Daily Archives: September 13, 2011

The Emerald Path to Ceremonial Operation

The Emerald Path to Ceremonial Operation

by Frasier L.

article

“True without falsehood, certain and most true. That which is above is as that which is below….” These words taken from an ancient Hermetic tablet embody the theoretical and practical idea of ceremonial operation, and the effective action/reaction created through magick. For this verse, as simple as it is, once grasped and understood, identifies the relationship between the macrocosm and the microcosm, man and the universe, one with all. By nature it is lawfully true that as it is in the heavens, so it is on the Earth. For the heavens contain stars and planetary systems but are quite simply just as the Earth – that is, matter gathered, integrated, and governed by the electro-light energy.

So, all things are materialized and solidified through the All Power (life energy), and the sun being a concentrated center of the All Power (life energy) radiates light (life energy). From that energy (light), there is reaction and influence on matter, and so there is life. And like the sun that begat them, all things integrated repeat the cycle of essence. Simple things reflect this; for example, the landscape you perceive is integrated matter reflecting light from it. So does the life force generate all things, and matter absorbs light and generates heat.

True to form, all living things operate through and display the life energy. Just as the celestial bodies and orbs of the heavens, all living things shine, radiate, display magnetism, and change state: from liquid to solid, from stable to volatile. In man, these energy displays are identified as mood, emotion, and personality. In man, the All Power also takes on new identification, through consciousness. This is the self, the spirit, the soul, conscious energy. Regardless of how one would describe his or her realization of being, this is the universal energy that embodies and empowers all things. The sun, the stars, the planets, and man: This energy never ceases to exist and is not bound to time.

It is then the task of the aspirant to know and understand the principles of operation of matter and energy, the interplay of which the aspirant is a part. To know this absolutely enables one to exercise or manipulate the energy and matter in one’s field of influence. And as all things are from one, it follows each influences the other. Those who aspire will know this.

Ceremonial magick, whether it be operations of theory or practice, is not bound to or composed of any one religion. The process of unfoldment of the self through exercise of unconscious energies manifests a deeper respect for all religions, for they are all exercises of the Oriflammi. This is exactly why many a great master, from Abra-Melin to Eliphas Levi-Zahed, warns against the change or surrendering of one’s religion. Even the Master Therion addressed the need for synthesis of all religion and science in magickal operation. For spiritual strength, usually achieved through exercise of religious experience, is the anchor of the self, needed when the consciousness begins to run and return through the aethyrs of the psyche’s experience of operation. This truth might explain why in some circles, persons at a total loss of equilibrium of the self (that is, fallen into madness) are said to be “losing their religion.”

In an attempt to further understanding, allow me to give an example: One would not surrender a leg to lighten the load in a foot race. Well, the same consideration is applied in approaching ceremonial magick. All experience that has caused or created action or reaction, within or without, internally or externally for you is vital energy necessary in your sphere of influence. If something makes or helps you shine, don’t let it go. Reinitiate your ideas and understanding to encompass the energy of the experience, for this energy is important to you in magickal operation.

And thou shalt separate the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross…. There will come a point for all true aspirants when — armed with the truths aforementioned — they will embark on a learning path. Magickal operation involves more than rituals and ceremony. An operation merely brings one to a point of focus and concentration so as to raise or banish certain energies to be integrated or disintegrated from one’s field of influence, or to apply or extract energy to influence matter within that field.

So, to raise the level of focus, to expand one’s influence, entails broadening one’s understanding of the powers that be. Now, to exercise understanding one must first gain knowledge, through exposure to wisdom.

Enter the Kabbalah, a system that has been the foundation of magickal interpretation and operation for centuries. The Kabbalah system centers around the “Tree of Life,” otherwise known as the Ten Sephiroth. All pure thought and idea of the Self can be sorted and classified in the ten spheres of wisdom and influence. Now I know, a zealous aspirant might wonder what all this has to do with magick. In working with the Sephiroth, through the study, interpretation, and meditational exercises of the Kabbalistic texts, the Sepher Yetsira and the Zohar, one will build a solid foundation of knowledge. To even consider the idea of mastering the “Pillar System” of the Kabbalah would be a life’s work, and the rewards tenfold.

Another important magickal tool is the Tarot. Locked within this 78-card pack are esoteric and exoteric principles, all captured in images. Through the exercise of the pack on a regular basis, the imagery of the cards causes a reaction of the subtle energies of the unconscious self (that is, the mind).

The pack is also divided into five sets or suits. These suits correspond to the alchemical elements, and to the states of matter. Wands represent fire or volatility. Cups represent water or fluidity. Swords represent air or stability. Pentacles represent earth or solidity. The “trumps,” or major arcana, represent the spirit, and the course of will.

Every suit has cards numbered 1 through 10 as well as four “court cards,” or face cards. Numbers relate to time, whereas the alchemical elements relate to the cycles of the physical being. The working concept is this, it is physical law that matter acts or reacts in time. So numbers are used to reference points of observation or mark a moment of incidence in time. The suits and their number sets correspond to elemental states of the physical self. Court cards, depending on position, identify persons involved in the moment. They also can represent a coming or going of a new energy cycle (or situation). The keys of the major arcana, or “trumps,” represent the state of mind, conscious state, or condition of the spiritual self.

So, through exercising the Tarot regularly, your energy passes into and influences it. It can be used to identify conditions or events pre-term. Or — exercised with the pure knowledge of an open mind — it can help identify negativity and ill effect of your own self. With this knowing, one can set the will to right.

At this point, there might be those who are thinking, there’s got to be more than this. Why is there no information or procedures of certain rites or ceremonies here? Allow me to state the reason. Certain operations of order or circle are kept secret by bond of silence. Do understand, this is done not to impose control, but as an operation of concentration and restriction. For, you see, all manifestation and experience is attained by concentration and restriction of the will (that is, life energy) on matter. This is the art of making. So do understand, one is not at liberty to include such information in this writ. If you truly seek, you will find the guidance to your goal, absolutely.

Do know this, magick is a practice of life, performed daily — it is not just the occasional ceremonial procession. It truly works when you take all that you have attained and introduce and exercise it in all aspects of your living experience.

Keep in mind, you are a reflection of and influenced by your environment and surroundings. If magick is what you wish to attain, surround yourself with items, art, clothing, anything that activates your “magickal” self. Knowledge is power. So make yourself knowledgeable of ideas of magickal content. There are many paths.

In order to gain the most from the operations or exercises requires commitment to study and understanding of the exoteric and esoteric principles of one’s path work. Also of the utmost importance is a disciplined practice and exercise of these principles and the understanding gained. This exercise will build focus and concentration, for once again, magick is the art of making, and it is only what you make of it.

Keep in mind, just as exercise builds, strengthens, and solidifies the physical body, with knowledge and exercise one can also build, strengthen, and solidify the ability to influence and manipulate the energies that are always and eternally present.

In closing, I say to you, “Let the will be done, and shine on!”

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How to Perform Ritual

How to Perform Ritual

by Jonathan Bergeon

article

Ritual has existed in our culture for thousands of years. Evidence of ritual can be found in our everyday activities, and our not-so-everyday activities as well. But what is ritual?

Ritual is a sequence of events aimed at reaching a certain goal. To go a little further, one could add that it is a sequence of events aimed at reaching a certain goal a certain way. The act of ritual is a highly personalized venture. Not everybody does the same things the same that another does them. Because of this, there exist many methods by which one may reach the same objective. Despite the fact that there are certain requirements, both technical and personal, one must meet before one can hope to achieve one’s magical objectives, the differences in magical style continue to grow, as does the number of people who practice.

In regard to the technical requirements, it can be said that there truly exists only one – that being the assertion of will towards a defined goal. It can also be said that it is not necessary to do anything other than assert one’s will toward a goal for one to be successful, either in magic or whatever one chooses to do.

But for those of us who are not wholly privy to that notion, there exists ritual, and though there is truth in that statement it should be realized that other factors do apply.

One of these factors is the removal of self-doubt. Doubt undermines spells by negating them with contrary energies. If one doubts that one has effectively performed a spell correctly, then those feelings of doubt will be sent out along with the positive energies, countering them. Then, it becomes a case of the best energy winning. Thus comes the value of thinking no more of a magical act once it has been committed. One way that doubt may be quelled is through performing ritual.

Through the aid of ritual, one can erase doubt by taking certain steps to ensure one’s success. These steps serve to put it in the mind of the operator that he or she has done everything in his or her power, magically speaking, to see that the objective will be reached. This point is where such steps such as banishment, purification, consecration, sacrifice, and so on come in. All of these steps exist to ensure the success of the ritual as a whole, as should all the steps employed by the operator.

The steps employed in ritual magic vary from person to person and system to system, and not all are used all of the time. For example, not everybody consecrates the tools used in magic every time they use them. Also, not everybody calls upon outside influences and energies to aid in their workings.

It is my desire to provide you with a basic framework by which you may design your own rituals. A point to remember is that it is more difficult to contemplate ritual than it is to simply go out and do it. In ritual, if what you’re doing seems like what you should be doing, then it probably is. The following is the basic framework that I have promised:

  1. Banishment
  2. Cleansing and purification
  3. Consecration
  4. Setting the circle
  5. Invocation of the self
  6. Evocation
  7. Sacrifice
  8. General working
  9. License of departure
  10. Banishment
  11. Reclaiming of the self

Banishment is a very important process in ritual as it serves to neutralize all of the standing and active energies in the work area. These energies may either be leftovers from a previous working or simply brought about by daily living. Whatever the case, they need to be rendered inert if they are not to interfere with the energies put forth by the operator.

If they do happen to interfere with energies of the operator, then the desired outcome of the ritual could be compromised. Whether this occurs, of course, depends on the intensity of the two energies, the potential and the resident — the potential being the operator’s immediate expenditure, and the resident being the energy present before the ritual was commenced.

This interaction could be looked at like the act of drawing. If you draw a picture over preexisting artwork, the previous work shall undermine, quite literally, the present endeavor. If, however, you somehow remove said working before beginning anew, then the result will be markedly different. The other way is to simply cover up the previous work tit for tat.

The acts of cleansing and purification can be either one and the same or completely different. It really all depends on how you view it and how you do it. For me, cleansing is more of an outwardly physical thing, whereas purification is more of a spiritual matter. The cleansing is done to remove physical impurities, hence the word clean. In contrast, the purification is done to purify the energies neutralized during the banishment. In effect, purification is another form of banishment. But, besides this, it is middle ground between the banishment stage and the consecration stage, completing one while beginning the other. Just as the cleansing portion of this stage cleanses the thing undergoing the process physically, the purification cleanses it metaphorically and in doing so prepares it to become a sacred thing.

The processes of cleansing and purification are sometimes overlooked by certain magicians, who would endeavor to eliminate the middle-man. While this may be entirely acceptable in some cases, it should not always be considered to be so, as cleansing and purification can add to the overall success of the ritual through the fortification of the banishment and the consecration.

Consecration is equally important as banishment, for it gives the energy that was made neutral during the banishment a direction. This direction is the goal of the ritual at hand. This direction is created by dedicating an item or items to be used in the ritual.

That which is consecrated need not be only an item but can also be a person or place. In fact, all things involved in a ritual should be consecrated. This includes all tools, the operator and any assistants involved, and the work space. By taking care to do so, you have essentially realigned all possible influences to meet the intended goal of the ritual.

To simply sum up the first three steps of a ritual, you first neutralize the resident energies, then filter out the impurities, and realign those same energies to fit the needs of the task at hand.

The fourth stage of ritual, at least as I see it, is the setting of the magic circle. Circle-setting entails the defining of boundaries. These boundaries are designed to keep the useful energies in and the unuseful energies out. Within this circle, the energies to be sent out to work the will of the operator are built up. The circle should not be so big that the operator cannot easily manipulate the energies within it, nor so small that he or she lights himself or herself on fire on one of the candles. Remember, fire has the ability to incite certain emotions that may not be conducive to the success of the ritual as a whole, especially when the operator has burst into flames.

The circle is the place where the operator is the prime creative influence. It is his or her little universe inside of a larger universe. One could say that in this space he or she is God; essentially this assertion is true, but the terminology is stretching truth. As the creative force in this little universe, it is basically up to the operator what is and what isn’t.

But how what is affects the grand scheme of things, that is the question. The artist can paint what is to him or her a masterpiece, but what is crap is crap. Conditions will always place a damper on the efforts of the magician if he or she endeavors to work against them. That’s why, when letting somebody have it magically, it’s best to amplify an already existing condition. But that is another subject altogether.

In the next step, the invocation of the self, I am referring to the magical or sacred self — that little part of you that you pull out of the closet when you wish to do something extraordinary. When I think of the invocation of the self, I think of the Havamal, where Odin sacrifices himself to himself. That is essentially what must be achieved, the metaphorical death of the mundane self for the birth of the magical self to occur. I’m tempted to call it the higher self, but some of the selves out there can be pretty low even in their more profound states.

The magical self has its roots in the elementary; in other words, it is generated through the conscious or unconscious will of an entity purposely or accidentally, embodied or no. The magical self, being as it is an energy to be tapped, is invoked. The invocation of the self can be bypassed or substituted with shape-shifting, providing of course you don’t end up like me and become contrary to your own goals when you shape-shift.

The next stage of ritual, should you choose this route, is evocation. Evocation is the calling forth of a certain energy or entity. This energy or entity called upon should be able to assist you in your working. A spirit of a malignant nature is not a good candidate to assist you in a love spell, at least not a nice love spell.

You should also consider that it is quite possible that the disposition of a conjured spirit may be equal to that of a total stranger off of the street. In essence, the position of the operator is that of the lowly beggar petitioning for help in his or her workings. This attitude is a far cry from the operators of the Middle Ages, whose workings resemble the more aggressive approach of, “Give me you spare change or burn in Hell in the name of my loving god.” (Well, everyone needs a hobby.) The main thing that I want to say is to look upon yourself and your situation as another might see it before you conjure and to determine then whether or not it would be worth it to petition for outside assistance. But if you do get ready to do so…

Sacrifice, ahh, that’s the stuff. I could write a book on this, but I won’t. I shall, however, grace you with the two types of sacrifice that exist as I see them. The first is personal, and the second impersonal. The latter is the sacrifice of something separate from the operator, such as somebody else’s property or a life force other than the person doing the sacrifice. As this is not a method I subscribe to, I shall discuss instead sacrifice on the personal level.

First, what is sacrifice? The dictionary defines it as the destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else, or suffering the loss of something, and as a verb to give up, to renounce, to injure, or to destroy, especially for an ideal, belief, or end.

But what is the value behind sacrifice? When you go out to dinner, you get what you pay for; the same holds true for magic. When you enlist the assistance of an outside influence, it is best to give and not just take, take, take. Call me shallow, but I have always held sacrifice as a medium of exchange. Here, on the material plane, that which is given up is money. Money has little value to those who have no use for legal tender, so what instead shall we give? The answer is life force.

Now, before you go slashing your wrists, I would like to present an alternative. The life force given up can be dispensed without the shedding of blood, which in this day and age can be a dangerous thing. Instead, one may give up one’s own energies. Some people feel that we have only a limited supply of energy that is irreplaceable, but if that were so there would be a lot more dead or out-of-work magicians. The trick is to find a receptacle such as an apple and charge it with your own energy. That receptacle is then offered up to the power in question and your energy becomes theirs to benefit from.

In the case of the apple being the receptacle, an operation of this sort would go like this:

  1. Obtain the apple
  2. Obtain the knife
  3. Carve the symbol of the power to which the sacrifice is being made
  4. Commit the statement of dedication
  5. Charge the apple with your own energies
  6. Contemplate the action
  7. Give thanks, make toasts, and so on

Sacrifice is an important subject and a facet of magic that may very well predate all other forms, and it definitely deserves some looking into in regards to its process, as well as the reasons it is performed.

I would like to close this section with the note that I do not condone the killing of animals for the purposes of magic.

The next stage is that of the general working. At this point, the operator does what he or she has gone there to do — that is, unless you’ve already done that during the evocation or sacrifice. The general working is basically the spell that is performed, designed to carry out the will of the caster.

The license of departure is a polite way of saying go home. This process lets a conjured entity know that the ritual is over, and that the entity can please go now so that you can shut everything down. It is in a sense a lesser, more polite form of banishment.

I might compare this to when you are entertaining guests at your home. Time passes, as it always does, and you find that you desire to bring the evening to an end. Banishing your company would be bad manners — for that matter, it might appear downright rude. Instead, you pleasantly insist that you are done now. The license of departure should contain a hint or two of congeniality, along with the usual sternness required to maintain control of the situation. I have found the popular line “Go now unto your places and be you ready to come when you are called” to be effective, although I usually like to throw a thanks in there somewhere. It should also be noted that this line can throw people off when used in a social environment.

The last banishment is done after the license of departure to make sure that everything is back to a preconjuration state. One needs to take care not to undo all that one has done. Therefore, this banishment is a selective one, directed at removing foreign energies rather than neutralizing the resident and potential energies sent forth by the operator during the general working. For the last banishment to be more than selective would be counterproductive.

The banishment of an entity can be a tricky thing, and sometimes it needs to be done more than once. Attention needs to paid to the atmosphere of the work area when a banishment is performed. If you still feel the presence of the entity in question, then you must banish again and if necessary again and again until you get it right. There are plenty of spells out there designed to do the trick, if you find that you are having difficulty. Another thing to watch out for is when you feel nothing at all. Like people, spirits cannot always be trusted.

The final stage, the reclaiming of the self, is the point at which one winds down the ritual, takes off the mask and the robe and what not, and returns to an everyday state. Energy that was put out to construct the circle and other such things is reabsorbed by the operator. Candles are extinguished, and the oil used in their anointing is cleaned off.

The reclaiming of the self is a time when the operator goes back to being Bob, the normal average everyday self. It can be a relaxing period of final contemplation and recording of results, or it can be just a clean-up time. That really depends on the person. But after this, one should think no more on what was done, save for the process by which it was done and how it in the future can be done more effectively.

It would be premature to bring this article to a close without mentioning tables of correspondence, which no one who practices magic should be without. (Unless you feel you have risen above these, in which case you don’t need to be reading this anyway.) For those of us still living on the material plane, a table of correspondence can prove at times invaluable. Such a table provides one with a great deal of basic knowledge and lore, which one can use in the creation of spells and rituals.

Some of the things that can be found in tables such as these are the best days and hours, weeks and months to perform a ritual or magical act. They can also shed light on the proper colors, herbs, and stones that may be employed, as well as certain spirits that can be evoked or invoked to assist in your operations. There are many books out on the market today on the subject of magic and occultism that may provide you with charts of this nature. Also, one can trudge through the mythologies and folklore of the world finding bits and pieces of usable information.

It is important to cross-reference the information that is presented to you in books, as it can vary greatly from author to author. All of the fun of compiling a table of correspondence should not be left up to the experts, as they may leave you with too much irrelevant information. The tables you construct are a testimony to your personal style.

I would like to say that it is important to have fun with the rituals you create, but that really isn’t the case. What is important is that you find a ritual style that works well for you. Fun is optional.

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The Broomstick

The Broomstick

Hands on Harvesting Fun

by Tiger von Pagel

 

The autumnal equinox has a special meaning for those of us who revere the earth and its gifts. This is the season of the harvest, and we can feel it in the cool evening air, smell it in the aroma of woodsmoke and damp soil, taste its crispness in the bite of a freshly picked apple and see its splendor in the russet and gold leaves as they fall from the trees. This time of year, perhaps more than any other, we are reminded of the bounty of the Goddess, and I think a trip made at this season should focus on the source of our daily sustenance. This can be done with a vacation to a working farm. There are hundreds of farms and ranches around the world that are designed to accommodate visitors and overnight guests, but there are especially quite a few located in Ontario, Canada.

The province of Ontario is very dependent on its local farms and does a great deal to promote farming as part of the tourist industry. There is even an organization that is dedicated to farming vacations called Ontario Farm and Country Accomodations. This group provides information on working farms where visitors are invited to stay and assist in daily chores such as feeding animals and picking vegetables. One such farm is Jamka Farm in Prince Edward County. A 100 acre family farm, Jamka Farm still relies on traditional methods for its day to day workings, and guests can experience a truly “hands-on” vacation while collecting eggs for breakfast, milking cows by hand, and feeding the farms flock of sheep. The farm is open year round, and in the spring when “baby season” begins you can be present for the birthing of lambs and hatching of chicks and ducklings. However, many people recommend visiting at harvest time when you can pick vegetables for the evening meal and ward off the night’s chill with a mug of mulled cider by the hearthfire.

Another unique harvest experience can be had at one of the many “U-pick” farms in the area. Places such as Campbells Orchards, also in Prince Edward County, have acres of orchards where you can pick your own apples and pumpkins. Other farms in this area of Ontario include Maple Ridge Farms in Picton, Eagles Rest Farm in Lanark, and Woodrow Farm and Guest Ranch in Balderson. All offer bed and breakfast accomodations and a chance to experience the simple pleasures of harvest season up close and personal.

It isn’t necessary to travel all the way to Ontario for a farm harvest experience. There are a number of farm bed and breakfast establishments right here in the Pacific Northwest. One such farm is the Normandie Farm B & B in Sequim, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula. Promoted as a little piece of French country living right here in Washington State, the Normandie Farm is most noted for its homespun wool. The proprietress is an accomplished spinner and weaver, and she gets her fleece from the sheep that are raised right there at the farm.

You can also spend a day in Bellevue at the Kelsey Creek Farm. Open from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Kelsey Creek is a fully operating farm (with horses, pigs, chickens and rabbits) and offers free self-guided tours. Also of note here is the Japanese garden that is dedicated to Yao, Bellevue’s sister city in Japan. Another free self-guided farm tour can be had in the Snoqualmie Valley at Carnation Farms. This 900-acre working dairy is open to the public from March to October and is famous as the “Home of the Contented Cows”. This area is also home to a number of “U-pick” farms for your own personal harvest. Most notably are Remlinger U-Pick Farms just south of Carnation, which offers a petting farm and restaurant, and Fall City Farms in Fall City, well known for its garlic and shallots as well as apple orchards and pick your own pumpkin fields. Whether you choose a week long vacation on a farm or an afternoon picking apples, enjoy this magical time of the year that is autumn, and happy travelling always.

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Who Was Mabon?

Who Was Mabon?

by Dana Corby

condensed from a longer article

We modern Pagans often celebrate the Autumn Equinox by the name Mabon. Unlike most of our Celtic names for Sabbats, Mabon is Welsh, meaning simply, Son. So Mabon is someone’s name: in full, Mabon ap Modron, Son, son of Mother.

H.R. Ellis-Davidson quotes the Venerable Bede, who translates Modron as the Mothers – plural. Modern translators give it as the Mother — singular. Linguistic evidence may well support the plural interpretation, for although Mabon ap is unequivocally Welsh, Modron may not be: in Saxon, the singular of Modron becomes Modr — recognizably mother. Suddenly we have, not as was always believed a corruption of the Latin Matrona, but good Germanic. All very scholarly, but it doesn’t tell us much about Mabon, does it?

Actually, it does. The first thing it tells us is that he (more likely, He) is old, so old he’s the son of a Mother, rather than a Father. Mabon may be from a matrilineal culture as we know pre-Christian Wales to have been. If the Saxon connection holds up, He may be the result of a cultural fusion, indicating more borrowing between the British Celts and the Saxon invaders than has previously been assumed. And He bears many of the signs of a sacred king, losing whatever mortal name he had to become only the Mother’s Son, ruling and dying in Her name alone.

Well into the Christian period, the Mothers referred collectively to the female land spirits known to the Norse as Disir and elsewhere by many, mostly now lost, other names. Up through the 19th century they were often called White Ladies. The plural name recognized the multiplicity of that energy/entity/being we now call the Great Mother.

The Mothers were conceived-of as a kind of pool of feminine ancestral energy, not in the same category as the “high” Gods, the ones in Asgard, or at Tara or the Court of Don, but deeper, older, and to most people actually more important.

The Mothers’ function was to give life-energy to a particular place, and to keep that energy flowing in a form helpful to human endeavor. A particular Mother would be worshipped by name by those living in Her district, but most people recognized that their local Modr was in fact one of many Modron.

The only myth we have about Mabon says that within minutes of his birth, he was stolen from between his mother’s side and the wall next to which she lay. By whom, is not known. He was imprisoned in a castle, on an island in a lake, until his uncle, King Arthur, obeying a prophecy, freed him to participate in the adventure called The Wooing of Olwen.

It appears that the interval between the abduction and the rescue of Mabon may have been only a few years, or even as little as a few months, yet Arthur rescued not an infant but a young man. After which Mabon vanishes from the body of myth.

Apparently, the only elements of Mabon’s life that were important enough to be passed on were his birth, abduction, and rescue; even his exploits (if any) during the Wooing were not recorded. Yet it is these elements which tell us who he may have been.

There is another divine Son in Welsh mythology with a remarkably similar tale. And this tale names Names.

The Tale of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, from Lady Guest’s translation of the Mabinogi, is the story of a semi-divine King or Prince of North Wales. Single and without an heir, he spends the night on top of a sacred mound, hoping to “see a wonder” that may guide him in his search for the wife his people beg for and his counselors continually urge on him.

There he encounters a beautiful faery horsewoman whom, after many trials that aren’t germane here, he marries. They live entirely as mortals, and eventually conceive a child, to the great rejoicing of the people.

In the meantime, one of Pwyll’s vassal knights has a strange problem: every November eve his best mare foals, and every year the foal vanishes before morning. This year he decides that’s not acceptable. He sits up all night in the stable, and shortly after midnight a monstrous claw comes in through the window, seizes the foal, and begins to withdraw. The good knight, Teirnyon, takes his sword and severs the claw. He then discovers within the claw not only his foal, but a baby boy.

He and his wife, childless, decide to raise the boy as their own, and to give him the foal to break when he’s old enough. To their shock, though, the boy grows at the same rate as the foal. By the next autumn, he’s a strapping youth who can easily keep up with the yearling horse. And his foster parents begin to notice how much he looks like their Prince. Their consciences begin to bother them about keeping him, and they travel to the palace to show him to Pwyll.

The situation at the palace is anything but normal. The Queen has been condemned to stand at the mounting-block, offering to carry all visitors into the palace on her back. The crime for which she endures this bizarre punishment is infanticide: she was accused — unanimously — by her ladies in waiting of giving birth to a son and then eating him. Her story was that shortly after she gave birth, last November eve, a monstrous claw came through the window, seized the baby from between her side and the wall next to which she lay, and withdrew. The counselors of the court found this rather unbelievable, accepted the ladies’ story, and sentenced her, since she had done something only animals do by eating her own young, to function not just as an animal but as a beast of burden.

When Teirnyon and his retinue arrive, all is made clear. Pwyll and his Queen acknowledge the boy as their own. His mother gives him a name: Pryderi. Taken from the words she spoke when she learned the truth, it means, roughly, Sorrow’s End. Pwyll and the Queen commend and richly reward the knight for his care of their son, and send them all home again, this time to raise not just a foundling but the royal fosterling.

So we have a name for the Mabon. And by now the reader knows the Modron’s as well.

In Celtic countries, the custom was that children inherited from whichever parent was of the higher rank. A Goddess definitely outranks a king. Mabon ap Modron is none other than Prideri son of Rhiannon, lady of the singing birds. And Rhiannnon is Herself an aspect of the Lady of Sovereignty, Epona. Her name in turn relates to “hippos,” horse, and explains both the way in which Pwyll met Her and the form Her punishment took, to bear guests on Her back. It also makes it possible to connect Her myth to those of other Horse-Goddesses of the British Isles, such as Macha.

The human-child and the foal are presented as virtual brothers, growing at the same rate, both great runners. Possibility certainly exists for an older version of the myth in which they were actually twins, both sons of Rhiannon. Such human/animal twinnings are common in myths world-wide, and always indicate a powerful totem.

All this makes one curious about the venerable White Horse of Uffington. How old is it? Who drew it on the chalk, and is it an icon of Rhiannon?

It is known that the down-lands around the White Horse effigy were once the stronghold of several inter-related tribes of Britons who lived by horse-herding and raiding. They lived in palisaded forts, practicing no agriculture, not because it was unknown to them but because they held farmers in contempt. Though greatly feared by their lowlands neighbors, their wild, undisciplined fighting style was no match for the Roman cavalry, and they were destroyed. There is some evidence that the mysterious and stubbornly primitive fenlanders (conjectural source of Tolkien’s mewlips), who survived among England’s fens and bogs until the great drainages of the last 200 years, may have been refugees from these tribes. It has long been believed that the White Horse was carved into the chalk by these great horsemen.

But the White Horse may equally be no older than the Saxons. History tells us that the Saxon invasions were led by two brothers, Hengist and Horsa. Their names mean stallion and mare, and some historians believe that they were co-priests of the powerful Saxon horse-cult. They may have been “brothers” not in the sense of sons of the same mother, but by affinity and/or oath, and given the gender difference of their names, ritual homosexuality may have been a feature of their priesthood.

Folk-legend around the White Horse makes it a place to go for supernatural help, like the Cerne Giant, when one wishes to conceive. The procedure varies from mere touching of the chalk to having sex within the figure. (N.B. Considering how very visible a pair of dark figures would be against the white chalk, they would have to be pretty desperate!)

This returns us to the myth of Pwyll and Rhiannon, and its repeated theme of the demands of the people and counselors that the Prince produce an heir.

It was the need for an heir and thus a wife which sent Pwyll to the fairy mound in search of “a wonder”, this need which made his counselors urge Pwyll to set Rhiannon aside when she did not conceive immediately, this need which made her ladies, in fear for their own lives, accuse her of cannibalism. The very fertility of the land depended on the demonstrated potency of the King, the fecundity of the Queen. It was especially urgent that a good king, a wise ruler as Pwyll was said to be, consolidate his right to rule by getting an heir on the Queen, since it was through her connection to the land, the living embodiment of the Modr, that he ruled at all.

Our Mabon is a harvest festival, centering around the apple harvest. Though like other harvest rites it centers around a God, it is the only one in which the theme does not include ritual sacrifice or death. Even the wrongly-accused mother was not condemned to death, as surely must have been the sentence for such a heinous act, but to atonement through an onerous and symbolic punishment.

Unlike cereal grains, or for that matter most plants, a fruit tree need not die in order to make seed. Like humans and other land-animals, fruit trees bear “young” without apparent harm. Humans can eat fruit entirely without guilt, indeed, our eating the fruit and spitting out the seeds helps the tree reproduce.

John Barleycorn must be propitiated; Mabon needs only liberation. And that may be His mystery.

It is Mabon’s connection to the apple which re-connects him with Arthur, and with the Mothers-plural. Much of the Arthurian myth takes place in and around Glastonbury, strongly identified with Avalon — the Isle of Apples and of otherworldly women. Arthur’s sword came from the Lady of the Lake, identified as the Welsh Goddess Angharad, who dwelt on an island which seemed to — or perhaps did — move around, disappearing whenever mortals would intrude. The real-life Glastonbury Tor is itself the magically disappearing island, since in Spring the lowlands around it flood, leaving the hill an island, then gradually drain away during the Summer. By September the land is bone dry and one can walk to the Tor. It is to Avalon that Arthur’s Queens – the fairy women who guided his destiny — carried him at his death.

It is difficult at first to find a connection between the apple and the horse except for the well known equine love of eating them. But we’ve established the connection between apples and water above, and the connection in what we could call the pan European mythos between the horse and water is equally strongly established. From Poseidon (“Spouse of the Goddess”), the earth-quaking sea-god who took the form of a horse, to the name “white horses” for the waves kicked up wind, the horse and the sea are linked. In Celtic myth, a kind of water spirit called a kelpie could appear either in fresh or salt water — more often fresh — as a small, beautiful horse which carried off children. As previously mentioned, the name Epona has the same root as Hippos (and Hippolita, horsewoman); it is my belief that there may also be a connection with Despoina, the feminine form of despot, which originally meant not tyrant but ruler. It is usually translated Mistress. The Despoina appears to have been the title of the Cretan priestess of Persephone/Hecate, who also could take the form of a horse and to whom horse-sacrifices were offered.

So the connection between apples and horses is through their function as revealers of the mysteries of the Modron, the Earth Mother(s). Both horse and apple are also connected with water, with its ability to both guard the mystery — Mabon on the island — and grant limited access to it, as at Glastonbury.

Who was Mabon? Not Whose son was Mabon? but who was He in his own right?

Out of apples and horses and mystical islands, out of travelers between the worlds and Mothers nine or thirteen or nine-times-nine, an answer forms. And I am reminded of all those stone age petroglyphs of the single male figure surrounded by women. I have to conclude that Mabon had a much more extensive and influential role in his world than that of mere abductee or sacred prisoner. He may even have had a title we would recognize today, that of the Black Man. In The Old Straight Track, Alfred Watkins makes a strong case for Black Man as the title of the priests of the culture that designed the leys, the sacred pathways across country.

Who was Mabon? He was the child of the Earth and the Otherworld, hereditary priest of the Mothers and King of Avalon.

copyright 1997, Rantin’ Raven Pamphleteers

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Zen and the Art of Berry Harvesting

Zen and the Art of Berry Harvesting

by Amanda Silvers

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I am very warm; it is one of those days where your hair clings to your neck and the sweat beads above your lip. I want something sweet, but not too sweet, and juicy.

Hmmmmmm, I think, about the blackberry bower by the driveway. I think that the berries might be perfect to quench my hunger.

The bush has been very prolific this year, and it is so heavy with ripe berries that they hang down to the ground in places. I think about the berries bowing the branches under their weight, their shiny plump blackness oozing sweetness, and my mouth waters as I walk outside into the sun. I am blinded momentarily by the brightness, and I think about the fact that I left my sunglasses in the house. I am also wearing only shorts and a tank top, not the best attire for blackberry picking! I remember seeing a friend a few days earlier; she was covered with angry red scratches and cuts, from picking blackberries, she said. Oh well, I think to myself, I’ll be careful and just take a few of the more accessible berries.

I approach the bush and the thorns loom, shining sharply; they are all I can see. The thought of the berries is now eclipsed by the terrible threat of injury from the thick branches rimmed with thorns. Not to mention the fact that the berries, so many I can see dozens as I park my car every day, are nowhere to be found now as I stand there next to the bush squinting into the sun.

I stop for a moment as I feel the bush diva pull back its branches and threaten me telepathically with sharp scratches if I so much as try to pick a berry. Then I remember: I have to ask the bush for the berries, and ask it with respect and a small amount of fear for the sharp thorns.

I smile to myself and the berry bush diva as I think to the bush, “Hello there, Mama Berry Bush! How are you doing today? Did you get enough water when I watered you last night?” The bush relaxes a bit, but not completely, as I stand before her with a bowl, smiling at her like a lunatic. I again address the bush psychically, “I was wondering, oh great Berry, you have produced much beautiful fruit this year, would you share it with us humble humans? You know we are unlike you, and unable to produce such sweet and luscious fruit, and we would be honored by your gift.” The berry bramble is practically beaming at me now, and all of a sudden the branches seem to open up, and there is the fruit! Hundreds of beautiful plump shiny blackberries, hanging in hefty clumps of six or ten, along with gorgeous green fuzzy leaves, all on stalks with little, teeny-tiny thorns.

Where did those huge thorns go? I ask the bush as I begin to pick a berry here and one there, and she answers “Oh, those were in your imagination. I just helped you to see the ones I have as several times as big as usual.” I laugh to myself and continue picking and telling the bush diva how lovely the fruit is.

I pop a berry into my mouth, and it bursts in an explosion of pungent tart sweetness. These are the best blackberries I have ever tasted, I tell the bush. Just then, she reveals even more berries, bigger and more lush that the ones before, and all in easy reach as I stand inside the shelter of the branches and continue to pick.

I picked and chatted merrily to the berry diva as I gathered the remarkable fruit. Toward the end, I made sure to thank her for the fine gift. I promised her that I would only prune her lovely branches and not cut her down, as so many people do. She was delighted and promised me more berries whenever I wanted, at least during the next few weeks.

I finally picked all of the ripe berries I could find that day, and I only ended up with one tiny scratch on my arm. It was near the end of my harvest; I was getting a bit greedy, and she had to remind me to not take any berries that were not yet ripe. I wound up with a huge bowl of luscious fruit to share, and with no pain. See, all you have to do is ask nicely!

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A Summer Walk to Dream

A Summer Walk to Dream

by Jim Sun Weed

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I walk out into the sunny day, the morning breeze growing sweeter as the day’s heat develops. Over the soft grass, over the concrete sidewalk, striding in my sturdy boots and feeling like good Tom Bombadil, the Master. A small brown bird is on the ground, tugging at a food wrapper. She winks at me and hops out of the way.

Another bird swoops over my head. They say hello and bless me; their language is a visceral one which my body understands. The blackberries, ripe and heavy, and the golden grass gone to seed, vibrate their hellos.

The Earth is singing, and it’s a tune which calls me back time and again to the old ways, when Nature taught us everything, gave us everything.

Tall trees are swaying in the breeze, caressing my vision as the wind moves through their leaves, showing the white undersides contrasting with the dark green of summer growth. I pass beneath a great Himalayan Pine, touching the top of my head to its hanging boughs. These trees, these plants and animals, are all players in a rhythm which is of wholeness and rightness.

I am open and strong. I forget about work, bus schedules, career plans. I stop arguing with myself. I stop trying to define, and the answer is given as I too enter the sacred rhythm.

I visit the old pine trees on Capitol Hill. They were here before white people came to this part of the Earth. I can feel their thoughts telegraphing to one another, preserving the fabric of unity and protection. They are the good old citizens and I am grateful to be walking beneath them. Am I just like a human animal today? I have no creed, only rhythm, aliveness, gratitude and the sustaining oneness-interaction. Just as the trees and animals vibrate in their innate communication, I feel the blood of my body resonate with this vibration. A friendly Douglas Fir beckons me; I run my hand lightly over the rough bark of its trunk. I sit at its base, my head against the trunk, feeling as though we are the center, with the Wholeness choreographed around us. I close my eyes and feel the comings and goings of animals and insects, and the passing of time.

My thoughts melt into dreaming as I fall into a sleep. Nature is everywhere alive; the web of Spirit cannot be destroyed. Sometimes I am unaware of it. Often I don’t understand the significance of whatever work or play I’m doing. But that doesn’t matter. The only judge is me. As I enter more deeply into awareness of Nature around me, I become healed and whole. How have we ignored Nature for so long? What are we learning through our experience of separation?

In my sleep a dream washes over me. I am in a dank tavern, wood paneling, a couple of pool tables, just a few patrons talking about regular workaday things as the afternoon light slants in through the tiny window. I notice a tingling sensation in my feet and hands. Looking around the room I see it suffused with the same tingling: a light, a shimmering which seems to grow and envelop everything and everyone in the room. Is it coming from the spaces between atoms, from the freefall that lends grace to the gaps in our understanding? I wake.

The breeze plays in my hair. A squirrel is looking at me, head cocked to one side. An airplane flies overhead. The sun is still bright and the air sweet and warm; the afternoon feels as lazy as I do. I get up, dust off my jeans, and stride away to the tavern for a beer.

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Reclaiming Our Birthright

Reclaiming Our Birthright

Earth-Magick, Culture and Ritual

by Erik van Lennep

 

“Time is not a line/Leading ever farther from where we are/But fluid dreams and memories/Where ancestors and someday-children/Take us by the hand.” – From “Initiation I,” by Erik van Lennep, 1992

On a warm day in late September, I walked through the Vermont woods to arrive where 16-year old Nathan waited beside a beaver pond. “Are you ready?” I asked, and smiling with nervous excitement, he said he was.

Turning, I led him back into the woods, until we reached a natural gateway formed by two large paper birch trees flanking the path. At this point, I asked Nathan if he was certain he wanted to continue on, and he replied with a sober yes. “Good,” I said, “now take off all of your clothes and hand them to me.” As he did so, I said, “You now are nameless and homeless, and naked as you entered life, you shall remain empty. You have nothing but what you carry within you.”

Having grown up in a rural setting where swimsuits are generally considered superfluous, if not downright annoying, and being a child of the 1970s and ’80s, the requirement he disrobe was hardly as shocking for Nathan as it might have been for an urban youth. It did, however, place him immediately into a nonordinary state of awareness, a prerequisite for powerfully transformative experience. I have also discovered that full exposure of the skin heightens a person’s sensitivity to the surrounding environment: Each nuance of breeze registers upon the skin, and it becomes necessary to slow down and to pay close attention to the act of walking. Textures underfoot become more noticeable, as well as one’s passing through vegetation types, and the movement from sun to shadow. The feel of the surrounding landscape becomes a living presence in a way that simply does not ordinarily register while clothed. The symbolism of being ritually pared down to the basics was not lost upon Nathan either.

We hiked the remaining quarter of a mile to a campsite I had prepared for his coming-of-age ritual. Twice more along the way we stopped, and I again asked if he wanted to return home. After the third time, there would be no turning back. Each time, as he responded with increasing confidence that he wished to proceed, the nature of the walk became more demanding, until the last 100 yards where I led him blindfolded through heavy brush to the clearing where we would spend the next three days and nights.

Coming of age is marked by confusion, particularly within industrialized cultures such as that of the United States. This confusion is why traditional societies have always marked this major life transition with ceremonies and ritual. Ceremony calls attention to the importance of the event, celebrating it with community recognition and support, while ritual weaves the person and event into a fabric of meaning and tradition. Although our industrialized society has attempted to refocus its members on consumerism as a substitute for spirituality, the need for community, ceremony and ritual remains strong.

It was no surprise that Nathan found his sixteenth birthday marked by a sense of profound disappointment. In our society, there are momentous expectations focused around 16-year-olds. They are led to believe that new worlds will open before them, while they themselves feel they have arrived at adulthood. But usually the transition is marked by nothing more than a piece of paper certifying the capability and the right to drive a car, which in many cases the 16-year-old has been driving already. Certainly, a driver’s license heralds a new level of freedom and, we hope, responsibility, but it hardly provides the recognition required to celebrate a major life change. Nathan and I discussed this around the time of his birthday, and I mentioned to him that if he wanted to mark the occasion with something more meaningful, he and I could probably devise something appropriate.

About two months later, I had a series of dreams characterized by intense imagery, which I later realized were pieces of some sort of ritual. It felt as if they were being shown to me for some purpose beyond my own dream work. Subsequently, the images came with increasing frequency and clarity, until by early summer I was “dreaming” pieces of ritual as I hiked in the hills surrounding my village. When I became aware that these visions and dreams collectively represented a coming-of-age ritual, I knew that the ritual was meant for Nathan. I told him what had been happening and that I wanted to offer a ceremony to him as a gift, and he accepted.

In preparation, I showed him a basic breath meditation technique and gave him a series of individualized exercises to combine with the meditation, as well as a list of questions designed to inspire thought about where he fit into his community, his sense of responsibility toward the Earth and his own self-image. For the next 10 weeks, he worked with the exercises and questions he had been given.

Vermont is still one of the most rural of the lower 48 states. Populations of animals once thought to be locally extinct or greatly reduced, such as moose, coyotes and cougars, are actually increasing. However, it is primarily a landscape of small farms and biologically impoverished woodlot and forest regrowth. It hardly could be termed wilderness by today’s exacting standards.

Throughout the reforested hills, one comes across rusted barbed wire, stone walls, old cellar holes and the occasional relic of an old still or plough. A variety of conifers and hardwoods push through the debris of the last three centuries and deposit an ever-deepening carpet of leaves, which softly and slowly shrouds the evidence of abandoned agriculture until iron and steel implements become knit into the forest skeleton of glacial rocks and fallen tree trunks. Despite repeated attempts to reshape the landscape of Vermont to fit some more agriculturally or industrially productive model, the land and weather seem instead to reshape the people who come here. The magick and power of the Earth are very close to the surface.

It was through this landscape that we hiked to another beaver pond. The leaves were beginning to turn the flaming shades that make New England famous but had not yet begun to drop to the ground. For me, autumn is a time when the woods begin to hum with energy, peaking in early November, when the air is crackling with magick. The entire forest smells of summer’s sweet ripening, overlaid by the aroma of countless fungi. Nathan had selected the site for his ceremony, and a few days earlier as part of his “ordeal” carried in water, canvas tarps, a stack of cordwood and a number of melon-sized rocks for a sweat-lodge firepit. The morning we began, I arranged the camp, built a small sweat lodge and a somewhat larger sleeping lodge and screened the site with brush barriers jumbled into place to resemble natural blow-downs.

All of this preparation served to create a site that struck Nathan as new and unfamiliar when I removed his blindfold upon arrival. For the remainder of our stay, despite frosty mornings and one evening of drizzling rain, we were both naked, to continue the sense of being outside ordinary experience. By the end of our stay, we had both become so comfortable that it was equally startling to pull on clothing and cut off much of the contact between inner and outer environments.

Although I had initially described the ceremony we were beginning as a coming of age, I had begun to think of it in the terms of “bringing Nathan through” a transition between realities or worlds. It is difficult to say exactly where the pieces of ritual originated, and to a certain extent it does not matter, and I certainly did not question the process at the time. I worked with my own intuition, subconsciously assembling seemingly disparate pieces into a meaningful pattern. In retrospect, the pieces came from the six years I had known Nathan and his family, from a lifetime spent in the Eastern forests, from a long time study of European and other mythologies and folklore, from my own personal spiritual practices, from years of close work with Indigenous colleagues and friends and no doubt from the world of ancestors and the Earth Herself. I experienced the process as flowing and integrated and highly energizing. I opened myself to the inspiration fully and without question. I had a general sense of the order I wanted to follow, but many of the techniques I used to create transitions or to open doors of awareness occurred quite spontaneously and even astounded me at their effectiveness.

At times during the ritual, we would work at a particular exercise for a while with little result and then decide to move on to something else, as the approach was not working. During the night, I would then dream of a way to free the blocked energy and try the new method upon awakening to find it worked beautifully. By this point, Nathan and I had established such rapport with one another and the process that I would have been disappointed had the answer not come in the night.

The transition from childhood to manhood for Nathan was marked by discussion of responsibility and community, of family and self-image, of sexuality and spirit. The material we used to compose the three-day ritual was based upon universal practices (virtually all peoples on Earth have a sweat tradition somewhere in their history) and upon practices from Nathan’s own ethnic background, as far as he knew it. For some of the European Earth-centered ritual, we reached back to Ice Age symbolism and carried it through to its contemporary expression in the form of antler dances, which have been handed through European folk traditions in an unbroken chain. This unbroken chain is critical, because without cultural relevance ritual remains a superficial and rather alien exercise.

The first evening, Nathan became the fire keeper, and he began to consciously separate himself from his parents and his childhood. Because his parents were divorced, and because he had been having a great deal of trouble communicating with his father for some time, I “fathered” him that night by wrapping his shoulders in a blanket, holding him in my arms and telling him stories about my own childhood and adolescence.

Two days before we entered the woods, Nathan began a fruit and juice fast, and by the day we began, both he and I were on a juice and ginseng tea fast, which we maintained until the last night. The clarity brought about through fasting enabled us both to tune into subtle energies very easily. Working with breath meditation techniques for grounding and centering, I showed Nathan how to consciously pull Earth energy from the bedrock and up through his body and then reground it. Working with the exercises I had given him earlier, he channeled energy directly through his emotions, shifting from emotion to emotion at will. He was able to lean against a large pine and feel the energy coursing up and down beneath the bark, and we played games by passing energy back and forth between our palms.

In another part of my work with Nathan, I discussed sexuality. It seems important in these times of acute social and family dysfunction to prepare young people for the bewildering array of information, on-and-off relationships and poor communication surrounding them, and the intentional, subliminal attempts by Madison Avenue to confuse the areas of sexuality, consumerism, power and need. I wanted to address the fact that Nathan would be involved with others who might use sexuality as a manipulative tool. I explained to him that magick, Earth energy and sexual energy were all the same, and that with practice, a person could flow from one to the other at will. We talked about sex as a gift coming from Mother Earth, and a gift which two people bring together from their own places of joy, to share with one another. Although Nathan was inexperienced and my points were all theoretical for him at the time, I hoped that, later in life when he became sexually active, our conversation would come back to him and help him remain centered.

We talked also about how all life reflects itself in structure and intricacy throughout the levels of form and energy, from the atomic to the galactic. We used examples from Nathan’s upbringing on the land but examined them in the new light of Nature being magick and energy. I pulled back the top layers of leaf mulch to show Nathan the fungal hyphae – the network of white threads that constitute the true body of mushrooms and that serve to knit the forest ecosystem together through mycorhizzal connections between tree roots. We watched the beavers at dusk as they cut saplings down around our camp, and we marked the boundaries of our site by peeing on trees to keep raccoons and their ilk from raiding us.

We alternated between energy exercises and imagery, using dance and body painting to enact conscious transitions between points before and after becoming adult. At one point, Nathan was pulling energy directly from the Earth so quickly that his whole frame vibrated like a taut sail. At another time, I had him oil his entire body copiously and then go wait in the darkened sweat while meditating on his worst fears. Meanwhile I filled my hair with white clay and covered my body with black and red clay to become a monster. I shook the frame of the sweat and demanded he come out and face me. He chased me around and around the campsite while I jeered him for his timidity, and though he caught me several times, his oily body allowed me to slip out of his grasp. (Fear can be very elusive.) Finally, he covered his hands and arms with enough pine needles to wrestle me down and then dragged me into the pond, pushed me under and washed off the clay to unmask his fear and render it harmless.

At the end of our last day, I returned Nathan’s clothing to him and constructed a door-sized hoop of alder and oiled jute cord near the fire. Nathan put back on his clothing, which had been selected to represent portions of his childhood he would be leaving behind, and then stood by the fire. As he took each garment off again, he attached some qualities of his former self which he wished to grow beyond, and then consigned it to the fire. When he felt ready, I lit the hoop and pulled him through the flaming gateway into the adult world. I handed him a new set of clothes, which he decided to lay aside until the hike out, and we broke our fast together as brothers.

From the moment that Nathan stepped out of the woods, where his family and friends awaited him with a welcoming ceremony, he seemed different. He was far more self-assured, and his body language was more confident. His family and friends all commented upon the remarkable difference. For months afterward and even today, where previously he and his friends used to hang out in a fairly random arrangement of bodies and postures, his friends now cluster around him, as if oriented toward the warmth of a campfire. He tells me that he received compliments from a female friend in his high school as being one of the few males in their group who was in touch with his feelings.

On several occasions since that time, I have been with Nathan when he used the techniques he learned during his initiation to deal with an emotionally trying situation. Once when a mutual friend was slowly dying of cancer and we needed to be there for him in strength, I watched Nathan go outside on a bitter December night, ground himself and form a link between the Earth and stars until he was filled with clear energy. He came back inside and poured that energy into our friend, who visibly responded with renewed vigor for the next few hours.

Though for Nathan I was able to create a ritual that worked, there are a few fairly daunting obstacles to creating meaningful wilderness ritual in contemporary America. First, wilderness itself is in short supply, and by strict definition (that is, untouched by obvious human presence or activity) practically nonexistent. Second, for ritual to be meaningful it must not only contain recognizable symbolism that stirs the individual, but also that symbolism must be somehow culturally appropriate in order to have any deep meaning.

In addition, truly powerful ritual is not spontaneously created but must grow over time, as it is layered by repetition and cycles through generations. We are at a profound disadvantage in creating or finding such ritual in the industrialized world, particularly those of us in America who are descended from disjointed immigrant cultures. As if these issues were not sufficiently problematic, members of the dominant culture within industrialized society in the United States, primarily Euro-Americans, tend to carry a set of precepts about reality that create still more barriers between the individual and a rewarding expression of spirituality through ritual. A good place to begin the search for meaning and ceremony is an examination of our own cultural attitudes.

Here are a few attitudes which I have found necessary to revise in order to make room for spiritually fulfilling and Earth-focused ritual:

1. We assume wilderness does not include people. This attitude is a uniquely Western perspective based in large part upon (male) domination of “virginal” lands. It creates a perpetual separation between humanity and the rest of natural life, a system of law that does not recognize aboriginal tenure of wildlands and a philosophy that “improves” land by destroying it. Conversely, when we can see that the majority of human cultures have coexisted with wildlands, that traditional societies practice sustainable management and that the wilderness experienced by European explorers was simply land where other peoples implemented sophisticated wildlife and land management the Europeans did not understand, we can drop the mystique of the great uninhabited wilderness and begin to develop a more nurturing relationship between ourselves and the Earth, wherever we may live. Don’t wait for a trip to the Yukon or the Sierras to get in touch with your spirit. Go out in your yard and sit with the dandelions.

2. We assume that, when creating or recreating Earth-based rituals, it’s acceptable to appropriate bits and pieces from other cultures to assemble something new. This is a very touchy subject. Traditional peoples who have had virtually every other aspect of their lives appropriated as “resources” by industrialized society are tired of being mined for their rituals. At the same time, people who are still spiritually in touch with the Earth wish others would get the message and stop plundering the planet. As heirs to the cultural dismemberment that accompanies industrialization, many of us are aching to fill the spiritual void we feel. When we come into contact with traditions or imagery that suggest a stronger and mystical connection to the Earth, we are attracted and want them for ourselves. Many of us are so disenchanted or appalled by the direction our own society has taken we want to jump ship for a way of life that seems more in tune with our values.

The problem is that no matter how far we may run, we still carry with us most of our Westernized, urbanized, industrialized attitudes. Many such attitudes are problematic, such as the idea that if we see something we like, we can simply take it or buy it. We have also been conditioned to concentrate on the image or surface of what we encounter while ignoring the content, so when we encounter traditional ritual we feel that if we can somehow possess the trappings of ceremony we have the key to the door of spirituality. But spirit comes from within, and the material symbols that a people evolves to use in ritual are just that: symbols. They signify complex concepts that can only be understood by persons raised within the traditions to which they belong. Further, traditional Indigenous spirituality and ceremony are inseparable from culture and geography, since all have coevolved and are mutually reinforcing. In addition, Earth-based spirituality is by its very nature more visceral than conceptual. It cannot be analyzed; it must be felt. No matter how much we want it, no matter how much we are willing to pay, no matter how loudly we protest or how facile our justifications and denial, if it isn’t ours we cannot truly have it.

The idea of unequivocal inaccessibility is one that our cultural biases find extremely difficult to accept. It’s a mind-wrenching concept. Here is another one: In our lifetimes, we may not ever see the creation of ceremony, rituals and traditions that both belong to us and have a power and relevance equal to those of our Indigenous neighbors. However, if we start now our great-grandchildren may share a spiritual groundedness that approaches what we strive for. The lag comes from the time required to repeat and layer ceremony through many seasonal cycles and human generations before it truly roots itself as traditional ritual.

This is not to say that we cannot devise an entire constellation of personally fulfilling and spiritually engaging rituals right now. But which material we choose to work with makes a significant difference between deluding ourselves and disrespecting our neighbors on the one hand, and reconnecting with our own birthrights on the other. In my opinion, when we find ourselves attracted by Indigenous spiritual ways, the healthy attitude is one of inspiration, not emulation.

3. We assume our own, often European, traditions of celebrating the Earth and its cycles are lost in time – in other words, “you can’t go back.” It may come as a surprise to consider that the Western concept of time as linear and irreversible is only a cultural perspective, but so it is. In fact, for many of the very cultures that have attracted attention lately, time runs in cycles, or flows in many directions, or even allows past, present and future to occupy the same space. Certainly for all of our ancestors, time flowed differently than it does today. When we open ourselves to the possibility of time behaving differently than we have been taught, then the traditions of our own ancestry, our birthrights, become immediately more accessible. Certainly unraveling the tangles of lineage may take some work, but any single line will eventually lead back to a point when the people were Indigenous, in tune with the Earth, and when they celebrated their spirituality with meaningful rituals, rituals rightfully our own. It certainly is no greater stretch to rediscover, reclaim or rebuild meaningful cultural and spiritual ties to an ancestor from Friesland, the Czech Republic, Romania or Scotland, or for that matter Lascaux, than it is for a Euro-American to legitimately lead an Ojibwe or Lakota sweat lodge.

The question is really not one of going back in time. It is one of getting back on track.

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“THINK on THESE THINGS”

“THINK on THESE THINGS”
By Joyce Sequichie Hifler

There is much to be said of small things. Even in this age of emphasis on bigness we must realize that bigness is only a mass of small things. An idea is a small thing. With it we can change our world. We can take a tiny seed and give it careful attention and reap a hundred fold. We can take a little idea and give it our attention and build it into a fortune.

A smile is a small thing. Smile once at someone in passing and three will return the smile. Smiling is so contagious that it moves from person to person until a hundred smiling faces are the result of one.

A thought is a small thing. One thought inspires another and another until a mental image is formed. From that mental image blueprints are drawn. And from those blueprints worlds are built.

Hope is a small thing. One tiny glimmer of hope can lift us out of the deepest pit of darkness. One whisper of encouragement will help us to know that as long as there’s hope there is an excellent chance.

A wish is a small thing. Like a little prayer, it climbs the steps to an idea that makes a smile and gives us hope to make our wishes come true. For in small things are all great things formed, in little beginnings the possibilities of great events.

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Available online! ‘Cherokee Feast of Days’
By Joyce Sequichie Hifler.

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