This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Month: December, 2012


The Paidirean are the prayer beads of the Ceile De.  Some believe that they have a Druid origin.  They have always been part of the Ceile De tradition are known to have been used in the days of Columcille (St. Columba).

I got mine from the Ceile De shop a little before Christmas.  There are 150 beads, each about 5 mm wide.  They are made of unstained rosewood and were left immersed in rose damask oil for a month.  As well as scenting the beads, the oil gives the beads a pinkish colour. An equal armed and circled silver cross hangs from the beads – at heart level when worn as a necklace.  This form of cross – Celtic, Gnostic and universal – is an ancient symbol, found in pre-Christian and Christian carvings, and sacred to many people from many cultures.

Each Paidirean is ceremonially strung in Scotland by a Ceile De Order member.  The process takes two hours and involves prayer, meditation and continuous chanting during the stringing.  Then a blessing is spoken over the completed Paidirean which is anointed with water and with oil from a local holy well, used for at least 1500 years.  Sister Fionn strung my Paidirean.  Many blessings to you, Sister Fionn, at the turning of the year.

The Paidirean is an object of power as well as beauty.  I wear it as a necklace when practicing, as well as an OBOD Awen necklace which ends just below the throat.  Wearing the two feels like a kind of completion, and I am reminded of a visit I made to Scotland at Midsummer 2007.  I was in Melrose in the Scottish border region, an area with strong family connections. And I seemed to be in business with three locations.  One was the semi-ruined Abbey, and in particular its orchard and garden.  One was the Eildon Hills, looming up into low clouds.  One was a path by the River Tweed.

I was wondering where I felt most spiritually attuned and where I wanted to spend most of my time.  In its gardens the Abbey felt like a place of peace and tradition, though clearly also compromised by conflicts between nations and orthodoxies. The hollow hills of Thomas the Rhymer fame held challenge, glamour – the heroic spirituality of the vision quest in its local form.  But I turned to the river, and had a small epiphany whilst contemplating a wild rose on the riverbanks.  And I later wrote this verse, which became part of a longer poem.

I am Rose.  I am wild Rose.

I am Rose at Midsummer.

The river flows by me.

Fragile, I shiver in the wind.

And I am the heart’s core, mover of mountains.

In a sense, that experience, and the verse that recorded it, established the direction for my subsequent spiritual life and practice.  The Paidirean sets the seal on it.


I’ve experienced the turning of the year through small yet telling events.  Yesterday I got up very early, by ‘mistake’.  Awake, hearing traffic, misreading a number on a digital watch, I thought it was 5 a.m. when it was actually 3.  I decided to get up any way and do my practice.

What was on offer, when I got to the lights out and sitting part of the work, was an especially strong felt sense of being born in the dark, of an ever-waking-now experience held by the nurture of the night.  And my switching on of a lamp, when coming out of this experience, seemed like a natural next step.  I could look at the world around me with fresh eyes, with energized attention, with a sense of a blessed awareness.

Later in the day I stood at the Severn Estuary.  I experienced the wider world as latency rather than stasis.  I was in a watery place at a watery time.  There were currents flowing in both directions.  The sky above was cloudy and grey, yet looking back to the ridge that I’d come from, I could see clear blue.  There weren’t many people around.  The energy of the environment seemed to have elements of stillness, of waiting and of gathering.  For the first time in this season, I began to feel an onward pull, away from the still point of the turn, and on to what might be emerging.

In the evening I drew a DruidCraft Tarot card – a single card, to reflect the moment.  I got the 3 of Wands.  A young man looks to the horizon and a possible journey (or a possible visit).  He seems at ease and is companionably holding a tree.  His three wands have been planted nearby and are beginning to blossom.  The path to (or from) an unseen destination (or point of departure) is clearly laid out as far as can be seen.  He clearly has a certain confidence, and something to work with.  And I thought: “OK”.

Finally, I remembered a poem by William Anderson in his ‘Green Man – the Archetype of our Oneness of the Earth’, a book from the beginning of the 90’s.  The poem has 13 verses, each covering a four week period, each connected with an Ogam tree, and I’ve always run the first verse from 22 December to 18 January.  By the time I went to bed yesterday I felt ready for that verse. So during this new period I’ll be conscious of:

“Like antlers, like veins of the brain the birches

Mark patterns of mind on the red winter sky:

‘I am thought of all plants,’ says the Green Man,

‘I am thought of all plants,’ says he.”

I wonder what these lines may inspire over the next few weeks.  And for now – Season’s Greetings to everyone and warmest wishes for the coming year.


In her recent book ‘The Wakeful World: Animism, mind and the Self in Nature’, Emma Restall Orr writes:

“At its most fundamental, nature is darkness.  Nature’s primary state is darkness.  In stillness, formless, in the darkness, nature is whole.  Yet, nature is minded: it exists within a wakefulness of its own being.  Aware of itself, nature turns within itself in reflection.  The essential movement of nature is the breath of existence, the sacred wind of being.

“… Each moment of interaction within the darkness of nature creates a pattern, a spirit fleetingly finding form, flashing momentarily into being before dissolving back into the whole – except where interactions repeat, allowing a pattern to persist, the spirit lingering in its ethereal form.”

The writing is part of a complex revisioning of animism as a possible philosophical basis for a modern life practice – spiritual, cultural, ethical, political, personal.  As such it seems to me to be an important original contribution to Druidic thought as it moves and develops through time.

What specifically touches me as a meditator is a recognition of how my experience, when practicing, seems to resonate with the above passages.  I tend now to sit in complete darkness with eyes open, and this sitting usually happens somewhere between 5.30 and 6.30 a.m.  At this time of year, it’s mostly pretty dark.  I generally experience myself as sitting within darkness as a nurturing potential. Sometimes I am alert and mindful, sometimes not.  And I come back to this darkness.

At one level this can be an in-the-moment, ‘power of now’ kind of experience.  But the feeling-tone of the experience is influenced by the repetition of the practice over time, by the liturgy that structures it, and the darkness that surrounds and contains it.  They help to create a pattern of contemplative experiencing, shaping an extended field of awareness. They support ‘me’ in awakening to/in the world and relationship(s) with/within it. Meditation can seem solitary and in a way it is.  Yet for me it brings relationship (the kind that the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh calls ‘interbeing’) into fuller life.


Here is another take on the divine child theme – this time by Nuinn (Ross Nichols), who led OBOD in its 1964-75 manifestation.  Ross’ poem is called ‘The Coming Child’.


We have created a web of flesh and blood

A fish in our river, a frog in our shallows;

And he shall be a beast of promise and a springing grain.


Shedding the child is an act of plenty

The womb full-eared, the excess of the year

And its coming again.

He came in a tent, he

Paddled in a boat, he

Went to the weir.


Who is he that came in a tent

And was known in the waters of the firmament?


Even he, the web of blood and flesh,

The small thing nestled in red,

Floating in the water of motherhead

In a bag of skin.


The beast shall leap aloud and shout

From rock to rock;

And this new grain shall be in ear

Before twelve year.


What is the sign that this shall be?

For life and death fall fatally.


The waters of the weir are dammed

But the falls flow on;

The sun dies and is eaten of Set

But there is a new sun.


The river cannot stop nor for long be stayed,

And its mighty fall

Is the descending of the milk of life,

Birth and succour of all.




Karen Webb posted this in ‘Contemplative Druidry’.  It seemed like a natural contribution for passing on.

“This poem moved me to tears. We rarely speak of the Midwinter Born Child, though he or she appears in so many myths. Christianity is but one of those storylines. This is from Rowan Williams, a true Bard if ever I met one. And something to contemplate…

“He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to bone, and earth

“wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.

“He will come like the frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

“He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

“He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.”


I was moved yesterday by a post made by Rosamonde Ikshvaku Miller to her Gnostic Sanctuary group.

“God manifesting in any type of flesh suffers from amnesia, but only God can remember God. The human mind only deals with symbols and those may lead to remembrance. We think it is us, but it is the awakened God spark in us that may awaken and “remember” through an act of anamnesis (although somewhat different from Plato’s definition of the word). That spark doesn’t care what names we give that knowledge (gnosis) and what hair-splitting distinctions we use. There is chaos and confusion outside and stillness and clarity in the central aperture of the “eye.” What are we listening to? The outer, with its words and erudition may give us tools of communication with which we may illustrate what we try to convey or distract us, so we forget and continue going in circles chasing our tails.”

In a way this reads rather dryly, and I even had to check Wikipedia for the different meanings of anamnesis*.  Yet I was affected almost to the point of overwhelm, before moving into a calmer period with an undertow of ecstasy.  The triggers were the words about forgetting, remembering and the awakened spark (in me).  I was beyond belief and skepticism alike.  Just very at home.  And I sat with it, this morning, in the nurturing dark.  And I seemed to experience a new centre of gravity, in my sitting.  Words are tricky, as the piece above makes clear.  Yet, for me, they can and do matter – when they truly evoke something that is ready to be called.

*Plato says that in the shock of birth, the soul forgets its previous incarnations and everything it has learned.  Anamnesis is the recovery of knowledge.  In Christian traditions, including Gnostic ones, anamnesis is the memorial aspect of the Eucharist, and of the passion, resurrection and ascension of Christ.


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