Blessings of the First Harvest

As Lugh pledged to honour his foster-mother, Tailtu with games in her honour every year, what pledge will you make to the land? Let this vow strengthen your resolve through the cycles of the seasons. Lammas/Lughnasadh blessings to you all. x

Lughnasadh

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Our land, if not our country

In year two of Druid College UK, we cover the topic of leadership: what it means, how you can achieve ethical leadership, and what makes a good leader. Today, our country is voting on who it wants to have as a leader for the next five years; basically it’s a two-person contest between the current Prime Minister Theresa May and the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn.

It’s very telling simply in the language that they are using as to what they think leadership is about. Theresa May want us to vote for her in order to “strengthen her hand”. Jeremy Corbyn wants us to vote for him in order to give power “for the many, not the few”.

Leadership is about empowering others. Leadership is about using your wit, intelligence and resources to make something better, not just for yourself, but for everyone. Yes, you can certainly benefit from your own leadership, but that shouldn’t be the goal of leading; that is simply the ego talking. We lead from a place where we want to help others, to bring harmony to the majority involved. Yes, there might be a revolution in the meantime, and peace might certainly not be on the cards, however sometimes this is necessary in order for things to change.

Here in the UK, things are very tense as we await the election results. We have a real chance to turn from the brink of something destructive and harmful to many, to turn away from a Prime Minister who wants to repeal human rights for goodness sake. In a reflection of the turbulent world around us, this tiny little island nation has a chance to say “no” to tax breaks for the wealthy (and their businesses), to taking away fuel allowance for the elderly, to zero contract working hours, to selling off assets of our National Health Service, to dementia tax (other conditions, such as cancer, as funded by our healthcare service, whereas dementia falls under social care, not healthcare). We have a chance to make a statement to the world as to what we want our future to be. And we’re terribly worried about what is at stake, and the misinformation that people have been fed by a right-wing Conservative-led media (most newspapers, for example).

We have a chance to change politics, to make it fairer. We have a chance to elect a leader who doesn’t do personal attacks, and who focuses on the policies, not the power. We have a chance to really change the way we do things. I had hoped that our last election would be influenced by what happened in Canada, with the Conservatives being thrown out of power by the Liberal Justin Trudeau. But no, that wasn’t the case at all. There is a slim chance that this might happen today. That’s the very best that we can hope for. The more practical are hoping for a Conservative minority.

Today, as I walk the land, the bell heather coming into bloom, the oak trees in their full glory, the adders basking in the sun and the deer dreaming in the shade I hope for the best for this country. Like many others today, we are holding our breath, for there is so much at stake.

And even if things turn out for the worst, we know that this is still our land, even if it is no longer our country.

 

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.

Happy Canada Day

Today is Canada Day, 1st July. Back home in Canada there will be fireworks, music and celebrations from backyard barbeques to city-wide parties and festivals. Days like this I miss my homeland, my mother country. As today has approached, I’ve been giving some thought about what it means to be a Druid in a land that is not “your own”, living in a foreign land.

A Druid’s relationship is with the land, first and foremost. It is the defining part of our spiritual tradition, religion and philosophy. We deepen that relationship through working with the ancestors, deities, the three worlds, etc. However, at the heart of the matter is the land upon which you live. Establishing a deep and sacred relationship with it is the main part of our work as Druids. But what is this relationship?

We have to know the environment we are living in, in order to live well in it. If we live with ignorance, we might cause damage. If we run against the currents of energy that are flowing through our land, say for example spending inordinate amounts of energy during the winter holidays when the darkness is actually calling us to rest a moment, to get in touch with the depths of winter, then we become exhausted, ill, suffering from diseases and dis-ease. We have to dance with the land, and when dancing with another it is of utmost importance to acknowledge the other’s movements, in order not to cause injury or step on anyone’s toes. We have to be aware of what is going on, each and every day in our landscape. It is not enough to celebrate the eight festivals of the modern pagan Wheel of the Year – to be a Druid requires much more than that.

It is a relationship that is not one way. Singer/composer/pianist Tori Amos once described her relationship to the land through her Cherokee grandfather’s guiding words: “We are either caretakers, or takers. It’s your choice”. While as Druids we don’t really have a sense of stewardship of the earth, for that would place us in a hierarchal order of being that doesn’t really make any sense, we do know that taking too much is damaging and so we work to live in harmony, in balance. Inspired by the ecosystems around us, we see how to fit in, to work with each other, whether that be human or beetle, stinging nettle or oak tree.

My relationship with the land began in Canada, where I was born. I drank from the rivers and lakes: that water is in my body. I grew up in the Laurentian mountains: those granite hills are also in my bones, in my foundation. The wild thunderstorms of summer are in my blood, the cold crisp air of winter in my lungs. They are a part of me and I am a part of it. We are inseparable, the land and I. The conditions manifested at the right time to bring me into being in that space and in that time, and I cannot disengage with it any more than I can wilfully cut off an arm or a leg.

But I live in the UK now. I am a resident of this country, and have been for many, many years. I have been here almost as long as I have lived in Canada. I have learned to dance to the rhythms of this land, with its differently beating heart, its slower pulses and island mentality. I have felt Brighid’s serpent rising and falling with each passing year, deep within the earth, dancing in the light of the sun in summer and retreating again, curled up within the depths of winter’s darkness and at the base of my spine. I have seen different gods of thunder and lightning, of seas and oceans, rivers and deep, cold lakes. I have felt and honoured the ancestors of this land, feeling their stories sung in the evening breeze, feeding from their bodies in the food grown on this land, breathing the air they breathed. I have walked many, many miles all across this land, coming to know its vast and intricate landscape, from craggy sea cliffs to heather moorland, from the Scottish Highlands to the White Cliffs of Dover. I have danced in this energy, so different and still similar to that of my mother country.

The questions remains: to whom do I belong?

I have roved many parts of this world, been in many places on this beautiful blue planet. I belong to this planet, I would say, first and foremost. Though I still carry a Canadian passport, I am a citizen of Earth more than a citizen of any country. Those lines on a map really mean nothing to me, spiritually. A land defines its spirituality, for sure, but there is a shared spirituality as well, as we are all part of this huge ecosystem called Earth. The energies run differently here in the UK than they do in Canada, on the surface, at least. But delve deep enough, in to the core of this spherical mass hurtling through space and it’s a shared centre, with sacred fire holding it all together.

I feel equally at home here in the UK as I do in Canada. There are other places on this planet that I feel at home – Sweden is one. I cannot date my ancestry back to either Scandavian or Celtic roots, but I know that I did come from the same basic ancestors as we all did those many, many years ago. It matters not what more modern root I come from in my Druidry. I was baptised and confirmed a Protestant, but I am a Pagan Druid. I honour different gods from all traditions, and still question the existence of all of them. I quest the awen daily, searching for inspiration, looking for answers, searching for the right questions, sitting in silence and dancing in delight. It doesn’t matter where I came from. What matters most is what I do now, in the land that I am in, whether it is the UK, Norway, France or USA. What matters is that deep connection to the spirits of the land, to the essence of nature wherever I am, and in that connection an honourable, sacred and sustainable relationship. I am not a tourist anywhere.

Yet still I call myself Canadian for the most part. My accent, though much bastardised, is still different and people will ask me where I’m from. Legally I am a Canadian who is resident in the UK. Yet I vote on UK policies, not Canadian ones. I follow deities that are from this land. I honour the deities of Canada and North America, those different energies moving along swifter currents and wilder ways. But I work with the land beneath which I walk, barefoot on the grass in my backyard, the ash trees whispering ancient secrets to me beneath a mackerel evening sky. Perhaps I am not a Canadian. I am not British. But I am Druid.