Greetings: Power & Praxis In Social Distancing

GREETINGS POWER AND PRAXIS IN SOCIAL DISTANCING

‘The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost…’ Galadriel’s voice, The Lord of The Rings, J R R Tolkein

And so the priest raised a hand and conferred a blessing, sometimes both hands were raised; the parent or guardian would say goodbye to their small child by bringing the palm of their hands to their mouth, bring that palm forward just a little and blow, to blow a kiss in the child’s direction; my grandmother would pretend to put her hand too close to the open fire and frown, blow her hand as she shakes it as if it is burnt. Such is the power of this type of symbolism.

From the small sample of the three actions of hand symbolism mentioned there is the conferment of a blessing, the issuing forth of love, and a warning instruction to be careful. Symbolism – we take it for granted but it is powerful as a symbol, but so much more. There is power there!

In the clearing, in ancient England the Druid stood next to the table, the altar, and there to one side was the cauldron. Opinions differ to its usage, but some believe it could have been used to burn fragrant herbs to be used as an offering. Smoke and a wonderful fragrance would fill the air and denote that this was a pure place, a special time, a liminal place, a ‘thin place’. Interestingly, the tribes of the First Nations of America would, at that time, be using their smudge sticks, ‘saging’, in a similar way. And, yes in Scotland similar practices would take place, except there it was (and still is) called saining. Great symbolic ideas seem to come alive, move and are adapted by many, and they gain from it. We gain from it.

Why concern ourselves with symbolism now?

As you know I do like to hug, or at more formal settings I like a handshake, or a combination of the two which is known as the pound hug, the man-hug, the dude hug or one-armed hug. None of which can be done today, and for some months to come, because of the coronavirus and the need for no physical contact.

‘We are symbols, and inhabit symbols.’ Ralph Waldo Emerson

So, what do we do? The world is changed. How do we use different hand and other  symbolism and actions to greet others?

Well, over the past few weeks there have been a variety of new options for greetings. The elbow to elbow tap is one, and some of the friendliest of people would do that with their right elbow to another’s right below, and then left to left. Others would tap their right foot against another’s right foot, and then left to left. And some combined the two so it became a little, comical dance. None of which can be done today and for some months to come because of the coronavirus, and the need to keep some social distancing (which, here in the UK is 2 metres apart, at least).

So, what do we do?

Below, are some fascinating alternatives from around the world, from ancient cultures and new, full of symbolism and power. There are many which can be used and adapted, imaginatively, to greet other people in this non-tactile period and so confer respect and act as a greeting from a distance (unless we’re in ‘lockdown’ in which case we shouldn’t be meeting people)… but these suggested symbolic greetings can also be used when communicating by video links such as FaceTime. Time to change. Time to experiment.

’Symbols are the imaginative signposts of life.’ Margot Asquith

Hand over the heart. The Bellamy salute was used in America, especially in respect to the flag when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. It meant extending and  lifting the right arm just above the horizontal. Some may now think of this as the salute by Nazis and right-wing extremists. Not so, until the rise of Nazism in the second world war. But, around 1942 the Bellamy salute was superseded by placing the right-hand palm on the left side of the chest and over the heart to show love and respect to the American flag and for which is stands. What a wonderful gesture, and a good gesture to others we meet (online) to do the same as an initial greeting as we speak words of greeting, too. A heartfelt gesture?

For some, a variation of this might be a double tap over the heart with an open palm, to denote greeting. A heartbeat, perhaps, denoting the blessing of life? I think a double tap with a closed fist is acceptable too.

Bowing or head-nod. How many times have you crossed a busy street with bags of shopping, whilst a car ddriver has stopped to let you across. You say ‘thankyou’ but it’s unlikely the driver will hear you, and so in all probability you do a slight nod of the head in the drivers direction. That visual  ‘thankyou’ can also be used as a greeting. As is the case in countries such as Japan though the nod may be a bow from the hip upwards. That may be too formal for many of us, but the slight, brief head nod as a greeting seems special enough to be used.

It is customary when meeting the Queen of Great Britian for women to curtsey and for men to do that slight head-nod as she passes by. If you’ve seen the Queen move along a line of dignitaries you will see a myriad of curtsies and head-nods like pistons in and engine. However, there is a story, allegedly true, that Dennis Skinner, an MP (then) and not one for giving to respecting the office of the monarch, was determined not to head-nod as she passed by. It is said that the Queen, who occasionally stops to talk to some of the line of dignitaries, and having spied Skinner in the line, deliberately stopped to speak to him in the quietest of voices. His immediate and reflex action was to move his head closer to the Queen’s to catch her words to give a reply. Yes, the Queen in that one brief moment gained a head-nod of respect from Skinner even without him knowing it. Allegedly.

Hand wave. In British Sing Language the typical greeting of ‘hello’ is a simple wave of the hand. With the elbow bent and the hand brought up to shoulder level, you simply wave your hand. I believe in American Sign Language the right hand is brought up to the side of the head and the action resembles a military salute. Perhaps done with less formality and covering a shorter distance before the salute ends.

’As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelite were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalakites were winning…. When Moses’ hands grew heavy…then Aaron and Hur held his hands up, one on each side’. Exodus 17:11-12 part, The Book

The ‘v’ sign. Popularised by the hippie movement of the 1960’s the ‘peace’ sign, which can be used in these weird times, consisted of making the letter ‘v’ with the index and middle fingers, the other digits brought together, and with the palm of the hand facing the recipient. Ofcourse, many will now that to do this sign with the back of the hand to the recipient is a grave insult. Odd that Winston Churchill, the UK’s wartime Prime Minister used it that way when addressing crowds of supporters and at rallying speeches throughout the country! Perhaps, intentional and directed at the enemy at the time?

The ‘vulcan’ salute is a novel one. One your right hand bring all your fingers together, thumb apart, and then separate the middle finger from the ring finger. You can say or mouth the words ‘Live long and prosper’, or even say that in the Vulcan language and then it would be, ‘dif-tor heh smusma’, but that may be taking things too far.

Used copiously by Leonard Nimoy who played the Vulcan known as Spock in Star Trek, and by many others since, its origin comes from ancient Hebrew. At a certain part in their ritual the Jewish Kohanim, the priest, would raise his right hand and make that sign. It resembles the Hebrew letter ‘shin’ which has three upward strokes and refers to the deity.

Double-handed heart. Cupping the fingers of the left hand to form the shape of a ‘c’, and doing the same cupping action with the right hand and bringing them together forms a heart shape. Maybe best used for those you know affectionately, rather then the CEO of your company during a teleconferencing session. To ‘add’ power to that symbolism the hand ‘heart’ can be moved several inches toward the recipient to show the act of giving.

‘I think that a symbolism is attached to particular images, becomes marked in the unconscious. To exorcise it, to rearrange it, to reshape it, to make it my own, involves unearthing it, describing it, deploying it in form, and then rearranging it [again].’ Sarah Charlesworth.

Namaste. This is one of my favorites and is used by many throughout the world and in the west. It’s simply bringing both the palms of your hands together, in front of your chest, usually with arms as close to horizontal as appropriate, coupled with the spoken word ‘namaste’ (pronounced nam-ass-stay), which means something like, ‘I bow to the divine within you’.

However, there are some symbolic actions of greetings that might not quite make assimilation into western thought. In one ancient Asian country, a ninth century cruel king had a black tongue. Monks, after he died, would poke out their tongues to greet people to show they were not the reincarnation of that callous black-tongued king, and that action of greeting passed onto the people, even today.

‘What I want to tell people is that you can mix the culture a little bit and it’s not always appropriation.’ Jain

I hope the abovementioned has given you a passion to take what is out there and adapt it appropriately to your need and sensitively depending on its origin. For thousands of years action and symbolism has passed from one tribe to another, one country to another, and each have shared their beliefs and actions, which , in turn, have ‘evolved’ over time. And, we are the better for it.  In the tough days ahead of temporary self-isolation and ‘lockdown’ because of the coronavirus we need a new ‘alphabet’ of symbolic greeting, and I do believe that societal journey, a remarkable one, has only just begun.

 

The Caim Ritual: When Healing Is Needed: Coronavirus

THE CAIM CORONAVIRUS ACTION

Many are sick. The virus is spreading. Here is something you might consider doing. Ritual! Or, more specifically a caim ritual adapted to the need of the moment.

We are all aware of the coronavirus and the effect is it having. A few have written to me and asked for a simple ritual that can be conducted, in requesting a healing of people and the planet. The following ritual was conducted by me a few days ago, and you might like to use it in your ritual, quiet time or meditation time as a one-off or periodically. Do adapt it, as needed.

Introduction To The Caim: What Is It?

The caim is a profound ‘circling’ prayer used by ancient Celts and others over several millennia. It is still used by the discerning and those who know its power. The word caim is gaelic, and it has to do with ‘protection’ or ‘sanctuary’; it is derived from the root word meaning ‘circle’, to bend, or turn, and this becomes apparent when you start forming the caim. It is pronounced like the word ‘came’.

The rudiments of forming a caim are known to us, but much detail was not recorded or has been lost in the mists of time, but I like to think it was the former, and that those who used the caim of old, didn’t want to legislate the minutiae of what should be done.

The caim can be adapted, and has been adapted for the healing ritual that follows.

The Caim For World Healing In The Light Of The Coronavirus

You might like to use the following caim, either with your grove, church or group, or by yourself. It is a simple ritual that should take no more that ten minutes or so, and can be a stand-alone ritual or incorporated in a larger ritual you might have. It was used by me and a small group a few days ago.

The Caim Ritual 1: Preparation

It is preferable to have a time of entering into sacred space, and there are many ways of doing this – some have been mentioned in previous articles, but sitting quietly, meditating, perhaps lighting a candle is the simplest way. It marks an entering into liminal and sacred space and time – a place of power.

The Caim Ritual 2: The Threefold Prayer

On the central table lay a map of the world. Those present, as we all looked at the map, focussed on the plight of people affected by the coronavirus and its spread.

As the group remained seated, at a pre-arranged time designated people stood, moved nearer the table, to the space around it, and, one by one, spoke the following:

‘Let us think about all those at risk of catching the coronavirus, the general public and public service workers, that the virus may be eradicated’, someone said. We thought on this, and for a full minute we meditated in silence and power.

And, then:

‘Let pray and send good-thoughts to those who are have the coronavirus, that they may be quickly restored to full health’, someone said. We thought on this, and for a full minute we meditated in silence and power.

And, then:

‘Let us remember those who have passed-on, those now in the Place of Peace, acknowledging and honouring their passing-on, and let us remember those grieving at this time’, someone said. We thought on this, and for a full minute we meditated in silence and power.

The Caim 3: The Quarters

And, then I then moved to central table.

After a minute or so, I encouraged all to face south, the place of fire. I said, ‘Let us lift up holy hands to the south, and seek the healing purity of fire at this time’. And, all faced south and raised their hands. Some repeated the words, whilst others said ‘amen’, or ‘awen’ or their word of affirmation.

After, a minute or so I encouraged everyone to stand.

After a minute or so, I encouraged all to face west, the place of water. I said, ‘Let us lift up holy hands to the west, and seek the healing freshness of water at this time’. And, all faced west and raised their hands. Some repeated the words, whilst others said ‘amen’, or ‘awen’ or their word of affirmation.

And, then:

After a minute or so, I encouraged all to face north, the place of earth/soil. I said, ‘Let us lift up holy hands to the north, and seek the healing abundance of the soil at this time’. And, all faced north and raised their hands. Some repeated the words, whilst others said ‘amen’, or ‘awen’ or their word of affirmation.

And, then:

After a minute or so, I encouraged all to face east, the place of the wind. I said, ‘Let us lift up holy hands to the east, and seek the healing breath of the mighty wind of (the) Spirit’. And, all faced east and raised their hands. Some repeated the words, whilst others said ‘amen’, or ‘awen’ or their word of affirmation.

In facing the cardinal points I started with facing south. This ensured we ended up facing east, the place of the wind, especially pertinent bearing in mind the quote below (though you can vary the cardinal start point).

The words of ‘peace’ and ‘healing’ are intertwined. In the spiritual realm to seek or ask for peace is to seek healing; to seek or ask for healing is to ask for peace. Either word can be used. Or, you can use both.

The raising of ones hands, healing hands, is symbolic of sending a blessing and/or healing, and could be viewed as an enacted parable (something which the sages or prophets of old, as recorded in ancient sacred text, did). I like to think of each person being a conduit – receiving power from Beyond and disseminating it through their hands to the world (rather like the thought behind the powerful and meaningful dance of the whirling dervishes).

‘The Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it wants to. You can hear the wind, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.’ John 3:8b, The Book (Contemporary English Version)

And, then:

And then, facing inward, facing the table as all raised their hands, I put a pebble of Larimar on the world map on the table, and said, ‘Great Spirit of All, heal the world of this virus’. Some repeated the words, whilst others said ‘amen’, or ‘awen’ or their word of affirmation.

Optionally. As we lifted hands this time, I asked that, those who wished to, to imagine a golden light moving from this place and encompassing the world – this is the healing light of the Spirit reaching all.

Now, Larimar is a special stone, known by some to have healing properties, and to associated with the elements of water and fire – both necessary for healing, both relevant to this ritual. The placing of the Larimar stone on the map is symbolic, so you can substitute something else for it. Other stones that you might use, instead, are agate, jade or quartz – or perhaps, something symbolic of healing and wellness such as soap or a tissue or even a vitamin tablet. This is not to belittle the ritual, but rather to work out a physical action of an inner and spiritual request, and place it on the world map. Or, you could write the word ‘healing’ on a piece of paper, and place it on the world map. Ultimately, it is intentionality and powerful symbolism that is important.

The Caim 4: Conclusion

We sat in silence for a while and ended the ritual, except that we were reminded that in all rituals, physical action follows. So, all were reminded to be vigilant and follow health officials’ suggestions of catching sneezes in tissues and binning the tissues, of not touching your face, and of handwashing with soap thoroughly at regular intervals. The ritual is in addition to the usual hygiene needed to ward off the coronavirus, and isn’t a substitute.

We concluded the ritual by grounding/earthing ourselves – that is I extinguished the candle; and all clapped, a physical action to denote a moving from liminal and sacred space and time to ‘ordinary time’ (as if there really is such a thing) and an action which many believe raises the power.

 

Celebrating Alban Eiler: Spring Equinox [Ephemera]

CELEBRATING ALBAN EILER

It’s spring, and the time of being half way through the season is fast approaching.

Yes, the Spring equinox (at least in the northern hemisphere) edges closer and closer, and this year falls on Friday, 20 March 2020. It’s a time of rejoicing as new energy is poured out and life in its fullness grows. Is it any wonder that the church in centuries gone by ‘overlaid’ Easter at this time of year – Easter Sunday, this year, being 12 April.

Blessed are you, Boundary- Crosser,
for breaking through the hard surfaces,
for coming in the quiet like the birdsong,
on the edge of night and day.

I wake into this day with you.
or
I lie down to sleep resting in you.

(Tess Ward, ‘The Celtic Wheel Of The Year)

The stars in the sky mark the seasonal boundaries, and as the sun traverses the sky in a great circle throughout the year, it crosses boundaries, and ushers in, not just a new season, but new thought and vitality. Who doesn’t feel  (generally) more energised waking up on a March morning than, say, compared to  a December morning.

’Spring adds new life, and new beauty to all that is.’ (Jessica Harrelson)

Many groups will celebrate the event by nominating a spring maiden with a basket of flowers or eggs, or both. The eggs representing new life, and the fertility of the Earth and creation. Days are getting longer, the weather is warming up a little, and the seeds of winter can now shoot forth. It’s getting lighter!

In Wales, and to many others, the deep name of the Spring equinox is Alban Eilir, which means ‘The Light of the Earth’, as light and life take precedence. Not just animal life or plant life, but all life as many ancients, and Celts and Druids and others today. see life in all living things, from rocks and stones, to rivers and springs, plants and trees – all life is sacred.

’I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’ (Luke 19.40, The Book)

The ancient Celts and others, even today (myself included) believed that the physical, spiritual and mental levels were intertwined, connected in perfect balance. And the Spring equinox (equinox meaning equal night) is the time of year when the days, in getting longer and longer, are equal in length to the night just for that one point in time (until later on in the year). After that,spring days are longer than the night, until midsummer.

So, do celebrate it. I know of few people that will celebrate it on the evening of Wednesday, 20 March as the ancients started their new days on the preceding evening, and a few groups/groves etc) will be celebrating it on the following Sunday.

‘The beautiful spring came, and when nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also’. (Harriet Ann Jacobs)

With celebration in mind, below is a song (penned by me some time ago), and set to an old, memorable, Irish/Celtic tune. The words can be recited and used by you as a celebratory poem or spoken as liturgy, but if you use the words as a song it can sung to the old, wonderful and mysterious Gaelic tune ‘Siuil a Ruin’, (click here for the tune – in that recording there is a musical preamble and the actual tune, which ‘fit’ the words below, starts at about fifteen seconds into the recording). It is a song of praise about nature, and to the One behind it all, That Which Is Larger Than Ourselves.

Lord of the Spring we honour you,
we thank you for na-ture’s green,
(for) the Earth’s beauty no-ow seen.

Light and darkness dance together well,
in perfect, balanced humility,
in flower, plant and mighty tree.

Chorus: Slowly, slowly the Circle turns
and nature’s smile is seen by all.
Ho-ow is nature good to us.

Sacred time as the moon rises high
New life comes from that which did die,
new birth comes to us in the by and by.

Wolf and lamb, lion and leopard, too
Shall live one day in sweet harmony
As nature moves , and the Circle turns.

Chorus: Slowly, slowly the Circle turns
and nature’s smile is seen by all.
Ho-ow is nature good to us.

How will you celebrate Alban Eiler? I haven’t decided yet, but I may go for a long country walk and experience the elements – the wind and rain, sunshine, and rocky terrain. Or, go somewhere with a friend of two and experience ‘dragon energy’, those liminal places where we feel closer to the Other. Maybe have breakfast with them in a rural spot (but if you aren’t able to leave an urban environment you can still go for an early town or city walk, meet friends in the park and have breakfast in a local café.) I might make  small shrine of spring flowers – buying them rather than picking them (which may be illegal in many areas). Or, maybe I’ll sit quietly near a large, old and wise tree and meditate. I’ll let you know. But, I do intend to come back to the theme of the Spring equinox as we still have some time to explore its significance to us today.

[Note: The header photo is of one of the guardians of the Forest – one of a number of dramatic sculptures placed in Thetford Forest, which straddles the north of Suffolk and the southern park of Norfolk, in the UK. They are designed to promote understanding about the need to protect our woodlands and forests, and nature in general. Designed by Tom Piper MBE, and  sculptured by Lisa Wright, I visited these awesome sculptures last year, and they remain in place until the end of May 2020. See here for more details.]

Ooops! Apologies for having the equinox date wrong. Now corrected, Tadhg

Celebrating Spring: Imbolc / Candlmas: Ephemera

imbolc snowdrop-4026893_960_720

It’s nearly that time. Half way between the Winter solstice and the Spring Equinox is the beginning of spring. It’s called Imbolc, or Candlemas by many Churches.

And, so the circle continues to turn, the Earth continues on its (elliptical) orbit around the sun, and yet another wonderful, major festival is almost upon us. It’s time to celebrate in large ways and small, in groups and by yourself.

It’s intentionality that’s important, so I would encourage you to do something this Imbolc, and to enjoy it, to celebrate, to give thanks to That Which Is Bigger Than Ourselves, the Friend.

Event: Imbolc (favoured pronunciation ‘ih-mulk’), Brigid’s Day, Candlemas
Date: 1 or 2 February (but many will celebrate it on Sunday, 3 February this year)
Thought: ‘It’s the start of spring. Let’s celebrate’
Incense: Rosemary, Frankincense, Myrrh, Cinnamon
Decorations: Corn Dolly, Spring Flowers, St Brigid’s Cross, Candles
Colours: White, Orange, Red

Imbolc, in the Celtic seasonal calendar marks the beginning of the lambing season and signals the stirrings of new life. It is traditionally the great festival and honouring of Brigid (Brighid, Bride, Brigit). She is one of my favourites.

About Brigid

Brigid, so loved as a pagan Goddess that her worship was woven into the Christian church as St Bridget, and rightly remembered and revered. To some she is a Goddess of healing, poetry, of fire, of the Sun and of the Hearth. To others, a saint. What matters is that she is remembered. It is awesome that such a person can unite us in deep spirituality, if we let that deep spirituality take hold.

Brigid is the keeper of a sacred springs and wells; she is the patroness of sweet water. Water is the nourisher. Water, sustainer of life on earth. And water, together with fire 9a symbol denoting Brigid), are the instruments of the forge. Brigid is the goddess of the forge and smith craft. Heat and fire tempered by water. Perfect balance.

She is also said bring fertility to the land and its people and is closely connected to midwives and new-born babies.

Symbols of Brigid

With the coming of spring, the following are some symbols that you might like to consider in some form of quiet time, some form of meditation on that day, and there are also some ideas listed below of things that you can do, things you might like to bring into the house and/or put on your home altar, such as:

Snowdrops. The first gift of Spring in the bleakness of Winter.

Candle(s). Imbolc is a Fire Festival and fire of all kinds is associated with Brigid – the fire of creativity, the protective hearth fire, and her fire wheel – the Brigid Cross, which heralds her, according to some, as a Sun Goddess. A lit candle as you have your meal or as you gaze or meditate upon it, is a wonderful way to celebrate her and the return of spring, to give thanks to the One Behind It All, the Source of All.

Brigid’s Cross. This is a traditional fire wheel symbol – found at the hearths of homes throughout Ireland and beyond as a symbol of protection. A customer in the shop recounted finding a hearth in Ireland, in recent years, adorned with over 200 Brigid Crosses – 200 years in the life of a hearth and a family, overlit and protected by Brigid.
Brigid Doll. A very old tradition involved the making of a Brigid doll which can be included in ceremony and/or placed in ‘Bride’s Bed’ to bring fertility and good fortune to the home.

If you’re interested in making a St Brigid’s cross, do click here.

The Serpent. In Celtic mythology Brigid was associated with an awakening hibernating serpent which emerged from its lair at Imbolc. Traditionally serpents were associated with creativity and inspiration – the powerful Kundalini energy of the Eastern Mysteries. Paths of earth energy were called serpent paths and at Imbolc they are stirred from their slumber. And in the Hebrew Testament a bronze serpent is lifted up and all who gazed upon it were healed.

Sheep. Brigid’s festival is at the beginning of lambing – you might be fortunate to try eat ewe’s milk cheese!

The seed. From the seed new life sprouts. And you might like to consider planting a seed, or more. It need not be an expensive plant, but a packet of inexpensive seeds that you might like to grow on a piece of common ground, in your garden or in your window-box.

Blackberry. Sacred to Brigid, the leaves and berries are used to attract prosperity and healing.
Ginger. Ginger revitalises and stimulates the ‘fire within’

Prayers for Imbolc & Brigid

Praise to you O Caring one,
midwife of our newness and growth,
nurturing, generous and milky kind,
yet defiant as the snowdrop in a cold climate,
tend the fresh shoots of our emerging as we set foot this day.

(Tess Ward, Celtic Wheel of the Year 2007)

And

O most noble Greenness, rooted in the sun,
shining forth in streaming splendour upon the wheel of Earth.
No earthly sense or being can comprehend you.
You are encircled by the very arms of Divine mysteries.
You are radiant like the red of dawn!
You glow like the incandescence of the sun!

Hildegard von Bingen
English version by Jerry Dybdal and Matthew Fox

And

For the cycle of life
Which brings death and rebirth
Response: We rejoice in the promise of Spring

For lengthening days
And sunlight’s warmth upon the soil
Response: We rejoice in the promise of Spring

For a snowdrop’s beauty
Reflecting its Creator’s artistry
Response: We rejoice in the promise of Spring

For new born lambs
Their joy and exuberance
Response: We rejoice in the promise of Spring

For all of creation
And the majesty of its Creator
Response: We rejoice in the promise of Spring

Copyright © John Birch, 2016. A link to his page here.

And, so this Imbolc or Candlemas my encouragement is for you to celebrate it and give thanks to the Source of All. If you want ideas about celebration meals to mark the festival please see here.

Meanwhile, the Green blessings of the season be you and those whom you love. Tadhg.

 

 

Blessing Creation: All Creatures Great And Small

20200116 ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL

We live in an interconnected universe, where inanimate touches the animate, immaterial (in spiritual terms) touches matter, and the quality, depth and sacredness of life, to many people, is becoming all the more apparent and precious.

There is a need.

We can learn a lot from each other, and from creation. Those who have (or have had) dogs and cats as companions, will know we can learn a lot from animal-kind, especially.

’But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. In his hand [the Source of All] is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. Job 12:7, 8, 10. The Book

Which of us never climbed a tree when younger and enjoyed it’s ‘company’. Ah, trees!  Yes, we can learn a lot from trees, plants, too. And so, we are all connected to the whole of creation, to enjoy, to journey with and, when necessary, to protect. Yes, we have a responsibility to the environment – the garden in which we have been placed for a time.

Creation-kindness is important.

We can absorb much wisdom from ancient and current ‘tribes’: Celts, Druids, Pagans, ecologically-aware main-stream believers and others. Perhaps one place to start in in our intentionality to step up to the plate, and begin with understanding the needs of the hour and to respond with blessing, liturgy and well-wishes (prayer) etc to and for creation.

‘Blessed are you…Maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired Saint Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you…[Source of All], in all your creatures! Amen.’ The Blessing of Pets at Franciscan Churches. Part/adapted.

Over the next week or so, formulated ceremonies for blessing our companions at the birth or home-bringing, their birthdays, passing-on or for those animals who have passed-on some time ago, remembering them will be penned. There will be rituals and liturgy for them, and for the general environment in which we find ourselves – even in the city there is a need for blessing and well-wishing of flora and fauna for good things. And, then there is the wilder world in need.

Global. Local. Glocal!

But, for now, here are some general blessings and minor liturgy to get us started, that you might use for animal-companions (present or deceased) and for wild flora and fauna present in your local eco-community. As always do adapt the following words to best suit your requirements. The power and efficacy of the words lay in your intentionality and the Source of All who hears and expedites.

For all living beings:

Leader: Whatever living beings there are,
All: Either feeble or strong

Leader: Either long or great…
All: Either seen or which are not seen, and which live far or near,

Leader: Either born or seeking birth,
All: May all creatures be happy minded.

From the Sutta Nipata, 8:145-146. (Buddhist scripture)

And, for dogs (deceased):

With my hand upon his head,
is my benediction said, therefore, and forever.
Blessings on thee, dog of mine,
pretty collars make thee fine,
sugared milk make fat there!
Pleasures wag on in thy tail –
Hands of gentle motion fail
nevermore, to pat thee

Yet be blessed to the height
of all good and all delight
pervious to thy nature.
Only loved beyond that line,
with a love that answer thine,
loving fellow-creature

Elizabeth Barret Browning, from ‘To Flush, My Dog (Deceased)

And, for spiders:

Spider, your threads are well stretched.
Wily hunter, your nets ar well woven.
Spider, you are assured of abundant food.
Forest/nature), be propitious.
May my hunt/life be joyous as spider’s.

Pygmy blessing (adapted)

And, for frogs:

In am moonlit night on a spring day,
the croak of a frog
pierces the whole cosmos and turns into a single family.

Chang Chiu-Chi’en (Zen Buddhist poet)

And, for cats:

Then my best friend
on all the Earth
Sit upon my lap
not to be comforted
but to soothe.

Wizard of the heart,
my cat,
when the world fails,
or the day weighs,
with a wave of the tail
or soulful glance
makes the Universe
shine once more.

Magician, Arlene Gay Levine

And, for trees:

I part the out thrusting branches
and come in beneath
the blessed and the blessing trees.

Though I am silent
There is singing around me.
Though I am dark
there is vision around me.
Though I am heavy
there is flight around me.

Woods by Wendell Berry

Specific ceremonies and liturgies will appear over the next few weeks to give thanks, to pray or well-wish for certain ecological needs, or as eco-caims using visualisation to send support to certain areas, as well as ceremonies and liturgies for specific types of animals. flora and fauna blessings in our local community and worldwide.

And, finally:

Blessed be you Tree of Life,
with your roots reaching down to the dark centre of the universe,
your leaves yearning towards the light beyond heaven.
Shelter me with all your creation as I rise up this day.

(alternative last line)
Shelter me with all your creation as I take my rest this night.

Tess Ward, The Celtic Wheel Of The Year

 

The White Stone Ritual: A Time Of Beginnings

20191229 WHITE STONE RITUAL

It’s coming up to the start of a new year, indeed, a new decade and the following White Stone Ritual may prove useful  to you (as an individual or group) in starting the new year.

Although the ritual can be used, say, within the first week of the new year or later, or at the start of a new project or on a feast day or event, as it can be adapted in many other ways to be used on many other occasions).

To recap, we recently looked at the Burning Bowl Ritual. That’s a form of ‘letting go’ ritual which can be performed in a group setting or by an individual. More can be gleaned by clicking here.

And, now having obtained some kind of ending, of closure, the next ritual is about moving forward, positively – it’s the White Stone ritual.

 ’When you become the image of your own imagination, it’s the most powerful thing you could ever do.’ RuPaul

Outline
For the White Stone Ritual you will need a white stone, but any palm-sized stone will do, and you can improvise with paper etc if no stone is to hand. Be inventive. It’s intentionality that is important, here. You will also need a pen, preferably a marker pen or pencil.

In this White Stone ritual we are doing two things.  We are meditating to glean what it is we need that is positive: a new name to denote a new start (and this could be a spiritual name to run alongside our given name),  or a word to focus upon for the coming year or so, and then, secondly, to take part in a simple but profound ritual of writing that onto the white stone (or improvised item).

White Stone: Significance
The symbolism attached to the white stone is ancient and profound. It is said that, in antiquity, when a prisoner was freed from prison he (or she) would be given a white stone. By this stone he/she could prove they had served their time, that something significant had happened (that is, that they were in prison, but are now free), and could look forward to the future with some positivity.

 ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says…I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’ Revelation 2:17 (part), The Book

The White Stone Ritual, then, is about new beginnings, a new name or spiritual focus, positivity, moving forward, and about energy.

 The White Stone Ritual
You may want some sacred music playing in the background, and/or recite some relevant spiritual verses or a relevant poem (some of which are used throughout this article at various points, but if you use them you may need to ‘relocate’ the words/poems used in this article to different places within your ceremony for it to ‘flow’).

I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.

And nothing happens!
Nothing…Silence…Waves…

Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

Juan Ramón Jiménez

You might want to recite some words of liturgy. Be open, be adaptable, but don’t disqualify yourself or belittle the ritual in any way for any lack perceived, for at the end of the day a simple but (improvised) ritual can have a significant effect of positivity and power.

So:

  • Close your eyes, and hold the white stone, or other stone, or small piece of paper in the palm of your left hand and place your right hand over it. Take a slow, deep breath and exhale. Meditate. Remember, we might be asking for a spiritual name, but a name  can also mean the ‘nature of’ something, your spiritual identity or spiritual focus
  • Ask yourself quietly, ‘What is the main spiritual quality that is need to move forward ?”
  • Take a slow, deep breath again and exhale. Now, think of one or more words that describe your highest spiritual essence. Listen intently.

‘I have great respect for the past. If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going. I have respect for the past, but I’m a person of the moment. I’m here, and I do my best to be completely centred at the place I’m at, then I go forward to the next place.’ Maya Angelou

  • Just allow a few words to ‘bubble up’. There is no need to force the name or the words of your intended spiritual focus. Just allow it to surface from your depths. It can be words such as: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, forbearance, gentleness, faith, self-control, energy etc.

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

  • You can select a word or two now (but, if circumstances dictate, then you may choose to change it later, so the name or word(s) that come to you today can be kept, or altered depending on the guidance you receive from the bay kohl, that still small voice.
  • When you’re ready, you may open your eyes.
  • Write your name or the words given to you in that time of meditation on the white stone with a marker or pencil (if the ink runs off, don’t worry. It may be aesthetically nice for the word(s) to remain on the stone (or paper etc) but it’s intentionality that counts. You wrote it once, the ink didn’t remain as a word or more, but you did it! And, that intentionality, not the inks permanence or impermanence that is important.

’I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it until it begins to shine.’ Emily Dickinson

  • Reflect on the name or words that came to you and on the significance of the whole white stone exercise. Place your stone  or paper in a prominent location now, and over the next few days and weeks, so you will be reminded of your new name, or new spiritual focus.
  • You might want to just sit/stand there for a few minutes. Something wonderful has occurred, whether you know it or not. A new beginning is underway. A new determination has been rooted in your psyche, and new energy is at your disposal, energy from the Source of All.

’Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way.’ Abraham Lincoln

Earthing
This ritual, like any other ritual moves us from ‘mechanical time’ to the realm of sacred-time, sacred space. In ‘returning’ it is important to mark that returning occasion with a physical action. If outside, you might like to walk about a little. If indoors, then a small hand clap to mark your return is sufficient. Some small, token, physical action is important to end the ritual.

Blessings, Tadhg.

[To ensure you’re kept informed of other rituals and articles in the future, do ‘sign up’ on Tadhg’s  ‘TadhgTalks’ blog or his FaceBook site, or email him, or drop him a line to say ‘hi’.]

 

 

The Burning Bowl Ritual: The Year’s End

20191227 BURNING BOWL RITUAL

As we come to the end of the year, you might find the Burning Bowl ritual useful.

‘Attachment is the source of all suffering.’ Buddha

Many of us (if not all of us) have things that seem to cling to us and hold us back. Attachments.  It could be something that some have said to us, or unfortunate events that we’ve experienced, inappropriate reactions, uninspiring thoughts, outdated ideas that have served their purpose in the past but which now serve no useful purpose, or negativity etc. All these seem to cling to us, and other things, too,  and can hold us back from being who we are meant to be.

Our reactions to life events, if we’re not careful, can become something like a weight that clings to us, that weighs us down, but it is so subtle sometimes, or we’re so used to the same actions and reactions, that we are hardly conscious of it.

‘The original, shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all. Instead we live out all the other selves, which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather’. Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets.

This is where the Burning Bowl Ritual can prove to be useful.

It is a form of ‘letting go’ ritual which can be performed in a group setting or by an individual, and what follows is the rationale behind it, its purpose, along with some resources that you can use or adapt, as needed.

If it is time to release that which is holding you back (and there are ‘seasons’ so there is no pressure to perform the ritual as a ‘must do’ at this time), then do read on.

A Burning Bowl ritual is a transformative ritual.

It is traditionally performed on New Year’s Eve or other meaningful holidays or dates. There’s some flexibility here, and so, with the end of the year coming up you might like to move the ritual around by a few days (or more). It is a good way to release that which we’re clinging to and which is unhealthy: the past, negativity, or pain, of dealing with old resentments, hurt, grudges, regrets, or suffering. It is a another step on the adventure of becoming who you really are, and embracing the benefits now.

However, as you prepare or, indeed, perform the Burning Bowl ritual it is important to try to be in a positive, peaceful mood.

In the process of letting go you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself. – Deepak Chopra

It’s a celebration of the end of all that is holding us back, and the release into something new.

Step-by-Step Guide

Essentially, you start by writing what you want to let go of, and then you’ll burn that piece of paper. But, there’s more. So for this you will need:

• Paper
• Pen
• Matches or a lighter
• A safe, burn-friendly surface (like a metal or glass bowl, fireplace, etc.)

Safety
Do not burn something valuable out of spite, like legal documents, photographs, or something that could be important to another person. It is a symbolic act, and so writing on a small piece of paper will suffice.

Also avoid burning something that is highly flammable or something that can cause you harm, and any burning should take place in a safe area outside. Ensure you, others and the environment are safe,

Use a large enough unburnable bowl or a container (like metal), and do be aware of your environment or surroundings. Ensure no harm.

Intentionality
Throughout the burning ceremony, remain calm and grounded in your intent. The ceremony should not be performed to shake away anger or frustration. There is no ‘wrestling’ with negative emotions or feelings – it is a ritual of serenity.

You might like to think or voice out loud your intentions, such as:

• I am peaceful
• I am grounded
• I let go of attachments
• I find peace when I let go

The Four Quarters
For those that like to acknowledge the four quarters, the cardinal compass points the abovementioned could be recited as you face, first phrase to the west, the turn and recite the second phrase to the north, the third to the east, and the fourth to the south. The reason for ending facing the south is that symbolically south represents fire (the main element in this ritual), but you can start or finish at other cardinal points as you feel are appropriate.

When your intentions are clear and focused, you can determine what you want out of this ceremony.

Grounding
Here, you can sit down or stand firmly with both feet on the ground for a few moments until you feel present and grounded. As negativity or tension releases from your body, let it pass. Stand quietly in prayer or meditation, while you honour your commitment to change.

Writing & Burning
Write down what you’re ready to let go of on your piece of paper. It could be a word or a phrase that sums up that which is holing you back. It may be best just to spend a minute or two doing this, and avoid writing more than a few words. Being succinct is good.

‘Nothing releases like forgive. Nothing renews like forget.’ Ray A Davis

Now that you have listed what you want to let go of, hold it for a few minutes. Read it, reflect on it, but try not to react negatively.

Now, it’s time to burn. Light the piece of paper on fire or throw it, carefully, into the pre-lit burning bowl. Watch it burn, take a few deep breaths, and you might like to rub your hands together for a final release  of the attachment you just let go of.

In burning that piece of paper, you have symbolically ended any power that attachment had over you, and have embraced that which is positive and which is about to come (or, its already there, depending on your viewpoint).

So…
By burning away clinging, negative attachments, you can free yourself from any regret, sorrow, or pain, and look forward to a brighter future. Let the burning ceremony allow you to sense a feeling of closure, that will allow you to move on.

So, as we come to the end of the year, and if it feels like the right time, and you feel its right to let go of attachment, do try a burning ceremony.

But…
But, if you’re performing the ritual indoors where an open flame may not be appropriate or safe, and the same may apply if you live in the city, then do adapt the ceremony.

If a (literal) burning bowl is inappropriate or unsafe, then after you have written what you want to release on paper you might like to ‘feed’ it through the shedding matching,  or rip it into little pieces and put it in the rubbish/garbage bin (in small enough pieces that no one can read it), or write it on rice paper and watch it dissolve in a bowl of water (and in a very symbolic action, it occured to me that you might substitute ordinary paper for toilet paper, write on that, and afterwards flush it down the toilet! How symbolic is that?).

‘When you reach the end of what you should know, you will be at the beginning of what you should sense.’ Kahlil Gibrán, Sand and Foam.

The abovementioned are a few ideas for a Burning Bowl ritual, an ending to that which is holding us back.

Earthing
This ritual, like any other ritual moves us from ‘mechanical time’ to the realm of sacred-time, sacred space. In ‘returning’ it is important to mark that returning occasion with a physical action. If outside and having faced the four quarters then you might like to walk about a little. If indoors, then a small hand clap to mark your return is sufficient. Some small, token, physical action is important to end the ritual.

But, There’s More
Within the next couple of days, in time for the first day (or few days) if the new year, I’d like to mention the White Stone ritual which is a way, after releasing that which was holding us back, will move us on it a positive and life-affirming way (and for which one or two white stones that can fit in the palm of your hand may be needed – but as always, do improvise).

 

The Night Of Long Shadows #1: A Service For The Bereaved: Thoughts

20191027 THE NIGHT OF LONG SHADOWS 1 THOUGHTS

Christmas is coming closer. For some, it’s a time to celebrate the coming of the Christ, the wonderful time when we remember the Universe incarnated at Bethlehem, when we exchange gifts and sing cheerful carols, and more. To some friends, especially those of nature or earth-based beliefs it’s a time to celebrate dark and light, death and new life, of renewal and balance: equilibrium.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room,
and heav’n and nature sing. (Christmas Hymn/Carol)

It is with the former, mainly, in mind that I write this. Those who celebrate Christmas as part of their faith or, like me, as part of a blended-faith, can find Christmas, in some instances, a tough, sad time. For them, the season seems lopsided. I do believe my Wican, Pagan, and Druid friends do much better at getting the balance just right and of honouring the ancestors, and I am the richer for their company and wisdom. For others, it’s…..well, it’s lopsided.

In what way lopsided? Well, the commercialism of Christmas doesn’t help. Buy this for your mum or dad, here’s a great gift for your daughter or son who will love this, and hey, don’t forget the grandparents! And, in churches, hymns and songs laud the baby in the manger and welcome shepherds and kings like.

But, the reality is, that at every Advent church service, in every choir rehearsal, and at every Christmas Eve candlelight service, there are people who are deeply hurting and in pain, whose lives are in great turmoil, and who are seeking help or answers. Even surrounded by our candles, poinsettias, the delightful laughter of children, and the great joy of the Christmas season, I do believe that we do not adequately consider those among us who cannot enter fully into the joy of the season. And, outside, cheerful parties abound at work, at home, at local pubs and clubs, and on tv just seem to make the exclusion worse.

But, what about those who, this Christmas, perhaps like last Christmas, look around and notice the spaces in their family and friends? To them, it is lopsided, exclusive, and can be a tough, solitary time.

‘You don’t know who is important to you until you actually lose them.’ Mahatma Gandhi

For some, Christmas can be a time when the loss of a loved-one can be most profoundly felt. Ofcourse, during that season such people, like myself, will be happy and socialise, and enjoy the company of others.

‘I enjoy Christmas immensely as a Christo-Druid (or is it a Druidic-Christian), but there is also a sense of loss.

I am an ‘amphibian’ at Christmas. Celebrating the joy of the season, the razzamatzz, and the growing number of younger family members and friends is wonderful, and by nature I am a positive person. But, I also look around at the gaps. Having grown up, in my teens, twenties and thirties, with seven pairs of aunts and uncles for instance and a myriad of other family, all but one couple of aunts/uncles have passed-on, as have both my parents, and that can be heart-breaking  at times.’ Tadhg

But sometimes, just sometimes, and perhaps on one occasion over that period it would be comforting and energising to have some kind of formal ritual or service to commemorate those that have passed-on, to remember them, and have something where we can be true to our feelings without being morbid or morose, to acknowledge our loss, draw strength and to move on.

With that in mind, and right near Christmas is the winter solstice, there is the idea of just such a celebration for the bereaved. The Night Of Long Shadows.

Aptly named, The Night Of Long Shadow can be held at that time of the year when many celebrate the darkest and longest night of the year, and it takes into account that many feel as though they are in darkness when it comes to emotions of remembrance, but there’s more.

‘The death of a beloved is an amputation.’ C S Lewis

What would a service of The Night Of Long Shadows look like?

With songs and words that draw alongside those who are bereaved (whether recently, a year or more ago, or some time ago) there would be a time of honest appraisal of feelings, a period of reflection, a time when the bereaved could say or do something or sit and listen. The event would be short (and not more than fifty minutes) . Maybe a few tears would be shed. There would be an opportunity to ‘tell it like it is or feels like it is’ by those who attend (if they wish to), and for those leading, they would then move onto the part of the ritual or service that would instil hope with words and actions – I love ritual, and sometimes simple ritual-actions can take us to a much deeper place than words.

Such a ritual or service can interpret the ‘shadow’ in the Night Of Long Shadows as the comforting shadow of good memories (or the mere shadow of not-so-good memories) that we might each share of those who have passed-on.

And/or it can refer to the transforming work of renewal and growth that takes place in dark places, such as a seed buried but about to sprout, or a baby growing in the secret place of its mother’s womb. It is with that in mind that we can learn a lot from our brothers and sisters who uphold a nature or earth-based belief.

‘We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world – the company of those who have known suffering.’ Helen Keller

A service of The Night of Long Shadows, would earnestly and honestly draw alongside the bereaved, hold space for them, support them, listen to them, give some kind of encouragement and be there fore them. There is no quick fix in this kind of ritual of service. How could there be. In many cases it is beyond us to fix many things, and especially this! But, we can be there for others, and through ritual and prayer, blessings and la time of tea and coffee after, be inclusive and supportive.

What songs, what words of acceptance and hope could be used, what structure would such a ritual or service take? That is for next time. Suffice to say, that I do believe there is a need, and am working towards such a ritual or service for the first half of December. If you could support that venture in prayer, good-thoughts or by sending light, or by sending suggestions, or by expressing a desire to take part or feel the need to attend such a ritual or service in in/near London (UK) because of bereavement, I would love to hear from you. It may be best one-to-one and so do email me at: tadhgtemp@gmail.com

We live in an age where the pace of life can be so fast that we lose or diminish the human touch. There is a great need at creating sacred space for people living through dark times. Such services, and the service of The Night Of London Shadows can fulfil such a need, and be inclusive, reflective, accepting of where we really are, and of holding out healing and hope. And, such a ritual or service is not the preserve of Christians or Christo-Druids or Druidic-Christians, but can also be used and adapted by my Wican, Pagan, and Druid friends, and others.

’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. Rumi

 

The Elements: In Praise Of Earth

20191002 THE ELEMENTS IN PRAISE OF EARTH

As the days shorten and nights becomes longer, we’re moving towards winter. Already in the UK mornings, evening and nights are becoming much, much colder, and the midday sun sits ever lower in the sky.

Winter is that time of nature’s rest, even death, and plants and insects die; and even then there is a paradox that life is ‘home’ and active deep in the ground, and some of it is dormant and ‘sleeping’ deep in the womb of the earth, the soil that we tread so blithely .

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.

(In the bleak midwinter: Christmas carol)

As winter approaches, here’s a few words of a seasonal introduction; the primacy of story, memory and ritual at this time; a new song; and something for those of an inquisitive nature and interested in a simple but profound scientific experiment centred on nature at this time of the year.

STORY, MEMORY AND RITUAL

With naked trees and animals saving warmth and energy, and many species dying off for the winter (until a new generation emerges) there is a silence that descends at this time – a primordial silence.

Human voices can predominate as animal noises momentarily reduce, and it is no wonder in nature’s silence that our ancestors warmed themselves around tribal fires and recited stories of old.

‘The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.’

(Wendell Berry)

Many of those stories might have been tribal histories, and who hasn’t on a winter’s night, especially at Christmas and the New Year reminisced about relatives that have moved abroad or who have ‘gone ahead’ to that heavenly realm? It is a time of story and of memories.

The landscape, cold and bare, also shares its memories if we ‘look’ deeply. We might see a tree taller than it was, a plant thicker, and the ‘scars’ on tree barks, that still tell their story to those that stop and look. Nature has a memory.

Story, memory and ritual come to the fore at this time.

The following can be incorporated into your Samhain celebration. Samhain starts the evening of Thursday, 31 October and runs for twenty for hours (but there is nothing to stop you celebrating it over the weekend).

The following can be used at (or about) the time of the Winter solstice in December, too, or indeed at any time during the season of winter. Use the following, adapt it, enjoy it.

This is a time to reminisce, tell stories, to remember that death is part of the cycle and new birth is ‘on its way’, and it’s a time of celebration (and yes, even mirth).

Here, then, are some wonderful words that can be incorporated into your seasonal ritual/liturgy:

‘If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence, we could rise up like rooted, like trees’. (Rainer Maria Rilke)

And,

‘We come from the earth and return to it, and so we live in agriculture as we live in flesh. While we live our bodies are moving particles in the earth, joined inextricably both to the soil and to the bodies of other living creatures’. (Wendell Berry)

And

‘The vines that are tended by the Divine Gardener’. (Catherine of Siena)

And

Spirit of the Abundant Earth,
allow me to live in the knowledge that
I am of the earth, from the earth, and returning to the earth.
Blessings of the earth be upon me.

(Christine Valters Paintner, Book: Water, Wind, Earth & Fire, part)

SONG: THE DAYS ARE COLD (A WINTER’S SONG)

The following song can be sung to the old, traditional Scottish tune, ‘The Water is wide”, and hails from the 1600’s. If you want an idea of the tune, do check here. (The tune for each of the three verses below is a repetition of the first forty-seven seconds of the link’s tune).

The days are cold
And night comes soon.
The circle turns
As in days of old.
Nature does sleep
And the winds do howl.
And my eyes do weep
Through the cold air now

The snow falls harsh
Upon the land.
There is a light
Within and without.
We raise our hands
To the Source of all.
And nature responds
with elementals call.

The days of change
Are here again.
Our voices raise
To the loud refrain.
We wish you peace,
We wish you well.
All nature sings
Winter’s farewell.

Tune: “The Water Is Wide”
Words: Tadhg Jonathan

THE QUADRAT
FOR THOSE OF A SCIENTIFIC OR INQUISITIVE NATURE

If you want to get an overall view of what wildlife is present in your garden, local park or nearby wild area eg forest etc even at this time of year, either because of your concern about the biosphere, sheer interest in the local environment, or out of general curiosity and personal interest, then you (and any children) may be interested in making and using a quadrat.

’It is apparent that no lifetime is long enough in which to explore the resources of a few square yards of ground.’ (Alice M Coats)

A quadrat is a merely a hand-made frame, maybe made out of thin cane or similar, and is generally one metre square (three feet by three feet in size approximately), with the four canes tied at the intersections to form a simple square.

Once made, it is a great way to sample a large area by concentrating on a small area. On suggestion is that, once in an area of wilderness, you randomly throw the quadrat (safely and gentlt), and see where it lands. If you want more information about quadrats, please see here.

Then, depending on your time, you can have endless hours of fun surveying plants, wildlife and insect life within the randomly selected area of that frame.

The idea is to explore and catalogue so do be careful not to destroy anything, nor cause too much of an upheaval to that area as you gently brush aside grass and plants or dig a little (and if you, inadvertently disturb anything,  do ensure you return it to its former state as much as possible, so that no one would ever know you had been there).

You might like to take a pen and paper to record results, and/or a camera, too, to take a photograph of anything interesting. With that in mind you might also like to record the scale of something found so you might like to take along a rule(r) or a coin  for comparison sake and lay the specimen alongside it  or it alongside the plant etc – a two (UK) penny coin is 25.9 mm wide (so close to one inch you can call it an inch) as you photograph specimens.

Don’t forget this is an adventure, and experiment, and it is also fun and respectful of nature – so record only, and so, no take-away specimens, please.

’Our world is a web of interdependencies woven so tightly it sometimes becomes love.’ (Tim Flannery)

If you want to email me a copy of your notes and findings (with the date, time and rough location of the one square metre quadrat, I will most certainly be pleased to look at them.

For the mathematically-inclined, if you know the total area of the garden, park or wilderness area in square metres, you can, roughly, multiply your findings by that total amount to gain a rough idea of the numbers and variations of wildlife in that total area.

But, I find just checking and recording what is alive in that one square metre to be fascinating and profound! Have fun!

‘The land is a mother that never dies.’ (Maori Proverb).

 

The Elements: In Praise Of Air

20190919 THE ELEMENTS IN PRAISE OF AIR

Air, I should explain, becomes wind when it is agitated. (Lucretius, On the Nature of Things)

Breath

There is a school of thought that says we each have a limited, unknown, number of breaths that we will take before we expire. And, by slowing down ones breathing, maybe with focused breathing, slowing exercises or meditation we can increase our lifespan.

Breathing.

Air.

It’s important to life and our longevity.

There is another school of thought that says by regulating our breathing we can place ourselves ‘in the way’ of the Divine, The Universe, the Source of All. Breathing has a natural rhythm of its own, and something we take for granted, but in hatha yoga this pause in breathing is called kumbhaka.

Kumbhaka, then, is the pause between inhalation and exhalation when the lungs are full, or between exhalation and inhalation when the lungs are empty – I prefer the latter. Then, in that pause there is no breathing. All things being well, the pause should only last for a few seconds – it’s not a competition to hold ones breath until one metaphorically bursts, but it is a gentle cessation of breathing for a short while, and then a return in inhalation/exhalation, ready for the next pause. In that way we ‘jump out’ of ordinary time for a split second and move closer. An ever-so important exercise that we can use in our own time ritual or group ritual.

Breathing.

Pausing.

Air.

It’s important to deep meditation and encountering.

Exhaling air we can speaks words of wisdom, and words of encouragement, and yet the same breath can be used destructively. I went on a march to Parliament – yes, I must be one of the oldest protesters around, but I felt so strongly about the case. A group of ten thousand of us chanted, ‘Save our democracy, stop the coup’, outside a prorogued (‘suspended’) Parliament. A positive, heartfelt response to a dire situation. At one point, heavily surrounded by police, a small opposition group of about forty fascists marched by. The jeered, they snarled, they pointed their fingers accusingly. It was as though a dark cloud of hate and confusion had closed in, almost. They chanted, ‘We’ve got a lamppost just for you’. Our words have consequences.

Breathing.

Air.

Giving our voice the power of positivity, and sadly, we have the option to be negative.

Also, lets not forget (though I’m a not-so-good clarinet-player and flautist), that with our breath, with air, woodwind musicians can make delightful tunes that can move us deeply within ourselves, and move us closer to the Divine.

The Druids, the Ancients, and other tribes (and ‘tribes’) knew of the importance of air to their lives, of breathing, and celebrated it in song, liturgy and ritual.

All praise be Yours, my God, through Brothers Wind and Air.
And fair and stormy, all the weather’s moods,
By which You cherish all that You have made. (Francis of Assisi)

Air, in Welsh is awyr (pronounced ah-weir, and preferably ‘rolling’ that ‘r’), can also mean sky, and was important to those Ancients, and to discerning and fellow ‘deep’ followers of today who revel in nature and the Spirit.

In ritual, many would turn to the east to celebrate or think deeply of air. To some it represents the intellect, is understood by the colour yellow, and others associate it with several constellations. To others it represents spring and life, new life. It is the only natural element that is invisible.

The letters of the Name of God in Hebrew are Yod, Hay, Vav, and Hay. They are frequently mispronounced as “Yahveh.” But in truth they are unutterable. Not because of the holiness they evoke, but because they are all vowels and you cannot pronounce all the vowels at once without risking respiratory injury.

This word is the sound of breathing. The holiest Name in the world, the Name of the Creator, is the sound of your own breathing.

(Rabbi Lawrence Kushner: Eyes Remade for Wonder)

Don’t you find that so profound and so comforting? That the name of the Source of All is the sound of breathing, and is on our lips constantly.

Ritual / Air

And, so there we were a few of us, Druids and Christo-Druids (or Druidic-Christians) deep in the forest at sunset, a liminal time. Part of the ceremony had us facing the four cardinal compass points in turn.

As we all face east, hands were raised in the orans position (ie  the position one would adopt, say, if someone was pointing a guy at you and said, ‘hands up’. Your hands would be about eight inches from each ear and at ear level, and that’s the orans position, and was used in antiquity in prayer, praise and blessing).

I recited a blessing:

Deep peace of the flowing air (be) to you,
which fans your face on a sultry day,
the air which you breathe deeply rhythmically,
which imparts to you energy, consciousness, life.
Deep peace of the flowing air (be) to you.

Everyone responded with the word ‘amen’ or Awen’. Interestingly, I find that when I talk about the Awen to others, the Welsh word and notion for inspiration, the Spirit, I use a two-syllable sound, ie ah-wen. Here, in this ritual they and I, and for formal liturgy we used the more correct three-syllable sound ‘ah-woo-un’ to invoke the Spirit.

Later on, in unison, the group exhaled slowly, five times, and each time used the word Awen, this time ‘aaahhhhhhh-wooooooooo-uuuuuuunnnn. It was a wonderful and powerful expression of deep spirituality resonating though the ether.

At one point, one person was to be ‘commissioned’ into a certain role. Words were spoken, promises made and I reached out to touch that persons shoulder in mutual blessing and others did the same.

As I was leading this, I was in front of the person and gently got them to lower their head, and breathed on the crown of their head. It felt the natural and seemly thing to do, a good ritual of blessing, conferment and consecration.

Interestingly, shamans would do similar when healing others. But, it is something that many ancients did, and though it might seem odd to us, it wouldn’t appear so to them. ‘And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”‘ (John 20.22, the Book).

Shortly after, we all went home.

But, air is not just our breath, important though it is. It is around us and is witnessed as wind. Invisible wind, and yet we see and feel its effect.

Close your eyes and turn your face into the wind.
Feel it sweep along your skin in an invisible ocean of exultation.
Suddenly, you know you are alive.

(Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration)

Experience

A few years ago, I spoke about experience the blustery wind on that wonderful and remote island of Iona on the west coast of Scotland. The wind picked up on that Iona beach, and a storm comes ever closer.  I might like to think I am in control, but the weather doesn’t obey me, and the Source is not at my behest, either. It is easy to fall into thinking that, but the wind blows where it wishes. To read more of that encounter on Iona, see this link.