contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Garden

PSYCHIC GARDEN: BLACKBIRDS

My wife Elaine and I have a blackbird pair, now with two fledglings, almost at our back door. They have created a precarious nest in a jasmine bush just outside. We have halted all clipping for the time being. Blackbirds have also appeared in Sophia’s garden, my Innerworld sanctuary and space for insight and healing.

The garden, which shifts over time, is now a place of midsummer twilight. It has a fountain at its centre. Water jets high into the air before cascading through a succession of bowls into a wide and shallow pool at the bottom. In the twilight, I find it hard to see clearly, though easy enough to hear. The perpetual movement of water makes its music. Otherwise, the garden is at first quiet.

I hear the blackbirds, two of them, without seeing them. This follows a visit in August last year, when there was only one. At that time, I wrote a post about blackbirds as birds of Rhiannon and other aspects of their place in Welsh mythology and modern Druidry: https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2017/08/04/a-bird-of-rhiannon/

Shortly after writing the post, I discovered that Jean Markale, the sage of Broceliande, links the blackbird with Merlin, since merle is the French for blackbird and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s spoken language was French. (It was he who introduced the world to the name Merlin.) Without wanting to debate this derivation, I enjoy the sense of this common, plebeian bird, having such resonance and capacity. It contrasts with the image of the noble, highly trained predator – the merlin hawk – which I grew up with.

Somehow, through this discovery, I feel confirmed and affirmed as a civilian, rather than saint or sage, monk or magician. Those paths are fine, but not my own. Blackbirds are anchored in ordinary life. Yet they do sing at twilight, in ways that move and inspire us.

I take my seat, on the bench that’s offered, recognizing my entry into the fourth quarter of my life, with this lesson in mind.

(1) Jean Markale Merlin: Priest of Nature Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions (Kindle edition) Translated by Belle N. Burke

 

POEM: A WINTER EDEN

Warmest wishes to everyone for the festive season and the coming year. Here and now I don’t have a ‘deep midwinter’ feeling, despite the short days. I’ve been walking by my local canal in a largely green world, with a defining image of sunlight on ivy. Alders are growing catkins. Midges abound. Robert Frost’s poem below, in a snowy New England setting, celebrates the exuberance of life whenever it gets a chance.

A winter garden in an alder swamp,
Where conies now come out to sun and romp,
As near a paradise as it can be
And not melt snow or start a dormant tree.

It lifts existence on a plane of snow
One level higher than the earth below,
One level nearer heaven overhead,
And last year’s berries shining scarlet red.

It lifts a gaunt luxuriating beast
Where he can stretch and hold his highest feat
On some wild apple tree’s young tender bark,
What well may prove the year’s high girdle mark.

So near to paradise all pairing ends:
Here loveless birds now flock as winter friends,
Content with bud-inspecting. They presume
To say which buds are leaf and which are bloom.

A feather-hammer gives a double knock.
This Eden day is done at two o’clock.
An hour of winter day might seem too short
To make it worth life’s while to wake and sport.

Robert Frost

GOOD TASTE AT HOME

An aristocratic Zen perspective from medieval Japan. “Though home is of course merely a transient habitation, a place that is set up in beautiful taste to suit its owner is a wonderful thing. Even the moonlight is so much the more moving when it shines into a house where a refined person dwells in tranquil elegance. There is nothing fashionable or showy about the place, it is true, yet the grove of trees is redolent of age, the plants in the carefully untended garden carry a hint of delicate feelings, while the veranda and open-weave fence are tastefully done, and inside the house the casually disposed things have a tranquil, old-fashioned air. It is all most refined”.

Yoshida Kenko A cup of sake beneath the cherry trees Kindle edition of a Penguin Classic. This is a selection taken from Essays in idleness and probably written around 1329-31 CE. Translated into English by Meredith McKinney.

The son of an administration official, Kenko was born Urabe Kaneyoshi and served as  guards officer in the Imperial palace. He became a Buddhist monk in later life, living in a hermitage within a Zen monastery. He has been seen as the most important Japanese literary figure of his day, retaining something of a secular lens on the world despite his monastic standing.  He also wrote: “it is a most wonderful comfort to sit alone beneath a lamp, book spread before you, and commune with someone from the past whom you have never met.” I like him for writing that sentence, and I like being able to read it.

TEMPLE OF SOPHIA

My ‘Temple of Sophia’ recollects the active imagination work I did when practising Druidry and the Way of Sophia as a fusion path. The Temple keeps the work alive for me, though its presentation lacks the dynamism of the original set of practices when I was working them. The Temple structure owes something to the ‘art of memory’ of the ancient Greeks This was a system of impressing ‘places’ and ‘images’ on the mind, which continued into the dawn of modernity. Late practitioners included Giordano Bruno and the English alchemist Robert Fludd (1).

Here is how the visualisation goes.

“[I am] …on the water of a lake, in a rowing boat … mooring on the western shore … walking eastwards on a path between carved stones … on the left hand a Pictish ‘dancing seahorse’ … on the right hand, a Levantine image (a pomegranate tree, serpent coiled around the base, dove at the top) … moving up to the western door of the Temple of Sophia, a domed stone building, half hidden in extensive tree cover … basically round but with arms extended in each of the 4 cardinal directions to create an equal armed cruciform shape.

“I enter the temple through a porch at the western end, over which are written two lines from Primary Chief Bard, in the Book of Taliesin (2): I stood at the cross with Mary Magdalene; I received the Awen from Ceridwen’s cauldron. I find myself facing the eastern wing. Its most striking feature is a rose window at the back. It also has an altar whose white cloth is embroidered with a golden gnostic cross, and strewn with white and red rose petals. At the centre stands a chalice, white candles on either side. Looking around me I see steps spiraling downwards to a crypt, left (northern extension) and steps spiraling upwards to an upper room, right (southern extension).

“The main body of the temple is lit by chandeliers hanging from the ceiling as well as natural light from the windows. On the floor is a large mosaic given definition by the golden outline of a circle, crossed at the cardinal points by golden lines which merge at the centre within a fully golden circle, which includes 3 white seed pearls in a triangular cluster at the centre.

“Just outside the outer circle, around the wheel of the year, are depictions of 16 trees: yew, north-west; elder, north-north-west; holly, north; alder, north-north-east; birch, north-east; ash & ivy, east-north-east; willow, east; blackthorn, east-south-east; hawthorn, south-east; beech & bluebell, south-south-east; oak, south; gorse, south-south-west; apple, south-west; blackberry & vine, west-south-west; hazel, west; rowan, west-north-west. Each representation of a tree on the mosaic offers a portal for further communication with the tree. If I visualize myself standing on the image, then I may enter another imaginal landscape for a fuller experience – whether through sensing or communicating with the tree in question, or indeed becoming it.

“Moving in to the delineated quarters of the main circle, I find: north, a seated white hart in a yellow square; east, an eagle with wings outstretched, in a blue circle; south, a mottled brownish adder in a red triangle; west, a silver salmon over a silver crescent moon. These positions, too, are potential portals into an Innerworld landscape. If I visualize myself standing on an image, it has the power to take me to another imaginal landscape, and to forms of engagement – whether simply connecting, communicating or indeed journeying there. At the golden centre of the circle, the cluster of three white pearls recollects the three drops of inspiration distilled from Ceridwen’s cauldron and the visionary power of Awen. There are also other trinities – the triple goddess; the orthodox Christian trinity; or the divine mother, father and child; or the singularity of Tao becoming the two, three and 10,000 things. This is more a place for simple contemplation.

“Spiraling again out of the circle, and exiting north, I descend into the crypt. Here I find an empty sarcophagus dimly lit by candles. Two or three steps below the sarcophagus is a small, warm pool, lit by night lights – a ‘birthing pool’, perchance a re-birthing pool. There is an image of a coiled serpent at the bottom of the pool and a red ankh painted at the centre of the ceiling. I can spend time lying within the sarcophagus, contemplating change, death and dissolution. I can also move on to the birthing pool, and taste the experience there.

“Leaving the crypt and moving across the temple, I climb the steps to the upper room, which has a meditation chair at its centre, with a chalice, or grail, on a small table in front of it. There is a white dove painted on the ceiling; otherwise the room is plain. If I centre myself and drink from the chalice, saying, my heart is home to Sophia, I may find myself in a Garden. It has a fountain at the centre, surrounded by four flower beds of alternating red and white roses. There are fruit trees, apple, pear and plum, trained around the walls. Sometimes, full bright sunlight shines on the scene and strikes the dazzling water of the fountain, warming an illuminating each drop as it falls. At other times, I am in moonlit or starlit night, and I hear as much as see the fountain. Either way, I open myself to the experience of the Garden. Sophia herself as psychopomp may or may not appear. Indeed, there is no ultimate distinction between Sophia, the Garden and me.

“On coming back from the vision of the garden, I sit and rest for a while. Eventually I leave the upper room, and, descending into the main body of the temple. I walk to the south point of the circle and from there move, spiralling, into the centre. I face the altar at the east, bowing and giving thanks before I leave the temple.”

(1) Frances A. Yates The Art of Memory London: Pimlico, 1966

(2) John Matthews Taliesin: Shamanism and the Bardic Mysteries in Britain and Ireland London: The Aquarian Press, 1991

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.

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