Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Self & Psyche in Druidic Ritual Symbolism

Pt 2 - The Two Powers and Three Realms
This is the next article in the series of attempted 'mysticism' things, based on our Druidic Order of Ritual. The first one part is the Earth Mother meditation posted here previously. This one is based on the 'honoring the Center' portion of the rites, as expressed in our Three Hallows of Fire, Well and Tree.

As we enter our second quarter-century it is perhaps time to begin a new phase in our spiritual practice and discussion. We have refined and focused our ritual order, linking it firmly with Indo-European concepts of cosmos. I think we can move beyond our current understandings to find new layers of meaning. It may be that this has been going on quietly in our Groves and hearths for some time, but I’ll make an effort to lay out some of my own thinking on how we can find deeper experience and meaning in our ritual symbolism.
It is common in traditional Paganism for spiritual techniques and symbols to have several levels of interpretation. For instance we can understand our Order of Ritual first as a feast that the house or clan sets for the Gods and Spirits. The Fire cooks the food, the Well gives drink. On a deeper level we can understand that the physical realities of the rite are spiritual and mythic as well. The Well is the Eye of the Underworld Waters, the Fire the Light of the Heavens. The Grove becomes one with the Center of Worlds. In these essays we will examine another level of interpretation, in which the symbols of the Order of Ritual are applied to the human psyche – the body/mind/spirit complex. In this I accept that ancient maxim best known to us from the late classical age: “That which is above is as that which is below, and that which is below is as that which is above.” By applying cosmic realities to personal realities I hope to find insights toward a Pagan Druidic mystical and spiritual path.
The Primal Powers and the Vertical Axis
The powers of the proto-cosmos – the Underworld Waters and the Fire of the Heavens – can have deep meaning in the personal self as well as in the rites. The Two Powers find expression as central functions of the psyche. They can be the root of much further analysis and practice.
The Underworld Power finds expression first in the material self as the inheritance from our genetic ancestors. The Underworld is the place in which all that has come before is boiled up and boiled down into its basic elements, to feed the rise of new forms. We as individuals rise from the chance of combining DNA – from the Womb of the Deep.
On a psychological level we can think of the Underworld as referring first to the place where body meets mind – the oldest and most ‘primitive’ impulses including hunger, reproduction, territoriality, pack-hierarchy and fight-or-flight. Even though modern humans have some ability to manage these impulses they continue to influence our behavior even in the most civilized of circumstances.
Just as the Underworld Waters bear all the raw nutrients that remain from that which has passed away, so in our mind the memory is the vasty deep into which our experiences are dissolved. Science now knows that memory is not a filing system in which events are clearly preserved. Rather it is more like a bog, in which events are sometimes dissolved, sometimes preserved, and sometimes sprout into living things. In this way the memory is a fine expression of the Underworld Power.
On a spiritual level we carry within our own flesh and spirit the power of the Dead. Our inheritance makes our very face and form an idol of our ancestors, and ancient religion plainly understood ‘the blood’ as carrying the power of our lineage. This presents many opportunities, including transpersonal memory, access to increased personal potential and the mysteries of the Road of the Dead themselves. Those roads lead finally to the Thrones of the Gods of the Deep. Euro-Pagan cultures show us images of the King and Queen of the Underworld, who welcome the Dead and grant peace, rest and, as needed, justice. We hear that the Celts said that they were descended from the Underworld Father. Among the Hellenes and the Norse it is the Underworld Queen who is regarded most highly. These mighty Powers exist by reflection within our own psyches as surely as they live in the Halls Below.
The Heaven Power finds expression in our body as the genetic pattern that makes each of us unique. We grow out of the long history of mating and mixing that preceded our own births, and the genes of our parents came together with a variety of potentials. It is the power of organization and quickening from the Heavens that assembled each of us from the potentials of chance, and our flesh is a combination of Underworld potentials formed by Heavenly shaping. In this way the Heaven Power is just as far outside of our ‘normal’ awareness as the Underworld – it happens whether or not we watch it or direct it.
However, we ourselves possess the Power of Shaping, to one degree or another, in our ability to shape matter and, perhaps, spirit by our skill and wit. The Heaven Power in us allows us to focus our awareness to make patterns and to shape both material and spiritual forms. Equally it finds expression in our human power of reason. Supported by the more complex structures of the brain we are able to plan, design, execute and support our will. For many of us these ability lie largely in potential – spiritual work can lead us to develop our access to the Power of the Sky.
On a spiritual level we carry in ourselves the Divine Fire of the Gods. The principle of Cosmos, of the Rightness of Things causes us both to exist as individuals and to be players in the Game of Worlds. The Heaven Power offers us a transpersonal view of the patterns of existence that we must strive to perceive and on which we may act when we can grasp it.
The Heavens wheel above us, shining their Light on all existence. In the same we have in us an ability to view our own beings, to step above our daily processes and see into our own patterns and habits. On that Inner Mountaintop we can survey our minds and our hearts, and perhaps find a perspective that sees the road through time, from decision to decision, event to event, offering us a more divine perspective on the flow of life.
In the highest halls of the heavens the Bright Ones are enthroned. The Father of All and the Queen of the Gods, the Thunder Hero and the Dawn Goddess all dwell in the Upper Realms. In much Pagan lore the dwelling of the Gods themselves is in the Sky Realm, though there are always hidden roads that link it with the places of the Gods Below. In their High Halls the Gods meet in council, making the plans that guide the worlds.
The Middle World finds symbolic expression as the World Tree or World Pillar in our Groves, rooted in the dark waters, crowned in the Heavens’ gold. We can conceive of All That Is growing, fruiting, passing away and nourishing the future, between the depths and the heights. The World Tree in this way is like our own individual beings – the product of the action of the Two Powers upon the forces and forms of the Middle Realm.
The question of the nature and identity of our personal existence is central to the work of mysticism. In order to seek the transpersonal it seems worthwhile to develop an understanding of our own person. Every tale of the mystic journey begins with the hero-to-be choosing to leave their lives behind. In the same way we may have to think of the spiritual journey as, in some way, a leaving behind of the ‘self’ that we have built for ourselves over the years.
The Middle Realm is a place of unending variety, and every manifest thing springs from the effects of the organizing power of the Light and the massive potential of the Darkness. So, in our personal mind, the thing we commonly perceive as “me” is not in fact the entirety of our being. Rather our daily perceived identity is more of a floating point-of-view. It - as we might say, “I” - wander in the Middle-Realms of the mind, encountering objects and beings – thoughts and memories, perhaps – and reacting to them. When we sleep our point-of-view wanders in the quasi-sensory realms of dream. When we wake, that same point-of-view functions as our sense of “me”, as we move through our daily lives and through our waking minds. If we are sick or injured we may dwell in our pain, when we love we dwell in our joy. In one moment we may be firmly in our bodies, at other times we drift in the abstractions of our minds. We construct our sense of ourselves out of our impressions, habits and inclinations, a figure built of memory and idea. We come to identify this figure with the body we see in the mirror, but the self is so much more.
The Underworld and Heavens are reflected in us as often unobserved portions of the personal mind. The ancient tales show the journey of the seeker through realms strange and distant, though much of the ‘action’ may take place in the Middle Realm. So the mystical seeker sets out “into” a mind that is rather like the land – tangled or cultivated, civilized and savage. We make our way through it by ‘our’ wits.
So, we dwell in the Middle Places of our minds, in our constructed “character” or “persona”. We have some limited awareness of a greater existence, and the connection of our commonly manifest presence with the Heights and Depths of the world sometimes gives us hints of something greater. If we are not open to that intuitive awareness, which varies widely in untrained individuals, this can lead to confusion, and difficulty in making wise decisions. We feel the impulses of the greater world, but dwell within our constructs, and thus we find that instinct often conflicts with will, memory conflicts with ideals, inertia conflicts with intention.
When we bring the Sacred Fire and Holy Well into the material world through ritual, we have an opportunity to contemplate that work as opening our own Middle Realm awareness – our common sense of self – to the presence of the Deep Memory and the Higher Reason. When we work the Two Powers meditation we powerfully direct our common mind to open to those greater psycho-spiritual forces. When we hallow the presence of the Fire and Water during our sacrifices or on our shrines we can take that into our contemplations as a catalyst, opening for us a fresh and clear access to a greater degree of our own spiritual nature.

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