Meditation and mental discipline

"Between two diamond white birch trees Buddha meditates in Broadview, Seattle, Washington, USA." Image by Wonderlane on Flickr (CC2.0)

“Between two diamond white birch trees Buddha meditates in Broadview, Seattle, Washington, USA.” Image by Wonderlane on Flickr (CC2.0)

Ah, here it is – the challenge I’ve been dreading. The DP requires five months of consistent (at least weekly, preferably daily) meditation or other mental discipline practice. While I have practised a bit of Zen meditation very sporadically before, I’ve never been much good at it, or at keeping to a regular routine of practice.

That said, I have always wanted to get better at meditating, as I have read studies that show it has physical and mental health benefits and can contribute to overall well-being and happiness. Joanna van der Hoeven’s writing on Zen Druidry has also inspired me to give meditation another go. Perhaps doing it for a specified requirement might help me with the discipline I need to stick to it.

According to Michael J. Dangler, the mental discipline requirement can be completed in a umber of different ways, including daily rituals instead of simple seated meditation. I have decided to combine the two approaches. I recently bought the e-book of A Crane Breviary and Guide Book, also by Dangler, which contains complete solitary ADF rituals for the High Days, Moon Rites and Daily Shrine Rites and which now lives happily in my phone. So I’ve started this week doing the Daily Shrine Rite in the morning and drawing an Ogham stave as my “omen” to give me a guide-thought for the day ahead. In the central part of the small rite, I am including a short (3-5 minute) breathing meditation.

While Our Own Druidry suggests various ways of counting the breath, I find that in itself to be distracting, so instead I am simply trying to be aware of my breathing, its pattern and flow, how it feels in my body. When thoughts emerge, I notice them and then try to shift my awareness back to my breathing (not an easy task for someone prone to constant overthinking).

So far, I’ve been finding it fairly manageable and a very relaxing start to the day. It definitely helps me get off on the right foot for the day ahead. Let’s see how I find it five months down the line!

I’ve also been continuing my Nature Awareness, going for regular walks along the river on my lunch break, and in the local woods at the weekend. This weekend, I went to a small pond nearby and saw a whole host of spawning frogs and toads, a sure sign that spring is in the air! I plan on returning to that spot each week to check on the progress of the tadpoles as they hatch.

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Home Shrine

My shrine. Also pictured: my Dedicant Path textbooks. Photo by me

My shrine. Also pictured: my Dedicant Path textbooks. Photo by me

Setting up a home shrine is an essential part of the Dedicant Path. It provides a central focus or hearth for your Druid practices and acts as a reminder of the path.

My home shrine is a simple set-up on a low table in the living room. ADF don’t use the common four elements system, which comes via Wicca from ancient Greek philosophy. Instead, ADF Druidry is based around a “triple Hallows” of fire, well and tree, which I have placed at the centre of my shrine.

The fire is three candles in red and white, the well a blue glazed ceramic bowl with a seashell in it, so that the water is symbolically connected to the ocean, and the world-tree is currently just a fallen branch from the old willow tree at the bottom of the garden. I hope to replace this with a hardy indoor bonsai at some point soon, as I feel a living tree is easier to connect with.

As well, my shrine has a singing bowl which I use to start and end any workings, an incense holder, a small pottery mouse to represent the Nature-kin and a wooden Buddha. I know, I know, Buddha isn’t a Druid, but he represents a big influence on my philosophy and practices for years, so he stays! Joanna van der Hoeven has actually written a rather good short book on “Zen Druidry” which explores how to combine the two paths.

Beneath the tabletop, my shrine has two shelves which hold my ADF course books and other important things (like matches).

Ogham set from Green Woman Crafts on Etsy. Photo by me

Ogham set from Green Woman Crafts on Etsy. Photo by me

I also recently acquired a lovely Ogham set, in the correct corresponding woods, from Green Woman Crafts on Etsy. She is based in Glastonbury, a place very dear to my heart, and she works with found and windfall wood only. It’s a beautiful set, and I have been wanting to get into Ogham for a while now. It just feels so much more tangible and “Druidic” than clicking on the Druid Oracle app on my phone (although that certainly has its uses). I plan on drawing one stave at random each morning to give me a “thought for the day”. I want to get to know what the fews mean, and the best way to do that is to work with them!

 

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First Book Started: Indo-European Studies

Antique books. From Woodward on Flickr (CC2.0)

Antique books. From Woodward on Flickr (CC2.0)

One of the things I especially like about ADF and their approach to Paganism is the emphasis on learning and sound, up-to-date scholarship. Our Own Druidry states:

The Pagan revival has been troubled from the beginning by shoddy scholarship and indulgence in esoteric fantasy. When wishful thinking and poor science take the place of true knowledge, all of Paganism is harmed.

This is why it is important to learn about actual, historic Paganism and what we know of the Old Ways of Europe through modern archaeology, history and evidence. I’ve come across many books on Druidry and Paganism that make bold claims without a shred of evidence to back them up, or which are still working within an outdated and discredited 19th century paradigm. To this end, the Dedicant Path requires you to read, and write essays on, three books on different areas of Paganism: One on Indo-European history, one on modern Paganism and one on a “hearth culture” of your choice. To give a solid foundation of knowledge, the Dedicant Path tends to start with Indo-European history.

A History of Pagan Europe. Image from Goodreads.

A History of Pagan Europe. Image from Goodreads.

The book I’ve chosen to start with is A History of Pagan Europe by Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick (1995), which seems to be a good summary of what we do and don’t know about the pre-Christian Pagan cultures of Europe, from the Celts and Norse to the Romans and Greeks, with a chapter on the modern Pagan revival too.

I’ve read a bit around the subject, but I am looking forward to learning more and perhaps dispelling some of the common Neopagan myths out there.

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Nature Awareness

Willow by riverbank. Photo by me.

Willow by riverbank. Photo by me.

Nature is the greatest focus of my Druidry. The reason I felt drawn to Druidry at all is that it seems to be one of the most explicitly nature-based Pagan paths out there. So I was very happy to learn that developing nature awareness is a key component of the ADF Dedicant Path. I spent the past week or so getting outdoors as much as possible and paying attention to what I could see and hear around me.

I’m very lucky in that I live close to some woods, and that I work in a beautiful location right next to a river, with large gardens and grounds to wander in. I’ve spent a good few hours this week walking in both locations. Walking itself has become a meditative practice, as I try to ignore distracting thoughts and simply become more aware of my surroundings.

Snowdrops emerging. Photo by me.

Snowdrops emerging. Photo by me.

So what have I noticed? As it is coming into Spring, I have seen the first signs of the new season. Snowdrops and aconites are emerging from the ground and some of the trees are starting to develop buds and catkins. I’ve noticed a lot more birds singing in the mornings, including robins, blackbirds, various tits and even a green woodpecker.

Down by the river, things are changing with the seasons too. The currents are stronger and the river is swollen with snowmelt and Spring rains. The Canada geese, our Winter visitors, are amassing along the banks in vast flocks, ready to make their long journey home now the cold of Winter is drawing to a close. Coots and moorhens are starting to gather reeds for their nests, and I even saw a water vole one day scurrying along the tangled bank.

Canada geese gathering. Photo by me.

Canada geese gathering. Photo by me.

I intend to keep up my nature awareness practice throughout my Dedicant Path work, as I feel it is important for any aspiring Druid to know the patterns of nature in their local landscape, and I look forward to seeing what changes the different seasons will bring.

The main course text, Our Own Druidry, also talks about nature awareness as being about finding out important facts about your local area: where your water comes from, where your waste goes, what the prevailing winds and native plant species are etc. I hope to cover these points in future weeks.

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First High Day Recap: Imbolc

Home shrine with Imbolc offerings. Photo by me.

Home shrine with Imbolc offerings. Photo by me.

For Imbolc, I did a ritual at my home shrine. I set up an ADF “triple Hallows” of fire, well and tree (a rather sad-looking ficus that needs re-potting…I hope to replace with a hardy Chinese elm soon), and added extra candles for light and for my main “working” part of the rite.

I adapted a script from the Solitary Druid Fellowship, which was an ADF “extension” group and so used ADF-style rites. Although the Fellowship is no longer running, the Druid Network have archived all their seasonal rites on their website. I tweaked the script to feel more natural and personal for me, and added a candle working as the central feature of the ritual to welcome the new light of Spring.

The patron deity for the rite was Brigantia, the British/Gaulish form of Brigid, the Celtic goddess of the hearth and well, usually associated with Imbolc. For offerings, I gave bread and milk as well as oats for the Earth Mother and beer to toast the Three Kindreds.

The omen came from the Druid Animal Oracle app on my phone (technopaganism FTW), and while I’m not one to put much stock in oracles, the results were very positive.

While it did feel a bit odd doing formal ritual and making offerings, I also enjoyed it. The ADF format is easier to work with than the “traditional” circle-casting and calling the four directions/four elements that I have experienced with OBOD. No getting confused as to which way is which or tripping over my own feet for one thing!

Addressing deities felt weird at first, but I am relieved that ADF does not tell you what to believe, or how to conceptualise what the gods are. For me as an agnostic, I tend to see them as anthropomorphic and mythic representations of natural forces, so I simply honoured the “idea” of Brigantia as the bringer of Spring and as the flame on my hearth.

It snowed almost immediately after I was done with the ritual, as well, which felt oddly appropriate!

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First High Day: Imbolc

Snowdrop by William Warby on Flickr (CC 2.0)

Snowdrop by William Warby on Flickr (CC 2.0)

With the first stirrings of Spring in the Northern hemisphere, we celebrate the festival of Imbolc, one of the eight High Days celebrated by ADF. Usually held around 1-2 February, it occurs midway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Imbolc “reminds us that daylight is growing and that winter will soon be gone” (Higginbotham, 2008) and is often celebrated as a fire or candle festival.

The name “Imbolc” may come from the Old Irish “Imbolg” meaning “in the belly” referring to the pregnancy of sheep and cattle, so important to the agricultural Celts. The 10th century Cormac’s Glossary refers to it as “Oimelc” meaning “ewe’s milk”, though this etymology is disputed.

Imbolc is strongly associated with the Celtic goddess Brigid, known in Britain as Brigantia. Bonewits (2006) writes that “this goddess was best known as a triple-aspected deity (originally a sun and fire goddess) of poetry/divination, healing and smithcraft, whose followers kept an eternal flame burning in her honour”.

There is evidence that Imbolc was celebrated since early pre-Christian times, but as Hutton (1996) points out, “there is absolutely no direct testimony as to its early nature”. We can infer from later, Christianised, celebrations, that customs may have included the blessing of fire and farm animals (Danaher, 1972). The festival was incorporated into the Christian calendar as the feast of St Bridget, who is often conflated with the earlier pre-Christian goddess Brigid. Today it is known as “Candlemas” and church candles are blessed for the year ahead. This can perhaps be seen as a continuance of ancient Brigantine fire-festivals.

Modern Pagans celebrate Imbolc in various ways, including candlelit rituals, making Brigid’s crosses from rushes and straw and simply going out to experience the burgeoning Spring and the newly-emerging snowdrops. Imbolc is also associated with purification or cleansing, “a time to clean out mental and spiritual cobwebs as we leave Winter behind and make room for Spring” (Higginbotham, 2008). ADF refers to Imbolc as a feast of the hearth and of Brigid as the goddess of fire and inspiration, a time for rekindling the world’s hearth-fire and celebrating the return of light.

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.

Danaher, Kevin. The year in Ireland: Irish calendar customs. Dublin: Mercier, 1972.

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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Dedicant Path Introduction

Image by Stephen Bowler on Flickr (CC2.0)

Image by Stephen Bowler on Flickr (CC2.0)

I’m going to work through the ADF Dedicant Path with the help of Michael J. Dangler’s supplementary book The Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year. Given that I’m starting at a slightly different time than the book schedules for, and that I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to do an assignment a week, I will probably mix up the order a bit here and there.

Even though I’ve been dabbling with Druidry for a few years now, on and off, I think the Dedicant Path will be a useful exercise in what’s known in Zen Buddhism as Shoshin, “beginner’s mind”, learning to see familiar things (such as the wheel of the year) with new eyes and re-examine what they mean without judgement.

The first assignment in the book is to answer some questions about why I have chosen to join ADF and take the Dedicant Path. My answers are below the cut:

Continue reading

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