Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Sacred Sites, Northwet US-Fauntleroy Creek Watershed, c. 1996

Shot with a Rolleicord V, on Verichrome Pan 120, hand-developed in D-23.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Good Evening, Fellow Nemyssoi!

Dear Druid Comrades:

It is with a sense of profound appreciation and humility that I accept on the gold and purple nemyss of office as the 8th Grand Archdruid of the AODA. I break with long-standing tradition in that I don’t have a beard, and were I to try, the results would not be pretty.

I wanted to mention a few projects I’ve had kicking around my head for some time that are finally getting wheels put under them.

The quest for the Grail in Sarras, the Desert wasteland has struck me as possibly the most important version of all the stories in the “Matter of Britain”, (expanded slightly to be the “Matter of Gaea”)  for our current global situation. i.e. "Why are we all in this really big woven hand basket, why is it headed off a cliff, and why is it getting VERY warm all of a sudden?" This first, earliest version of the quest for the grail by Chretien De Troyes is frustrating, incomplete, and badly in need of an editor. Since none of those were available to him, but I think it is a collection of a hell of a lot of good ideas and story fragments,
I am about to do start something considered very, very bad in academia: 

I am going to re-tell the story of the Grail Quest in Sarras from other perspectives, in a version that certainly would not have been accepted in any of the European or Near Eastern courts of the Middle Ages. I am plunging into uncharted (for me) waters in this Quest, and will be hitting the books very hard in the next year or so in order to provide as rich and accurate a background as possible. 

The Graal stories were said (by their first known written author, Chretien De Troyes) to have derived from a storyteller named Kyot who lived in Spain. Spain, particularly around Toledo was the Alexandria of its era. Moors, Jews, Christians, others, working together tolerably well in search of knowledge. Not just its preservation, but its dissemination and extension. A dynamic Venn Diagram logic machine was one of the major inventions of this era, along with critical work in medicinal texts, astronomy, cartography, etc.

Ross Nichols (Nuinn) believed that Druidry existed independent of time, while obviously manifesting within it, and the best was always to be. I hope to make some small contribution to this Eternal Arrival of the Sacred at our doorsteps, parks, and nearest potted plant. 

This re-visioning of the "Matter of Gaea" ties into another long time interest of mine, the field of Process Theology, or the recognition of the presence of an ever-changing humankind and the Sacred. And why not? The Cosmos we are a part of has never been static. Our identities are not static. Why then would incarnationally-challenged beings be static, unless they are ethereal robots rather than conscious beings?

I realize this is a lot to take in. The person we were a day ago is gone. Not forgotten, yet not entirely present.

These last few years have been very hard in my life-I have lost most of my inner circle of close friends, including one of my beloved Craft mentors and friend for decades, Judy Harrow. We met in very dark circumstances and Judy brought light and ethics into that situation to the degree possible, extended this into readily accepted codes of conduct in an organization riddled with graft and magical manipulation, and did so in a way that put honor, respect for others and ethics as the best litmus test for interpersonal dynamics and choices. That story has rarely been told, important though it has become for the extended Wiccan community in the past three decades.

What Kahlil Gibran said about the processes of life being fluid rather than static is worth looking up on line. (He was far more expressive than I could be.) Judy  grokked and shared this wisdom for decades-a dynamically lived spirituality is a practice, a process, a paradigm, a party, and a lot of scrubbing floors and toilets along the way.

A most remarkable member of the Northwet community Passed Over to Starlight recently. Corby Ingold, trained Northwest drummer, singer, storyteller, 1960‘s coven founder, lodge brother, etc. no longer graces us with his physical presence. We all must die-it is the one certainty of birth, save for some strains of bacteria a few kilometers deep in the earth’s crust. November was supposed to be the month that Corby was coming over to stay with me in Bremerton for a weekend, so we could talk, record bits of his history and stories he wanted to share, hear him sing a few songs and swap community gossip.
Sadly he died a few weeks before this happened. Most of those stories, teachings, and of greatest importantance, the synthesis that he had as a person who embodied druidry, Craft, a Ceremonialist, a trained Northwest tribal drummer without the ancestry, a folk singer, and all of his remarkable skill sets have passed out of reach for the most part.

Everyone assumes there shall always be more time.

While I wish to alarm and disturb no one, the truth is that, as we say in Spiritualism, “Stuff Happens”.

Consider this: If today were to be the last day you had access to the Internet, to libraries, to study groups, manuals and books, where might your druidry flow from and towards, given whatever you learn, encounter or are moved by today? Today, only counting events and circumstances manifested within the last 24 hours.

Try this as a practice-just sit quietly with the knowings of simply this day, and see how far those thoughts can take you, or you can take them.

The first, the oldest, the primary tool that distinguishes us (so far as we now know) from other sentient beings is our ability to construct narratives and tell stories with powers of explanation and prediction.

So-share stories. Try to look at your own personal mythologies, histories, and legends as a storyteller, journalist, painter, whatever. As well as that of your friends, your community, your world. Then get good at sharing it out. Just remember that there will always be more than one story, more than one way to tell the same story. 

Music and mathematics are important if generally unrecognized tool sets within the broad area of storytelling. 

Storytelling allows us to relate what happens when a one stone watermelon is dropped off of a 500 ell tall building through the elegance of mathematics rather than always needing to drop a few hundred gross of watermelons whenever someone wonders what could happen.

Gallagher Stage shows notwithstanding, a very  few demonstrations allow a fairly good story to be told of what generally happens next. Stories allow us to model events, evaluate predictions, and communicate these perspectives to others. Of course it isn’t and can’t be perfect. Communication is not perfect. No two sentient beings hold the same sets of experiences and meanings when “unlocking the word-horde” as the Anglo Saxons would have described it. And isn’t it marvelous in potential?

We lose one of these priceless tool kits every year. Approximately every calendar year a culture, group, and its language go extinct. All of those songs, jokes, tales, the unique stories about the land, and how those people lived, what was safe to eat, how to prepare and share food, how and why to live, die, solve problems and be loved is irretrievably lost. 

In short, most of the options we have-even the options of how we can conceptually grasp our options-are going away. At the same time, the main discourse of one billion people worldwide is being reduced to either a “like” button comment or nothing at all. This is the ultimate in reductionist thinking, and our species unfortunately tends to  manifest binary thought in politics and philosophy through larger than life busts and posters of a Strong Man Leader, the wearing of leather jackboots by an army of chosen followers carrying little notebooks, looking for a lack of conformity, loud and cruel marching music and the enforced quest for an impossible Purity.

This is a big Cosmos, and we small ones, half way between the unknowns smaller than the shortest possible measured thing and the vast size of our seemingly probabilistic bubble of space and time in which we, mobile membranes, squishy, more or less room temperature collections of water, salts and minerals comprise a vanishingly small fraction of that whole by mass, space and time. All we as individual sentients have is something half the size of a coconut to use to grasp that which is, was, or may come to be. What can a small frog in a well understand of astronomy? Possibly not as much as we hope. But maybe more than we can imagine.

Within this seemingly random, short dance of life that we are permitted, at least as some of the time crisp experiences of a direct consciousness of Others, some shared flashes of dream, sound, or similar is found to bind us together via small, ordinary miracles.

I do not speak of belief or doctrine, but of sparks of experiences and insights flowing from places we cannot really define, receiving knowledge and sometimes comfort, compassion and belonging along the way. Enough to know we are real, we are in a Cosmos where we do not need to be ever alone in Spirit, and that the Little Mysteries can help to enfold us in forever moments. There can be good dreams, and these can often be given form and voices.
Thank all of you, my tasawuuf dindashlar (fellow robed travelers at my side/back on the road of Mysteries)! May it be a good day!
Gordon Cooper

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Use and Abuse of Talismans

The care and use of talismans is a topic that's been chewing on me for a while. Almost everyone in the self-identified esoteric community understands what one is and how to use it. The national scandal sheets found at checkout stands run ads for them every issue. "Buy this trinket, that bottle of water, this sacred cloth!" the ads implore us. And we, the willing public, consume these in mass quantities, put them aside, and repeatedly purchase new ones without using those we already have.

Dana Corby, as usual, identified the problem some years ago. The difficulty isn't that our talismans don't work, it is that we don''t understand how to use them. The etymology of the word is telling here-

Talisman derives via Arabic from the Greek word "telesma", meaning a religious rite. This term derives from "telos", which means result or end.

This is a clue to the use of a talisman. It is the result or (ritual) end that is desired. In other words it is a symbol for the end result of a magical process to which we have made a commitment. As is true of almost everything in life, the focus needs to be on the follow-through steps needed to get to the results.

Here's an example from my own life-

I own eight books and more than a few magazines on strand-pulling, also known as cable/strand/band exercise. The manuals I have date from the early 20th century to the early 21st century. Among these are two handbooks for official contest pulls in England. I own two different sorts of these tools, an official steel competition strand calibrated to my height and arm/torso length, two Lifeline cables and one Theraband cable. These have been on shelves or in boxes in front of me for the past three years, and I didn't touch these to exercise even once. Why was this so? Largely due to joint pain and depression, but the inner reason I found was-

I didn't have the right talisman. If I kept looking, the right book, manual or graphic that would unlock the secrets of using bands/strands/cables would materialize and THEN I could, exercise.

In May of this year I looked at these exercise tools again, and realized that all of the answers I needed were right in front of me. All I had to do was pick up one of my strands, close my eyes, and start working out then and there. Does this mean that I'll stop reading or thinking about band/strand exercises and how to derive more benefits from them? No, it does not, but I have realized that the endless search for the right thing to do is futile without the application of the tools I have right here, right now.

I've noted before that there is an endless circulation of esoteric and magical materials from East to West and back again, our very own "Kula Ring" of trinkets traded back and forth. The only way to break the endless cycle of redaction, repetition and uninformed use of magical techniques is to actually participate in the ecologies of spirits within the "Body Esoteric"and THEN compare your results with those of others. At the point of attainment it is possible to honestly evaluate the efficacy of a talisman and your techniques, but not before making the journey.

Let me take this opportunity to recommend the sandowplus.co.uk website as the motherlode for physical culture books and instruction. This isn't just a trip to the past, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people using these methods and machines quite productively today, right now, and if interested I would encourage you to participate in classical Physical Culture and its philosophies, which share an awful lot in common with magic. The results might surprise you.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

An Art of Memory for Some Of The Rest of Us

Some of my good readers have no doubt wandered over to the AODA website and found this page:


and the articles

Ars Memorativa I and II

Which details the use of one of the Western traditions of the Art of Memory, used to enhance memory, comprehension and the ability (IMHO) to free-associate information and derive new relationships from existing data.

I truly admire John Michael Greer for writing this article, offering this classic technique to a new generation. The imagery used in Ars Memorative is beautiful, as rich and decadent as a three layer pastry in a party from the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV. It brings to mind classical writings by Plato, Livy and hosts of other authors, in addition to Dante's Inferno.

Sadly, some of us can't wrap our brains around anything that visually complex. So what do we do?

Here's one option: When I was attending college I didn't have the money to register for classes and purchase textbooks. So my marital arts instructor pulled a different memory training technique out of his Tibetan and Chinese bag of tricks. Here it is, just slightly modernized to reflect the difference in technology over the past 20 years:

After or just prior to attending a lecture or class discussion, do as follows: Find a comfortable position, preferably in dim lighting. Get comfortable. Using the Spiritualist and New Thought technique of "Entering the Silence" is almost always good as preparation for a bit of meditative work.

Ahead of you is a short hallway. At the end of the hallway is a large rug with a broom sitting to one side. PIck up the broom, and sweep the rug clean. Replace the broom.

Open the door, listen to the hinges creak, and you are in an audio studio, however you characterize it.

Sit down. Before you is a cd recorder (or LP master cutter, if you are a vinyl enthusiast.). Taking a gleaming cd from a new package and place it into the recorder. Close the lid, breathe, and let all tension drop from yourself.

Focus your breath through your ears, and listen to the voice of your lecturer or professor. Pay attention to the pacing, timing, and accent of the speaker. Keep a focus on listening to them, even if your attention drifts away from time to time. (It will)

Once the lecture is over, carefully remove the cd/lp from the machine, put it in a case that speaks the name of the lecture and lecturer as you place it in position on a shelf.

Repeat as needed.

Does it work? I didn't have the money for textbooks for 3 years of college and I held a 4.0 average. It works well.

Bonus Self-Improvement Section

Once you are comfortable with remembering lectures and other information from a single instructor with this technique, here's a way to extend its utility into psychic realms:

Pick up a book on a topic within that speaker's field of expertise. As you read the book, concentrate on their voice, and listen for comments they may offer in the course of your reading.

Check this data as far as possible with the speaker, without of course telling them what you were doing. Correct any errors in your understanding and repeat as needed.

This technique can be used for the study of esotericism as well as, say, French cooking or Basque stone lifting techniques. When applied to information from an egregore, this is a form of controlled but passive trance speaking. This will take a while---the white noise inside and outside of yourself has to be recognized for what it is, noise and not information. Once mastered, this simple practice can open many doors that would otherwise remain closed.