This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Month: February, 2015


Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, who knew a thing about maps,

by which life moves somewhere or other

used to tell this story from the war,

through which history moves somewhere or other.

From a small Hungarian unit in the Alps a young lieutenant

sent out a scouting party into the icy wastes.

At once

it began to snow, it snowed for two days and the party

did not return. The lieutenant was in distress: he had sent

his men to their deaths.

On the third day, however, the scouting party was back.

Where had they been? How had they managed to find their way?

Yes, the men explained, we certainly thought we were

lost and awaited our end. When suddenly one of our lot

found a map in his pocket. We felt reassured.

We made a bivouac, waited for the snow to stop, and then

with the map

found the right direction.

And here we are.

The lieutenant asked to see that remarkable map in order to

study it. It wasn’t a map of the Alps

but the Pyranees.


From On the Contrary and Other Poems by Miroslav Holub (Newcastle-on-Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1984 – translated from Czech by Ewald Osers)


“A cry went through late antiquity: ‘Great Pan is dead!’. Plutarch reported it in his On the failure of the oracles, yet the saying has itself become oracular, meaning many things to many people in many ages. One thing was announced: nature had become deprived of its creative voice. It was no longer an independent voice of generativity. What had had soul, lost it: or lost was the psychic connection with nature.

“With Pan dead, so to was Echo; we could no longer capture consciousness through reflecting within our instincts. They had lost their light and fell easily into asceticism, following sheepishly without instinctual rebellion their new shepherd, Christ, with his new means of management. Nature no longer spoke to us – or we could no longer hear. The person of Pan the mediator, like an ether who invisibly enveloped all natural things with personal meaning, with brightness, had vanished. Stones became only stones – trees, trees; things, places and animals no longer were this god or that, but became ‘symbols’, or were said to ‘belong’ to one god or another.

“When Pan is alive then nature is too and it is filled with gods, so that the owl’s hoot is Athena and the mollusc on the shore is Aphrodite. These bits of nature are not merely attributes or belongings. They are gods in their biological forms. And where better to find the gods than in the things, places and animals that they inhabit, and how better to participate in them through their concrete, natural presentations. Whatever was eaten, smelled, walked upon or watched, all were sensuous presences of archetypal significance.” (1)

The above is an extract from a piece by James Hillman, one time director of studies at the Jung Institute in Zurich. Hillman later went on to develop his own variant form of archetypal psychology. Here he is a strong proponent of panpsychism, a world view very similar to the forms of animism being articulated today. Panpsychism literally means the ensoulment of everything (from the Greek), though the word ‘pan’ also cues in a reference to the Roman god of that name. I find his approach both passionate and liberating as a stance to take towards ‘nature alive’.

  1. Hillman, James (1989) The essential James Hillman: a blue fire London: Routledge (Introduced and edited by Thomas Moore in collaboration with the author)


The Druid's Garden

I recently came across an article from The Guardian in 2012 detailing the work of scientist Bernie Krause, who has spent his life recording sounds of nature. Krause’s major finding is simple: the loss of biodiversity, from the depths of the reefs to the rain forests, can be clearly tracked by listening to audio recordings over a 40-year period. He reports that he now hears deafening silence in so many ecosystems that once teemed with life. The article detailed his book, The Great Animal Orchestra. I bought the book, compelled to read more, the cryptic words of Simon and Garfunkle’s Sound of Silence echoing in my ears. This blog post is a bit different than some of my others, in that it is simply a response, a real and human response, to the growing sound of silence upon our landscape.

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of…

View original post 1,185 more words


I’m reflecting on the difference between ‘Light’ and ‘lights’.  Yesterday evening my partner Elaine and I had an Imbolc ritual. We’ve decided to move through the seasonal festivals in this way, customising a joint practice as we go.

I reflect now on our time in the festive circle as in part a feast of lights. Not ‘Light’, but lights. We can have Light at the throw of a switch, one easy taken-for-granted ‘Let there be Light’ gesture. It’s very powerful and very useful – and effortlessly normal in our culture, at least for the time being.

But it isn’t a feast of lights. A feast of lights requires multiple, small sources. It requires the co-presence of darkness and shadow. It requires variation, degrees of light and darkness. It requires change and play.

We had two basic light sources, during the ritual. The one that attracted my attention most was an array of night lights positioned around the room in various ways. We had nine on the altar (one at the centre, eight at the circumference – with one at each station of the eightfold wheel of the year). And there were others around the room, grouped in threes. Very simple. Very traditional. Very minimal. Very meaningful. Very beautiful. These lights tended to be bright and a high yellow, glinting in some moments, softer and more diffuse at others. Each had its own aura. All tended to flicker in even the smallest current of air. And each had its sphere of influence, fading porously into the surrounding dusk, with no clearly defined or specific boundary – the transitions being so gradual, so gentle. Thus light and darkness were differentiated without being polarised and they cheerfully shared their debatable lands. The play of ambiguity was part of the feast.

The second source was the fire, a wood burner, well-established by the time we began the ritual and happily placed in a north-easterly hearth. Also very traditional. Very simple. Very minimal. Very meaningful. Very beautiful. And for the most part, in this mature phase, a deep red, in a way a dull red, though the word isn’t right. A potent light, a subliminal light, almost a kinaesthetic light. Not a very light sort of light at all. Its presence radiated through the room, bringing our centre of gravity, even in terms of luminosity, closer to the earth.

And that is a feast of lights. It was almost a shock, in the tidying up aftermath of the ritual, to return to the Light.


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