Nine Virtues: Wisdom

Wisdom by Frederic Bisson on Flickr (CC2.0)

Wisdom by Frederic Bisson on Flickr (CC2.0)

Wisdom is the first of ADF’s Nine Virtues, which together form the ethical framework of ADF Druidry. Our Own Druidry defines wisdom as “Good judgement, the ability to perceive people and situations correctly, deliberate about and decide the correct response”. The Oxford Dictionary for Students defines it as: “The quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgement”, which is a very similar definition.

Wisdom may seem odd as a “first” virtue to write about, as it can be seen as the culmination and integration of all the other virtues, but it can equally be considered to be the foundation of any other virtue. To live a virtuous life, to participate in Aristotle’s eudamonia, is to be both grounded in, and reaching towards, wisdom. The path of philosophy literally means “love of wisdom”, and wisdom itself seems to be something that comes with reflection, knowledge and experience. Plato’s Theaetetus quotes Socrates as saying “Wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and wisdom begins in wonder”.

As the philosophers of the Celts, wisdom was undoubtedly important to the ancient Druids, and should be important to modern Druids as well. In Celtic legends, wisdom is often sought for, but seems to be gained by those not looking for it. Finn MacCool accidentally gained the wisdom of the Salmon of Wisdom when he burnt his thumb cooking the fish for his mentor Fintan. Likewise, Gwion Bach received the Awen by accident, also burning his finger with three drops of the boiling potion flew from the cauldron he was tending for Ceridwen. Perhaps this hints that the way to wisdom is pradoxically to not seek after it. By contrast, in Norse mythology Odin gives up an eye and hangs himself from a tree for nine days and nights to gain the wisdom of the runes, suggesting that wisdom is hard to achieve and worth making sacrifices for.

Obi-Wan Kenobi. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Obi-Wan Kenobi. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Wisdom is more than simply knowledge of accumulated facts, as it implies a deep understanding and the ability to discern and make good judgements about your actions to bring about the best consequences. In this way, it is linked with the Buddhist concepts of right thought and right action. Being wise requires years of experience of the world and it is no coincidence that when we think of a wise person, the image that often springs to mind is of an aged sage, a Gandalf, Merlin or Obi-Wan type figure.

Wisdom is not a “thing” to gain once and for all, but a process of acting, reflecting and growth.

References:

ADF, Our Own Druidry. ADF Publishing, 2009

Oxford English Dictionary for Students. Oxford University Press, 2006

Michael J. Dangler, The ADF Dedicant Path through the Wheel of the Year. Garanus, 2010

Plato, Theaetetus, trans. Benjamin Jowett, Delphi Classics, 2012

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Ancestors

Celtic cross gravestone. Image from geograph.

Celtic cross gravestone. Image from geograph.

The Ancestors are one of the “Three Kindred” in ADF Druidry, and are honoured at every rite. It is tempting to think of ancestors as only one’s own parents and grandparents, the immediate family. However, the ancestors can be thought of as being in three categories.

The “Ancestors of Blood” are those of your own genetic lineage, not just immediate family but ancient ancestral groups like the Celtic peoples as well, all those who made *you* possible. In my case, this involves mostly Irish, Spanish and Polish ancestors.

The “Ancestors of Place” are those people who lived on the land you now live on, whose bones lie beneath the soil on which we walk. Here in the South East of the UK, this includes not only about a thousand years or so of Saxons and  Normans, but also Celtic tribes such as the Iceni, led by Boudicca.

The “Ancestors of Spirit” are all those whose lives and works inspire your heart and your path. These can be ancient Pagans, but they can also be people who have influenced us, including philosophers, scientists and writers. For me, this would include Marcus Aurelius, Buddha, Charles Darwin and others.

As a naturalist, I do not believe the ancestors live on after death as spirits. But they are ever-present in our thoughts and memories, as well as (for ancestors of blood) in our own bodies and genetic heritage. Philosopher and Druid Brendan Myers writes in Paganism 101:

A scientifically-minded person might want to deny that [the ancestors] live on as disembodied spirits…As an alternative, we could say that they live on in the form of a discernible presence embodied by the habits and characters and stories of their living descendents today. This alternative requires no supernatural element to be intelligible. Yet it seems to me no less spiritual.

Evolutionary tree. Image from "all creatures"

Evolutionary tree. Image from “all creatures”

Besides all of our human ancestors, I like to think about our evolutionary ancestry. Darwin’s glorious revelation showed that we are all related, and we share a common ancestor with all humans, an older one with all animals, and an even older ancestor (the Last Universal Common Ancestor, or LUCA) with all life on earth some 4 billion years ago. Looking at the deep roots of evolution’s tree of life, we can honour all our ancestors right back to thee origin of life itself, and recognise that we are kin with all that lives today.

Honouring the ancestors, whether by rituals such as leaving offerings for them at Samhain or visiting their graves, or by simple acts of remembering and telling their stories, is a vital part of being human. The ancestors literally and spiritually connect us to our history and tell us where we came from and who we are.

References:

ADF, Our Own Druidry. ADF Publishing, 2009

Michael J. Dangler, The ADF Dedicant Path through the Wheel of the Year. Garanus, 2010

Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth. Bantam, 2009

Trevor Greenfield (ed.), Paganism 101. Moon Books, 2014

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The Two Powers

"Can you tell?" by Tony Alter on Flickr (CC2.0)

“Can you tell?” by Tony Alter on Flickr (CC2.0)

Last week, I was introduced to the “Two Powers” meditation, a key concept in ADF, and a meditative practice to work on. I added the meditation into my daily mental discipline work in the mornings, and found it surprisingly easy to work with.

The “Two Powers” refer to the currents of the Earth and the Sky, which the meditator visualises as flowing through their body and mingling together.  I have some experience of similar energy visualisation from my studies with OBOD, so it was easy to adapt to this form.

The Earth Power is understood as cool, soothing and nourishing; the Sky Power is understood as bright, electric and ordered. Dangler refers to a verse by Ceisiwr Serith in A book of Pagan prayer, which sums up these Powers and their associations well:

World below, watery world, with chaos and order overflowing;
Bring true creation into my life, with order and beauty,
With wisdom and grace.
World above, far-flung heavens, ordering the world with might and law;
Bring true stability into my life, with law and structure,
With clarity and reason.
World about me, far-extending, with land well-set;
Bring true being into my life, with help and love,
With health and prosperity.

The Two Powers do not need to be seen as anything supernatural. They could be seen as the solar and telluric currents, or as simply a psychological exercise in balance and focus.

For me, I find that meditating is more difficult without something to think about, so I found the Two Powers useful in giving me a focal point to direct my thoughts, and I will definitely keep it as part of my daily mental discipline practice.

There is a guided meditation audio available for you if you want to try it out. I found it quite distracting having sound, but it might be useful to some.

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De Natura Deorum: “The Forgotten Gods of Nature” by Lupa Greenwolf

Ryan:

I have nothing to add to this…simply beautiful.

Originally posted on Humanistic Paganism:

De Natura Deorum is a monthly column where we explore the beliefs of Naturalistic Pagans about the nature of deity. This essay was originally published at Paths Through the Forest.

When you think of the gods of nature, who do you think of? Do you think of the Wiccan Lord and Lady (also beloved of many non-Wiccan pagans), she a long-haired woman wrapped in vines and fruits and grain, he a man hirsute and burly and surrounded by large, wild mammals? Do you imagine Artemis or Diana, huntresses and maidens and carriers of the moon? Or perhaps Gaea, her swelling belly the Earth itself? I wager that nine times out of ten, the deity you first thought of took the form of a human, female or male or otherwise, but almost certainly formed in our own image.

But I want to tell you about the forgotten gods of nature, the…

View original 1,359 more words

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Second High Day recap: Spring Equinox

Home shrine set up for the Spring Equinox. Photo by me

Home shrine set up for the Spring Equinox. Photo by me

The sky was too cloudy to see the Solar Eclipse, but as the day brightened up later it started to feel like Spring at last, as I celebrated the Equinox with a small Druid ritual. I had written a script for the rite, following the steps outlined in ADF’s Core order of ritual, and based on the rites suggested in Michael J. Dangler’s Crane Breviary and Guidebook.

My home shrine was decorated with daffodils and wildflowers from the garden, which brought nature indoors and gave it a real Spring feeling.

Possible depiction of Nemetona and her consort Mars at Bath.

Possible depiction of Nemetona and her consort Mars at Bath.

The rite was focused on Nemetona, the Celtic/Gaulish goddess of the Sacred Grove. Little is known of this goddess, who is thought to be the deity of the Nemetes tribe in what is now Germany. There is also evidence of her worship here in England at places such as Bath. Her name connects her to nemetons, sacred places, and she is often seen as a goddess of sanctuary. Dangler’s ritual honours Nemetona as she who “awakens the forest” at Spring as well as blessing any sacred place, including a small home-shrine.

As an agnostic and naturalist, I don’t believe in the literal existence of the Pagan deities, instead seeing them as mythic and archetypal representations of natural forces and aspects of human experience. So for me, Nemetona is the “essence” of any sacred place. In the rite, I offered grain to Nemetona, to represent the bounty of the land that feeds all creatures.

As well as this main offering, I offered oats to the Earth Mother and organic Golden Ale to the three Kindreds. The “working” section of the rite, as suggested by Dangler, was a blessing of tools. He writes that “in ancient days, the folk would bring their tools to the priests who would then charm them. This charming or blessing would keep those tools in working order throughout the year, and would thus sustain the lives of the folk through the always dangerous time from planting to harvest”.

Ogham reading for Spring Equinox. Photo by me

Ogham reading for Spring Equinox. Photo by me

For the omen, I drew three staves from my lovely new Ogham set (which I am using daily in my morning meditations, and which has been really helpful in giving me plenty to think about). I love the feeling of using these wooden staves, it just seems so much more tactile and “Druidic” than cards.

The symbols I drew were willow (liminality, intuition), reed (healing, cleansing tools), and hazel (wisdom). I’m far too sceptical to assign magical significance to divination, but the reading seemed very appropriate to a liminal, tool-blessing Equinox rite!

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Second High Day: Spring Equinox

Fern frond. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Fern frond. Image from Wikimedia Commons

The Spring Equinox occurs around 20/21 March and marks the point when day and night are of equal length. The word equinox comes from the Latin for “equal night”. From this day on, the days will be longer than the nights, making the Equinox the start of the light half of the year.

Astronomically, the Equinox occurs when the plane of Earth’s equator passes the centre of the Sun. At this moment, the Earth’s axis neither inclines towards nor away from the Sun, causing day and night to be exactly equal.

Equinoxes. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Equinoxes. Image from Wikimedia Commons

The Equinox can be seen as the start of Spring, and signs of the new season are all around. Flowers are blooming, trees bursting into leaf and birds are singing louder to attract a mate. In many Pagan traditions, the Spring Equinox is celebrated as a festival of new life. Higginbotham states that “most of the Spring Equinox traditions that we observe today relate to fertility and renewal of the life force. The most familiar is the colouring of eggs”. Eggs are an ancient symbol of life, and their traditional meaning has been co-opted into the Christian celebration of Easter.

In some Druid traditions, the Spring Equinox is known as Alban Eiler, the Light of the Earth, while many Pagans refer to it as Ostara. This name, according to Bonewits, comes from the Germanic goddess, Eostre (also the source of the name Easter). This name is attested to by the monastic historian Bede, but does not appear in other sources. Hutton writes that Eostre may have been “a Germanic dawn-deity who was venerated, appropriately, at this season of opening and new beginnings”. It may also be the case, however that the name simply referred to the month itself.

Solar Eclipse. Image from The Guardian

Solar Eclipse. Image from The Guardian

This year, the Spring Equinox coincides with a Solar Eclipse, where the moon passes between the Earth and the Sun and blocks (occults) the Sun. It was too cloudy where I am to see the Eclipse, but it did go noticeably darker and the birds fell silent. The combination of Equinox and Eclipse would no doubt be seen as significant, and auspicious, by ancient Pagans.

References:

ADF. Our Own Druidry: An Introduction to Ár nDraíocht Féin and the Druid Path. Tucson: ADF Publishing, 2009.

Bonewits, Isaac. Bonewits’s essential guide to Druidism. New York: Citadel, 2006.

Higginbotham, Joyce and River. Paganism: an introduction to earth-centered religions. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2008.

Hutton, Ronald. Stations of the sun: a history of the ritual year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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Farewell to a great Wizard

Terry Pratchett has a game with Death. Art by Paul Kidby.

Terry Pratchett has a game with Death. Art by Paul Kidby.

So I heard the news yesterday that Terry Pratchett, author of the witty, satirical and insightful Discworld series, died of Alzheimer’s aged 66 yesterday. His writing was an ever-present companion through my life, and I devoured Discworld books whenever I could get my hands on them. His thoughts on life, politics, religion and philosophy were profound and stood out amongst the humour in his books. Through them all ran a thread of sheer human goodness and a sense of the wonder, and the absurdity, of life.

For me, Pratchett’s best creation is his personification of Death. Not a fearsome Grim Reaper, but an empathic, gentle and oddly comforting figure.

I think his portrayal of Death, especially as it evolved in later books, was a mirror to his own growing awareness of mortality, and it certainly helped me come to terms with the fear of death and dying.

It is fitting, therefore, that his Twitter account notified us of his death in the style of the Death character, speaking in all caps:

AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.

Home shrine set up as a memorial to Terry Pratchett. Photo by me.

Home shrine set up as a memorial to Terry Pratchett. Photo by me.

I never met the man, but his work meant so much to me that I felt compelled to do something to mark his passing. I created a small shrine with books and depictions of Death, and offered a Hobgoblin ale as a libation, hailing Terry Pratchett as an ancestor of inspiration.

I don’t believe (and neither did Terry Pratchett, a committed Humanist and agnostic) in an afterlife, but I like to think that this small gesture meant something. It did to me.

The Pagan news site, The Wild Hunt, has a lovely article about Pagan responses to Terry Pratchett, a writer who, while not a Pagan himself, definitely understood Pagan sensibilities.

As the official statement said, “This world has lost one of its brightest, sharpest minds”. He was the closest the world may ever see to a real Wizard. Terry Pratchett once wrote that nobody is truly dead while the ripples they create in the world continue to be felt. His ripples will be remembered for a very long time to come.

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