Thursday, 24 November 2016

A response to living in interesting times

On the 6th of July 1941, almost two years into the bloodshed and destruction of the Second World War, Dion Fortune sent out her 80th war letter to members and friends of the Fraternity of the Inner Light. Over 70 years later, in a seemingly vastly different world to the one she knew -- at least on the surface -- much of this particular letter’s content has a fresh poignancy and strong sense of currency for where we find ourselves in the 21st Century.

"This is the basis of the psychological leadership of democracy. Its use demands of the leaders two things: firstly, a realisation that life is governed by certain principles which are universally and eternally prevalent, and that the departures therefrom are no more than the rise and fall of the waves on a tidal beach -- it is the tides that count, not the ripples. Leaders must trust and be true to such principles, and never, in a spirit of short-sighted opportunism, avail themselves of the ripples. Secondly, such leaders must have a spirit of dedication and self-abnegation which will cause them to have no care for power for its own sake but only as a means to an end -- the end being the service of society, so that they will be willing to delegate power in order that experience may be gained and growth made by those of whom they are the trustees. Those are the leaders we want, and, those are, the leaders we must have if the history of the last generation is not to repeat itself. "

In the accompanying meditation for the week she also asked her co-workers and friends to work through the theme of “Invocation for the sending of the leaders of the New Age”. This topic continued her established approach of using the meditation subjects to either tackle an immediate issue or to look towards establishing a better future.  

Now, in the past few months many people in the United Kingdom and the United States of America have been horrified by the apparent rise in the popularity of right wing politicians and their often hateful and self-serving views. People in Spain, France and Germany have also expressed real concerns about the growing interest and following of fascist beliefs.

By all accounts, compassion and kindness towards our fellow humans appear to be retreating. In the circumstances it is easy to become angry, hateful and despondent. It is, perhaps, also easy to fall into an outlook that all has been lost and that we are now trudging through the Wastelands.

A close friend recently questioned “the point of it all” in reference to magic and the Western Mysteries against this backdrop of rising fascism and general hatred. I responded that I felt it was easy to mistake 70 years as a long time. However, in truth, it is a blink in the eye of God, or indeed the Human Project, and, we must continue to do the right things even if the tide often appears to be going against us. Desired outcomes can sometimes take a much longer time to manifest than a mortal lifespan. That’s a particularly difficult one to swallow for many of us in a world bustling with narcissism and immediate gratification.

Many things keep me personally going through the flotsam and jetsam. Meditation and contemplation, ritual and ceremony, divination and dreaming, visualisation and visioning, to name a few! Turning off social media for a day or more can help too.

Recently I’ve found great inspiration by returning to Dion Fortune’s war letters. Reflecting on these I have been reminded of a salient passage from Galatians which reminds us of a universal truth we perhaps need to hear more of over the coming times:

 “…for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone…”

I hope others can also find and share some love, light and compassion from meditation and reflection on the war letters. 

If you are not already part of a lodge, group or coven tackling these very real challenges before us, you may find it useful to take up the practice of the Keeper of the Planetary Flame. In fact, you might find it a useful addendum to your spiritual practise even if you are involved in a group.

The Keeper of the Planetary Flame is a technique Gareth Knight introduced in the late 1970s. It continues the work exemplified by Dion Fortune and is similar to the techniques used by a small number of lodges working within her Tradition.  My internet friend, Sheila Browning, now kindly curates a network of co-workers carrying out this regular exercise. Check out their Facebook page here.

Amongst other things, the work links people together across the globe, focussing on mediating the power of the stellar fire at the centre of our planet. This spiritual presence, which some look on as being our planetary heart, is essential to the well-being of our planet and all Humankind living upon it.

The exercise can be done daily or once a week and takes a few minutes each day to carry out the core practice described below. Gareth Knight’s instruction are as follows: -

“You will need a stone (or crystal) and a candle. Place your stone before the candle. Light the flame and be aware how it is an expression of the fire at the centre of our planet, of the sun, and of the starry regions around us.

Be aware of your stone as ultimately originating in the stars. Feel its connection to the land you live on and the processes of flowing fire within the earth.

Be aware of others who participate in this work and sense a field or network of spiritual energies linking us all together. Along these lines of connection, and up from the centre of the planet through your stone and flame, and from the stars, great streams of spiritual power and light flow and move.

Hold this awareness and attunement as long as feels right. Then blow out your candle, being aware that what you have set in motion is still running through the mortal realm.”

The destiny of Humankind is to bring the Kingdom, which already exists in the world of spirit, to Earth. That task involves both individual and group effort -- of families, teams, partnerships, communities and nations. Before it can happen we must learn to express our innate quality of being community creatures. Love of Humankind makes possible the building of community life, and true community living depends upon spiritual principles, not political ideas. That doesn’t mean that we should throw the baby out with the bath water and not participate in political acts or have related views. However, I’d suggest that it does mean we should take time out from these to come back to the core spiritual principles behind appearances.

I hope you can join with us in this important venture.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Alan Garner and the gift of uncertainty

"In the Beginning, when the waters parted, and the Ancestors dreamed all that is, and woke the life that slept, the sky lay on the earth, and the sun could not move, until the Magpie lifted the earth with a stick."

- Strandloper by Alan Garner

Are you certain that’s not how it all began? I'm not.

An email received a few weeks ago by one of the readers of this blog got me thinking about Alan Garner and one of his most recent novels. I'll come on to that novel in a moment.

Now Garner’s writings have enticed and captivated me since I was an early teenager. Lovingly crafted and enduring tales like The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath, Elidor and The Owl Service, all helped kindle a fire that has kept stoked within me over the decades.  

Often described as “low fantasy”, there is no saccharin sweetness to be found amongst these stories' pages. Instead they lead the reader on rollercoaster adventures which, amongst other things, prompt us to ponder themes of mystery and questing alongside the harshness and toughness of life. I’ve often considered one of his recurring themes as a writer to be uncertainty, but not necessarily in a negative way.

Full of liminal places and quests, with smatterings of mythology, his stories have some great themes weaving and wefting their way through their pages. 

The influence of the Mabinogion seems to run deeply through some of his work. An example, The Owl Service, a modern interpretation of the story of Blodeuwedd, is a favourite of many. Indeed, Granada commissioned a dramatization for TV in 1969, which is still available on DVD and remains very watchable. The BBC also ran a sterling radio dramatization of the story some 30 years later. 

Growing older, I was absolutely delighted when Garner continued writing stories for grown-ups. Strandloper is one of my all-time favourites and tells the story -- part fact, part fiction -- of one William Buckley, from a village in Cheshire, England. Based creatively on the life of the real William Buckley who lived from 1780-1856, it tells the story of a man who had never left his village before his arrest and transportation as a convict to Australia. His crime was simple. He was caught re-enacting an ancient fertility ritual, arrested, charged and convicted of "lewdness and Popery." The latter appealed to my Irish mind. In the book Buckley immerses himself in Australian aborigine culture and becomes a visionary. Interestingly, the real Buckley really did live among the aborigines for over 30 years. Well worth curling up to read with a hot chocolate.

However, my all-time favourite has to be Boneland. This novel, written for adults, offers an intriguing finale to the Weirdstone trilogy. If you enjoyed Garner’s books as a teen, then check Boneland out – I guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised.  

Now -- getting back to the email received recently! With the email's air of pompous certainty, it reminded me of one of the most endearing parts in the Boneland story. 

The main character, Professor Colin Whisterfield, (yes a grown up version of that Colin for those of you who have read the earlier books) has cooked and eaten a meal with his therapist up in the wilds of Alderley Edge. After much wine, he reacts to something his therapist says to him in a way that has stayed vividly in my memory:-

‘…I’m for uncertainty. As soon as you think you know, you’re done for. You don’t listen and you can’t hear. If you’re certain of anything, you shut the door on the possibility of revelation, of discovery. You can think. You can believe. But you can’t you mustn’t, “know”. There’s the real entropy.’

‘How come?’

‘I can show you best with a story.’

‘Oh stories! Stories freak me out. Tell me one…’

‘…Well. One day, Vishnu, otherwise Delta Capricorni, is sitting alone on the top of Chomolungma…Vishnu is crying. And along comes Hanuman, Alpha Bo├Âtes, the monkey god, and he says, “Why are you crying? And what are all those ants,” says Vishnu. “They’re people. I was holding the Jewel of Absolute Wisdom; and I dropped it; and it fell into the World and broke. Everybody down there has got a tiny splinter of it; but they each think they’ve got the whole thing, and they’re all running around and shouting and telling each other, but no one is listening.” That’s the story.’

A great little passage and retelling of an old teaching well worth reflecting on.

Certainty can be a handy boon when it helps us to safely jump a chasm or to perform a life saving operation.  However, static certainty or certainty in excess, without the balance of dynamically fluid uncertainty can, at best, result in a shamefully destructive and intolerant arrogance. At its worst it can result in a tendency to domineering, uncompromising fascism.

I can’t help but think the world would be a better and happier place if less of us were so convinced of our certainties about deity, politics and reality and instead regularly reviewed and refreshed our own little shards of Absolute Wisdom with a healthy dose of uncertainty. Uncertainty -- it's an underestimated gift to humankind.

Stay moving, always asking questions, and,most of all, as the Old Sod Bill Gray would say, “Keep Questing!” 

"For my part I know nothing with any certainty...
...but the sight of the stars makes me dream."
- Van Gogh 


The Springtime of Dion Fortune

There she is staring out at you...or maybe that should be "in to you"! Whether writing as Violet Firth, Violet M Steele...