Monday, December 30, 2013

Two Powers Meditation Essay

The Two Powers meditation, as described in the ADF publication Our Own Druidry, is "...a basic meditation intended to link the Druid's spirit and flesh to the currents of Earth and Sky."1  In this working, the dedicant visualizes roots which emerge from the feet and penetrate deep into the Earth.  Through these roots the dark currents under the Earth are drawn up into the body.  Above the body is a bright star, whose light illuminates and charges the overflowing water which trickles down the dedicant's limbs.  Intermingled, these powers of the Earth and Sky are balanced in the dedicant.

My own experience with the Two Powers meditation began prior to my involvement with ADF.  An ADF member introduced me to the Two Powers meditation as a way to calm pre-surgery nerves in January of 2012.  Although she did not label the meditation as such, she utilized the Two Powers meditation as a centering/grounding exercise before an extended guided imagery sequence.  I encountered the Two Powers meditation yet again during the first several Ad Astra (Proto-)Grove rituals I attended.  Again, the meditation was not named but often used.  When I finally joined ADF and began reading through the Dedicant Path requirements I immediately recognized the frequently-used meditation.

Because of this background I did not utilize a script when I began using the Two Powers meditation in my regular meditation/trance work.  I immediately reconnected with the routine - the roots budding from my feet, traveling deep into the dark, moist reaches of the Earth, drawing up the sacred water with each breath, feeling the warmth of the bright star on my moistened skin. 

What did surprise me was how much more productive my meditation/trance work was when I began the session with the Two Powers meditation, versus when I did not.  Over time it has become clear that what I do during the Two Powers meditation isn't just an exercise to focus and shut out the everyday world; the Two Powers meditation actually serves as a gateway to the other world I was attempting with which I am attempting to connect.

When I feel my roots push downward into the damp darkness, I grow and reach out towards the sacred tomb of the ancestors.  When I draw up the waters of the deep Earth my body becomes the vessel, the well, for the waters.  When I feel the warmth of the star flash, hovering in the sky above me, I reach towards the Shining Ones in the heavens above.  The electric charge of the light upon the water becomes the fire, the transformer.  Balanced in between these forces I become the tree, the axis mundi, connecting the three realms and the three gates into one.  Connecting with these forces, and passing through these gates, my meditation/trance work feels much more secure and substantial.

Because of this the Two Powers meditation is especially well suited to ADF-oriented paganism.  During ADF ritual we bless the Triple Hallows (fire, well and tree) in order to re-create the sacred center and thus open the gates to these spiritual realms.  In the Two Powers meditation, two of the Triple Hallows, fire and the well, are summoned in the visualization; by becoming the third Hallow (the tree), the practitioner completes a recreation of the cosmos.  Through this manifestation of the sacred center within us, we allow the gates to open simultaneously between the cosmic planes.  As stated in Our Own Druidry, when this happens, "...anything is possible."2

1.  (2009)  Our Own Druidry, ADF Publishing, Tuscon:  p. 95.
2.  ibid: p. 20.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nature Awareness Essay

When my Dedicant Path mentor, William, suggested that I work on my Nature Awareness essay I immediately felt a faint echo of nagging in the back of my head - a seed of doubt.  I couldn’t really assess the shape or origin of the doubt, but it was there.  And it stayed.  Finally, a few days later I was able to voice my concern to William - how do I pull out a thread of the tapestry that is our lives and write about it coherently without the benefit of the complete image?

I felt completely unqualified to write this essay; there are others who do so much more towards sustainable living and creating connections with the nature spirits.

Sure, I do many things that could, in a generic and superficial way, be described as “green.”  I recycle, hang laundry out to dry when weather permits, dump most of our table scraps into the compost pile and I garden enough to have a small surplus of produce to can and freeze.  I prepare meatless dinners roughly 6 days a week and buy around 60% of our household clothing at thrift stores.  I make our own soaps and lotion and I'm conscious about the number of miles driven in a week.

Sure, these practices sound “green” on the surface - they reduce the wear and tear on our precious planet and require less natural resources.  I've done these things for years, they are second nature now.  But I have a confession for you: I don’t do these things just because they’re “green.”  I do them for other entirely selfish reasons. 

The compost feeds the garden, which nourishes the produce I grow that is fresh, local, and chemical-free.  Keeping a mostly-vegetarian menu at home saves tremendous amounts of money on my grocery bill.  Seriously, I don’t understand how families that eat meat at every dinner can afford it.  Maybe it’s just that I'm cheap.  That would explain my thrift shop preference and desire to reduce the family's gasoline consumption.
But a few years ago (as a result of our self-imposed year of living on World War II rations) we moved and downsized the square footage of our house by more than 40% and, in the process, added in a few acres of land to boot.  Because of this change we now have a lot less personal space inside our home, but outside we have strawberries, blackberries and mulberries to harvest, and have apple and pecan trees that will bear fruit for us in future years.  And we have chickens.  The chickens provide us both with eggs and meat.  We raise and personally process between 20 and 30 meat birds a year, which is our main source of meat outside of any venison my husband might be lucky enough to bring home from hunting.

A smaller house means reduced utility and maintenance costs, but also a reevaluation of material possessions, a reappraisal of my decisions as a consumer.  Raising chickens means I know the eggs and meat on our table came from animals that had plenty of access to green grass and sunshine and bugs and table scraps.  And I know that their death was humane and that the meat was processed in a clean environment and free from questionable “flavor-enhancing” chemical injections.

Saving money.  Reducing my family's exposure to chemicals.  Both are good reasons to do the things that I do.  But one of the biggest pleasures of these selfish choices, at least for me, is the rhythm that they bring into my life.  If I am to do these things, I must be aware and in tune with the world around me. I must acknowledge the powers beyond my control, and be grateful for the blessings as they come.

Winter is a time of darkness, a time to remember the ancestors and say their names once more.  While most of nature is wrapped in a cocoon of snow and frost, I drool over seed catalogs and plan gardens, daydreaming of rows of broccoli and eggplants so colorful your eyes ache to see them.  I think of the goddess Mokosz and imagine a future harvest worthy of her blessing.  Winter is a time to hunt and process deer, with blood-stained hands and the smell of iron on the biting wind.  It is a time to reflect on sacrifices.

Spring is a lovers' game, with green buds tempting the eyes and the songs of returning birds swelling the heart.  It is dicey game full of chance and circumstance - prepare the soil but do so in between rains. Plant early but not so early that a lingering frost kills your seedlings.  Spring is a time of celebration - winter has passed and the brilliance of life is affirmed in each new blade of grass, green and vibrant, one blade at a time.  It is a time to read once again the ancient stories of reacquainted lovers, and to see in the world around you all the promise of reunion.

Summer demands your attention, keeps you busy with weeding and watering and pulling fresh berries from vines.  Slow down only to offer praise and thanks, but don't rest too long or nature's pace will quickly surpass you.  Summer is eyes squinted at the bright sun and a steamy kitchen filled with the pleasing sound of seals popping on freshly canned produce.  Summer is fast and hot but anchored by cool nights of stargazing and bonfires.  Life creeps into the cracks during summer, no longer confined to neat plots and containers.  There is no escaping, not as long as nature demands your attention while she is at her ripest.

Fall is the last reaping, the last tomato picked and the last turnips pulled from their earthly blankets.  The sensuous embraces of summer dissolve into remnants of memories.  Thanks are given for the preceding abundance, that which will nourish you, physically and spiritually, through the dark half of the year.  Fall is the time to slaughter chickens, and we all have a part to play. It is a time to reflect, and a time to part ways. 

And then it all begins again.  

I am not made for monotonous tropical climates with their year-round fair skies and abundant harvests.  I love this rhythm, this inescapable dance sequence through the year. We're all partners - me, the Kindred, and this world.

So, for sure, doing these things that are “green” reduces our carbon footprint and lessens our impact on the Earth.  But, to me, they also bring a sense of satisfaction, at the stewardship of our household budget, but also in the knowledge and relationship it requires me to forge with the land and environment that me and my family so depend upon.  I could easily buy similar produce and meat at the grocery store - this would be a much more convenient option.  But it wouldn’t be mine, born out of sweat and time, the aching muscles and dirty nails - these things which I offer as my oath of covenant with the land. 

This is my choice, to make this promise, renewed each year as the spring rains begin and the earth reawakens. 

Virtues Essay: Integrity

  • the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness
  • the state of being whole and undivided
                                                             --Oxford American English Dictionary

Integrity as a virtue means acting upon one's morals despite possibly negative consequences.  As such, integrity is connected to all the previously discussed virtues - they are the virtues, the morals, upheld when one is acting with integrity.  If each virtue is a thread, integrity is the tapestry that is woven together through their right placement and usage.

Without living and breathing our virtues they remain little more than philosophical abstracts full of empty potential.  Virtues are solidified only when we act upon them, living them out in our everyday existence.  When we act with moderation, when we display courage (or put into action any of the other virtues) we act with integrity and in doing so pull these virtues out from the realm of the abstract into the realm of the living.  When we deliberately live with integrity and base our actions on thoughtful reflection on the virtues, we manifest into this world a certain baseline, or center, for our behavior. In this sense the virtue of integrity echoes a sort of axis mundi; by bringing the virtues to life through our actions we become an incarnate representation of that virtue, with integrity at our center .  By living with integrity at our center we connect to and honor the three realms and the Kindred.

               “Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know
                                                        whether you did it or not.”  --Oprah Winfrey

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Virtues Essay: Courage

  • the ability to do something that frightens one
  • strength in the face of pain or grief
                                                                                    --Oxford American English Dictionary

Courage is considered a virtue not just within ADF, but among a wide range of cultural traditions.  Ancient Greece, medieval Europe, traditional Taoist philosophy and contemporary Western ideals all praise courage - the ability (or sometimes, just the willingness) to confront that which normally stops us in our tracks.  Courage (with a capital "C") typically brings to mind the selfless deeds of soldiers defending the unarmed, the brave actions of social justice pioneers or even the fictional fortitude of a fictional character such as Samwise Gamgee.

But how does courage directly relate to a neo-pagan Druid?  As a virtue - a moral standard to which we are to strive towards - courage is not meant to be confined to our secular life.  In his essay on what makes ADF special, Reverend Isaac Bonewits notes that in order for ADF to flourish as a full-spectrum religious tradition (complete with paid clergy, and bardic and healing heritages) we must, as members, go public with our faith, our scholarship and our liturgy. Openly wearing one's paganism on his/her sleeves during times of political and religious conservatism can be a daunting, intimidating request.  There may be unwanted consequences, broken connections...but we must have strength.  As Rev. Bonewits writes, " will take courage and caution for us to safely 'come from the shadows.' Yet if we can follow the lessons learned by the civil rights movements of our generation, we can eventually have full freedom to practice our beliefs."1

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't 
                                               practice any other virtue consistently.”    --Maya Angelou

1. The Vision of ADF:  What makes ADF different from other Neopagan traditions?

Virtues Essay: Perseverance

  • steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success
                                                                 --Oxford American English Dictionary

Few successes in life are achieved through quick actions and immediate results.  For most things of meaning a path of dedication, time, patience and perseverance is required.

The concept of perseverance through tempests and tragedy easily springs to mind; in the fog of disease, depression and mourning the act of living may, in itself, speak to perseverance.  But perseverance may also manifest in the most mundane of tasks; heading out to the garden at sunrise day after after, running that extra quarter mile, or even declining another round of food or drink.  In truth, perseverance is often the handmaiden of another virtue: moderation.

The Dedicant Path is a perfect example of an undertaking achieved through perseverance - the work and documentation required extends, at minimum, over the course of half a year.  For many dedicants the duration of work lasts much longer as the tasks of the DP are balanced against the responsibilities of family life and employment.  Just as our relationships with friends and family are built, stone upon stone, upon shared experiences, warmth and hospitality so it is with our relationship with the Kindred.  Only through perseverance will those stones accumulate to build a mountain.

     “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”  --Confucius