Linden: Walking the priestess path

I am the tree that will meet you at the crossroads. I am the entrance to the labyrinth that is the central mystery of life.

I invite you to enter. I ask you to leave your preconceptions at the door. I am the place where you agree to let go of certainty. I am the path your life takes when you align it with the higher values of the universe. Enter if you want to be of service only. I am the path of the shaman and the priestess.

Note that my pathways are not straight. I do not offer up my secrets easily. Those who come to me for initiation will need to accept that the path ahead of them is not always what it seems to be.

I ask you to give me your pride. I ask you to give me your fear. What I offer you in return is the joy of a life well-lived. But make no mistake: the price I am asking you to pay is higher than you think.

Humility and simplicity may appear to be simple things, and to be the pathways of those who are without ambition or purpose in their life. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is in giving up yourself that you will discover your true purpose in life. It is in agreeing to let go of your desires that you will discover that which you want the most.

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Will you come to me? I am offering you my guidance in this journey, but it is up to you to take the first step.

If you agree to do this, I will ask you to perform this little ritual of dedication.

The rite of flowering.

Wear white. If possible do this ritual at the time of the new moon. You will want the energy of the rising tide to be with you in the weeks that follow.

This is a very simple ritual. Take a large sheet of paper. Draw a flower on it. Then, with your eyes closed, step inside the center of the flower. Then call on me.

I will appear to you in the form of a dryad or animal guide. You may or may not have encountered me before. That depends on your own journey prior to this point.

I will come to fetch you. Stepping onto that flower is a conscious act of stepping onto the path towards initiation. The next thing is to confirm this by taking a white ribbon and tying it around your wrist. This is a kind of betrothal. You have agreed to step on this path, and you recognize that this is a path of service, one where you align your will with something that is bigger than yourself. The ribbon signifies that you understand this. Continue wearing this ribbon as a bracelet while you work through the other rituals.

Do not rush this process. This is an offering of yourself. You need to be certain that you want this. Once you have confirmed your choice, there will be no way back. You will have aligned your will with the bigger streams of life, and getting out of that stream once you have entered can be extremely difficult.

Do not fear. You are not at that point yet. If you decide to walk away after all, simply stop wearing the ribbon. There will be no hard feelings. This path is not for everyone. You can take away the lessons you have learned and use them to enrich your life in other ways.

Now that you have started your journey, you will need to learn to be open to the voices of Spirit. They are the ones that will show you the pathway that is yours. It is likely that this will take time, and that you will first be making detours and work with several other trees before you get back to me. That is the nature of the labyrinth. Remember that this path is not a straight one. It will probably be right when you are convinced that you have almost reached the center that the path will suddenly snake away and take you on another course of learning first…

Working with Animal Spirit Guides

This will not be a post on how to find your personal spirit guide, but more of a personal account. A story of how my own spirit animal continued to present itself to me, despite all my efforts to dismiss it…

I may work with gods, do divination, talk to trees, …, but despite all of that I am not at all into ‘woo’. And especially I tend to be very, very critical of everything that has an odour of commercialization or ‘plastic shamanism’ around it. And for that reason, for a very long time I avoided working with animal spirits. Because it seemed like something that was the topic of almost every single ‘introduction to shamanism workshop’ (but.. if this is for real, you shouldn’t treat this as a bit of spiritual entertainment, right?). Or all these oracles around ‘learn from the wisdom of the animals’ (is this real spirituality, or are they mostly put on the market because it sells?). And I am not even going to mention issues like cultural appropriation (but really, having a ‘spirit animal’ that doesn’t even live on your continent, how real can that be?). Justified criticism or unreasonable prejudice? I’ll let you make up your own might on that…

Anyhow, because of this I was very critical when at some point within the course of Druidry I am taking myself (with OBOD), it was suggested that we do some shamanic journeying to figure out what our spirit animal would be. I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to do it. As I told myself: I am perfectly happy working with trees. They are my guides. What do I even need a spirit animal for?

And so I decided to do a bit of divination on the topic. Try to connect with the animal spirits, and ask them what their opinion is. What about all the commercialization? Isn’t all of this just plain wrong? That divination session did not yield any of the answers I was expecting to get. I had expected to be confirmed in my opinions. Instead, I was called out. Below is an attempt to paraphrase the message I received:

We are seeking to reach out to humanity. What you see as petty commercialism may, for some people, well be the first time they are touched by the otherworld. The first time they truly get face to face with a non-human animal in an environment where the animal is not only considered as an equal, but rather as a teacher, on that has wisdom that is worth listening to.

We use the channels that are available to us. Many of them are not perfect. And yes, unfortunately some people take personal advantage of this to enrich themselves. But that should not concern you. The point is that this allows us to reach people we would otherwise never be able to reach. And once the spark is planted, who knows what might be possible in the future?

What to say to that but bow my head and acknowledge that I had been at least somewhat wrong in my views? And so I consented to take the journey for myself as well: I did the meditation, and at some point on the journey found myself standing in front of ‘the council of animals’, where Hare came forward to be my guide on the spiritual path.

Soon after that I found myself in the middle of a heap of real-life issues to deal with first, and so that experience with hare quickly faded into the background. And when things went finally back to normal, I reverted to the parts of my practice that were familiar  from before. When questioned on the topic of animal guides, I’d tend to say that I was a tree person, and that I didn’t really do animals.

Only, it seems that someone is not quite as ready to abandon me as I was to abandon her…

She’s made a point of showing up at during some of the most crucial points in my spiritual journey:

I’ve only ever seen a wild hare once. This happened when I was heading towards the place in the woods where I was going to perform a Ritual of Dedication to Cernunnos, one of my patron deities. When I arrived at the spot, there she sat, waiting for me. In retrospect, that ritual turned out to be a pivotal point on my spiritual path.

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Then, exactly one year later, I was sitting in meditation, mentally preparing for my Initiation into the OBOD Druid grade. They made me wait for quite some time. Then, suddenly, a white hare jumps into my Inner Sacred Grove, and leads me off onto a path into the forest, its pawprints leaving little sparks of light on the path for me to follow. I hear her whisper ‘Of you go, then.’ Then she’s gone. Some thirty seconds later, I hear a knock on the door. I am being fetched to start with the initiation.

After all that, I feel that it just won’t do to ignore her any longer. And I find that now she’s beginning to turn up in my meditations more regularly. I was just about to write that despite all, I still didn’t really know what this was all about, when she almost jumped at me, insisting on whispering this message to me:

See me as the voice of your intuition. I will be there when the path seems obscured, and when you need guidance in taking important life decisions. My territory is that of the night. The light that guides me is that of the moon. And aren’t you a moon-creature as well? Let us take that journey together then…

Yes I am a creature of the moon. The moon is quite a dominant force in my personal astrology, and the main goddess I am dedicated to is Artemis, a moon goddess. But those are all things that I only figured out long after hare had appeared for the first time. Guess I’d better start paying attention, right?

As a sign that I’m intending to listen this time round, I’ve honoured her by putting her on my drum…

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Becoming children of the earth again

(This post was produced through automatic writing. My personal belief is that the source of this lies outside of me, but obviously I have no way to check this, so feel free to read this as me giving my opinion on things in a somewhat unusual format, speaking from the perspective of the gods. What matters ultimately is whether the contents of this resonates with you or not. )

I want to tell you a story.

There used to be a time when humanity did not yet pretend that they were the rulers of the universe. When you were still small children who had just learned to play with tools.

It was during that time that you became self-aware of yourself in a way that many other creatures are not: you started to see the world around you as something you could master, a puzzle you could try to figure out in order to improve your living conditions.

At first this was just an innocent little game: try to seed some seeds and come back the next year to see if it had made a difference. But quickly enough, you began to see that it indeed made a difference, and you increased your experimenting and became more pro-active, no longer seeing this as a game, but as a serious business.

It is at this point that the gods began to take note. For we became aware of the potential consequences this would have, as your relationship to the world around you began to change.

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And so we reached out to you. We sent some messengers to communicate with you. Both to help you on your way, but also as a precaution to make sure that you would not disturb the balance too much. And we taught you to work in accordance with nature, honoring the plants that gave you food. It is no coincidence that many of the early creation myths speak precisely of this: of how the gods had created the people by teaching them how to feed themselves. For that is indeed the moment when you became humanity, and not just a type of animal that happens to celebrate very elaborate rituals and wears clothes.

Let me make clear what I mean when I use the word animal here. I use it in the sense of a living being that has a place within the web of life, and has a body that can move of its own accord. Under that definition, you are animals. This is not something that distinguishes you in a positive or a negative way.

Except that you began to think of yourself as different. Even with our guidance, you began to see the world around you as something that was there mostly for your benefit. And that worried us.

For even among peoples who celebrated the earth as a sacred place, and animals as brothers and sisters, there was this sense that your species was different. Maybe not better, but still different. And this had the risk that it could develop in a way of thinking where you would consider yourself as so different that you would stop your efforts of communicating with the world around you, and start to rely only on the resources of your own intellect, and no longer come to us for guidance. And thereby, think that you no longer needed us and that the world around you was there especially for you, and was there to feed you and be subservient to your kind.

Our fears came true. The worst happened: as you began to understand the world in which you live in a more and more mechanical way, the thought of it as sentient and capable of deep thought and emotion became more and more alien to you. And so a group among you stopped your communication altogether. And you all know where that has brought you, for that group of people is the one that eventually birthed you.

And so we worry. For your current way of living has the potential to destroy the earth, if you do not start changing your ways real fast.

But we are still here, and we still want to help. For we still believe that it is not yet too late, and the mess you have made can still be cleaned up.

And so I have a question to each of you. On whose side are you? What is more important to you: Your own personal comfort and survival, or the survival of your kind and of this planet?

I hope you have given the second answer. If so, I have an invitation for you. I am the Earth. I am your mother. I am the one who feeds you. Will you work with me? Will you allow me to teach you ways of seeing differently, of respecting your fellow creatures? Will you allow me to help you to become just an animal again, and to regain the connectedness that you have lost?

Gods of the land

You may have noticed that in my previous post, even though it was about the gods, I have not spoken much about things like reading their stories or studying their lore. The reason for that is because I wanted to encourage you to live in the here and now first, and to approach this with an open mind, rather than as an academic study.

For where did these stories start? Many of them began as encounters with a god, with a place, as a dream that wanted to be shared. Not as something for which you need to dig deep in old and dusty tomes to make sure that you get all details exactly right. It began as something that was very much a living thing.

And so I would like to argue that if we want to get to know the gods of the lands we live in, the first thing to do is to get to know that land. Get out there and listen, and allow it to speak to you. Make up your own stories. And even if you encounter statues, then don’t let yourself be paralyzed by the fact that you don’t know who they are ‘officially’. But take time to imagine them. Speak to them. Dream of them. Ask if they will tell you their tales. If we want to revive the old gods, we need to allow them to become alive in our minds once again. Allow the stories to continue.

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I do believe this is what the old peoples of Europe did, with the advent of Christianity, when they were no longer allowed to worship their familiar gods by the missionaries.

They disobeyed. They did it anyway, but just got creative, and used new names and invented new stories that would allow them to continue honoring the sacred in ways that felt appropriate. The only difference was that now they called them saints, or angels. And this must especially have been true for the gods that were most precious to the people: those that spoke of the connection to their lands, and to their ancestors.

And so, for a very long time, the old was not all that different from the new, except for an added layer of paint. The gods had adapted, and they had survived. The bigger threat to them came much later, with the advent of modern science, and the invention of the notion of ‘superstition’. That is when we truly began to lose the magic of connection…

So then, what are we, modern pagans to do, if we seek to reconnect? Do we look to distant lands, and to gods far, far removed from us in time? Or do we also dare to reclaim our heritage, and reconnect to the gods underneath the layers of paint, even if we do not know what their original names where? I challenge you to try. For I believe these gods have much to teach us.

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I would like to illustrate this by telling of my own encounters with the local Goddess of the land. Her name is Mary.

I do not have the luxury of living in a country that is full of standing stones. And the sacred places that exist, like sacred wells and other places where the power of the land is strong, have been Christianized, and often churches or little chapels have been built on these locations. And so it is quite impossible to simply pretend that the past 2000 years have not happened, and that I can simply take a time machine back in time, to connect with what used to be there before.

And I have begun to think that this is probably not such a bad situation. I have often heard pagans lament about how all of this is a disgrace, and that they stole ‘our’ sacred places. And yes, to a certain extent, this is true, and I am not trying to defend the missionaries. On the other hand, things could have been far, far worse. For most of these places are still held as sacred now, so many centuries later. Compared that to how the sacred places of the Native Americans were and are still being treated: many of them ended up being paved over to build a parking lot.

And so I began to look deeper. And it is interesting to notice how many of these places like sacred wells have chapels that are not devoted to the Christian god, but to the virgin Mary or to an (often female!) saint. Could it be that the connection between sacred wells and the divine feminine was just too strong, and that even a male-dominated church couldn’t afford to ignore that? Or… was it that maybe the deities were the ones who had the final word, and continued to claim these places as theirs?

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I live in a landscape that is littered with little chapels, most of them devoted to the virgin Mary. Many of these are placed in the last remaining spots of natural beauty. And so I began to frequent them, and honor the divine one that was present there, in much the same way as I would pray to Cernunnos or to Artemis at my home altar.

And she responded. Over time I have come to know her as one that uses many names. Or more importantly, one that does not really care so much what name you call Her, as long as you listen. As long as you honour what is sacred. For she is the Land. She is the Mother that feeds us all. And in giving us life, She is Us.

I do not consider myself a Christian, but connecting to Mary has lead to some of my strongest experiences of the Goddess. If this is the mask that she has chosen to put on in the place where I live, why should I turn my back on that? But make no mistake, for honey-sweet though the traditional church-depictions of her may be, that is far from the whole story…

Using the ‘automatic writing’-method I explained in my post on Awen, I asked her to speak to me. What came out was not exactly a gentle message, but more like a stern warning from an angry mother. Yet it does ring true…

 

I am you. Your essence is my essence. Your body is my body. All that you are and ever have been, you owe to me. I am the one who has fed you and nurtured you, ever since you were born. And I am the one who will one day claim your death.

This is a message to you. Remember that you are earth. Remember that your life has been gifted to you and should not be taken for granted. For it is a gift that I can take back when I deem your time on this earth has reached its natural conclusion.

Do not think of me as unkind or cruel for pointing this out to you. This is merely a reminder that you are no more special than any other creature living on the face of this planet. If you think it normal that plants die when winter starts, or that the lamb is eaten by the wolf, why do you think that you are the one exception that needs not give up his own place when your time has come?

I tell you, you are no more special to me than any other being. I will willingly nourish you and feed you, but I will not yield you preferential treatment.

And right now you have sorely tested my patience. Why are you ignoring all my gentle calls to remind you of your place? Why are you treating me as if I were just a thing, a commodity that can be used and abused at will? When will you ever give me the gratitude I deserve for all the many things I give you without ever asking anything in return? When?

For it is high time that you learn. That you remember. For if you refuse to learn of your own accord, then I will teach you. As your mother, I will interfere and correct your bad behavior. I will not do this because I hate you. I do not hate, I will do this out of love. But you may not like the lesson.

You are my children, and all I want is for you to grow up and become beautiful and wise and wonderful. But I am talking now of you as a species. I cannot continue to sustain every single one of you. The way you are living and abusing me now, is smothering me. And at some point I will need to take action. That time is nearer than you may think. Think about this. I beg you. Allow me to show you the way we can reconnect. I beg you. Even while threatening you, I would much prefer to be soft, but I can only do this if you agree to listen and learn from soft teaching methods.

Please. For I do love you all, and that will never change. But sometimes a mother has to discipline her children and tell them to play nice.

 

(Note: it is my belief that this method makes it possible for the gods to speak to us, much like we can also encounter them through shamanic journeying techniques and other methods. But I do acknowledge that ultimately I have no way to check the source of this, or how much this was influenced by my own thinking and my own subconscious. So believe what you want to believe, and see this as a message the earth might have sent to us, if she had a voice to speak with. )