"At the gates of the forest, the surprised man of the world is forced to leave his city estimates of great and small, wise and foolish. The knapsack of custom falls off his back with the first step he takes into these precincts. Here is sanctity which shames our religions, and reality which discredits our heroes. Here we find Nature to be the circumstance which dwarfs every other circumstance, and judges like a god all men who come to her."

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

To Begin One Must End

Since coming to Ohio now nearly five years ago, my mind and heart have slowly undergone a change. I do not know what the change is, or if perhaps it is a change at all. Perhaps, in the end, it is merely a healing. Perhaps I was quite broken before, and in the time before that, broken without knowing I was.


Whatever name you wish to give it, it is certain that my current mindset has found its way forward, while simultaneously finding its way back. While standing now, where I am, I see not only the future years before me as silver wave upon wave, but back. I see myself as I used to be, as a little child looking out the window of the car my parents were driving down winding New England country roads, roads bordered by stone fences and trees dripping with color and pierced by sunshine. I remember so vividly how I was so enraptured by the beauty I saw that I could not speak; my chest physically ached and I felt almost as though I would faint. Sometimes, I was filled with so much joy I felt I was twirling round, faster and faster, in a sun dappled ring.


Those earliest years were a long moment of sun and shade and gentle joy. Then I got older, and knew what worry was, and shame. I learned to accept that truth was not our nature, but must be learned and adhered to, even if it was difficult and against our impulse. So, the world became more grey and through doing what I often did not wish to do, I found a sort of grim satisfaction and thought that made me have worth as a person. Nature became suspect; her beauty was trickery, admiration of her was akin to idolatry. What I had so dearly loved and found joy in became an object of fear.

Sometimes, I think, that when we are taught a certain way of thinking, we absorb it and learn it and somehow along the way we accept it. When this process occurs as a child, and we grow into adults with the same mindset, when do we acknowledge our own responsibility for choosing to continue to accept it? Perhaps we do not know that we have a choice. I do not know if I knew that I did.

All I do know is that I eventually hurt so much that the pain of continuing as I had was more horrifying than going against all that I knew. I knew that I was going to hell for "rebelling", but what I faced if the years went along as they had was worse. So, without knowing it, I made a choice. And in making that choice, my world as I knew it dissolved and the ugliness that lurked beneath the surface of what I had accepted as the "right" way to live, to think, came bursting out.


And in choosing what I thought was my ticket to hell, I found a painful salvation. In breaking from the "safety" I had chosen, however unconsciously, to remain within the boundaries of, I broke from years of heavy chains.

But the process broke my heart. I came to Ohio and those earliest months were a deep struggle to simply get up each day and get dressed and care for my little ones. It is hard when everything you have known has come to an end. Not a graceful, natural ending but an ugly, jagged, painful end. My community, my family, my sense of identity, my sense of purpose was gone. In those early days all I knew was that I had to make sure my children were cared for and with me. I was consumed with grief and lived in a world of memory.

Sometimes the pain was so great that I took my little baby and fled to the woods. Oh, the woods. The mysterious, dark, cool woods that at that time were just leafing into a new cycle of growth and beauty. On the creeks and near the shore of the lake there was thin ice yet, but beneath! A determined moving stream, quiet yet persistent, that wore away at the ice and struggled to break free.


The hills were gentle and comforting. I grew to know and love each swell and curve, each small valley between steep ridges, the scent of damp leaves, decaying into new life-giving earth, the smell of pine needles and cedar, the smell of the soft rot of logs, dotted with pale fungi. I grew to know and love the streams and creeks and the river on its last journey to the great river, which flows onwards beyond sight to another great river, which flows ever farther into the wider world and the ocean, and from that ocean into all oceans. And so, by my little tributary in the woods, I was connected to all the world.


Yet I was sheltered, lovingly, and came to know the earth as Mother and I clung to her as a child does to its Mother, and from her gentle arms I grew stronger and healed, and took steps, which became strides, and so I learned to climb mountains.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Winter Solstice

*****

O Mother
The night has taught me
To walk fearlessly
In the dark
To embrace the 
dreaming time of 
this long twilight
And Mother, my love
I awake within you
and unto you 
Ready to be born
Again and when I am
I will remember what the 
darkness sung to me
in the deep and the shadow
Where I learned my name

*****


Sunday, December 8, 2019

Foundation to A Druidic Path

No one knows precisely when druidry began, nor how it spread or exactly what the druids believed. Druidry is surrounded in mystery but perhaps that is what makes it so attractive to neo-druids; with a few key philosophies in place, perhaps, druidry can be anything that one wants it to be. To me, at this point in my journey, those philosophies are:
  • Reverence for the Earth
  • Reverence for Mankind
  • Reverence for the Spirit
Reverence can have a few different flavors of definition, depending on the context. To me, reverence indicates profound respect given from a place of natural humility. By humility, I mean a state of recognizing our own part of the chain of life; our own place in the circle. We are neither more nor less than any other existence. I believe that we should acknowledge the value that each existence brings to the balance of the world, even ones that we cannot see and that have no direct influence on our lives.


Reverence for the Earth is a natural inclination. As a child, I remember the joy I felt when seeing something beautiful in nature (Anne Shirley would call it a "thrill"! 😄). I grew up near the state line between Connecticut and Rhode Island and that area of the country is full of natural beauty. Winding, narrow roads, steep cliffs of rock, and a patchwork of green fields surrounded by low walls of stone. Trees grew everywhere; little lakes dotted the woods and streams bubbled up running to and away from them, singing over the rocky creek beds. I spent my childhood in a little cottage with woods just behind. Our landlord pastured her pony in the backyard but when he wasn't out, us kids could slip beneath the thin electric fence, dash across the field to the wooden gate at the other side, and find ourselves suddenly in a cool, sweet smelling pine woods. I will never forget the incredible feelings of rich joy, excitement, contentment and dear familiarity. It was quite a rush. Every tree was a friend, every stone had a name, each animal could talk to us. Yet feelings are but a small part of reverence for the Earth.

Our society, as a whole, is killing the Earth. As I grew older I realized this and now, as an adult, am just beginning to grasp the severity of our selfish destruction of this planet. It is almost debilitating to think about it, but we cannot let the enormity of the problem make us give up hope and think, "oh, well, there is not much any one person can do." Start small. Start local. Start right now, right here, where you stand. Clean up your trash! Recycle what you can. Cut down on your consumption of non recyclable products. Every tiny bit helps, and the Earth will thank you. She is resilient; she heals, she doesn't require more than we can give. Start in your own backyard. Volunteer to pick up trash, or collect goods to be recycled, or to help care for the local parks. Plant trees. Plant a garden, even if it's just a pot of herbs on your windowsill. Speak to the Earth and thank her for her gifts. Write to your congressmen about environmental issues. Donate time or money to environmental organizations. Walk, ride a bike, or car pool to cut down on air pollution. Care for this miraculous, loving, giving planet and you will find your relationship with her will grow and deepen. She will tell you what you need to do, and soon you will be doing more than you ever thought you'd be able. 

Reverence for mankind is another key point of belief for me. As we recognize and value each existence, we must include every human being. Coming from a background of fundamental Christianity, I feel that it is very easy for organized religion (or really, any organized social group!) to devalue people who are different and subscribe to a different set of beliefs. Speaking from my own experience, people who had slightly differing Christian beliefs were considered less-than. People who lived a different lifestyle were less. Families with single mothers, or with parents where one or both struggled with addiction were less. Although it was never explicitly stated in the churches I attended, people of different races were less. Interracial relationships were discouraged or forbidden. Any romantic relationship other than a monogamous heterosexual relationship was forbidden. Those who didn't conform to a certain standard of behavior, thought, dress, and lifestyle were less. We were taught that we had to be separate from "the world", so as to not let ourselves be "influenced" by people who were different than ourselves. 

This is a very dangerous philosophy and not only is it extremely harmful to others, it is also harmful to ourselves. When we are taught it is sinful to be different we will never feel safe to grow. We remain stunted. It is a such a controlling and sick mental, emotional and physical barrier to think of any human being as less than ourselves. There is so much we can and ought to learn from each other. We do not have to agree; certainly not! But we can listen, and we can learn and we can grow from reverencing each other. I think many relationship problems, from personal relationships to inter-national political relationships, could be improved so much or done away with altogether if we all just respected and valued each other as human beings. 

On the other side of this is the idea that we should know and embrace our own worth as a human being. It is sometimes easy to be too hard on ourselves and think we are undeserving of respect, love and acceptance. We allow ourselves to be treated poorly because we think we somehow deserve it. We allow ourselves to be treated poorly because we think that by doing so we are avoiding conflict or being humble. This is a false, dangerous belief. While it is of utter importantance to treat others with reverence, we must not forget to value ourselves - and to gently insist that others treat us respectfully, no matter our gender, race, age, religion or lifestyle.

Finally, I believe in reverencing the Spirit. This is less easy to define, as Spirit can mean different things to different people. To me, reverencing the Spirit is respecting the relationships I have with both the Earth and her people, and also with the past, present and future. It is honoring my ancestors and the people who came before me, and learning from them through study and also through connection as I retrace their steps and allow my mind to be open to their communications. It is allowing myself to feel life as I connect with the earth when planting my garden in the spring, or to feel the pulsing heartbeat of a tree when I place my hand on the rough bark of its trunk. It is hearing the song in the water and the ancient knowledge of the stones it crosses. It is knowing that the cycle of the earth and her seasons, the phases of the moon, the rising and setting of constellations and our orbit around the sun is the future speaking to us. It is being content in the here and now, at this point, where past and future meet, while loving both, hands grasping both, being the bridge between them. 

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Pinecone

Watercolor of a Pinecone
Throughout recorded history certain elements of nature have come to symbolize various human traits and this is often used in Bardic tradition to enhance the magic of story-telling. In the circle of fire light a thousand years ago, perhaps, the bard uses his voice and body to enact various scenes of the story. A captive audience will find their imaginations soaring as different characters are described, sometimes as animals, sometimes as a plant or other part of the natural world. Immediately their understanding of the character deepens through the use of symbolism.

 As the seed-bearing part of one of the most ancient plants on earth and the first evolutionary form of a flower, the pinecone is a very interesting thing as both itself and as a symbol for peace, fertility and, perhaps most importantly, the ability to perceive light, to "sense", to find connection to the Source.

There are both male and female cones, the males being typically smaller than the larger females. The females hold and protect the seed until they sense that the time is right for them to open and release their seed onto the earth. This isn't always as often as we might think - while many cones release their seed yearly, or every few years, some pinecones can remain attached to the tree for many more before maturity, and some serotinous cones only are able to open when exposed to extremely hot temperatures that will melt the resin coating them. Often, this extreme heat takes the form of fire.

As so often happens when we look around us at the order and cyclical beauty of Nature, there is much for us to learn. What are the seeds we are holding? What dreams do we have? What do we want to see happen in our lives? Are we hiding our dreams or are we actively letting them develop, consciously waiting for the time to let them grow? What is holding us back? Are we listening for the Source, are we trusting our instinct? If we experience devastating circumstances in life, is there a way to allow this to change us; to bring us closer to our dreams? If we go through fire, is it an ending? Or will it merely burn away that which no longer serves us? May we all seek the next step in the journey of Becoming.  

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Reflection & Purpose

As this calendar year draws to a close, the end of my first year in OBOD fast approaches. Earlier this month I was sitting in my room, by the sunny, south-facing window where I have my books and my journals and I started considering how this past year has affected and changed me as I went through the Bardic grade. The thought was enormous and overwhelming so I started my thought process over and began very small.

Just looking around me at that corner in which I sat, I noticed the stark change from last November. Last fall this bit of my room was efficient and organized, perhaps, but it wasn't warm. It wasn't living. It wasn't full of my thoughts, my dreams, my lessons and my creative spirit. It wasn't a place of inspiration and motivation like it is now. Now, with so many hours spent here over the last year, it has become a sacred place in my home, a place where I can go when I need a moment to quiet my soul and to find reason in whatever I am currently struggling with.

In the window bundles of herbs hang to dry, infusing the air with spicy odors. Pots of brushes and palettes of paints are messy on the windowsill. A large bag stuffed with yarn is nearby and whatever project I'm currently working on is on my work table. My drum is in its woolen bag by the chair and my flute hung by the strap of its bag on a hook. The reading table next to me is littered with papers, pens and pencils and practice paintings, sketches and scraps of poetry. On the shelves are books that I open and use daily; my OBOD gwers, of course, but also books of poetry, philosophy, history and science. Many of these are books I have had for years but, somehow, with the busy pace of life and the addition of children to the household, I had less and less time for.

One year has changed and transformed this area of my home. I go out further into my home and see more visible evidences of change. I have loved this home more; I have tended her more carefully, respecting who she is. Perhaps, after all, it isn't change but is a reclamation of what I used to have. A reclamation, yes, as well as a progression beyond what used to be. I look into myself. The change and transformation is less physically visible, but nonetheless present. After all, everything outward is an expression of what originates inwardly. Some days it is hard to remember what I was like "before"; somedays it is hard to know if I am any different, but the pursuit of old journals reveals the contrast. It is good to keep records, or else we will never know how far we have come, where it is that we are going and we will be stuck continually going up the same few steps, over and over, because we forget where we started.

As I end this first year in the Order, I have thought about if I want to go on and start in the Ovate grade for this coming year. I think, though, that I desire to take this next year to reflect on what I have learned, to continue to pursue the Bardic gwers over and over and to let their wisdom seep and settle into my being, on increasingly deeper levels. One year isn't long enough to explore all their aspects. A lifetime isn't long enough, perhaps. Maybe only True Wisdom is to be found when we have learned enough to, paradoxically, leave this earth yet become one with it, at the moment of death.

There is much to learn. I hope to never stop seeking.

My Approach

This blog is written from the perspective of someone who was raised in a conservative Christian community and who was taught that the spiritual element of nature is a reflection of the glory of God. It wasn't until my mid to late 20's that I was brave enough to question what I had been taught and not until my 30's that I knew that nature based spiritual belief systems existed, though often under the umbrella term "pagan". I began to search my own instincts more thoroughly and this brought me back to the very beginning of my memory store, where I felt awe, joy and awareness in the presence of nature. Over the next years, my studying and discovery of different possible fits for my re-discovered and progressing beliefs brought me to the early 19th century Transcendental movement, Unitarian and Quaker churches and finally back to my first church, the church of Nature. While my Christian upbringing still influences my approach and I find much merit in the Bible, I no longer feel confined to narrow, specific and uncompromising views. When I discovered OBOD in 2018 I knew I had found a community of like minded people. While modern druidry is, at best, a very faint and uncertain reflection of the druids of old, engaging in earth-honoring practices makes me feel connected to the past, present and future in a way that feels natural and right. I am so happy to be on this druid path.