Tag Archives: druids

The Lesson At Winter Solstice _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 11

December 21, 2013

Today is my seed group’s winter solstice gathering. It is our first semi-private ritual since the group formed, and we’ve put quite a bit of effort into making it as meaningful and smoothly running as possible. My friends pick Allegro and I up in a clunky, old, yet functional pickup truck. While Ashley drives, Tara gets into the truck bed with Allegro on her lap and we set off to make the forty-five minute trip from Berkeley to Walnut Creek. Fortunately the truck is equipped with a camper shell. I would otherwise have never let Allegro ride in the back of it on the freeway.

Minus some minor hang-ups, the ritual is a big success. In itself it only amounts to half an hour of the gathering. The rest of the time is spent chatting, eating great food, drinking mulled wine, and catching up with friends and family.

Now a bit tipsy on both red and mulled wine, I find myself in the kitchen of the clubhouse we’ve rented for the event which is owned by the apartment complex of one of our members, Holly. Holly has had more whine than I have though this is hardly the main reason that, when I find her, she is more in the otherworld than this one.

“Can I talk to you a minute?” I ask Holly, who puts a warm cup of mulled wine into my empty hands. This is the first year I’ve been introduced to the stuff, and boy have I been missing out!

“I’m not all here,” she says, “I’m trying to make more whine and am running around a bit. But I have a minute.”

So, I lay out the problem for her as quickly as possible. It has now been a solid month since the fianna started coming through my apartment on the way to making other commitments elsewhere. I am more than exhausted. I lean against the wall heavily, visibly spent, explaining to her that despite the fact that none of them have individually given me any trouble, I’m an introvert who recharges energy by having alone time, and have had next to little of it lately. I think there are definitely over a hundred of them, and that’s an insane number of people to share a small 720 square foot apartment with.

This would be difficult to deal with in and of itself, but things have gotten worse. I am, as it turns out, amateur at best and dangerously ignorant at worst when it comes to creating portals to the otherworld in my living room. Recently, I’ve come home to find two modern teenagers lackadaisically lounging on my island kitchen counter swinging their feet and rolling their eyes at me when I ask them to get down. I suggest to the couple that perhaps they have died. Do they know where they are? With surprised quizzical looks, they disappear. This leaves me sad and worried. If teenage newly-deads can appear in my apartment, perhaps anything and anyone can. What would prevent a nasty otherworlder, human or creature, even elemental, from entering my space?

“So,” I say to Holly, “It seems that now, despite my intentions, anyone can get through. I’ve been trying not to conclude I ought to change my mind on offering my hospitality, but now I might not have a choice. The thing is, I haven’t known my otherworld friends that long and something like this hasn’t happened before. What if Oisín and Caoilte don’t understand? I don’t want to make them angry or let them down. What should I do? I really did mean it when I said they could call my place their own. I wanted to give that to them. But it is now costing me too much of myself and is becoming potentially dangerous. It’s never wise to indiscriminately let any otherworld being into your home, even if this wasn’t my intention.”

Holly thinks this over for a while. Finally she advises me that it sounds like, for my safety, I need to get rid of the entrances I’ve made into the otherworld. She assures me that the four people, including Caoilte and Oisín who helped me heal, are already connected to me and closing the portals won’t shut them out of my space. I’m relieved to know that. She says that to her mind they ought to understand why this situation is no longer working for me. Uneasily, I agree with her that tonight when I get home, I need to get the word out that I can’t be offering my place for everyone anymore.

I get home at 1:30 in the morning, but I am undeterred from my mission to do what I say I would. I am now extremely exhausted, and even more tipsy. I open Microsoft Word, and write a letter to Oisín and Caoilte, explaining the situation and how I need to do what is best for me, and that I apologize but I simply misjudged my capacity to host so many people, as well as failed to accurately assess my ability to selectively create portals into the otherworld. I end by entreating them to understand, still not sure whether they will, and not sure I want to know what mood they will get into if they do not.

I then close the portals immediately without waiting for approval. It would frankly be foolish to wait for a response from my otherworld friends. After all, the longer I wait, the longer I leave open the possibility that something unpleasant can come through to bother me. For all I know, some nasty thing has already done this. More than that, however, I don’t do approval. I’m the kind of person who begins eating a cookie and then asks if it’s all right to eat it—if I already know the person whose cookie I am surreptitiously taking, of course. I have walked across a road I know is closed just to tell a bewildered police officer that I do not follow the rules: well I actually had a line prepared about not seeing the “closed” sign, but I’m an embarrassingly terrible liar. Of course I am considerate of others and a happy follower of social norms, usually, but I’d rather make my own decisions and own their consequences than constantly look outside of myself for direction.

Once the portal is closed, I remember the letter on my screen. In a moment of pure inebriated clarity, I hit the save and send button in Word, then puzzle for a minute or so over why I can’t remember Caoilte’s or Oisín’s email address. I decide afterward that perhaps I should only write my otherworld friends while sober. But I do smile at the fact that I’ve completely forgotten their disembodied status for a moment and simply thought of them as people, period. And most people I know have email. I decide that I will simply leave the letter on screen and delete it in the morning. This, I think to myself, is like writing something on a piece of paper and then burning it, without the complications of writing on paper or the use of fire, both of which I gladly forgo most of the time.

After this, I can barely move and am falling asleep sitting up, which I am excellently good at. So I get myself to bed. When I wake up in the morning, I delete the letter on my screen, and hope for the best.

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A Year Ago Today _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 9

July 26, 2013

The fire crackles, contained neatly in its metal fire ring. I watch the flames in their leaping, weaving shapes and shadows before my eyes, telling of tales I cannot quite read, dancing a song I can watch but cannot hear. Above me, the stars are shining somewhere in the night. Night, the closer of the two, presses in on all sides, and moving slowly around the flames to keep away from the smoke I feel I understand what a planet must feel like, orbiting its central star, the only thing keeping it from folding into the blackness of vacuous space.

Most of us have gone to bed. I surmise it might be around 1 in the morning, or later. Only three of us are awake now. I’ve been talking to a young man who claims to be an anarchist but the only label I’ve managed to give him is “obnoxious.” He has invariably been irritating me all night, and I have a headache from talking to him. Fortunately, this is when White Fire walks over and sits down with us, seeking company and the warmth of the flames.

We are several groups of druids camping on an ancient mountain in Southern California, my own Seed Group, and a group from around the mountains in which we’re now gathered. White Fire is a member of the second group.

When he sits down, White fire turns to me and begins a conversation about the otherworld. I’m happy to talk to him. First of all, his voice is quiet and calm, a nice antidote for my headache. Secondly, the man who has been the source of the headache knows nothing about the otherworld, which means I am guaranteed that he will shut up for however long White Fire and I keep on with the conversation. Thirdly, White Fire knows something I do not, many things I do not: I feel it in my bones. I feel in my bones that I must speak to him: now.

“What do you know of the purple fog?” I ask.

“The purple fog is the twilight,” he answers in a way that makes me imagine him saying so with a smile and wandering eyes.

I shiver despite the warmth of the fire. I have written several poems about purple fog, being the twilight, thinking this was a grand metaphor, but never suspected that I could be drawing on an ancient truth, one that now I realized I always knew, if only by an ancient instinct.

We talk for twenty minutes or so about the twilight and the fog.

But I have a more urgent question. One I am a bit terrified to ask. Well, to be honest, I am not afraid of asking the question, but of finally finding an answer. I feel I will in fact finally have an answer tonight. It’s a question that has haunted me since 2010. I can’t let it go, and now I can’t ignore it, even if I tried.

If the question were a child, it would be jumping up and down, tugging on my arm, and squealing incessantly for attention. Fortunately, I have only to deal with the question, and not the image of the impatient toddler it is conjuring in my mind.

“Where in the bardic Gwersu are you at now, White Fire?” I ask for a start.

The order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids,
http://www.druidry.org,
of which we at the campsite are all a part, is divided into three grades, the bardic grade being the first and the one I am in. Gwers (gwersu plural) is the welsh word for lesson, and our study course contains 48 lessons, gwersu, in the bardic grade. I can’t remember now which number White Fire responds with, but I do a fast calculation and know he must know about what I am about to speak of, since the number he gives is past eight.

“Do you remember reading in gwers 8 about the fianna, and how they’re sleeping in a cave, and someone starts to wake them up, but only gets two thirds done with it before running away in fright and leaving them off pretty miserably?” I ask. My hands are folded much too tightly in my lap, while with an effort I try extremely hard not to conjure the picture of the fianna sleeping in the cave, even though usually I see a picture of the scene my words are conveying at any time whether I am talking about the otherworld or a washing machine. The picture would upset me too much.

“Yeah, I remember that story,” White Fire confirms for me. “Why? What do you want to know?”

I nod, take a deep breath. “What’s happening about it, do you know?” I am shifting around self-consciously, not sure whether I am actually comfortable having this conversation. I’ve never spoken about this with anyone. It’s the kind of thing most people would meet with concern, and perhaps a question about my health or sanity. But I remind myself I am speaking to a fellow traveler on a druid path, and so it is much more likely that I will be taken seriously and heard without a large dose of negative judgment. I continue by way of clarification, “I mean, is anything being done about it? This is a situation that can’t continue, especially if they really are worse off than before. I cant rule out the possibility. What do you know? Is anyone looking for them, are people on this already?” I am thinking to myself that usually I have this conversation about things like global warming or the conflict in the Middle East, or food stamp regulations, or the protection of children. I’m not thinking of this situation much differently, I realize.

“It’s already happening,” White Fire says quietly.

“Oh,” I exclaim half to myself and half to him. My relief is almost tangible. And then a thought suddenly crosses my mind, a question really: I’d said in 2010 that if I ever had a chance, I would finish what was started so that whatever waking needed to happen, I’d help complete the last third. Did I just now stumble onto the chance to do just that, I wonder?

What I do know is that I’m not going to be content to stand by and go about things as usual, leaving what might need to be done to other people. I want, need, to be a part of the solution. I feel quite strongly about this, but if I am honest with myself, I can’t fathom the reason why. Why given so many stories about so many ancient people, would this particular one not only catch my attention but spring me into action? I am sure, only, of the fact that it has.

“What exactly is already happening,” I ask White Fire. “Do you know anyone who has gone to the otherworld to get help from people there? What has been done already?”

“I don’t know,” he admits. “I only know that something is already being done. It’s been going on for a while. People are waking up. It’s happening everywhere. All around us.”

I picture nondescript sleeping people slowly waking up completely, getting to their feet awkwardly, walking into the sunlight, squinting and shading their eyes, attempting to move after being horizontal for an unconscionably long length of time. But I have to erase the picture rather quickly.

Instead, I begin to weigh the likelihoods of various scenarios which I might come to encounter. I allow myself to consider the logical possibility, albeit a small one, that the myth could have more reality in it than anyone would want to believe. In which case, I think fervently to myself, for the sake of the fianna, I hope that such a theoretical possibility can’t physically occur and this particular myth fully lives up to the literal falsehood by which the modern term “myth” is defined. On the other hand, the probability that the story speaks of a profound metaphor is much, much higher, and less cruel, in equal measure.

However, because my philosophically trained mind can’t rule either possibility out wholesale, I have to act. As soon as possible. I don’t know what I’ll do. I don’t know where I’ll have to go to do it, or if I have to go journey to a different world (which for me will be easier since sight won’t get in the way.) I actually know little about the fianna specifically, other than of their importance, but that does not matter either. What matters is their freedom, and if I can do anything at all.

And then White Fire’s words fall into place for me. Of course, I realize, the story is about shifting consciousness. This is about returning to ourselves. Perhaps the myth is meant to show those of us living now how we ourselves are sleeping, numbing ourselves out against pain, persisting rather than existing, going through the motions of living what we are told to become, rather than joining the dance of life as all that we are. If I was not cold despite the heat from the fire and my four layers of clothing, I am now. The person who told the story in the particular way she did in the gwers had not just conveyed the need to wake an ancient group of people: she called us if we would listen to awake to what of them we might find within ourselves.

In 2010 I heard, but I am actively listening now. What would it be to live as an awake person? I yearn to know. I want to wake up, I want to walk into the world tall and sure of my own belonging. I will look within myself first, then, before looking anywhere else. Even so, I have to make sure this is in fact the metaphor and the people in the story are actually okay. They do exist, I think, I am sure of it. And I am also sure that I would try to do what I could to help, rather than run from them. Running just seems so unnecessary, and a waste of time besides.

“Thanks,” I say to White Fire, sincerely, letting go of something I have been worrying over for three years now. I read once that actions define us, shape who we are. The fog of indecision lifts, and then a path is visible ahead, every moment a choice. And when all is said and done, choosing is easier than never making up your mind, no matter how hard the decision. Well, at least for me.

It is several weeks later, one late night back home in Berkeley, that I get the opportunity to be a part of what happens. Trying to take to heart what I’ve learned in the bardic gwers on storytelling, I decide I ought to memorize a story. The best story to memorize, explains the gwers, is one that speaks to you, that you always come back to. There is only one story fitting that description for me right now: the myth in Gwers 8. I set myself to memorizing it. As I go about what needs doing that evening, I recite the story in my head as best I can, and then when I have finished I recite it again. Without thinking, I recite it a third time.

Three is a powerful number, the binding number. I have spoken my intention three times, giving my word to it, but on this night I have forgotten that fact. I’ve got to go grab something out of my room, and that’s all I’m thinking about after I finish the third telling of the story. Concentrating entirely on the practicalities of the moment, I walk through the door distractedly. Halfway across the floor, I jump out of my skin, then try to recover from being startled as quickly as possible. I blink, a few times, bewildered, more than a little in awe of what I see. I don’t move.

There, as clear as day, only about a foot away from me, stand twelve people, in two rows. It’s hard to understand how they managed to fit in the space they are occupying, as they are all quite tall and imposing. They range from 5/8 to 6/5 in height, roughly. They stand very straight, very still. They are all male, and I notice, carry shields with intricate swirling patterns I can’t quite make out or understand, and are wearing large belts with swords hanging from them. They all seem to have chosen to appear as they were in youth, though based on what they are wearing I know they lived a very, very long time ago.

I’m having trouble meeting their eyes, I am more than a little daunted by the idea. But I am not having trouble recognizing them. I am unmistakably looking at twelve fianna warriors, who are now patiently standing in my room. What to do?

I decide the natural response would be to be afraid, but I dismiss the idea. Far from being scared, I realize, I’m excited to see them. First, I am full of relief and something like joy. They can’t very well be sleeping in a cave, I reason, if they’re standing here now. Besides, my thoughts continue, it is just plain rude to fear people I’ve never met before, and haven’t I been waiting three years to talk to them? Somehow I know I have been looking for them as much as they have been looking for me. Now, we have found each other.

And then I realize I am staring. I look quickly at the ground to stop staring, remember that this isn’t polite either, and so, with determination, I look directly into their eyes … and then I can’t recall why I just hadn’t done that in the first place. In pictures I say, “Hello. I’m Éilis. It’s nice to meet you.”

A year has passed since my conversation with White Fire. One incredible, transformative, amazing, mind boggling, awesome, healing, wonderful year has gone by. I started out wanting to help a group of people I barely knew get themselves out of a cave in which they could neither live, nor die. Instead, I found myself reunited with my family, my very ancient family. I walk my journey with them. I am home. I am more myself than ever before. And I will never, ever be the same. And every day as I am living, not persisting, standing tall in the knowing that I so holy belong here and now, I often wonder, as there is so much to wonder at, what now? Whatever it is, there’s no need to wait to find out. It’s already happening, after all.

When she was born, Bean Alainn was indeed a beautiful girl. Her seal fur was softer than that of her siblings. It glowed slightly, almost as if it were being lit from inside out, especially when rays of light from above burst apart like shooting stars in streams of greens and golds. Her beauty far surpassed outward loveliness, however. For Bean’s eyes were like harbors, pooling calmly and quietly into deep fathomless blue: eyes that at once contained compassion and elicited awe. For to look into them was to not only be well met, but to be suddenly immersed in something indisputably beyond your ken, and yet discover that far from losing yourself in that vastness, you would instead recognize yourself reflected there. I met Bean Alainn myself only on several unforgettable occasions before life flew from her, and I have never forgotten those eyes and how it was her very soul that looked out from them and somehow always sought and found my own.

Anois, now, there is yet one further thing to be said about Bean’s birth. For though Bean was páiste beag, just a wee child, her soul had in fact lived a very long time. Bean’s soul had traveled at least three life circles between this world and the next before arriving here, or at least, that is what the druids told Bean’s parents upon her birth. For even the seal folk have their keepers of the wise who know the patterns of the stars and can sing of the loom on which new life is spun and how, among it’s threads of many colors, the strand of fate is woven throughout. And this is what the keepers of the wise said, that Bean Alainn’s soul was very old indeed, and that upon her lay the fate of three worlds, and no matter how carefully she chose her actions, she would bring much joy to some, and much sorrow to others.

And so Bean’s parents kept this knowledge to themselves, and neither to any kin nor even to Bean herself would they speak of it. The druids’ pronouncements were not ordinary, and they feared their daughter might be found to be displeasing and destructive to their underwater world and be sent to the edge. So they brought Bean up as ordinarily and uneventfully as possible.

Young Bean grew strong and well alongside her many brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, parents and friends. She ate with them, sang with them, and laughed with them. She learned to count by sifting grains of sand, and learned the names of the stars by how their figures appeared on the surface of the water. She learned how to stay out of reach of sharks and fishing boats, how to hunt for fish, how to swim gracefully, and how to put a mist on the sea that would muffle the selkies’ voices so human beings would not realize that they often spoke to one another.

She and her siblings would often watch from some distance as their mother would dance out on the rocks and sand bars at midnight with the other women of the clan. The ability to shed a seal skin and take human form did not appear until selkie children came of age. Boys and girls alike grew into their power as shape shifters, but it was quite rare for the men among the selkies to come to land. Roomer had it that a selkie father and his son were killed in a hunt off the place the humans called Sule Skerry, and that had the father not come to land to fetch his son himself, such ill fortune would have not befallen them. So it was that the only men who ventured onto land were childless and had few immediate kin, and they were pitied by the rest.

By the time Bean was six summers old, she had won a reputation for herself despite her parents’ intention that, other than her stunning beauty, she be plain and unremarkable. Anois, now, selkie children learn their people’s sacred songs from the day they can speak, and to a human person even the most unskilled singer among the selkies would take your breath away. All selkies have haunting voices that make the human heart ache for a home it cannot name until a person is filled with such longing that her dreams are of nothing but sliding silently beneath salty spray and frothy foam, yearning after some lost and forgotten island mirrored beneath wave and sea. But it became apparent quite early on that Bean would be one of the greatest bards within many generations. When Bean sang, the very rocks of the land heard her song, and the mountains echoed her high clear tones so that stopping in a field, a person might turn her head and wonder at the voice reverberating upon the wind. When Bean sang the waves grew quiet and still, and trees bent to catch her words, letting them linger for a moment in their leafy hands. When Bean sang, birds cried overhead circling and calling to her, until she could imagine the current of a river and the silent authority of a forest.

Anois feiceann tú mo leanbh, now you see, my child, the elders had never forgotten the words of the druids, and so they took notice as elders should. And it was decided, as often these things are without the person present, that Bean Álainn ought to learn the ways of the clan early, for the knowledge holders had come to the elders saying, “This girl will be among those from whom we will one day choose a new leader, and it is fitting for such children to begin training early so that when the time comes, their responsibility will not weigh so heavily upon them.”

So it was that when the girl reached her seventh summer, Eithne, a well respected elder, sought the child’s parents and instructed them to take Bean and come with her to the next council which was held after every third rising of the moon.

The Unexpected Origins of Caoilte Mac Ronan _ Song of Sun and Sea

The little boy, only eight summers old, burst through the doorway of the house at his mother’s call, but only after she had hollered his name at least five times. His thick dark red hair was wind-blown and tousled, and he was very much out of breath. Once again his mother was hollering, now from much nearer by, to get back outside with those shoes before she got to him first.

“What have you made of the morning, mo leanbh?” she asked, attempting to continue to scold. Attempting, that is, because just at the corners of her eyes danced a hint of a smile even while her lips turned into a frown. The boy had never been able to learn the art of a seer, but he knew the secrets hidden in a person’s face better than anyone. It always surprised his mother, but he did not know why. All you had to do was open your eyes and look. No one bothered to look. But he had, and it was there he met a person’s soul.

He had seen the smile and knew his mother’s anger would only be for show. “I was out running, ma. I went to the edge of the woods,” and here he pressed on hastily, lest his mother interject with the familiar warnings about the woods, “I did not see the shadows of the tallest trees, the sun being so bright just after dawning, so I just kept running. I made it to the fork in the river. When I got back it was still morning, so I ran it all again.” he finished proudly.

His mother only shook her head. “Ten miles, go sábhála Dithe sinn! Isteach leat, in with you and wash your hands and feet. I have hot tea for you when you’re done,” she thought for a while as the boy left his shoes outside and came in to scrub the dirt and sweat off himself. “I fear we won’t have you to ourselves much longer,” his mother continued.

“Will I get to join the older boys and learn how to fight, then?” the boy asked eagerly. “I already run faster than any of them.”

His mother sighed. “One should never run too quickly out of childhood. You would put an end to your growing before it has begun. No, you will wait until the next year like all the rest. Three times three is the year of power, when potential comes into it’s own.”

The boy listened intently. He had never heard his mother say so much at once, with such earnestness, conveying so much meaning. “What truth in the direction of your words do you wish to share, ma?” he asked quietly, sensing his mother meant to say more than repeat the druids’ law of three. He took a long sip of tea and patiently sat waiting for his mother to sift through her thoughts for whatever story wished to be told. For when she got that pensive look on her, a story was in formation. The boy loved the outdoors, loved to run, loved to play games with the other boys, especially the older ones. But if truth be told, he cherished his mother’s stories most .

“I am glad you are sitting down, son,” she said finally. “It is time you learned your origins.” A chill ran through the boy’s body, and he made sure he was sitting tall and making eye contact. This would not be like his mother’s other stories. This would be different, lasting, changing.

“Do you know the meaning of your father’s name,” she asked for effect, for the boy would know. “He is called Ronan, little seal, and here is the why of it. You see, he is a child of land and water. His mother was a selkie.”

The child gasped audibly. He had not been expecting this, but felt he should have. He had never known or met his grandmother. But he had heard his share of stories of the wild and strange seal folk who danced out on the rocks at midnight, their eerie song floating out over the waves like a soundscape’s shadow. Were their song something seen and not heard, it would have glowed iridescent and luminous in the darkness. “Tell me of her people and how she came here.” the boy encouraged, softly.

Across from him, his mother sat still and silent, as if the story wrapped itself so thickly around her that speech would be difficult. Finally she brushed her long wavy hair out of her clear blue eyes, eyes the boy thought now were so unlike his hazel eyes which mirrored tones of the water or land depending on which he was near. Taking a breath slowly, his mother began:

“Once, fada ó sin, long long ago, lived a small and young selkie girl by the name of Bean Álainn, Beautiful Woman.”