contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Elaine Knight

ELAINE’S CAULDRON: BURNING DEAD LEAVES

My wife Elaine created this midsummer cauldron fire, now ten days ago. It was fuelled in part by dry dead leaves. She chose the evening of the day itself rather than the traditional eve. The point about midsummer (24 June) is that the sun is on the move again after its moment of stasis, clearly beginning its decline. It acts as the polar opposite of the Sol Invictus or Christmas festival in late December. The Church gives 24 June to John the Baptist, decapitated at the wish of his nemesis Salome.

In our neighbourhood, there is a paradox about July. It is the quintessential summer month, in which the light begins to diminish. At the moment, sunrise is at about 4.50 am., with sunset at 9.20 pm. By Lughnasadh, it will be rising at 5.25 am and setting before 8.50 pm. In August, the process will accelerate while the earth and sea remain warm by North Atlantic standards. Getting up an hour or so after sunrise I am tending to find a dull and cloudy sky. There can be a stillness in the air, disturbed perhaps by blackbird pair flying low amongst the trees. I have a sense of latency.

The inquiry phase beginning at the 2019 winter solstice has settled a number of issues. I am re-confirmed in a modern Druid practice that is held within a circle and seven directions (E, S, W, N, below, above, centre), and is mindful of the wheel of the year. I also settled my approach to ethics at the beginning of this inquiry year (1) drawing on the work of modern Pagan philosopher Brendan Myers with his re-visioning of ancient Greek ‘virtue’ ethics (2). I have deepened in my experience of an at-homeness in the flowing moment, and its therapeutic benefits, which I wrote about last year (3). Fully established in my life, these are no longer fundamental inquiry issues. The uncertainties I formerly had with them are like dead leaves, now safe to burn.

For all that I have gained from other paths – Tantra, Tao, Zen, other forms of Buddhism, and Christian Gnosticism – I know that I will not be practising or following them. I will continue to appreciate their literatures and cite them in this blog, but this will be from the perspective of the appreciative outsider. Here too the active inquiry is over. Uncertainties have shrunken into dead leaves, and are safe to burn.

I know that, in the turbulent, airy mental realm, I have contending gnostic and agnostic energies. They are co-arising twins, and neither is going away. I still have work to do to find a settled home for them both. I am also concerned about how, more elegantly, to fit an ‘emptiness’ understanding into an earth pathway. A feeling about myth, and the truth and beauty of myth, is tied up with this. In the coming phase, I will look again at R. J. Stewart’s Merlin work for help with these questions. This reprise is also part of my older person’s looking back, recalling what I have valued, and asking what role it can still play. It sets my direction for the second half of the year.

(1) https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2019/12/27/values-for-2020/

(2) https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2018/07/02/ethics-and-civilization/

(3) https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2019/06/30/meditation-and-healing/

A SIMPLE SENIOR DAY

On 2 June I enjoyed a simple, senior day. A picture anchors its feeling-tone and will prompt my memory in times to come. On this day, I went nowhere. On this day, I did no inquiring. In this day, I could hardly tell the difference between thinking and looking out of the window.

The day was both ordinary and unique, tied to a cherished space and with its own distinctive features. It was the day before the weather broke, the last of a warm, dry and sunny spell that has blessed us during the lockdown. But the break was clearly coming and that, too, would be welcomed.

More importantly, my day was an extended moment of companionship with my wife Elaine (sometimes in separate spaces, sometimes sharing one). In part we were just there. In part I was time conscious, looking forward to Elaine’s coming birthday, not long after my own – and then our relationship anniversary in the coming June days. As the wheel turns, anticipation flavours the now. Memory flavours the now too, and I want to remember this day, and the value of its simple, senior pleasures.

SPRING EQUINOX 2020: IMAGES OF HOPE?

A lone fawn protected by a dolmen. Boxing hares. A drill bow kindles a flame. As I move beyond the equinox into the second quarter of the year, what are these images telling me?

I am working with the Wildwood Tarot* as a resource for my journey through the wheel of the year. I’ve done a three card reading to intuit themes for the three months ahead. Each card is a lens on the whole period, revealing different aspects of the year’s second quarter, perhaps with an element of progression.

The key word for the 4 of stones, the one with the fawn, is ‘protection’. The supporting Wildwood text is largely a reflection on spiritual warriorship, with themes of testing, endurance, ethics and compassion. They help me to understand our public health crisis as also a spiritual crisis. Fortunately, the dolmen holding the fawn in immobilised physical safety can also be a space for spiritual renewal.

The 2 of stones, with its boxing hares, is another earth card and stereotypically seasonal. Its key word is ‘challenge’. In the traditional universe of the Tarot, One becomes two, and then three, and then the multitude. The opportunity for I-Thou relationship, diversity and the world of interbeing have been created. At the same time stress, tension and potential conflicts of interest have been born along with them. Interconnectedness sounds rich, creative and dynamically supportive. So it can be. Yet relationships involving dominance, submission, predation and parasitism are also forms of interconnection. Viruses too.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a hare. I have been told by other humans that boxing hares are playing a mating game, enacting a mating ritual, or demonstrating that female hares are capable of seeing off unwanted advances from males. Perhaps all of the above. They certainly demonstrate the complexities of interconnection. Currently I describe myself as ‘self-isolating’, and this is likely to go on for at least the whole quarter. Actually, I am self-isolating with my wife Elaine, and we are very conscious of needing to take active care of our own relationship and to maintain good distance links with others. The health of the interconnectedness within which we live is more important than ever. I take some comfort here from the boxing hares. Their energies are successfully held in balance. Their collective life and its continuation over the years are enabled. They are resourceful creatures and our traditional lore about them speaks of shape shifting capabilities and closeness to the Otherworld. They are survivors.

The key words for my third card, the Ace of Bows, are ‘spark of life’. In a reading without major trumps or court cards, this stands out as the fountainhead of the fire suit and in the Wildwood Tarot it points to the later stages of this quarter, from Beltane to the Summer Solstice and indeed beyond. It introduces human agency and technology, and is associated with creativity, enterprise and science: “The drill bow suggests the human element, our partnership with the environment in which we live and the mastery of its gifts”. I find myself placed in a somewhat passive position, but I am part of a wider community. I do have confidence that creatively scientific and genuinely enterprising efforts will be brought to bear on the current health crisis. ‘Spark of life’ resonates favourably for me, without saying anything specific about my individual future.

The three cards together encourage a strong focus on my contemplative inquiry, including this blog. The inquiry is personal, and in the language of Wildwood maintains my link to the Otherworld. It is also public, because of the blog, and can therefore play a role in a larger effort to use blogging and social media in the service of healthy interconnection. Wildwood’s suit of bows talks of ‘philosophical and esoteric pursuits’ as a form of “skilful ability fuelled by will”, along with the creativity, science and enterprise already noted. I would like to think of my contemplative inquiry as a manifestation of this, and I hope that it can be a form of service in the forthcoming quarter and beyond.

*Mark Ryan & John Matthews The Wildwood Tarot Wherein Wisdom Resides London: Connections, 2011. Illustrations by Will Worthington

TWO RINGS

Last Wednesday, 17 February 2016, I married Elaine Knight. We’ve known each other for something like 25 years. We’ve been partners for nearly 11 years, living together for over 7 of them. Elaine is still Elaine Knight – she’s not changing her name. We will continue to have large spheres of autonomy  as well as togetherness. Yet we agree that our simple ceremony and the exchange of rings has made a significant difference. Just looking at mine, or touching it, inspires feelings of peace, joy, love and gratitude – towards Elaine, and in the wider what-is.

Jpeg

Jpeg

There’s a possibly related process running in my formal spirituality, which for around a decade has been predominantly though not exclusively under the aegis of OBOD Druidry. In recent months I’ve sensed a reduction in intensity. The flavour now seems to be one of consolidating and easing into a new normal, a spirituality, alive as an ever-present background influence and less compelling as a foreground pre-occupation. I intend to continue my service roles – OBOD mentoring, and the offer of contemplative spaces with Elaine and other companions – whilst finding that I feel more relaxed about them. That’s probably good for my performance of the roles.

In the meantime Elaine and I will be spending time together and with close relatives in York and Edinburgh over the next 10 days and I won’t be writing another blog post until my return.

 

TOWARDS A CONTEMPLATIVE NOTE: REFLECTIONS ON 3 OCTOBER

I sense that we are finding a contemplative note in Druidry. To an extent we have had it for a while, but it’s becoming more assured. Last Saturday we had an open contemplative day in Stroud for Druids and fellow travellers willing to join us. I worked with Elaine Knight and Nimue Brown as co-facilitators. Some of the participants travelled a considerable distance for the event. Many of those present were new to each other. Some were new to this kind of event.

Yet the day felt very cohesive. For me, the group note resonated strongly though also softly. The vibration was a subtle one, interwoven with silence and stillness, whilst also clear and distinct. Building community together, and working together, we were more than the sum of our parts. We created a group identity, and sounded our note. I understand this as our small contribution and offering to the Oran Mor, the great song of what is.

I’ve been reflecting on how this happened, and on lessons to take forward. The main single factor has to be that everyone in the group understood the offer, was open to the experience, and wanted it to work. This is such an obvious aspect of a success that it can go unrecognised, like the so-called ‘placebo’ effect in healing: people engage their good will, almost unconsciously, and it has a strong positive effect.

On the facilitator side, there are several things we got right and that I want to remember. Having a record will help that.

We made a good choice of venue for the occasion, and this was supplemented by the blessing of a golden autumn day. The programme relied on activities, which someone at another of our events named as “simple but profound”. This choice is definitely part of our note. The building of our ritual container, whist still ‘lean’, was just a little bit more elaborate than in our local group. It clearly marked our sacred space and our expectations about how we would work in it.

I also found myself casting our circle in ‘the contemplative grove of druids’. This time I was careful to avoid the term ‘grove of contemplative druids’.  I have found naming ‘contemplative druidry’ to be a useful way of classifying a sub-set of interests within druidry. But I now believe that to think of people themselves as ‘contemplative druids’, a separate species within larger druid genus, is potentially divisive and doesn’t allow individuals to have inconveniently multiple interests. At the same time, when we join together in a contemplative event, we are indeed being intentional about contemplative practice. I have come to think of Contemplative Druid Events as a vehicle for a latent grove, a grove which constellates during our events and therefore deserves to be named. This grove provides space for our emerging note.

The note was considerably enriched when Nimue led a session that involved us in finding simple personal sounds and vocalising them over an extended period of time. After a while we could sense those diverse and discordant seeming sounds (our individual notes) come together as a collective sound where people spontaneously worked together. So the group note was worked for, discovered and explored in an absolutely literal way – and one which changed the atmosphere of the room. Later in the day, Elaine took the group through a version of an energy body exercise that went on to identify and reinforce the energetic connections between people, linking us as a group at subtle levels before moving into an animistic exercise. In my experience as a participant, these sections of the day were simple, profound and powerful too.

We made sure that we varied the pace of the day. Some of the work was relatively intense, but we had more leisurely and relaxed spaces as well, enjoyed time outside and made sure of an abundant supply of refreshments. For me, 3 October 2015 was a step forward in the evolution of our work. My heartfelt thanks to everyone involved.

DRUID CAMP, STROUD CONTEMPLATIVE DAY, SMALL GROUPS

I’ve just had a couple of lazy summer days and I feel all the better for them. They’ve been interwoven with a relaxed stocktaking about contemplative Druidry and my part in it. I notice that my main focus is on small groups.

As I write, I’m at peace with my personal life and practice. At the collective level, I’ve had recent good news. My friend and colleague JJ Howell has let me know the specific roles that my partner Elaine Knight and I will be playing at Druid Camp in four weeks’ time. Druid Camp – www.druidcamp.org.uk  – is a large group (200-300 people), but we’ll be working with small groups, offering contemplative sessions from the repertoire built up by our local group over the last year. Meanwhile I also know that an open contemplative day in Stroud, organised by our own outreach arm Contemplative Druid Events –   http://contemplativedruidevents.tumblr.com  – is now viable and will go ahead on 3 October. We have seven people fully booked and three more with strong expressions of interest, with 15 being our max.

The overall position is that we have a flourishing local group, now three years old; a book largely though not exclusively based on the thoughts of its members; and an outreach arm able to offer an annual residential retreat (The Birchwood Retreat) every April and an open contemplative day in October 2015, which might become annual too. In all cases the events concerned will have no more than 15 participants. We could do a little bit more – providing small group sessions at other larger events, or offering more contemplative days either locally or elsewhere. But my sense is that we need to respect limitations in our capacity, stick to the small group approach, and make sure that all our work is experiential and not simply discursive. People need to taste it.

For me perhaps the greatest value of the small group is the opportunity for all participants to introduce ourselves and be heard. For that to work fully, we need a quality of listening which itself becomes a practice and part of our culture, and whose intention is to ensure that no one is either misrecognised or ignored. This in itself is counter to mainstream communication, including ours, and needs conscious practice. It will include mis-steps from time to time within our own groups. So it’s not about ‘getting it right’ all the time: the point is to be conscious. In a contemplative context, we can hope to go further: establishing a level of trust that opens the door to deeper I-Thou recognition and communion. It’s a different opportunity to those provided when large numbers of people become immersed together in prayer, song, ritual or formal meditation. It’s more personal, in the best sense of that term. I find it both more challenging and rewarding, whilst believing that all of these approaches have their honoured place.

Small groups have other advantages too. It is easier to be flexible on programming within the event. It is easier to offer activities which demand time for reflection and debriefing. It is easier to become aware of other people as spiritual companions, even if we have not met them before or do not know them well. I think, too, that it’s easier to learn, not least when in a facilitative role, because the style of the event can be person centred rather than goal centred. Activities are designed to support us in our human, and therefore spiritual, flourishing. They are not Everests to be climbed so we can say that we ‘knocked the bastard off’.

I think this is why we have not oriented our contemplative Druidry around long meditations or meditation training. It was one way to go, and in some ways the obvious one. It would certainly be the most traditional one and my solo practice is very much tilted that way. But the group context changes things. Pragmatically, our local group is about evenly divided between people who gain from long meditations and those who don’t. We would lose people by taking this approach. More importantly, the group is co-creating a culture in which the blessing of space and silence is received differently – through short meditations, attunement to the seasonal moment, silent walks, or activities like ‘Awen space’ in which we sit with each other, open to spirit, and can speak, chant or sing into the silence when so moved. We can also explore co-creation from silence into sound and story, or find different ways of awakening to the fields of energy and presence within us, between us, and around us. It’s a subtle and sensitive kind of work. It needs times of stillness and silence. It also needs times of movement, sound and speech. It needs times of reflection and relaxation.

In my view, we are still at an early stage of this exploration. We have a name – Contemplative Druidry – to hold us. We have literature – Contemplative Druidry and also Nimue Brown’s Druidry and Meditation – to support us. We have a dedicated group and an outreach arm. The small group approach has evolved quite naturally and I see it as a critically important aspect of how we work.

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.”

ELAINE KNIGHT – ESOTERIC ART AT I:MAGE

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This post is about the esoteric art of my partner Elaine Knight, and in particular her work as artist-in-residence for the I:MAGE 2014 held in October/November this year. Elaine writes:

I want to thank Robert Ansell and FULGUR ESOTERICA  for the vision and creation of I:MAGE and the opportunity to be artist in residence during I:MAGE 2014. http://fulgur.co.uk/

I:MAGE 2014 explored what it means to communicate with spirits through art. It sought to glimpse a unifying theme across different esoteric practices. I had been commissioned to produce a talismanic piece for the journal Abraxas and I used my I:MAGE residency to do this.

Here are the words given to me by my some of my fellow travellers with unfamiliar spirits at I:MAGE 2014.

MAGIC MAGIC MAGIC WILL FIRE EVOLVE WHITE FIRE CELEBRATING WOMENS WORK PERSONAL SHINING BLUE OLD COMMUNITY HISTORY COMMUNALITY  MODERN OUTPOURING BLUE CAPTIVATING EYEOPENING EXCITING MAGICAL LAYERED CHROMATIC MANIFESTATION BLOT NUMINOUS OTHERNESS ENCHANTING ILLUMINATING CROSSROADS INTRIGUING EXHILARATING TRANSFORMATIONAL PINPOINT SQUARE IMAGINATIVE VISCERAL TRANSCENDANT NORSE FAMILIAR CRENELLATION POTENTIAL DESERT SKULL

48 words.

A mere homeopathic sample from the various throngs of people who attended the I:MAGE event over these two weeks.

9 circles for these words and the central circle contains the I:MAGE bind rune.

The 9 circles are a homage to the nine worlds of Norse mythology.

The spirit of I:MAGE is a wonderful picture taken by Robert Ansell’s co curator Livia Filotico and used with her permission in the the arms of the equal and balanced cross.

I sought to gather and unify in the creation of my talismanic design generated by the event.

The Cross and the Circle.

The nine circles.

Energised from the four directions with the spirit of I:MAGE.

Gifted words to the power of three and one Rune to bind them.

Here is the heiros gamos, spirit and matter combine, each fertilises the other.

Recently I lit five candles to sit and contemplate in the fading light of a midwinter day. This arrangement was an echo of this talisman’s design.

The Concept

http://fulgur.co.uk/image/concept/

My Proposal

Here too is a link to pages 118-119 in the exhibition catalogue which explains a bit about me and what I am doing on this residency.

http://issuu.com/fulguresoterica/docs/image_2014/119?e=6507208/9770393

My dedicated residency websitewww.image2014twus.tumblr.com

My art blog at http://elaineknight.tumblr.com/

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