Reconciling polytheism with Hermetic Principles

I’ve always had a problem with the saying, “All the gods are one God, and all the goddesses are one Goddess.” I think this is because I am a polytheist, and recognise that each god and goddess are whole and separate, and that I also related this saying to a monotheistic sensibility. Having reflected upon the saying further in the last year or so, I can kind of understand the meaning, but still have problems with the wording.

Moving from hard polytheism to monism has been a large part of the work I’ve been doing in the last year. This is not monotheism, which states that there is only one god, but rather more after the fashion of the first Hermetic principle:  “The all is mind; the universe is mental.” Spirit is everything, and life is simply spirit in its most dense and material form. That life force, “the all”, spirit, whatever you wish to call it, is inherent in everything. This also sits very comfortably with my concept of animism. All that exists comes from a consciousness, and this consciousness, for me, is a shared one, inherent in all beings. It is the life force itself.

This life force can be split, and in Wicca and some forms of Witchcraft deity is seen as being split from the One or the All into God and Goddess. This correlates to the fourth principle, the Principle of Polarity: “Everything has its pair of opposites;  Like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths, are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled.” This “All”, this life force can be seen to be split, to be polarized, so that we can see all the varying degrees in between the far extreme swings of a pendulum. This helps us to broaden our views, to see better that which is the “All”, the life force, in all its manifestation.

This also relates to the seventh principle, that of gender. “Gender is in everything; Everything has its masculine and feminine principles.” Again this correlates to the above two principles, in that everything is found in the “All”, and that with polarity we can relate to all the varying degrees between the poles.

So when I view the sentiment, “All the gods are one God, all the goddesses are one Goddess”, I can kind of understand where they are coming from, but still think that this is perhaps simply worded a bit clumsily. In this wording, we can easily mistake the idea as disregarding or even dismissive of the ideas of polytheism. Perhaps it could be better worded, in that “all gods are part of the divine masculine thought, and all goddesses are part of the divine feminine thought, and both are part of the All, the life force itself”. Doesn’t roll off the tongue quite so easily, but for me it manages to make it less broad and vague, and possibly less insulting to hard polytheists.

Rhiannon and the Art of Side-Saddle

jo weddingRiding side-saddle is both easy and difficult. It’s a strange dichotomy of being securely “locked in” and feeling like you’re going to slide out the side at any moment. I took lessons riding side-saddle, and also did some jumping. I even rode down the aisle at my wedding side-saddle!  When I compare this to working with the goddess Rhiannon, I can see how she is often portrayed as riding side-saddle, and I think the fact that she’s wearing skirts is only part of the reason.

If you have a voluminous skirt, it’s quite easy to ride in the normal fashion. Your ankles may be showing and perhaps even your calves (gasp, shock and horror!) but really, it’s quite do-able. But side-saddle just looks more elegant, even though it perhaps fits in with the conformity to “keep your legs together” so as not to be considered a “loose woman” in any shape or form. However, all that nonsense aside, side-saddle is fun and a challenge for any rider, whatever they choose to wear, whatever gender they associate with. My husband tried it, everyone in our Western riding group tried it, just to see what it was like. It’s good to try new things.

Riding side-saddle, you usually have your legs hanging down the left side of the horse. Your left foot is in a stirrup as usual, but your right leg is held above the left and “hooked in” with a curved bar just above the knee. This keeps your right leg in place, though you have to hold your right foot flat against the side of the horse the entire time in order to truly maintain that grip correctly. It’s almost like sitting with one leg crossed over the other, but not quite.

You need to have some flexibility in the spine and torso in order to keep the head, chest and hips facing forward as much as you can, while the legs are over on the left-hand side. It feels really good after a ride to get down and stretch out the other side of your body! It also takes a bit of balance, as it can feel like you are going to slide off the other side of the horse. As mentioned above, keeping the right foot in the correct position helps with this, but that feeling is still there. The emptiness on the right-hand side can be a little daunting, even as you feel fully strapped in with your right leg securely tucked under the leaping head, lower pommel or as it is sometimes known, the leaping horn.

rhiannon oracle

Rhiannon from The Avalonian Oracle, written by Jhenah Telyndru, artwork by Emily Brunner

This delicate balance, of security and instability, finds resonance within me with the stories of the Welsh goddess Rhiannon. She is often portrayed as a horse goddess, riding a white mare from the Otherworld and marrying into the human realms, there to face the trials and tribulations of such. She works to re-establish order, correcting her husband and fixing his gaffs, seeking her lost child, and enduring hardships and injustices while remaining true to herself. She literally carries the mantle of sovereignty, as a horse carries a rider, to take it where it needs most to be, to work in the world in co-operation and in compassion.

It can be a tricky ride. One minute you can feel secure, locked in and riding in the correct posture. Forget that posture for a moment, and then you are insecure, literally, feeling like you are going to slide down any moment. It’s a great teacher in remembering to hold true, figuratively and literally. Be mindful of everything you do, if you want to enjoy this ride. Because the moment you aren’t, you could lose your seat, whether that’s the seat on horseback or the seat of sovereignty, in the soul and in the wider world.

But once you understand the delicate balance, once you come to terms with this new way of being, it’s glorious. It’s elegant. It’s graceful. And I’m not just talking about riding side-saddle. This is what Rhiannon can teach us as well. To find a new way of being, to be in balance and staying true to yourself, being present and knowing that some things need to be endured in order to find the beauty in our lives. To carry the burdens with grace, to stay true to yourself.  Rhiannon is both the horse and the rider, enduring and carrying, guiding and taking the reins of sovereignty unto herself.

rhiannon bookI’ll be working closely with Rhiannon over the next few months, and I look forward to the insights that she brings. If you are interested in this goddess, there is a brilliant book written by Jhenah Telyndru, called Rhiannon: Divine Queen of the Celtic Britons. Jhenah works closely with Rhiannon and other Welsh goddesses in the Sisterhood of Avalon, which she founded in 1995. Do check it out, and all her work, it’s brilliant.

May you ride forth in the present moment, finding your centre and staying true. And remember, when it all comes down to it, horse-riding is merely the art of keeping the horse between you and the ground.

Today, I am a Flamekeeper of Brighid

candle-2The longest night is upon us. For three short days, we have watched the watery sun rise and set in the same place on the horizon, barely skimming the treetops at its highest point, filmed over by hazy clouds. This morning, it was impossible to tell just when the sun had risen, and indeed even though it has been up for half an hour, it’s just as dark as before, with heavy overcast skies letting in only a small amount of light. I lit a candle in my lantern dedicated to Brighid just as the sun rose somewhere behind the clouds, and in Her name I lit my solstice flame. The candle’s flame burns very low, just barely alight as it struggles amidst a pool of wax and an insufficient wick. There is the tiniest amount of light at the tip, with a small blue aura beneath. I look at it even as I type these words, and its struggle portends much to come.

It has been a difficult year for many. Across the Western world, we have been rocked by unprecedented political change. There is not much hope for the future. Political leaders do not have the common good in mind, and greed runs riot. Things have not changed for the better. Across the globe, war, strife and unrest rage, with millions of innocent beings suffering. And there is still more darkness to come.

But even so, we can still take hope that the seasons change, the sun’s light will return. My candle is guttering now, in a valiant effort to stay alight. I have tried to help it, tipping out excess wax, but the wick and wax balance is not favourable. Just as in today’s political, economical and social climate, things do not look in our favour. But still we struggle on. We are a light in the darkness, no matter how small.

Somewhere, behind the clouds, the low sun is rising. We are the sun, we are the earth. We are the wind and the rain. We are the wild beasts and the tame. We are our neighbours and our enemies. We are our deeds. We are our poetry. We are our ancestors. The flame might go out in the physical, but it still shines in our hearts and minds. Where does a flame go when it dies? A flame is always there, simply needing the right conditions to manifest. So too with all of life. We all depend on conditions, yet we all have the flame within, waiting to manifest. The spark of awen, the spark of inspiration. To share this inspiration is at the heart of all that I do, in the hopes that my words inspire others not to give up hope, to remember their connection to each other, to all of nature. The flame that burns within our hearts and minds can never be extinguished. Instead, it kindles a new flame in the hearts and minds of others, and we tend that flame with all that we have, for our future ancestors.

The wick is barely glowing now in my lantern on the windowsill. But the flame of Brighid burns brightly in my heart. Though there is a long darkness ahead of me tonight, and a long darkness for many to come, there is still a light that shines. Even the smallest light shines in the deepest darkness.

And so, I will tend to my flame today. Today, I am a flamekeeper of Brighid. And should that flame go out, I will simply light another, and another, and I shall persist.

Blessings of the winter solstice to you all.

 

(Originally published today on my blog, Druid Heart, on SageWoman’s channel at Witches and Pagans.)

 

Hope

Hope can be a double-edged sword. It can lift our hearts, rally us towards a cause, or it can lead us to the depths of despair when it dies. I’ve often wondered whether it is better to have hope or not, whether hope is a carrot dangling in front of us, or whether it is that very real need to invest our emotions into the belief that we can change our world. Back in 2012, I wrote about the Zen approach, in a piece entitled “No Hope“. The words that I wrote four years ago still resonate strongly within me, even as my relationship to hope has changed.

When we are at our lowest, we might still have some hope that things will get better. This hope may be the only thing that gets us through those long, dark nights of the soul. Then again, that hope may be what is preventing us from achieving things in our own right. Hope may cause complacency. If we work without hope, without expectation, then we may be even more motivated to make a positive change in the world in our own right, for the benefit of all.

With hope comes expectation. When we have expectations, we can be thrown against the rocks of frustration, anxiety, anger and despair when those expectations are not met, when things do not go the way that we would like them to. We want people to behave the way we think they should, for the benefit of all. We want our politicians to think of the people that they represent instead of their own agendas. We want colleagues to pull their own weight, spouses and partners to be there for us, children to love us. When things don’t go according to our plans, or according to our expectations, we might crash and burn. We might dive into darkness at seeing a new President-elect, we might look at the environment and realise that perhaps we have simply gone too far, and there is no remedy for what we have done. When this happens, we can lose momentum, we can get stuck. Hope might be the thing that brings us out of this stagnation, or it might leave us altogether, so that we are in an even worse state than before.

So how do we work with hope? I’ve found it useful in the last couple of years to work with Hope as a god. I’ve worked with Time in the same context, and it has been illuminating for me in so many ways. Working with the gods, we learn to create a relationship with them, one that is nurturing for all involved. There is a give and take, a sustainable and reciprocal feeling to it that means that we cannot rely on them to do everything for us, and vice versa. It is in mutual respect where we meet, where we realise that we are part of an ecosystem, and where we need to strengthen the bonds of relationship so that it functions for mutual benefit. We learn from permaculture that diversity is key, that edges are where things happen. We learn to work with both, and in doing so can make this planet a better place. If we give up Hope in this context, if we give up Hope as deity, then there will be a very real feeling of bereavement in our lives; we will be bereft. That relationship will be gone, and when it is gone then to whom do we relate?

Others would say that this might be preferable, and in giving up Hope as deity we then become more self-reliant. But self-reliance is a myth. We are all co-dependent upon everything else on this planet. We do not exist in a vacuum. We need others in order to exist, let alone thrive. We are not separate. Without the innumerable other factors in our lives, beings seen and unseen, we simply could not be. I think that this is why I believe in the gods. The gods are all about relationship, about relating to our world through a means which is personal to each and every being. This is why I’m starting to work with Hope on a new level, when it seems perhaps that all hope is lost. Otherwise, I fear I might spiral into apathy, or depression. If I work with Hope, if I talk to Her and connect those threads of sustainable relationship, then I might be inspired to solve a problem, mend something that is broken, reweave the threads of connection in the best way that I can.

Hope can be the spark of inspiration, the awen that sings to us in the dead of night when all seems lost. Hope can also be a force that keeps us from changing our lives for the better, hoping someone else, someone more powerful or intelligent will do it for us. But when we work with Hope as deity, then things begin to change. Hope will not save us from ourselves. But Hope may inspire us to do better, to be better, to be the change that we wish to see in the world.

Or so one can only Hope.

Excerpt from IPagan Druidry

I’ve written an article for a collaborative work with other Moon Books authors which is now in production and will be out in the next few months, working title: IPagan Druidry. The idea of iPagan has now evolved to produce both print and ebooks and is hoped to be expanded into a series featuring volumes on Druidry, Shamanism, Witchcraft and Contemporary Issues at discount prices so that they are readily available to all. Here’s a little taster from my essay, The Promise

Is my Lady Brighid real? I still don’t know. But I quest a relationship with her in order to understand more, perhaps not in the hopes of having a definitive yes or no answer, but because the journey is one worth taking. Does Brighid think I am real? What is the need behind the question, what is the desire to learn the answer? What are the forces that push and pull us, in our minds, our lives? Are there great directors and orchestrators of movement? What is the meaning of our lives, of life itself? Are we equipped, mentally and physically, to accept a definitive yes or no answer to any of the above?

What is the nature of belief? The root of the word, belief, stems from the late 12c., bileave, which replaced the Old English geleafa meaning “belief or faith,” which itself originated from the West Germanic ga-laubon “to hold dear, esteem, trust”.  In this previous sense, believing in something, whether it is a god or a sub-atomic particle has nothing to do with the nature of reality and everything to do with a notion of trust.  To whom or what are we going to give our trust? Do we need to place our trust in something in order to have a relationship with it? What are the bounds that we can work with when it comes to trust and relationship? Should we still investigate these past concepts alongside our modern notions in order to gain a wider perspective, or are they simply muddying the waters of clarity?

If we are to truly have a grand adventure in this present moment and in this lifetime then we are going to come across some serious questions that explore the boundaries of reality and nature itself. In our paths as Druids, these questions form a large part of our understanding, and our understanding of just how little we know. Continuing the quest, putting one foot in front of the other, exploring new mindsets keeps us in the flow that is nature.  When we are stuck, when we are mired in a concept or belief, we can become stagnant, like water that cannot flow freely.  We may, like water, bump against rocks in our journey down to the sea, cascading down great waterfalls of the unknown, slamming against canyon walls of ignorance and dogma, or floating gently and serenely on a tide of peace for however long or short a time. All that we can truly know is that everything is changing from one moment to the next, ourselves with it, and acceptance of a plurality in our worldview is the way to evolve and adapt, to work better with the world and live our lives utterly dedicated to our quest and our Druidry. It is questioning, and questing the awen. When we live our lives in this manner, things will never be dull.

As David Bowie once said, “I don’t know where I am going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring”.

Blessings of Imbolc!

http://www.paintingdreams

Brighid by Wendy Andrew http://www.paintingdreams.co.uk

 

Blessings of Imbolc!

It has been a mild winter here in the UK, and though where I live in Suffolk we haven’t had any floods, the ground is wet and squishy (where it isn’t sandy) and everything is looking forward to a good drying out. The little lawn out back has done its usual shift from grass to moss, and is utterly delightful underfoot (though wet). Deer and pheasants are regular visitors, especially now that food is becoming scarce and we put out birdseed, apples and bread daily. My husband did the RSPB Birdwatch yesterday, and we had a good number of different species to record and submit.

The land is stirring slowly from its light slumber. Last weekend at Druid College we noticed the blackthorn is in flower already, and we had two daffodils over the winter solstice on the south slope of our garden. The buds are on the birch and apple trees, the crocuses are poking through, and colour is slowly returning to the green and brown palette of winter.

As we were out walking yesterday, we felt the sun upon our backs, stronger and warmer than it had been for a long time. The scents from the ground rose to greet our noses with a wonderful sharp, earthy smell. The birdsong is changing, and the badger mums are out in full force foraging to keep their bellies full and provide milk for their young.

It’s a soft time of year, when things happen slowly, unlike the Spring Equinox, when everything seems to happen at lightning speed. We awaken groggy from our slumber, and move with care, taking our time and not rushing anything. This is the goddess Brighid’s time, a deity of infinite patience and understanding, of mindfulness and co-operation.

Tonight I shall be holding vigil after sunset, and on the morrow honouring Her with all that I am. Having spent the last three years getting to know Her better, a shift in our relationship seems nigh, and I eagerly anticipate working with Her guidance and inspiration on an even deeper level. She is the land of Britain itself, the green paddocks and pastures, the brown heathland, the dark forests and wind-swept moors. She is the serpent energy lying just beneath the surface of the earth, stirring it awake with her sinuous movement. She is the holy well and sacred flame. She is inspiration. She is the adder basking in the sun, the ewe and the lamb, the cattle that is so much a part of our history.

I know not what this year holds, but I do know that I walk it with Brighid.

 

I kindle my soul with the flame of Brighid:

Flame of courage, flame of joy.

Blessings of the deep well be upon me:

Drops of awen on my lips, on my work.

May Brighid guide me in my endeavours

This day and every day.

 

I lay myself upon the anvil of Brighid;

May my soul be tempered by experience,

May my heart be strengthened with compassion,

May my thoughts be shaped by love,

May I walk forth anew with the blessings of Brighid,

The Forger and the Flame.

Working with the Gods

Working with the gods in Druidry is perhaps one of the most intense, exhilarating and powerful experiences we can have. Why is this?

To work with the gods, we require utmost honesty and truth. If we are to open our souls to the gods, and see theirs in return, we have to be utterly aware of who and what we are, baring all without the masks of self-protection, negation, pride or any number of human foibles. It comes close to the Wiccan saying of “in perfect love and perfect trust”, yet I would simply change the word “trust” to “honesty” here.

Trusting a god of nature may not always be a wise thing to do. Gods of nature do not always have our best interests at heart. Gods of nature are there to express their soul song, whether that be in the gift of nourishing herbs and berries or the destruction of a hurricane. I don’t necessarily put my trust in an oncoming storm, but I am willing to be utterly open and honest with it. The same could be said of any interaction or relationship. Trust is an odd thing, an investment in the behaviour of others of which we have no control. I’d rather focus on being open and honest in my relationships with the gods, with the humans and other animals around me, with the tree and stone folk. They do not necessarily require my trust, but by working and being truthful and honest, a deeper and more meaningful relationship is established.

Over the last few years I have worked deeply with Brighid. She came to me at Imbolc three years ago, as a goddess of these British Isles. She was the land itself, not a goddess “of the land”. It’s difficult to describe the difference, but in the bones of the earth beneath my feet I see her solid foundation. In the energy that rises and falls with the seasons I see her own tides rising and falling. In the air that moves across this land I feel her breath, sometimes filled with the scents of the sea less than a mile away, sometimes with the rich earthy scent of the heathland. The rain that falls is filled with her blessings, the sun that shines filled with her joy and nourishment. She works to her own cycles, and I must learn to work with her.

She is not always giving, she is not always nourishing. She asks that we stand on our own two feet and have the courage to help ourselves. She blesses my garden with her light, but she does not do it for me – I have to work with that, for sometimes it can be too strong, and I must balance it with the water caught in my rain barrels from her previous storms. I have to learn to dance with her, to follow her rhythms and movements with respect. I have to listen, deeply, to the music that is the great song, the Oran Mòr. From that deep listening comes an understanding and inspiration, the awen that is sought after and the heart of Druidry.

I cannot deceive my gods. Not because they are omnipotent, but rather the relationship wouldn’t work, wouldn’t flow smoothly if I was anything other than open and honest with them, about myself, about my relationship with the world. I wouldn’t be deceiving them, but deceiving myself by trying to hide behind facades. There is no room for growth, for change, unless we make room by letting go of certain things. We must empty our cup for it to be filled.

When we are open and honest with the gods, their wisdom and energy can flood through us, helping us to understand our place in the world, how we can work in the world in balance and harmony. This is an exquisite gift, an exchange of energy that we see reflected in nature all around us, yet which seems so out of reach for us so often. The mere simplicity of it all is what makes it the greatest challenge, for it requires us to throw away all the dross, to change our own mindset and see the world with a new perception that may or may not support our current view. To change our view of the world can turn it upside-down, can shake our foundations down to the ground. However, sometimes this is necessary in order to rebuild a stronger foundation, with clear perception, un-muddied by our habitual thinking.

Years have passed and still I am only beginning to learn this wonderful new dance with my goddess. She is teaching me new steps, new movements, new music. With an open heart I am willing to learn, to give it my best, and above all, to enjoy every single moment of it.