For Ash- Nuin (part II)

Back in November 2012, I blogged here about the sad news of Ash die-back disease which had entered the UK

I was always hoping that the my favourite Ash the largest, venerable Ash tree at the north-east perimeter of Burrough Hill iron age hillfort wouldn’t succumb to Ash die-back. On our visit to Burrough Hill again today, we were also hoping that Ash would gift a small branch as Dream-Hare and I are due to both make a drum at the Summer Solstice and Dream-Hare was hoping to find a suitable Ash branch for his drum beater. Little did he expect to find so much choice of wood!

I’m glad to say that Ash die-back hasn’t worked its worst on the venerable Ash, but I’m very sad to report that the winter storms have ravaged it. The Ash is sadly no longer standing tall and majestic as guardian of the north-east rampart. Split apart by storm damage and then riven by chainsaw it is lying there a fallen giant. With the permission of Ash, we have taken a very small amount of wood away from which we will craft items to honour Ash: Dream-Hare’s drum beater and he also plans to craft a flute and I will craft a wand. I have journeyed with this particular Ash for many years and will continue to do so, on the ethereal plane Ash is still standing tall and majestic. I’m also hoping that as the root and base of the truck is still intact, though hollow due to the great age of Ash, that new shoots will grow and Ash will live on in the apparent world too.

As we were standing there in shocked silence looking at the destruction, two buzzards were circling overhead, their keening cries also honouring Ash-Nuin.

I’ve included below a few photos of Ash:

Then (5 May and 30 June 2013) in all its glory:

DSC05591  DSC05595 DSC05926

And now 19 April 2014:

DSC07529 DSC07527 DSC07533 DSC07544 DSC07550

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Alban Eilir 2014


As soon as I saw the dark clouds that late afternoon and saw the rain against the windows, I thought to myself “We should have stuck with going to Strider’s again…”

Too late to turn back now, everyone would soon be setting off.
And you know what? I’m glad we did.

We arrived at the car park to Beacon Hill, the Hearth Grove being unavailable, the idea of going to the original spot for the Grove of the Corieltauvi came up.
The rain had stopped a while ago so we didn’t get drenched, but it was still a little chilly.  We did however get to meet potential new member, Leaf, and this was her very first time of doing anything like this… very much like Cymro who joined us last Imbolc.

Cthulhudruid and Greenwinterking led the way through a mini night hike until we eventually reached the spot.  I could tell why the Grove came here in its early days.  We were surrounded by shadowy Yew, glistening Birch and tall Beech.  Here we were, the first ritual space of the GOC and it felt… wonderful.  So full of peace and serenity.  Though it was commented the wood has shrunken down rather considerably.

Proceeding with the ceremony, where we witnessed the “Hawk of the North” being summoned in the East, and me saying “Hail and Farewell!” To the powers of the South during the opening, it just goes to show that we still slip up every now and then.  The Awens kicked ass however!

I had volunteered back in January to be MC of Alban Eilir so I decided to split the ‘main course’ into three helpings:

Oak and Holly: During a discussion in the January meeting about which order the oak and holly kings go, it was hinted that the GOC had its own version which, unlike the usual method, performed a ritual ‘passing of the torch’ rather than a duel of the kings.
Indeed, watching the Holly summon his brother to pass on his rule to Oak was actually quite poignant and respectful.
The reason for this being at the equinox was as Greenwinterking put it: “..we performed it at the Vernal Equinox because it is then we actually see the nights getting shorter and days getting longer.  Then we did it again at the Autumnal Equinox because we actually see the days getting shorter and the nights longer…

Statement of Intent:
Being the celebration of the return of the lighter nights, I wanted to honour the powers of the East with the Sword of Justice.  Being the symbol of the direction for new beginnings and ideas, I was allowed (thanks Briseilid) to carry the sword around and asked people if the wished to state their intent, to the powers of the Air of what they would like to achieve this year. 

I had even told the very quick tale of the Anglo-Saxon goddess, Eostre, and why she turned an injured Lapwing into an egg laying Hare…
The Sword was used for people to state their goal for this year, the spirit of Hare called upon to help us in our dreams to find a way of succeeding in our intentions.

Once done, we cracked open the wine (Cthulhudruid particularly enjoyed the fact he didn’t drive this time) and shared in the gorgeous home made chocolate and cherry cake that Strider brought from his good lady.

Conversations and topics included:

Feeling and sensing the change of  seasons and how people are usually out of touch with them.

Spirituality and detachment.

Tolkien being an awful writer (except for The Hobbit).

I hope that last night’s ceremony gave people some inspiration in what they would like to achieve this year.
I particularly liked the fact we were witness to bit of the Grove’s history and even re-used the old ground.
Oh, and we even picked up a toad on the way back!

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Detachment, Attachment and Depression

These few ruminations were prompted by a comment from someone whom I will call ‘the correspondent’. He or she was worried that much of contemporary ‘spiritual’ practice seemed to encourage a level of self-absorption and worldly detachment that, to the correspondent, seemed little different to th1000927_731189280234031_2137778741_ne state of depression. Thus, here I am trying to tackle several topics at once, and therefore they may seem to be a bit jumbled up, for which I apologise.

The original comment opened a deep chasm, suggesting that practices of detachment could lead to a state not dissimilar to depression. To this, my first response is that among the defining characteristics of depression are a sense of despair and a sense isolation in some cases, and in others such an emotional numbness that even feelings of isolation and despair are beyond reach. As I understand the spiritual exercises designed to achieve detachment these are not the desired outcomes, although if one becomes too detached this in itself can lead to a form of depression.

But detachment, when interpreted in the Buddhist sense of non-attachment, can have beneficial results. Buddhist detachment, however, is not detachment from the world per se, but more about detachment from the emotions and expectations that we routinely ascribe to the world. When practising non-attachment it is perfectly possible, for example, to experience anger, know that one is angry, and allow the anger to be just as it is without suppressing it. But one does not dwell on the anger, instead simply letting it be and allowing it to pass without clinging onto it further. Thus the Zen and Taoist insistence on seeing the ‘world in itself’ rather than the ‘world as we think it’ or ‘world as we wish it to be’ is really an insistence on opening our eyes and not clouding them with presumptions. This is far from being detached, in the sense of isolated from (and armoured against) the world in which we live, and can, in fact be extremely helpful to those who suffer from depression, although it can also be a very painful process (I know, I’ve been through it many times in my own struggle with clinical depression).Complementary spirals 2

As to the ‘escape’ mode, in which we seek to escape to a ‘better world’ divorced from the gross world in which we must live (because that is the state of being alive), there are several possible dangers attendant upon ‘spiritual’ practice. To seek the ‘Faery Realm’ (as an example) can only lead to one of two outcomes: utter despair and cynicism when it is not found; or utter loss of all perspective on the ‘real’ world (i.e. the world of consensus reality). Here I will share a brief personal version of this. I used to consult the I Ching on a regular basis. On the one hand this made me miserable, because I never got the readings I ‘wanted’, and was not affirmed by what I read. On the other hand I became gradually incapable of making decisions without the I Ching. Similar dangers attend all ‘oracles’ including the Tarot. Eventually I weaned myself off the I Ching, but it was a struggle, and while I still esteem the book, I am wary of using it too much these days and prefer to meditate instead. This is, I think, part of what the correspondent was alluding to about detachment from the ‘real’ world.

As to depression itself, when one is aware of going into a ‘downer’ there is a sense of being on a tilted surface covered in slippery oil, and feeling oneself sliding inexorably to where one really doesn’t want to go. Weirdly, however, depression is sometimes paradoxically comforting, because familiar, and it is nowhere near as threatening as the outside world which is not under one’s control. A strange paradoxical comfort in misery, which can also be quite seductive. And the other paradox of depression that I am aware of is that it is the seat of creativity, at least it has always been the great engine underlying my creativity, such as it is.

Here are some definitions that I work to: Religion comprises doctrine, and prescribes a series of more or less obligatory observances, behaviours and attitudes, many of them completely divorced from anything remotely spiritual. It is therefore possible to be religious without being spiritual. Spirituality is a sense of, or an attempt to achieve, a sense of connectedness to ‘something greater’ than oneself. Note that this can also include connectedness with, say, the idea of ‘art’, or ‘social justice’ or ‘beauty’ or ‘nature’, and it does not necessarily entail any form of religion (I think this should make it very clear where I am coming from). The sense of connectedness seems to be what people are describing when they report ‘peak experiences’, those moments when everything seems to fall into place.

Thus, working to these definitions, spirituality should never result in ‘detachment’ in the negative sense. Indeed complete detachment is a form of self-induced schizophrenia. Non-attachmenFive colourst, however, is perfectly possible within a sense of spiritual connectedness; being connected, but not oneself the centre of the connectedness is an interesting experience, and one to be valued.

For me spirituality and negative detachment are polar opposites and more or less mutually exclusive (except that we are exceedingly complex animals who seem to be able to achieve all sorts of impossible mental gymnastics). The sense of being egoless is not that of permanently losing oneself in the vastness of either reality or fantasy. I do not believe that it is possible to lose the ego entirely; we are always the centre of the (our own) universe, but it is healthy to be reminded from time to time that we are only the centre of our own perceptions. The phrase ‘get over yourself’ captures the necessity of being reminded that we are not, in point of fact, the centre of any universe except our own. The correspondent seemed to be worried that new-age ‘spirituality’ is really about bolstering the sense of the self-centred universe, and thus losing oneself in a morass of self-absorbed non-reality (detachment from consensus reality). But, and I think this is really important, spirituality, as I understand it, is about being aware of the vastness of reality, and a sense of where we locate within that vastness.

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Wheel of the Year pt.1- March meeting 2014



From my allotment at Imbolc.

Me and Dumbledore hadn’t even got out of the car and we were still debating about stereotypes enforced on spirituality and people idealised to be something different than what they actually are or were (in this case, the stereotype that all Native Americans are deep, profound, stoic warriors and shamans, when they were just like the rest of us and had their own beliefs as well as their own scepticism).
Last Tuesday’s meeting (11th) was going to be a long one… and yes it was.

A very big thank you to Danceswithweasels who, with her other half, kindly allowed us to have our meeting at their house, providing us with pasta, garlic bread and bock (sic?).
We even got to meet Sir Reginald Claw who is a delightful black cat.  He found us strange and disappeared at some point.

It was well into the evening and I was doing so well… holding off my talk as we discussed recreationist battles, especially if we consider Sci-Fi fans, could they be classed as ‘Future Recreationists’? Then it was onto rubber weaponry and live action roleplaying.  This topic went onto how certain types of Pagans actually went into a form of this: playing at being ‘pagan’ and buying things to prove how ‘pagan’ they are…
Did zombie apocalypse enthusiasts count as ‘Future Recreationists’? It went back full circle, y’see?
We even discussed how the workplace can dominate your sense of time as well as oppress you from any trace of individuality.

I saw a gap and decided to call time and crack on with the self elected topic, I blame River, it was her idea.  We didn’t really have a subject for this month, I asked if anyone fancied having a go, River said: “You should talk about your book” and I fell into the trap… remind me to never challenge her to a game of poker…

Yes, you read right, I am writing a book, the first draft is done, I am in the process of correcting grammar and making sure all quotes are referenced and that I got my facts correct.  It is called ‘The Wheel of the Year: a study into the  eight modern pagan seasonal celebrations.‘ It has been a project of mine for a few years now and seeks to compare the celebrations of today with classical accounts besides British and Irish folklore to see if they make sense, if there’s any correlation or is it all just twaddle?

I began with talking about Robert Graves in his book ‘The White Goddess’ being the source of something in Modern Paganism often taken as gospel: The Oak and Holly Kings, he was actually categorising certain deities into those of the waxing and waning parts of the year.

We then brought up the “Celtic Tree Calendar” and ripped it apart… it was never referred to in the past and seemed a good way of making the Ogham text… well, cool.

Back to the ‘Big Eight’ as I like to call them, here is a brief summary of each… if I went into too much detail that’d give my book away wouldn’t it?

Yule: Comes from the word ‘Giuli’ and ‘yuletide’ described December to January.  A time of celebration of the return to lighter nights, often with dressing up as beasts, dancing and making merry.

Imbolc: Brigid’s feast day.  First mention about it ever is in the Cuchulainn tale ‘The Wooing of Emer’.
Apart from being the beginning of the agricultural calendar, it is in honour of ones own livestock. Brighid of course became the model for the Christian St. Brigit.

Ostara: The Venerable Bede wrote about The Church renaming Paschal Month back to the name of a now forgotten goddess.  Jacob Grimm wanted there to be a Germanic goddess of the dawn so much, he made one up…

Beltane: Pre-Roman fire festival marking the end of winter and beginning of summer.  Less to do with fertility and ritual sex and more to do with preserving one’s cattle and expelling evil from destroying one’s crops.  First feast for marriages.

And- that’s all folks!
We ran out of time, but if we ever have an opening for another meeting and I use the rest, you’ll see it here… or buy my book… if it ever gets finished.

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A fragment of conversation concerning the Golden Dawn and Druidry

The following is a (lightly edited) fragment from an email about beginning to study Druidry after studying with the Golden Dawn system.

“I know from personal experience that it isn’t easy to try to learn and experience a new system when you are so deeply grounded in another. It can get very frustrating as you have to go over basic concepts again.

The OBOD Bardic grade is loosely based on the structure of the lower (elemental) grades of the Golden Dawn system. The ceremonial/ritual structure is very similar, and some of the techniques are variations on the GD techniques. However, working through things from a fresh “Druidic” perspective will give a new dimension to existing experience and knowledge; and that, like the GD grades, the work is designed to build sequentially and you’ll get maximum satisfaction and benefit by following that order. It might also give a more “Earthy” and practical understanding of magic, to compliment the more cerebral and intellectual approach of the GD…

If things get too desperate you can always point people towards John Michael Greer’s book “The Celtic Golden Dawn” and the accompanying “Druidical order of the Golden Dawn” order. I wouldn’t really recommend it much (I found it lacks substance – not enough GD or enough Druidry) but some might find it a useful stepping stone..”

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Double Whammy! Imbolc 2014 & February Meeting


Dumbledore’s Fireplace by locksley2010.

Please note that ‘Professor X’ shall now be known as ‘Dumbledore’ and ‘Zhukov’ shall now be known as ‘D2′.

Don’t ask me to try and light a fire!
I tried it on Saturday 1st and that didn’t work, neither did this one.  At least it did for a short time, but fizzled out.  Even after using lighter fluid.
  Ah well, we all agreed the fire was a decent metaphor for Imbolc: it might be getting brighter, but Winter isn’t done yet… not by a long shot.

Tuesday 4th Feb 2014
We were guests in Dumbledore’s bright and welcoming abode and were even given permission for use of his garden for the ceremony.

Luch Dorca had originally volunteered for this year’s Imbolc, but due to an emergency, he had to pull out. Our thoughts are with you, man.  Me and Tatterhood managed to make an ad hoc last minute ceremony on the theme of fire, earth and water.
Unlike our usual rites, we split the group: men and women.  The men had bodhran’s and djembies (sic?) Including Briseilid, our honorary bloke, indeed, her beard is like gossamer. We lit the fire (after a while) and drummed to the chant “Awaken and grow” which came out as “awa-kenan-gro”.  This was a ceremonial effort to bring back the warmth of the Sun and encourage Spring’s return.  The women were given plant pots and soil with seeds and water to represent the sowing prosperity in the New Year.  Some of these were kept and the rest passed on to the men.
  Its been two years since we did a proper wassailing and the last time was at Tatterhood’s parent’s house… the apple tree’s were abundant indeed!
So we were hoping the same rite would bring good health to the young mountain ash in Dumbledore’s garden.  We gave it the tweaked version of the wassailing song and lashings of mead.
  We even shared mead in the circle as well as Irish Whiskey cake and even gave the rest of that to the mountain ash: “Awaken and grow!”
Once inside, we were treated to bread, cheese and wine.  We even sat and had an Eisteddfod as Oak Queen read out Little Gidding from the poem ‘Four Quartets’ by T.S. Eliot; harkening back the warmth of summer.  This was followed by a chit chat and Dumbledore showing us his book collection (two rooms, people! Two rooms!) As well as his reenactment swords.

Sunday 9th Feb 2014
Only a small attendance on this night, the usual suspects had been unavailable for Tuesday 11th, so we decided to have the meeting on the Sunday instead.  Briseilid had volunteered her pad and so we arrived.  There was only me, LadyMorgana, Briseilid (obviously), Luch Dorca (yay!) and Cymro ap Arthan (who also was unable to make the ceremony).  I provided cheese and broken crackers, and Briseilid allowed us her living room and red wine.  The rest of the Grove were, unfortunately either finishing late from work or ill… My cold might have been to blame, sorry guys!

This meeting’s theme was all about the Question Cards, especially the newer ones as opposed to the “heritage” ones.  We were supposed to do a few of the newer and a few of the older to compare, we didn’t get that far as we only had time for three from the newest deck:

“In our ever expanding grove, and considering past problems, how far will we go to accommodate? Is the grove a democracy or does the minority rule the majority?” Luch Dorca.

This question was devised due to our group having a big influx from last year and the beginning of this year. It also brought up a discussion our Herald, Tatterhood, had started on the ceremony night (‘Do we put a cap on how big the Grove should be?’). Feelings went from the Grove is the perfect size now, to we stop as soon as factions start forming. The ‘past problems’ being the Grove, in its early days (almost 18 or so years ago!) Was indeed split into two factions. To stop this from happening again, no one has the role of ‘leader’. Only the Herald comes close, but even then the role is more of ‘organiser’ and ‘arse kicker’.
This question also related to how do we treat disabled potentials in the group and do we change plans if they can’t make a certain ceremony (like say, the Grove Heart itself or Burrow Hill). Do they as the ‘minority’ rule the ‘majority’ (in a certain way)? The short answer, no. The choice to join in is theirs, but we will accommodate them out of patience, respect and love.
  We have at least two members who have some form of disability, I think Cymro put it best when he said he would never accept the Grove changing to just benefit him as he would actually be insulted if we tried to do as such, he enjoys that we do our ceremonies outside. Should we go to Burrow Hill, then yes he would find it difficult terrain, but would still want to do it as a test to himself.  At last years Samhain ceremony, he found walking down to the Grove Heart difficult, but accepted it as a challenge. 
  Yes I wrote his part in our Mummers Play as the victor so he wouldn’t have to get onto his knees, but that was working with our players to include them, not out of pity.
  I would often push Léithin Cluan’s  wheelchair if she wasn’t up for walking, I didn’t mind that at all.  So yes we we will make allowances but we won’t change on how we do things out of doors.  Unless its really, really raining (and even then we’re hardcore!)…

“Does studying and working with OBOD stop us from exploring other spiritual paths?” Briseilid.
No.  Would be the short answer.  We in the GOC are a varied bunch when it comes to our individual beliefs.  Both Dumbledore and Cymro have or are followed/ing the way of the Tao.  Luch Dorca and D2 are drawn to the Anglo-Saxon and Heathen ways.  Briseilid and Lady Morgana work with shamanism, we have at least one Thelemite in the form of Cthulhudruid.
  If anything, what the OBOD ritual formats do is give a framework from which to use.  In our Grove we are free to not just call upon the usual elemental quarters, we can use those of other spiritualities if we wish. 

How do you utilise your Druidry?Locksley.

Do we accept our Druidry as an ongoing process or is it a hobby?  I’m very glad to say we take our Druidry a bit more seriously than just reading a gwers and attending a ceremony.  Briseilid is a healer, so she effectively uses hers everyday.  LadyMorgana has to employ some serious negotiation tactics at her work and finds that Druidry has actually helped her to be more mindful before she speaks out.  Luch Dorca knows his history and explores his creative endeavours of writing (he’s an actual author and playwright!), Cymro has always felt there was something more to our world than just the physical, now he is beginning his spiritual journey, that feeling is making more and more sense.  Me? I have my very own blog to discuss this with.  The short version is I love local folklore, old stories of gods and heroes, and I am picking up my acting once again…. that is my Bardic self.

It turned out that of all the above questions mine was very similar to one of the “heritage” set.  According to Cthulhudruid, a lot of the new questions are rehashed versions of the old.  Something, I guess, that goes to show that not only does life go in cycles, so do the questions we ask that help us define our existences.

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Fragment of a conversation about rituals

Fragments of one of my emails discussing ritual and ceremony…

“….The Pagan “Eight fold wheel of the year” ceremonies do serve as a great way of bringing Pagans together, building shared experiences and a sense of community; but that is not their primary function. The primary function of the rituals is to help bring the practitioner, consciously or sub-consciously, into greater harmony and understanding of the rhythms of nature (the seasons, birth and death, waxing and waning etc) and by doing so we, hopefully, begin to appreciate and understand our relationship with the Earth and nature; and ultimately bring a greater respect to how we treat and interact with our environment.

The individual rituals that are part of the OBOD course work are designed to give you a reliable and effective way, through the use of archetypes and symbolism, to connect with aspects of your sub-conscious mind. By doing so we can gain access to a great store of knowledge and information, allowing us to become aware of a wider range of patterns and connections in our surroundings, our own thought processes, our emotional and behavioural reactions; this in turn gives us greater insights, understanding, and to a degree, control, of who we are and how we choose to live our lives. Once we have more control and understanding of our own lives, we can have a greater and more positive impact on the world around us….”

“I can totally sympathise with your experience of group ceremonies. Group ritual can be a truly wonderful and spiritually powerful experience. However, it relies on the correct balance and interplay of the group dynamic, and of course your personal comfort and confidence levels…”

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