contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: active imagination

THE GARDEN AND THE GODDESS

I was sitting in meditation this morning, a simple attention-to-the-breath practice. I found myself flooded with a specific stream of imagery, and recognised three options. The first was to pull my attention back to the breath and keep it there. The second was to surf it awarely, with my attention focused on holding an observer position. The third was to surrender to it, also awarely – and to follow the images, the spontaneous stream of consciousness, and enter into them.

In the context I found the first choice a bit blinkered and almost aggressive and the second not quite satisfying. The third was the way to go. So I found myself in a garden, a walled garden, with the Song of the World, audible, expressing itself as the song of the sea not very far away. I recognised the place I was in. The garden was connected to a ruined temple, or chapel. I couldn’t determine what kind of people had built it, or worshipped there. It didn’t matter. The garden itself was the nemeton: tended not manicured, balancing cultivation and wildness.

At the centre of the garden was a fountain, surrounded by beds of roses, white and red. The rest of the garden was dedicated to fruit trees – apple, pear, peach, and also cherry – going so far indeed as to include fig and pomegranate and vines trained up the walls. There, too, was a white dove, moving between the trees. A magical place.

I knew this garden. It had changed somewhat, but I knew it. It was connected with the final version of the visualisation based meditations I used to do, in fact a modified version of the Sacred Grove meditation we do in OBOD. It’s my sacred space in the heart, an imaginal space in a realm of greater depth and interiority than the energetic heart centre, an Innerworld gateway to an intimated Otherworld.

When left to itself and not being edited by me for the purposes of Druidry, the feeling-tone is culturally at least as much Hellenistic and Levantine as indigenous and Celtic, and there are suggestions of places further away. At heart I am spiritually syncretistic and eclectic. When I first opted for Druidry as a community I chose OBOD because it provides a home for Druids of this ilk.

The garden has also, traditionally, been a place of the Goddess, a place for meeting and communion with Her.  When I used to do this practice, and named her, I called her Sophia – the Lady Wisdom.  But she has many names and took many forms. She was the fountain, the roses and the trees. She was garden itself, and the neighbouring sea. She was the dove. She could also be a serpent or an owl, especially at night in moonlight. But usually the garden was a day space, a solar space. I could feel her, more personally, as an invisible presence in the atmosphere of place. Very occasionally she appeared as a human woman – sometimes in the garden and focused on it, not engaging directly with me; more rarely still holding extended eye contact (‘soul-gazing’); once or twice standing behind me, Her hands on my shoulders. Today, in the vision of the garden, She returned to me, as deep recollection and as living presence.

Yet only a short time ago I wrote:

“The sense of the Goddess (under different names) as both cosmic birther and mentoring intermediary, which I have had throughout the whole period of my association with Druidry and Paganism, has died. This is not a matter of ultimate belief, where I have always had a form of non-dual view, but rather in a sense of a shift in archetypal poetics and psychology, of imaginal perception. It gives me a sense both of mourning and of release, of loss and of spaciousness”.

What do I make of this now? The dissolution of Goddess into Oran Mor (and of Oran Mor into latency, or Void, at some ultimate level) is a real experience.  The Goddess in the Garden is also a real experience – the experience of a numinous and compelling image. As I look at my previous words, ‘cosmic birther and mentoring intermediary’, I find them a little formulaic, a bit concrete and literal, and therefore a kind of subtle idolatry, by which I mean an unconscious manipulation of numinous imagery: re-making the Goddess in my image, rather than simply accepting the gift. It suggests an instrumental kind of relationship, with me covertly in charge whatever level of reverence or devotion I might proclaim: not quite authentic and not quite healthy. No wonder the Goddess dissolved. She had to, for a while.

The return feels different, because I’m allowing an image, giving space to it. An image is an image. The Goddess image has tremendous power, for me. It doesn’t ask for explanation or belief. It is just there, offering itself for connection. In the meditation of the garden, I let the image be. I don’t have a script. I don’t run a narrative. Of course the pattern of imagery builds an Innerworld presence of some consistency, as well as changing over time. Essentially, though, I let it be. I don’t go to the garden asking questions, asking for help, or entering into bargains, discussions and exchanges. They aren’t the point. The point is connection and deep communion. I used to think that breath meditation was passive and Innerworld work active. Now I think of it as almost the other way round.

ANIMISTIC HERMETICS

Following my last post I have received requests to describe ‘Animistic Hermetics’.

Animistic Hermetics involves going out into nature and carefully selecting something to work with. This might be something obviously alive, like a leaf or plant. It might be something conventionality regarded as inanimate, like earth or stone.

Once this is done, we go back into a group setting where the facilitator takes us through a 7 step process:

  1. An attunement to energetic self-awareness
  2. if granted permission, attunement to the chosen form (e.g. leaf, stone) in all senses
  3. a full meeting, approaching, merging, identification with the chosen form
  4. a withdrawal from the identification, and a parting with thanks
  5.  re-connection with energetic self-awareness
  6. writing/drawing
  7. sharing if appropriate

Elaine Knight, who has developed this practice in the form presented, adds:

“The steps 1 to 5 involve an energetic level of activation, attunement and sensing, meeting and communion, separation and return. Be respectful, ask permission and give thanks. Be receptive and open to what arises. Ground yourself well on your return. I recommend that the practice be guided by someone experienced and that plenty of time is allowed for each stage.

“I would like to thank Julie Bond for sharing her Lectio Divina reading from the book of nature as it inspired me to use my own energy work and hermetic practice in a completely different way.

“The attunement I use involves activating the light body and becoming aware of one’s core star. My hermetic journeying practice was originally concerned with the inner world  This practice however involves an open encounter and communion with a object co-existing in the apparent world.  An “I – Thou” experience rather than an “I – it” experience to quote Graham Harvey.  To date the experiences reported by those participating have been overwhelmingly animistic and often bardic and poetic. Animism and Hermetics I believe sit well together and I look forward to further encounters and explorations using the practice of Animistic Hermetics.”

BOOK REVIEW: FOLLOWING THE DEER TRODS

jhp5423fc87b679cThe full title of this book is Following the Deer Trods: a practical guide to working with Elen of the Ways. It is written as part of Moon Book’s Shaman Pathways series, and is positioned as a stand-alone introduction to its topic, which includes working methods for the aspiring practitioner. As such this book certainly meets its criteria.

I personally think it works best in tandem with Elen Sentier’s other book on the topic, also a Shaman Pathways book, Elen of the Ways; following the deer trods – the ancient Shamanism of Britain, which I reviewed in July 2014. This earlier book establishes the overall context much better and for me they belong together.

Following the Deer Trods begins with a summary of the ideas offered in Elen of the Ways. This works well, even magically, in the opening pages – but I was saddened by a seeming loss of perspective when we get to the Romans and beyond. The author shows no recognition of Christianity as a diverse, complex and internally contested path, not least in the Celtic lands; or of the effects which holding political power can have on religious traditions, regardless of the actual faith. There’s also no clear flagging of the extent to which the positive, Pagan side of the story is necessarily reliant on intuitive reconstruction, relevant records being sparse and problematic, oral traditions highly mutable over time, and material remains providing only limited insight into hearts and minds. There is so much we don’t know, and will never know, about our ancestors, their traditions and what it was like to be them. When talking about them, we do best to avoid the language of certainty.

For me the book picks up from that point, providing the promised guide to working in a series of well-organised practice chapters. The main areas covered (in my language) are meditation, energy work, service, shamanic journeying, relationships with familiar spirits (power animals), and working with trickster figures. The author also discusses the ‘journey horse’ or method of trance induction – and the relative merits for this purpose of drumming, the sound of waves, rain, or a flowing stream; the steady roaring of wind; the recorded purring of cats. That bit of the discussion is a true gem, reflecting a lot of playful trial and experience.

These chapters also lay out a basic cosmology for the work – a cosmology of three worlds (middle, lower, and upper) on the vertical axis and four elements radiating out from the middle world on the horizontal, with the nigh universal notion of the world tree/tree of life very much in mind. Elen describes the image of the six armed cross as a means of bringing them together. She talks about her understanding of the inner world of the journey as a place of ‘interface’, the portal which she, as awenydd, and the Otherworld co-create as a meeting place between them.

The instructions for practice are highly specific and directive and therefore best-suited to people who are new to this kind of work, who don’t have access to hands-on teaching or established learning communities, and who need nonetheless to be strongly held as they begin their exploration. Other readers will look to the offerings provided as a source of new or variant ideas, or information about a specific way of working.

My heart didn’t sing, when I read this book, as it had when I read its predecessor. But it makes its contribution and, with the one significant reservation about the presentation of history, I’m happy to recommend it.

THE WOODCHESTER ORPHEUS

I went on a walk this morning, a two mile autumn stroll, mellow sunlight, leaves now turning, to Woodchester. I wanted to visit the old churchyard there. There is no church now, but an extensive walled graveyard and a significant history.

To get into it I stumbled, rather than walked, down a short set of crumbling steps, my eyes on fallen yew berries, lush red against the pale green grass, and absolutely not for eating. Raising my eyes I saw the oddly squat and almost bristling avenue of yews that leads to a stone arch now free of any building. Brambles are still producing blackberries, and together with ivy they cover some of the substantial stone tombs in the graveyard, whilst leaving others alone. These others are weathered and mossy, their eighteenth and earlier nineteenth century inscriptions now almost illegible. Most of the tombs are heavy and rectangular, though one sports a pyramid resting on a circular block mounted on a hexagonal one. The whole place is pleasingly unkempt, and removed from the demands of the everyday world. Yet I wouldn’t call it tranquil – certainly that’s not its gift to me.

My special interest, on this walk, was in a large and largely empty declivity within the graveyard. I walked to the centre, where there was a scattering of small, sad, bird feathers, mostly white and brown. I took a sample and discussed it later with my partner Elaine and we think they perhaps came from a young owl. Some way beneath my feet was Woodchester’s Orpheus mosaic, originally covering the main reception room of a Roman Villa. It was made in around AD 325 (1) by a dedicated mosaic shop in Corinium (Cirencester) that specialised in Orphic themes. The Villa estate had easy access to the benefits of a relatively urbanised culture, with Cirencester and Glevum (Gloucester) each less than 15 miles away and Aquae Sulis (Bath) less than 30.  Corinium was the largest city in Roman Britain apart from Londinium (London) and capital of the then province of Britannia Prima, which covered Wales and South West England (2). It boasted stone carvers, glass makers and goldsmiths as well as the bakers and blacksmiths you would hope to find in any town. Orphic themes were popular throughout the Roman Empire of the day and there is no surprise in finding him popular with the Romano-British aristocracy. What was there not to like about the archetypal Bard whose music charmed animals, caused trees to dance and energised the very stones; a walker between the worlds, destined ultimately to become a talking head speaking prophesies?

The centre of the Woodchester mosaic (damaged over the last 300 years by gravediggers and antiquaries)* is likely to have featured a small fountain fed by water from local springs. This was likely placed within a central octagon with a star radiating out from the fountain, surrounded by fishes. Next out is a circle of birds including pheasants, peacocks and doves, also incorporating Orpheus, his lyre and his hunting dog. Around it is a band of laurel leaves circled by a guilloche or plait. Then comes the animal circle, combining those then common in Britain – bear, stag, horse and boar – with exotic ones only seen in the amphitheatre – leopard, elephant, tiger and lion. There is also a mythological beast, a gryphon.

In the outermost group, towards the edge of the mosaic, we find the face of Neptune god of the sea. Flowing from him on either side in a complete circle is a beautiful acanthus roll which symbolises the restless movement of the waves. The whole circle is squared by four pairs of water nymphs, placed in the spandrels. A blue background represents their watery environment, also emphasised by water weeds.

This water theme is the imagery that draws me most. I link it to Orpheus’ role as the non-warrior Argonaut, whose job it was to work with the seas, negotiating passage with them.  For “the Argo was the first craft built to sail the deep, untraveled sea” (3) instead of hugging the coast and going from port to port. “Nothing like her had been seen or imagined before. Her hull timbers came from oaks and pines that Orpheus had charmed from the woods; they carried his liberating life in them and she leapt in the sea, like a deer”.  The deep sea was as new to him as to everyone else, a vastness that boiled and foamed, white on blue, like a whirlpool, the ‘end of the earth, the beginning of all’, an abyssos much like chaos before creation came.  In the Hymns conventionally attributed to Orpheus, the depths of the ocean “‘glossy’ and ‘black’ like Night herself, writhed with potential and with new forms swimming into life”. Roped fast in the pitching, heaving bow, Orpheus would fling out his hymns to the mounting walls of the waves. “Note by note he would urge them lower, resist them, coax them, until his music streamed down in foam and they deflated, slowly, to a cradling quiet. His spirit lay on the sea then, pressing it level like a band of light.”

I don’t know this aspect of the story particularly well. I grew up with Jason and the Argonauts. I’ve known a certain amount about Orpheus, especially the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. But not this. Certainly this is what took me to Woodchester today. To stand close to a resonant piece of ancestral craftsmanship, local in place and time yet also universal and timeless in reference, there in its original location, which I experience as an odd and slightly otherworldly place on any terms.  And I think about what Joseph Campbell, also with Orpheus in mind, says in his Creative Mythology, where the role of creative mythology is to renew “the act of experience itself … restoring to existence the quality of adventure, at once shattering and reintegrating the fixed, already known … as it is in depth, in process, here and now, inside and out”. (4)

  1. Cull, Reverend John (2000) Woodchester: its villa and mosaic Andover, Hampshire, UK: Pitkin Unichrome (Pitkin Guides)
  2. White, Roger (2007) Britannia Prima: Britain’s last Roman province Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Tempus Publishing
  3. Roe, Ann (2011) Orpheus the song of life London: Jonathan Cape
  4. Campbell, Joseph (1968) The masks of God: creative mythology Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin

*The mosaic hasn’t done well out of its 12 exposures in the last 300 years or so and was reburied in 1973 for an indefinite period. A replica exists, though no longer for public display, and the mosaic has been very well drawn and photographed.

ACTIVE IMAGINATION: BEYOND MICHAELMAS

In my Active Imagination post on 18 August this year, I wrote about an image of a wild park, a tree, deep twilight, the moon, a river, a gorge, and a bridge, a city of lights, a messenger and a message. I owned every feature of the image as part of myself.

I’ve had another one, loosely connected to the first and also numinous for me, and compelling. I’m in a walled garden, now within the city of lights. It’s as if I’ve got the message and crossed the bridge. So there’s an element of journeying in the process after all, hidden behind the images themselves.

The city is surprisingly spacious and offers a sweet slowness as well. It could also be described as a little run down and depopulated. But an easy place to be, not a stressful one. The specific place in which I find myself seems familiar, though subtly changed.  I am in Sophia’s Garden, with its unmistakeable fountain in the centre surrounded by red and white rose beds. And there are fruit trees – apple, pear and plum – trained around the walls. In memory it is a noon time place where bright sunlight shines on the scene and strikes the dazzling water of the fountain.

Now it is late afternoon and the sunlight is muted.  The water from the fountain cascades from its bubbling centre, and individual drops – each the whole of H20 – fly out for their moment in the sun before falling into a pool below. The fountain seems eternal. Its water seems eternal. The roses seem eternal. The rest of the garden is in an advanced autumnal stage – certainly beyond Michaelmas. At best, a limited time (overtime?) left for harvesting. The Goddess is dispersed in everything, as everything. I as observer am very much involved. In this realm I am her eyes and must stand as her wisdom too. There is no one else to do it.  For there is a sense in which, like Neo in The Matrix, we are each the One in our own Universe.

ACTIVE IMAGINATION

For some while most of my meditation has been about cultivating awareness in the here-and-now, somewhat in the manner now widely packaged as ‘mindfulness’. But it wasn’t always so. Over my life as a whole, I’ve had more investment in meditations that explore inner world imagery. These include the contemplation of still images (like Tarot trumps), OBOD’s sacred grove practice, visualisations involving journeys and encounters, and active imagination – Jung’s name for spontaneous and meaningful ‘daydreams’.

A little while ago I had such a daydream, and it got me wondering whether this kind of experience will again find a place in my life. It was during the day, in high summer. But I had a powerful and compelling image of a late twilight, lit by a near full moon, well into the autumn. I was standing in an altered, or stylised, version of a real place. I was at the edge of a park in Bristol (although it was wilder in the vision) overlooking the Bristol Avon. My eyes turned left, and I could see a more primitive version of the Clifton suspension bridge, a small city of lights in what is now Clifton on the far bank of the river, and the vague shape of the gorge. I was standing by a willow tree (a real one, with which I have had a connection for many years). I was approached by an androgynous young person, clearly a messenger from the city of lights visible above me on the Clifton side. And I was invited to remember that in this scene I am everything that I can imagine, or I would not be imagining it.

So over time I have become the wild park, the tree, deep twilight, the moon, the river, the bridge, the gorge, the city of lights, the messenger and the message. I can make a story about them all and interpret it. The symbolism is archetypal and so in a sense obvious enough. But I’ve held off doing too much of that. I’m more concerned with the power and suggestiveness of the individual images. Overall, I take it as a declaration that my active imagination channel is open, with a strong sense that I should allow the images their spontaneity and not turn this into a formal practice. I already have a formal practice, and it is fine as it is. This is something different.

WILLOW

Some systems of training – R.J. Stewart in ‘The Way of Merlin’ and the OBOD Ovate Course for example – ask us to develop a long term relationship with a specific tree.  In my case it was a willow.  At that time I had already made a willow wand from wood that had fallen off another tree, and though I don’t use wands or other tools much in circle casting, I do use this wand occasionally.  It’s a wood that I find it easy to connect with.

My willow stands on the banks of the Avon at Bristol, in sight of the Clifton suspension bridge and the gorge.  I was living within walking distance of it at the time.  In terms of ‘head knowledge’ I wasn’t quite sure whether it was technically a weeping willow or a hybrid and decided it didn’t matter.  Its branches certainly bowed to the flowing Avon water and to the ground.  Through dedicated tree hugging practice I discovered a strong Nwyfre  or life force, running up and down the tree.  This was about the time of the Spring Equinox in a prematurely warm and burgeoning year.  I had the pleasure of watching catkins and early leaves growing and of active bees.  So I created an energetic bond with the physical tree, at the edge of a public park, greeting it and fare-welling it at each encounter without developing a detailed botanical knowledge.

I also did inner work with the tree, through visualization.  Usually the visualization was an idealized version of the physical reality, prompting a slightly different set of feelings and reflections.  There was one major difference.  During a gale, the wind broke one of the major branches from the tree.  I was very distressed to see that branch partly on the ground and partly hanging on to the rest of the tree by thin strands of bark.  Then the branch got chopped off.  I was in mourning.  Yet my visualization didn’t change.  At that level, the tree was still there and whole.  And in fact the physical changed and grew new branches, not in quite the same place, to fill the gap of the big one that had gone.  I supplied the distress and mourning.  The tree simply adapted.  Throughout the physical process, I felt little difference in its energy.

In the back of my mind I was also aware of traditional knowledge, both specific to Ogam lore and the more diffuse inheritance of popular tradition.  I tended to hold this lightly, feeling imaginatively enriched whilst putting personal lived experience first.  I do know that leaning against the tree whilst looking across the water to the bridge and the gorge were (and are) good for refreshment, reverie and lazy, half conscious forms of reflection.  Out of this can come a creativity that doesn’t come from the willed marshaling of correspondences.  And to be fair, the traditional willow correspondences say as much, when they talk of openness and receptivity to Otherworld and the inspiration of the Goddess.  When I first knew the willow, it was at a time of fecundity – I’ve already mentioned the vibrancy of catkins and new leaves, the early appearance of bees.  So I’m not surprised that William Anderson’s green man poem says, for the period running from 13 April to 10 May:

 In and out of the yellowing wands of the willow

The pollen-bright bees are plundering the catkins;

‘I am honey of love’, says the Green Man

‘I am honey of love’, says he.

It doesn’t surprise me at all that in the Romanian Gypsy Festival of Green George (needless to say on 23 April)  a young and leafy willow, already felled, is erected and decorated with streamers and ribbons.  The community’s pregnant women gather around the tree, each laying out one piece of clothing.  If, overnight a leaf falls from the tree on to the clothing, it is said that the goddess of the tree promises both an easy delivery and a gifted child.”

Such associations are in the background of my relationship to Willow if not the foreground.  They touch my imagination, especially the parts that are nurtured by a sense of place and of history.  They amplify my direct here-and-now experience, adding emotional texture to sensory immediacy.  They extend what’s already there, in the tree, the setting, my presence, and our connection.

Wheel of the Year Blog

An place to read and share stories about the celtic seasonal festivals

Walking the Druid Path

Just another WordPress.com site

anima monday

Exploring our connection to the wider world

Atheopaganism

An Earth-honoring religious path rooted in science

Grounded Space Focusing

Become more grounded and spacious with yourself and others, through your own body’s wisdom

The Earthbound Report

Good lives on our one planet

innerwoven

Life from the inside out.

John Halstead

The Allergic Pagan; HumanisticPaganism.com; Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Paganism; A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment; Earthseed

Stroud Radical Reading Group

Stroud Radical Reading Group meets once a month. Here you can find details of sessions, links, and further information

The Hopeless Vendetta

News for the residents of Hopeless, Maine.

barbed and wired

not a safe space - especially for the guilty

Daniel Scharpenburg

Dharma Teacher

Down the Forest Path

A Journey Through Nature, its Magic and Mystery

Druid Life

Pagan reflections from a Druid author - life, community, inspiration, health, hope, and radical change

What Comes, Is Called

The work and world of Ki Longfellow

Her Eternal Flame

Contemplative Brighidine Mysticism

Druid Monastic

The Musings of a Contemplative Monastic Druid

Sophia's Children

Living and Leading the Transformation.

sylvain grandcerf

Une voie druidique francophone as Gaeilge

ravenspriest

A great WordPress.com site