The integrative mythdream is an archetypal meditation that has grown out of my depth psychology studies and my personal contemplative practice. It allows us to encounter the archetypes through their personification in mythology. It involves the experiencing of a mythic story through active imagination, and engaging the bodily felt-senses associated with the places and characters of the myth.
A rare piece of fiction that I hope has a few layers worth experiencing on a cold winter evening….
On Becoming a Druid
“Why are you here? “
His gruffness might have been offensive to some, but in his eyes I saw curiosity, compassion almost.
“I want to be a Druid.” I answered. A breeze from the river cooled as it swept through and was gone.
“I didn’t ask you that.” Again, his gruffness might have offended or even frightened some, and I was a bit dumbfounded at the unexpected reply. Finally I said “I want you to teach me to be a Druid.” Continue reading
We have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us, the labyrinth is fully known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path.
With windswept plains of grey limestone and colorful explosions of wildflowers, the Burren in co. Clare, Ireland is an exceptional place of rugged and powerful beauty. Several years ago, as I walked through this stark landscape for the first time, I was absolutely convinced that at any moment something tremendous would happen. It was July but the weather was not what one might expect. It was cold and windy. Bursts of rain appeared and were gone again just as quickly as they came. Tendrils of mist rose from the patchwork ground and the sky remained clad in shifting ribbons of grey, with only an occasional brightening to betray the sun’s location.
The Poulnabrone Dolmen, impervious to the weather, stood before me, tirelessly witnessing the slow passage of the millennia. Excavations at the dolmen have shown that it likely was used over a long period of time as a burial place for many people, including children. With the desolation and lack of shelter, the Burren certainly seems to be a perfect place for a tomb. I stood there for a long while, confronting the wind and rain, imagining the stories of the people who had built the dolmen thousands of years ago. What immense dedication the people must have had to transport the stones to this place. Was it dedication to the dead? Was it dedication to the Gods? I wondered about the ritual that might have been performed as they laid the dead in this spot. Was it a somber one? Was it joyful? What were their views on life and death? Certainly they had felt the pain of loss?
The unconscious has filled many roles through history, from the divine to the cognitive, from the personal to the transpersonal. It has been the realm of gods, the playground of mesmerists and hypnotists, a ‘trash bin’ of unwanted emotions and memories, a means of subliminal control, and of personal liberation. It has been cited as the source of mythology, religion, and the artist’s muse.
By definition though, the unconscious cannot be known, so how can it be known that it even exists? It cannot be measured; it cannot be examined under a microscope. It can be experienced. It can be inferred through symbols, or through phenomena, often in the case of unexpected and unexplainable events of the mind: sudden intuitions, sudden forgetfulness, sudden appearances of mental musicians, usually annoying ones, that won’t stop repeating the same five notes. Those are ‘harmless’ examples. What of dreams, religion and gods, creativity, or the truly odd, such as hypnosis or faith healing? The evidence of the unconscious is clear in the myriad of ways humans experience and attempt to explain the unexplainable, and live within a world of paradox and mystery presented by mental activity (Claxton 2).
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For the most part these moments that defy articulation rest on a paradox: at every crossing there is always a moment in which one is neither on one side nor on the other, neither what one was nor what one will be … One is in suspension-hovering timelessly in between.
We welcomed the autumnal equinox last Sunday with a ritual in Visionsong. With votive offerings of smoke, apple, water, and tobacco, we bid farewell to summer and, together with the trees, turned our awareness toward the balance of light and dark, and began the journey toward Samhain and the approaching dark half of the year. The equinox is a liminal time, and certainly, the energy of Visionsong, and of the ritual we performed inhabited a gap, as it were, between summer and autumn. I think the liminality of the experience though is much larger than that. I have only rarely experienced a liminal time or place quite as abrupt as a single day or a single ritual. Nonetheless, the ritual was powerful for me, and led me into the embrace of autumn.
Within the transformative space of ritual it becomes clear that liminal places are places of power. Since I have had many significant experiences in liminal places, I have never really questioned this idea, but as I was pouring the votive offering in Visionsong, I asked myself why. I didn’t ask because it suddenly struck my philosopher’s mind to ask, but because the water I poured onto the altar seemed to have its own ideas on where to land, stubbornly ignoring my attempts to ‘aim.’ In a mundane setting, I might have tried harder to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish, but in the liminal state of ritual, the liminal time of dusk, and the liminal entry of the equinox, I just allowed it to go where it would go, to merge with the inherent energy of liminality.
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A druid stood on the shore of Ireland, and recited a poem.
The Celts had recently arrived in Ireland, and were preparing to battle the mythic race of the Tuatha de Danaan for the island. After calming a sea storm sent by the sorcery of the Tuatha De, Amhairgin, druid of the Celts, came ashore and recited a poem known as the Song of Amhairgin. This “poets boast” is a series of I am statements, such as: I am Wind on Sea, I am Hawk on Cliff, I am Roar of Sea, and more. This was followed by an incantation which invoked the land to provide an abundance of resources, what he called a “fishful sea.”
His verse could be a battle cry, a blessing, statements of oneness or domination, or the raving of a druidic ego gone wild. Considering the cultural worldview from which the story sprang, the meaning and symbolism of myth, the context of the poem, and the environmental crisis in which we find ourselves, it is ultimately a mythic celebration of a possible evolution in our relationship with nature. Continue reading