Philip is deep in the creative process of writing his next book and has asked if I would help out by contributing a blog piece each week. This both excited and terrified me. Knowing what a tricky, slippery thing inspiration can be, I have fretted about having anything of value to say, finding the words, feeling confident that I have something to contribute.
Then I remembered that here in the Northern Hemisphere, Imbolc is finally and thankfully upon us. It is traditionally seen as a festival of inspiration; it certainly feels a relief to be anticipating those first green shoots after a long, cold winter. And yet, the irresistible sense of anticipation felt as the year gradually accelerates can lead to many a false start when we realise that the chill still nips at us; that our energy still curls in upon itself, not yet fully awake to its own imminent renewal.
It is the time of snowdrops, their delicate blossoms deceptively resilient and hardy. They are the tenderness of all new beginnings; the toughness underlying life’s desire to experience itself. I can feel the quickening strongly and yet I also feel my own slowness; my own winter pace, heavy as upon waking from a long sleep. The year breaks us in gently, Brighid’s palms cupped tenderly around the spark that will soon ignite our inner resurgence.
Brighid comes with her warmth and energy and quickens the seeds of our new life; she comes with the life-giving heat of her fire to thaw all that is frozen and trapped within us; she comes with the melting release of her healing waters, cleansing away the staleness of our spirits, the winter debris of our hearts. She is the liberation of the land from winter’s grip; freeing us from our own stagnation. She is the bright spark of life and inspiration that burns in us all; the hearth fire at the centre of our homes and hearts, sustaining and warming – a place to gather and draw inspiration, nourishment and comfort. She is also the fire of passion that animates our creativity that we may create our world anew; that we too may become the spring.
In this spirit, I leave you with a poem for Imbolc and hope that the first tender shoots break through those icy coverings of stagnation, that you surrender your winter stasis to the quickening…
Winter had settled over me, The frost sealing my eyes, my mouth; My bones as ice, Stilled Beneath frozen water. You came And planted your sun like a seed in me, Warm, Precious, Pearl of light, And my being became the song of snow-melt, A river-burst of birdsong Rising.
At your touch my body is a garden Of snowdrops; This tender blooming The greening of my soul.
The post below has been one of the most viewed posts on this blog. It arouses anger in many people who love cats, and it is important to state that the report quoted by the BBC below has been critiqued. The BBC article stated that cats ‘have been blamed for the global extinction of 33 species.’ But the article they were reporting on actually stated: ‘‘Domestic cats (Felis catus) are predators that humans have introduced globally and that have been listed among the 100 worst non-native invasive species in the world. Free-ranging cats on islands have caused or contributed to 33 (14%) of the modern bird, mammal and reptile extinctions recorded by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.’ You can find the list here: http://www.iucnredlist.org/
Nineteen years is a full Metonic cycle, which symbolizes wholeness and completion in Druidry. It is now nineteen years since OBOD put on its first camp, and now we are about to go to the last OBOD camp, which will be held at Wildways in Shropshire. We are going to have a celebration of those 19 years of joy, excitement and laughter, and then we will let go of the structure and organization of ‘OBOD Camps’ and allow it to dissolve.
In its place a new organization to run camps will be born – no longer as the sole ‘official’ OBOD camp, but as one of the many groups that now exist around the world that put on camps for members of the Order and their friends.
Here is a photo from the early days which conveys so well the wonderful atmosphere of a Druid camp, which now you can find in New Zealand, the USA, Britain and Europe. And next year a group of OBODies will be holding one in Australia.
It’s as if this Metonic cycle has allowed something to be nurtured that has now been seeded around the world…
Is deception in the study of human psychology or spirituality ever justifiable? The obvious answer might seem a resounding ‘No!’ But anyone who has studied psychology will know that sometimes to explore a particular function or phenomenon the researchers are obliged to deceive their subjects. You might think that no good could come of such unethical behaviour, but think of the famous Milgram study in which subjects thought they were giving shocks to other people in a learning experiment, when in reality what was being studied was the ease with which people could be persuaded to comply with authority figures – apparently giving dangerously high electric shocks to other people because they were asked to do so by men in white coats. In reality no electricity was being induced, and the ‘stooges’ writhing about in agony were just acting, but the results from Milgram’s research astonished the world and provided us with a greater appreciation of the way in which we can be manipulated by authority figures, and how dependent we are on the need to conform – at whatever the cost.
In psychological research the subjects’ interests are protected by ethics committees who must first approve the research.
In the following research there was no ethics committee involved, but the deception carried out on certain people was profound. To produce an entertaining film that would expose the way people slavishly follow gurus, a New Jersey film-maker of Indian origin posed as a guru and built up a following, who were filmed interacting with him, to create the movie Kumare.
As a ‘fake guru’ he always insisted that his followers were gurus and developed his own ‘Mirror Philosophy’ to explain this, including a helpful exercise in role reversal which helped the student ‘become the guru’.
It’s a fascinating, provocative idea that has resulted in a film which raises interesting questions. At the end of the film, the guru appears before his ‘disciples’ and reveals his true identity.
Remarkably ten of his fourteen followers remain in contact with him after the ‘unveiling’ of his deception. I wonder whether the hurt, anger, or humiliation the other four might be feeling can be seen as a valuable-in-the-end step in the journey of enlightenment which is also the journey of disillusionment.
You can view the film through i-tunes (find it here). It is certainly worth watching if you are interested in spirituality and psychology, and I’d be interested to know how you feel about it afterwards. I have mixed feelings: on the one hand it is rather touching and shows how many of us do need spiritual guides who can offer us support, mirroring, attention, and ways to work with our consciousness. And the fact is that the ‘fake guru’ actually had a positive, even profound, influence on most of his followers. And yet I’m left with the question I posed at the beginning: is deception ever justified in someone who acts as a spiritual guide (even if they are just acting!) As Time Out’s Chicago’s reviewer said: ‘the film’s notion that the ruse here was okay because it ultimately helped people seems like a specious rationalization.’ And yet, and yet….
When you have been at war with yourself for so many years that you have forgotten why, when you have been driving for hours and only gradually begin to realize that you have lost the way, when you have cut hastily into the fabric, when you have signed papers in distraction, when it has been centuries since you watched the sun set or the rain fall, and the clouds, drifting overhead, pass as flat as anything on a postcard; when, in the midst of these everyday nightmares, you understand that you could wake up, you could turn and go back to the last thing you remember doing with your whole heart: that passionate kiss, the brilliant drop of love rolling along the tongue of a green leaf, then you wake, you stumble from your cave, blinking in the sun, naming every shadow as it slips.
Here’s an image of a beautiful new picture by Will Worthington.
Artist: Will Worthington (b 1946) Title: Nimue Medium: Egg tempera and watercolour on paper. Monogrammed and dated 2012 and signed in full on the backboard of the frame. Price: £6,000 Nimue, the Enchantress of Merlin, is believed to have beguiled Merlin into revealing all his magical secrets. She then imprisoned him in a Hawthorn tree, and his face can be seen in the lower right of the tree trunk in this image. Will started working on this large work in 2011.
Have a look at Will’s great new website – you can order prints of images from The Wildwood Tarot and The Camelot Oracle too (and they’re a lot less than £6,000!)
Some really good news and some bad news that is shameful for the British government:
The good news: Robin Hood Tax is being implemented!
This week, the European Union agreed that 11 European countries – including the biggest economies Germany and France – can set up a financial transaction tax to make the banks pay for the financial crisis they created. 23 of the 27 EU states voted for this tax – a huge 87% majority.
The bad news: The UK was the only big economy to abstain – leaving Prime Minister David Cameron more isolated than ever. To remind you of what this is all about have a look at Bill Nighy explaining it in this memorable clip. Can someone keep playing it to Mr Cameron and his mates please?
Will Worthington, well-known to many readers as the artist who has illustrated the Druid Animal Oracle, Druid Plant Oracle and DruidCraft Tarot, has produced another magnificent set of illustrations for The Camelot Oracle –
This video gives you a great preview of the cards:
The oracle, developed and written by John Matthews, includes a ‘Map of The Lands Adventurous’. John writes: ‘The universal appeal of the Arthurian tales lies in their primal quality: they deal with every aspect of human life, from the eternal struggle to overcome obstacles to the continuing search for fulfillment. Working with the oracle cards and the Map of The Lands Adventurous you will travel from Camelot with your champion on your quest. Your chosen path leads to a place of significance where your challenger waits to hear your questions. Consulting the guidebook will reveal the answers and the guidance you require.’ Great stuff!
One of the useful things about Druidry is that it works with the cyclical patterns in nature and in doing so understands that moments of growth and creativity will be followed by a breaking down and dissolution. Balance gives way to chaos and back again. This process happens not just in the natural world but in our political and social systems too. Whilst we can never remain complacent about social problems and the unease and pain they can cause – some things need to be addressed and changed – but when we feel fear about world events, rather than feeling paralysed by anxiety, it is useful to hold onto the idea that all things move in a cyclical fashion.
The longer we live, the more we realise that there has never been a time when the world has not been facing massive problems. Somehow, we keep going and life unfolds and changes, sometimes painfully, sometimes more positively. The challenges, although difficult and scary, have the potential to change us all for the better because they force us to embrace the possibility of transformation. We don’t always achieve this quickly or easily, but the potential is always there at the heart of these worrying times.
I think the best advice is to find a balance between what we as individuals can achieve in making the world a better place and acknowledging those wider forces of creation and dissolution that we have little control over. Sometimes we cannot change those wider forces because the events that have put them into motion are too complex and far reaching – they have a momentum all their own. However, we do have a choice as to how we react to those events and that choice is empowering.
When I was in my twenties, I worried terribly about the state of our world. There was a massive nuclear threat at that point (we are talking over quarter of a century ago) and a good deal of economic and political turmoil. It felt like the end of the world was coming. I have seen this happen again and again, and so now, although I still passionately believe in the creation of a fairer, more equal and peaceful world, I feel less fear when the those darker times strike – I have seen them come and go too many times.
For those of us who feel drawn to spiritual exploration, it can be difficult to find a comfortable place for fear, difficulty and suffering, whilst continuing to believe in the benevolence of deity/life. I have wrestled with this issue, my spiritual beliefs rather shaken by it at times.
Paganism drew me because it allowed a more complex (perhaps to human eyes even ambiguous) view of the Divine. If you embrace the idea that the Divine resides within creation, pretty soon you have to acknowledge the fact that a solely all loving and benevolent Divine is a tricky concept. Nature and humanity is magical, beautiful and miraculous; it provides and sustains but it is also darkly violent, destructive, and even cruel. It is easy to embrace a loving God who protects from all harm, and yet, if we live long enough, to varying degrees we will all find out that pain, loss and tragedy are as much a part of the deal, regardless of how we choose to portray our deities.
I have come to realise that although I might feel drawn to the deities that personify creativity, love, abundance and peace (who wouldn’t), the gods of shadow and painful transformation cannot be avoided or ignored by any of us. We don’t necessarily have to set up shrines to them but it seems psychologically healthy to honour their presence in life.
When I witness the horror and unrest around the world, my thoughts are drawn to the Hindu Goddess Kali. Her iconography is challenging: she looks terrifyingly fierce and merciless, wearing her necklace of human skulls and her skirt of severed human hands. It is not a comforting image of the Divine but it has a psychic truth about it that is hard to ignore. Our heads and hands are those parts of us that we use to shape our world; our hands used to actualise our thoughts, to build our visions, and enable our plans. These parts of us allow us to feel that we are in control of our destiny; with our intelligence and our skills of materialisation, we move through the world and time with the notion that we are steering our own ship.
When Kali – the energies of dissolution and destruction – arrives in our lives, either through natural or social disasters or more personal and individual loss and tragedy, it soon becomes apparent that our notions of being in control crumble. The image of a Goddess who wears severed human hands and heads speaks brilliantly of how impotent we can feel in the midst of such immense crisis. We are stripped to our core and from this place of powerlessness we are confronted with our most vulnerable and broken selves. It can be a living hell but nature is nothing if not balanced. Hindu thought tells us that destruction, creation and preservation balance themselves in favour of the continuation of life; that life couldn’t possible thrive on preservation alone.
It is not a totally comforting thought to the human mind but when we stand back far enough we see a different take coming into view. An earthquake, for instance, is merely the earth stretching herself that she might stay healthy and fully functioning for the continuation of life on this planet. It can be so difficult to accept this when the result is such a massive loss of human life. We can feel incredibly small and insignificant and a loving Divine presence can feel rather absent.
Buddhists advise us to first accept that suffering and struggle are a central part of life and from that standpoint, transcend this suffering through compassionate detachment. Paganism encourages us to engage with both the joy and the pain with as much connection as possible, viewing both as valuable life experiences. Both of these approaches have value I think.
I am still trying to work out my own spiritual approach to suffering and fear – it is a work in progress. Hindu devotees of Kali believe that when you have the courage to stare into her terrifying face you will then see a face of immense compassion; that all fear of death and suffering vanishes. Perhaps when we are forced to dig into our own brokenness and vulnerability, we too find a deeper compassion and understanding of life.
I am always deeply touched by how humans risk their own well-being to save others in distress; every natural disaster or war has story after story of people’s courage in rescuing and caring for others. Kali may confront us with our worst fears; she may almost break us but she also draws from us the deepest empathy and shows us that in the darkest moments there is always love.
In searching for the practical solutions to our problems, keeping faith in love, courage and the powers of transformation are key.
There is a path of sorrow; there is a path of joy – we have a foot on each all our lives and when reason struggles to bridge the gap, love makes sense of both.
Maria’s Blog – A Druid Thurible – can be found here