Deep within the still centers of our beings, may we find peace.
Silently within the quiet of our groves, may we share peace.
Gently, within the greater circle of humankind, we will radiate peace.
Many of my childhood summers were spent in France, Paris in particular. My father was a history professor, and while he did research in les archives, my mother and I would explore the city. Playgrounds, museums, cathedrals…we walked Paris and I loved it. It is indisputably a city of beauty, of light, and of love.
Today I’m afraid. I’m desperately afraid that today’s attacks in Paris are a tipping point. Like the Archduke’s assassination. Like Pearl Harbor. I’m afraid the world is going to burn, falling like ashes from the the slavering mouths of nationalism, racism, hatred, and fear.
I desperately want to be wrong. I’ve never wanted to be wrong so badly before in my life. And it’s up to each and every one of us who would claim the descriptor of “druid” to make sure that I am wrong. After the shock of tragedy passes don’t fall prey to the divisive sectarianism that will inevitably follow. Remember that peace is the purview of the druid. We may not be able to stand between armies as the druids of old did, but we can remind our friends and neighbors and family of their own humanity when media and politicians would whip them into a hateful frenzy. Pray for peace and make it manifest in your words, your conduct.
Prayers are verbs. So speak peace. Craft peace. Do peace. Throughout your communities and throughout the whole world.
Y’all just better be just turnin’ back if you want this boy to win
‘Cos practice is the only cure for the predicament he’s in
“Now devil it would be a sin for you to get my bow
You go on back to hell and to the woodshed I will go”
Johnny are you practicing or will your hands grow cold?
The devil walks the land and plays a fiddle made of gold
–The Charlie Daniels Band, “The Devil Comes Back to Georgia”
Thursdays were lesson days. More often than not, my stomach spent most of the day clenched with dread, knowing that I hadn’t practiced enough. I meant to practice, I truly did. I loved playing and I loved the music. But time after school seemed to fill up with so many other things, like comic books. Or cartoons. Or, ugh, homework.
I would heave a sigh, then heave my instrument case over my shoulder as I began the walk of shame up to a modest suburban NJ ranch. Shoes came off at the door and my toes curled into dense cream carpet. Clenching my toes while playing was one of a multitude of small bad habits that Mrs. E would gently correct each lesson.
Too often, I would be lucky enough to make it through the lessons on raw talent. Sight reading came fairly easily and I had perfect relative pitch. But this was not one of those squeak-though-Kreutzer days–in fact, I hadn’t had one of those days in several months. After a rather frustrating 20 minutes, it was painfully obvious this was the first time I had looked at the material since she assigned it the previous week.
Mrs. E never asked, “Did you practice?” Somehow, this always made me feel more guilty.
She set down her violin. She folded her hands and took a breath. My toes grabbed the carpet and I could feel my eyes filling. Here it comes, I thought, she’s going to drop me as a student. Just like the last teacher.
“You know, my husband played the violin before The War. But he was a dentist and he knew how to suture, so they made him a medic. He didn’t play for the entire time he was overseas.
“Like so many young GIs, Les was at loose ends when he returned from Europe. One day walking through Newark, he heard music. String music. As he got closer, he realized it was a quartet playing Bach.
“He climbed the steps and knocked on the door of the apartment. The music stopped, and a man with a fiddle in his hands opened the door. Les told them how much he enjoyed the music, how he used to play before The War. The man swept him inside and before he knew it the violin was back in his hands. He hasn’t stop playing since.”
She smiled with great certainty. “You will never lose this. The violin is a part of you, now. You may set it aside for a time but if you want it, it will always be there for you.
“Practice isn’t about learning how to play the violin for you anymore. You know how to play the violin. Practice is about making something beautiful.”
Woodshedding. Among musicians, it means “practice.” The musician’s Devil isn’t some supernatural demon. The Devil is your own talent. Itzhak Perlman famously said that a gifted student is lucky if she can survive her own talent. If you want to beat the Devil, you gotta head out to the woodshed and get crackin’. You beat him every time you play something beautiful.
Mrs. E died this past August at the age of 88. According to her obituary, she was teaching right up until the end.
Almost a fortnight ago, I took her at her word. Hufflespawn was with his father and the night was clear, if a bit cool. I grab my druid bug-out bag and head down the back steps into the orchard. With every step her presence grows heavier, and her wishes swirl thickly in my mind.
Pick a sprig of mugwort.
No hands in pockets. You need to feel the night on your skin.
Cover your head.
No light until you cross the hedge.
I scramble my way up the hill to the gap in the stone wall which marks the beginning of the trail. I pause for a moment, feeling fear scamper up-and-down my vertebrae as acorns crash to the ground. Though I had walked these woods many times during the day, I have never ventured into them at night. Reciting the Druid Prayer for Peace, a penlight in my hand, I make my way down to the brook.
My footsteps are too loud. Stealth was one of the many gifts that I set aside in order to make others more comfortable. The relearning is slow and far from perfect.
I miss the first switchback. I nearly end up in a blueberry farmer’s barn. The LED casts a grayish light and my mind wants to make every stump into a crouching figure. The crown of a newly fallen tree blocks the path and requires quite a bit of ducking and wiggling to navigate. I scoot over the first two log bridges easily enough.
I could try to balance on the slick rounded log that remained. I could continue on the path up to the wider, well-maintained bridge. I could use a tool to steady myself.
I’m a thinker. I don’t have a lot of physical guts, especially when it comes to stunts involving heights and falls and being soaked to the waist in mid-October on a moonless night.
“If you want me, Lady, you’re getting a tool-using human, not an unthinking berserker.”
I cast around until I find a fallen white pine limb.
The branch sinks a good foot into the mud each time it steadies my way across the “bridge.” I thanked my makeshift staff and lay it at the roots of Gog and Nagog as I greet them and make my way into the Grove.
At the triple crossroads I stop and let my light blink out. Lighting the small beeswax tea light from my ritual kit is a struggle in the cool breeze. Dogs howl in the dark beyond the ridges of the valley, and night birds warn each other of my presence. After long moments and not a few curses as wax drips on my hands, the flame catches. And holds.
I call to the spirits of the land. I call to the guardians of the Order. And I call to the Lady who had guided me here. I take stock of my crane bag, fat and distended as an infected gallbladder after 5 years of serving an Ovate who might well be part magpie. What I could no longer use I portioned out as a sacrifice.
Good. Take up your staff.
Surprised, I make my way back to the twin giants and pick up the white pine limb that helped cross the bridge. My hands are already fragrant and sticky with sap. I return to my circle, and thank the Lady for her gift.
“But before we go any further,” I say, “there are some things I want to make clear. I will not do anything that takes me from this land, my home. And I will not do anything that takes me from my son, or harms him or my relationship with him.”
Apparently, that wasn’t what she wanted to hear. She said nothing for the remainder of the ritual, nor did I feel her at the edges of my senses any longer.
However, I did feel the warmth of the forest surround me, and an ease in its presence that I had not experienced before. With her silence, it was almost as if a crowd had gathered, watching to see what would happen. I took my knife and trimmed up the staff in order to get it home, thinking hard on what had just happened and easing into the nighttime forest rhythms.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sorely disappointed. I had been hoping to finally find out who this Lady was, to finally have some answers to my questions about her and what she wanted from me. It wasn’t the ritual experience I was looking for, but it was certainly the one I needed.
The fact is, you stick me in the middle of the woods, and I will start making things. It’s what I am. I’m not a warrior, though I once tried very hard to be. I’m not an activist, and I’d rather be in my garden then tilting at windmills on the Internet. I am a decent crafter, a sporadic writer, and a determined mother. If that’s not what you’re looking for, then you’d best find someone else.
Still, as I crested the ridge on the way home, I heard
Turn out your light.
And so I did.