Archive for December, 2008
Because we are an island of four languages – English, Welsh, Scottish and Gaelic – we have made communication our greatest achievement. We dislike the arts of display, we took hundreds of years to learn to make music and paint, but our writers have produced the world’s greatest literature.
Because we also love understatement, we do not glorify these writers. Here is a trivia question: where is the public statue of Shakespeare in London? There is only one, on the Albert Memorial, where the Bard sits at the feet of Homer. The greatest writer in the world and we put him beneath a long dead Greek…
Reduced, after an age of empire, to our own island, Britain’s advantages continue, and with them, an awareness that we have had throughout our history: that the only way for the British to continue to thrive is to get on with others. That is why the greatest British fear, that of offending someone, really matters.
Ronald Hutton, Professor of History Bristol University
From an article in The Times viewable online here.
A seed-thought as the sun is reborn today:
A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love.
A man known as the naked rambler has been jailed for 12 months after being convicted of a breach of the peace. Stephen Gough, 49, was brought into the dock at Glasgow Sheriff Court on Wednesday wearing no clothes or shoes. He was arrested at the same court last month after attempting to leave the building naked, following an acquittal for breach of the peace. The former marine, from Eastleigh in Hampshire, has twice walked naked from Land’s End to John O’Groats. During his appearance, Gough told the court that if members of the public were offended by his nakedness then the problem was with them and not with him.
He has spent most of the past two-and-a-half years in prison at an estimated cost to the taxpayer of more than £200,000.
Isn’t this just absurd? That in the 21st century the UK government would rather spend nearly a quarter of a million pounds than have us see a naked man?! I’d like to propose a new campaign to house the homeless. Let five homeless men (or indeed women) remove their clothes in public and as a result be given a warm bed and three meals a day at the cost to the taxpayer of a million pounds. But why not think bigger? If 500 people did this we’d have to spend 100 million pounds! I’ll start printing some leaflets now…
I was recently asked some questions by my German publisher for an introduction to their edition of What Do Druids Believe? I thought I’d share some of this with you:
How do you see the future of nature religions, especially Druidry, in the modern world?
As environmental degradation increases we are bound to experience an increase of interest in Nature religions. When you risk losing something then you start to treasure it more. But there are other phenomena occurring which I believe will also affect people’s spiritual affiliation. While there is now a trend towards fundamentalism in all religions, there is an interesting and quite contrary phenomenon occurring. More and more people are recognising the universal themes they see expressed in every religion and they are becoming less interested in dogma and in rigid identification with any one religious path. Instead they might be inspired by elements of a number of paths to create their own rather individual way. A prosaic analogy is the way you can now combine paints in a hardware store to create just the shade of colour you need. On the one hand this can lead to a consumerist approach which is naturally criticised by theologians and religious thinkers. They talk about the “New Age schmorgasbord’ which goes for variety rather than depth, but if we go beyond this judgemental position to observe what is really happening we can see that many people can no longer hold an allegiance to just one religion. They are becoming ‘global citizens’ in their faith as well as in other ways.
Perhaps we are coming to a time when for many of us our previous life-memories are being reactivated, or our experiences of having various lives following different faiths is now reaching fruition – a particular evolutionary stage whereby we can embrace more than one approach. In Druidry I see this with people who feel particularly connected to both Druidism and one or more other traditions. So there are people whose path is a combination of Buddhism and Druidism, or Wicca and Druidism, or they see themselves as Christian Druids or Taoist Druids, for example. It is as if the two or more strands that they combine somehow reinforce and deepen each other.
But there is another process at work too. There have always been paths which are ‘meta-paths’ which are able to transcend religious distinctions, such as alchemy. An alchemist could be Buddhist or Jain, Christian or Muslim, Hindu or Jewish. Some people who follow Druidry follow it in this way – considering it an inner ‘meta-path’ that they can combine with another path of a more conventional religion. When a Christian alchemist from Europe met an Arab Muslim alchemist they shared a common understanding and language. I see the same thing happening in our Order when Christian and Wiccan or Buddhist Druids meet. Even though they have allegiances with very different religions there is a common ground that they share – a common source of inspiration for them both.
So when you ask about the future I see one in which a growing number of people feel sufficiently free, sufficiently enabled or empowered to ‘follow their bliss’ – as that great mythographer Joseph Campbell expressed it – in their own unique and special way. And as this happens I see a tremendous growth of creativity – artistically, but also socially and scientifically too. Although I suspect we’re in for a tough time in the decades ahead, I think it’s going to be a very exciting, innovative and colourful time too.
When it comes to the everyday task of living in a world of stress and worry, if you can embrace uncertainty – allowing yourself not to know what’s going to happen to humanity and the world – you not only free yourself of anxiety, but also open yourself to the possibility of the inspiration and enthusiasm which would be denied to you if you had created ‘closure’ in your mind by believing in a certain outcome. The emotional equivalent of embracing uncertainty, surrendering to it, is the movement from fear to trust.
The bottom line is that we cannot be certain about what is going to happen, and trying to guess or predict this may be intellectually interesting, but at a practical level can lead to the problem of provisional living and a ‘confusion of levels’ whereby you pin your hopes on securing a material future, rather than on obtaining the really valuable things in life: happiness, clarity, wisdom and love.
I’ll never forget a story told to me years ago by a friend who knew someone who spent his entire working life dreaming of his retirement. With great effort he saved enough money to buy a villa in Spain. On the day he retired he flew out there to fulfil his dreams. He got drunk with friends in celebration, and for a moment he forgot that the swimming pool had not yet been filled with water. He dived in and was killed instantly.
There is a danger in the current situation that we obsess about the future and seek out certainty in people or ideologies that profess to know what will happen. The way to enhance a personal relationship is simply to be fully present to it, and not to be concerned about the ‘future of the relationship’. Perhaps this applies to our relationship with the world too.
Cultivating the Mystery and returning Constantly to our Source
The spiritual, emotional, psychological goals we seek – of love, peace, trust, wisdom and so on – need time and the space to ‘arrive’ in our lives. It is in the silence, the gaps, the waiting, the ‘not knowing’, the reverence for the ‘Other’, that we have a chance to connect ourselves to something more than our wandering minds and anxious hearts.
Of course they’re not really ‘arriving’ – they are always there, we just need to still ourselves enough to become conscious of them, which is why spiritual practice is important.
Here the time-honoured methods shared by most paths offer ways we can do this: by meditating, taking retreats, observing sacred times and honouring sacred places. By taking advantage of these we can build the spiritual practice best suited to our needs, our temperament, and our circumstances. And in following this practice we can cultivate the Mystery and return constantly to our Source.
A hope at the present time in the story of Humanity is that more and more people are discovering this – and this is what is meant by the Great Awakening that we are witnessing. Finding a safe harbour involves not so much altering our physical circumstances as finding our spiritual home – and the spiritual practice best suited to anchor us in our sense of the Source, the Great Mystery at the heart of Creation.
Some, particularly those who are keen to actively fight against injustices in the world, might think this approach is selfish: “Oh great! Your solution to world problems is navel-gazing!” But to take this position would be to fail to understand the lesson of the goose that laid the golden eggs. Stephen Covey uses this idea as one of the cornerstones of his highly pragmatic and ethical approach to living effectively, as set out in his books, such as ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People’. In Aesop’s story a farmer becomes fabulously wealthy because one of his geese lays eggs made of solid gold. After a while the farmer becomes greedy and kills the goose to get the eggs out of her, rather than waiting for them to be laid. Covey suggests we need to take care of the goose (ourselves) to ensure that it continues to lay golden eggs, rather than killing it through greed or neglect.
If we nourish our needs – and particularly our spiritual needs – we will be more effective activists, and less likely to suffer burn-out. Nowadays it is so easy to feel swamped by too much information – without care it is easy to get pulled from your anchored centre by becoming preoccupied with the details of the changing world. Every day depressing and upsetting news can be heard on the radio or television. For your own sanity you need to balance the effect of this information with a turning inward to draw strength and calm, otherwise you are likely to feel destabilised – pushed off-centre – and your ability to be of help to others will be diminished. To function effectively in this world long draughts from the still pool of Segais are needed – from the source of what are known in the Druid tradition as Awen and Nwyfre (inspiration and life-force).
I’m still suprised that so few people I know have seen ‘The Century of the Self’ – one of the most illuminating documentaries I have ever seen. It is now on Google Video in 4 parts. Here’s Part One: