contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Ritual

REBLOG: ATHEOPAGANISM FOR SOLITARIES

We’re a subgroup of a subculture. Of a couple of them, actually: atheism and Paganism. So it’s not a surprise that though there are many of us collectively, we are spread thinly and may live far away from anyone else who identifies as practicing the path of Atheopaganism. Thus, this post, about practicing as a […]

Atheopaganism for Solitaries — Atheopaganism

BOOK REVIEW: THE CRANE BAG

The Craane BagThe Crane Bag, Joanna van der Hoeven’s forthcoming book*, offers an introduction to the ritual tools and practices found in the Druid tradition. It achieves this briefly, simply and with a light touch – as books in the Pagan Portals series are designed to do. Yet it much more than a tick box guide. It provides context and meaning, showing the modern evolution of the Druid tradition itself.

The author makes it clear that she wants readers “to develop their own path in their own time in their own fashion”. Re-enchantment is both path and goal. With proper use, the crane bag “can further the Druid in working with the tides of nature, finding his or her own place in the environment, living in balance, harmony and peace”. The movement overall is “toward reintegration with the natural world”.

At its simplest, the crane bag is the container for Druid ritual tools and as such enables the practices. Bag and tools provide the practitioner with “something tangible to express the spiritual”, acting as a portable “map of the soul”. Behind the crane bag lies an ancient Irish story beginning with the contention between two sisters and the transformation of one of them, Aoife, into a crane. The story is beautifully told and its relevance clearly explained in the first chapter of the book.

In ritual, a period of time and an area of space are set apart and dedicated. This is not to create a lasting duality of sacred and mundane, but a step on the way to experiencing everything as sacred. “Ritual helps us to step back from the busyness, into another way of being. It is a change of consciousness, where we can shift our perception away from a singular view to a more plural view, realising that we are part of an ecosystem”. There is a clear preference for working outdoors, where awareness can shift more readily, though this is not insisted on.

A Druid’s tools will vary with the Druid. The book identifies the following: a silver branch; a staff; cups/bowls/cauldrons; drums; a sickle or knife; robes; altars; fire/candles; incense. People may make or buy them. Ethical sourcing of tools and materials is discussed in some detail, in line with the values of The Crane Bag overall.

What goes into a ritual is explored under the headings of call for peace; preparing the nemeton; honouring spirits of place, three worlds, four directions, ancestors, deities; ritual action; prayers and magic; offerings; eisteddfod; sacrifice; feast; closing. There’s encouragement to practitioners to craft what is right for them from within this set of suggestions and beyond it. The author adds, “I have been in circles with Christian Druids and Buddhist monks, as well as other religions from all over the world”. What matters in ritual is being present and performing the ritual with mindfulness, so that “any words that you speak, any gesture or movement you make will flow more easily, be more graceful and filled with meaning”.

There’s a final chapter on ‘altered states’. I don’t use the term myself, because it makes an ‘altered’ vs ‘normal’ distinction that doesn’t really work for me in my own life. But I recognise it as a term that is widely and usefully employed. Here, it facilitates valuable discussions of meditation, drumming, chanting and song, sensory deprivation, sacred landscape and sitting out. Three kinds of meditation are distinguished: calming the mind and re-tuning the body, journeying and problem solving. Guidance is offered on each kind. Different suggestions are also explored within the other topics. For sensory deprivation, there are two. One is the Celtic version of the sweat lodge, called teach an alais. The other is total immersion in darkness for a considerable period before being brought out into the light. The author refers to early medieval accounts of this, where it was done in aid of Bardic inspiration and prophesy: imbhas forosna.

I found The Crane Bag a very useful contribution to its topic and highly recommend it.

 

Joanna van der Hoeven The Crane Bag: a Druid’s guide to ritual tools and practices Winchester UK & Washington USA: Moon Books, 2017

*According to the publisher, the book is due for release on 28 July, and can be pre-ordered through Amazon US & UK, Indiebound and Hive.

METHODS IN CONTEMPLATIVE INQUIRY: PART 1

This post is about methods in contemplative inquiry. It is the second in a series looking at what forms of inquiry best serve our times. The first (1) concerned values. This is the first of three addressing methods. A final post will be about issues of interpretation. My focus below is on the ritual container for my early morning Temple of Sophia practice, and how it enacts the values discussed on 16 June.

I inaugurated the Temple on 22 March of this year, and described it at the time (2) as a “magical space”. As my inquiry has developed, I have tended to let go of words like ‘magic’, ‘mysticism’, ‘gnosis’ and ‘enlightenment’ as too imprecise and in a way too theatrical for my current purpose. Yet I stand by what I said at the time. In particular, I continue to understand myself as using “a set of methods for arranging awareness according to patterns”, the definition of magic I used in March. I use all five of the specific methods I listed: concentration, meditation, visualization, ritual patterning and mediation. I particularly want to re-emphasize a key point about replacing a deliberate, effortful style of concentration with one based on interest and excitement like the concentration of children at play. (If it doesn’t work, do something else). But the last of the five methods above is now reframed. Instead of ‘mediation’ I would talk about the state of empty awareness and its influence. In the Headless Way (3) the phrase “clear awake space, and capacity for the world” is often used to describe the state as both experience and resource.

On arrival in my Temple space, I stand in what will be the centre of my circle, facing East where the image of Sophia gazes back at me. I begin with words inherited from my Druid practice, because I strive for continuity and integration wherever possible. The words are from Irish and Scottish Gaelic tradition, alternatively known at St. Patrick’s Prayer and the Cry of the Deer. They are a means of bringing in and expressing the humility and reverence I discussed as values in my last post, and are best declaimed slowly and spaciously.

I arise today through the strength of heaven, light of sun, radiance of moon, splendour of fire, speed of lightning, swiftness of wind, depth of sea, stability of earth and firmness of rock.

I continue – again following modern Druid tradition – by calling for peace in the directions, and aligning myself to them:  May there be peace in the 7 directions – East, West, North, South, Below, Above, Within. May I be present in this space.

Then I circle sunwise, spinning slowly at the centre of the circle, extending my left arm at chest level, index finger pointing down and saying: I cast this circle in the Temple of Sophia. I continue to move sunwise round the circle, speaking as I reach the appropriate cardinal points:  I thank the Source for Land (North), Life (East), Light (South), and Love (West). May they continue to nourish me. My I continue to honour them. May the harmony of this circle and of my life be complete. When facing East again, I say: I open my heart to the Wisdom of Sophia. I do not use ‘Source’ and ‘Sophia’ as theological terms. They are a way of expressing gratitude and connection. The way we are made, the very social way in which our capacity for language has developed, create a yearning for I-Thou rather than I-It forms of relationship with the Cosmos and whatever we met here, without or within. It seems to me to be a first person need, and I notice that it doesn’t seem to require literal reciprocation.

This opens my Temple, and a mirroring reverse process closes it at the end. For me these processes are an important ritual patterning in themselves, setting the note of my day overall, and not just markers for the Temple space. Before I begin to close the circle and exit the Temple space, I perform a ‘blessings’ practice, which has some resemblance to Buddhist loving-kindness practice whilst not being the same. Here I extend my circle of care from the centre outwards, until it becomes universal. Again I have to say that OBOD Druidry has a culture of commitment to blessings and the energy of blessing, and I continue to hold to that culture. Elaine, named below, is my wife.

I say: A blessing on my life.  May I be free from harm; may I be healthy; may I be happy; may I live with ease – repeating the sequence for Elaine’s life, the lives of our kin, the lives of our companions, all lives I touch and am touched by and all beings throughout the Cosmos.  A blessing on our lives (arms raised); a blessing on the work (hands over heart); a blessing on the land (touching the ground).

I am not, after some hesitation on the matter, working within a set of formalized ethics. Rather, the culture of practice seeks to generate a patterning of awareness that supports choice-making based on a view of love and wisdom. Methods enact values, which are then taken out of the Temple precincts and into the wider world.

I will talk about my physical/energetic and contemplative work within the circle in a dedicated post. This will include a look at why I do the entire practice standing or moving, and also why and how stresses and pathologies are given their space and voice.

(1) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/values-in-contemplative-inquiry

(2) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2016/03/27/sophian-magic-101

(3) http://www.headless.org

 

CONTEMPLATING OUR NEXT ADVENTURE

Druid Camp starts tomorrow. There will be more than 200 people there, perhaps many more since it’s an open event with the option for day tickets. Quite a few people from my local contemplative group will be there.  The site is close to where many of us live, across the River Severn at a point where it is still not quite estuarial. I will be there with my partner Elaine, specifically holding the banner for Contemplative Druid Events (CDE). We have been given the opportunity to offer two sessions, to demonstrate the kind of work we are developing.  Our challenge is to create a contemplative small group atmosphere within a bustling, dynamic environment.

We are going to be focused and experiential. People can fluff around words like ‘contemplative’ and Druidry’ almost endlessly, and ‘Contemplative Druidry’ could have many legitimate iterations. We are there to give a strong taste of ours. Both sessions will be built around specific practices held within a formalised sacred space. We will provide  minimal context, clear practice instructions and leadership in lean ritual. In each session one of us will present the practice, while the other will be in readiness to attend to the process and needs of the group.

I’ll be offering a semi-structured meditation in stages concerned with aspects of the here-and-now, with a maximum of 20 participants. Elaine will be offering Animist Hermetics, a more intense process, with a maximum of 12. We will offer the practices in an experimental way, and participants will have opportunities to talk about their experiences in a mix of smaller groups and the large one.  By the end of these sessions the participants should have a pretty good idea of what these practices have to offer and how we come to be presenting them as ‘Contemplative Druidry’. We are both looking forward to this opportunity to present our work.

BOOK REVIEW: CELEBRATING PLANET EARTH A PAGAN/CHRISTIAN CONVERSATION

61CwdX9mE3L__AA160_Highly recommended and available for pre-order via Amazon.  This blog is an enthusiastic early alert concerning Celebrating Planet Earth, edited by Denise Cush The book comes out of a weekend ‘conversation’ held at the Ammerdown Centre near Radstock, Somerset, England, from 31 January-2 February. Originally devised as a Druid/Christian event, it was widened to include other Pagans and was intended to generate “dialogue, reconciliation and renewal”. The hope was that the participants could explore their prejudices and preconceptions, learn more about each other, and find common ground in ‘Celebrating Planet Earth’, as the event was called. The book’s contributors were all involved in the conversation.

The book is aimed at Pagans and Christians interested in making connections; academics and undergraduate students in Study of Religions taking courses on inter-faith dialogue, Paganism and Christianity; and anyone with an interest in inter-faith activities. Some of the contributors are academics in the field, but as well as academic input, there is a practical emphasis on personal spirituality and ritual practice.

I’m part of the core audience. Whereas I experience the spiritual path as ultimately beyond names and forms, I stand in the world as a Pagan Druid. I had a Christian upbringing and in recent years I have learned from the Buddhist tradition, as well as Christian-based movements such as Sophian Gnosticism and the Ceile De. All of these have supported me in my own practice and in my personal concern with developing a stronger contemplative current within Druidry. So I’m at ease with what Philip Carr-Gomm, Chosen Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), calls “fusion paths” in his chapter in this book.

From where I stand the ‘Celebrating Planet Earth’ more than meets its aims. It’s a feast. I felt that each contributor had thoroughly earned their place in it. It is divided into three parts, before moving on to editor’s reflections and conclusions. I want to say something about one chapter that spoke to me particularly strongly from each of the parts, as the best way in a short space of honouring the collection as a whole.

The first part is about ‘Addressing Our Fears and Prejudices’ and for this I pick out Graham Harvey’s chapter, ‘Fears and prejudices: a Pagan view’. For me, he has a very helpful analysis of what the task is and how to accomplish it. He makes it clear that “not everyone thinks alike” or should be expected to and that diversity has room for healthy opposition – properly handled, this can be a real gift. He makes the subtle point that the negotiation of difference is not just about fear and prejudice. It is also about avoiding the presupposition that “others are like us but not quite … that other people mean what we would mean when we say or do things”. Hence we need a refined quality of listening to avoid “talking past each other”.  On the question of fear and prejudice specifically, he suggests that the two things to remember are that we should indeed “resist and challenge the small visions and petty fantasies that are imposed on others” and that “when we talk about what people do, rather than what systems are alleged to do, we will keep diversity in clear view”. He usefully writes down polarised lists of what ‘Christians’ and ‘Pagans’ are contrastingly stereotyped as standing for – and invites us to make a reality check on the items in the list. It’s a very useful way of opening the reader up to the actual experiences of individuals and groups in later chapters.

The second part is about ‘Possibilities for Co-operation’ and for this I pick out Tess Ward’s chapter, ‘Better together: transformation through encounter’. Early in her life as an ordained priest, Tess Ward went into her own version of Dante’s ‘dark wood’, a wilderness in which she needed to die to one life so as to be born into another. She lost her existing theological frameworks and says of that time: “in that wilderness, what sustained me was not theology, but poetry, silence and nature”. Without leaving her Church, she found pointers in Buddhist ideas (Anthony Gormley, Pema Chodron), Earth paths and feminist spirituality. She quotes Carol Christ as saying: “awakening suggests that the self needs to notice what is already there … the ability to know is within the self, once the sleeping draft is refused … for women, awakening is not so much a giving up as a gaining … a grounding of selfhood … rather than a surrender of self”. She also quotes Kenneth White’s poem ‘Labrador’ – “I was loathe to name it too soon – simply content to use my senses – feeling my way – step by step – into the new reality”. As, renewed, she moves back into the world and her role, she knows that interventions in the world only have value when they come from personal experience. She shares with Matthew Fox the view that the result of such a crisis is not to abandon one’s own tradition “but to demand more of it”. She now leads celebrations of the Celtic Wheel of the Year as an affirmation of her transmutation of faith within a Christian framework. Partly this is an enhanced appreciation of being grounded in the natural world and its cycles. Partly it is an appreciation of the place that resources outside her traditional faith have had in deepening her journey.

The third part is about ‘The role of ritual practice, myth, music and for poetry in each tradition and in inter-faith encounter’. For this I pick out Alison Eve-Cudby’s chapter: ‘Woven together: can Christians and Pagans engage in shared ritual?’ The author has a leading role in the Ancient Arden Forest Church in a burgeoning movement of Forest Churches. She describes this movement as “a small and growing number of Christians responding to the Call of the Earth”. Ancient Arden has an emphasis on ritual and her formal answer to the question she poses is a carefully contextualised ‘yes’. She says: “if we take earth celebration, care and connection as our basis for doing ritual together, to contribute towards re-enchanting the land in this time of ecological crisis then I think that shared ritual is possible”. She offers a fresh and energised discussion of ritual and its purpose. She describes ritual as an embodied event, and a process of framing in which dramaturgy, rather than theology, is the organising principle. Whereas logocentric approaches assume that the symbolic system expressed in ritual must be coherent, performance as an unfolding event lays out symbols in a way that reveals their inconsistencies and contradictions. The work therefore involves negotiating and holding these within the ritual container. We fashion rituals that enable liveable, regenerated worlds. Ritual is a transformative process, “the pattern of actions is designed to synchronise the awareness of the different participants – human, non-human and other than human”.

The book’s conclusions suggest that meeting itself was of great benefit, and make it clear that the people involved want to continue their work in some way (topic based subgroups are mentioned). I would simply add that this book is a gift to us all, and that I am grateful for it.

GOOD WILL

Dissolving into the dark, in a deeply receptive state, I find myself entertaining the word ‘will’, which soon morphs into ‘good will’.

Midwinter is traditionally a season of good will. I notice that I do feel largely at peace in my personal world, though distressed by many aspects of the bigger picture. Right now I’m experiencing a state of good will and I’d like to offer my good will to anyone who reads this post.

I’m also thinking about ‘will’, including good will, in another way. After the stasis, the turn. The seed of the turn is in the stasis; an awareness and anticipation of movement even in the moment when the sun seems at rest. A part of me is already looking forward, throwing my imagination before me, consciously willing, crafting intent.

This year my Contemplative Druidry book began to map out some potentials for contemplative practice based in Druidry, as seen by the book’s contributors, and the Contemplative Druid Events blog on www.contemplativedruidevents.tumblr.com is a vehicle to set out what we are offering. There will be more to come – mostly emphasising half day sessions and one-day ‘contemplative days’. Whilst this activity is growing, I want to work more deeply at mapping possible relationships between the contemplative aspect of spirituality and its ritual and magical aspects (however defined) and its ethical (and by extension political) aspects. My starting point is that they all involve the issue of where we choose to put our attention, and how we enact and sustain our choices intentionally. ‘Will’ is a key term, and what we mean by will is a key inquiry.

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