contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: sacred grove

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.

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.

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