We spent a lot of time last weekend looking at our old photos of Faire, and topped it off with videos on YouTube. The videos in particular reminded me of the shape of the illusion we all created. While it is true that LHC made the playground, we made the Faire.
Over my desk there’s a collage of images. They cover much more than Faire. In the center is a woman made of branches, her heart of fire green in her breast and her face uplifted to the sky among her leaves. An enhanced computer image of Long Meg, with all her cup-and-ring decorations towers over her, scarred by the passage of time and floating in a black background. My backpack, outer clothing and bodhran case are grouped around a tree on the shore of Llyn Tegid, in Wales, but the image I look to now is of myself, bodhran in hand, in leine and wool bonnet in Witches Wood, at Black Point.
Back then things were far from perfect, but I walked into another time and place every morning. My bodhran and basket were on my back and the day was there for the living. I started my journey as a matter of fact, the same way I started my day at Dickens, with a cup of Chai at the Mullah’s and conversation with good friends. Kenny Millikan might regale us with the tale of the Dawn Haggis, a creature we could only glimpse in his words. He had a jar of soft sculpture backsides, which he swore were pixie butts. The Pixie would take up the story at this point, telling us how they fell off in the fall, and that each Pixie had a special dance that sent them flying.
We carried stories like this into the streets and told them to Travellers. Some embellished them further or spun off wild tales of their own. There were a pair of Celts who came to Faire every year and found me busking on the streets. They would persuade me to take a trip to an alestand with them, and we would roar through the Faire. I would drop off after a while to play another set, and let them continue their colorful ramble through the playground they visited once a year. You may remember them, or you may not, for they were an ornament to the time and place we all created together, and while they were the very picture of uproarious revellers, they never, to my knowledge, caused a problem. Would they be welcome today? I don’t know. They chose their level of participation, and had complete freedom on the day per year they chose. They would not have been out of place backstage, though of course they were never seen there. Some lines, it has been made quite clear to me, are not to be crossed.
As a busker, I walked until I was tired, kept my tankard full of water when I played–both singer and bodhran found song a thirsty business–and told tales in rhyme to the beat of the drum. I stopped when asked, as some of the vendors would want me to grace the area around their booths with my music, and also when the Faire beckoned. While I had specific places I favored for a set, I was not in any one of them for longer than an hour or so. I made it a point to never repeat a song within a set lest I cease to please and begin to grate on those whose trade kept them in one place.
To me, that endless round through the streets is now missing. Every nook and cranny is filled with a booth or a stage, and there is nowhere to stop without stepping on the perfectly timed shows. Performers run from one to another, rarely stopping to play in streets too small to build a world in! We are watched, and our flaws marked. While there do of course have to be certain standards, we are no longer trusted to want to uphold them, not because they render a world deeper and more colorful than the one we return to after the last chorus is sung, but because we have people working to reveal our flaws instead of praising our glories.
There are still good times to be had, and bright spots in days growing ever longer, but as a busker I have been chased from these streets. I am no longer Jeremy’s messenger, part of the web of the underworld of London. While I miss Roisin, or Lucy, as she was called in London, I take heart in the knowledge that Jeremy’s girls were only a temporary shelter for her. In the end she did manage to join her family in America where they fled from An Gorta Mor. Perhaps Lucy’s story will fork, as did Jeremy’s and Jenny’s. Perhaps not. The characters I played never were wholly confined to the Faire. They came from somewhere, and kept going after it was over. Knowing who they were and in the end where they went was a part of their living presence on the streets, and the memory they leave for me when they move on.
I unearthed a lot of photos last weekend. The long look back over forty-plus years of Faire was useful. It gave me perspective on the current situation. I had forgotten just how big Faire used to be. I’m not just talking about size, though there was a lot more space, and there were a lot more of us. No, the quality of the spell we cast collectively created an energetic container that we filled with a place that never was, and always will be. Back then we were a community, trusted to play our part in the act of creation. There were fewer rules and more magic.
I was told by a dear friend “If you’re not having fun, it’s on you.” It was meant well, more the Zen master with the rod than Bill Sykes with a bludgeon, and I did try seriously to follow the core of truth in that advice. Maybe it is me. I’m older, and perhaps not as easily amused. My old friends are fewer, and there are new faces among them, but that isn’t it either. I play on the streets, but with the determination of the lone salmon fighting its way to the source instead of the player grabbing an outstretched hand, leaping effortlessly in the dance, trusting the magic will be there to catch me. I even tried creating a new character and going back to busking to see what would happen. There are bright spots. Singing choruses in the afternoons with great and generous people in an environmental area that is open for the public to join us is tasting the past. It’s good to see the friends that are left. It is still possible to catch the edge of magic, and just for a moment lose oneself in Faire. Spirits still move between worlds. I can’t expect things to be the same as they were years ago and they shouldn’t be. Time marches on, change is part of life, but the river flows from the same source.
The magic has been squeezed into such a tiny space! The eyes are always on us. What are we wearing? What are we doing? Must be sure not to step out of line, to draw focus from a performance or break a rule. Above all, if you do, don’t get caught! Now we sit in neat rows in Mad Sal’s, singing along at the right times to prompt the crowd and create the proper soundscape. We take our gigs and conversations outside, the designated place for background color and noise. Living your character all day long is the exception, not the rule, and enough people drop character at the curtain to make it the boundary of the lovely illusion that is only half there as it is. We work Faire, instead of play. Disney has replaced Dickens. Our passes must be shown without exception to pass back and forth past the guards hired for the event. There is no more security and crew, people who knew us, were part of us.
Safety is an issue, I understand that. Trust has long ago been broken. Space is at a premium in a venue we have long outgrown. There have always been broken stairs and differential treatment that mirror the society we live in, but the sharp separation between customer and Faire folk was never so stark, and we looked after each other far more than we do now. The constant carding at the door and in the venue by strangers jerks us back into the present we are supposed to be casting a temporary spell on and we can’t pull the willing visitor into the dance any more.
Faire was always a dance on the edge. We played with time, with language, with the energy. It was never safe, and things have always happened that shouldn’t. Yes, it is past time to change some of those things, but never before were we ever so powerless that our only real option was to strike. We let union be, a song instead of a movement. We were a community, that family that management–for they have become management–keeps talking about.
Faire was a dance on the edge, but it wasn’t just physical. For a few short weeks we were part of another time and place, and the people who paid to get in came to taste it, and sometimes become part of it. You could get in free of charge if you did the thing Faire asked of you that day. Perhaps it was wearing a specific costume or the reciting of a Shakespeare sonnet. You played Faire and were let through the magic door to play your part. There were more participants and more room. Every inch was not sharply delineated for stage and booth and alestand. The village or London Town had twists and turns and places where magic could happen. The streets did not run in straight lines. There wasn’t a microphone to be found on the site and silence was not required at the sharp barrier where street now becomes stage. Players did not demand absolute attention because they knew how to take and hold stage, and when to release it. Our allegiance was to the illusion, not the script. Mad Sal’s roared with laughter and song, and you could play skittles inside, drink and converse in what was for a brief moment a real dockside alehouse, not a stage set with a bar outside.
Faire was always trying to rein us in, but back then they never succeeded. Danse Macabre could get away with tiptoeing across Main Stage and the players adapted instead of objected. A whole procession could disappear into a magic privy because the crew built the privies and one of them had doors on both sides. It was years ago before rented plastic boxes became the norm, before people of color were hired to clean the bathrooms and pick up the trash, no longer part of the crew, part of us. Yes, times have changed, the books balance much better than they did back then, but where is the magic that flowed like water and carried us halfway to Faerie? The ragged heroes have long disappeared around the last bend. The day has died like a rose. The Faire has come to a close.
Times change and so do we, the spirit of Faire a sleeping Beauty lying somnolent in the bed of Procrustes. Black Point has become Patterson Abbey. We are more concerned with the distance between plate and cutlery than we are with the people who spin a continuous reality out of the whole cloth of history. It is more important to have a costume, pattern carefully selected from an ever-dwindling range of years that matches the palette of the show than to wear clothes that suit our characters and their stories. We will be measured and photographed, the garb we provide at our own expense cleared in every detail before it can even be made. A tart may not wear a tattered ball gown she purchased at the old clothes market no matter how careful the research the participant has done to build the backstory. Like goes with like, the regimented sections of the stage will be respected. We will have Fagin and Oliver Twist, but Sikes must not kill Nancy. It’s a family show, after all.
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.
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?
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?
Where is the division of science and religion? Does there need to be one? Maybe Lugh is already here, shining on us every day because that is what he does. On the eve of Lugh’s day here’s a merging of myth and science:
A decade ago I had come to the end of a road. After a door that shouldn’t have been was firmly closed, I was standing high above San Francisco Bay, looking at the Golden Gate beneath a soft blue sky and the heights of Mt. Tamalpais to the north. I decided to rise. I raised my arms to the wind and asked to be blown to my allies. Then I wrote this chant.
Very soon after, I became a Druid. I haven’t looked back.
I claim this day in the cycle of the year for my own. I do not go to work at my job on this day. I go to the woods. I do ritual with my community of co-religionists, I celebrate our anniversary with my partner. We were married this day in the cycle, twenty nine years ago. Tonight we will open a bottle of mead from that day and feast. First bite from my meat, first drink from my cup. Always.
I claim this day in the cycle of the year for my own. It will be followed by Samhain and the Solstices, and the rest of the eight holydays. It will be followed by Saturdays and grow until all the days of my life are mine, my time my own to do with as I please, to do maximum good and give my gift to the world.
I claim the Triad of Worth for my own on this day. My body is healthy and strong, able to do whatever I ask of it. My time is my own, to do with as I please. I have money enough to pay all the bills and take any adventure I choose. On this day I can do these things. Followed by the other 364. Today I have the Triad of Worth. Tomorrow, may all people have it.
Today I claim a regular schedule for my blog. Every Friday I post. You come here on Friday, and you will find something to read. At first, it will be like the fifty cent beer, the ones I used to sell in college, when I made my dorm room into a bar. I didn’t guarantee the quality of the beer, only that it was there, and it was always fifty cents. In college that was good enough. I hope my words will grow in quality as I do this, but we all have to start somewhere. Here in this awful, wonderful, crucial pandemic, strange things are born. Strange things are claimed.
What are you claiming for your own on this day, the first day of the Light Half of the year, a day when claims were made by the Pagan Irish, according to a Celtic literature professor who had the ability to keep a whole room full of us on the edge of our seats when she spoke, who assigned me the Mabinogi, the Tain, and awakened in me the flame that has become my Druidry. She said that what we claim on this day is ours forever. What we lose on this day is likewise lost.
Every morning, I work with the hourglass. To me, it is fitting that Extinction Rebellion uses this powerful symbol, particularly in this moment of now when we are facing a future that is suddenly in crisis. Nothing is different. Everything is different. What are we to do?
I think that the only thing that’s truly different are our perceptions. A possible epidemic has always been right around the corner. We have been in the middle of the sixth great extinction of life on Earth for some time now. The majority of us have just woken up to the fact that it includes us, right now, not in some distant future. We thought we’d have plenty of time to solve our problems and now we see all the missed chances and wasted time.
I work each morning to turn the hourglass on its side. Time is not our enemy. COVID-19 is not our enemy. It’s a microbe, part of the planet that we are also part of. Like the Earth, our bodies are superorganisms, cells, microbes that have chosen to specialize in certain functions to create a greater whole. Without microbes we couldn’t digest our food. The cycle where creatures that have died are recycled and reborn into new life won’t function without them.
The hourglass is only scary when it’s static, standing on its end, the sand slipping through the bottleneck until none remains. It’s meant to turn, after all. Life must always be in motion, cycling endlessly from form to form, between embodiment and spirit. Life is a wheel. The hourglass can be seen as only the hub and four spokes.
I choose to work with what I’ve been given. We have a lot of energy invested in this symbol, so simple, a pair of intersecting lines encircled. The lines form the rune Gebo, the gift and the connection between giver and receiver. What could be more appropriate? We are indeed reaping what we have sown, and some have suggested that The virus is the medicine. The two cups of Temperance, the two halves of the hourglass. If the wheel is in motion, Gebo becomes Dagaz, the Day. Round those edges and the Infinity symbol is revealed as well.
I have been seeing the Hourglass being turned. Humans with our shoulders to the wheels of feedback loops spinning towards Death slowing them, doing the things needed to stop them, send them spinning towards Life. I am walking to work as I do this work, instead of driving. Humanity’s oldest form of transportation, and all it costs me is rising earlier, making the city my gym and my sacred space. Two miles is half an hour of magic and a chance to trace a different path though my neighborhood each day. I see us climbing out of the Hourglass, out of the boundaries set for us. Changing the balance as we pull the top downward. Great trees growing, their roots lifting the bottom, branches pushing.And we are climbing towards the bottleneck of the Sixth Great Extinction. We are rising to our better natures, helping other creatures and each other, making room for all to pass through that point of constriction and terror and making sure as many of us as possible survive.
We need the great web of life if we are to survive. We need to realize that we are one great lifeform stretching back to distant ages and forward as well. We can choose to be the blessed ancestors, we who are living at this crucial moment in time. We know what needs to be done, we have all the tools needed. This pandemic can indeed be a gift if we make it so. It is awful beyond measure that it had to come to this, that so many may die, but all we have now are stark choices and the sooner we make them, the better the outcome will be for so many.
This work began simply:
“Thank you Universe, for my blessings. Thank you for the deep sense of peace that pervades my life. I have never heard a shot fired in anger, I have never wanted for the basic necessities of life. I take that deep sense of peace and spread it over the whole world, thick and green. I now live in a world where everyone has that peace, where everyone has food, shelter and clothing appropriate to their needs and their creeds.” I visualized the planet, green light pouring over it, surrounding it, glowing as I said the words.
It grew, a drop in the well each morning. We all shape the world with our choices. Beginning my day with a thought like that shapes my existence. I didn’t start out walking to the train. I drove to it, eventually the car became a bicycle, the bicycle became my feet. A couple of minutes became half an hour to envision what my neighborhood might look like, and how we might get there.
Right now, my immediate task is simple. I’ve been told to stay home. I thought we were in The Chrysalis before, but now that is literal. I’m thankful for the blessing of having a home and plenty of food. We’re both healthy. Can anything else be done? There are people in tents mere blocks from here. I scan the internet for news, and opportunities to volunteer. I will start a lettuce box today, and pot the seeds that I started recently in old egg cartons. Now I know why that project was begun.
For now, it is time to be quiet, calm, listening for our part in the song of life. We are in the process of becoming.
This blog post resonates with me. But it also makes me wonder a bit. Since when does the world owe us artists and clergy a living? Haven’t we learned anything from observing our professional priests and celebrities?
Elizabeth Gilbert said this best in Big Magic, when she was talking about day jobs and the importance of having one: “I never wanted to burden my writing with the responsibility of paying for my life. I knew better than to ask this of my writing, because over the years, I have watched so many other people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay the bills.”
I, too, long for the time to pursue my vocation, to live from my connection to the Awen and the Art that comes from it. But I know that in this world where the robber barons are stealing our time and our effort, it will only happen if I go after the most butts in the most seats—and my music and writing ain’t about that. I refuse to make it all about the fashion of the day, so I have to support it, not the other way around.
I, too, know what it is to serve a deity. I am Gaia’s, body and soul and every day I do as she has bid me, even though it is difficult. I, too, know the searing touch of Awen. I’ve knelt on the deck of a ship, a deadblow hammer in one hand, a brick chisel in the other, a piece of paper pinned to the deck beside me with a pen on top of it, scribbling out the verses as they come to me, humming like a person demented. I know that if I can’t snatch a minute or two between tasks, that music will be gone forever. I’m doing it now to tap out the words of this post. This is my life, right now, and hard as it is, I would not trade it for any other.
The problem with wishing for patronage, for some bygone era when Fili were paid to pursue their vocations, is that, like that Golden Age that the politicians are currently trying to sell us, when life was easy and understandable, and our countries were strong and perfect, it doesn’t exist. It never did. Yes, there have always been rock stars, people who are talented enough and lucky enough to find a way to write their own ticket, but most of us will be spending a good part of our lives working to make our art, and serve our gods, not making art as a means of making a living. It is a great and wonderful ideal, a utopia to strive towards, but we have yet to create it. I hope we do. I want to be Jake Sisko, citizen of the Federation, spending his life in service to his art. Maybe someday we will all be doing that one thing we were born to do, but if humanity gets to that point, it will be because those of us who think this future is possible and necessary put in the hard work to make it happen.
As I scribbled the disjointed beginnings of this post, before dawn, as I struggled into my uniform, I was once again faced with the truth of this age: if we want a world where we can stop whenever the Awen demands it and can follow that flow to the end of the piece of art, we need to bring it into being. We need to stop the Captains of Industry from robbing us of the only thing that is truly ours: our time as embodied beings with supple fingers and clever minds. Until we do that, we will be faced with two choices: scribbling in the corners of time left to us or shivering in the garret.
I was lucky enough to spend a year brewing the Awen, and to receive it at the end of that process. If I learned anything in that time, it’s that Inspiration must be paid for, one way or another. It is distilled from our experiences as much as it is from anything that happens within that Cauldron, and if we can’t fill it with the sum of our lives, the substance of Song will come from nowhere else.
So while I, too, long for leisure, for a Patreon to take care of my earthly needs, I know that in this time, in this age, it is not likely to happen for a good long time, until I’ve earned the experiences that will earth my work, and created enough of it to be able to write my own ticket. I will be guided by the twin poles of what is beautiful, and what is well received, and that is a good thing. For if we don’t create art that is understandable as well as beautiful, if we don’t channel the fruits of Inspiration into this world in a way that touches people as it touches us, that art is worthless. A bit of unverified personal gnosis that I received from Taliesin was to “Create a container, strong and beautiful, and fill it with Inspiration.” I know when I have done that when I see the light go on behind the eyes of a listener, or in a more crass example, when a person, tears streaming down their face, throws a twenty into my busking bowl.
So I spend my days serving goddesses. Not just Gaia, though my service to her is shot through everything I do, from my walk to work in the morning, where I sing the world we need into being, from the OPT (Other Peoples Trash) I pick up every day in service to the spirits of Oakland and San Francisco, to the sailing ships BALCLUTHA and THAYER, whose careers I use as a vehicle for the stories of oppression, overfishing and deforestation that they can tell, as well as the lives of the men and women who served in vessels like them during the Age of Sail. I tell stories, now that I can no longer bump down seams or use a chipping hammer. My Ladies disabled me in their service—but the stories I tell have a beauty and a truth that they would not have had I not done these things. Saturn and Chiron have also had their way with me, as well as Brighid and Cerridwen. My broken body and dreams, the words and music that reside in my Soundcloud and my blog were purchased with those experiences, and when I lay this body down, I will leave them behind so that people remember what it was like to live in these wonderful, terrible, pivotal times.
I don’t want a living. I’m happy to have lived a life in service.