Peace in the Time of Towers

The subject of peace is a tricky one.  Peace, or frith as the Heathens call it, is foundational to Revival Druidry, born out of the conflict between Welsh and English.  In Iolo Morganwg’s “Call for Peace”, peace becomes a verb.

The Truth against the world,
Will you bring peace?
Your heart with my heart,
Will you bring peace?
Shout above resounding shout,
Will you bring peace?

Peace is not just something that you say, but something that you do (to paraphrase the words of the fabulously epic Kristoffer Hughes).  This call challenges us as Druids to bring peace in the face of a world which denies truth.  This call challenges us to stand heart to heart with one another, despite any arguments.  And this call challenges us to hold fast to peace, no matter the cacophony that surrounds us.

Ideals of peace cannot be an excuse for cowardice or avoidance.  The call to peace also does not abdicate one of responsibility to defend the helpless.  Listening to victims, believing their stories, letting them be vulnerable in their pain–these are all acts of peace and compassion even if they feel almost violent in the moment.  Understand that anger and fear are not antithetical to peace, but must be worked through and acknowledged before healing can begin.  Hold peace, preserve the space where conflict and disagreement can be aired and solutions can be woven from the ashes of difference.

Peace is not the easy road, and it does not mean a life free of aggression.  It does not mean avoidance of conflict or withdrawal from the world.  Indeed, an intimate knowledge of physical violence is helpful to understanding peace, and just how dear its price can be.  I practice a style of northern mantis Kung Fu.  It is a martial art, an art of war, an art of harming others no matter how much some might want to pretty it up as “self-defense”.  The notion that I would allow family to be harmed in the face of a physical attack is ludicrous.  If I have the means to keep them safe, I will.  I value their lives above my own ideals of non-violence.  If I’m brutally honest, I value my own life above that of an attacker.

Yet it is not a choice to be made lightly.  Every time we stand in front of the altar in the training hall, we repeat an oath: patience and control. It is quite literally the Chinese character for fire flipped upside down.  A fire banked and fully mastered is a useful tool that we control rather than the other way around.  What could be more fundamental to the fostering of peace than complete agency over one’s own violence?

As a Druid, I pray for peace.  I pray for peace daily.  In these Tower Times, I pray for peace, and prepare for conflict.  For “those without swords can still die upon them.

 

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Back and Crafting Again

Druid 'n' Drum

Yes, my eyes are closed. It was a meditation fer cryin’ out loud!

Even though the second annual OBOD East Coast Gathering has been a week past, it’s still very strong in my mind. The week before was pretty much consumed with making my robes, which my grove bro helped me finish at 3 AM the night before we left. (Of course, then I forgot the clasps and the grove banner, but happily my husband brought them with him when he came up the next day! What’s an event without a little last-minute sewing?)

The Gathering itself really hit its stride this year. It felt like the core group had really solidified, and that we were able to embrace guests and newcomers into our traditions. Now we were friends coming together, not just folks with similar interests seeking companionship.

The two guest-speakers were Philip Carr-Gomm, the Chosen Chief of OBOD, and John Michael Greer, the Grand Arch-Druid of AODA. It has long been a wish of mine to put these two men in the same room and be a fly on the wall during any following conversations. I more than got my wish! Hopefully their open discussion will be broadcast on an upcoming episode of DruidCast (available free on iTunes). Both gentlemen were approachable, eager to answer questions, and had an amazing depth of knowledge across a variety of subjects.

Beeswax equinox candle. It was supposed to be white and black, but yellow and purple seemed to work well enough! Necklace by Willowcrow.

In fact, JMG was able to answer a question that had been bugging me for nearly five years, namely why did the Golden Dawn change the correspondences from the traditional Hellenic Elements (Earth/West, Water/North)—used from  to what is so commonly used today in Neopagan circles (Earth/North, Water/West). It was apparently not, as some have suggested, a geographical change to better match Britain’s climate, but one based on the different elemental associations of the four Hebrew letters that comprised the name of god, Adonai. In hindsight it’s a little ridiculous how much this question was bothering me, but it’s so nice to have an answer other than “the Victorians are doin’ it wrong, again.” Now I feel like I can make an informed choice between the systems, and that’s a great weight relieved.

Meditation beads for the Chosen Chief.

We were then lucky enough to host the Carr-Gomms for our Alban Elued celebration back in Boston post-Gathering. We all brought gifts for a crane bag that we presented to the Chosen Chief and Scribe. My contribution was a glass spiral pendant on a silver chain, and a set of meditation beads. Meanwhile, between these, my robes, and pouring a candle for the ritual, I feel like I’ve gotten my crafting groove back. Fall is really a time of fruition in more ways than one for me; it feels like the long drought of summer has finally broken and awen is able to flow freely through me.

Festival Drum

So, following on the heels of my Holy Days post, the major project that I’ve been putting together as a sort of finale for my work with the Boar Clan has been a map of sorts. It’s a temporal map, recording all the various ways I keep track of time throughout the Wheel of the Year. The base comes from John Michael Greer’s Druid Magic Handbook, but I’ve made several additions of my own as well.

As if there were any doubt about my own sycretic leanings, there are influences from:

Greek/CM elemental theory
Western Astrology
New World agriculture
Revival Druidry
Anglo-Saxon Paganism

…all these in addition to my own peculiar homegrown aesthetic. So yeah, there can be no doubt this is a syncretist’s drum!

Again, the 8 festival gates, the paths between them, and the associated ogham for each path come from the DMH. While I was doodling the overall plan, I was squirming that there didn’t seem to be a way to include the runes, which is the divination system I’ve always felt most comfortable with. There wasn’t a nice way to aesthetically place the runes on the paths along with the ogham, and even if I did try that, there would only be room for the Norse futhark, when I like using the whole 33 rune A-S set.

And this is where having an art brain can come in handy: I started looking at the negative space.

Two Great Tastes…

There are, in fact, 32 “empty spaces” defined by the paths of the Wheel of Life. Plus the center grove, this makes 33—the total number of A-S futhorc!

The next tricky bit was arranging them. Looking at the pattern, I could discern two interlocking squares of 8 spaces each, one for the solar gates and one for the cross quarters. Then there was an inner “ring” of 8, and and outer “ring” of 8. This happens to match up nicely with the 4 aetts of the futhorc.

The outermost ring I gave to Hel’s Aett, starting between Alban Arthan & Samhain, and going counter-clockwise. The catabolic cycle.

The innermost ring went to Freya’s Aett, starting on the “sunny side” of Alban Arthan and going clockwise. The anabolic cycle.
Haegl’s Aett is sometimes referred to as the external influences, so these were placed clockwise around the solar festivals, again starting on the sunny side of Alban Arthan.

Tyr’s Aett or internal influences were placed around the cross quarters going counter clockwise from Samhain.

Lastly, Gar, as a kenning for the World Tree, was placed in the central grove as representing the Axis Mundi.

Do I think I’ve stumbled across some sort of long lost relationship between runes and ogham? Hell, no. But I do feel as if I’ve been given a gift, a way to acknowledge and celebrate both my Germanic and Celtic heritage though this map. The runes define the space between, leaving the direct flow and relationship of wyrd to be best described by the ogham fews.

But wait, there’s more…

Paper Pattern & Draft

The rest of the symbolism is much more straightforward, drawn largely from the various correspondence charts presented in the DMH and the OBOD Bardic grade material.

The outermost ring consists of the elements and their classical associations and symbols, along with the modern correlating ogham. The next ring depicts the 8 Holy Days, their colors, symbols, and associated moon phases. The lines connecting these stations are marked with their own ogham and the spaces between house the runes.

Next come the three “monthly” calendar rings: Graves’ Tree Calendar (yes, I know it’s completely made up—I happen to like it anyway), the Western Zodiac, and a mish-mash of agricultural names for the various moons that suit my bioregion and experience here in New England (drawn from these sites).

The inner circles consist of the planetary associations with the 8 Holy Days, the 3 Druidic levels of being, and the 7-pointed star which defines the Drudic spacial paradigm (4+2+1). Lastly, the ogham and runes associated with Spirit surround the star, which holds an Awen at its center.

Doing the Work

Once I had all of this worked out on a full-sized paper pattern, it was time to transfer it all to the drum. The drum itself has an interesting history. It was given to me by one of the members of my first ADF grove when he moved his family to Oregon to grow pears. He was an interesting fellow, much more of a cultural Druid since he had converted from Paganism to Catholicism after marrying. But he was a wealth of knowledge, always tossing out riddles to the younger grove members: “Why do the dogs have red ears?” and “What can the ancestors use that we cannot?” I was really touched when he passed his drum on to me before he left.

Bloodying the Drum

There are a number of traditions which “bloody” or “feed” an object in order to make an enchantment stick. For this project, it happened purely by accident when my husband spilled some port wine down the front of the skin. At first I was distraught, but then decided to make the best of it. I gave the surface three coats of port on the Solstice to prepare it for the work ahead.

After many Google search and much chewing of nails, I decided to use Sharpie markers for the design—and they’ve turned out to be a leatherworker’s best kept secret. There’s a much better degree of control than with dyes, and a wide color palette.

The next trick was transferring the pattern. I ended up destroying the paper template by cutting it apart with an exacto knife. I was too worried about my compas puncturing the drum head trying to recreate the circle by hand, so I decided to use the ones I had already drawn. The tracings did not come out perfectly, but then the drum isn’t perfectly round either, so a little fudge factor actually worked in my favor.

Inking the Lines

From there on out, it was a pretty straight case of filling in the details. The one other exciting part of the project was learning how to draw a nearly perfect septagram (or heptagram if you prefer) with a compas and ruler. It was both fun and challenging, and has reaffirmed my desire to put more effort into learning about sacred geometry—in my copious space time, of course.

I put the finishing touches on the design today, filling in the holiday associations with a airy/foliate pattern born from the throes of tedium of high school US history (you really never know when this sort of thing is going to come in handy). Tomorrow, I’ll use the drum to complete my final journey to the Boar Tribe.  I don’t know what will happen after that, but I do know that I’ve created something both necessary and beautiful. And I’m content with that.

—A.V.

Magic (part I)

I’ve been thinking a lot about magic the past few days. What exactly it is, its role in my own practice, how others may or may not perceive it. There would seem to be an abundance of blog fodder here, indeed, there are many excellent blogs already dedicated to the subject. I’ll start by giving my own frame of reference, and hopefully expand upon the nature and societal role of magic in later posts.

Most of my workings tend to fall into the “low” or folk magic category. I’ve done the occasional soup-to-nuts ceremonial working as well, but I can count the number of times I’ve needed that sort of oomph on one hand.  I started practicing magic in the form of divination when I was 10 or 11, adding homemade herbal and flower potions to that as I went. I found a book in the town library called Stars, Spells, Secrets, and Sorcery, which furthered my interest (and also led to a classmate accusing me of being possessed by Satan). Thus my interest in the occult was born—and imagine my surprise when I found my father’s tarot deck dating back to his graduate school days. Seems the interest ran in the family!

In college, I took a wonderful class on magic in the Greco-Roman world (and in fact served as a TA for the class my senior year). Not only did I feel bolstered in my own practices—clearly humans have been doing these sorts of things for thousands of years—but it also again broadened my practical knowledge through experimentation. Trying to use the materials that the Greeks and Romans had available to them is a wonderful exercise in cultural understanding. Poring through the PGM and seeing same the patterns and rituals used over and over again not only shows what was popular, but why certain practices were thought to work.  In addition, the class covered scholarly perspectives on how magic served a function in society, and how it still fulfills important parts of our psyches today (more on this in a future post).

College itself was a wonderful time of magical exploration for me, allowing me to connect for the first time with others who had both interest and ability. It was also my first opportunity to work energy in groups, and to learn what my strengths and weaknesses were. In some ways, it was a sort of energetic trial-by-fire since we were completely open to experimentation, but in the end I think it gave me quite a good grounding and reflexes. This was also when I was first exposed to the ideas of Chaos magic, which still greatly influence my thinking today.

Soon after college, around 2005, I found my first Druid group.  It was so very different from the college experience: there was one liturgist, rituals had to go exactly according to plan, and the only magic “allowed” was the channelling of the gods and goddesses. I loved the idea of Druidry, the scholarly aspects especially, but there really wasn’t any room for either improvisation or energetic workings. “Those Wiccans” were very much looked down upon by the group leaders, and being young and impressionable, I tried to fit in. I eventually ended up parting ways with the group, but by the time I left, I had largely abandoned my magical practice (with the exception of divination, which I just can’t quit, no matter how hard I try!).

I joined another Druid group which was much more willing to experiment, where I received some desperately needed encouragement for journey work and the like. Two of the other members were wonderful mentors to me, helping me grow into Druidry in a way that really fulfilled me. One of them told me to look into OBOD, that I would be much better suited to it than I was to the previous organization. She was absolutely right and I haven’t looked back since.

The evolution of my magical practices continued when I met my husband and his family. He and his siblings were all taught reiki by their parents, and my mother and father-in-law (in addition to being accomplished musicians) were very accepting of psychic and magical phenomena.  My husband taught me reiki soon after we started dating. It could be argued (probably quite loudly and at great length) that reiki is not magic, but it allowed me to really pay close attention to energy work for the first time since college. As I spent more time with my husband’s family, I felt more and more accepted, allowing me to branch out more fully into other areas of magical practice.

These days, divination still makes up the majority of my workings. But I’m also now completely comfortable (again!) casting the odd spell in the kitchen or whispering a prayer in the garden. Little things like drawing runes or other sigils over soup or tea for a sick friend, or singing to the plants—simple, everyday folk magic to help friends and family.

Looking to the future, when I finish the Ovate grade in OBOD (which focuses heavily on divination and magic) I hope to work my way through John Michael Greer’s Druid Magic Handbook, which is a more ceremonially-influenced style, but still very friendly to the polytheist. There is the eternal argument between so-called “low” and “high” magics, but I honestly feel that one should know both styles in order to become the best practitioner possible. I may not end up with as much depth in one as in the other, but at least I’ll be familiar with the territory.

Next time, we’ll be looking at the changing perceptions of magic from the ancient world to today, and what roles magic still fulfills for people that still can’t be found easily through other venues.

—A.V.