A poem for water

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Everchange.
In waves and particles and drops of foam,
Endless erring, evernew and everflowing;
Overflowing, rising, deepening, quickening.
Life’s cradle and unshovelled ever-ready grave.
A billion teardrops, raindrops, dewdrops, a million million consciousnesses
Singular, conjoined; each part of your great whole,
Wholly, holy, quenched and sodden.
Sixty per cent of me, but all of me is yours
And to you I return, beyond the ninth wave and the western isles
Without hope and without fear, everchasing the setting, sinking sun.
From deep to deep calls out,
And then shines forth.

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To carry on

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Over at the Atheopaganism blog, Mark Green wrote a heartfelt post asking why, in dark times, we should bother with spiritual practices?

For more conventionally theistic Pagans, the answer may be obvious: to beseech the gods to change situations to our benefit. But for Atheopagans, a category which I largely include myself in, there are no anthropomorphic gods who can hear our prayers and perform miracles to save us. My gods are the powers of land, sea and sky, vast and ancient forces of Nature that neither hear nor care for the trivialities of human life or the arrogant pomposity of human politics.

When I enact ritual, or meditate, or intone the Awen or say the Druid’s Prayer, I am not doing so in the hope of contacting some supernatural being, of whom I can ask favours. I am simply connecting my intention, my Nwyfre, my “soul” for want of a better word, with the intention, Nwyfre and “soul” of Nature itself.

I don’t do these things so I can change the Sacred: I do them so the Sacred can change me.

In times of great uncertainty and upheaval, spiritual practice can seem vain and futile. Yet, these practices can create a necessary and firm foundation on which we can build lives that engage with the world meaningfully. They can give us the strength to carry on, and to support others.

Mark points out that, from a non-theistic perspective;

our religious observances and practices are now more important than ever. Here’s why.

  • Our rituals and observances bring us into our power as humans. They center us in the fierceness of our personal Will. They let us know that even though the forces arrayed against us are great, we, too, are mighty. Each of us is a force to be reckoned with.
  • They keep us focused. They remind us what is most important to us, and what we must do to serve what is Sacred.
  • Finally, they draw us together into community where we can be powerful together. Resisting the coming storm is going to take a group effort. Bonds of love and friendship will be what keep us from becoming demoralized. From contemplating surrender.

Druidry for me does these things. It connects me with myself, with the past, with the natural world, with the community of Druids and other Pagans, and with the Sacred, whatever you conceive that to be.

It’s not easy to keep up the discipline of practice, and sometimes these things do fall by the wayside. And that’s OK too. But, as Mark says, even in hard times:

The world is still magnificent. Life is still miraculous. Love is still sublime…Light a candle. Burn incense. Sing. Dance. Keep on living in the fullness of who you are. 

 

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Water

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I take off my shoes and socks and walk along the sand and pebble beach, feeling the waves gently washing over my toes. I kneel at the riverbank, dipping my hand into the cool flow. I stand in the rain, arms outstretched, millions of droplets falling and breaking against my skin. I fill a glass from the tap and drink.

Water is the second element I am planning on spending time with on my “journey through the elements” which is currently making up a large part of my Druid practice. I’ve written about the first of these, Earth, in another post.

Water is the central ingredient for life as we know it. We are about 60% water, and the planet we live on is 70% water. From space, the earth is blue. Perhaps it should be called “planet water” instead.

Life evolved first in water, we are all descended from creatures who lived underwater lives in ancient oceans. And, for many of us, water still holds a great attraction. We put ponds in our gardens, we picnic by lakes and rivers, we flock to the seaside for our summer holidays.

And for many people around the world, from sub-Saharan Africa to Flint, Michigan or Standing Rock, access to clean, safe water to drink is under threat by human greed. It has been suggested that wars of the future will be fought over water, not oil.

Connecting with water means standing in support of the human right to water around the globe. Water is Life is a charity that supports clean water and sanitation, and is well worth checking out.

Esoterically, water is associated with the unconscious and with emotion. I’ve always tended to view emotions with suspicion, but I am increasingly seeing their importance. To love is a revolutionary act.

In the Druid tradition, water is also associated with wisdom. The Salmon of Wisdom swims in the sacred waters of the pool of Segais, the source of five streams, which correspond to the five senses. Watery wisdom is sensual wisdom, not detached rationality.

So to connect with water, I recently went to the coast and watched the waves roused by a November storm. I often walk down to my local river, and sit and observe the flow, the changes of water level after rain, the creatures that depend on this river for their home and life. It’s getting on for winter, which in the region I live, means rain and lots of it, so there’s plenty of water around to connect with.

I’m also trying to drink more water, as I tend to get pretty dehydrated during a typical working day. However, I have a reusable metal bottle and I am making sure to fill it from the tap. Bottled water is not only a ludicrous luxury, it is an environmental disaster, leading to water shortages in its source areas and mountains of plastic waste being dumped into landfill. If you live in a country with safe tap water, please use it!

In terms of practical action, I’m looking at limiting my household water use. I have toilets that allow for a reduced flush option, and a washing machine that can be set for smaller loads to use less water. I’m spending less time in the shower, and making sure to only use the water I need for washing and cooking. Over the summer, I planted some pretty hardy plants in the garden that don’t need much water, and also put bark down on the flowerbeds which helps trap moisture and keep them from drying out.

If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes;

My liturgy would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,

And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.

-Philip Larkin

 

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Political Druids?

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There’s been some discussion on various Druid groups online since *the election* about how much Druids, or Druidry, should be involved in politics, with some suggesting a position of neutral detachment is the only appropriate one to take.

There’s also been a small handful of far-right racist, climate change denying people calling themselves Druids, but the less said about them the better. They’re entitled to their opinions, but I am entitled to find their opinions abhorrent, inimical to the spirit of Druidry for the last 300 years, and just plain wrong.

As I have mentioned before, I do think that Druidry has an inherently political dimension. While I am a passionate advocate of the separation of religion from governmental policy-making, it is impossible to separate our deepest held beliefs from our political opinions. The two are intertwined.

Looking at the ancient Druids, from whom we take inspiration if not direct continuity, their role was a political one. They were advisors to powerful chiefs and leaders and adjudicators on matters of law, trade and military strategy. We of course cannot go back to that today, nor would I want to. But we can take a thread of inspiration from the ancients and apply it to our Druidry today. Every time we lobby our elected representatives, whether through voting, writing campaigns, protest marches, direct action, we are acting in the spirit of the ancient Druids, offering our advice to those who lead.

The Druid’s Prayer, a staple in modern Druidry since Iolo Morganwg, talks about “the knowledge of justice”, “the love of it” and “the love of all existences”. At a plain reading this is a clarion call for a Druidry that is engaged in the social-political process, that is involved in issues of social and ecological justice. Iolo himself was a radical reformer, and he was well aware of the political dimensions of his Druidry.

Another Druid saying talks about “the truth against the world”, suggesting that Druids have a responsibility to stand up for the truth even when it isn’t popular. This is similar to the idea of “speaking truth to power”. In a political world where pathological liars are elected into high office, and which journalists are describing as a “post-truth” society, then it is all the more important that we take this call seriously, that we stand up for the truth against the world. This includes the scientific truth of climate change, and the social truth of oppressed minorities.

My issue with the idea of detached neutrality is that Druids are only “true neutral” in Dungeons and Dragons. Modern Druidry is not a spirituality, religion or philosophy that seeks to escape from the world, or be apart from it. Druidry is a roll-your-sleeves-up, get-stuck-in, this-world-centred lifeway that emphasises the sacredness of this earth, this life, this humanity.

This is not a worldview that says let’s all go and meditate on a mountaintop and disconnect from society. This is a worldview that asks for engagement with the world around us. In modern society, this social engagement is called politics.

To be neutral in the face of a resurgent tide of fascism, racism, sexism, environmental destruction and evil is to condone it. It is to say that you don’t care about minorities, you don’t care about the planet, you don’t care about war or hatred. This does not sound like the Druidry I know and love.

Edmund Burke said “for evil to triumph it is only necessary for good men to do nothing”.

Those of us moderns who are arrogant enough to claim any part of the ancient title of Druid need also to accept the responsibilities that come with that, and stand for truth, for justice and for “the love of all existences”.

 

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Where do we go from here?

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I’ve spent the past few days feeling despair, sickness, anger and stomach-clenching, tear-streaming ragefear. America, a country that is not my own but one with which I have close links, having friends there and having lived there for a year, has elected a racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, climate-change-denying, sex-offending, KKK-endorsed, capriciously malevolent bully to its highest office.

This is a man who mocks disabled people, hates women, and uses racist invective to stir up angry crowds against convenient minority scapegoats. A man who has called climate change a hoax and vows to destroy all environmental protections.

How can I respond to this?

As a Pagan, as a Druid-in-training, I believe that there is a sacred duty to protect and defend the earth, our home and mother. Yet right now, it seems like a losing battle and the future looks bleaker than ever. In the depths of despondency, I wondered what was the point, should I abandon my beliefs and my Druidry, and simply “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die”?

No. Of course not. This world needs Druids, Pagans,  earth-centred thinkers, more than ever before.

I’ve always tried to stay out of politics. But now politics threatens us all, and there is no such thing as neutrality.

Philip Carr-Gomm reminds us that Druidry has always had a political dimension. That socialist, liberal, ecological values have been woven into modern Druidry since its 17th century revival:

At this critical time in world history I believe it is important to examine how we relate to the world of politics. It is easy to say that it has nothing to do with spirituality. But is this really so?…Behind politics, lie beliefs, behind beliefs lie core values. As a first step in engaging these issues I think it would be helpful for us as Druids – with all the diversity that we represent – to define our core values.

The Druid’s prayer, that I shared on this blog a while ago, talks about “the knowledge of Justice…and the love of it”. To be Druid is to stand for justice, both social and environmental.

It is to stand against racism, against sexism, against ecocide, against the forces of hate.

But I am small, one person with no power. How do I fight something so vast?

JRR Tolkien once said:

Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.

If we work together, however small we are, we can be part of something greater. So I’ve joined Greenpeace, and the World Wide Fund for Nature, and the Green Party. I’m going to reach out to The Warriors’ Call and go on protest marches and demos which I previously avoided out of fear. I will lobby MPs and sign petitions. I will speak out.

And in my daily ordinary life, I will sing, and dance, and read fiction and watch movies and go out with friends, and spend time in nature and enjoy life, not to distract myself from the fight, but to remind myself what it is we’re fighting for.

And I will try, however I can, to be loving and kind and helpful, to counteract the hate and division out there.

It may not be enough, but right now, it is all I can give. And if I fail, then at least I will know I tried.

Eric Holthaus, writing in Slate, said:

But it’s a fight worth continuing. The momentum on climate is depressingly slow, but it’s in the right direction. Trump is a big setback, but it’s not game over…Don’t be tricked into thinking your actions to protect the climate we all share are meaningless under Trump. You are more important than ever.

 I lived in North Dakota for a year, on a Native Reservation, and I am both saddened and heartened by what’s going on right now at Standing Rock. Saddened that it’s happening, but heartened by the courage of the Water Protectors, of indigenous people and their allies standing in the way of world-killing greed and saying no. Not here. Not today.
My small flame of hope is that there are enough good people around the world to do the same. May Awen flow and inspire us with love for each other, and love for the earth. In a time of great hate, to love is a revolutionary act.
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The last trump: a poem in anger

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Red rains fall from baleful eyes
Scorching the shaken earth with acrid bile
And venom. All things die, then rise, then die again
A thousand times a thousand times and more.
Who killed the world? Who raped and murdered sovereign hope?
What never was cannot be great again, your hate again
Seeps from your pores and stains your face and hands
The colour of rotting meat. Rot, then, as soon you will.
From your carcass we will make fertiliser. And we will grow,
And put down roots, and spread our branches out in spite of you.
Your time is now, your seconds counting down.
The stench of your ill wind shall pass away, and the air will sing
Of promise once again.  Look upon your works, you mighty,
And despair.

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A prayer for the day

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In a time of great hate, to love is a revolutionary act.

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