First Aid For The California Fires And The Election

Big Basin Redwoods State Park Headquarters & Visitor Center
BOULDER CREEK – AUGUST 20: A redwood tree burns near Big Basin Redwoods State Park Headquarters & Visitor Center in Boulder Creek, Calif., on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. (Randy Vazquez/ Bay Area News Group)
   It seems to me that this is all of a piece. Our democracy is burning, a virus is burning through the populace and the forests in California are once again a direct manifestation of the way climate change is burning our world. Siberia and Australia, the Amazon and the Arctic Circle all are going up in turn.
     No one place is more important than any other, so many places are at war, on fire, so many people are fleeing death. If you feel an affinity to a different place and a different aspect of the worldwide problem, by all means, alter this ritual to fit your circumstances, or write a new one and share it. We are all part of the same living world and we all need to work as we are called. Do the magical work as you are moved to, and then get to work on the physical plane. Donate, march, write, vote. Take someone in, hold your representatives feet to the fire until they feel it as we do. Now is the time to think of how you can become a blessed ancestor and do whatever it takes to make that vision real.
     I pulled my collection of waters from the Earth out of the fridge in creating this ritual—if you have a sacred place to gather water from, by all means do so, but you don’t need to. All water is sacred. Your tap is a manifestation of magic, the blessing of cool, clear, safe water running freely within our houses is something that has only been available to a privileged part of the population for the last century or so. Begin by seeing it for what it is. In the United States, we can all find out where our tap water comes from. Do so, and with that knowledge, begin your connection to it. Then think beyond this small planet, alone in our solar system in having liquid water in abundance on our surface. When we go to other planets, when we look across the galaxy and beyond, what is the first thing we look for? The presence of water. Water is life.
     One day, one week, one month—or until November Third. Beyond this time, if your situation requires it. This ritual was created to support the forests of California until the rain comes and the United States election is held. The forests and the systems of government throughout the world need support and cleansing as well, so the more people we have throughout the world connecting our planetary energies and landscapes together the better. If you’re on an island, the plankton themselves are a kind of forest, the corals a mineral connection to the mantle of the planet. Wherever you live, think about how you make that connection, and how your home needs to be supported right now. What kind of a network is part of your home right now that you can use to send energy to your home and beyond? Is it to be found in Land, Sea, or Sky? Animal, vegetable, mineral?
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     Wherever you are, prepare for meditation or create sacred space however you do so. When you are ready, visualize your connection to the Earth. Do you have an inner sacred place?  Perhaps you might choose a tree in that place, or you might have one you know at home, one you pass on the way to somewhere. Create one especially for this ritual if you like. The only necessity is that it be a tree or a network you can imagine becoming that creates a connection to the Earth.
     You will need a container of water, preferably one that closes. A clean glass jar works well. It does help, however, if you know where the water you are using came from. Tap water will do. All water is sacred, it is a great rarity in the universe. Our planet harbors life because it has such an abundance of liquid, free-flowing water. If you did not collect it from a local source, an ocean, spring, or lake, your water company can usually give you this information. You will not be drinking this water, you will be returning it to the earth when you conclude the ritual, so your choice need not be limited to what humans may drink.
     If you feel so inclined, create an altar with the things you find meaningful on it. Have the water you will be using for this ritual before you in a closable container that will be kept in the refrigerator for the duration of the whole spell, should you choose to perform this ritual until the November election.
     Create sacred space however you do this in your tradition. Call a deity if you feel moved to, or just become aware of the planet itself.
     Sit comfortably and look within, eyes closed or open as you choose.  Feel your body. What space does it occupy? Where does it rest? What holds you?
     Can you imagine a tree, a lake, an ocean? What would it be like to become it? Can you feel your roots going down into the ground, or your toes dissolving to join a river’s flow, part of you still, as you are a part of it? Feel your bark covering you, limbs sprouting leaves, your roots seeking moisture in the earth.
     How are you connected to the Earth? Do your roots dig deep into the Earth? Do they form a halo close to the surface, where they may create new trees, sharing the same root system? Is the connection liquid, electric? Reach for it and send your own energy in return.
     The trees are burning, neighborhoods are being coated with ash. People flee the heat, the smothering smoke in the air. They are taken in by others who live outside the danger, people and governments who have enough to share and the need to do so. Hospitality is sacred, a duty to the community.
     Can you see yourself as a tree, your limbs and leaves rising, your roots in the earth, twining with the rest of the network of life, deep underground? Down there there is water, even in the heat of a California August. As a tree, you can pull this water into your roots and share it through the network, supporting the forests on fire and the people displaced.
     Here in California, It’s only a few months till the rains come. Till the election is held. We can keep going that long. We can let our thick bark turn the heat, glow in our deep places inside with anger, with purpose, with love and support for all that lives and shares and cares.
     We can do what must be done. Through the network of the phone lines, raising our voices and defending our Post Office. We can shelter, feed and clothe those who have fled death throughout the world and have lost their jobs or are on the street during this long emergency. We can use the network of the Internet to connect teachers to students, workers to their jobs. We can stay inside, starve the virus of easy routes to use its own network, carried on the breath, in the air we all must share.
     We can do what must be done. We have enough to last till the rains come, till the election is held. We can make sure that every person has an income until the rains come and the crisis is over. Reach down and share through the roots, as far as you can imagine the gift of life going, knowing it will continue on throughout the world. Send it into the water before you cradled in your hands, or held in the mind, or however you are accustomed to doing such work. See it flowing, feel its electric hum as it flows from you and into you, as we are all part of the network. All of us together can hold out till the fog, the rain, the reckoning arrives.
     It’s only a few months. Water is deep down, as the will of each of us comes from a deep source and is strong enough to sustain us until we can feel the water from above, or make the thieves and abusers leave our Houses of Government. We are strong enough to act together and create the possibilities for our descendants that will cause them to remember us as Blessed Ancestors. See them washed out of the places that belong to We The People. See those places cleansed and inhabited by people who understand why they were put there and the trust that has been put in them.
     Send all of this, throughout the journey you make in the course of this meditation, into the water before you. Charge it with your intention, your emotions, your hopes and your intention. Embody it with the world you want to see.
     When you feel the exchange is complete, for now, slowly bring yourself back along the paths you have traveled and into your body as tree, coral, mycelium or whatever form you have assumed. Take your time, come back completely. Feel your human self, fingers and toes and the metronome of your breath. When you are ready, open your eyes. Ground yourself, eat something, have a glass of water.
Put the jar in a place at a temperature that will keep it from growing anything you don’t want it to. A refrigerator works well—but do as you are moved to. Perhaps you need to draw fresh water for each session of this magic, and return it each time to its source.
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When you choose to finish this work, choose a place where you can return the water to the Earth. If you got it from a specific place, you have the option of taking it full circle. A city park, a river, the ocean work well, as does simply spilling it on the living earth. Offer the water back to the world and send the work off with it.
Please share this ritual, it was written as an offering. All I ask is that you don’t claim it as your own. Keep the gift moving. When I come up with a chant, I’ll post it here, so feel free to link back to this post.
CauldronLake

Carried On The Breath

Years back, in saner times, I went walking in Wildcat Canyon. It was midsummer, the green was creeping down the hills as the relentless sun of the dry season drove the water downhill. I sat under an oak tree and looked at the patterns the color made as gold engulfed green. I came there often and was realizing just how easy it was to get a specific lesson from the land, just by taking the time to really observe. The pennyroyal patch that I’d been making cups of tea from was obviously a place where water pooled below the surface even in summer. The reeds grew in another low place for part of the year. The bracken grows in winter, the wet season when our biome comes alive, and its brown skeletons can be seen as the dry season sucks the green plants dry. The hills are pale gold and the hum of life rises to a subtle scream of heat and light that stretches the days to the breaking point. This is when fire stalks the land. For a time, the only patches of green are the depressions between the hills, the streams marked by the trees that grow on their banks. The alders grow on the lower hills, closest to the water, the oaks and laurels take over from there and dot the hills. The huge purple thistles and Himalayan blackberries, brought by people who should have known better, are happy in their new home on the hills and in large thickets, and broom, another plant that was brought here, crowds out the native coyote brush and ceanothus.

I used to live close enough to ride there. I’d lock up my bike in the parking lot and walk the road that goes nowhere, my very own dystopic landscape when such places were delicious fantasies instead of looming realities. I’d think of what it would be like to be a nomad on a bicycle, living off the land and having adventures.

There is a turnoff and a steep section of hill that ends at a cattle gate. You can let yourself in and continue up the dirt road to the remains of what was once an estate, and then a sanitarium, and then was consumed by fire over half a century ago. What was once a long driveway lined with palm trees is now a rough trail with one or two weatherbeaten survivors, their trunks stout and battered by the struggle of living in a climate they were never meant for. Among them are oaks and bay laurels, the remains of rose bushes, and the low lines of what were once walls. There is a set of steps ending in grass, a fine place to sit, and further on an orchard reduced to a few stunted apple trees sheltered by a snaggletoothed line of cypresses. Strike off for the top of the ridge once you pass the line and there is a brass benchmark set in the bare top of the hill. The view is impressive, you can see the Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, Mt. Tamalpais, the refinery with its round tanks off in the distance.

That day though, the heat had driven me off the ridge into the shade. I was thinking about the planet and how we were changing it. How it must feel to be the earth as it warmed. The hot day was a reflection of the planetary fever we are creating as we move the stored carbon from the land into the sky. I closed my eyes in meditation and asked the Earth what it felt like to breathe as a planet right then.

I began to feel the heat as I hadn’t before. My throat was dry, and I wanted to lie down. The air was drying me out, and my eyes popped open. I took a gulp of water from my canteen but it didn’t help. Each breath was drawn with difficulty, through the thinning tube of my throat. I began to panic.

Then I remembered what I had asked and realized what was probably happening to me. If it wasn’t, I was far from help and this was before the age of the cell phone. I did lie down, and slowly took a deep breath. I felt the land beneath me, holding me up, and spent some time just breathing, sending the fear down into it, reducing my need for air in stillness, looking up through the leaves above me, the bits of blue sky above. Slowly, the dizziness subsided. I wasn’t sick, not really. The Earth wasn’t even sick. Things were just a bit harder than they had been and I was a vessel far too small to contain the Earth’s pain. I sat up, drank more water, and thought about what had happened.

It has been years since I lived in Richmond. That day I’d driven up there on a whim, wanting to see the place again. As I walked back to my car, a battered silver Honda that had taken me on many an adventure, I realized that this had to be my last car. The Earth could take no more and I would no longer be part of this madness. Yes, my gas-crunch car sipped rather than gulped. It was tiny enough to fit in any possible parking place. Its emissions were so low that smog places asked me what I’d done to it, suspecting modification. I’d bought it from a guy who’d had tears in his eyes as he’d turned over the keys. Impulsively, I’d asked him what its name was. He said “Phoenix,” so fast and low I almost missed it. It had been rear-ended by an SUV, the back hatch had been crushed, but the frame was fine and the car did live up to its name. For practicality, and I admit to add to the Road Warrior ambiance, I popped the back hatch open, installed a couple of hasps on the sides, and padlocked it shut. I loved it like a member of the family. In the end, Phoenix died when a truck turned left in front of us on Highway 1 out of Crescent City. I managed to get down to 35 by standing on the brake. I wasn’t hurt, my coffee hadn’t even been spilled. Phoenix was totaled. With tears in my eyes, I turned it over to a wrecker and in the end joined a carshare.

Today the sky is hazy. The morning light was strained through smoke, the color of fine old Scotch and smelling like it has every summer for the last few years. Fire season is so beautiful, and so sad. We won’t be burning, we live in the city. We are lucky enough to be able to stay inside, able to do the right thing in a pandemic, but so many of us have to go out there, have to work or flee burning houses, or to places where we can breathe.

We’ve triggered planetary defense mechanisms, passed tipping points. In California, we are seeing the beginning of desertification. The forests are changing, turning to savanna in some places, changing their composition in others, burning and dying in places that were once beautiful. Sudden oak death is taking the oaks on Mt. Tamalpais. They are being supplanted by bay laurel and Douglas fir. What will happen to the redwoods, who need their feet in the water? Big Basin is burning, the oldest California State Park, home to the giants.

We’ve targeted the atmosphere, that thin layer of gases that the lives of so many creatures depend upon. It’s as if the planet is sending humanity the same message I received when I asked my question years ago. In specific areas, for specific people, we can’t breathe. And yes, we are compounding our folly by choking innocent people to death, as if to make this human-made tragedy complete.

COVID-19 is the icing on the cake. A disease carried by the air. It most often settles in the lungs, and most people survive it, but that is a deception that only allows it to move more freely among us. As it spreads on our breath we find it has so many more ways of killing or causing permanent harm. A zoonotic disease, it has spilled over into humanity because we can’t seem to share this planet we are part of, and collectively we don’t care about any of the other beings on this planet except as they relate to us. The remedies to limit its spread are simple, but unpleasant and expensive and require cooperation and sharing what we have.

We are being tested—not by a faraway being who created the Earth as some Petri dish to see how far the experiment will run, but by ourselves. We are stretching the limits of our only home and we have nowhere else to go should we damage our habitat to the point it can no longer sustain us.

We can stop this. The test we have devised for ourselves has no individual solution. Living a climatically virtuous lifestyle—whatever that is—is a way to experiment and find alternatives to the unbridled pursuit of growth that has been the norm for the last ten millennia, but it is like throwing a bucket of water on a forest fire. It will not save us as individuals. Enough of us have forgotten how to live as if other people matter, as if other species matter to push us over the edge of the carrying capacity of this place we call home, and until and unless we learn to live as part of a collective superorganism, which is, after all, what this planet is, we will not survive. Like everything else here, alone in the sea of space, we are all connected. Our actions in this time matter deeply. We are unlikely to extinguish all life, but we can certainly extinguish ourselves.

I don’t know how to fix this. The caterpillar doesn’t know how to become a butterfly, but it does so. Are we part of a galaxy, a universe, where this sort of metamorphosis happens? We won’t know unless we make it to the other side. It may turn out that we’re worrying for nothing, that what feels like death approaching is only the process of transformation. All I know is that when we seek stillness and listen to the rest of the world we do know what we shouldn’t be doing.

Our planet lies between two others, Venus and Mars, that for reasons we do not yet understand went in opposite directions, one falling victim to a runaway greenhouse effect and the other possibly losing the ability to support an atmosphere and retain liquid water. Did they ever support life? We won’t know if we don’t survive, but we do know that continuing to fill our atmosphere with carbon dioxide is a foolish thing to do.

I am not for an instant calling the current pandemic a blessing. My own country is closing in on 200,000 deaths, and the havoc and death that has been created by one little virus is not something any sane person would wish for. It is, however, the kind of shock that can create change. The countries who have taken it seriously and taken sensible action to deal with the crisis are beginning to recover. It is blindingly obvious what needs to be done and the consequences of not doing these things. I’m not going to go into those actions because they are being discussed worldwide and the information is available to anyone who chooses to open their eyes.

These things aren’t easy for people who have been accustomed to thinking only of themselves, their families, their nations, their species. Doing them will mean we have at last begun to grow up as a species and realize that we must act for the good of the whole. We will be on the road to planetary consciousness. It will mean that we think before we act, and we observe and learn from the world around us instead of looking for the facts that justify the actions we wish to take.

Someday, when we have done what we need to, I will walk in a wild place once more. Until then I will stay inside and remember what I have learned. Once upon a time I walked the ridge above Wildcat Canyon, camped beside the sea at Point Reyes, stood inside a redwood in Big Basin. Is that tree still standing? What will be left of Point Reyes? Or, like so many beautiful places, will they be only memories?

How Big Is The Cauldron?

CauldronLake

     The Wild Druids have been meeting on Zoom every Saturday since the beginning of the pandemic. It’s been good enough to get a quorum, so to speak, each week. We’ve been batting the idea of reading Kristoffer Hughes’s book From The Cauldron Born around for a while now, and last week, we decided to go for it. We all read the first twenty pages or so and talked about how it went for each of us, and whether we wanted to continue. Some very interesting things came up, and it all was intriguing enough by the end of the session for us to decide to come back for more next week.
     Highlights included the nature of Awen—is it like art, something you know when you see? How do you know it? How do you connect with it, and can it be made?
     By what paths do we each approach the cauldron?
     In meditation I thought on this. I stumbled into a year-long brewing of the Awen back in 2013, on the shores of Llyn Tegid, in Wales. At another camp, a month prior, I’d met Kristoffer Hughes and he invited me to come to his Order’s camp. It was the last weekend of my first trip to the UK, and I had not planned past Dublin, the week before the camp. So I bought a ticket. I had no idea, really what was going to be happening, which was perfect Gwion headspace, I realized later. The friends who kindly picked me up from the railway station and took me to camp told me where we were going on the way. That was how I found myself on the beach next to Llyn Tegid, the place where Cerridwen brewed the Awen, and transformation for one clueless kid ensued.
     That is one path to Cerridwen’s Cauldron. What might yours look like? Kristoffer Hughes’s book is what I would term an instant classic. While it does contain the method of brewing Awen, the book itself is a study of the Tale of Cerridwen and Taliesin, and we have not decided how far down this path we will be going.
     What is the nature of the Cauldron?
     At the end of the story, the cauldron cracks. All but three drops become poison, and the cauldron becomes unusable. The spell can only be done once, and Cerridwen is furious. The sudden sage flees as they are transformed. In my case, the container the work was done in was no more. It will never be again, for each brewing is different, each group shapes and is shaped by it. A single person may do this ritual and will also be changed. So should we choose as a group to do this, our experience and presumably our product, will be different.
     What is the Awen? Is the spell singular, for one person only? Kristoffer Hughes has often said that Taliesin is a title, something to be aspired to, not simply a single person. I know what my experience was, and I still feel transformed, but every person in that camp had their own, singular experience. We can all close our eyes and focus on our own foreheads and feel the drop of Awen there already. It is waiting to see what we will do with it whether we stand before the cauldron or not.
     It’s early days yet, and if you want to come and join us, here is the link to the Facebook event. You can also message me in the comments if you can’t find it. The Wild Druid format won’t change a whit. Show up for whatever sessions suit you, grab on to the discussion as it moves you. You can read the material or not, as you choose. We will be discussing the book, but the Tale is well known, as is the concept of Awen. We went some strange places today, from science fiction to an altar built on a stump whose roots still clutch the Earth. Who knows where we might go next week?