A space to pray

Just a short post to provide me with a (flimsy) excuse to include a photo of our main shrine area.

When we unexpectedly moved in November of last year we found ourselves with a large upstairs landing area complete with steeply sloping ceiling which didn’t look good for much…..until we put our altar screen in place. The space then looked immediately as if it had been ‘just waiting’ to become our main shrine and prayer area. This is where we say our daily office, sitting on meditation cushions in front of the screen, which we bought from a wonderful Cornish craftsman back a couple of years ago, and which likewise never really ‘found its space’ until we put it here.

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Most of what you can see here is Mrs P-M’s work….she’s the one with the creative artistic ability. A big thank-you to her for all her devotionally artistic work on this. She has her own burgeoning blog at http://www.thepharmakeia.com which you are welcome to visit at any time. In case you’re wondering (and experience teaches us there are always people who are wondering), the cupboard to the left is our little sacristry, and holds our stock of candles, charcoal, incense, matches and general paraphernalia. It’s nice to see IKEA furniture doing a turn in support of religious devotion!

I’ll post something about the prayers and hymns we are using, and the horarium we have adopted, over the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, an additional thank-you to Mrs P-M for her work in revamping the header and background of this blog!

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In memoriam John Lane, July 10 1930 – 17 August 2012

As part of my New Year reflection and refocusing I will be re-reading Timeless Simplicity and The Spirit of Silence by John Lane, who died in 2012, aged 82. If time permits I may also read his The Art of Ageing.

As someone who has trouble finishing even the most engaging books, it should speak volumes that I have read Timeless Simplicity from cover to cover  at least half a dozen times in as many years, given away one copy (having thought my original copy lost and having bought a duplicate by mistake), and read The Spirit of Silence at least three times over the same period. These books, and the former in particular, ought in my opinion to be required and compulsory reading for anyone who cares about the erosion of society and mental health by the encroaching forces of materialism, consumerism, the false utopian promises of economists and politicians and what I will term ‘lowest common denominator-ism’.

John Lane is best known (and that by only a few) as a Trustee of the Dartington Trust in Devon and one of the creators of Schumacher College. Throughout his adult life he was an artist and writer, and it is through these few very slim volumes (plus a couple more aimed more squarely at artists) that he will more likely be remembered. John was one of those rare people (may the Gods grant us more of them) who saw through the sham of consumerism and was able to critique modern society with great precision, showing that promises of continually increasing wealth and (material) prosperity, fuelling ever increasing production and consumption and being driven by ever-increasing advertising, ‘The dissatisfaction creator’, just is not sustainable as a way forward, either for society or for the individual. It speaks volumes that over the past half dozen years we have seen the wheels fall of this particular bandwagon with spectacular effect, and more telling still that politicians, advertisers and the bulk of world societies seem to have learned nothing more than the misguided idea that the best policies now are those which will most quickly get us back to the way we were before that time, on the path of debt (corporate, Governmental and personal) and over-expansion.

Lane’s critique of modern values, and his unashamed promotion of simplicity, creative silence and measured solitude stand as a reminder that there is a better way. Lane was never, to my knowledge, a religious man of any persuasion, but his writings will be appreciated by anyone who sees through the empty promises of materialism, and anyone who wants to.

Thank you John…..in death you still speak. 

 

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The year in review……

Well, they say hindsight is a wonderful thing. I’ve never much enjoyed receiving ’round robin’ Christmas newsletters from people I only hear from in December, but it may be that setting down the main events of the year in a reflective way may enable a degree of learning – or maybe just provide a few laughs for the reader. I don’t know…..

What a lot has happened. We have moved house, not once, but twice, firstly from Wales back to Somerset, and latterly, and completely unexpectedly, to a slightly (OK considerably) larger property, also in Somerset and about 15-20 miles from property one.

As I’ve said elsewhere, you just never know what Fate (or the Fates) is/are going to bring you.

Our second house move involved not only transporting our reduced worldly goods from the Tiny Cottage to our latest dwelling, but also a weekend retrieving the furniture we had originally been obliged to leave in Wales, but are now able to accommodate. It’s a sad and vaguely terrifying thing to admit that you’ve actually got ‘Moving home’ as one of your core skills, and I very much hope for  a year (and the rest) of stability, thoroughly devoid of house moves, and that enough time will now elapse for those skills to become ill-used and redundant.

We have now moved home twice in a year, thrice in just a few weeks over two years and seven times in ten years. Enough.

Practice-wise, it’s been a frustrating year of Nothing Much Happening, but events right at the end of the year show that the aspiration is still there – to take the best of monastic spirituality and apply it to Pagan – or I should now say Polytheistic – life.

Elsewhere, if you care to go through the archived comments, you’ll find that I have decided to commit myself to the worship of the Greek Gods in 2014 (and well beyond, I very much hope). My other Resolution is not to court controversy, so I won’t be commenting further in public about this decision, except to point out that the lovely Mrs Pagan-Monastic has been a devotee for a number of years, I have lived in the presence of Hellenic Polytheism for a fair time, and there has been ample opportunity for me to do the stubborn thing and cut my own path. From now on we hope and aim to be co-religionists on the path of Hellenic Polytheism, and I am very happy about it. We’ll be adopting the two-fold Office devised and proposed by Drew Campbell in the first instance, and although there are some additions I could easily imagine making, it seems like a good starting point.

Wherever you are, whatever your interest in the idea of Pagan monasticism, from experienced practitioner to interested onlooker, may the Gods bless you richly in 2014 and beyond.

With every good wish for the year ahead

David

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Re-invigorating my practice

Since we moved, my practice has been pretty moribund (OK, let’s be honest, non-existent), so I decided that this weekend I would try to enliven it – and the best place to start seemed to be to enliven and re-order my altar, which was looking very neglected. However, the whole weekend developed into a kind of ‘spiritual re-invigoration’ in quite unexpected ways.

We had planned to go to Avebury Henge today, but because the weather forecast was far better for yesterday, in the end, on a whim, we decided to change plans and set off immediately. Avebury is a great place, and although swarming with tourists, few of whom seemed to have any appreciation for it’s history and significance, was bathed in beautiful sunlight and warmth, and a good time (of varying kinds) seemed to be being had by all. We walked around the outer circle of stones, taking in the two inner circles along the way, and then spent a few minutes in The Henge Shop, looking at their displays and quite easily resisting the temptation to spend money – although those Celtic T-shirts do look attractive……

Afterwards we tried to go into Marlborough but found it to be full (literally), and in leaving town we unwittingly committed ourselves to an unwelcome trip along the M4 Motorway. Soon back on track, however, we eventually rounded out a very enjoyable day out with a pint at the Lion At (West) Pennard – one of South Somerset’s more pleasant stopping-places.

So having spent the day soaking up the atmosphere of Avebury yesterday, the altar remained in its sorry state…….

Two of the afflictions the altar has suffered over the last couple of months are a generous application of cat hair courtesy of our two feline house-guests, and a large glob of candle-wax (and some smaller ones) courtesy of my inability to blow out a candle sensibly, so it was obvious that before anything else could happen, I’d have to attempt the hot-iron-and-brown-paper trick for the first time ever in order to remove the wax. Happily, after 30 minutes or so of set-up and cautious application of the iron through the brown paper, the spot where the wax had been spilt was all but invisible, and the other smaller globs were completely gone! Followed by a few minutes with the lint roll we had what amounted to a cat-hair-free, almost-as-new altar cloth. And that was it for the day, as we opted for a walk across the fields behind our cottage to make only-slightly-belated Full moon offerings to the River and Land spirits, and to walk back ‘the long way’ through the lanes, spotting indiginous foliage and wildlife for the Genii Locus (spirit of place) map which we hope to develop.

Today dawned with a pre-planned early morning walk to the top of Glastonbury Tor, in very sunny, typically very windy conditions, and a chance to take in the particular atmosphere of the place, with further reference to the spirit of place awareness we are cultivating. Happily we were nearly the only people on the Tor due to the relatively early hour.

Then we made our way down into Glastonbury for breakfast at our favourite cafe, a visit to the High Street shops (some of the proprietors are our friends), and then to Chalice Well Gardens, another of the significant sites of Glastonbury:-

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We’ve decided to become Companions (friends) of Chalice well….it really does seem like a very spiritual place….especially when we *don’t* visit on a sunny Bank Holiday during Half Term! Then again, last time we visited it snowed……

While we were at the Well Mrs P-M collected bottles of White and Red Spring water for use in her own practice. I had already collected a bottle of Red Spring water on a previous visit, which I plan to use in my own morning rites:-

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Having completed our visits to sacred sites for the weekend and returned home, it was time to resume work on the altar…..

I had already removed all the previous vessels, candles, etc., in the process of getting the altar cloth off yesterday evening, so first onto the newly-restored cloth was my OSN (Order of the Sacred Nemeton) pendant – the symbol of my commitment to the Order which I should (and will) be wearing on days when I don’t have to put on a suit and go out to meet clients:-

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After that, the small jug I bought in Glastonbury to hold the water which is poured out each morning during the OSN’s Morning Prayer:-

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Next the lovely little offering bowl which Mrs P-M bought me for a hand-fasting anniversary present a few weeks back. I really love this, and the Celtic detail on the side, and I plan to use it for my morning offerings from now on:-

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During the morning I had bought a brand new candle for the centre of the altar. Although I already had a pretty serviceable candle, I felt that this called for something newly-bought. I also added a framed photo of the chalice well cover (see image above), because I feel that the well is going to be a place we’ll be going back to and ‘getting to know’ in terms of the spirits of the place, over the next few months (and probably longer), and it warrants inclusion. Of course, above the altar hang Mrs P-M’s beautiful portrayals of Nemetona and Loucetios, two Deities with whom I have a special (and recently neglected) relationship:-

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Finally, there were just a few other items to add. A second candle (also new and unused) for use during the OSN Morning and Night Prayer Offices, a small censer/thurible which stands on a black ceramic tile I bought from B&Q for a few pence, and my gorse wand, gain made for me by Mrs P-M (who does all the ‘crafty’ stuff, as you will by now have realised). Gorse is the Ogham tree pertinent to my birthday, so it seems appropriate to include it. I also have a lovely Holly wand (again courtesy of Mrs P-M) which I’ll include closer to Yule, and I’m on the lookout for a length of local Oak (we’ve identified the tree) for a corresponding Oak wand in due course.

So here it is, finished:-

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All it needs now is the addition of my OSN Breviary:-

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I’m really looking forward to getting back to my practice again, and I feel that the whole weekend, with its combination of walking, sacred site visits and altar refurbishment has given me a good platform for which to set out again.

Back to work tomorrow – and back to Practice as well!

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A long overdue update…..

Well, it’s been a long time since my last post, so here is an update……

Across the weekend of 1st to 4th February we finally moved into the Tiny Cottage, and it is wonderful…..we are still indulging in occasional bouts of spontaneous chuckling when we look out of our front window, across the fields of the Somerset Levels, to Glastonbury Tor in the distance. We are so grateful for this place, and as people who value our Gods and the Land above everything, this is definitely the right place for us.

The Cottage is indeed Tiny, but it suits us perfectly. We had to divest ourselves of a lot of Stuff which just wouldn’t fit the decreased amount of space, which in turn brought home to us just how much Stuff it is possible to accumulate in such a very short period of time (we were only in Wales for 15 months or so). To be forced to ask questions about what we did and did not need – including our books – was a real eye-opener, and an aid to clarity of thinking.

So now we are here, and this is the view from our front door:-

 

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We have started to get to know the Land around where we are, and were delighted to find that there is an old church (church or chapel, we’re not yet sure) about 150 yards away, complete with graveyard. The church seems to be disused, but there are gravestones in the graveyard from 2011, so obviously there has been some activity as recently as that.

One area where our ambitions didn’t succeed was that we were eventually forced to re-subscribe to our broadband service, it having proved impossible for me to do my day job  using only a wireless dongle. The first dongle attempt ended in no connection (we later found out we were in a network ‘back spot’), and in me stalking around the house muttering dark threats against the service provider, and the second in me exceeding the fair usage policy for the month within the first 24 hours. So now we are reconnected to the ‘grid’, but at least we tried!

The other good news is that we managed, in a very short space of time, to find a tenant for our Wales house, thanks to a very professional and efficient managing agent, so now the house is again occupied and cared for and we are receiving the rental income we need.

So here we are, close to Glastonbury and it’s very special spiritual atmosphere, and finally rooted on the Land we love……..life is good.

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50 websites you can’t live without…

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I’m indebted to Mrs Pagan Monastic for bringing this to my attention, and for her excellent blog post at http://www.moonlitapples.wordpress.com. I was intending to re-blog her post in its entirety, but WordPress decided not to extend its co-operation to me, so this is my own view on the matter.

The ’50 Websites You Can’t Live Without’ pull-out was carried in last Saturday’s edition of The Times. I always buy The Times on Saturday, mainly for the ‘big’ Sudoku, but this really caught my attention.

50 Websites You Can’t Live Without? Really? One has to wonder how the human race survived for so long without the support of a cricket statistics site, or for that matter without the internet at all. Personally, the lack of a hotel bookings site isn’t going to render life meaningless in anything like the near future…..

Behind all this nonsense, however, there is a serious point. After some considerable thought, we have decided that our forthcoming house move is going to be into an internet-free environment. We will continue to check and respond to emails as we are able (which will probably be quite regularly), but the ‘delights’ of Facebook and Twitter are for us no longer. Basically, it’s far too easy to ‘quickly’ log on to check emails and ‘essential’ social media activity (really?), and find oneself five hours later reading a fascinating article about Bulgarian crop-spraying policy in the 1890s – or, more likely, looking at pictures of cats in funny hats.

Our decision has been underpinned by a recent blog post from the excellent people at Scarlet Imprint, which you can find at http://www.scarletimprint.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/cutting-head-off-snake.html. We fully endorse this comment, and especially the pernicious effects of social media in eroding true relationships, both with others and with the Land and the Gods, all of which are very important to us.

The internet is a wonderful thing. It can make it possible to perform tasks that once would have taken weeks in a matter of minutes, and is a marvellous way of keeping in touch with people we already know ‘in the real world’. It’s also a marvellous and quick resource for essential information (shop opening times etc), and it’s not my intention to appear as a modern-day Luddite. However, it has been shown that prolonged exposure to online material shortens the attention span, reduces critical thinking skills, and is generally a ‘distraction engine’ of enormous proportions and efficiency. For more on this, I would refer you to The Shallows by Nicholas Carr.

In addition to all of the above, I challenge any reader to ask themselves why they think it is that Government is so overwhelmingly enthusiastic to have every single person in the UK online as much as possible. That fact on its own would have my alarm bells well and truly ringing, whatever the ‘colour’ of that particular entity.

Developing relationships with the Land and with the Gods (whichever Gods you may be called by) takes time. Developing relationships with true friends – the kind you know in person and can depend on, the kind who won’t ‘delete’ you because they differ in opinions from you – takes time. Judging by the amount of time some (many) self-professed Spiritual Masters seem to spend online, it seems unlikely that they have any time at all to spare to pursue their practice. We are determined not to be in that category, and so its goodbye to Twitter, goodbye to Facebook for all but the occasional glance, goodbye to what seems to be the worldwide search for affirmation by people we don’t know, who don’t know us, and who we’ll never meet. And its hello to walking the land, talking with the Gods, the wights, the elves and the trolls, to building up real relationships, not just with them but with real friends whose company we enjoy and whose support we depend on.

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On hurry

There is a quote variously ascribed to the psychologist Carl Jung, the writer Richard Foster and others (I suspect the former to be the favourite here), which says, “Hurry is not of the devil, hurry is the devil”. I’m inclined to agree.

The world we Westerners live in (I’m not sure about the Eastern half of the world) seems to place an enormous value on multi-tasking, none at all on focused attention, to encourage a permanent state of hurry and divided attention, and to reward form and image over character and content at every stage of life.

I wonder whether the ability to sit and contemplate a God or Goddess, to become attentive, to listen without the urge to speak, to calmly consider a single line of text, will all be lost to us as societies in the headlong rush towards instant communication, ever faster travel and the general speeding up of every aspect of our lives. I hope not, for it is in learning to be attentive that we become able to serve others, to be channels of what the Gods would say through us, and to be true to ourselves rather than continually at the mercy of the agendas of others.

Several times, and again recently, I have taken a decision to try to cut hurry out of my life wherever I see it. Of course there are a number of disciplines associated with this, but the central point is to give undivided attention to whatever it is that the Gods have given me to do, right now. I make no pretence of having mastered this – we live in a world of competing thieves of our time and attention. However, in the words of the old monastic proverb, “Every day we begin again”…

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