Since it’s summer, this is a great time to talk about vacations. Vacations are important because a change of pace keeps us fresh and focused. They wipe the slate clean and let us approach daily stressors with new eyes and renewed determination. Many forego a vacation because they think it’s too expensive or out of reach. However it’s not actually expensive if you utilize local resources for shorter getaways.
Whether we can go on a vacation or not, we take steps to stay close to nature, which is where we find divinity. My younger twin and I practice yoga together most days. When the weather is nice, we’ll take our mats outside. Sometimes we use them, and sometimes we just enjoy the feel of the grass on our bare feet. Though we started this to help her with dive, it is a deeply spiritual practice that helps connect us to the earth. Meditating outside can be a small, daily vacation.
Camping and hiking are two other ways to take small vacations. We live near state recreational land. It offers many trails, and we can take the dog with us. We can spend an hour or a few days there. State and National parks are great ways to connect with nature, especially the ones that are cheap or free. That means they’re not tourist traps, and you will be able to get away from civilization to relax and recharge.
This summer, carve out regular time to connect with the earth. You’ll treasure the internal peace that comes with this act.
My son likes nature programs. We don’t have a television, but he takes advantage of other people’s and there are DVDs. Lately I’ve been exposed to some of this, and the kind of story telling that goes on around presenting natural history. I’m increasingly uneasy about it.
Nature programs, aimed at human audiences, concentrate on drama and focus on things we can easily identify with – the 3 Fs. Feeding, Fighting and Reproduction. You get a great deal of who eats whom, and the fighting tends to go with that, or around territories and reproduction. Nature red in tooth and claw – dramatic, violent, non-stop action.
There will be a lot of people for whom television is the only insight into nature. These programs create impressions of the wildness, aggression and breeding-orientated state of wild things. All very ‘animalistic’ – no subtlety, no culture… this is story telling that reinforces our sense of distance and difference from the natural world.
I’ve also spent time recently bird watching. Sit for an hour or two watching geese, swans, ducks etc on a large lake and the odds are nothing will die. There will be no big fight. There may be scuffles, displays and interactions of all sorts. There may be partner seeking and behaviour that reinforces group connections. There is the sheer beauty of the birds themselves, they way they move, their calls, the details of their lives.
I can’t imagine anyone would spend an hour watching a program that was just birds paddling around on a lake. But it’s beautiful to watch, and it gives a wholly different sense of nature. I’ve watched foxes and badgers out and about. I’ve watched wild birds in my garden, rabbits and hares in the fields. I’ve been whale watching, seen seals, deer – all manner of wild things. There have been only a few occasions when I’ve come close to seeing the 3Fs in action.
The stories TV programs tell about nature are fast paced, bloody action movies. They are emotive as well, encouraging us to feel sorry for certain creatures, empathise with the hunter this time, the prey another. But in the same way that 18 rated films are not representative of most people’s lives, so these nature programs don’t tell us anything about what most other living things actually experience. With 18 films it’s less of a problem because we have other points of reference. But for people who only see nature on the telly, it must be creating some perception issues.
If we saw the rest of nature as being far more like us, would we, as a species, relate to it differently?
In Celtic tradition we begin our celebrations on the Eve of the feast day, in the darkness.
In my post Sun Wise I talked about the way the sun appears to go round in opposite directions depending on whether you live north or south of the equator. In either case it is the two poles, north and south, that are the places of darkness. They are the womb which births the light.
Whether or not the ancient Celts knew about the lands south of the equator, they were certainly bright enough to realise this fact about the sun. And they knew that the poles are the womb of creation in this way, the darkness before dawn.
Christianity has made a devil of the darkness and many people are afraid of the dark, partly as a result of the innate myths perpetrated by this religion. The peopled it with nasty beings, all out to do you down, all the critters in Hieronymus Bosch paintings. This is not how it is at all, as the Celts and other shamans know very well.
The darkness is the darkness of the womb, of potential, of creation. The chrysalis where the caterpillar transforms into the soup of Life and then remakes him or herself into a butterfly.
Knowing this is why the Celts work from the pole, the place the sun never travels through, to the dawn, then the zenith ending at the nadir where the sun sets. As I said in the previous post, this is from the north round to the west in the northern hemisphere, and from the south round to the west in the southern hemisphere.
Midwinter is the shortest day of the year, as far as sunlight goes. At the poles, the sun doesn’t rise at all.
– Remember, midwinter for the north is midsummer for the south! I’m writing from the place where I am, the northern hemisphere and Britain. If you live in the southern hemisphere then the same ideas apply but you transport them 6 months down the line.
Meditations for the season of Sun-Return, the midwinter solstice, often call up these concepts of birth, and of death. TS Eliot’s words in his poem “The Journey of the Magi” are very apt – whatever your spiritual beliefs …
… were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
Eliot hits the nail on the head with his usual acumen, “were we led all that way for Birth or Death?”. This is how it is for the shaman. He describes the death as “hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death” and so this transit of the year is for the spiritually aware. Change is like that and this change, from the going down into the darkness to the coming out into the light is just such a one. Richard Bach put it very well, “what the caterpillar calls a nervous breakdown, the master calls a butterfly”. However, we all know how hard it is to see that from the caterpillar’s perspective!
Eliot goes on to say, “no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, with an alien people clutching their gods”. I find this very profound. On the surface we cans see the Christian pulling away the skirts from that which might contaminate. But go deeper. We all feel this as we grow and change, as we re-enter the womb, decompose and then recompose again, are birthed into, what is to us, a new world. We are no longer at ease with the way things were/are. We see friends and neighbours even as aliens, clutching at different beliefs to those we now have. Part of us often wants to crawl back into the womb so we don’t have to live in the new world in which we find ourselves … but we can’t. We have to continue, to live, to grow to change.
It can indeed feel like living in one of Bosch’s paintings. But contemplation and meditation, working the shaman’s way, asking one’s Familiars, one’s Totem group, asking all the elders of the world – all of creation, which is far older than us – to guide and guard and keep us through this time of change really works. It really does help. I do it myself every season and I help others to do it too.
Being brave enough to go down into the dark, to die to the past, to go into the womb of the mother and ask to be reborn … these are the good and beautiful things of this season of Sun-Return.
In Celtic tradition we begin our celebrations on the Eve of the feast day, in the darkness.
The shaman works in Middleworld by weaving the colours of Life, the shapes and patterns of Living. It’s what we all do by being alive, by incarnating. We cannot not do this as long as we’re alive, every breath we take affects everything else – ponder on that, get the sense and truth of it into your bones, it will help you know the connectedness of all things.
Weaving the light is seen on all shamanic traditions – not always called that – usually through the medium of the directions: North, East, South, West, for us in the northern hemisphere. Probably South, East, North West in the southern hemisphere.
Why the opposite way round? Think about it. In the north we Celts begin in the place of darkness, which is the north for us. It’s the place the sun never goes to. For us the sun rises in the east, travels to the south for midday then sets in the west. The sunrises in the east and sets in the west wherever you are on the Earth. Because of the way the earth travels around the sun it’s impossible for it to be any other way. But whichever way we watch the passage of the sun the dark place will be at the Pole – north or south pole – the place where the sun never goes.
You may also have noticed that in the north deosil – which is what we call the path the sun travels, the god-path – goes “clockwise”. In the southern hemisphere deosil goes the other way around, “anticlockwise”. We only call it clockwise since we invented watches and clocks, a few hundred years back, not the ancient clocks of land markers, the stars and the stone circles. Clockwise is a modern term and invented in the northern hemisphere and should not be taken as gospel for everything, everywhere.
This makes a mockery of the common prejudice amongst new agers that it’s “good” to go around clockwise and invites the “bad” in if you go around anticlockwise. I was once told by an intense and autocratic “shaman” that if I went round anticlock the sun might fall out of the sky! I was so stunned that an apparently intelligent woman could say such a thing I never got to asking her about all the above … probably a good thing to let her be.
The prejudice for deosil over widdershins is a Christian fable, put up as part of their massive hard-sell of “the new religion” amongst the peoples of the northern Europe, and not one we should encourage to continue now. It makes it very hard for people to understand reality – e.g. that deosil, sunwise, is the other way around for people living in the southern hemisphere. This, despite many of them having black skin and being shamans and magicians (thank the gods!) does not make them devils … which is what many of the Victorian missionaries called them. That (hopefully) is quite shocking to us now.
Weaving the patterns of Life means weaving in both directions.
Think about the act of weaving. You raise one set of threads – the even numbers we’ll say for simplicity – and pass the shuttle through the gap between the upper and lower threads, making a row of weaving. Then you drop the even-number threads down and raise the odd-number threads. Again, you pass the shuttle through the gap, making another row of weaving. The first row, you pass the shuttle from right to left (say), deosil. The second row you pass the shuttle from left to right.
You go both ways in order to achieve a piece of cloth!
Let’s take another example from the physical world – DNA. One of the major points of DNA is the double-helix. Two spirals. Twisting around each other and exchanging the knowledge of the genes in order to create life and maintain it. It too spirals both ways.
Now an example from the past. The doctor’s symbol in the western world is the caduceus staff. This is a rod with two snakes twining up it, making a double spiral (double-helix). It’s been used for several thousand years and is associated with the Greek gods Apollo and Hermes, gods of wisdom, knowing and the transmission of knowing. In fact, Merlin is often associated with Hermes and sometimes even with Apollo, although his energy is far older than either of them. We humans tend to associate things with what we already know and, for many, the Greek gods are better known than our own Celtic ones, although the Greeks knew of us and respected our ways, calling us the land Behind the North Wind.
So the caduceus staff is another example of the fact that Life, in order to exist, travels its energy in both directions.
So going sunwise, deosil, in itself indicates going in two directions at once. It shows us that life, as Bilbo put it, is to go and to return. To go and to return is the journey of the shaman, the oldest form of spiritual path amongst humanity and still going strong now.
In this Eve of the solstice, the time when the sun appears to stand still for three days – giving us three days in which to contemplate the meaning of life – let’s think about this, take it into our skull-cauldrons and allow it to brew there quietly. On the day of Sun-Return (25th December, when the sun appears to begin to move forward again) the three drops of wisdom may leap out of the cauldron onto our thumbs so we can suck them up.
Currently I’m reading David Attenborough’s ‘Life on Earth’ – a lovely book full of very thought provoking details. One of them was the explanation of how caterpillars become butterflies. In the egg, there are two kinds of cells. Initially the caterpillar cells grow and the others do not, then, when the caterpillar can get no bigger, it becomes a chrysalis. Inside, the caterpillar cells break down, feeding the butterfly cells which now become active. The new creature develops and emerges.
This really got me thinking. To what extent is the caterpillar turning into the butterfly? It seems to me like one creature dies and another emerges, as though two separate entities had somehow managed to harness the same reproduction process, living in symbiosis. I’ve wondered before what caterpillars know of themselves, and if that seems like death to them – the turning into a butterfly being such a great and tempting death metaphor anyway.
For many people, the way science takes apart and explains things takes away the mystery and the sense of wonder. It’s one of the key issues in the theist/atheist conflict – whether we lose wonder for gaining insight.
I’ve yet to find an answer that didn’t lead to more questions. The butterfly business is a perfect illustration. Yes, it unravels some of the mechanics for me, but it doesn’t actually tell me why this happens, or more importantly, what it means. I have more questions, for knowing about the two kinds of cells, than ever I did before hand – not just about the caterpillars, but the whole nature of life, death and experience. Does this say something about a fluidity between life forms?
There is always more to know, and the more we know, the more questions we will find. Understanding is not, I think, a finite thing. There is no way that we will one day know everything, because each answer brings more questions. I’m inclined to think that knowledge, or the potential for it, is infinite, and that there will always be mystery, always that sense of something more, that we haven’t grasped yet.
Last night, James and I went walking (we do that a lot). It was a balmy evening, we picked blackberries from the hedges and saw a buzzard. We talk about all kinds of things when we’re walking. I wish I could quote precisely what James came up with last night, because it was stunningly poetic.
He began by observing that nature is all around us, but went on from there to express a sense that nature is holding us, and that we are protected by it. While that has a broad truth in it – we are all held by nature and protected by it (and ultimately killed by it) – he was also thinking specifically of us. The sense of wonder inspired by seeing the buzzard, following on from other interesting sightings this week, has really affected him. Nature is holding us, it seems.
I was speaking to this issue indirectly yesterday, blogging about portents, because I’d seen something that touched me. It’s happened before – rainbows at critical moments, close encounters with creatures when I’ve been really down – moments that give me hope. I am aware that this is just my interpretation, but it feels sometimes that something else is trying to reach out to me and offer affirmation. While I recognise that interpretation may be born of my own needs and desire for reassurance, it still feels reassuring. It’s interesting to find these experiences are touching James in a similar way – because we hadn’t discussed that much before.
Nature is holding us.
Although, amusingly, the huge hairy spider in the kitchen this morning did not feel like any kind of blessing or affirmation, even though it was a spectacular beasty.
Just arrived here as spent morning sorting out the Ogham post – it goes up here tomorrow. It was good fun getting the info together, if rather like herding kittens . there is just soooooo much that each tree relates to I feel I could write a damn encyclopaedia (sheesh! spelling … need coffffeeee!). I am putting the whole into a book – out next year at this rate.
I love trees. The lore they give you if you choose to journey with them is fantastic, and doing so is like an hour with your best friend, exchanging Q&A. Every time I go to write about them I found something new arrives and wants to be mentioned.
Writing’s like that … you set off with an idea and then the story wakes up and writes itself, you just have to stop it wandering off into indigestible and incomprehensible ramblings … again like herding kittens LOL. I’m having the same round-up scenes with the latest novel too. Having begun with a 14 yr old heroine, I’ve now got a 40 yr old hero, with fiddle, itinerant musician, with red hawk and now (since last Saturday) two ferrets as well … Yikes! And he’s going to fall in love with the heroine – who may grow to 16, sigh! – although nothing happens, which is probably very sad for them both but we’ll see.
Arrrrgghhh !!! back to the grind of writing … but I absolutely love it. except there’s a mountain and a half of work to do in the garden too. And I can’t wait for Paul to bring Fabrice’s french bread back from Fodders … Yummmmmmmmmmm !!!