Excerpt from Poem: I CHOOSE TO BE A WOMAN OF CONSEQUENCE AND DISTINCTION. Rebelle Society “I’d rather be a loud example of a strong female than a woman who compromised because the world suggested it as her best option. I’d rather write and paint and read books that give people hope than make no ripples. I’d rather live and walk authentically than crawl in the shadow of someone’s expectations.”
I am taking the time to look back and forward on this special day:
August 21, 2017
What do you really want to change:
I want to change my relationship with value.
I want to omit the feeling that my storytelling makes no difference in the world and therefore why do it?
Again – change my ‘value’
I want to finish my novel – take the time to write and not judge whether it has the capability to reach people.
Omit – the ‘not going to be recognized’ mentality that has persisted in my filmmaker career.
Is it ego? Or is it a drive for my art to be ‘seen’?
I want to challenge myself to take the next leap to explore living in Europe.
I want to change my relationship with the world, work, lifestyle.
I want to feel valued both professionally and personally.
I feel limited in Canada from exploring who I am as a creative, experienced professional as well as an adult.
Based on Experience … but that doesn’t have to be so elsewhere… right?
How do you really want your life to be?
In a perfect world I would live in different places in the world as a writer of novels and have friends come stay and create in their own right. I would love to have a partner who is a creative and we could travel and live and create.
I have always believed I am meant to be with a professional music person, a producer? A writer of music? Not a musician per say… who performs.
Music has always been a driving force for me – not in its own right – but as a muse for my creativity. Perhaps I will find my creative partner to share adventures with?
” Henry Miller wrote in reflecting on the art of living, “depends the failure or fruitfulness of it.”
Indeed, this act of orienting ourselves – to the moment, to the world, to our own selves – is perhaps the most elusive art of all, and our attempts to master it often leave us fumbling, frustrated, discombobulated. And yet therein lies our greatest capacity for growth and self-transcendence.
Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go.
“How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?”
The things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation. Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration – how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory.
The inquiry itself carries undertones of acknowledging the self illusion, or at the very least brushing up against the question of how we know who “we” are if we’re perpetually changing.
That uncertainty is not an obstacle to living but a wellspring of life – of creative life, most of all. Bridging the essence of art with the notion that not-knowing is what drives science, in the act of embracing the unknown a gateway to self-transcendence:
Certainly for artists of all stripes, the unknown, the idea or the form or the tale that has not yet arrived, is what must be found. It is the job of artists to open doors and invite in prophesies, the unknown, the unfamiliar; it’s where their work comes from, although its arrival signals the beginning of the long disciplined process of making it their own.
Scientists too, as J. Robert Oppenheimer once remarked, “live always at the ‘edge of mystery’ – the boundary of the unknown.” But they transform the unknown into the known, haul it in like fishermen; artists get you out into that dark sea.
But unlike the dark sea, which obscures the depths of what is, of what could be seen in the present moment, the unknown spills into the unforeseen.
Edgar Allan Poe, who argued that “in matters of philosophical discovery … it is the unforeseen upon which we must calculate most largely,” and considers the deliberate juxtaposition of the rational, methodical act of calculation with the ineffable, intangible nature of the unforeseen:
How do you calculate upon the unforeseen? It seems to be an art of recognizing the role of the unforeseen, of keeping your balance amid surprises, of collaborating with chance, of recognizing that there are some essential mysteries in the world and thereby a limit to calculation, to plan, to control. To calculate on the unforeseen is perhaps exactly the paradoxical operation that life most requires of us.
The poet John Keats captured this paradoxical operation elegantly in his notion of “negative capability,” and Walter Benjamin, who memorably considered the difference between not finding your way and losing yourself – something he called “the art of straying.”
To lose yourself: a voluptuous surrender, lost in your arms, lost to the world, utterly immersed in what is present so that its surroundings fade away.
In Benjamin’s terms, to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery. And one does not get lost but loses oneself, with the implication that it is a conscious choice, a chosen surrender, a psychic state achievable through geography.
That thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you is usually what you need to find, and finding it is a matter of getting lost.
Even the word itself endured an unforeseen transformation, its original meaning itself lost amidst our present cult of productivity and perilous goal-orientedness:
The word “lost” comes from the Old Norse los, meaning the disbanding of an army, and this origin suggests soldiers falling out of formation to go home, a truce with the wide world.
I worry now that many people never disband their armies, never go beyond what they know. Advertising, alarmist news, technology, incessant busyness, and the design of public and private space conspire to make it so.
Taking back the meaning of lost seems almost a political act, a matter of existential agency that we ought to reclaim in order to feel at home in ourselves.
There’s another art of being at home in the unknown, so that being in its midst isn’t cause for panic or suffering, of being at home with being lost. . . .
Lost [is] mostly a state of mind, and this applies as much to all the metaphysical and metaphorical states of being lost as to blundering around in the backcountry. The question then is how to get lost.
Never to get lost is not to live, not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction, and somewhere in the terra incognita in between lies a life of discovery.
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One of the most striking characteristics of Druidism is the degree to which it is free of dogma and any fixed set of beliefs or practices. In this way it manages to offer a spiritual path, and a way of being in the world that avoids many of the problems of intolerance and sectarianism that the established religions have encountered.
There is no ‘sacred text’ or the equivalent of a bible in Druidism and there is no universally agreed set of beliefs amongst Druids. Despite this, there are a number of ideas and beliefs that most Druids hold in common, and that help to define the nature of Druidism today:
Since Druidry is a spiritual path – a religion to some, a way of life to others – Druids share a belief in the fundamentally spiritual nature of life. Some will favour a particular way of understanding the source of this spiritual nature, and may feel themselves to be animists, pantheists, polytheists, monotheists or duotheists. Others will avoid choosing any one conception of Deity, believing that by its very nature this is unknowable by the mind.
Monotheistic druids believe there is one Deity: either a Goddess or God, or a Being who is better named Spirit or Great Spirit, to remove misleading associations to gender. But other druids are duotheists, believing that Deity exists as a pair of forces or beings, which they often characterise as the God and Goddess.
Polytheistic Druids believe that many gods and goddesses exist, while animists and pantheists believe that Deity does not exist as one or more personal gods, but is instead present in all things, and is everything.
Whether they have chosen to adopt a particular viewpoint or not, the greatest characteristic of most modern-day Druids lies in their tolerance of diversity: a Druid gathering can bring together people who have widely varying views about deity, or none, and they will happily participate in ceremonies together, celebrate the seasons, and enjoy each others’ company – realising that none of us has the monopoly on truth, and that diversity is both healthy and natural.
Nature forms such an important focus of their reverence, that whatever beliefs they hold about Deity, all Druids sense Nature as divine or sacred. Every part of nature is sensed as part of the great web of life, with no one creature or aspect of it having supremacy over any other. Unlike religions that are anthropocentric, believing humanity occupies a central role in the scheme of life, this conception is systemic and holistic, and sees humankind as just one part of the wider family of life.
Although Druids love Nature, and draw inspiration and spiritual nourishment from it, they also believe that the world we see is not the only one that exists. A cornerstone of Druid belief is in the existence of the Otherworld – a realm or realms which exist beyond the reach of the physical senses, but which are nevertheless real.
This Otherworld is seen as the place we travel to when we die. But we can also visit it during our lifetime in dreams, in meditation, under hypnosis, or in ‘journeying’, when in a shamanic trance.
Different Druids will have different views on the nature of this Otherworld, but it is a universally held belief for three reasons. Firstly, all religions or spiritualities hold the view that another reality exists beyond the physical world, rather than agreeing with Materialism, that holds that only matter exists and is real. Secondly, Celtic mythology, which inspires so much of Druidism, is replete with descriptions of this Otherworld. Thirdly, the existence of the Otherworld is implicit in ‘the greatest belief’ of the ancient Druids, since classical writers stated that the Druids believed in a process that has been described as reincarnation or metempsychosis (in which a soul lives in a succession of forms, including both human and animal). In between each life in human or animal form the soul rests in the Otherworld.
Death and Rebirth
While a Christian Druid may believe that the soul is only born once on Earth, most Druids adopt the belief of their ancient forebears that the soul undergoes a process of successive reincarnations – either always in human form, or in a variety of forms that might include trees and even rocks as well as animals.
Many Druids share the view reported by Philostratus of Tyana in the second century that the Celts believed that to be born in this world, we have to die in the Otherworld, and conversely, that when we die here, we are born into the Otherworld. For this reason, Druid funerals try to focus on the idea that the soul is experiencing a time of birth, even though we are experiencing that as their death to us.
The Three Goals of the Druid
A clue as to the purpose behind the process of successive rebirths can be found if we look at the goals of the Druid. Druids seek above all the cultivation of wisdom, creativity and love. A number of lives on earth, rather than just one, gives us the opportunity to fully develop these qualities within us.
The goal of wisdom is shown to us in two old teaching stories – one the story of Fionn MacCumhaill (Finn MacCool) from Ireland, the other the story of Taliesin from Wales. In both stories wisdom is sought by an older person – in Ireland in the form of the Salmon of Wisdom, in Wales in the form of three drops of inspiration. In both stories a young helper ends up tasting the wisdom so jealously sought by the adults. These tales, rather than simply teaching the virtues of innocence and helpfulness, contain instructions for achieving wisdom, encoded within their symbolism and the sequence of events they describe, and for this reason are used in the teaching of Druidry.
The goal of creativity is also central to Druidism because the Bards have long been seen as participants in Druidry. Many believe that in the old days they transmitted the wisdom of the Druids in song and story, and that with their prodigious memories they knew the genealogies of the tribes and the stories associated with the local landscape. Celtic cultures display a love of art, music and beauty that often evokes an awareness of the Otherworld, and their old Bardic tales depict a world of sensual beauty in which craftspeople and artists are highly honoured. Today, many people are drawn to Druidry because they sense it is a spirituality that can help them develop their creativity. Rather than stressing the idea that this physical life is temporary, and that we should focus on the after-life, Druidism conveys the idea that we are meant to fully participate in life on earth, and that we are meant to express and share our creativity as much as we can.
Druidry can be seen as fostering the third goal of love in many different ways to encourage us to broaden our understanding and experience of it, so that we can love widely and deeply.
Druidry’s reverence for Nature encourages us to love the land, the Earth, the stars and the wild. It also encourages a love of peace: Druids were traditionally peace-makers, and still are. Often Druid ceremonies begin with offering peace to each cardinal direction, there is a Druid’s Peace Prayer, and Druids plant Peace Groves. The Druid path also encourages the love of beauty because it cultivates the Bard, the Artist Within, and fosters creativity.
The love of Justice is developed in modern Druidry by being mentioned in ‘The Druid’s Prayer’, and many believe that the ancient Druids were judges and law-makers, who were more interested in restorative than punitive justice. Druidry also encourages the love of story and myth, and many people today are drawn to it because they recognize the power of storytelling, and sense its potential to heal and enlighten as well as entertain.
In addition to all these types of love that Druidism fosters, it also recognizes the forming power of the past, and in doing this encourages a love of history and a reverence for the ancestors. The love of trees is fundamental in Druidism too, and as well as studying treelore, Druids today plant trees and sacred groves, and support reforestation programmes. Druids love stones too and build stone circles, collect stones and work with crystals. They love the truth, and seek this in their quest for wisdom and understanding. They love animals, seeing them as sacred, and they study animal lore. They love the body and sexuality believing both to be sacred.
Druidism also encourages a love of each other by fostering the magic of relationship and community, and above all a love of life, by encouraging celebration and a full commitment to life – it is not a spirituality which tries to help us escape from a full engagement with the world.
Some Druid groups today present their teachings in three grades or streams: those of the Bard, Ovate and Druid. The three goals sought by the Druid of love, wisdom and creative expression can be related to the work of these three streams. Bardic teachings help to develop our creativity, Ovate teachings help to develop our love for the natural world and the community of all life, and Druid teachings help us in our quest for wisdom.
Living in the World
The real test of the value of a spiritual path lies in the degree to which it can help us live our lives in the world. It needs to be able to provide us with inspiration, counsel and encouragement as we negotiate the sometimes difficult and even tragic events that can occur during a lifetime.
The primary philosophical posture of Druidism is one of love and respect towards all of life – towards fellow human beings and animals, and all of Nature. A word often used by Druids to describe this approach is reverence, which expands the concept of respect to include an awareness of the sacred. By being reverent towards human beings, for example, Druids treat the body, relationships and sexuality with respect and as sacred. Reverence should not be confused with piousness or a lack of vigorous engagement – true reverence is strong and sensual as well as gentle and kind.
This attitude of reverence and respect extends to all creatures, and so many Druids will either be vegetarian or will eat meat, but support compassionate farming and be opposed to factory farming methods. Again, the belief that we should love all creatures is likely to be tempered with a robust realism that will not exclude the possibility that we might want to kill certain creatures, such as mosquitoes.
For many Druids today the primary position of love and respect towards all creatures extends to include a belief in the idea of causing no harm to any sentient being. This idea is known in eastern traditions as the doctrine of ‘Ahimsa’, or Non-Violence, and was first described in around 800 BCE in the Hindu scriptures, the Upanishads. Jains, Hindus and Buddhists all teach this doctrine, which became popular in the west following the non-violent protests of Mahatma Gandhi. The Parehaka Maori protest movement in New Zealand and the campaigns of Martin Luther King in the USA also helped to spread the idea of Ahimsa around the world.
Many Druids today adopt a similar stance of abstaining from harming others, and of focussing on the idea of Peace, drawing their inspiration from the Classical accounts of the Druids, which portrayed them as mediators who abstained from war, and who urged peace on opposing armies. Julius Caesar wrote: ‘For they [the Druids] generally settle all their disputes, both public and private… The Druids usually abstain from war, nor do they pay taxes together with the others; they have exemption from warfare.’ And Diodorus Siculus wrote: ‘Often when the combatants are ranged face to face, and swords are drawn and spears are bristling, these men come between the armies and stay the battle, just as wild beasts are sometimes held spellbound. Thus even among the most savage barbarians anger yields to wisdom, and Mars is shamed before the Muses.’
In addition Druids today can follow the example of one the most important figures in the modern Druid movement, Ross Nichols, who in common with many of the world’s greatest thinkers and spiritual teachers, upheld the doctrines of non-violence and pacifism. Many of Nichols’ contemporaries, who shared similar interests in Celtic mythology, were also pacifists, including T.H.White, the author of the Arthurian The once & Future King. Nichols often used to finish essays he wrote with the simple sign-off: ‘Peace to all beings.’
The Web of Life and the Illusion of Separateness
Woven into much of Druid thinking and all of its practice is the idea or belief that we are all connected in a universe that is essentially benign – that we do not exist as isolated beings who must fight to survive in a cruel world. Instead we are seen as part of a great web or fabric of life that includes every living creature and all of Creation. This is essentially a pantheistic view of life, which sees all of Nature as sacred and as interconnected.
Druids often experience this belief in their bodies and hearts rather than simply in their minds. They find themselves feeling increasingly at home in the world – and when they walk out on to the land and look up at the moon or stars, or smell the coming rain on the wind they feel in the fabric of their beings that they are a part of the family of life, that they are ‘home’, and that they are not alone.
The consequences of this feeling and belief are profound. Apart from this trusting posture towards life bringing benefits in psychological and physical health, there are benefits to society too. Abuse and exploitation comes from the illusion of separateness. once you believe that you are part of the family of life, and that all things are connected, the values of love, and reverence for life naturally follow, as does the practice of peacefulness, of harmlessness or ‘Ahimsa’.
The Law of the Harvest
Related to the idea that we are all connected in one great web of life is the belief held by most Druids that whatever we do in the world creates an effect which will ultimately also affect us. A similar idea is found in many different traditions and cultures: folk wisdom in Britain says that ‘what goes around comes around’ and in ancient Egypt, the idea attributed to the Apostle Paul when he said ‘As ye sow, so shall ye reap,’ was spoken by the god Thoth several thousand years earlier in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, when he said ‘Truth is the harvest scythe. What is sown – love or anger or bitterness – that shall be your bread. The corn is no better than its seed, then let what you plant be good.’ In Hinduism and Buddhism the idea is expressed as the doctrine of cause and effect (karma).
The two beliefs – that all is connected and that we will harvest the consequences of our actions – come naturally to Druids because they represent ideas that evolve out of an observation of the natural world. Just as the feeling of our being part of the great web of life can come to us as we gaze in awe at the beauty of nature, so the awareness that we will reap the consequences of our actions also comes to us as we observe the processes of sowing and harvesting.
Excerpts from What do Druids Believe? by Philip Carr-Gomm, Granta 2006