The One Tree

After a lovely concert at the New Horizons moot in Stockport I drove the next day to the Shri Venkateswara (Balaji) Temple of UK, Tividale, for the One Tree Gathering, a convention of Druids and Hindus organised between the International Centre for Cultural Studies and the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids. I had been asked to organise the Druid section of the musical ‘cultural exchange’ that was due to take place in the afternoon so asked my good friends Claire Hamilton to tell a harp-accompanied story, and Kate and Corwen to play some music and song. I’d join them as the third act.

My TomTom guided me into the middle of a housing area, and then told me I had reached my destination. I looked around and thought, it must be in one of these houses. But I stopped in a local garage and they told me to head back into some roadworks, then turn right. I followed his directions and found the Temple. It was a massive area of land, I’d say around 12 acres, upon which a number of Hindu temples had been built. Some additional building was still going on. My next quest was to find out where within this complex the One Tree Gathering was taking place. There  were hundreds of people walking around, taking photos, heading off to ritual, taking in the vibe of the place. I eventually found the reception who vaguely told me to “go outside and turn right”. I did, nobody there. Eventually I asked another person and they pointed me to one of the temple buildings, and when I got inside I saw the One Tree Gathering logo. I was in the right place but everyone had gone to lunch, so I just hung out and had a tea, and eventually I was joined by the others, returning from lunch.

The cultural exchange was due to start at 5pm, so I had arrived early enough to take part in the afternoon’s activities. The first of which was to watch Satish Kumar’s Earth Pilgrim film. I remember watching this on the BBC and blogging about it a couple of years ago. If you’ve never heard of Satish, head to his website, he is an amazing man. Earth Pilgrim really set me up for the next activity which was for the Druids to take part in some Hindu ceremonies, and the Hindus to go off with Philip Carr-Gomm and Thea Worthington who would lead them through a Samhain Druid ritual. We did a Hindu tree blessing, a birthday blessings, and a Puja in honour of Ganesh. What quickly became apparent is that their religious ceremonies are still a vital part of their everyday life. There was no separation between their spirituality, their family life, and their culture. This is something I think our society has sadly lost. Much of the time our traditional folklore is practiced as a tip of the hat to older ways, as a curiosity from days past rather than as a valuable continuation of a ancient custom. But here the rituals were still relevant, still an active part of everyday life, and I found that very inspiring. It was deeply moving to have been a part of these rituals, and I’m sure they will influence my own practice and dedication to my Druid ways.

5pm arrived and all of the attendees gathered for the Eisteddfod. The first act was Claire Hamilton, a renowned harper and storyteller. If we were to present the Bardic Arts to another religion what better way to begin. I explained that the harp is the only instrument that can trace its origins to the bow – a weapon became the source of an instrument of peace – and my feeling that the Faerie had given that inspiration, and that whenever we play the harp, they listen. Claire did a marvellous version of the tale of Taliesin and Ceridwen, beginning with the forming of Morfran in the womb, with images of him ‘wrapping swirling mists of darkness around himself’, wonderful. Next up was Kate and Corwen, two people who are currently dedicating their lives to the rediscovery of ancient festivals and songs, trying to re-introduce us to our own history. Their set, as ever, was a journey through time, and emotion. I joined them on backing vocals for their rendition of the classic song Lowlands.

Then it was time for the first Hindu performance. A carpet was placed on the stage and about 7 people sat down, cross-legged ready to sing and play. They invited Kate and Corwen to join them on shruti box and drum. For the next 20 minutes we were treated to Hindu chant and song, each one sung by a different person, yet also joined by the audience in a ‘call and response’ pattern. The words were all in Sanskrit so I found it hard to sing along, but that didn’t matter, the Hindus sung with gusto! It was raucous in places, magical in others, and all the time I knew that this was their way of worship – celebratory and inclusive. I thought of the magic of language, and that when my friends in the Czech Republic call to the Quarters in their mother tongue it also holds such magic. I wondered what ‘We all come from the Goddess’ sounded like to someone who couldn’t understand the words – whether or not they also felt the magic within? Or do we need more celebratory chants in our modern Pagan movement, rather than the three note chants we currently hear around our campfires? But that’s a topic for another blog post.

This was followed by an energetic performance of music with drum and chanter. I was next on stage, and time had moved on – we were running a little late. It seems that there is not just Druid Mean Time, but Hindu Mean Time too! We were never going to keep to the time plan! So I thought I’d just cut my set to three songs. I started with Song of Awen (surprise, surprise…). As I played this song I realised again how universal the lyrics are, and it was lovely to see the Hindu people in the audience nodding, smiling, then joining in as they listened. I followed that with The Wheel, and finally Kate and Corwen joined me on Hal an Tow. I thought that would be it, but the final presentation from the Hindus was a sacred dance, and the dancer was still getting ready, so the three of us burst into on final song, Child of the Universe, a cover of the old Heathens All song – a perfect lyric that summed up the unity that I had felt there all day. It was after this that a dancer, dressed in beautiful traditional costume, took the stage. It was the perfect gift with which to finish the day. Graceful, sensuous, sacred, a blessing.

After we all retired for a meal together in the temple (complete with the best lime pickle I have ever tasted!), and after much hugging and exchanging of contact details, I headed back home.

I love being around open people of Faith. That open exchange of beliefs, practices, respect, and peace is something I dearly cherish. Strange then that the next day at our Anderida Gorsedd open samhain ritual at the Long Man of Wilmington, where around 85 people had gathered to celebrate together, to speak the names of loved ones who had passed into the Otherworld, to share a symbolic feast with them, to meet in circle in open friendship with people of many Paths just as I had done the day before, that an elderly gentleman approached us. He asked me and Cerri what was going on and Cerri said it was an open Druid ritual for Samhain, and that he was very welcome to join us. “Oh no!”, he replied. “I follow Jesus” And then shouted “Jesus is Lord!” across the circle. Cerri said, “That’s very nice, but we are in a ceremony and we would respect your ceremony.” So he moved away for a while, before approaching a couple of relatives of people in the ritual, continuing his research. When they explained, he began muttering under his breath, praying and chanting. On the way back he approached a number of the participants, trying to call them to his God. From tolerance and acceptance of belief  from one faith, to the fear and judgment of another in less than 24 hours. I just wish that sometimes these people would really read the New Testament, of the love Jesus showed, of the way he taught to turn the other cheek, to love your enemies and neighbours, rather than the fire and brimstone of the Old Testament.

So much love to all of my new Hindu friends, and love also to our visiting Christian, and all brothers and sisters from other spiritual paths, faiths and religions. We are all branches of The One Tree.

Advertisements

Devotion

I’ve noticed something recently that has got me thinking (again).

I know of two well known teachers from the Pagan community who have recently converted to the Catholic Church. I’ve also been reading on the internet how some are upset with the lack of spiritual depth they see within the Pagan community. Where does this come from?

There are many reasons to be a Pagan in this modern age, not least of which is the companionship we find when celebrating the seasons together. We are able to do this, to gather together from all traditions. So what happens when someone wants to go deeper, much deeper. What happens if a Pagan wants to utterly devote themselves to their God or Goddess? In Christianity its accepted. There are many layers of devotion, from the Sunday Church attendee to the Monk who has turned their backs on modern life, to live in constant service. If a Pagan is called to turn their backs on modern society and devote their lives to, say, Ceridwen, how might that work for them?

Of course they can do it alone, but that is very lonely – some kind of companionship with others of like mind helps feed the soul, and is supportive. How many Pagans would think that this person had actually lost it, and gone a little loopy? If a good number of us are Pagans because we don’t want dogma and forced religious belief, what happens when that religious belief calls us, and the community has no benchmark from which to address it? How much is ‘belief’ a part of modern Paganism?

I think that is why some find themselves becoming dissatisfied, why some yearn for that depth, and discover that it can be very hard to find. I think it is there, but it is viewed with a lot of suspicion. Do we as a community need to open up to the idea of devotion? What would you do if your Pagan friend suddenly had a revelation and felt the need to utterly devote themselves to their Gods? Would you be skeptical? Might you want to keep your distance from them until they ‘got over it’? Or would you encourage them?

Inquiring minds need to know…

Land, Sky and Sea

photo200-stninianscave.jpgThe ancient Celtic peoples seemed to have revered three elements instead of the usual four found in the Western Magical tradition – these being Land, Sky and Sea. I’m sure that fire would have featured somewhere because we know that they also revered the Sun. But here’s a song that speaks of the Wild Places, and my connection to them.

The inspiration for this song came when me and my partner, Cerri, traveled to Dumfries and Galloway to do the Wickerman trail. We had a book that showed the locations used in the original film (not the remake!) and set off to find them. We found the Green Man pub where they filmed Gently Johnny and Willow’s Song, the ruined church, I almost cried when we found the remaining stumps of the burned Wickerman, still on that cliff edge over 30 years later! But is was the cave from which Rowan Morrison is revealed that was the real inspiration for this song.

It is called St Ninian’s Cave, and it’s a long walk from the car park. Through a beautiful Glen and down to the sea. It is said that St Ninian used to walk this very path down to the shore where he simply sat in this cave and listened to the sound of the sea. He said that here he felt closer to God, that he could hear his voice in the sounds of the waves. When we got to the beach I began to understand why.

There are certain places on this Earth where one can feel the presence of the Gods, and this is one of them. I thought about St Ninian, a simple man, searching for a spiritual connection, just like many Pagans. And I sat and listened for the voice, and it was there. It is said that all paths leads to the same Great Centre, and it mattered not to me that he heard this voice as his God, whilst to me it was the voice of the Spirit of Place, it in some way touched us both, and it was beautiful.

I have a great respect for some of those early Christians. The search for God/Great Spirit/Goddess in solitude and peace is something most Pagans can also relate to. I feel I am also on that quest.

Land, Sky and Sea
(Damh the Bard)

You are the rock, and you are the stone,
Rivers your blood, mountains your bone.
You are the Source, of all I’ll ever know,
Forever my Mother, forever my home.


(Chorus)
Oh this town is so cold,
Neon magicians they offer the fools their gold.
For there is somewhere I’d rather be,
In your wild places with the Land and the Sky and the Sea


Every step, follows those gone before,
Mystics and Saints, down to the shore,
Echoing waves, and the curlew’s cry,
I call out your name, I hear your reply.


Cynical thoughts, and lies that distort,
All that is true, all that is true,
They disappear, when I feel that you’re near,
When I’m with you, when I’m with you.

Paganism and Holyness

I’ve been watching an incredible program on the BBC called Extreme Pilgrim. It’s a documentary about a Christian Vicar who spends about a month with devotees of three major religions to try and experience their way of connecting with God. Last week he was with Buddhist Monks who connected with the devine through Kung Fu, and this week he spent a month learning the ways of the Saddhu, the mystic Hindu holy men.

What struck me was the way in which religion was a part of everyday life in India. The passion of their beliefs really came across in the program. When he arrived in a small mountain village to spend time meditating in a nearby cave, the villagers gave him gifts and food – they treated him as a special holy man, someone with honour. They believed that his presence would bring good fortune to the village. And he pondered that only a few centuries ago, he, as a Christian priest might well have been offered the same within villages in Britain, before our society became so secular.

It got me wondering about Paganism, and Holyness. How would local Pagans react if, say, a Wiccan Priest set up camp in the woods near Wilmington, living simply, with daily meditations – spending time with the land, connecting with the Spirits of Place. Would they visit him with gifts, and honour his Journey? Or would they view his actions with suspicion, thinking that somehow he was being ego-driven, and wanted to ‘be someone important’. I’m sure some would see the honesty in his personal Path, but sadly, because of some of the posts I’ve read on some Pagan message boards, I think many would also respond with the latter.

What does this say of the way some Pagans value their our own spiritual path? If someone is naturally inclined to view a spiritual practice with suspicion, where is the foundation of their own beliefs? I would love to live in a place and time where this kind of practice was encouraged, not viewed with cynicism, wouldn’t you?