Keeping a Daily Druidic Office

There is a tradition in some Christian monastic sects to keep a daily office of prayers, recited four times daily, to keep one connected to and mindful of one’s god. The times are regular by the clock, corresponding generally with sunrise, noon, sunset, and midnight, which usually translates as when one rises, lunchtime, early evening, and when one retires.  They are special set-aside times, around 30 minutes in length, for prayer, contemplation, and reflection.  Lay-persons can join such Orders by committing to both live the Rule the Order lives by, sort of like its motto, and keep the daily office of prayer.

Although Penny Billington does not specifically to into this history in her book The Way of Druidry, she does make a suggestion towards regular practice which is very much in this spirit.  I have been taking it up for myself.  She describes Druidry as a celebration of the everyday sacred, fitting into our everyday lives, and so not requiring it to be set aside in any way.  I admit I resonate with this seamlessness, since I don’t really have the option of setting aside 30 minutes four times a day.  I have been drawn to such a practice over the years in different venues, but find I cannot make it work for me due to circumstances.  So I really liked Penny’s interpretation of the practice, because I find it so accessible and doable, and I have been getting wonderful results with it.

Penny’s suggestion is to take a few moments at each of these time stations to step outdoors and connect with the magical current running through the land, and engage with it in some meaningful way. Then one records the moment in brief notes kept in a journal for each day, to track experiences.  So simple, so easy, so discreet- I love this.

What I find works best for me is taking these moments casually, when I rise, sometime in the afternoon, at sunset, then just before I retire.  They are quiet personal moments in which to breathe deeply and tune in to nature’s energy, grounding and vitalizing all at once.  I take a grounding breath and then greet what is around me- morning, sunshine, trees, birds, etc.  I find the formal vocalized greeting helps me more easily connect with Neart, the magical energy which runs through all things.  The greeting opens the door.  Then I close my eyes and focus on the words, ‘magical current in the land,’ the phrase that Penny uses in her book.  The words are quite evocative for me, and I basically use them as a mantra, until I begin to feel “plugged in.”  I feel this usually through a tingling that runs through my body, and sometimes begins in my feet and moves up my legs, as though the neart of the land were flowing right up through my body.  Then I open my eyes and soften my vision, with the feeling that I can visualize the neart flowing over and through everything, connecting us.

Once I am strongly feeling the neart, which comes in a moment or two, I connect with Imbas, through my Cauldron of Knowledge, feeling its energy pour in through the top of my head, and this inspires me to offer a prayer of engagement in some fashion.  During one session I asked the blowing breeze to refresh my thoughts; during another I prayed that the shining sun would vitalize and bless all whom it shined upon.  I was even able to connect for my afternoon office while driving, when I realized I had forgotten to do so at home before I’d left, and prayed for the falling rain to wash away my frustrations, and felt immediately relieved and refreshed, which was nice while driving.  One evening at sunset I asked the sun to take my frustrations with it as it set into the underworld, as an offering to the land, to be used and composted by her.  It was a lovely thought that I actually had the opportunity to do this every day at sunset, with any lingering worries.

I finish each session by breathing in the magical current’s energy, and breathing out gratitude, to all of life, and to those powers upon which I’d called.  All of this takes but a few moments, and so much is gotten from it.  Then I take one more moment to make note of the event, to record how Imbas inspired me in each session, and how I engaged with the powers.

This is a different process from setting aside time to read through pre-written prayers and psalms and sermons.  I never know when I step outside how Imbas will inspire me, what I will pray, how I will engage with the powers.  It very much keeps me in the moment, open to all the energetic currents present, and moves me, with the purpose of meaningful engagement.  Already I am feeling peaks and valleys in my ability to easily or readily connect with neart and imbas, but when the connection doesn’t quite come, I can quietly breathe in the energy of trees, land, rain, and sun, and breathe out gratitude for them, and that exchange alone is meaningful, even if not any more inspired than that.  It is still an opportunity to stay connected to the land, our power source, at regular intervals, and keep mindful of it, and of my relationship with her.  This also creates a loose structure which both carries me though my day and offers me flexibility in maintaining it, which I appreciate.  I love rhythms, and praying through the daily rhythm is a lovely way move through linear time.

This practice creates pockets of timelessness, when time stops and there is only the moment of connection, and how it inspires me.  This has become my daily druidic office, and along with my Celtic Mandala prayer and contemplative walk, is becoming the foundation of my daily druidic practice.

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Contemplative Walking Develops

As Penny suggests, I am incorporating contemplative walking into my everyday routine, heading out to walk the same track each morning (taking Sundays off for Circle gathering).  I am befriending the trees I see each day, watching them change through the autumn, and noticing the plants around me, some of which have run to seed, and some of which are sprouting anew in the cool rains, discovering plants new to me along the way, such as black nightshade, which I’ve just noted growing in my hedgerow in my yard as well.  I have seen the geese out nearly every morning, doing their training for their upcoming marathon flight.  I watch the clouds thread their patterns through the sky.

I begin each walk now with my Celtic Cross Mandala meditation, honoring each direction and its element in turn, both in the world and within my body.  I have changed the last part for the Center about the Holy Spirit to a reverence for Neart, the vital life force, or magical current, which runs through and vitalizes all living things, including the land, and envision this energy radiating out from the center of all living things, especially the land, as well as myself, asking that it bless all things as it does so.

Also per Penny’s suggestion, I am creating deeper relationships with the trees and other beings I encounter by bringing a bag of birdseed with me and making offerings when moved to do so.  I have done this as a thank you for fallen leaves and acorns I’ve collected, for trees who shared their energy with me, with birds whose songs I enjoyed, and once so far in gratitude to a crow and a sweet gum tree, for a message received.

The last bit so far which I am including from Penny’s suggestions is greeting the trees I see which are part of the Ogham with their Ogham names, to help me associate and remember them.  So far Luis and Duir are the easiest for me to recall and the ones I see every day.  I will try to add as I go- must learn Hawthorn and Vine as well, for I see those daily, too.

This practice is becoming a central and grounding practice of my Druidry, and as Penny notes, can include so many wonderfully meaningful layers through such a simple and discreet exercise.

Beannachd.

The Path of Druidry, Part 3

I have finished reading The Path of Druidry by Penny Billington, so here are my final thoughts about her presentation of Druidry.

I really liked the way she laid out the three paths of Bard, Ovate, and Druid, and spoke so much to their essence.  She gave the impression that one could choose to specialize in an area strongly calling to one, or pursue all three paths simultaneously, in various aspects of one’s life, which I resonated with.  I like this idea, as a personal spirituality, better than the idea of moving through hierarchical grades in a straight destination.  I prefer to relate with the paths as different but specific ways of engaging one’s spirituality in the world, and find this more fitting to a spirituality for today, rather than as a social institution of the past, when a more graded approach was reasonable.  I find I still do not fully resonate with the historical druid, aside from feeling that my role as a priestess of Brìde fits into this somewhere, albeit loosely and peripherally, but I fully resonate with the idea of Druidry as a spirituality grounded in ancestral wisdom and tradition which is nature-centric and emphasizes service.

I think that, through my priestess work, I have been already expressing some of the elements of each path.

Penny describes the Bardic path as one connected to Awen/Imbas, the vital and magical current in the land, which gives inspiration, and through inspiration, poetic and artistic expression, which brings Imbas into the world of form.  She defines all acts of creativity as bardic expressions, from child-rearing and arranging one’s home to the more formal expressions of poetry, musical, and artistic expressions.  I like the range she perceives.  I have walked the Bardic path as a priestess of Brìde in my Order by writing poetry inspired by my deep mystical experiences with Her as I tend Her flame, by writing songs for both healing and seasonal rituals, and creating a set of seasonal rites centered on Brìde’s mythos with Angus and the Cailleach.

The path of the Ovate is described as one of pursuing knowledge of the natural world, through study of natural sciences and the ogham, as well as knowledge of one’s inner world, through meditation.  Ancestral knowledge through study of ancestral myth is also included, which I applaud.  I love her appreciation of symbol and metaphor and cultural relevance found in myth, and how it is meant to be used as a guide to right behavior and action in the world with one’s people and land.  I find this is not spoken of or emphasized enough in pagan communities, and I am so glad she brought this out to share.  While the Welsh mythos is not the mythos I personally work with, her explorations of it were so spot-on, I thought, and certainly are an excellent guide to working with myth from any tradition.  I have done this myself with Irish myth, and this sense I definitely express the path of the Ovate.  She also ties in healing of the land with the Ovate, which I have also done, through water blessing and earth blessing chants and rites I have composed and performed, as a part of my priestess work.  I also tend a local riverway by picking up trash and leaving offerings to the river goddess as a form of well-tending with my Order, and so this is a part of the Ovate path as well.  Some of us in the Order are also pursuing an exploration of the ogham, which is Ovate work.  The Ovate is also the path of the healer, and it was through a Reiki II attunement that Brìde first came to me over a decade ago.  I would in this sense place meditation in the Ovate path, as it is a form of spirit-healing one can do for oneself, in a variety of ways, beyond specific exploratory guided meditations.  Perhaps one might also think of such meditation as a type of contemplation.  I have also pursued specific immrama meditations through my flametending Order, journeying to the Otherworld, and this too is Ovate work.

The path of the Druid is described as coming out of the forest and back to the tribe to be of service to one’s community with the knowledge one has gained from study.  It is also the path which is most connected to contacting and community with the gods.  Certainly I feel my role as a flametender for Brìde fits into this path, as I share a very mystical relationship with Her while I commune with Her as I tend Her perpetual flame.  I think of my performance of seasonal rites as a form of service, although I do not currently share them the public, but they are done on behalf of the people, even if unbeknownst to them.  Well-tending is a service as well, which impacts how people enjoy the space I tend.  I have donated to some charities and signed some petitions for causes I support which serves the world I live in.  I am wondering how else I might pursue service.  Penny also discusses ethical living in the path of the Druid, as walking with integrity, in alignment with the Truth of the way of nature, and living one’s nature-centered values.  Certainly I do this through organic gardening, composting, mulching, organically raising chickens for eggs, and putting up my harvests, as well as other acts like recycling, shopping at a consignment store for clothes, purchasing organic and/or local foods when I can, using cloth bags when I shop, and sharing important political stories on social media.

In conclusion, Penny directs readers to weave her three rays into our daily lives into a patter of living Druidry.

Through the Nature ray we are guided to always walk in harmony with the land, both through regular communal and contemplative walks in nature, ever-mindful of the magical current running through the land from which we derive spiritual vitality, and through being involved in whatever the local community is doing which affects the land.

Through the Knowledge ray we are asked to continually question, how may I serve, and listen for responses through regular meditation and visualization.

Through the Devotional ray we are guided to recall characters from myth, and their stories, to understand how they provide guidance for us in our daily lives, in forming right values which lead to right action and right relationship, in balance and harmony with Truth.  We are guided to examine prayer, and how we might incorporate it into our daily lives.  We are reminded to make our way in the world through compassion, connection, relationship, with all beings.

I offer gratitude and thanks to Penny for the guidance she has provided in her book.  I will continue working with her ideas, and will work on meditating and nature-walking daily, to feed my body, mind, and spirit.

Morning Devotion

A spontaneous devotional prayer which came to me this morning, as I headed out for my walk, inspired by my earlier Mandala of the Celtic Cross post:

“Hail to the east, direction of stone and mountain.  May the mountains of the land and the bones of my body be blessed this day.

“Hail to the south, direction of the Sun, bringer of summer and warmth.  May the Sun and my countenance be blessed this day.

“Hail to the west, direction of the Sea.  May the seas, all waterways, and the blood of my body be blessed this day.

“Hail to the north, direction of Wind, bringer of winter and the cold.  May the winds and my breath be blessed this day.

“Hail to the earth beneath me, great giver and provider.  May the land and my body be blessed this day.

“Hail to the clouds above me, bringers of nourishing rain.  May the clouds and my thoughts be blessed this day.

“Hail to the sacred center, where I stand, where all Spirit resides, shared by all beings, linking us as kin.  May the holy Spirit within and about me be blessed this day.

Moran taing, agus sla\inte mhath.”

Druid chants

I very much resonate with the sentiments expressed here by Nimue Brown, and really love this chant she has written and sung.

Druid Life

Music has always been a big part of my life, and I’m deeply attracted to the bardic threads in the Druidic weave. I’m also interested in meditation and contemplation. Unshockingly, this has led to time spent chanting. I even run the odd workshop on subverting and messing about with chants to make group singing more collaborative and playful. Let’s face it, there’s only so many times a bunch of people can sing ‘we all come from the goddess’ until it tails off in awkward silence. We are more likely to fall into tedium than reverie, if my experience in circles is anything to go by. I’ve long been interested in finding ways of changing that experience, for myself and for those around me.

I’ve been blessed with some excellent chanting experiences, too – most notably those led by JJ Middleway. His ‘enchanting the void’ sessions offer room for creative exploration…

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The Path of Druidry, part 2

I am appreciating the author’s take on archetypes.  I think they get a bad rap generally in paganism- eclectic types tend to over-apply them in a universalist format, and reconstructionist types tend to rebel and reject them based on actually rejecting the univeralist assumption.  I think Penny Billington takes a more sensible approach.

Archetypes are first and foremost psychological, which means they mainly pertain to us, to humanity.  We can use them as a certain lens through which to view deity, or nature, or mythic characters, but ultimately it is so we might better relate with them emotionally and spiritually, to learn and grow from them, understand their social and cultural roles, and develop meaningful relationship with them.  I appreciate how Penny cautions against literalism, and doesn’t feel the need to delve into Jungian-speak or eclectic universalism- not all archetypes are relevant to Jung’s interpretation of them, and viewing the deities as fulfilling archetypes, like roles, does not diminish them in any way, nor take away from their distinctness as disparate divinities.

Archetypes can point towards certain qualities with which we may resonate, whether relating strongly with them, or not much at all, and so perhaps interested in gaining more of a given quality.  Or perhaps one uses personification and anthropomorphism to ‘enspirit’ a landscape of natural feature, to better get a feel for what it could represent, and so forge a deeper relationship with it.  Happily, the author also does not shy away from such ideas the way reconstructionists tend to, feeling that these ideas or techniques demean the spirits- they don’t.  They were invented by humanity to help us better relate with the land, beings, and energies around us, and can be honored as such.

I explored the archetypal figures of the farmer, musician, druid, warrior, tribal king and sovereignty goddess through a blog journey (in another blog) on the 5 directions as noted in the Irish myth, The Settling of the Manor of Tara.  The mythic elements of each direction suggest each archetype in turn, and from each we can gain insight about right action, right relationship, and ancestral mind, which teach us how to live in harmony through Truth.  One could further assign deities to each of these archetypes, to an extent, to further flesh out the ideas presented, but doing so would not pen up the gods in those little boxes, or demean their powers in any way.  It would instead provide a new lens through which to potentially gain new insight about them, but by no means would it exist as the only lens, or even the best lens.  Just one tool among many which might be useful.

Thanks Penny, for your measured approach to archetypes.