Posts Tagged sacred

Outside

When people ask me what Paganism is, I always start with a baseline. Because (let’s face it) Paganism is hard to define in a soundbite. Any spiritual path is, due to inherent complexities of belief, subjective individual perspectives… stuff most people aren’t really interested in.

Interestingly, I was also asked years ago to help explain Christianity to a lovely couple of Muslim co-workers at a temp job. My friendly manager jumped in, and we ended up using a whiteboard to illustrate. The Muslims then did likewise – and it was both fun and pretty enlightening, as you try to explain something that’s by its nature pretty amorphous.

But anyway. Paganism, I tell people, is seeing the sacred in Nature. Baseline, as best I can determine. Do any Pagans not believe this? I haven’t met them yet, if so. And I’m not sure why they would call themselves Pagans, because this kind of is the foundation of the definition.

Then come the differences. What is ‘sacred’, what is ‘natural’, how do we view this, how do we practise… it’s tricky, but it’s also interesting, to me, because this is where we can explore. Why we do what we do, but also why others do it in their own particular manner. Not saying anyone’s wrong, just poking a bit to challenge and understand.

Lately, I’ve been considering the meanings behind words we use to describe spiritual connection (specifically, how they’re often misused – or is that just the word-meaning evolving? A topic for another day). And I realized how so many of our ‘modern’ ideas are almost binary: right/wrong, us/them,  black/white… Science/Nature.

Not to go into too much detail, as it’s all out there if you want to look it up, but the idea of Science VERSUS Nature seems to have come about during the Industrial Revolution. In order to understand the world better, thinkers, scientists and engineers decided to use a mechanical model. This meant that complex forms could be understood by looking at their component parts, with a view to potentially tinkering with those to help or enhance, to find answers to Why Things Are the way they are.

So came the idea of physical versus meta-physical. What is empirically real – provable by Science – as opposed to what is not.

But the answers failed to be found, as each discovery simply posed more questions. Shades of me and my whiteboard and pen, trying to define a religion within finite space and with a language that didn’t quite help.

And again… I don’t think this is a bad thing. But I can see the frustrations when the ideas of the world don’t fit into neat little boxes. We’re reminded we can’t know everything… but we can still connect with it. We have to, in fact, or we die.

We see the sacred in Nature. And not just see. We use every one of our senses – and more besides. We seek that connection… and when we get a taste/touch/glimpse of it, we realize how indefinable, immense and complex it is.

But that is ok. That’s one of the first steps on this journey.

Here’s a task for you today. Pagan or not, it doesn’t matter – if you’ve got this far, I’ll assume you’re still interested.

Step outside. Take a few minutes. Do it. No excuses. If you absolutely can’t (and I’m speaking to my lovely readers who may not be physically able here, not just those who are confined to office cubicles), then get to an open window. Trust me.

Feel the Outside, with every one of those senses. The air on your face, perhaps rain or breeze. Birds singing, people talking, dogs barking, vehicles, phones, music. The ground beneath your feet.

How does it all feel? Close your eyes if it’s safe to do so, and reach out a little. If folk give you funny looks, don’t panic – you won’t see them.

Now. Notice your thoughts. How’s your brain dealing with all of this? Feeling stupid? Looking at the time, at the commitments you have to get back to, worrying about things to do… just catch that internal monologue in the act. Tell it you’re Outside. Remind it that you’re Pagan. You’re Doing a Thing. Shut up. All of that noise can wait.

Then notice the world again. Go deeper. You’ve put aside the mundane concerns, you’re having a spiritual moment within the everyday. This is your own small ritual. Reach down, reach out… connect.

Because that binary reality isn’t an accurate depiction of life, not really. It’s a way that people chose to help them understand, and that’s fine – as a model.Not the Ultimate Truth.

You touch the natural world while hearing and feeling the human-made – concrete underfoot, tiny computer in your pocket, machined clothes, make-up, processed food.

As you stand outside, your brain may want to go back in. This isn’t right, people will think you’re weird, there’s stuff to be getting on with! Or perhaps… as they look, seeing someone who has simply stopped, pausing to breathe… they might be envious? How many have the courage to ask you what you’re up to? How many more would want to join you? Would they be able to let themselves? Just smile.

The difference between Outside and Inside is a closed portal – a door or a window. You have the power to move through it (doesn’t that sound magical, just by thinking in those terms?). Civilization creeps outside, while the natural world effortlessly sits inside: earth, air, water, fire…

If you are Pagan, seeing the sacred all around, you can step outside to better connect. But you then take that with you as you move forward with your day. As your senses have opened, your awareness has been reminded of what is there all the time, just waiting to be seen, acknowledged, appreciated. It’s all combined, part of life. City or country, wild or tame, sacred or profane… we engage through taking the time to witness it, to be part of it. Any time, any place. We should not be afraid to do this. It’s not about ‘finding time’.

And it’s up to us what we do with that, ultimately. I’ve tried to turn a huge and almost indefinable feeling into words here, to convey my thoughts and understanding. We can let it inspire us, channelling through our own personal creativity in whatever way suits us best – prose, poetry, art, music, computer code, pottery or Lego… we use the technology (as I use this laptop right now) to pin down feelings, just for a moment. There’s that model again, something that allows our human brains to come to terms with cosmic reality.

We can’t see air, but it’s there and we use it. We may not understand electricity, but it we know how to harness it. I’ve always known in my heart that flying in a huge, heavy metal box above the clouds is a very particular form of magic that I’ll never comprehend, but I’ve done it.

And so I know that feeling the particular energy of the night-time is not strange. Joy at a sunrise, the primal pleasure of a fire in my hearth… or the warmth of a nourishing drink in my hands, sharing laughter with friends or witnessing someone else’s tale on screen or page. Our ancestors have done every one of these, using whatever technology they had. We reconnect with the world and we reconnect with our selves, our families, friends, stories… the wild and the tamed, intertwined.

As Pagans, we notice. And we are grateful and glad. Marking Nature as sacred in our lives, as they are lived.

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Seeking Sacred – A Challenge

Today, I was chatting with my partner about my current book projects. Which haven’t been moving very fast of late. Busyness, mental blocks, personal mood or external issues… ultimately, the words have just not been coming.

He suggested I take myself deeper into my own practice, diving into the topics I want to write about, to explore them more fully myself. I can see where this takes me, to give ideas for the work and also help with the overarching issue of Not Writing. The oldest trick in the book, really – Write What You Know.

So how can I do this, I thought? I’m not exactly Jack Kerouac, about to head out into the world to see what’s there (which I kind of do anyway, albeit in the course of my work!). Nor Edgar Allen Poe, locking himself in a garret to write from his madness. Hmm.

Perhaps a challenge that I can write about as I go, to find that flow again and also open myself to ideas from others – those who like the writing and themselves provide inspiration. Actively seeking the sacred each day, reconnecting with deity if that is the form it chooses; going beyond inspiration into the deep roots of my spirituality within my life.

As I type this, I find myself actually rather daunted. It sounded like a great idea in my head, but is no small thing in actuality. But if I want to write from experience, something true and valid that’s worth reading, I owe both myself and my readers the courtesy and honour of putting in that effort.

So here we go, then. I’ll be cross-posting with my Drops of Awen blog, as that seems an appropriate place for random inspiration bursts, but also here for considerations specific to my Druidry. I’ve no idea where this will end up, but I will, as always do my best. I’ve no doubt I’ll have tough days, but I will do my best to keep to that truth and not be self-indulgent or – horrors! – boring…

As always: onward.

 

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One Week

Last Monday, I wrote about the turbulence of recent weeks. I thought it would be interesting to look back over the days that followed, just seven small spans of hours… but during which, so much has happened.

I’ve driven over 400 miles, for those who’ve asked. To minister good times and bad, celebration and tragedy. To mark once-in-a-lifetime occasions, and to honour the passing of times we hope never to face.

I’ve invited those in need into my home, to tell their tale and be heard. The medicinal value of tea and a caring arm is so simple, yet beyond price.

I’ve connected over thousands of miles with others, to chat and laugh, and be amazed by their stories. Technology lets us be heard.

I’ve walked the streets near my home, seeing familiar landscapes change and evolve. I’ve seen history marked by local children, in the Derbyshire tradition of well-dressing.

I’ve felt the sacred, tangibly, with every sense. The grass beneath my feet, a deluge of rain on my face. Warm sunlight, cool breezes. Mist-wreathed mountains, impossibly blue waters.

I’ve laughed and cried. I’ve cheered and mourned. I’ve created, given every scrap of my energy where it’s needed, and then fallen into exhausted dreams.

I’ve felt the pain of dishonour, frustration, broken promises, hurtful words. I’ve felt the joy of love, happiness, commitment, truth, inspiration. My breath has caught in my throat as words failed me. I’ve been both awed and angered at the actions of others.

I have born witness and held stories. Life is being lived – with all of its ups and downs. I walk my path.

This is my Druidry.

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The Raven’s Eye

Yesterday, I wrote a post on the topic of ‘Sacrifice’. It’s been taken down now, for various reasons, but mainly that it was perhaps too ambiguous – a large topic either needs a broad area for discussion, or something simpler, more personal.

But I’ve been thinking, deeply, on both that subject and the wider aspects of communicating such amorphous concepts. Which is, essentially, what this blog does. I’ve made it my duty to do it as well as I can.

So this is just one tiny page of one person’s thoughts. Challenged to write from my heart, to sing my own song, I call on the Awen to flow once again…

As a Druid, I’m often asked about ‘making the sacrifice’. It’s something people ‘know’ about our ancestors, that image of the robed figure with knife held high above a stone table. That may be the story, but what’s the reality?

To me a Sacrifice is a sacred gift, given to reflect and maintain balance. Offered with love and some regret, it should be missed – and therein lies the value. The relationship between given and giver, the connection, the story told in the history of that act and its future consequences: a sacrifice is neither simple, nor isolated. Responsibility and intention are presented and received in turn. And we move forward.

The first, or last, taste of food or drink – the gift of Life.
Time and energy – the gift of Knowledge.
Tears – Strength.
Life – Love.
Blood – Life.
Pain – Healing.

I give my words to you all, here. My efforts, time, thoughts and integrity, sacrificed on the altar of free information – not ultimate truth, in any way, but my own truth. I can do no more.

I learn from what comes as a result of these words, as others read and respond. It’s not about ego, not at all, but about inspiration, sharing, adding one voice to an overarching melody. I work hard to make that sound true, with so much discordant squawking out there. The topic becomes less important, as I struggle to make the words reflect my thoughts, to create understanding, not confusion. I have no idea who will read these words – the sheer audacity of believing that it will be of interest at all is huge, but I can’t think about that. It’s a challenge, but I can’t be overwhelmed by the unknown. It’s just me, here, typing my intention.

I make my own sacrifices daily, feeling it become more difficult as I get older. To my loved ones, my Gods, my ancestors, family of blood and spirit – and to complete strangers, those who approach me to simply ask. These words are just one example.

We’re all human, reluctant to give up what we’ve worked for, to expose ourselves to ridicule. But we have to make that connection, to do what matters – or we’re simply isolated, alone and confused, and fooling ourselves, refusing to feel, blocking our own senses. We receive as we give (as a wiser person said).

What sacrifices do you make in life? Not necessarily through obligation, but voluntarily – not always easily, but willingly?

The cost and reward of Sacrifice? Love, bravery and honesty. A Druid Triad, perhaps – or it could be just my mutterings…

Dedicated, with love, to that Son of Odin whose wisdom I hold dear. The Raven’s song may be harsh, but it always carries meaning x

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Druidry – Ancient & Modern

I’m currently busy formulating the upcoming Druidry Workshops that I’ll be running over the next year (see the ‘Workshops’ page on the right for specifics), with a brief taster session this coming week. And so naturally I’ve got to thinking over that original question that is the jumping off point for all others I get: ‘What IS Druidry?’

Specifically, what is this thing that I do – and can I really call it ‘Druidry?’ After all, nobody really knows what the ancient Druids got up to, do they?

I’ve heard so many answers to this. From ‘no, we know nothing really, because the Roman records are all propaganda’ to ‘we know far more than you think, because there’s been a secret, unbroken line of oral knowledge from the ancient teachers’… so Richard Dawkins-esque debunking to Da Vinci Code conspiracies. And none of it terribly helpful to either answering the original question or to everyday lived practice.

The lovely Bryn then sent me a book review this morning, for Ronald Hutton’s book, ‘Blood & Mistletoe‘. It sums up very succinctly both the problem and a suggested solution:

‘Putting everyone in their context, from classical writers onwards, what Hutton makes clear is the rather depressing fact that we don’t know a great deal. There are many tantalising possibilities, many details that might of course be true but the odds are we will never prove any of it conclusively. What Hutton also illustrates is a long history of appropriation, as all kinds of people have borrowed the ancient Druids and dressed them up in their own agenda.

There were points reading this book when I felt very depressed indeed. On the whole I would rather be honestly depressed than clinging to illusions. I came away from this book with a number of thoughts. One, that we probably have to embrace the not knowing. Two, that every ancient faith out there finds itself at odds with definitive historical records. Three, that inspiration may be more important than hard fact, and four, that what we do with this will be the measure of us, not what we can ’prove’ about what ancient druids got up to.

I think there are a number of issues modern druids need to consider, in terms of how we position ourselves in relation to the past. What of the ancient writing about the druids do we choose to accept and what do we decide to reject? Do we believe that the mediaeval ‘celtic’ writings represent a valid source for modern druids? What of the inspiration from the eighteenth century onwards do we want to keep claiming, and what, if any, is too dishonourably crafted to serve us further? I very much doubt we’re all going to settle on one definitive answer here, which is probably as well.’

To my delight, Damh the Bard has just interjected his own explanation via MP3: ‘Some people don’t understand when I say “These are the things I believe.”‘ (From ‘The Hills They Are Hollow, used without permission but with grateful thanks!).

As I’ve said before, ‘Druidry’ is a term that I (and many others) use to roughly describe a particular ethical and spiritual practice. There are, we believe, parallels with that ancient faith that we know so little about, but ultimately we don’t practise anything in the same manner as our ancestors two millennia ago – nor should we, as by now it would be largely irrelevant. While human truths about life and death still stand, our ways of living are very different.

So, in this world of deified science, political correctness and equality, isn’t it in fact amazing that people are still interested in spirituality at all? Isn’t it irrelevant? I don’t think so.

While the context has changed, the quest for answers goes on. For every solution science throws up, more questions appear – and that’s part of the wonder of life, the universe and our place in it. This, for me, is where my Druidry comes in.

We are PART of the universe. Like it or not, we are not above all other life-forms, somehow apart and superior – we’re part of the big scheme of things, the chaos of natural disasters and the order of the food chain. The realization that in this ‘modern’ world of computers, DNA and international information networks, we are still subject to anything can be extremely uncomfortable.

This spirituality I call Druidry does not provide easy explanations that I must take on blind faith. Yes, I have faith – in the Nature that I see all around me. As I do things it probably doesn’t understand, so it returns the favour!

As we move forward into the ‘advanced’ 21st Century, more and more we are waking up to knowledge of our own ignorance – hence looking back for answers that we may have forgotten. Historical validation seems to be important to the newer Pagan faiths, but rather than a form of desperation, it  can be seen as re-realizing that our ancestors were working just as hard to understand the world they lived in as we are… and their words have value if we truly listen.

Being part of Nature is not just a geographic experience, but a temporal one as well. Shamanic teaching holds that all time is relative and can be experienced as circular, rather than linear – as any child who watches ‘Dr Who’ knows, we can do our best to understand our ancestors, past and future, through imagination and visualisation. As adults, we can learn from investigation and greater understanding of humanity and our own families, and from spiritual exploration (if we know how to look).

My Druidry is being a Priest of the Land. Working with it, on it and beside it, being curious and loving in relationship. Aware that as a human being, I will make mistakes, fall and get up again, with the ground always there to meet me… hopefully knocking some sense in through experience!

Who can truly say that they understand what’s going on in life – with the world, even with our own species? It’s an endless quest, but striving for greater understanding of our interconnected relationship as a sacred responsibility in life helps to keep me grounded and moving on this path.

I’m also endlessly glad that so many others are with me.

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