature knowledge of spiritual matters, is grounded, and who has your best interest at heart. They will tell you honestly your surrender ‘walk’. Do you have an Anamcara?

In everyone’s life, there is great need for an anam cara, a soul friend. In this love, you are understood as you are without mask or pretension. The superficial and functional lies and half-truths of social acquaintance fall away, you can be as you really are. Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious. John O’Donohue

I’m still standing on the StarDisc, the rain is coming back and it’s time for me to go. But what of you? Is your current study-ministry ratio in proportion? Do you have an Anamcara?  It’s now pouring with rain, and as much as I like the rain, I’m moving, somewhat fast, towards shelter. My last thought as I seek shelter under a huge old tree, is, bearing in mind that each of us are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses down the ages, what are our priorities in ministering to others? What is our ministry? What is our calling? What is our responsibility to each other?

These questions, the answers of which will differ for each one of us,  are so important when ministering as a Celt, Druid, Christian etc, but they need to be asked, even if the answers are elusive.

It’s time to move on.

 

[Unable to upload ‘header’ photo as I’m ‘on the road’ and current computer program won’t allow photo uploading.]