Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Our way of Life, Our way of Love

Those who live according to our way of life are always at home, wherever they go. When you live a life of conscious awareness of the sacredness of the Land, you are in the presence of divinity at all times. The powers that spiral and grow out of the land as plants and trees are fresh expressions of life and spirit; they are brothers and sisters in a great community of life. We are very much like them, joined to them in an unbreakable bond of kinship.

Those powers that move invisibly on the earth, like the wind, are also kin to us; those powers that exist in the interior spaces of the Land, under hills and mounds and under the verdure of the forest and pasture are our relatives. The Gods themselves are kin, but they are of massive power and awareness. We look to them with respect and we desire their guidance and teachings.

Among their number are many great powers- the teacher of all mystics and sorcerers moves about the world, hunting for spirits and sending his rays of unseen light into the minds of seers, illuminating them to the Truth. His raven-shaped messengers watch us from treetops and circle about, seeing everything that he sees. The hissing of his serpent pervades the dreams of those who come near to awakening. He heals us by healing our perceptions and giving us wisdom. I give worth and honor to the great Lord of mysterious interactions, who lays the fetters of Fate on all beings.

The master of beasts and the natural world protects all of his savage and green, growing subjects; he speaks to us of our deepest, most primal natures. It is by his leave that we are allowed to know ourselves in one of the most authentic ways- as deep, ancient powers that are coeval with every other power in the natural world. I give worth to him, as my father and the father of all life.

The great Goddess Sovereignty is always here, yet beyond all; what can be said of Her? I can say that I feel Her with me now, and in all the forms that my eyes come to rest upon. I see Her and feel Her in the Land and in the love I feel for my wife and child. I know that she is the source of the Truth and the source of the only true authority in the world- the authority that only She who is the wellspring of life can bestow. I give worth to Her and submit to Her, calling no man great or holy unless he does the same, with an open heart.

When we submit to Her and accord Her the honor She is due, She protects us and gives us prosperity and peace. When we do as Cu Chulain did, and refuse to give Her the worth that is Her due, we set ourselves up for certain and fatal doom. Cu Chulain was a great hero, but like all heroes, he had his flaws- and his flaw was the lack of wisdom that led him to turn his face away from the Truth of Her great power, selfishly trying to deny what cannot be denied. This flaw saw him dead, with the sacred Raven of the Mother sitting on his shoulder, that the whole world might know who was the authoress of his demise.

Was She cruel? She was, but the situation demanded it- the sacred story of the Hound of Ulster and his disastrous relationship to Sovereignty would survive to us intact, thousands of years later, to remind us of She to whom we owe our lives and to whom we owe respect. Respecting Her is the same as respecting life, and the mystery behind life. In that sense, She and her victim's relationship teaches us the most important lesson of all.

To rise up and be human, from the womb of a mother to the steady stance of an adult is a sacred statement of intention. It is a statement of the spirit that it is ready to be tested, and that it is ready to take the quest for Truth seriously. Each person must rely not only on their own gifts and talents, but on the wisdom that has come to us from the past, through our parents and elders.

It is the duty of parents and family to teach the young what life is really about- it is about discovering the Truth of our place in the "fitness of things", our place in the community of life. It is about fully being human, experiencing all that being human entails, without fear. As humans, we live and we love, and we enjoy the bonds of kinship, bonds that further define us and give us the power to be many things. The bond of Love is greater than all, for it gives a great strength to us, to overcome any foe that would threaten our loved ones and our mother the Land, and it bestows every minute of our lives with a great strength for living. We face many terrors and challenges, and only love can give us the allegiance with other spirits that we need to face those things and emerge victorious.

Love's activity is the ultimate validation of what we are, for no person is a failure who knows love, who gives it with innocence and honesty, and recieves it the same way. It is the key to lasting peace. The measure of a person's life, at last reckoning, is who (or what) he or she loves, and who loves them back. What they did in the name of that love are the deeds that will make them great in the inner world, as well as the outer.

Love, as a concept, makes many uncomfortable. Many people defame Love and speak ill of it, but all they are doing is defaming their own misunderstandings of this sublime power. They are also digging their own early graves, for without love, without persons or beings to whom we feel the ties of affection and the supreme desire to see live well and thrive, we will find that we begin to diminish inside.

We discover so much ability to give and to help when we find those to whom we can donate our power and efforts, through love. We find an inexhaustible cauldron of plenty inside us that never runs dry, and which keeps us forever young, in the most spiritual sense. Without that, without that devotion, we are cut off from the regenerating waters of the Lady of the Cauldron, and we are simply preparing to meet death empty, having lived and experienced only a tiny measure of what we were capable of.

Many false measures of love have been used to define "love", but we must cut through the sentimental fantasies and see that love simultaneously makes the most demands of us and also gives us the greatest freedom. It removes fear and makes us live our lives not only for ourselves, but for others. Every suffering in the world is caused by people who live only for themselves; every joy and peace experienced by people in our world is a result of people who live as much or more for others as they do for themselves. This is a sacred duty, and it derives from a much deeper allegiance. The more that we are bound to others in love, the more free we find that we are, so long as we are conscious of Love's mystery.

Love, the power that drives us to conscious connection with all other beings and mixture into the elemental realities of life, is also the power that liberates, in its own powerful way. It will not always liberate us with peace and joy; love has a dark side, as well. If we can keep our wits and be brave and trusting of the world and of Fate even in the darkest moments, Truth will be the light that shines on us when we need it the most.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Dark Season

I give worth and honor to the Grandmothers and Grandfathers who have lived before us, and who still live in a state of mysterious perpetuity inside the Land we all walk upon. They passed their life-force and wisdom on to us, their children, through the ritual of love and birth and blood.

This is the time of Samhain, the fulfillment of the moon of Samonios. While most modern Pagans only celebrate Samhain on a certain day, i.e. October 31, November 1, or the like, the historical reality was a bit different. According to the Coligny Calendar, a native Celtic method of time-keeping that was discovered decades back in France, the month of Samonios, which marked the beginning of the new year, was the time in which the festival of Samhain was celebrated- and the beginning of Samonios could fall on different days on different years, due to the fact that it is a lunar calendar.

Samhain originally probably wasn't a "day", but a fortnight-long festival. The Full Moon that began Samonios occured on the 8th or 9th of October, meaning that the fourteen days that followed it was the time of Samhain's festivities. Tonight, there is no moon; the moon has gone dark, making this the "Returning night" of Samonios.

Modern Pagans can celebrate this season at any point, realistically during October or November, so unless you are a historical calendar reconstructionist (like me) it matters not. Samonios will always fall in October/November, and on the average, it manages to land near the end of October.

When to celebrate Samhain is not such a big problem; if you are in touch with the world around you, you already know: you celebrate when the cold really comes back, and when you "feel" the world turn towards darkness. The cauldron of the year finally boils down to nothingness in the Dark Season of Samhain, bringing about a profound spiritual event- the destruction of the world and all the worlds. As all the worlds were born from their living source ages ago, so one day, the ancients believed, they would all fall apart and become overwhelmed by "Fire and Water"- the elements in their destructive form. After this came a period of rest- the Holy Night of the Gods, before the worlds were regenerated from the womb of Sovereignty.

Samhain is a chance to consciously participate in the reversal and overturning/destruction of the worlds. It is the time we celebrate the end of things, and the dark night that follows, waiting for regeneration. The end of things isn't a mere "stop"; it is a radical reversal, as the horn of Misrule sounds. It is, perceptually, a wild and phantasmagoric event. It is a radical reversion to the hidden and mysterious roots of all things.

A human being experiences their own Dark Season when they die- and death is a sudden inversion of life, as the mindstream of the dead person is thrust into the Great Otherness, and visions of many kinds, ranging from the peaceful to the frightening are experienced. Much wisdom waits to be found in the moment of Truth that death brings to us, but we must learn to deal with fear and the "other side" of life, before we will be prepared to "recieve" the death experience properly.

There is no "good and evil" in any of this. Death is not "evil" while life is "good". Life is the name we give to the perpetual nature of our existence, whether as human beings, or as the Sidhe-spirits on the "other side" of this world; "Death" is the name we give to the point where we move from one of those conditions to the other. Death is the "point between" one kind of existence and another; "death is the center of a long life", as they say.

We have to keep our minds on our own deaths, every day of our lives. It may sound macabre or morbid, but I assure you, it is a great key to wisdom. If we consider our own bodies dead, lying silent in the ground, being consumed by the earth and by animals, or if we see ourselves glowing bright orange and black as we are consumed by flames on our own pyres, we will be forced to consider what is important in our lives. We will also reconsider what we think is important now. I have searched long and hard for what outlasts death, and my search was successful- the love we have for our wives, husbands, lovers, and children, and the affection we have for our friends, those meaningful and powerful bonds are what we "take with us".

The secret was so simple, and it was hiding in plain sight- you can really FEEL what is important in life, and it happens freely, with love and joy at human company. It bathes us with its power, and so many of us don't recognize it. There is no money or possession that can make us happy or accompany us at the level of our spirit, but love, love is the heart of every joy that will last. I can tell you now- the "Great Mystery" eluded me until I saw it in the one place I was meant to see it- and far from hiding in some cavern in the Underworld, I saw it in the face of my newborn daughter.

The Dark Season allows those whom death has taken to the Otherworld to visit us, in a very real and immediate way. When we turn our thoughts to our own mortality, and when our eyes see the coming of the winter, the end of the year and the mystical moment "between" where the new year waits for its regeneration and birth, and when we see that same pattern reflected in our own mortals lives and deaths, we are putting ourselves into a very receptive state of mind, a state of mind where all our assumptions about the world break down.

Who really knows the meaning behind it all? To be born, to live, to die, to be reborn- why the great Round, the Great Cycle? Why the endless fear, wonder, the questioning? Death shatters our illusions, and life gives us time to consider the nature of illusion. We are becoming stronger and wiser through seasons of life and events of death. When you hit that "space between" in your own mind, when you doubt the things you always wanted, always accepted, that's when the ancestors can speak to you from the "other side" of life.

The ancestors have become wise, gone among the Sidhe, the Dead, and seen their mortal illusions fall away. In that timeless condition, they dance their planxtys, and reach out for communion with us, as it is their nature to do. We are all connected, the living to the "dead", and the "dead" to the living. Perhaps they wonder at us and our world like we wonder at theirs; or perhaps, they are far more aware of us than we could be of them, a timeless mode of perception that they share with the Gods.

Not all of the dead become so wise; but those who do become our timeless and tireless protectors and guides. When death rises up to overwhelm the world, or even our mortal bodies, we are thrust into an inverted, frightening, and surreal "space between"- and in that indeterminate space, a gap opens up, mentally, that lets the wisdom of those who dwell in that space come to us.

I pray that we will all recognize it, and give up on trying to fix ourselves down with too many "solid" notions and assumptions about ourselves and the world- we are all greater and more fluid powers than we realize.

The Dark Season teaches us this lesson: life is water, not stone. Death reduces bodies to dust, just as water reduces rocks to sand. The worlds have fallen into the darkness of the unmanifest, now in the Season of Samhain, and in the strangeness of that place, the wisdom of our ancestors drones on, sacred chants of the people Below the Hills. The worlds have been washed away, and their noise has fallen silent. We couldn't hear our own inner voices, or the voices of our ancestors before, but now we can.

Now is the time to hear it- go outside at night, light your candles and fires, put the apples that are the food of the dead at the roots of trees, and really listen to the darkness. Soon, a vision of great fire and light will flood over the world and all things will begin again, and wisdom will be there with it, waiting to be heard and discovered, forever.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Windhorse

I got a letter from Richard Gere today, asking me to give a donation to the cause of Tibetan Freedom. Included in the letter were some very attractive Tibetan Prayer Flags.

Naturally, I'm sure hundreds of thousands of people got the exact same letter in the mail, but as I was looking at the Prayer Flags, I noticed that they were each decorated with a Windhorse. For the Tibetans this image evokes the notion of a power which is like a swift horse, as swift as the wind, as it flies around the world defeating evil. Prayer Flags are hung by the Tibetans so that the wind will blow through them and carry the prayer into the world, multiplying its power thousands of times.

The Tibetan people are best known now for their Buddhism, but they, like everyone else, began as a people who had a very profound and powerful animistically-based culture, in the central Asian range of shamanic traditions and practices. I have heard their native tradition of shamanism called "Bon" or "Bon-pa", and fortunately for us, it still persists within certain distant corners of the world. The gem-like opulent beauty of Tibetan Buddhism bears all the hallmarks of its powerfully shamanic roots, with many of the ancient spirits and Gods and Goddesses of Tibetan now converted into peaceful and wrathful "Dharma protectors" or deities that protect the Tibetans and serve the causes of Buddhist teachings.

The sight of the "windhorse" is what caught my attention. In the shamanic traditions of many Asian tribes, the notion of a "windhorse" is common enough- and it is always tied in with shamanic practice. Sarangerel, the authoress of two very fascinating books on Siberian Shamanism mentions the term "windhorse" when referring to shamanic power or mystical strength in an active shaman's body. It is no accident that horses are tied to the peoples of Asia and Siberia; the Indo European peoples were probably descendants of Asian peoples, or at least related, and the horse was a central figure in both the societies and mythologies of the Indo Europeans.

It is also no accident that shamans across the world have interacted with the spirit of the Horse when traveling into the Unseen world- the horse in our consensual reality world, and the horse in the inner world are both connected to journeying and travel, and to sturdy companionship in travel. The Indo European peoples who invaded India conquered their way along on horseback, and the same can be said for many of the "mounted peoples" who invaded Europe. That Shamans would seek "spirit horses" to carry them into the Unseen only makes sense. I have heard that some Asian Shamans created poles decorated like horses to assist them in "spirit flight" into the Otherworld.

The "windhorse" would seem to refer to a horse of spirit, or to a power that a shaman or shamaness can interact with to achieve contact with extra-sensory reality. The connection of the wind to the sky, to flight, and the horse to the wind, makes a profound statement- the horse and the Shaman together fly, like the wind. They fly, liberated, into the spirit world.

It only makes sense that the Tibetans would maintain their distant connection with the Windhorse, and with this profound shamanic icon, and have it influence their Buddhist understandings. What makes Tibetan Buddhism, and the other shamanic arts of Tibet so interesting is their primordial connections to the animism that they once believed in and expressed, and which they still do in so many ways.

This brings me to the second point of my letter today; the plight of Tibet. Richard Gere's letter made a short case against the Chinese government, accusing it of many vile wrongs against the religious culture of the Tibetan people, and of genocide, mayhems, and injustices. I didn't need Richard Gere to tell me these things; like most westerners who have studied Tibetan Buddhism, I was well aware of them. The Chinese government- itself a thing of pure concentrated wickedness- is responsible for the crimes that Gere's letter accused them of, and more.

The fact that Tibetan monks go all over the world and teach their Dharma, and that they have slowly infiltrated our popular culture in the west has nothing to do with why so many people feel the need to help them. While their culture is fascinating, and their system of Buddhism is by far one of the most venerable, majestic, and complete technologies of enlightenment available to mankind, the fact remains that they could be the most boring, spiritually disenfranchised people on earth, and the truly sensitive among us would want to help them.

If a person sees the world in the right way, and can experience our subtle and intimate connections with all things, then the "Truth of Involvement" is instantly apparent. When other humans suffer organized injustice and genocide (physical or cultural or both), we all suffer. Many of us sleep so deeply that we hardly recognize the true source of the deep, passive angst that boils in an unknown place in our deep minds, but it is there, and it disquiets us. We look to the distractions that we surround ourselves with to try to settle ourselves, but we never quite manage to do it. And most people who live lives of serial distraction never begin to fathom what causes them to be so unsettled on so deep a level.

Those people who sleep less deeply can sense the world burning, the pains and wrongs that beg to be addressed by those wise enough and sensitive enough... and courageous enough. What can address the pains of the world? Only the Truth about our condition, and people willing to live by it and die for it. The truth is that we are connected, intimately and forever, to one another and to every power in existence, and we have a sacred duty to that connection, a sacred duty to this reality of inter-woven life. We have a duty first and foremost to the Truth, to our awareness of the Truth of our condition and our connection, and second we have a duty to protect life, making it better able to thrive in freedom and peace, as life is born to do.

We are not just in this world; we are this world. When people on the other side of the world are wronged, it is not merely "their problem". It is our problem, in a very real way. When even one strand in the sacred and totally inter-connected web of life trembles, the whole web feels it. We are all affected.

It is certain that many John Q. Average Americans or Europeans may never see a Tibetan, or hear their language, or even give a fig about what happened to Tibet. Those people may live long lives, and die in anonymity somewhere. People may observe them and say "their lives weren't negatively affected by the plight of Tibetans." But I believe that everyone's life is affected by the plight of any people.

Did the world stand by when millions of Jews, Gypsies, Greeks, Russians, homosexuals, and mentally handicapped people were sent to death camps by the Nazis? No, it reacted. Perhaps World War II wasn't primarily about death camps and tyrannical persecution of minorities, but when the war was over, decades were spent hunting down the wicked men behind these horrors and trying to bring them to justice.

To this day we shudder (and rightly so) to think of the holocaust. When those people were sent to death, when those families were torn apart and so much innocence consumed by hatred and madness, the common life of the whole world was violated. And people who don't normally feel the very subtle effect of these things felt it, and they felt it more as the years passed.

As time gives us more perspective on the plight of Tibetans, many of whom were subjected to death, genocide, and atrocity by the greed of the Chinese government, we will begin to feel the loss more. And when we each finally face the clarity of death, and its great moments of truth, and all its naked visions of our true connection to all places and beings, we may feel some regret at the realization that we could have done more. People often do not feel powerful or capable of helping others in this world, but as I said, when even a single strand in the web of life shakes, the whole thing shakes. Each human being, no matter who they are, is a powerful potential center and catalyst of change in the entire web. Sometimes even just caring and desiring the well-being of others can make all the difference; even our intentions tremble the web of life.

The letter I am typing to you right now shakes the web of life, and it affects all who read it in different ways. Maybe my words will help someone that I will never meet; maybe it won't help anyone at all. But it will change the world by making the people who read it have different reactions, some good, some bad, some indifferent.

The Tibetans hang colorful flags with prayers and sacred images inscribed on them, and let the wind race through them and carry them into the world. This letter, which will race through the virtual winds of the internet, is my own Prayer Flag, my own virtual Windhorse, inscribed with my wishes for a more peaceful world, a world of understanding where the Truth of our connection with one another is consciously experienced and honored. I want the Tibetan culture to survive strong and healthy, but then, I want all peoples who suffer injustice to be spared, and I want all indigenous cultures to be kept safe and preserved, so that their wisdom can continue to live and help the world.

Injustice and atrocity can only occur when people become very unconscious of their intimate connection to all other people and all other life. Be aware of this real connection, this very instant, and you will never commit such atrocities. Help others to become aware of it, and they will not. I've ridden my own windhorse into what appeared to me to be an unseen world, spaces deep inside me, and very "far" from me. No vision or understanding I ever had was stronger than my insight into the connection of things, and my desire to place life and the web of life as the primary value for human thinking and action, and to preserve life when I could. This is not just the beginning of wisdom, but, I believe, the end of it, too.