TWO MILESTONES in my life happened this November. Although I am thinking about the vast world issues going on beyond the horizon of my small life, these milestones of a personal nature have given me great satisfaction.
The first is that I am celebrating my 8th anniversary of wandmaking and Bard Woodcrafts Wandry. Today, I went through all the old e-mails from clients and the many people who sent me queries and questions about wands, wandmaking, and trees. It was a delightful experience to re-read some of these notes. So many of them begin with something like: “I just came upon your site…” The serendipity involved in finding Bardwood is something to consider, for I do not spend money and time seducing the search engines into putting me at the top of the search terms. You have to look past four or five more commercial wandmakers who sell much cheaper wands, and links to the band The Magic Wands, and other stories that include the term in a different sense.
So, those who have found Bardwood Wandry are among an elite of persevering seekers not deterred by the whims of Google and Bing. I believe part of the reason my site doesn’t appear easily in search engines is because I have not updated it in quite a while. I understand that is one of the criteria the robots use. That I do not cater to the preferences of robots gives me some gratification, even if it deprives me of much business.
Yet, even among those who do find my Wandry, many turn away from the windows longingly unable to afford my prices. I do really sympathize with this dilemma. I couldn’t afford my own prices either. I wish that there was a way to do the kind of work I do faster, but it just is not an art that can be easily subjected to scientific management. Of course the big Harry Potter wandmakers like Alivans, spend a lot on marketing and they utilize an army of wood turners to produce their designs. It may not be mass-production exactly. As I understand it, the system is a sort of de-centralized factory where Alivans supplies the templates and the turners crank out the beautiful finished product. I am sure someone at Alivans (Mr. Alivan?) does quality control on the finishes and the turning work itself.
However, in an effort to serve those magical folk who might want a top-line wand, I have put out an e-mail notice to past clients and correspondents about an End of the Year, 8th anniversary sale. 15% off the usual prices, plus FREE SHIPPING. Huzzah!
It will be interesting to see if it draws in some business.
The second milestone this November is that I was elevated to the “most sublime” degree of Royal Arch Mason in the York Rite of Freemasonry. There is a certain amount of competition between the hardcore York Rite Masons and the hardcore Scottish Rite Masons. I don’t wish to pick sides in that argument about which is “better” or more “authentic” or whatever.
Taking the degree of the Holy Royal Arch makes me a full member of my local Royal Arch Chapter, St. John’s-Lake Harriet Chapter No. 9. As with many of the Scottish Rite degrees, the Royal Arch degree purports to convey the true Master’s Word. As in the Scottish Rite, this revealing of the Lost Word is a recurring theme and my feeling is that it must be taken as symbolic. The whole degree ritual was highly symbolic and, as in the case of other Masonic rituals, it can be taken at face value as an exercise in storytelling creating stories that re-enact in ritual drama parts of the Biblical story of the Temple at Jerusalem. This piece of the story addresses the destruction of Solomon’s temple, the Babylonian captivity of the people of Judah, and the ultimate return of some of them from Babylon to create a client principality under the Babylonians.
But, I need to study this story to internalize the facts, such as they are in history and such as they are presented in the story. After that, or at the same time maybe, I want to tease out the symbolism. Clearly, this is the ritual that Mozart used in his opera The Magic Flute. It involves a symbolic journey through the trials of the four alchemical elements. The journey from Bablylon to Jerusalem is presented as an alchemical journey of the soul – a transformation of the soul, and probably also points to a major transformation in the Jewish people.
Many druids and other pagans today turn away from the stories of the Bible, the mythic history of the Jews in the books of what the Christians call “The Old Testament.” This has been the creation myth of the West for 2000 years. Modern pagans tend to gaze past the Bible and be more interested in Babylon, Sumer, Egypt – those ancient cultures and their ancient religions based in polytheism. There is a certain opinion among pagans today that monotheism was a big mistake. I am not personally willing to make such a sweeping statement. I see the wisdom and appeal in polytheism and the wisdom and appeal of monotheism, or Platonism with its monism. I do not see religion as a matter of figuring out which approach or which culture is more “right.” It is to learn as much as possible and to strive to see through all the different lenses at the cosmos (inner and outer).
It is a feeling of accomplishment to receive a Masonic degree. But the feeling of excitement and accomplishment dissolves quickly into the realization that you have been given a charge to study and find the secrets of the degree. You receive the “title” Royal Arch Mason or Master of the Royal Secret, but these titles mean nothing in themselves. Their significance lies in the actions of the Mason who takes those degrees – afterwards. Does he engage with the mysterious, symbolic material he has received in an attempt to learn from it?
So, now I sit before and contemplate those treasures brought forth from the hidden recesses of the Royal Arch. I will mention that one of those treasures was of particular significance to me as a wandmaker, but I won’t tell you more than that.
Another Samhuinn has come and passed and the veils between the worlds have opened and closed, yet our ancestors remain a presence if only we do not close the veils in our minds. In the druid calendar, the old year has ended with the passing of summer and the new year has begun in the gathering darkness of winter. Why? Because new life begins in the dark womb; new ideas begin in the darkness of the skull before being brought to light. Death precedes rebirth, for there can be no regeneration of the old without death. We live in the sublunary world of inertia and friction. Machines and living organisms alike wear out. The machine may be repaired; the organism may regenerate to some degree, but only to a point and then the machine must be scrapped and the organic body die and return to atoms, to be recycled.
The druid way presents this view of life. It is Eternal, and yet our bodies are ephemeral and pass away. Life lies not in the material organization of atoms, but in the spirit. The organization of spiritual quanta into a soul is what we call the true life, the indwelling spritual organism which generates and emanates the body and the ego like a snail growing a shell.
Yes, a soul, if viewed without its body might indeed appear as a shapeless invertebrate with little eye-stems.
The question is, whether a soul is ever, in fact, naked. For “ever” is a reference to time, and the soul lives beyond the mundane plane of time. The soul is not “unchanging” — no, quite the contrary. But it does not change and grow within the limitations of temporal space; it exists in the higher planes of the astral world and the mental world. Or rather, let us say that our being — we as beings — exist within all these planes simultaneously (not “at the same time” but without regard to time). Our being is Eternal and Eternity is a place, a place that is round, a limitless sphere. It may be understood as the soul of God, or the soul of the Universe.
The Universe is something too vast for us to grasp — it seems cold and impersonal. But let us consider the Anima Mundi, the soul of the world. We are better able to conceive in our minds a soul of the Earth, a Mother Gaia. The Soul of the Universe is like this, only on an inconceivably larger scale. Presumably we may talk of the soul of a galaxy or a nebula too, or the soul of a star.
Some say that we are each a star. Our soul is the soul of a star embodied in a frail and ephemeral garment of flesh and blood. I rather like that idea.
A visitor to our grove on Samhuinn said that he was in favor of whatever religion or spiritual practice permitted one to engage with something “bigger than oneself.” The expression is well-worn among definitions of religion. But curiously, it made me think that on the first level, that thing “larger than oneself” to which druids connect is the Earth. Without having to strain credulity or imagination to conceive invisible gods or goddesses, the druid way connects to that thing that is manifestly bigger than ourselves, our planet. In another sense, the druid connects to the Land, to the land in which he or she lives. A land which humans can internalize as they learn its landscapes, its food sources, its sacred places of beauty. A land which the heart of humans invests with love and meaning.
Is a religion really good if it prevents people from seeing this all too obvious fact — that the Earth is that thing greater than ourselves? If it instead substitutes an invisible, anthropomorphic God and embraces that bigger “thing” instead of the planet, the land? As we have seen historically, the more a culture worships invisible or distant deities, the more it begins to drift away from loving and understanding the land. When urban life leads one to never connect at all with the land, then one begins to think of the land as only a “resource” to be exploited and turned into cash. When the animal mundi is no longer at the center of our beleifs, then all spirit quickly follows and what is left are urbane skeptics, agnostics, and atheists, without anything “bigger than themselves” at all.
If the land is that “bigger thing” then the culture is unlikely to produce agnostics or atheists, for how can one disbelieve in the EArth? Only once the transition has been made to invisible gods, does the whole business of religion start down the road of disbelief, for it is in fact easy to disbelieve in the existence of invisible gods. In this sense agnosticism and atheism, as we see it today, is a by-product of monotheism, but equally well a product of poly theism, once it becomes disconnected from the land around us. When polytheist gods and goddesses become representations of social roles, types of knowledge or skill, or abstract ideas like Justice, Mercy, Truth, Goodness — at this point the door is opened to doubt and unbelief.
The stories woven of the land and the Earth are stories in which one can believe because they are rooted in the visible world. Even spiritual experiences are discussed in visible terms — visions, voices, signs.
November is upon us. Winter is the goddess Cailleach. No abstraction. No “pagan idol.” She is the Winter herself
May your cromlech, round house, or wigwam be warm until Spring and the sun’s return. Good night and sweet dreams.