contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Month: December, 2022

A DIRECTION FOR 2023

I am writing on the last day of 2022. My very best wishes for 2023 to all readers. Many blessings for the year ahead!

The picture above was taken on 26 December (in England called Boxing Day/St. Stephen’s Day) – this year a chilly day of bright blue sky. The truncated spire* of St. Nicholas Church, Gloucester, reaches up towards the vivid sky, despite its history of damage. For me, this image of spire against sky is one of clarity, definition and spaciousness. It is a breath of fresh air.

I don’t know what 2023 will bring. I do want to bring clarity, definition and spaciousness to whatever unfolds. As my contemplative inquiry continues, I find that it subtly modifies its purpose. Discovering and re-discovering the purpose involves an element of divination, since my thinking personality is not exactly in charge.

It is as if authentic clarity and definition come out of the spaciousness itself, not out of cognitive review or ‘brain-storming’. These may be aids, but I have also to wait for signs. When I began this blog, I surprised myself by calling it ‘contemplative inquiry’ rather the ‘contemplative Druidry’. I see now that contemplative inquiry is the root description for my path.

For me, contemplation is a yin quality, an open and receptive engagement with experiences – most especially, with forms of relationship. Inquiry is a yang quality, actively deepening knowledge, refining understanding and seeking meaning. Together they support my path. Druidry is a vehicle that supports spiritual self-direction, and also challenges disastrous social norms concerning both nature and culture. Today I have revised the ABOUT section of this blog, on the eve of 2023, and my key statements are below:

“My contemplative inquiry began in 2012. It is grounded in modern Druidry, though not wholly defined by it. I acknowledge the influence of other sources, especially the wider turn towards an eco-spirituality that meets our historical moment. The inquiry process itself is my core practice, from which others radiate out.

“Over my inquiry years, I have found an underlying peace and at-homeness at the heart of experience. Here, it is as if I am resourced by a timeless, unboundaried dimension from which I am not separate. I find myself guided towards a spirit of openness, an ethic of interdependence and a life of abundant simplicity.”

*NOTE ON ST. NICHOLAS’ SPIRE: the church was first built in 1190 and added to over the centuries. A 200 ft. spire was built in the fifteenth century, but received a direct hit from cannon fire in 1643, during the English Civil War. The final repair waited until 1783, when the spire was reduced in height and capped.

MIDWINTER CONTEMPLATION 2022

The picture above, taken in the mid-afternoon of the recent Winter Solstice, shows a local water meadow after heavy rain. My eyes are drawn downwards, to the reflections in the water and beyond. But height is there too, with trees and an early sunset sky. All with a sense of stillness. I felt in touch with the unknown within and beyond me, and open to the world.

Earlier in the day I had already been profoundly moved by the live-streamed funeral of John Heron, an elder for me in the field of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, and also in what he called ‘participatory spirituality’. This describes a ‘spiritual animation’ that occurs ‘between people, between people and place and other kinds of beings in place’. He saw this as a spiritual inquiry process, largely outside the traditions.

Over the last several days, I have been contemplating words, not by John himself but by Carl Rogers, the originator of person-centred counselling, about this kind of openness and its power. He wrote them in continuous prose, but I have re-arranged the spacing to help with my contemplative process. I find that they help me to better understand both my failures and my successes. They are a kind of direction for me. Although they are about being with people, they have become linked also with this landscape, because of the openness I felt there, in this liminal space.

“I find that

when I am closest to my intuitive self

when I am somehow in touch with the unknown in me

then whatever I do seems full of healing.

Then simply my presence is releasing and helpful to the other.

When I can be relaxed and close

to the transcendental core of me

it seems that my inner spirit has

reached out

and touched

the inner spirit

of the other.

Our relationship transcends itself

and becomes a part of something larger.”

PAGANISM IN ROMAN BRITAIN

This post concerns Ronald Hutton’s Gresham College lecture about Paganism in Roman Britain (1). In it, he summarises our current academic knowledge, and asks: how Romanised was British religion within the Roman Empire? It proves to be a hard question to answer, for three main reasons.

The first is that we know little about British religion immediately before the occupation, apart from the fact that Druids had a leading role in at least some religious activity.

The second is that, although the Romans generally honoured local gods and their worshippers, they made an exception for war gods and religious communities hostile to Roman rule. British Druids belonged to the latter category, so any ongoing British Druid activity is off the record. The Druids were in any case averse to written records about their calling.

The third is that we know the names of only a few people from this period, so get only occasional glimpses of individuals and their practices. Britons of any social standing tended to adopt Roman names, at least for the written record, but the records are too sparse to distinguish between the developing cultures of Romanised Britons and localised Romans. All we have is the Roman names. People who made do without Roman names go unrecorded.

These three limitations mean that we have limited knowledge, and that this knowledge is heavily tilted towards Roman practices and understandings. We do however have the names of a number of indigenous deities from the Roman period, and some understanding of their roles. According to Hutton, such deities tended to be highly localised, and connected to specific activities – like Coventina looking after the sacred spring at Carrowburgh not far from Hadrian’s wall. On the whole Goddesses were linked to the land, hills, rivers, springs and wells. Gods were concerned with war, protection, trade and travel.

Other gods were imported during the centuries of occupation. Continental Celtic culture brought Rosmerta, the Matres and Epona. Widely acknowledged Roman gods included Jupiter, Mars, Silvanus and Mercury. Other parts of the empire contributed Apollo, Bacchus, Mithras, Cybele and Athys, Isis and Serapis.

Hutton finds in both Romans and Celts a very different attitude to deity from that of the later arriving Christian faith. Pagan Gods asked for acknowledgement and respect. Beyond that they were not greatly interested in us. They did not make laws, issue commands or monitor our performance. The Latin word superstitio referred to excessive fear of the divine. Hutton characterises mainstream Roman British religion as largely transactional. Roman priesthood was a job for the local magistrates.

Hence, according to Hutton, there was no theology. If you wanted the gods’ help, and had the support and resources, you built shrines, enacted rituals and offered sacrifice. (Animal sacrifice was required to be swift and painless, or it did not please the gods.) If you looked for a deeper or more intense religious experience, and were deemed eligible, you sought initiation into a mystery school. If you were concerned with speculation about the cosmos and our place in it, or wanted a set of values and practices to live by, you turned to philosophy. The one religious demand made by the state was a public reverencing of the Emperor’s numen (the divine power within him) which the early Christians, other than Gnostics, risked martyrdom rather than acknowledge.

The lecture includes a discussion of hybridised (or ‘twinned’) deities and the high esteem in which they could be held – Sulis Minerva at Aquae Sulis (Bath), Apollo Maponus (with a major shrine a little beyond Hadrian’s Wall at Lochmaben) and Mars (or possibly Mercury) Nodens, at Lydney, close to the River Severn in the Forest of Dean.

Hutton ends with a rare opportunity to acknowledge a real, named person, Magnius. He is known to have been a Briton, a commoner with some resources. He had a tomb erected at Aquae Sulis for his daughter, who had died aged only eighteen months. A tomb for one so young was very rare, and the poignancy of this act reaches across the centuries to us, connecting humans who, from very different times and cultures, are united by the same capacity to love and to grieve. I found this a good note on which to end a lecture which provides some insight into a subject where much will always be unknown.

(1) https://www.gresham.ac.uk/ (Go to browse by series then lecture series 2022-23 then Finding Britain’s Lost Gods. The specific lecture is Paganism in Roman Britain.)

See also: https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2022/10/06/learning-about-our-pagan-ancestors-and-learning-from-them/

Ronald Hutton is Professor of History at the University of Bristol, a specialist in Pagan and Druid studies, and enjoys a very high reputation within both the academic and Pagan communities.

RUMI: TWO QUATRAINS ON NIGHT

“Night comes so people can sleep like fish

In black water. Then day.

Some people pick up their tools.

Others become the making itself.”

“Night goes back to where it was.

Everyone returns home sometime.

Night, when you get there,

Tell them how I love you.”

From the collection Unseen Rain: Quatrains of Rumi translated by John Moyne and Coleman Barks Putney, VT: Threshold Books, 1986. The translators note that “in some languages of the Middle East the word for ‘rain’ and the word for ‘grace’ are the same”.

I am very conscious at this time of year not just of darkness, but of a longer night. Here Sufi poet and teacher Rumi evokes qualities of night, suggesting potential forms of relationship with it.

ACCEPTING THE ARRIVAL OF WINTER

It was 26 November 2022, 11 a.m. I was at the Gloucester end of the Gloucester-Sharpness canal. I found myself accepting the arrival of winter. I was observing three cygnets, now without their parents but still keeping company with each other. The underlying temperature was around 7 C (44.6 F) and good for walking, But I was feeling the pinch of a cold wind. In memory I am feeling it now. The water and sky looked grey. The trees were starting to feel skeletal, whilst still retaining some leaves. My lingering sense of autumn had finally drained away.

To accept winter’s arrival in the presence of swans felt numinous. Swans are otherworldly birds in Celtic tradition. The three together, not yet in their full adult plumage, seemed auspicious. They suggested coming opportunities for creativity, love and celebration. Winter can be a preparation for renewal, both as season and as state of mind. My acceptance goes with a faith in winter’s regenerative darkness, and the riches this can bring.

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