In my own accumulation of Alferic lore, the Linden is a tree closely associated with the Goddess of Stars and the night sky. The Elves call her Sellë or Sarwen, and she tells me that the Celts called her Arianrhod. I have not attempted yet to interpret the stories of Arianrhod in the Mabinogi in the light of this connection, but perhaps I should do so. She is, after all, my patroness and that of Avalon Center.
At Midsummer Gorsedd this year, I had many adventures. The first happened within half an hour of arriving with my friends Nigel and Caryl from Wales. I took them out on the bluff path to see a rock that juts out over the cliff side and overlooks the great lake below. It is called, in Dakota, In Yan Teopa, which they say means “Rock with a Hole in It” but that simple name barely suggests the mythopoeic significance of such a rock. Its natural setting, before being surrounded by manmade state park and campgrounds, would have itself inspired awe. A great spur of limestone with a round hole through it meant that here stone was peirced by wind. The air could enter the earth and the hole act as a doorway for spirit (breath).
Well, we had a look at the rock and Nigel got some photos, then we walked further down the path to an offshoot that led to another overlook. At the junction, an ancient linden tree stood and called to me at once. We saw each other coming and I looked closely at this old tree. I like lindens. I live in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis, after all. This one had a dead half and a living half. The dead trunk was perhaps two feet in diameter. I noted later that it was big enough to have made a dugout canoe. The living half was a sucker that the main old tree had put out once upon a time, as lindens do. They send up suckers from their roots and this one had grown into a whole new tree – perhaps ten to twelve inches in diameter. I touched her and asked her what her story was and she told me that here to the right was her old life and to the left her new life. I took this message philosophically. After all, one of the things I had been discussing with my friends was the re-opening of Avalon Center after a year of hibernation and re-organization. I was at that sort of a juncture, a place where my old life needed to be returned to the earth and the new shoot take over. Old ideas, new ideas. Old plans, new plans. You get the idea.
After we had admired the lake and the trees, we turned back to the main path and passed the linden again and no sooner had we turned out backs and started back toward camp than we heard that archetypal sound: a tree falling in the forest. We turned to locate the cracking sound, probably following some ancient instinct of our kind to locate a potential danger behind us. There the old linden was, giving way, toppling over right across the path behind us. The path we had not taken. When it had fallen with that drumlike thud upon the earth, I could see what had before been hidden – that the old dead trunk was hollowed out all along one side. Its base was rotted away to pulp. So, the old life had fallen away to give fertility to the soil of the forest and the younger half of the linden carried on. Its new life was now free to grow and spread.
It was like seeing death and rebirth in action, like a vision of our immortality. And it was extremely uncanny. It felt uncanny in its timing and in its metaphorical power but thinking back on it there were some other things that were odd. The bluff path follows a very steep drop and this tree did not fall downhill but uphill. Not unheard of in that forest, of course. It also did not fall towards the rotted hollow side, but away from it. Simply laws of mass and inertia perhaps? Maybe. But to the poetical mind, this linden dropped away her old life across a path we had not taken and had done so in a way to expose to view the hidden hollowness that had resulted from that dying away. She had already fed generations of termites or ants, fungi, and woodpeckers. She had been living there doing so in life and death for perhaps my whole lifetime so far. And that was the moment in my presence, when she made the transition to let go of the past and carry on with the future.
Some of my friends are skeptics and object to anthropomorphizing nature and they would probably disapprove of my taking this episode so personally, as if there was an intentional message for me and for my druid friends. I would not argue the point. It is a matter of my being there and interpreting meaning in the workings of Nature. That is the only “supernatural” – nature layered with meaning that we give to it or take from it for our own edification. This too was among the lessons of the linden.
For some reason (Sunday, I suppose) there is a theme of Gospel music on the radio today. Christa Tippet on “Speaking of Faith” interviewed a famous Gospel singer about the music of the African American experience and now on “Prairie Home Companion” with Garrison Keillor the Hopeful Gospel Quartet is singing a song titled “When I Get Home, I’m Gonna Be Satisfied.” I love Gospel music, but the Christian and Biblical basis of it have never appealed to my heart. I do not disrespect anyone who embraces the Biblical stories as their life’s myths but I myself have come to embrace and resonate with other myths.
However, it is interesting to consider the themes of Gospel music. It is a branch of the Christian cultural tree that emphasizes “going home” as the central theme and hope. It appeals particularly to people in slavery or in poverty, those who feel trapped by the circumstances and evils of this world. It is a spiritual impulse to look to the next world and to consider it “home.” This is something that in fact a great many of today’s pagan folk share with many Christians – the longing for the Otherworlds. I am not sure our ancient Celtic ancestors did feel that longing. Many of the old tales seem to regard the Otherworld with a certain amount of fear. However beautiful and enchanting, however much it may seem like paradise, the Celtic Otherworlds are often places of danger and even entrapment. However, today’s pagan Celts and Teutons (in America at least) are influenced by intervening centuries of Christianity to look at the Summerlands or the Otherworlds as places of rest and reunion with one’s dead loved ones.
We know that in days of yore the warriors looked upon the Otherworld as a place of warrior feasting – endless battles with friends and worthy enemies in which at the end of the day all the “dead” were resurrected to join the winners in the feast. We can recognize in this picture the play of boys. It is playing at war for the joy of winning and even the joy of losing when one is defeated by true skill. But it is not a matter of hatred and killing and trying to take over other people’s lands, or even raiding their cattle herds. It is a simple boyish pleasure. So, the Otherworld may be perhaps described as that imaginal world in which all of our desires for the simple pleasures of life can be fulfilled. In the Christian Gospel tradition, the pleasure emphasized is singing and making music, talking to loved one’s, loving one’s neighbors in a world without jealousy and competition, and more than anythng, talking to Jesus face to face.
The song to which I just listened expressed the desire to sit down and talk to Elijah and Abraham and all the other Biblical patriarchs. I found that interesting. Not only the Savior himself, but all the other great main characters of the books of the Bible are people the singer wants to meet. How often we play the game of asking, Who would you like to have dinner with from history? What famous great person of the past would you most like to be able to talk to? Those persons who make the Bible the center of their mythic imaginal lives naturally want to visit the characters in their favorite book. Likewise, I wonder if a druid Gospel music would not explore in song the joy and thrill of meeting famous characters from druid myths and legends. I am not sure I would want to meet Cuchullain. A bit like meeting Superman. But if I were a woman… Still, that old line from “The Incredible Hulk” applies to Cuchullain: “Don’t make me angry. You would not like me when I’m angry.”
Now, for me, it is Arianrhod, Cerridwen, Brighid, and Rhiannon that I would most love to meet. Being a druid, not a warrior, the Goddesses appeal to me more. But certainly among my choices for a nice intimate talk would also be Gwydion, Math, and Manawyddan, Nuada, Ogma, and Oengus Og. And of course, Taliessin and the enchanter Merlin. There is really a great potential for Gospel music. The word “gospel” comes from the Old English for “good word.” It is literally “Good Spell” Music. So, why not develop our own druidic sort of such a wonderful form of expression. We have it too in our marvelous folk singers. Damh the Bard and Hugin the Bard, among many other wonderful musicians of the druid and neopagan movement. We are too young for our music to have become “traditional.” It won’t develop naturally into a cultural tradition until a few generations have passed, all singing the songs to their children. And therein lies one problem. In the iPod generation, we have little troubadour robots to sing to our children and that is not quite the same as the family or the granny getting the little one’s together to sing to them and with them and teach them the songs. We internalize the songs by learning them. Just listening isn’t enough to get them inside our heads so that they become part of our unconscious mind, our soul.
The interesting idea for me is that of creating a genre of bardic song that develops a similar theme to that central theme of the African American “Spiritual” – that is, the theme of “going home.” Druids, on the whole, (if one can generalize) belief in a cyclic existence, one in which “life after death” involves passing on to a new life in another body, not a definitive ending to physical existence, as in Christianity. In the Christian faith, there is “life after death” but it is a spiritual, purified life in “Heaven” a kind of paradisal realm outside space and time. The scientific pedants who sneer at the Christian mythos by saying that Heaven cannot possibly being located “in the sky” do not understand poetic language. Nor, alas, do they understand how little they understand. They think that people of faith are speaking the same language of science which they themselves speak. It may all seem like English, but it is a completely different discourse. Within the English language, “speaking of faith” is a matter of poetical, imaginal, and fantastical utterance. So, when someone says they look forward to “going to Heaven and meeting Jesus face to face,” they are not talking nonsense; they are talking the discourse of the soul.
Those people who reject “faith” and poetry in order to (as they see it) be closer to truth and reality, have deprived themselves of one of the great powers of the human creature: Imagination. Of course, skeptics of this sort cannot really escape from their own imaginative powers, nor from their own inner gods and demons. Indeed, the demon Scepticus is one of their guiding lights. He’s a Trickster and loves to make people say things that will sound simply naive and foolish to their audience. All the better if the dedicant to Scepticus will utter these arrogant and self-assured denunciations of the spiritual life of the imagination in a tone of condescension and pity. “Ah, the poor ignorant Christians, or the sad foolish fluffy-bunny pagans with their credulous beliefs,” the Skeptic will say. He sits, proud in his throne wielding the Scepter of Scepticus, believing himself to be emperor of all Reality, calm and satisfied and confident that he has solved all the silly problems of the world by embracing materialism, science, and that bright God Scepticus.
Now, of course, I am engaging in gentle satire myself. Satire is good if it can hold up a mirror to people who have made a mistake in their thinking or behavior. There is a word for people who do not have faith – infidels. But that has rather a bad connotation since the crusades when warriors were encouraged to go off and murder infidels. People who do not have faith (or who repress it in themselves) are not bad people. They are just normal people. Scepticus is an important and good god. He isn’t “The Devil” as some Christians seem to believe. He keeps us from taking our fanciful myths literally and thereby misunderstanding them. He keeps us from blindly accepting the stories of others as facts when they may be simply myths or fictions designed to contain and convey truths. For “truth” is not the same as “fact.” Facts do not, contrary to the platitude, “speak for themselves.” Facts, to the extent that they may be said to exist independently of human minds observing them, are always interpreted by the human reason, imagination, and within the limitations of particular languages. We speak for facts, just as the Lorax spoke for the trees.
Truth, on the other hand, is the meaning we make out of things. We observe our inner life, we communicate with others about their inner life, we observe the world on the other side of our eyes and senses. We may also have communication with divinities or “spirits” who we cannot explain or describe with the discourses of science. All these experiences become part of our songs and in them we find the kernels of Truth. Science and modern education have promulgated the notion that there is only One Truth. There is only One Correct Answer for every question on the Test. Life is not like that – at least not for most of us. A few people may have the temperament to place their faith and credulity in the idea that statements are either True or False. But it takes a strong will to ignore all the evidence of experience that will stubbornly refuse to fit that neat paradigm of reality. So, for the person of faith (whatever faith it may be) who is not a dedicant of the god Scepticus, reality is a more slippery fish and we must find meaning, or rather make our own meanings and truths out of the raw materials given to us by circumstances (or God, or Nature, or whomever you like to imagine gifts coming from).
Gospel singing for the druid must be not so much about a single truth or a single end to life, or “going home” in a permanent sense. But rather perhaps about “going home” in order to get a truer perspective on the life we have just completed. Our body dead and worn out, the spirit or mind of the soul carries on to new life because it was never bound by the temporal body. Our attention rested in that particular space for some length of duration, but the source of our attention, our spiritual being, was never really imprisoned in the mortal clay. It might have felt imprisoned, but in the bigger reality, each spirit exists beyond our human conceptions of space and time. So, “going home” means returning to a broader, less myopic view of ourselves and others, a broader and deeper understand and sense of the cosmos. I like the idea of expressing this in terms of sitting down to dinner or a glass of wine with Brighid or Arianrhod or Bran the Blessed. Though the idea scares me, I could even look forward to sitting and talking to the Morrigan and the Cailleach.
After all, those chats are what we druids do. We learn to leave our mortal clay where it is and move our attention to the Otherworlds and speak with those very figures. Every time a druid meditates it may be a “little death” as the metaphysical poets used to say about sex. We are brought outside of ourselves, our bodies, outside of the ordinary “house” we make for ourselves. The ego, the persona, and our ordinary lives are ways to protect ourselves from getting lost. We couldn’t manage to stay focused in our bodies and in the particular space we have chose to occupy if we did not create these constructed mental boundaries within our being. We would be at the mercy of the Elements, without a shelter. The ego and the ordinary personality it builds up around it are like a cozy wigwam to protect us from the storms and cold outside that could easily blow one away or freeze one’s corporeal bodies to the point where it would be useless.
The Gospel music of Christianity is so comforting for those who embrace the Biblical mythos. It’s a nice contained world that you are heading to. Going home. Not going on an adventure, mind you, but going home. Coming into port after a storm-tossed voyage of discovery. Christian preachers sometimes look at life on Earth as a testing time, followed by the Eternity of peace and respite in Heaven. The test is sometimes seen as the challenge to make ourselves good men and women, to help and love our neighbors, to forgive our enemies. Sometimes, the test is reduced to simply a flash of enlightenment in which one says with utter conviction, “I accept Jesus as my personal Savior.” Poof! That’s all it takes. You’ve done what you needed to do. And saying those words (and meaning it) will cause all the other love and good behavior to follow naturally. Well, that ‘s the best case scenario. Few Christians are so naive as to believe it is easy. Faith has to be maintained like a fire. You don’t just switch it on like a light bulb, you have to nurture it, build it, and guard it against wind and rain.
Druids know that too. The difference is that there is not single “Savior” to bring this enlightenment. Any of the divinities might do so. Indeed, a tree might do so. Seeing a deer in the forest might be the source of that flash of enlightenment. Life is full of salvation for druids. It doesn’t mean studying the Bible or any other book, nor even embracing any particular mythos. There is no formula in druidry for enlightenment. But those who have walked ahead on the path through the forest, may offer guidance and clues. I don’t mean simply human “elders” in a druid or wiccan tradition. I mean the our inner guides. Whether we imagine them to be other people speaking through our heads, or whether we see them with visions, or whether we relate to them as complexes of our personal and collective unconscious mind – doesn’t matter. The guides are there. Most often they are called “spirit guides.” Some Christians worry that such folk are “demons” leading us astray. It might help them to understand if we told them that spirit guides are much more like guardian angels. Christians do not seem to have trouble telling their guardian angels from the Devil and his minions, so I don’t know why they think druids should have a harder time making that distinction. But a certain amount of training as in a good druid order such as the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, prepares one by developing the judgment with which to assess the denizens of the Otherworld. There are tricksters and mischief-makers. But on the whole nobody is completely evil and malicious. Still, you don’t want to invite an Otherworld being into your head or house if it is filled with hatred toward you or Humanity in general. It is only common sense. On the other hand, the dictum of Jesus to “love thy neighbor” is a good one and love will often disarm those being wielding the sword of hate.
Music and singing are as important to the Bardic Way as they are to the African American culture and, I should think, all tribal cultures. The tribe, the clan, and the family are all woven together with songs. The Good Spells of Druidry might yet be written by our bards to celebrate our own sense of hope for the future, a homecoming, a returning that does not involve getting a golden harp and sitting at the feet of the sky god so much as returning to the loving embrace of Mother Earth in our present lives as well as in a hoped-for afterlife. Our lives are not divided into before and after death. They are a continuity of birth and rebirth, so that we are always coming home. The moment of death is always a moment of salvation for druids, not because we are “saved from our sins” but because whatever mistakes we have made in one life, we have another one to look forward to, another existence in which the divinities will teach us how to be better people. Quite literally our souls are saved when the old worn-out packaging, our bodies must finally be cast aside into the compost heap.
Some druids do not believe in reincarnation, and that is fine. The first tenet of Druidry is “Don’t believe something just because someone else told you to believe it.” You have to experience life for yourself. Get out and experience it. You can read books and listen to stories and the talking of wise elders or inspired youngsters but ultimately you must experience your own life for yourself and that is the only Druid Way. That is, in fact, the Druid Good Word, the Good Spell. Druids can conceive of the Afterlife any way they want. Indeed, Christian druids may well go for the golden harps and the long talks with Jesus. Maybe they will also hope to meet Taliessin too and to sit with all their ancestors playing music in sessions of fiddle, harp, bodhran, and pipes. The theme of “coming home” is interesting in another way too because I have heard so many fellow druids say that discovering druidry as a faith and a way felt like coming home – here and now, in this world and across the worlds.
The Summer Solstice has passed and American Independence Day. My druid grove met at a state park to celebrate the summer and it was a perfectly beautiful Minnesota summer weekend too, filled with mosquitoes (not too many) and does with fawns, and a young stag of summer, snorting, and stamping at me from the bottom of the hill, quite put out that druids had disturbed his realm. The stag of summer in the heat of the chase, says the ritual of my druid order. These deer, within the sacred precincts of the park are not likely to be chased, but with such a burgeoning population, it is possible that even they will be hunted to thin the herd, rubbing a bit too close, as they are, to their human neighbors. My friend Ted, who lives nearby, says that in town every house has its little family of deer who nestle down in its yard, and sample the leaves of its gardens.
Too bad for the gardeners, but how lovely really. Deer are among the most beautiful of all creatures and the entire week’s tone was set by them this week. On Monday last, I visited another state part by the Mississippi River with my friends Nigel and Caryl. There, we were met by a young hind on the driveway into the park. She stood, watching us carefully, but with little fear. If disease took us all one day and left the land to them, the deer would populate it nicely. Of course, the wolves and coyotes would come again to fill in the give and take of predator and prey. But while we humans last, the deer teaches us grace, caution, and to walk gently upon the earth. Caryl said that we must take the lesson of the deer and go gently this week.
At the gorsedd of druids by the banks of the Mississippi, I tried once again to act the leader for a camp while spending my nights at a nearby hotel where I could plug in my VPAP breathing machine and, I hoped, get a reasonable sleep with the help of drugs of various prescription kinds. It seemed that the currents of life had other plans. Somehow my digestive malady was triggered. It is becoming increasingly hard to figure out the culprit, but the usual, predictable course began by Saturday morning. I had slept but not very soundly and when I arrived at camp late in the morning everyone was up and breakfasted and off on a hike (despite the fact they had all been up much later than I had). There was no bacon left and no one seemed to care that I was famished. My father would have said, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” Dad had learned young that a man must grow a hard shell over his soft insides, like a turtle.
But I was being taken by a gut reaction, which in my case, does not mean a “hunch.” My gut reaction are overwhelming and when they come they sweep away all of the reasoning mind, all ability to stay calm, to use coping strategies, to “manage” anger. The anger wells up for no reason at all except as a biochemical energetic reaction of a gut that has been enraged and rendered terrified by the introduction of some food that other humans would digest quite happily. It may be a molecule of milk protein, a particle of gluten, or it may be something else entirely. According to my naturopathic doctor, my body recoils at shellfish, peanuts, walnuts, corn, and even chocolate. This gut is like a nervous deer, easily startled, easily rendered full of fear. But the fear is transmuted into the emotion of anger and not wishing to let loose an embarrassing and irrational temper tantrum at my family or friends, my this emotion is transmuted into motion. Fight or flight? I flee.
I flee my own anger, my gut reaction, then my shame at the gut reaction and the anger, my chagrin at being unable to digest the simplest ordinary foods. So, I was “taken.” It used to be that people spoke of others being “taken” by the fairies. Then psychologists taught us there were no such things as fairies and we were really just being taken by a fit or taken by some form of mental illness. These are scientific terms for fairies. The identity is apparent to me when these “fits” take me because the irrational state seems sometimes to open up my mind wide to the Otherworld. So it did on the first Day of Saturn this July. The dark father. Saturn was the father of Jupiter in the Roman way of thinking, a dark devouring father. Freud was quite interested in the devouring Mother, but here in the center of Western culture and the European collective unconscious is Saturn, the devouring father, castrated and murdered by his son. An interesting fellow although a monster. One wonders what his point of view might be.
Well, filled with the rage of Saturn and taken by it, I marched off, without sunscreen or insect repellant, hat, water, or even a walking stick. Indeed, in my sandals, not my boots. I walked in a rage, walked in order to walk off the anger. I was hungry and soon grew thirsty too, and was being led on a merry quest, a soul journey that had nothing at all to do with being a “leader” of my grove. The notion of a “leader” in our culture, American culture, if not the whole of the West, is that of being “level-headed,” a careful planner, charismatic, self-confident, and reliable. Great leaders inspire their followers, make them feel empowered, and are able to bring into manifest being their grand dreams and visions. They do not, as a rule, have temper tantrums or disappear for five hours into the woods.
I walked down a shady hollow, up a sunny hill at noon, down another long decline into shadow and emerged on a road where I slipped like a thief behind a park building, eluding the notice of the rangers taking a break there. I hid like an outlaw behind an oak while they drove off, then was summoned to pick up a fallen birch branch. There were several branches and their white bark was burned black by fire. Bubbles of sap had boiled out of the tree’s flesh and burned into hardened nodules of soot on the bark. I pulled these off like tumors, bursting them in my hand. The bubble burst into black powder.
Following no reason, my hands began to strip the bark and the twigs off a branch, to smooth it, to pull at the rotten places with my fingernails, driven still my gut-anger. Then the oak tree told me to climb the tor, spiraling sunwise. I started to do so, using the rude birch staff to help me keep my footing in my sandals on the rough slope. Around a corner was a limestone shelf with a juniper tree growing on top of it. Have you read the Grimm’s Fairy Tale titled “The Juniper Tree”? It is not one that many read today, but it is one I know fairly well. The juniper is a wishing tree, a protective tree, a mother tree. The limestone shelf had a flat base comfortable for sitting and the shelf formed a roof just over my head as I sat as if it had been tailored to me. I noticed too that the birch staff, after I had broken it’s branches off was just about my height, and forked at the top, like the Twins, my birth constellation. I sat working that staff with a stone for a rasp like stone age Man might have done. Beneath the hill. I rested, but my hands were restless.
At last, after maybe an hour or maybe a half hour, I resumed my climb and came by stages to the top among the oak trees so familiar to me. Seven ancient oaks in circle surround a grassy clearing. These trees always talk to me. “Talk” is hardly the word. They prophesy, they offer comfort, they recognize me as a spirit, not as the simple life of this existence with its biographical facts and slight accomplishments. But I was still restless and did not stay long. I gazed to the far hills where the oaks have told me repeatedly my Avalon is destined to rise. I left the grove by the usual path but did not want to walk down the road exposed to the harsh sun. My neck and face were burned now, my feet tired, my throat parched. Exercise had quenched hunger, but the anger and the disconnection from ordinary reason was still on me. I took to the deer paths for the shade and knowing that if I could find the right ones they would return me to the shadier trail from which I had originally circled the hill.
But the spirits of the forest had other plans. Every track I followed led me to a new brambly path with thorns to scratch my feet and bare legs (I was in shorts too). My hands were scratched and blackened from the burnt bark of the staff. Now it helped me walk on steep slopes and uneven ground and to part the buckthorn that is taking over the forest everywhere. Great oaks met me – seven sentinels beneath the tor. Brothers to the sisters seven, they said to me. But, restlessly, I searched on, talking now to my guides, realizing that I was being forced to seek them out. One of my guides calls himself Endymion. It is a bit of a joke between us, but that is what I still call him even though he did reveal his true name. He is impatient with me and quick to point out that if my guides do not come to me it is because I do not come to them. Unless I listen, they cannot be heard. My fear, my timidity, my fear of unreason makes me hide from them. Who wants a “leader” who hears voices, who lives many lives, who forever has a foot in the Otherworld and a mind half vanished into a forest? But then it was the guides who told me to take up the job of being a leader in the first place.
In the forest after meeting the oaks, I met a hen turkey and one of her chicks. I startled them and apologized and then thanked them for the blessing of meeting them, although they had both vanished as completely as if they had never been. The lesson the turkey taught was that even seemingly lost in the forest, we are taken to wonderful meetings. I was not afraid, not too concerned. it was only mid-afternoon and I knew I could not be far from a trail one way or another.
In and out of the trees, down deer paths, along rills I went till I needed to rest again and could not determine where I was. Exhausted, the anger at last fading into bemusement, I met a large flat boulder, a stone place to sit in the shade. The trail I sought might have been twenty feet away and I would not have seen it. But every deer trail just let to another. Resting, breathing, feeling the aches and the sunburn and the cuts on my hands and feet, bug bites here and there, I somehow reflected on time. I was wearing my watch and I was amazed to see how much time had passed. What were the others doing back at camp? Had they begun to worry about me? Had they begun to suspect I was lost? Sarah had, after all, witnessed exactly this same phenomenon in Iowa not two months ago when I was taken and just walked off for two hours. Now it had been four. I babbled on about time and how it seems to expand and contract, how it is an illusion, how the stone on which I sat must experience it so much differently. I wanted to know the Elvish way of speaking about life without reference to this false notion that “time” is a “thing.” Our language teaches us to think that time “flows.” But it is our life and consciousness that flows.
Then Endymion explained to me that what we have come to call “time” is an artificial way of expressing that one’s consciousness exists in a particular place. I am here on the stone, then I am somewhere else. I move through space and it is that movement which we imagine to be “time” flowing. We imagine that everyone experiences time the same way because we are taught that it moves with the regularity of a clock. In fact, it is our clocks that have created this idea of time. Outside of clocks and our conditioned minds, there is no such thing as time. There is only consciousness in a certain place and then moving through space – or in the case of a tree or stone, moving very slightly, perhaps imperceptibly to our senses and lives. The spirit of a place, a tree, a stone, is just like us, but it has chose to exist in a certain place under certain conditions of movement or stillness or rootedness. Its very being is joined to the place. This is the same act of choice we take when we choose to exist in a human body. To do so, I confine my self to the space occupied by my body. So, the spirit of the rock choses to occupy the space of the rock’s material form. The human form has advantages of being rapidly mobile, but humans have come to grossly over-value this ability. Now we fail to appreciate our ability to be still and slow and to move our consciousness through space more gradually.
Does the word “slow” imply “time?” Of course, it does within our language, but the real issue is how is our consciousness, our attention related to space and place. If we dwell long and hard with attention and intention on a place, then we say we are there a long time. If we devote only fleeting, superficial attention to a place, we say that we are there a short time. But there is no such thing as time. Time is not a “thing.” It is a concept we have developed to think in a certain way about our attention, and I am not sure it is the right way to think. At least, it is not the right way for some purposes.
With new understanding from the conversation upon the rock, I held out my wand and asked Endymion to point me the right way. He asked if I truly trusted him. I told him I did, but in my mind I did not believe he was sending me in the right direction. Indeed, as it proved, he was not sending me in the direction I wanted to go. Instead, following his directions, I emerged at the foot of a steep hill. On its top I could see a stand of oaks. Well, if I climbed to the top, as exhausted as I was, I would at least be able to see where I was, above the trees and the seemingly labyrinthine rills. A climb. A tired chuckle. I was right back in the circle of the seven sisters, our oak friends.
So, Endymion and the forest sprites had led me on a merry round through the forest and back to the very hill I had climbed an hour or more ago (time was completely blurred at this point). The Sun’s attention shifted and moved through space. On a far tree was perched either an eagle or a vulture. I could just make it out. I called to it with a poor imitation of an eagle’s cry. It shifted and seemed to look around. But all day the vultures had kept their distance, circling high overhead, away, too far to see their faces. This one ignored me and I laughed. “Eagles do not come when you call.” Later in the day, or the following day, a young fellow visiting our grove, who is also named James, told me of his experiences with an eagle and a hawk close up and how he called back the eagle using a call that imitates a dying rabbit. Spirals and spirals. A burst of belated fireworks from the 4th of July rocketed over the far hill drawing my attention away from the eagle. When I looked back to the great dying oak on which is had sat it had vanished, as surely as if it had been a spirit.
I decided my need for water was too urgent to go back toward camp at once. The nearest water lay in the opposite direction at the ranger station, and the easiest way down was to descend the steep tussocky hillside on the south. So I descended, for the second time that day, and left the forest. At the ranger station I must have looked a fright. My tee shirt now filthy, my hands blackened, my hair full of leaves – the oak king or the green man? My last animal encounter was at the water tap behind the wood shed where a baby bull snake erupted indignantly from his hole under the well tap. Thinking he had found a cool place to rest, he was suddenly being drowned by this ridiculous druid.
The rest was an assertion of will to walk up the bluff on the road this time and down the well-marked trails back to camp. The result: I was too utterly exhausted to lead the grove in the Solstice ritual. I could not climb that tor again, after having been up and down it twice already. My legs were gone. I tried to rest and eat, but still there was nothing left in me. All my substance had been taken. The anger was gone – though still smoldering a bit. But so also was all my physical strength. Quite apart from walking for five hours, this was the predicable course of my “gut reaction.” After the eruption of anger comes complete exhaustion and usually sleep.
So, my discomfort at being the “leader” of the grove, the one to whom everyone turned to direct our feet was addressed when my own feet were led by some other force, and I turned to my herald and pendragon and all the others present and said, you go do the ritual without me. I wanted to know that they could. I never doubted that they could do it without me. But I wanted it to be demonstrated to all of us. It wasn’t however, really a plan, or a rational test, or anything of my own devising. The day of Saturn simply fellow out that way.
My need for water. This weighed on my mind the whole time. Water is the element of emotion, of love, of connection to others. My gut-reaction makes me feel alienated, unloved, unconnected, misunderstood. My battle with the emotions, with the Otherworld voices and visions were also watery things. Wellsprings bursting up inside me. My consciousness and attention moving through the magical landscape. Others might see that place as merely a nice bit of nature, some preserve, offering some respite from the city or town. Others might see it scientifically, with the eyes of a naturalist. But I am a naturalist of a different color and there are three places I have seen so far in that park that are clear, active, overwhelming doorways to the Otherworld. I do not offer the statement as a statement of objective fact. Rather, it is a statement of the truth as it is experienced by me. Others feel it in their own way, I believe. Even perhaps the couple who passed me on the trail and did not acknowledge my presence, as if I were invisible. Even perhaps the woman who passed me as we met on the path and who nodded to my “hello” even though she was wearing earphones.
I will continue next time with a note of two other experiences. One happened in the first hour after we arrived at the park and involves a Linden tree. The other happened on Friday night – Freya’s night – and involved the place my daughter calls “Spooky Hollow.”