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.
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.
As Americans, we don’t deal with the deaths of our animal companions any better than we do our human friends and family. We don’t deal with death well in general. Either we fetishize death in the realms of the imagination, or segregate the dying when confronted with reality.
One of my jobs is working with the elderly to help them pay their bills on time. To date, two clients of mine have died (it’s something of a hazard in this profession). When my first client, K, was dying, I tried to spend as little time with her as possible. Simultaneously scared and ashamed, I tried to visit when I knew she would be at lunch so I wouldn’t have to face that undeniable mortality. I’m not proud of that. And I still couldn’t escape the trappings of death–a carpet so soaked by urine and rug shampoo that it never dried, the unrelenting beeping of monitors, and her ever weakening handwriting in the notes we left each other. We left notes because I wasn’t there. Because I was too scared to be compassionate and hold her hand when I could have.
I’d like to think I learned from that shame. When another client, E, and her family decided on home hospice care, I resolved to do better, be more present than I had been with K. And watching E die, seeing her skin become more and more translucent, be unable to chew, to be beset by vertigo such that her only comfort was if someone was holding her hand–somehow E made it oddly graceful. And humorous (she decided the perfect April Fool’s joke to play on the hospice nurse was to stop breathing). E was 97 when she died, only a few days after her big birthday bash. She died with her family around her, and if there is such a thing, I would say she died well.
We’re scared of death, both for ourselves and our animals. In many ways, saying goodbye to a beloved pet is an even harder decision. A dog can’t tell you it wants a DNR; a cat can’t opt out of chemo. Human companions are faced with decisions that are emotionally and financially exhausting, often times for very little change in quality of life. A neighbor just had plates put into their dog’s spine, to try to give him a year or two more despite ongoing vertebral degeneration. The dog’s feet bleed because he can no longer lift them. He has trouble defecating. He’s afraid to walk outside. Is this now a life worth living?
Death is probably never going to be a big topic of national conversation, not the way abortion or voting rights are. Amongst the elderly there are some whispers about hospice, resuscitation orders, sometimes euthanasia. Those who have spoken with their families and made their wishes known have a much better chance of getting to stay at home. Advocacy and communication is so important, and it’s something very few of us ever want to think about. In my opinion, everyone should have a chance to be a “bride” when they die, to have their perfect deathbed day. Meanwhile, pets depend on us to make that decision for them and we must ensure that when we make that choice, it is in their best interest, not ours.
When it comes down to it, love is love. And death is death. Greet death with love and help our families of flesh, feather, and fur face their dying days with open arms and overflowing hearts. It’s hard work and it’s important work. You won’t regret it.
My ex liked to move about every two years (just moved again, as a matter of fact)–probably one of the many reasons we’re no longer together. If you’re always running, you never let yourself have the time to be affected by relationships, whether it’s with neighbors or the land itself. I hated being rootless.
Listening to the land is what being a Druid is all about though. If a single sacrament exists that unites all Druids, it would be to Know Thy Lands. But what form does this take? We are undeniably people of the Sun; her journey thought the sky dictates our celebrations. By and large, our rituals are as open to outsiders as they are to the sky. Knowing the land will bring health, wealth, prosperity. The overflowing arms of a fecund Mother, bucolic prancing lambs, and a piping Pan are among our most beloved images. And that makes sense, after a fashion, even if it smothers the raw truth of what the land is in a gloss of anti-industrial Romantic bubble wrap.
Here’s what they don’t tell you. Sometimes being tuned into the land isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Dreams of giant squash bugs, visions of creeping fungus and of garden beds crying out for blood. Holding a dying mother turkey in your arms as her pullets cry out for her. Maggots in the compost heap, rats’ nests in the hay. Keeping a dead chicken in your fridge until the Ag Department can come to determine if it’s bird flu. You can’t turn your back on the compost, shite and death. The Black Hen of Cerridwen, if you will, that’s one call you can’t ignore.
After five years of watching, writing, listening, tasting, I’m finally settling into the rhythms of being Wachusett’s long shadow. Even as I know nature owes me nothing, I marvel in being able to eat from my garden and get eggs from our chickens. And now, at the end of the season, I’ll revel in the catabolic processes that will work their magic in the fallow months to make the land fruitful again come spring.
No, they don’t tell you that before the wonder of Pryderi’s return comes a terrible claw seeking revenge. But now that you know the land, do they really need to?