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Closing Avalon Center

My heart is heavy yet also relieved of a burden I have carried for three years as today I have closed Avalon Center for Druidic Studies. Over the years I have had many people tell me it was a great idea. Many have encouraged me in the dream of a druid college. However, my health is getting no better. I continue to suffer from sleep deprivation, dust mite allergy, and digestive intolerance to gluten and dairy products. These three illnesses seem to have no cure and what treatments I have undergone have made only slight improvement.

One puts one’s journaling out on the Internet for strangers to read. My friend Philip has asked himself “why?” and I often wonder the same thing. Partly, it is a crie de coeur, reaching out through this odd new medium in the hopes of meeting new friends, people who think and feel like we do. But there is more to it than that. Putting a journal on line invites not just sympathy, but makes it possible for anyone on the Internet to know what is going on with me. It is a place where friends can check to see if I am still alive and well. Or, in my case perhaps it isn’t a matter of wellness but of what is today’s answer to the Grail Question: “What Ails Thee?”

I still have more obligations and duties that my energy may permit me to fulfill. My life may still need to be scaled back further, as they say. But putting Avalon Center to rest will free up a good deal of my energy. It has been a worthy experiment and we gave it the old college try (pun intended).

I’m still taking my Scottish Rite degrees. The discussion directors and the class members are exchanging e-mail comments on how we might improve the discussions after each degree. I am not terribly concerned. The discussions, while hardly satisfying, are always interesting. Essentially they are simply too brief. The Scottish Rite is an odd organization and I look forward to studying its history further. As it is structured, it seems as if the degrees ought to have some substance to them. They require serious and weighty vows to pursue virtue and behave as a good fellow. But my academic breeding makes me feel that each of the 33 degrees really ought to have some particular work attached to it and each person entering a degree be allowed to do that work for a time before moving on to the next degree. Requiring us to watch a ritual drama and engage in 15 minutes of discussion about it, with optional outside reading, is not sufficient work to make the degrees very meaningful.

Some of the degrees do mean a lot to me. For example, I wear my 14° ring of the Perfect and Sublime Master Mason with pride and deep feeling. Seeing it on my hand, and seeing one on the hand of another brother, inspires me to remember that the Great Architect of the Universe is with me always and that my spirit guides do care about me as a person, even in my darkest hours of melancholy. The Rose Croix degree also is very meaningful to me. Receiving that rose meant so much to me and the title itself, which one is entitled to use in one’s signature, is the knighthood I have wanted since I was a boy reading the stories of King Arthur and the Table Round. We are asked to take on a particular virtue to which we are dedicated and append that beneath our signature in Latin. I chose “Eques ab Ivsticia et Veritas” Knight of Justice and Truth, though in Latin it means more than is connoted in English. Ivsticia means “fairness and fair-dealng” and Veritas means “seeking the truth and being truthfull” not some abstract notion of “universal truth” much less “God’s Truth.”

As a Druid I am not required to profess belief in any gods. My order does not require it. Yet, it is implied that one believes in something beyond the material world, even if that something is conceived of as the human psyche or the anima mundi. As a Mason, I am require to profess a belief in God, but the nature of that deity is not stipulated except that it be an entity who has the power to enforce one’s oaths and vows. Christians may believe in a God who doles out punishments to us puny creatures on Earth. I do not. Rather, I belief in the God within us.

Some people have a god and some do not. I use the lower case “g” to indicate that I am not using the word as a proper noun but simply as a common noun. A god (or goddess if you like) is an indwelling entity that some of us have and some of us, perhaps, lack. Maybe atheists do not have a god. It might be something like musical talent, or artistic talent, or ambition. Some people have it and some people don’t. Maybe everyone has a little god, or maybe not. Some people definitely seem to have a very big god in them. They have unshakable faith in themselves, believe that the universe itself loves them and guides what they do.

I’ve believed in the direction of my gods for years. I’ve thought that they were telling me what to do, inspiring me and calling me to achieve certain goals. Now, I’m less sure. Well, I never was very sure. I always doubted to some degree. I suppose people who achieve great things and accomplish much that will outlast their own life span are people with strong inner gods, a strong sense of Self, a strong ego too. I seem to lack those things and no longer expect to produce anything that will outlast me, except the wands I have made. Who knows how long they will last? So have I fulfilled my vow of the 19th degree of the Scottich Rite to ” endeavor to do something for the benefit of my country and the world that shall live after I am dead”? Making art doesn’t seem quite grand enough for that statement. Benefit one’s country and the world? Wow! That’s a tall order.

It might be that I can dedicate myself to finishing some of the books I’ve planned over the years. I’ve always wanted to just write books, but have never gotten anything finished to the point where I wanted to give it to a publisher. But leaving behind a book hardly seems like it is of much benefit to country and world. It is at best of benefit to a few readers who get something out of the book.

God-willing I shall leave behind a daughter, but one can hardly count that as an achievement. It would be unfair to her to expect her to change the world or benefit the country for me. One gets the feeling that Albert Pike meant serving one’s country in some official capacity, politically, or perhaps starting an institution or endowing some organization or school. Well, I tried for three years to dedicate myself to Avalon Center; three years that seem like three decades. And I cannot keep up the pace. I’ve never been an athlete, but it is fairly obvious that those who want to build something to leave behind them when they are dead, need to work at it patiently for many, many years. Three years is not enough to expect anything to last. What I have built is purely ephemeral and will dissolve away to dreams as soon as I let go of the organizational structure. It is like a house of cards, or even less stable than that, just a house of relationships and words. If the relationships had grown into something lasting and solid, then the organization might have outlived me, but as it is, this was not the case.

Well better luck next time to whoever takes up the calling next.

I will continue to work to get to know and understand these inner gods. They are beautiful and I love them, but they seem weak and ineffectual. Perhaps the Jewish scriptures teach us to expect too much of our gods. But one cannot judge. Others evidently think that a god helps them achieve success, love, wealth, happiness, contentment, friendship, etc. They are content to know that God love them as a Father. But that is not much comfort to me. The metaphor is likely to be more comforting to a child who has a loving father who takes care of him or her, providing food, shelter, love, and affection. Now that I am a father and no longer have a father of my own, the metaphor seems more worrisome than reassuring.

God is the perfect father we wish we had or we wish we could be. An ideal. A dream. Do I have such a perfect father (or mother) within me? That is the question and the quest, I suppose. Those atheists who can confidently say, there is no such thing as ghosts and gods, do not have to expend energy on that question. But for those of us who cannot shake off the inner voices calling us and conversing with us, and who cannot have faith in atheism any more than we can have faith in theism, the question becomes a part of life.

Undoubtedly, there are friends and relatives of mine who would say I just don’t have enough to do and spend too much time thinking and brooding. They might be right. But remember that brooding is the only way to hatch an egg.

In Love and Light,

  OWL /|\  18°

Eques ab Ivsticia et Veritas Rose Croix

Religion and Facts

Reading an article on Afghanistan in Smithsonian Magazine this morning at the breakfast table, I was struck once more about the differences between Sunni and Shi’a within Islam. My memory may be a bit fuzzy here, but as I recall the basic split between these two sects of Islam was and is based on a difference of opinion about the succession of the Caliphate after Mohammad. Every religion or organization of any kind faces this sort of problem. Especially in the case of religions where the founder is often imbued with special holiness and awe, the matter of succession can be a problem. In druid orders this quandary has only emerged a few times. In the case of the Brotherhood of the Universal Bond, the succession after Robert MacGregor-Reid led to the founding of OBOD by Nuinn. In the case of ADF in the States, Isaac Bonewits stepped down as archdruid and the organization democratically elected a new “president.”

Quite often I attribute religious intolerance and mutual hatred between members of different sects to be caused by an inability to distinguish between metaphorical truths and historical facts. In the case of the Sunni- Shi’a schism many differences of belief have grown up over the centuries in which they took their separate paths. However, it was the factual split over succession that lay at the root of the problem. Of course, that sort of argument is sometimes just a cover for deeper differences of belief within an organization. But, anyway, it interests me.

In the case of druid groups, we have just the germ of this sort of antipathy in the Celtic reconstructionists who insist on the truth of certain facts based upon the testimony of current scholarship. Amateur scholars are not tolerated and people like Iolo Morganwg, Robert Graves, Gerald Gardner, George MacGregor Reid, and Douglas Monroe, who publish things and make pronouncements based on their own creativity but claim to be drawing on historical sources — these fellows are rejectd with sneers of derision as frauds, forgers, and “false druids.”

That sort of attitude has never struck me as either healthy or constructive. It seems to me based on a very narrow understanding of human creativity and indeed a narrow understanding of academic scholarship and the amount of creativity that is involved in any act of interpretation. Facts, contrary to popular belief, never speak for themselves. So, a religion that attempts to construct its faith on facts is, ironically, not basing it on a solid foundation, but on shifting sands. Indeed, I might go so far as to say that scholarly opinion constitutes shiftier sand than religious dogmas. The structure of academia (at least these days) tends to pit each generation against the one before in a sort of Oedipal struggle for the son’s to discredit the interpretations or theories of their fathers. The son metaphorically murders the father in order to possess Sophia, the mother-goddess Wisdom.

That said, I do not recommend that religions ignore historical facts, the accumulated wisdom of generations of scholars, and base their faith on older authorities who had never even heard of modern notions of fact-checking or evaluation of sources. It’s hard to question the motives and intention of the author of a religious text when that author is assumed to be infallible and omniscient.

Fortunately for modern druidry, books are not revered in that way. The old druids were smart fellows to forbid that their teachings be written down. They understood, I suspect, just what happens when a living person’s ideas get written down in a book and distributed by disciples. After a few generations, the author is deified and the words of the book fetishized and then, because words and books are always subject to interpretation, people start fighting and killing each other in defense of their interpretation of the words. If, on the other hand, you do not write your ideas down, you stand a slightly better chance of your followers having to think for themselves. Maybe not, but its a good plan.

It might be, of course, that later generations will simply argue about the oral traditions. We get a lot of that too in witchcraft and even in druidry. A couple of years ago on the OBOD message board we were visited by the author John Hughes who has written a couple of books, one of them on Celtic Sex Magic and another on herbs. Knowing how publishers work, I don’t know if one can strictly blame Mr. Hughes for the emphasis on sex in his books. But what did emerge in forum conversations with him was that he was quite a rambler and full of suggestions that he had secrets nobody else had — especially all those silly English druids. He claimed that his practices and beliefs were passed down to him from his grandfather, which is one of those claims that is all too common among witches and druids. Almost always when such claims are made the grandfather or grandmother in question is dead and cannot corroborate the claim. Also, they never seem to leave any documentary evidence behind them, so there is no way to corroborate the claim that way either. We cannot rationally jump to the conclusion that the claim is false and the person making the claim a fraud, but there is no way to judge either way, except by evaluating the content of whatever “secrets” they are willing to submit to public inspection and criticism.

If everyone who had a legitimate oral tradition in their family would share it with other people honestly without pretense, we might hope to get somewhere in the study of these family traditions. Maybe we will get to that point. Maybe even now there is an academic historian out there who is attempting to interview such people and to compile and evaluate their family traditions.

This is why I feel that druidry, most especially, needs to stick to its position of valuing scholarship alongside individual inspiration and keeping the two things distinct in our minds. We need the objective scholarship of non-druids and non-witches to help us see the facts, so that we too can interpret them better. You can hardly hope to arrive at a true interpretation of history without discovering the facts first. But even after the facts have been brought to light and published, we as a community have a duty to interpret those fats ourselves, examine our own assumptions, examine other people’s assumptions, and consider how our creative efforts relate to the facts and the academic interpretations of them.

The oghams are a classic example of this. In the course of the 20th century, Robert Graves’s book The White Goddess was tremendously influential in bringing to public attention the complex and enigmatic poems of the Welsh and Irish traditions. Moreover, his interpretations of the texts as a poet and amateur Welsh scholar (who didn’t actually read Welsh) influenced several subsequent authors in their interpretations of the oghams. The famous Tree Calendar of Graves was, for many years, accepted as a scholarly interpretation and indeed a fact. The Celts used this lunar calendar of the trees and it was the secret key to the meaning of the oghams. Well, today we know better. It seems likely that Graves’s interpretations will not stand up to scholarly scrutiny. I don’t even think they make a great deal of sense internally. I find The White Goddess to be a very poorly written book full of digressions and contradictions, and things that just don’t make sense to me.

Now, for me, as a literary scholar of sorts, the fact that I disagree with an author’s interpretation of some poetry or other texts is nothing new. It happens all the time. I have an radically different opinion on Keats’ poem “Lamia,” for example, than a dozen other literary scholars who have interpreted it. But who cares? The problem is that with the Welsh materials, so little of the scholarship on the subject is publically known and The White Goddess became a widely reprinted cult classic in the 1960’s when there were lots of readers looking for a Goddess-religion. Having a well-known author on the Greek myths write a book suggesting that there was a religon of the mother-goddess underlying Welsh and Celtic cultures was very exciting and could be used to justify one’s own desires and beliefs.

I’ve seen Carl Jung used in the same way. Although his ideas were rejected by mainstream academic psychologists and the medical profession, for the most part, his books and ideas spread like wildfire in popular New Age culture so that archetypes and synchronicity became household words and references to Dr. Jung were used to justify all sorts of things. But the fact is that just because someone has a doctorate doesn’t make them a perfectly reliable source of ideas, much less a part of mainstream thought. The other side of this slippage between facts and interpretations and theories is the inhernet desire on the part of New Age devotees to reject mainstream thought. The anti-Establishment attitudes of the 1960’s and 1970’s caused many people to believe in writers simply because they were rejected by the mainstream.

Now, I myself am an inveterate Jungian, but I do understand that many of his ideas are not accepted by today’s psychologists. That doesn’t necessarily make the psychologists wrong and it does not necessarily make Jung wrong. They just have different points of view, different lenses through which they are viewing the psyche and the ‘texts’ of client’s dreams and fantasies. Jung straddled several disciplines, offering interpretations of myths legends, and alchemical texts as well as his clients’ dreams. Crossing disciplines in this way will almost guarantee that everyone else in academia will reject your ideas.

One of the fascinating things about Jung is that while he was rejected after a generation within academic psychology (which turned to behaviorism and then cognitive feedback), he was taken in and beloved by at least one generation of English professors. Psychoanalytic criticism is still alive and well, though not as fashionable as it used to be. Archetypal criticism was taken up by others, or rather we might better say that Jung’s archetypal psychology clicked with archetypal criticism of the sort practiced by the likes of the late great Northrup Frye, author of The Great Code and Anatomy of Criticism.

So, we can see that in academic circles, and in medicine or sciences, we move from facts, which are the raw data collected from experiments or observations, or the recorded dreams of clients, or interviews with subjects. We take these facts and interpret them according to certain assumptions and theories. We create systems of interpretation. Then the next generation tears those systems apart, criticizes them and comes up with new ones. Until you get to Deconstructionists who just like to tear apart any system at all to demonstrate that all interpretative systems come apart.

If our druidry (or any other religious system we choose to make meaning out of life) is to carry on and not devolve into schisms and in-fighting, we need to understand the dynamic of interpretation and interpretative systems. We need to understand that practically all religious beliefs and spiritual ideas come from human creativity and imagination. This does not disqualify them or invalidate them. It does not mean we should discard religion entirely as a load of codswollop. Religious experience is part of being human and so needs to be understood and enjoyed, like other parts of humanity. But we must learn that we do not need to kill our neighbors or persecute them for enjoying other kinds of religious experience than we do. The analogy to sexual preferences and kinks should be lost on no one. Indeed, religious preferences and sexual preferences often get a bit muddled and confused with one another.

But now, to more important matters of fact. My daughter is at last awake and I must make her breakfast.

From the Owlery,

Alferian

Hello world!

Well, I don’t know that I really need more than one web log.  Do ship’s captains keep more than one log?  As my LiveJournal blog is officially for me to record the goings-on in the Chancellor’s Office of Avalon Center, I shall dedicate this one to more personal musings, and make an effort to post more frequently.

Today I am catching up with a backlog of e-mail.  No, actually, I am spending time setting up this blog.  However, I need to answer a score of owls that have been sent to me on various topics, druidical and masonic.  Linnea has piano lessons after school and I have a sink full of dishes and a pile of laundry to fold, which I am ignoring at the moment.  Till school is out at 3:40 (that is when the bus arrives here), I need to attend to a couple of customer orders that need mailing.  A splendid wand that I made at one of our druid grove camps a couple of years ago has finally caught to the eye of its true owner.  It’s utterly unique because when I found the branch it just happned to have a stag’s face and little twig antlers at the end. I carved an ogham band on it that says “the Stag of Summer” on it.

Speaking of ohgams, among my projects coming due soon are a talk I am giving on oghams at the St. Paul Royal Arch Chapter No. 1 on November 2nd.   It is supposed to be a well-attended open meeting, so I hope to be able to teach a bit about druidry, the Celts, and hand out some brochures on Avalon Center.  But I’m not going to talk about ACDS here.  See the Chancellor’s Journal for that.  I have some classes I am trying to get up online before Samhuinn too, so that any prospective students who might be lurking out there have something to enroll in.

Other than Avalon business, I am enjoying the Scottish Rite very much, going through the degrees every Thursday evening.  I am currently a Knight Rose Croix and still have my somewhat faded red rose on my desk, a beautiful rose give to us when we received the degree. Every degree comes with its own high-falutin’ title but Knight Rose Croix is one I hold dear and consider an expression of an inner identity that I have had for, oh, these many lifetimes.  This week I’ll be starting the “philosophical degrees” of the Council of Kadosh.  They seem more priestly in tone rather than chivalric, but despite my innate suspicion of priestliness, I am sure I will enjoy them and the continuing search for the Lost Word.

But I mustn’t give away too many secrets, you know.

I’m thinking of writing a presentation on Freemasonry to give at local libraries or events and get on a speaker’s bureau.  A presentation that introduces people to Freemasonry who know nothing about it.  It amazes me how few people have even heard of the Masons and far fewer in this day grasp what a marvelous fraternity it is full of wonderful dramas that aim to teach virtues.  And, of course, one doesn’t teach virtues as one teaches automotive repair or plumbing.  One can only get people to think about virtues, prompt them to examine their own thoughts and behavior, and to make the decision to cultivate themselves as better human beings.

So, back to the correspondence…

— Alferian /|\

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