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?

 

Ephemera: Plough Monday And Celebrating Nature

20190101 PLOUGH MONDAY AND CELEBRATING NATURE EPHEMERA

It is good to heed old customs, or at least be aware of them, as ancient wisdom from yesteryear can have a beneficial impact on each of us today. One of my favourite customs is the tradition of Plough Monday.

Here’s an outline of the Plough Monday tradition, its history, and its relevance to us today, and here’s  a way of celebrating it, wherever you are, in a simple and meaningful way.

Plough Monday was usually celebrated on the first Monday after Epiphany (6 January), and in some areas its observance continues, and so Plough Monday this year is on Monday, 7 January 2019. Are you ready?

References to Plough Monday go back more than six hundred years in the UK to the Christian medieval period, and the event marks the start of the agricultural year, the resumption of farm work after the Christmas period, and the looking forward to springtime.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

W H Davies

By the 1400s, the event was dedicated to raising funds for local parishes — boundaries of which were determined by church location. Groups of qualified ploughmen formed plough guilds which had a plough light, continually lit in the local church, as a way of asking for God’s blessings on the fields, in much the same way we might light a candle or votive light for a special intention in church today. Part of the funds then collected on Plough Monday were used to help to keep these candles lit throughout the year. Some priests also blessed ploughs on that day.

However, there are some who view the event as a continuance of some earlier pre-Christian ritual marking the end winter (or a celebrating of the winter solstice) and the slow march of time to lighter evenings and warmer days, and it was celebrated to ensure much-needed agricultural fecundity.

Later, Plough Monday was an opportunity for farm workers (never adequately paid, then) to seek an extra income – by putting on plays for a fee, organising molly dancers to dance as a hat went onlookers around for donations, or by dressing someone as a ‘straw bear’ and who would be paraded through the streets as money was collected from passers-by.

No one knows when that latter tradition started but a newspaper report in 1882 wrote: ‘…he was then taken around the town to entertain by his frantic and clumsy gestures the good folk who had on the previous day subscribed to the rustics, a spread of beer, tobacco and beef.’

I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

Mary Oliver. Sleeping In The Forest

The straw bear event eventually died out in many areas, but was revived in 1980 in Whittlesea/Whittlesey, near Peterborough in England, and still continues. [More details here.]

And, over the last few years Churches and other faith groups have (re-)discovered the necessity and benefit of taking time to ponder upon the earth and its resources, our use of them, to amend our ways where we have been negligent of the Earth’s bounty, and/or to give gratitude, something which Pagans, Celts, Druids and other have been faithfully celebrating, unbroken. A service was held at Thaxted Church a couple of years ago to the end. [See here.]

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Right Reverend Stephen Cottrell, said: ‘Plough Sunday offers an opportunity to reflect on our relationship with the earth itself, a relationship we too easily take for granted – but also to pray for all those who work on the land and to give thanks for God’s provision.’

And so, what can we do?

I think the answer is some kind of small ritual for thanksgiving (or of repentance for the misuse of the Earth’s resources but finishing on a positive by giving thanks) and take our example from that ancient tradition of the plough light.

Perhaps on Plough Monday (7 January 2019) we might light a candle as we sit down to our evening meal, spend a minute in silent meditation, and then enjoy a hearty meal with gratitude. Ofcourse, it doesn’t have to be meal orientated. You might like to light a candle and say a verbal prayer, or take time to verbalise your gratitude to the Source of All, or recite some apt poetry (and two poems are indented above that you might like to use).

How you celebrate the event is many and varied, but there is something wonderful in that timeless continuity of lighting a plough light (candle) if only for twenty minutes or so, knowing that others have done so down the ages. And, ofcourse in some mysterious way we can be blessed by entering into that candle-light ritual, and ritual opens up a liminal doorway to the Other, to potential, to empowerment, and more, and takes us ‘out’ of ‘mechanical time’ into the sacred.

Wishing you a blessed Plough Monday, wherever you are.

Tadhg

 

[The header photo of the straw bear is used by kind permission of Kev747 at en.wikipedia]

 

 

 

The Teacher And The Question About Dawn: Tales From The Hearth

20181227 THE TEACHER AND THE DAWN TALES FROM THE HEARTH

There was a time when it used to snow heavily at Christmastime in north Wales, and there was a time when I would spend hours and hours playing with friends in the snow: tobogganing on an old tea tray (when really small), making and throwing snowballs, making a snowman, even making an igloo using old ice cream tubs as containers to form ‘snow bricks’.

Ofcourse, that was many years ago when I was a wee lad, and seeing on tv, recently, some scenes of the Sami people in the northern parts of snow-laden Finland, wonderful boyhood memories came flooding back.

On one occasion, as a wee lad, I had been playing outside for some hours, and though it was snowing and so wonderful for me, I was just a little bored on that occasion as all my friends weren’t allowed out to play. Nevertheless, I tried to keep myself occupied, loved the snow and the way on those oh-so-snowy days in north Wales the scenery would be bright white with snow, and the clouds would be a gloomy, dark, brooding grey – the ground was brighter than the sky and I loved it.

But, eventually, being alone, I got bored.

‘Look at the sky. We are not alone. The whole universe is friendly to us and conspires only to give the best to those who dream and work’. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

Going through the boot-room of my grandparent’s cottage (a small room for depositing of earth or snow-covered boots) I entered into a wonderfully warm and baking-fragranced kitchen, and ambled on into the living room, and settled by a roaring fire in the hearth, and beside my grandmother’s rocking chair.

Thawing out, the cup of hot chocolate my grandad had made and given me went down a treat. My grandmother asked about my time outside and I let off a series of complaints, centring on the fact that life wasn’t fair, that I had wanted to play with friends but they weren’t allowed out, that they were probably having a better time than me, and… and… and, so it went on. I really did feel sorry for myself as though I was the only person in the whole world that had a reason to be upset.

’The wound is the place where the light enters you’. Rumi

My grandmother was a patient woman, listened intently to me as she rocked in the rocking chair. Occasionally she would stoke the fire in the hearth. She waited for me to stop complaining. I did eventually stopped, and then she spoke.

Lovingly, and with the most splendid of valley accents she quietly said, ‘You know, Tadgh, when you think you’re alone, you’re actually surrounded by lots of things, if you only give yourself time to look and listen. And, when you think your friends are so different. It’s then that you, and it applies to all us, need to know that we have a lot in common, that were very much alike, and more. And, once we realise that, we’re never really alone.’

’If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude’. Maya Angelou

Curled up, beside her rocking chair, I remember her saying, ‘Let me tell you a story’. With that, my attention was captivated as my grandmother told the most wonderful, ‘treasure-laden’ storyteller, who told stories that both entertained and enlightened.

‘A teacher once asked his pupils, ‘How do you know when the first moment of dawn has arrived?’. After a long silence, one of the pupils said, ‘When you can tell the difference between a dog and a sheep’. The teacher shook his head, tutted, and walked about the classroom hoping that another pupil would try to answer the question.

Another pupil chimed in, and said, ‘ When you can tell the difference between an olive tree and a fig tree’. Again the teacher shook his head, tutted, and walked about the classroom hoping that yet another pupil would try to answer the question. There were no more answers.

At this point my grandmother asked, ‘And what would you have said, dear Tadhg?. Open-mouthed and wide-eyed, engrossed in the story, as a wee lad, I could only but shake my head. An unvoiced unknowing was ‘loudly’ expressed!

She continued. ‘Well’, she said, ‘the teacher waited for a minute or two and then said, ‘You know the first moment when dawn has arrived when you look into the eyes of another human being and see yourself!’.

At this point my grandmother quickly chuckled to herself, ruffled my hair as I had a nonplussed expression on my face, and quietly rocked in her rock chair giving no further explanation.

I had a little understanding of the meaning of the story, but it wasn’t until many years later that the true import of the story made sense.

We are not really that different at all. On one level we all have the same needs and aspirations, all respond similarly to hurt and pain, and on a deep and very real level we can never be alone, because we really are one!

‘You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.’ Rumi

We are one. That was the ‘treasure’ contained deep within my grandmother’s story and which ‘dawns’ on those who are aware (which, like good, old, wisdom stories was ‘borrowed’ by her and others, and had been told to countless generations around the world in one form or another).

We are never truly alone. We are one. Indeed, everything is connected into one cosmic web.

‘The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these…you did for me’. Matthew 25:40, The Book

 

Lights Will Guide You Home [Revisited]. Thoughts & Poem Of Encouragement.

20181220 LIGHTS WILL GUIDE YOU HOME

Do you ever have the feeling that at some point in time, about a year or two ago, you woke up in an alternative universe? That the one you’re in now, wasn’t the one you were born into and remember? I know psychologists tell us that we all feel that way from time to time, but doesn’t it feel more evident, and more real, and more concerning with recent events?

‘We are so privileged to gather in moments like this when so much of the world is plunged in darkness and chaos. So, ring the bells…’ Leonard Cohen, ‘Anthem’ (preamble).

What is the answer?

There are those who want to cause confusion. Be encouraged to seek the truth and so avoid confusion. There are those who would encourage hate. Repay hate, with love, it says somewhere. Some would instil fear in you. The answer to that comes from Hafiz, who seven hundred years ago, write: ‘Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.’ Others would seek to provoke you with bad speech in the hope that you would stoop low. To those who would want you to be stressed, find ways to unwind and be at peace.

‘There is no fear when you choose love. The more you choose love, the more love is in your life. It gets easier and easier’. Melissa Etheridge

It is as if darkness grows stronger. It is true the days grow darker, but we know that is seasonal, and will change at the time of the winter equinox. But, what of spiritual darkness? Maybe, the darkness and chaos we witness in the world today are but the birth pangs of something altogether different, and altogether bigger than what we’ve experienced before….if we continue in our beliefs.

I do believe in the darkness many witnesses, those who are really aware will ‘see’ the good that is happening, and that a myriad of lights shine, and these are faithful Druid’s, Pagans, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others who care about mercy, justice and worshipping That Which Is Bigger Than Us. To such people, yourself included, it may be an encouragement to (more) prayer, meditation, sending light and love, to work that out in our daily lives in large ways and small, in the spectacular and in small ways – each way is just as important and just as effective.

‘It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light’. Aristotle

In the darkness, the light, the Light burns even brighter, and I truly believe you can ‘add’ to it by resisting the darkness and ‘dark ways’, and by responding to the Light in the positive ways to which you are called. In a time of darkness, lights, the Light will guide you, very apt at this time of year, with Christmas and the winter solstice almost upon us.

With that in mind, some time ago I wrote a poem and I’ve ‘pasted’ it below, and maybe this is part of my ‘adding’ to the light (written below, to encourage you to do, and ‘be’ in the Light), and which I feel is, perhaps, even more relevant now.

Is there something missing,
and you feel that there’s nobody listening?
Could it be that everyone of us is scared,
everyone of us is hurt?
Oh, I think I landed in a world I hadn’t seen,
where a wicked and wild wind blew down the doors to let me in.

Look up, I look up at night,
planets are moving at the speed of light.
I hear you come nearer,
I hear you, but I don’t understand.
In your eyes, I drifted away,
and in your arms I just want to sway.

Oh, I think I landed where there are miracles at work.
Time just floated away.
Still I call it magic, a simple plot but I know one day,
good things are coming our way.
Christmas lights, light up the street.
Light up the fireworks in me.

Oh, angel sent from up above.
You know you make my world light up.
Yes, lights will guide you home.

You’re part of the human race,
and, all of the stars and the outer space,
are part of a bigger plan.
If you’d only, if you’d only say yes.
Under this pressure, under this weight we are diamonds taking shape.
Still, I call it magic.
You’re such a precious jewel.

This poem falls within the ‘Found poetry’ genre. According to Wikipedia it ‘is a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry (a literary equivalent of a collage) by making changes in spacing and lines, or by adding or deleting text, thus imparting new meaning.’ The abovementioned poem uses ‘borrowed’ phrases from Coldplay song lyrics.

 

Liturgy For Alban Arthan: Winter Solstice & Christmas 2018

20181216 LITURGY FOR ALBAN ARTHAN 2018 A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Your words become your world.’ Nadeem Kazi

 

I’ll Show You Something To Make You Change Your Mind: Perception

20181211 ILL SHOW YOU SOMETHING TO MAKE YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND PERCEPTION

I’m still in London and it looks as though I’ll be here until after Christmas, when I’ll then journey back to Wales for a while. It’s easy to understand Wales as the land of ‘myth and magic’, for that is was it is, but what of London?

The world exists as you perceive it.
It is not what you see, it is how you see it.
It is not what you hear, but how you hear it.
It is not what you feel, but how you feel it.

Rumi

London is a bustling modern city of more than eight million people, a ‘powerhouse’ of activity and trade and modern buildings that reach to the sky. But, there’s more.

Look deeper, and it too is a place of ‘myth and magic’, and I do believe wherever you are, if you scratch below the surface (metaphorically) there is more there than meets the eye.

Look at it one way, here, and you see a twenty-first century, modern city, perceive it afresh and you also see, almost seemingly superimposed onto it, a place that is altogether otherworldly of which many people only get glimpses that are fleeting and easily ‘drowned out’ by modern life. But, not you.

Let me take you by the hand and
Lead you through the streets of London
I’ll show you something to make you change your mind.

‘Streets of London’, song, 1969, Ralph McTell

‘Myth and magic’ all around us, around me, around you wherever you are? Take for instance, the story of Bran. Bran the Blessed, sometimes called Bendigeidfran or Brân Fendigaidd, which means ‘ Blessed Raven’ in Welsh). He was a giant, a king of renown in Britain as recorded in the Mabinogion.

In one of the many battles mentioned in the Mabinogion, only seven men survived the battle, and they are told by a mortally wounded Bran to cut off his head. The story goes that they did this and (as sometimes happens in these ancient stories) Bran’s head continued to speak for some considerable time. Once silent, and some time later, the seven men take Bran’s head to (what is thought to be Grasshold Island, near Dyded in Wales).

There, they and the head remain for eighty years without perceiving the passage of time. They are later instructed to take Bran’s head to London, to White Hill where it is to be buried. Once there, they buried Bran’s head, and the thought was then, that because of that act the Kingdom would be protected against all foreign invasions and the country would remain and not fall. This is a wonderful story full of great meaning, imagery, ‘myth and magic’.

‘We are not makers of history. We are made by history’. Martin Luther King Jr

But, what of modern London?

Nearby is Subways (food), the Gourmet Burger Kitchen (food), and Wagamama’s (always my favourite food places, but I really don’t always have food on my mind) and there are many offices, tower blocks, businesses; and nestling along the bank of the River Thames on one side, the approach to Tower Bridge, Petty Wales, and the A3211 road and Tower Hill underground station on the other sides is the site of the Tower of London. This is one of my favourite historical sites in London.

That site, surrounded by ancient buildings and with other notable places within such as the Executioner’s Mound, the Torture Room and Traitors Gate, has, at its centre the actual Tower of London complex. The significant building there, built on a small hill (or mound) is the White Tower, built is the early 1080’s.

Could the White Tower be built on White Hill as mentioned in the Mabinogion? I like to think so, that there is a connection.

There is a long superstition, and if you’ve visited the Tower of London then the Yeoman Warders who guard the Tower will also tell you, that the ravens that hop around the grounds are important. Whilst they remain within the grounds of the Tower of London the Kingdom would be protected against all foreign invasions and the country would remain and not fall. Does that sound familiar?

Could the promise of protection for the realm be connected to Bran’s head and that ancient story, and the promise made when it was buried? I like to think so, especially as Bran’s proper name of Bendigeidfran or Brân Fendigaidd, means ‘Blessed Raven’ in Welsh.

There is a connection.

Brans head, I believe is buried there, the promise was given then, and still operates, perhaps conditional on the ravens, a reminder of Bran, remaining in the grounds of the Tower of London. Fortunately, the ravens have never left the Tower of London by their on accord and never will! Thus,  the realm is safe. There is some irony here.

Again, those who have visited the Tower of London and have heard the Yeoman Warders recite the myth will know that the wings of the ravens are ‘clipped’. The birds can hop, but not fly, and because of that the promise of the country’s safety is guaranteed against any foreign invasion.

‘It is above all by the imagination that we achieve perception and compassion and hope’. Ursula. Le Guin

And, so I’m still in London, a place of unbridled myth and magic, a place where another realm seems to operate unknown the many business workers that travel in daily, and I suspect that that is the same wherever you are, if you ‘scratch below the surface’, perceive afresh and suspend that twenty-first materialism that so easily clings to us and blinds us. If we don’t look anew we will only see the same mundane view; but if we look anew, perhaps using our imagination, then a whole new world, a world of both the physical and spiritual opens up, for, there is really more, oh so much more around us than meets the eye.

‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.’ Matthew 7.7, The Book

Look around your locality. What do you see? Now take another look. Use your imagination. Take your time. Pause. Relax. Look deeper, and then deeper still. What do you really see?

 

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

 

Ready For Christmas/Winter Solstice: Thoughts For The Discerning

20181202 READY FOR CHRISTMAS READY FOR WINTER SOLSTICE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As regards the blessing, how about this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(An old, traditional Irish blessing)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas carols by Libera [here].

Christmas carols by The Piano Guys [here]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Star Light, Star Bright: Celtic/Druidic Astronomy For All

20181130 STAR LIGHT STAR BRIGHT

I have always been interested in looking up and the night sky, and pondering. Don’t you find it fascinating and both humbling to look up at the vast numbers of stars in the night sky and see a ‘sea’ that goes on (seemingly) for ever? What is out there? Why does it exist? How is it that we can comprehend it (albeit in part)? What is our purpose? From the time of being a wee lad, I’ve looked up and wondered.

‘Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust,’ said Lawrence Krauss.

Look up!

It was a cold 1st December evening, and I was about seven years old (and so this is a recollection of some years ago). My dad had encouraged me, a budding amateur astronomer even at that tender age, by buying me a telescope the Christmas before, and I treasured it.

And, peering out of the window of my grandmother’s cottage on a freezing, cloudless, clear December evening I couldn’t wait to go outdoors and gaze at the night sky once more.

And, once outside, between them, my grandmother and dad, on that night like many others, would point out the constellations, significant stars and the planets, and I was in awe. They knew so much. They shared so much. And, both of them would turn the event into something that was educational, challenging and fun.

‘Look up there, dear Tadhg, what do you see?’, my grandmother said pointing to the north-eastern horizon. I can remember laughing and saying, ‘I can see ten bright stars and they look like the letter ‘H’, like rugby goal posts’. I was always encouraged to use my imagination.

‘Exactly,’ my dad said, ‘but to some people, to the ancient Greeks, that constellation looked like to men fighting. It’s called Gemini which means ‘twins’. And. as I looked they did look like two ‘stick’ men side by side’, fighting.

Ofcourse, others such as ancient Druids used their imagination and saw something slightly different’, my grandmother said.

She went on to explain that when those ancients looked up at those stats they saw Gwyn and Gwyrthur, the sons of Greidawl who seek the hand of the lady in red, Creudyladd. I looked, and they did look like characters that the ancient Celts talked of.

Look up! Be encouraged to look up at the night sky. If you’re in the northern hemisphere then the constellation Gemini (or Gwyn and Gwyrthur) rise above the north-east horizon at dusk, climbing high in the south-eastern sky ay midnight, during this time of the year.

Interesting isn’t it, that regardless of our faith background and ‘tribe’ we are comfortable with Greek myth, from an astronomical point of view when naming constellations, and yet to many, local and ancient myth seem unfamiliar and odd, and perhaps to a minority to be resisted.

‘Now check that one, son’, my dad asked me as he pointed to another constellation. I knew the constellation he was pointing to. It was Orion. ‘Use your imagination’, he said. And I did. I remember laughing and saying it looked like a butterfly, or a bow tie (not that I had many occasions to wear a bow tie on many occasions as a wee lad – but there were one of two weddings where I did), but I knew it was Orion the Hunter. My dad continued, ‘..and to the ancient Celts and Druids that constellation is Herne the Hunter’.

Many years later I was to find out, born to Euryale, a Gorgon, and Poseidon/Neptune, the god of the sea in the Graeco-Roman tradition.

Did you know, that the earliest depiction of the constellation of Orion is prehistoric? On a mammoth ivory carving found in the Ach valley in West Germany there is the outline of the constellation dating back about thirty-five thousand years ago.

‘The heavens declare the glory of God..’ Psalm 19.1a, The Book

Did you know that Herne is, allegedly, a resident spectre and keeper of Windsor Forest in Berkshire, England, whose most notable feature is that he has antlers. It is said he often appears riding on horseback, accompanied by other wild huntsman.

Look up! If you’re interested in seeing the Constellation Orion (or Herne the hunter), at this time of the year, it will rise above the southern horizon at about 8pm (London time) and climb higher in the south-eastern sky as the night passes. You can’t miss that constellation’s brightest star (infact it’s the brightest star in the night sky), Sirius, which is four hundred and sixty-three light years away. So, light leaving there in AD1555 would only now just be reaching your eyes as you look at it.

It was getting even colder, and I think my grandmother and dad were eager to get me indoors and in the warm, but (even then) my interest was piqued and I could be quite persuasive, and I persuaded them to explore just one more constellation.

This time I pointed out a group of stars unknown to me. My dad explained that that constellation was Perseus. He said that he was one of the great heroes of classical mythology, the son of Jupiter and Danae, and was best known for his killing of the Gorgon Medusa. My grandmother explained, ‘Or, to the Welsh, Perseus was really the hero Llew Llaw Gyffes, who was the child of Arianrhod. He was killed but, at the moment of his death, his soul transformed into an eagle, and he still appears in the night sky for all to see’.

It was now freezing cold, and so we all headed back home, to listen to some more stories by my grandmother at the hearth.

Look up! Persus or Llew Llaw Gyffes can be seen in high in the night sky, now, in the east.

My love for the night sky still persists, and I would encourage you to pause and look up at the night sky…and be in awe. There is great wonderment there, myth, ‘magic’ and great understanding. If we only’ stop and stare’, as the late Welsh poet W H Davies penned. ‘Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.’ Sarah Williams.