Rites and Rituals

For a good number of years now, I’ve found myself much less interested in, and inclined towards, orchestrated and scripted rites to do any sort of ritual. It simply doesn’t suit me, my spirituality and spiritual practice like it once did. You see, I went from being a fairly high church Episcopalian/Anglican to being a low church Pagan.

Over the years I have tried to follow proscribed and prescribed Pagan rites and rituals – in my case Druidic ones – and I simply can’t do them. The wording always felt trite and often has no real poetry, the cadence of the language fell flat, having grown up with the Collect form that remained essentially that of Thomas Cranmer, the formulae seemed forced or like they are trying too hard. I just never felt authentic casting a circle or calling the quarters, though in the days when I was making a concerted effort my mind would wander and I kept thinking that the beginning of the Book of Common Prayer from the 1970s in the US was doing sort of the same thing – ‘Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and blessed be His Kingdom now and forever.’ Four parts that felt a lot like the circle casting using the four quarters. That being an aside.

Even though I attempted to write my own rites and formulate rituals to follow, I found that I had lost my taste for them. After all, I don’t belong to a Grove or any longer to Druid group that uses scripted rites for ritual. When the Druid group to which I do belong gathers, and we do so very infrequently, we are called together to be present in the space and place with simple words spoken from the heart. Those words hold our time out of time, as it were, and we sit in silence for the most part, individuals speaking or singing in the safety of the shared space. At a time when the one who gathered us in our time together senses that it is time to move back into ordinary time and space, the person says a few closing words and the time together ends.

There is another Pagan group to which I belong that has quite proscribed ways of doing things, at least on the surface, to be in communion with the group’s Goddessess, but again they don’t work for me. This same group has a series of guided meditations that can be undertaken at particular times. Again, I don’t get on with guided meditations, I tend to use them only to get to another ‘place’ then I wander off, usually following some calling from my usual guides. It’s not an act of wilful rebellion, it’s just the way these things work for me.

That said, being a person who no longer uses or desires to use written rites, I have developed a pattern of actions, a ritual, for the morning. It has happened spontaneously and it is one that feels right.

I get up about 0530 and get dressed. I get the food ready to take out to the feeding bowl in the orchard, put on my wellies and head out the back door. I head across the garden toward the west and through the gate into our little orchard. On the way I fill a watering can with water to replenish the water bowl near the feeding bowl and I make my way to fill both. I notice the wildflowers at my feet – bird’s foot trefoil is now blooming amid the buttercups and clover. After I fill the respective bowls I take the food container and watering can back to the orchard entrance.

Walking to each tree, most are still very small, being barely more than sticks when the arrived, and greet them in turn. I say good morning. I tell them how grateful we are that they are at home in our orchard. I make a fuss, if you will. When I come to one of the seven original trees I tell them how wonderful it is that they are making apples or plums and how amazing they are. I do this until all thirty trees are greeted, plus the two white birches and the four trees still in pots at the edge of the orchard. I also greet the badger who is buried near the birch trees.

After I have done this I stand where the front door of my shed will be at some point, at the bottom of the orchard. Facing north, I raise my arms to upward and draw down the energy of the morning into me and ground myself. Then raising my arms again, I chant the ‘Laude’ from Bernstein’s Mass, addressing to both God and Goddess. Finally, I chant to Pomona, who introduced Herself to me as a Goddess of the place where I live – dah, all those apple orchards! I chant to Her to ward and guard the trees of our orchard, and the ones close around. I ask her to bless the trees with fruit and give them strength to be resilient in the face of the changes in climate we are enduring. I have no set tune, no set words, just what feels right at the time, different every day.

When I am done, I walk back into the garden and do my morning watering on the east side of the property and in the front. When I water the garden, I chant to St Fiacre – patron saint of gardeners. He doesn’t seem to mind a Pagan chanting his name and asking his blessing on the garden. It usually takes me an hour to ninety minutes to do all of this.

Before I go to bed, I always look out my bedroom window, again to the west and north, and watch the stars, saying thank you to the day to the world outside my window, facing the orchard and the garden right under my window.

So, whilst I have not written rites, I do have rituals that work for me. Simple. Flexible. Sincere. They are rite-less rituals and that suits me just fine, and they will change with the seasons. What I do now in the summer will not be what I do in the winter, except for the last one of the day, because I think it is vitally important to express my gratitude to this amazing world we live on, for its gifts and abundant blessings, which more and more I am coming to realise we don’t appreciate enough, as a human species, to protect and cherish as we should, and indeed must if we are to survive. My humble thank you, I trust is heard and received with grace.

A Deity of the Land Where I Live

I have wondered for the year we have been living in a small village in Avalon who the deity/deities of the land here might be.

On Saturday I got the answer. I was waiting for a gathering of our Village Hall Committee, of which I am a member, to decide on the new paint colours for the Hall. Across the road is the Village Green that not only has over a dozen apple trees, but it, like our property (which includes a very wee orchard) abuts the Great Orchard. I was just looking and enjoying the quiet of the morning before the grass cutting commenced in the fields around the village.

All of a sudden Pomona arrived. It makes sense, the Romans were here for a goodly while. They seemed to have left Her here, or She decided to remain after they up stakes and returned to the continent. I’m not sure when the apples trees arrived in Avalon, but they are all over the place. Mostly, I have to admit, cider orchards. Ours was part of the Great Orchard and the cider trees were taken out and replaced by eating apples. Our trees are young so our harvest was not huge. We got half a dozen Bramleys. There were over a dozen Howgate Wonders and one Worcester Pearman. There is one tree in our garden of an undetermined variety, but has many sweet red apples. We also have a pear and plum tree, the former is laden with fruit and the latter had a dozen or so plums that were added to some others gave us for my first, and unsuccessful, attempt at jam making. The resulting plum sauce is yummy though and I have since gotten the hang of jam making.

Today I looked for images of Pomona as part of wanting to create a shrine for Her, and found a nice one on a prayer card that I ordered and, as a project for some time in the future, a very complicated cross stitch pattern based on the famous image by Bryne-Jones. I took a glass dessert bowl shaped like an apple (I have a set of five of them so it won’t be missed). I took some artificial apple blossom from a bunch I have and a plastic red apple I’ve had for ages and placed them in the bowl. Behind it is a postcard of the Apple Pavement at Hereford Cathedral. This is special since my husband was the Project Manager at the quarry that provided or sourced the stones for the pavement and he did the drawings used to construct it from the original design. It’s quite stunning, if I say so myself, and worth a look in on if you are ever in Hereford.

Pomona Shrine

One of our projects after the leaves fall, to the relief and with blessing of the owner of the Great Orchard, my husband and I are going is to tackle removing the mistletoe from the trees there. You might think this is not something a Druid would do, but sorry. Mistletoe is a parasite and has already killed one tree in the small orchard right next door to us. I really think they ought to remake the classic image of the Druid with the golden sickle taking the mistletoe from the oak and replace it with a Druid with a golden chainsaw removing the stuff before it kills the tree. If you are all warm and fuzzy about mistletoe I suggest you read about how it grows and what it does to the trees infests; you might begin to think about it differently.

Our orchard tending is one reason that I think Pomona arrived. Even my husband who thinks I have way too many altars is nonetheless quite happy for there to be a shrine to Pomona where we can both engage with it. The photo of it here is not in place it will ultimately reside, that is still to be figured out, though I have some ideas.

An afternoon at RSPB Swell Wood

First I want to thank my friend who is an administrator for the area RSPB for taking me on this wonderful adventure, since I don’t drive.

When we headed out from my cottage yesterday afternoon, it was a bit mizzly so we went to plan B – Swell Wood, plan A was Ham Wall. That’s for another day. It had nearly stopped when we arrived at the car park where there were only two cars.

Arrival

From the time we opened the doors, and in spite of the road noise, bird song filled the air. Since the feeders were empty, she filled one of them with sunflower seeds.

Our first stop was the hide for the heronry. With all the leaf cover it took a few minutes to locate the nests. And, I forgot my binoculars so we shared. Saw several nests heard lots of calling from the treetops. Saw an egret nest and egrets flying off as well as heron. There were other little birds in closer as well.

We then walked around the top walk and at one point the road noise vanished. The atmosphere was magical. Once we’d made that circuit we took off for Scarp Trail, lots of up and then lots of down, followed by way more up to get back to the car.
Virdiditas 3Virdiditas 2

All around there were delicate grasses, yellow archangel and remnants of bluebells, and one lone cuckoo-pint.

Grass with seedsGrass with multiple seeds

Yellow archangelCuckoo pint

Saw Alfred’s cakes and for the first time knew what it was that I’d seen a few times before.

Alfreds cakes

The ivy twisting around the tree trunks looked like Celtic knot work. I have wondered before if it is not where the idea for such patterns originated.

Knot work 5Knot work 4

Knot work 3Knot work 2

Knot work 1

The views across the Levels were amazing. Hard to believe how recently they were under water for weeks and weeks.

Levels 1Levels 2

I marvelled at the beetles on the green leaves, and what I think are musk beetles, though I didn’t get a photo.

Red beetles

When we got back to the car after filling a second feeder my friend moved the car to the other side of the car park and we waited to see who’d take up the offer of food. It didn’t take long for a pair of Chaffinches to arrive and work the ground for what had fallen from the holes in the feeder right in front of us. Then to the other feeder a Greater Spotted Woodpecker arrived. We heard some hungry noises coming from a hole in a tree before we were back at the car and figure this must be a parent bird.

Greater spotted 3Greater spotted 2Greater spotted

At the same time a squirrel showed up with the Chaffinches and worked the ground. When the woodpecker moved to the closer feeder another visitor took over the second feeder.

Squirrel 4Squirrel 1

Squirrel 2Squirrel 3

For those brief few hours, I soaked up the tranquillity and the virdiditas. Tall trees reaching up to embrace the sun, which wasn’t much in evidence, linked like the ribs of a vaulted cathedral ceiling. Air slightly moist and smelling sweetly clean. It was an opportunity to relax and allow the spirits of the wood, on the edge of the Levels, to reach out to me as I opened to allow the connection and communion. There was the low strong murmur of tree speech all around me. I felt welcomed. I felt at home. I felt the presence of dryads and woodland sprites. I sensed the dancing energies of trees and of the bird life all about me. Chirrup, song, melody was all around me heard with my inner and outer ears. Vision, vista, beauty were everywhere I looked seen with my inner and outer eyes.

I was walking in Swell Wood and I was walking in The Wood, if that makes sense. I was there and beyond there. The magical nature of this small, magnificent gem of a woodland opened the portal for me to enter a Wood much larger and far more complex. I was moving in two realms, happily nattering away with my friend and at the same time communicating in silent presence with the greater energy of where I was, beyond where I was.

I was very aware of being on the edge of the Somerset Levels, a place of fascination and enticement for me. Although I am not able to get down into them without much travel and expense on buses, I love them. They are a place of particular mystery and wonder. There are connections I’ve not had the opportunity to explore fully, but I feel the pull. I it feel more strongly now. The gods and spirits of the Levels are calling me and I know I need to find ways of entering the openness of this landscape and meet them more fully. Yesterday, as we drove back through the spaces they inhabit I heard whispers and echoes reaching out to me, calling me to engage with them. It is another calling I am not going to be able to pretend I don’t hear for very much longer.

The deep Mystery of Willow is present in the Levels in a way that I sense is unique. Where I live I tiptoe on the edges of it, does this sound familiar? But I have not allowed myself, and also at some profound level of my being not been allowed until now to contemplate such a connection.

I have made deep links with Yew and Beech already, but Willow only by a gentle touch not mutually deep exchanges between self, being and presence. And it’s not only the mystery of the Willow; there is other mystery and magic there for me. There is something about the land itself, even beyond the surface and visible landscape that calls to me. From where I sit now it is ephemeral and insubstantial, but it is surely real, reaching out and pulling me to explore.

All of these experiences are intensifying my practice of Druidry, enriching my spiritual and religious path, as well as my self-understanding as a Druid. They show me I have so much to experience still and only hint at how deeply these realities and experiences will take me into the realms of the gods, the ancestors and spirits of this land who frame, shape and ground my life and being as a Druid, as a person.

All this wonder, enrichment, challenge, awareness from a brief journey to and through an RSPB reserve.

Immanence and Transcendence – One

I have been pondering these two words in relation to spiritual beliefs and religious practise for some time off and on, now and then, here and there. As these things happen they came back to me as I was bent over cleaning out the cats’ litter trays late last week.

I have ruminated about the nature of earth based and book based belief systems. I have pondered upon the impact on the peoples from earth based and book based religions with regards to migration. I have wondered how to frame an understanding of immanence and transcendence that works for me and in my religious and spiritual life as a Druid.

For me immanence is about the deity being close to me, a presence not a million miles away, as it were, in some heaven of harp strumming angels and much alleluia singing, usually pictured as up. Immanent Deity I experience by closeness to nature, the environment, this land where I found the depth of my spiritual and religious life and being. I also experience immanence through the spirits of the land and the ancestors whose energy is still a vital part of the whole. It’s sort of the difference between dew on the grass and clouds in the sky.

I tried to explore these ideas in an essay form, but they would not allow me to shape them into any sort of coherence. Therefore, I am using poetry to express what I feel and how I perceive the Immanent Deity, who can Be through a host of gods or only one goddess. As I continue my journey to understand the differences between the Deity Immanent and the Deity Transcendent I intend write more poetry, hopefully some more specific, addressed and responding to the Immanent Deities who companion me and accompany me on my earthly sojourn.

Immanent Deity

You are with me always
close as my skin to me,
essential as breath to my being,
entering my soul
as I accept your presence,
leading my body
as I respond to your call.

You are felt
viscerally through emotions’ gamut,
tangibly through a rose’s thorn,
tenderly through a lover’s caress,
harshly through the north wind,
gently through the spring shower

You speak
in the singing of birds,
in the beating of drums,
in the buzzing of bees,
in the crawking of ravens
in the sighing of wind.

You move
in the flitting of butterflies,
in the gliding of swans
in the soaring of buzzards,
in the dancing of humans
in the swaying of barley.

You live
in the fertile soil,
in the evening shadows,
in the pummelling rapids,
in the rolling fog,
in the bountiful harvest.

You are the Immanent Deity
who inhabits the land,
who travels the ley lines,
who journeys in reaches out,
who walks again with my footsteps,
who sees anew through my eyes,
who loves through my loving,
who lives on through my believing.