The Solitary Path

For me, Druidry is mostly a solitary path, though I do belong to some Druid Orders and networks, and celebrate the seasons with a small group of friends. But the everyday Druidry, the currents of intention that flow through me and my home, through the landscape where I live, is my main focus. Like learning, I always preferred to do so on my own, rather than working with a group, for I found that my concentration was higher, and I could have a deeper level of experience than I could with the influence of others upon my work. Indeed, personal and private ritual is always more profound than most shared ritual, though there have been a few occasions where, such as at the White Spring in Glastonbury, there has been a mix of private ritual and group celebration with my best friends deep within the cavernous walls that house those sacred waters that have changed my life forever.

Of course, we are never truly solitary creatures, but in this sense I am using the word solitary with regards to other humans. I am never truly solitary, for I am always surrounded by nature and all its creatures every single second of my life. I am always a part of an inter-connected web of existence. Living this connection, weaving the threads of my life to that of my environment and all that exists within it, means that there is no separation, no isolation. Yet, when asked to describe my path, I use the word solitary in the sense that I prefer to find such connection on my own, without other human animals around. Why this should be so is perhaps due to my nature: naturally shy, and sensitive to noise, light, barometric pressure and other phenomena, it is just easier to be “alone” most of the time. My husband is much the same, so it is easy to be around him for most of the time, taking day-long walks with him through the countryside, with little words between us, for there is no need for unnecessary talk; just being with another being in a shared space is enough. We live in a small village near the coast, so it is easy to get away from humanity by just walking out the door and down the bridle paths, or simply stay in and enjoy our beautiful garden visited by all sorts of wildlife, from deer and pheasants to pigeons and blackbirds, and even a family of badgers one time!

The path of the mystic is much the same, a solitary path where personal connection to the divine is the central focus. Some would say that the mystic path is the search for the nature of reality. For me, Druidry is the search for reality within nature, and so the two can walk hand in hand down this forest path. There are many elements of mysticism in my everyday life, where the songs of the land and the power of the gods flow through me, the knowledge from the ancestors deep within my blood and deep within the land upon which I live, rooted in its soil and sharing its stories on the breeze. To hold that connection, day in and day out, to live life fully within the threads of that tapestry is what I aspire to do, each and every moment. Sometimes a thread is dropped, and it requires a deep mindfulness to restore it, but practice helps when we search for those connecting threads, becoming easier with time and patience both with the world and with your own self.

The dissolution of the ego can be seen as at the heart of many Eastern traditions. Druidry teaches us integration, our ego perhaps not dissolving but blending in with that of our own environment. The animism that is a large part of Druidry for many helps us to see the sacredness of all existence, and in doing so we are not seeking annihilation, but integration. We can perhaps dissolve the notions and out-dated perceptions that we have, both about the world and about ourselves, leaving the self to find its own edges and then blending in to the world around us, truly becoming part of an ecosystem where selflessness is not altruistic, but necessary for the survival of the system.

The flowing inspiration, the awen, where soul touches soul and the edges melt away into an integrated way of being, has always been at the heart of Druidry. The three drops of inspiration or wisdom from Cerridwen’s cauldron contain that connection; contain the awen that, with enough practice, is accessible to all. We have to spend time brewing our own cauldron of inspiration, filling it with both knowledge and experience before we can taste the delicious awen upon our lips. Some prefer to do this with others; some prefer to do so alone.

It is easier to quiet the noise of humanity, and of our own minds, when we are alone without distraction. Notice I said “easier” and not “easy”, because again it takes practice. But time spent alone, daily connecting and reweaving the threads that we have dropped can help us create a wonderful, rich tapestry that inspires us to continue in our journey through life, whatever may happen along the way. Though the solitary path might not be for everyone, having these moments of solitude can be a great tool for deep learning, working on your own as well as working within a group, Grove or Order. Sometimes we need to remove ourselves from the world in order to better understand it, and then come back into the fold with a new awareness and integration filled with awen, filled with inspiration.

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Emma Restall Orr on the ancestors

“The dead fall from awareness only when they are forgotten, so the practising animist acknowledges the ancestors with gratitude and open-heartedness, each and every day – whenever a task is to be done, whenever an old tool is lifted, a skill used, an old pathway walked. When a challenge or an obstacle arises blocking the way, when pain kicks in and weakness overwhelms, it is to the ancestors that the animist turns, and it is in the ancestors that courage is found, generation to generation, hand in hand, words of wisdom heard and experience shared. When crises are overcome, when love is found and joy fills a moment with delight, the ancestors are an integral part of the celebration.”
Emma Restall Orr, from her essay “Time and the Grave”, from the book This Ancient Heart.

Sacrifice

barley stubbleSacrifice – it’s one of those “old” words, like honour and duty. Many who have read Roman accounts of the Druids associate the word, sacrifice, with the priest caste of the Celtic people at that particular time. However, the word goes even further back into the beginnings of time for the human animal, when the importance of relationship with nature was everything, when we knew that to disconnect ourselves from the natural world meant death. Today, we must remember this, remember each and every day how much we are a part of the world, how much our everyday actions count, no matter how small. Each day is also an opportunity to give thanks for the blessings that we have. At Lammas, however, just giving thanks doesn’t seem quite enough. When the first crop is harvested, and the land lies stark and naked, shaved and shorn from under the combine harvester, giving thanks and saying words over the field doesn’t feel adequate. This, for me, is where sacrifice comes into play.

It’s hard as the line keeps shifting between giving thanks and the notion of sacrifice. What might be an offering to one person might be seen as a sacrifice to another. I can only speak from my own personal viewpoint, as I may value things differently from my neighbours, my family, and members of my pagan community. So, what is the difference between an offering and a sacrifice?

For me, sacrifice is something of significant value. This is not necessarily a monetary value, but could be something that is cherished, prized, something that is utterly loved and which has a representative value of the threads of connection we hold with the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place. What is it that I have which I value? What am I willing to give back in return for the flow of awen, that spark where soul touches soul and is inspired? What am I willing to do to achieve that?

When the barley in the field by my house is cut, the energy of the land drastically changes. Between the homes and the heathland there are two arable fields, one which was harvested in the spring for green barley, and one which still has the golden, bowed stalks waiting to be harvested. Acknowledging the change isn’t enough, for when we hear the songs of the ancestors, I feel how important these crops were for them, how important their relationship with the land meant their survival and success. In a field of growing barley, there is potential, a shimmering energy waiting to be harvested. When that field is cut, the potential can be scattered if the land is not honoured. The ancestors knew this, but we have forgotten. Modern farming depletes the soil of essential nutrients that must be replaced, often by less-than-natural means. The barley is cut, and the field then stands, barren and forgotten for weeks, until the farmer and his tractor are ready to plough in the winter or spring crops.

The land isn’t respected, isn’t acknowledged anymore. As an animist, I find this appalling. When the land has been used, has given us so much in a beautiful field of barley, and we don’t even give thanks, much less sacrifice then there is dishonour. As with any relationship, if one side continually gives and gives, and the other continually takes and takes, the balance will shift, the relationship will crumble and great suffering will ensue.

What can I give that will honour the lives that this crop will feed, that will honour the land that grew it, that will honour the ancestors that worked it, that will honour the spirits of place who live there? What will be a significant gift for all we have received?

The sacrifice will change year upon year. What matters most is the importance of the sacrifice to me personally.

Offerings represent a more daily interaction, little gifts and niceties that you would present to any friend that you meet: a cup of tea, a biscuit, some of the fresh-baked bread you just made, or your home-brew mead. Finding out what the local spirits of place would like is as polite as asking your guest how she would like her tea: with or without milk, honey or sugar? When it comes to sacrifice, however, the shift of focus changes to become more introverted rather than extroverted.

I’ve previously in earlier articles described sacrifice as something that is not only of great value, but also as something that can help you “get to the next level”, so to speak. No, we’re not playing at Druids on World of Warcraft, but we are seeking to deepen our relationship with the land. Sacrifice is key in this regard, helping us to go deeper, to give more of ourselves in order to understand more of the land.

Many within the Pagan traditions see the Sun King as offering himself as sacrifice at this time of year, to be cut down as the grain is cut, to be reborn at Yule. Yet are we comfortable allowing the Sun King to do this each and every year, or should we also take our part in the sacrifice, participating rather than simply watching the cycles of life unfold?

And so I will spend the next few weeks walking the land, finding out what I can give, what I can do to deepen my relationship with it, to be an active contributor instead of a passive spectator. Some aspect of my self must be willing to die alongside John Barleycorn in order to understand the cycles of nature. Some sacrifice must be made.

Reblog: Druidry, Animism and The Meaning of Life

This post is a reblog extract from my channel at SageWoman. To read the full article, click HERE.

For many people, myself included, Druidry and Animism go hand in hand. Since the Age of Enlightenment and perhaps even further back in history (perhaps with coming of Christianity) Animism has gotten the reputation of being somehow backward, a superstitious and childish view of the world wherein everything is “alive”. This belief is completely biased in that it is totally from a human-centric point of view; those who believe it to be silly would say that believing a stone has a soul is absolutely ridiculous. This point of view is a projection of our human perspective, of what is alive and what isn’t, what is ensouled and what isn’t. It doesn’t take into consideration differences in the metaphysical. This perspective is often derogatory of Animism, yet it fails to actually understand just what Animism actually means, and what living with an Animistic perspective can bring to human consciousness.

In my opinion, we are in great debt to author Emma Restall Orr for exploring Animism in her two books, Living With Honour and The Wakeful World. In both, she goes into just what it means to be an Animist, putting aside the childish perspective and engaging with the concept in a very rational and yet spiritual manner. I remember when I first saw her speak at Witchfest in Croydon many years ago, when she shouted from the stage that the moon was “just a big f*cking rock in the sky!” (which it is). Believing that the moon is deity is perhaps a childish view of the moon, however, seeing the deity within the rock is closer to the mark, dependent upon your concept of deity. In her two latest books, defining the often used words in Animism of soul and spirit, she shows the interconnectedness of all things in contexts of philosophy, spirituality and science.

This interconnectedness is reflected in many, if not most religions and spiritualities throughout the world. Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh uses the term “interbeing”, even founding The Order of Interbeing, a way to live your life fully aware of the interconnections of all things. We cannot exist without each other – we are fully co-existing together. In a piece of paper, there is the sun, the tree, the rain, the wind, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, stars, clouds, loggers, factory workers, their ancestors, the ancestors of place, the foods that they ate – the list goes on forever. Since the beginning of time, if there ever was a beginning, we all come from the same source, if there is a source. We are all star-stuff.

Continued… to read the full article, click HERE.

 

Deep Paganism

Reblogged from my articles at Moon Books – http://moon-books.net/blogs/moonbooks/deep-paganism/

As Pagans I feel that we naturally tend towards a worldview that is less anthropocentric, especially if we follow an animistic path.  Our love of nature, whether it is the world around us, or human nature, or both leads us on a journey that can take us outside of our selves, and thereby gaining a wider perspective on the whole.

Deep ecology is about thinking less about the benefits towards humanity, and more about the benefits to the environment. Buddhism, with its tenets of compassion, is very much in a similar vein; we try to drop the ego in order to benefit the world, and by becoming less self-centred, are better able to help others.  Some spiritual and secular journeys can put too much stress on human relations, and not enough on the wider web of life.  Within Paganism, we can see that we are always connected, and that connection is what inspires us to lead a life more attuned to the natural cycles, or vice versa.

In my own Druidry, what I seek is total immersion in my natural environment. I strive to loosen my sense of self as an individual and instead seek to blend my song with that of the world around me, finding a harmonious union.  When out walking on the heath or in the woodland, I let the “I” drop away, and become totally immersed in the present moment. I feel that this gives me a greater connection to the world, allowing what Buddhism calls the dharma to flow.  Dharma is simply reality, which we so often tend to avoid at all costs. When we realise the beauty of the present moment, when we can truly live it in every sense of the word, then we are truly connected to everything.  We become part of everything, and in this I also see the Druid concept of awen, or flowing inspiration; the life force itself.

If I can free myself of myself, I can open truly to the songs of the universe.  There is no separation – I am the heath, the forest, the deer.  Movements are made in full awareness, and every step is taken in love and reverence. Every breath is a blessing. Everything my eye falls upon is a gift.

In living such a life, what is fundamental is a respect for all things. This is at the heart of animism, which sees the inherent value in all things just as they are.  No one thing is more worthy than another. Each thing is an expression of itself in full blossom, in full fruition.  Even my self, my physical self, is simply energy taking form as my body in this present momen t and perhaps even my mind), for however long or short a time span.  This body is in permanent change and flux, growing and changing shape, eventually dying. In death the change continues, and the form alongside the energy flows in different currents. My body will continue to change, as cells break down and bacteria work to return the physical form to the earth.  The process of life and death, of decay and regeneration is honoured within Druidry and within animism. No one process even is more important than the other. Birth is no more important than death. What we do realise is that life has no opposite – there is only flow, change, awen.

My sense of self is of little consequence in the grand scheme of things. What matters is that I pay attention to what is happening around me, and use that to inspire me to live my life accordingly, with honour and respect.  Paganism allows us to leave behind all the machinations of humanity to follow a different flow, one where we see where we fit in the puzzle.  The love of nature inspires us along the path, demonstrating that there is more to the world that our own human lives.  We are the country folk, the paganus. Even though we may live in cities, we still feel the pull and hum of nature around us, reflected in the sun’s cycles, the seasons, the flows of human nature.

Immersion is key.  If we can allow ourselves to not only ride the current, but become one with the flow itself, we are then blessed with a wholly different perspective not based upon human need and desire.  There is much more to the world than our anthropocentric view, and we honour that world with all that we are.