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The Gods and Gender

A friend and colleague has been asked to teach a class on Feminist Spirituality. I also had a great conversation with Bobcat and she shared some thoughts about the gods that got my mind going. I have been pondering deity and gender. Out of these sharings, this missive was born. I hope it is good food for thought.

I think isn’t helpful is for people to get caught up in gender language when talking about spiritual matters. For example, why can’t “god” be without gender reference? “God” is like a four letter word, like “Lust”, “Fuck”, “Food”, “Stop”, “Back! -off”. It burst out of us because it is a verb, not a noun. It is guttural, bursting out like a yell, a great expression, exhalation, exaltation. We are speaking of movement and emergence when we speak of “God”. This isn’t a thing. It is an event, a powerful force of Nature moving. And that is where so many people encounter issues and conflict when speaking of deity. We take things that are experiences and verbs and make them nouns. In the druid community, we now have people saying ‘druidess’. What is the point? Druid to me is a word like “God”. It is guttural, emerging from some place deep inside of us. Druid should be left without gender reference. I think the same about deity. For me, the gods are the forces of Nature that hold the power of life and death. These energies for the most part are not sexed or gendered. As to the named gods, they all have their root in a force of Nature and we built a mythology around that power. One aspect of pagan language that I really like is that we can just say the gods and people recognize we are speaking of divine forces of nature that may appear to be male, female, neither or both, or shifting depending on the relationship. That is something I hope we can enhance and not tear down.

Feminist Spirituality is important though if it is taken as part of a whole. We have to recognize exclusion isn’t helpful in the long run (although it may be very helpful in the short run). Honoring, revering, respecting the divine feminine is essential. Women building their spiritual practices on honoring the forces of nature that flow through them is simply wise. Simply switching the gender of what we call “God” isn’t helpful though. One simply trades one type of monotheism for another. To me, a term like “Feminist Spirituality” is like a new fence being built inside the prison walls of Patriarchy. Is this helpful? Ultimately, I think not. For people to find a safe haven to open to relationship to the forces of nature that are distinctly feminine, that is important, vital, essential. But creating another ism or ist or ity, is a barrier as compared to an invitation. And what we need in the world is more open invitation. “Please come sit next to her waters, her hearth, her beauty, her fierce destruction and open to her power. There is Awen as you never imagined to be drenched in.” Now that isn’t something to put into a box. It isn’t a book, a doctrine or a system. It is something to experience, to reach for, to live. There isn’t a title for this. It is an expression of life, a current, a force of Nature, and invitation and invocation. Perhaps the word best for this is “Come” (as in, come to me) or “Open” (as in open your heart). But I prefer to not reach for words. I prefer to listen and hopefully hear the invitation.

What I love about the word Druidry, is the ry on the end (I really don’t like the word Druidism). As compared to a ism or an ist, it alludes to being something one does. Where an ism is a system or set doctrine, communism, capitalism, fundamentalism, environmentalism, blah, blah, blah, are all human constructs where we draw lines and put up fences, walls, barriers, prisons. Nature doesn’t do this. And being pagan, I don’t want to make constructs that oppose the forces of Nature. “ry” words are different. Husbandry, carpentry, midwifery, druidry, are all things one does. They aren’t limited to a fixed amount of knowledge or skills in a box. They are paths to explore, wisdom to ingest, and they aren’t removed from life. They are not gender specific (even midwifery. There have been billions of deliveries facilitated by men, and if the men are knowledgeable, kind, open-hearted, present and listening, these deliveries can be powerful and beautiful experiences.). Our spiritual paths need to be “ry”. This is the crux of the problem we see with religious conflict. There are rules set and those rules create a barrier and a prison. Anyone on the other side of the barrier is wrong.

There are forces of Nature that when I experience them seem female, others male. Examples are war and camaraderie (think of the English singing at a football match), that feels male to me. The gods of birth, home and hearth, the Earth as a whole, feel feminine to me. But what is obvious is most gods appear gendered to us dependent on the our relationship to them. For example, the ocean sometimes feels male to me, then female, then lacking any sense of gender, just a powerful force or potential and mystery that is beyond any sense of gender. Most gods feel this way to me. The Saco River, which is very sacred to me, there is even devotion there, revealed itself as deity to me. It feels male and female to me depending on how I am relating to it. Watching it flow in the spring, a torrent winding through the landscape can seem male to me, like a wise powerful grandfather. Yet when I swim in it, I am entering a holy well, a place of the divine feminine. Some springs it feels like a woman raging, breaking down barriers that no longer serve the land, cleansing the landscape of all that has become lazy. And then in summer I dive into the cool depths and play and it feels like an old male buddy I am playing some sports game with. My soul opening to its soul allows for my perception. Depending on the moment, my understanding of that other soul shifts. And it is important to recognize the other soul itself is shifting, changing, living.

Which leads me to another thought, at any one time, we live within the soul of many deities. Yesterday I had a mantra moving through my mind as meditation in the morning. “I am inside of the soul of the sun. I am inside of the soul of the Earth. I am inside the soul of the wind. I am inside of the soul of this river valley.” All four elements around me, inside of me, moving through my entire soul, timeless. And all of these elements a god, humming with emergence, creativity, power, wisdom, and sanctity. None felt gendered, only a play between nothingness and emergence, potentiality and manifestation. The gods of time, standing at the doorway between those two states. They are intense currents of Nature, divine energies moving me and changing me. So at any one moment, we are immersed in the soul of many gods. And that is why I think pursuing a mindset, creating a practice, a system, a doctrine that closes off our honoring all the gods, all the forces of Nature, is dangerous. Indeed it is that mindset that is destroying the planet. Progress, Growth, Trade, Life, are gods which we are honoring to the exclusion of all others. We have a cult of life here in the USA (keeping dead people on life-support, outlawing abortion, restricting birth-control, fertility clinics, etc, all fighting against decay and death and all infused with deep fear). We are excluding the gods of death, decay, chaos, equality, sharing, kindness, etc and it is killing us, wiping out millions of species and killing the fecundity of the Earth. We have to honor the whole of it, not just the forces we find easy or beautiful. To not do so, is to dishonor some gods to our own demise.

So exclusion is dangerous. Focused attention is essential though as we are limited by our human consciousness. Stopping to honor the gods that are feminine is part of what it is to live with honor I think. What my spiritual path is becoming though is that of letting go of the self, of all sense of “Kevin”, returning to the oneness that is the darkness from which all things come from and which they return. So I am working with trance more and more – trance that begins rooted into the Earth and ancestors. It is not an exercise in removal. The work is that of letting all the edges dissipate, tearing down all my barriers, merging with the landscape, part of a whole, dancing with all the currents and divine energies. It is in this state where there is Peace. From my experience, there is no gender in this place.

These are some things that have been running through my head and I thought I would share them. I hope it doesn’t come across as anti-feminine in any way. That is as far from the intent as possible. In fact if I had to put a name to that place from which all the universe/s come from, that place of darkness from which emergence happens, it would be a dark goddess I simply know as “Her” (funny contradiction to the whole rant above :>).

Blessings of Her,
Kevin /|\

Conscious Killing

I find myself thick in the Samhain tide this autumn. My world is filled with dying and the conscious taking of life. And I am very wakeful to it. Riding the emotions have been a great challenge. Through it all, I keep looking at the ethics involved, questioning myself, looking to my ancestors for support, looking deep inside my own soul for clarity.

My Samhain tide has started with the autumn leaves falling, their slow desent into decay as the sunlight fades by noticeable minutes each day. The scent of leave mould filling the air. Nature moving through its unending tides between growth and death. This is the dynamic in which I walk each moment.

After nine years of being a strict vegetarian, I have made a shift. It became apparent that ethically my path lies in living locally, divorcing myself more and more from reliance on things from away. My wife and I are rearranging our lives to immerse ourselves in the local environment. My spiritual path is one of engaging in a sacred manner with the Spirits of Place. It is a path of finding my right place in the ecosystem and being content with it. It is one of being ultra-clear about the line between needs and desires. And as I have journeyed this path for the past year or so, I decided to eat meat again. But I maintain these stipulations: it has to be local, organic, and/or wild. I cannot ethically spend money on meat that I don’t know where it comes from. Ultimately, I decided that in order to ethically eat meat, I needed to own the role as killer.

This year, I started bowhunting. And last week I managed to kill a small deer. The arrow was startling effective. The deer died in three seconds. Having completed what I set out to do, I was now face to face with consequence. There was no undo button. I didn’t “enjoy” the killing, the cleaning, or the butchering. This was the first large animal I have killed in my life. I could write a lot about this process and my feelings but suffice to say, this wasn’t easy. It was very unsettling (and this is a good thing).

The Samhain tide then got thicker. A close family member had heart surgery and dangerous complications. A week in ICU and things are beginning to look up. As you can imagine, especially this time of year, the connection and threads of family have been very strong during this crisis. Thoughts of my father who passed eight years ago have been in my mind. My connection to the ancestors has been tugging at me. It all just gets thicker and thicker.

Last weekend, I participated in culling ducks at a friend’s farm. They really needed the help. This was perhaps the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. We used cones to hold the ducks (it takes two people, one holding the feet). I had to push a knife behind the trachea and cut the main arteries, holding the head while the animal bled out and died, holding tight during death throws, watching its eyes, feeling its soul to know when it had died. One duck took twenty minutes to expire. This sort of intimacy was the deepest I have ever experienced. It laid me more soul bare than sex. It was extremely challenging, heartbreaking and exhausting. Again, this wasn’t easy.

All around me is the harvest. We are picking the last of the vegetables before the first killing frost hits (it is late this year). My hunting has been successful. We are ridding ourselves of stuff in our living space. All around is conscious killing. It is visceral. It is challenging, humbling, and powerful. My being involved in killing hasn’t brought guilt or shame. It has brought the weight of responsibility to the forefront. Never again will I pull a carrot up, tearing its roots from the Earth, endings its life, consciously killing it, without a deep awareness of the act. And this act is a sacred one. Life feeds on the killing and death of other souls. And one day our death will be the food source for others. And the cycle of life and death, the tides of living and dying will continue.

So I invite all of you to be wakeful to that which you kill, whether it is an animal, vegetable, weed, relationship, process or household item you use and dispose of. We all need to be extremely wakeful to these acts. Each of us, without exception, is a killer on some level. We have to shoulder the responsibility for the killing we do. And for those of you who eat meat, I strongly recommend you involve yourself in the process of taking a life and the processing of the body. This is your obiligation for having this food to eat. And I garauntee you will not be able to eat the meat without a profound awareness of the life you have taken and the significance of the act. And this I assure you will draw a clear line between what is a need and what is a desire.

And finally, I encourage everyone to spend the energy to go as deeply into this Samhain tide as possible. It is time for dying, for letting go of year behind us. It is time for us to dive into mystery, deep intimacy with the darkness around us, within us. It is a opportunity to be extraordinarily wakeful to our own way of being in the world, from our most brilliant creativity, to the killing we do. This is our path as a pagan people.

Please share your thoughts.

Blessings of living and dying,
Snowhawke /|\

Moments

A new poem, gifting back to honor that which I’ve received…

Moments

Gold leaves tumble down on dark waters
Contact making ripples on the surface of the stream
Though surface and depth rush ever downstream
Perfect circles move outward from center to touch the edge
Movement over movement
Moments dancing, sliding over one another in selfless perfection
My heart breaking
As I stand witness to such profound beauty
How does one express gratitude worthy of this place?
And as it witnesses me
Rivers of Awen trickle down my pale cheeks
God blessed

Equinox poem

Here is a simple poem about accepting change. As we slide into the dark half of the year, and my feeling my age, this was a good meditation. I feel so blessed to live here in Maine in this beautiful Saco River Valley.

The Apple

Grey Mabon morning
Plants hang low, heavy with raindrops
Leaves bow silently under baptismal sky
Yet, red fruit hangs unrepentant, firm and ripe
Shamelessly displaying its hold of sunlight

The stem calls out, “hold me”
The sepal seductively beckons one to, “touch me”
The skin, urgent with need, commands, “taste me”

Coded with the eternal,
The apple celebrates its undoing

The Druid College

Greetings! I am sorry for the long stretch without posting. I have been very busy with a new project. My colleague in NYC, James Lawer, and I have created a new organization. It is called Druid College. Over the years, Jim and I talked a lot about the need for well trained priest to help reweave our communities back into an ethical relationship with Nature, and within Nature lives the Gods. And after a lot of work, we are announcing the founding of the Druid College. We have created a three-year program for apprentices to take a deep dive into priesthood training. We offer training in NYC and in Maine. Please check out the announcement below. I hope you all will visit our new web site and read about the program. We would love to hear any feedback.

I will be posting more often as we have a lot of things in the works. Also preparing to teach this course has stirred up a lot of good thought regarding my own practices. More posts coming soon!

Blessings of new adventures,
Snowhawke /|\

————————————————-

The Druid College is dedicated:

to Earth-centered spirituality,
to  the integrity of our natural home, and
to the crafting of sacred relationship.

In short, The College devotes its presence—and it is its sole intent—to prepare priests of Nature.

Druid College is an organization that offers a formal priesthood training program for people who walk a Nature-based spiritual path. The foundation of our three-year program is crafting sacred relationship. It is designed to prepare the apprentice to be in the role of service to the land, the people, and the Gods; to be a priest of Nature. It is open to people of all traditions, from novice to elders.

While there are many good programs that give a foundation in a tradition or general paganism, we saw a need for something that goes deeper, something more complete. The Druid College is for those who wish to journey further into the priesthood. We wish to work with those who want to be ‘carriers’ of Nature-based spirituality – as compared to ‘followers’.

Our Vision:
We envision Druid College as a center of learning, sharing, and support for students and teachers of earth-based spiritual practices, promoting service within local communities that restores and helps maintain devotion to the land, human dignity, and the arts/skills of transformation, in alignment with principles of Druidry.

Each year has a different focus and one needn’t commit to the whole program. But this program will be different than anything anyone else is offering. It is about reweaving our connection to the Earth, the people and the Gods, and carrying that work forward into the next generation. It is for those who wish to dive head-long into the mysteries and want to learn to lead others there as well. With the help of other qualified teachers, we will cover a lot of space, from Permaculture to Wildcrafting, from Druidry to Shamanism, Wakeful meditation to wild Ecstatic Trance, Animism, Geomancy, Storytelling, Ritual Trance Induction, Prison Ministry, Working the Dying, crafting Authentic Relationship and a many other pertinent topics, all the while wrapped in the understanding we are teaching the teacher. This program isn’t about hierarchy. It is about building a community of knowledgeable trained pagan priests to do the work needed to rebuild our communities, reawaken our sense of the sacredness of Nature, and heal the desecration that has been done to our life-giving Mother Earth. This is program is all about building a powerful paganism for today’s world, a paganism filled with integrity and wakeful authentic ways of living, and from there, stepping into the role of service and leadership.

I invite all of you to check out organization and program, http://druidcollege.org/. Please send any feedback or ask questions using the contact form on the site. This is going to be a life-changing program. The first year starts in November. Courses offered in Maine and New York City.

Blessings of new beginnings,
The Druid College /|\

Perfect Equality

A tough day yesterday. I visited the prison after a month and a half of not being able to attend (due to work). Everyone was so glad to see me. One newer man to the group did his dedication to the Wiccan path. He stumbled over the words, couldn’t recall the meaning of things, was thoroughly nervous. So I helped him by asking, Why this path? What is this path about? What do you hope to gain? Basically he responded with simple clarity that is was a “natural” path. It made me realize that so many people just want to get back to living in a natural manner, integrated, connected with a sense of place and purpose. They may not have the intellect or education to express it clearly but the desire is there. And it hit me this way of being is exactly the opposite of what we have built today and the consequences are huge on the individual and global level. This is why the prisons are filled.

Here is the nature of the paradigm and its consequences.

When we live a natural life, one integrated into the ecosystem, where each and everyone of us, all souls human and non-human, have their place, their function and purpose are clear. All needs are met. There is no hierarchy. There is in a sense perfect equality. The brilliant and the mentally challenged all walk in perfect equality as both are essential parts of the whole. This is lost today. We instead have built a system of winners and losers. Those who are not up to the challenge of competition have no place, not just a smaller place. Their value is lost, discarded and never realized. Humanity is less for this. The Earth is less for this. All of Nature is less for this. We are all equally important in the context of the whole. Yet, due to our reductionist mindset and culture, our souls are filled with a sense of self-worth unto ourselves. And for those who aren’t the winners, those who aren’t as smart or good looking, there is only a sense of self-hatred and self-denigration. Where one has no place or purpose in the tribe or in the greater ecosystem, one has the impossible task of trying to find spiritual connection and integration in a vacuum.

I received a call from a friend yesterday. His family experienced the loss of a four-year old niece from a car accident. In the midst of all this, they are dealing with job loss, debilitating disease and great financial stress. Our culture has built itself to an every-one-for-themselves paradigm. So my friend is faced with dealing with all this stress pretty much alone. Where are the neighbors? Where are the structures in the State to help take the stress off people when so much is piled on at once? How come we allow so much to be piled on people that they break? Where are the systems to relieve burdens when people are given too much to carry? As a simple priest in such a dynamic, I feel completely out gunned. I feel the like the sheriff in the movie, “No Country for Old Men”.

My entire being is just so sick of the paradigm of our culture. Why is someone more valuable than another? Why is someone’s time more valuable than another’s? My eight hours of work is just as valuable to me as as CEO making 500 times my wage. My life means just as much to me as his does to him. People will respond to say, well they have more responsibility, they have more credentials, they worked harder. That is true. But it doesn’t address why someone is treated as more valuable. Why should I get paid double what someone else does just because they aren’t as mentally astute? Also it speaks clearly to me that the paradigm that allows such responses is totally removed from the natural world. If we as a society lived in an animistic manner, integrated into ecosystems, awake to our function in it, awake to the flow of the whole, no one would be considered more “valuable”. The lion doesn’t get paid more than the mouse. All needs are met or the ecosystem breaks down.

Sure Nature is merciless. Sure Nature has death. But the value of the prey and the predator is equal. Today we call the cycles of life the “food chain”. We view it as a hierarchy when in fact that is an illusion, a snapshot in time, yet Nature is a continuum. Which is higher, the tiger or the ebola virus. Put in such way, the hierarchy fails. There is no separation in Nature. All human structures need to follow suit. It is the great challenge of our generation to re-weave our societies back into the ecosystems of the natural world. We cannot not continue to see ourselves as outside of Nature. That illusion will be exposed to everyone eventually.

Much of my frustration isn’t that the very basics of food and shelter aren’t being met. Humans are a keystone species and we aren’t living up to that responsibility. We are failing in the realms of meeting the spiritual and psychological needs of our human brothers and sisters. We only seem to honor the aggressive intellectuals that win in the worlds of financial and academia. The man who made his dedication gave me answers that lacked precision in word usage, correct grammar, and verbal grace. But the answers he gave spoke to me of a deep understanding of what sort of life he wanted to have and why that was so important to live a “natural” life. If I posed the same question to the CEO of the company I work for, or to the head of the departments at our respected universities or to our financial geniuses on Wall Street, I doubt very much I would have received answers that had such deep understandings. This prisoner is no less valuable to Nature than the billionaire or genius.

We must find that sense of perfect equality in our culture. I believe Paganism and Permaculture offer us a way forward. But we must guard against elitism. We must refrain from hierarchy. We can’t allow the winner and loser mindset to be a part of what we build. All needs must be met or whatever we build will break. I have my doubts. Organic seems to be only for those who can afford it. Permaculture only for those bright enough to digest the language we use to discuss it.

So I sit here angry. Angry at the situation we humans have created, angry at the social injustice, angry at the deference we pay those who are the winners, the smart people, the highly competitive, the beautiful people. It is sick, very sick and we simply must begin to build an inclusive society where each of us has a place in the ecosystem, and no one is simply left out. In Nature there is no such thing as waste. Why do we humans leave a trail of it everywhere we go? And in that waste, endless sad tales of wasted people and human potential. I am very sad today.

Share Your Gifts

I awoke this morning with these thoughts in my mind. One of the greatest rewards in life is to inspire others. It is our obligation to honor the gifts  our ancestors have passed onto us (no matter how meager we may think they are) and share our creativity. The world doesn’t need more corporate product passed off as art. It needs you to be you, me to be me, expressing our soul’s truth. Remember you and I are the creativity of the Earth. It we hide ourselves, the Earth suffers. If we are lost or drowned out in the corporate media blitz of politics, distraction, mono-culture promotion and consumerism, the Earth suffers. We must stop all the self-negation, find the inspiration inside of us and gift our creativity back to the world. This is the only way we will begin to heal the damage we have done and continue to do to this planet. When we damage the planet, we damage ourselves. There is no separation here.

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