Friday, 17 July 2009

Lessons learned from a Lama.

There are many things you can learn from a Lama, including:
Number one - it's always good to know the courtersies of a different religion (learn the mantric greeting meant to be
given to a Bön lama rather than go "Merry Meet, Rinpoche...").
Number two - it's possible to be a spiritual teacher and have a good sense of humour ("You live in microwave culture! Everything so fast... your spiritual searching are like a a greasy plate and a dry sponge - but I am the Ecover liquid and the warm water!"). On Tuesday, I sat in on a question/answer session with Lama Khemsar Rinpoche (second from the right), a Bön lama and the spiritual director of the Tibetan Yungdrung Bön Study Centre and his students. He's a very interesting and wise fellow. He first spoke of a few interesting points to do with his teachings - he called them drub-dhe (or, the meditation school) which is in contrast to the monastic school, _____-dhe (I can't for the world remember the Tibetan for it).

Drub-dhe is the very practical version of the spiritual path. It's the difference between those who go into University and carry on being research fellows and those who go out into the world and do manual work, raise families and support the society's infrastucture. Those in the monastery debate, philosophise, talk a lot and just work things out from the canons, texts and practices. The drub-dhe are those who go to a teacher/lama/guru, get taught the practices, learn everything the master can give and then go back out in the world. They have spouses, children and so on, but they are the ones that practice. They do the rituals every day and night. They really go out into the world and make a difference. Rinpoche said that there is little to no merit in the monastic life and that drub-dhe is the really the main way you're gonna go forward on a spiritual life (I enquired about the fact that the Bön tradition have monasteries, and a devotee just said it was all down to culture and habits. They've had monasteries for centuries and old habits die hard). This is where I feel Bön and Buddhism seem to differ; particularly in the Theravadan schools, the monastic sangha are seen to gain the most merit and are more likely to attain enlightenment because their lives are devoted to the practice but Bön puts the same emphasis on practice but on a more practical level. It's by far more pragmatic to the practitioner to be able to combine the mundane life with the spiritual rather than discarding one for the other.

Rinpoche's description of the practical school really sunk in as to what Paganism really was about. We are people who in some way or other (thanks mainly to Druidry and Gardner) see ourselves as priest(esse)s. I know very few completely lay Pagans in the traditional term. Most know and can lead rites, all perform home rites, all perform magic in some form, whether subtle or blatant, known or unknown but none of us spend our lives in a monastic setting we are just priest(esse)s. Some of us hire people to perform rites like weddings and baby namings or the seasonal celebrations. With the former, it's rather hard to marry your wife and be the priest; baby namings are done either with a hired clergy or just by the parents themselves and not all rites require outside help. With the Lampeter and Carmarthen crew, the Master of Ceremonies changes and even then the rol
e of that person is to welcome and to thank, to make sure the rite runs smoothly. It's usually the person of the most experience or the host - all pragmatic. It's not someone who happens to have some privilidge because of training unless in you are a member of a tradition.

In medieval and celtic societies, you may have turned to the local cunningman, the local witch, the local druid for help, but now, we are all witches and cunningfolk and druids and priest. We can do the spells ourselves. Some people do it better than others but again, that's just how life is. Some are natural magicians, born psychics and witches, but we're all magicians in some respect.

And I like that. We're all drub-dhe; our practices seem to be only an extension of our mundane existence and a means to experience the world at a different angle and I rather think it should remain like that.

What was the important teaching though? Practice! Both magical and mundane. And religious practice should have the adherents immersed in the practices and rites. Ritual and magic should be second nature and as normal as making a cup of tea and not chores. I haven't gotten to that level yet, but every morning, I try to meditate and do a small rite; if it's the full moon, I try to go out and appreciate it; I imbue my food with intent and magic - every herb has a purpose and reason.
The mundane stuffs matter just as much. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle; buy organic and/or local; buy ehtically; support green issues; Save the Whales
; grow veg or herbs; make wine or ale or mead; cook fresh; use Ecover; love the earth; use public transport; make food using seasonal stuff; attune to the cycles and seasons. The mundane is just as, and sometimes more, important than the magic.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Magical problems?

Just a short one for today.

Now why is it that Pagans are able to erect a magical
barrier which can exclude unwanted beings for entering; can dance around circles and raise such a large amount of mana/magic that when sent off, it can almost do anything (such as Gardner/Crowley/Whoever protecting the British Isles in during the Second World War); we can make a simple Witch's Bottle that, when burried, will protect a house; that we can make a staff of hawthorn that can mend the most broken of hearts - but we still can't do the supposedly simple task of levitating pencils?

I think we need a real-life Willow...

Wednesday, 1 July 2009


So... Avebury was good.

We got there on time, around 12pm, but the place was already heaving full of people (left) there for the solstice experience. I was quite surprised with the group of people who were there. I'm quite used to the OBOD-type druidic events, where the people are quite ordinary (!), intellectuals and artist types, but Avebury and general Pagan events tend to attract the real hippies and hairies and general bizarre peeps.

Most of the people when we got to the pub were already pissed and rambling about whatever it was they were rambling about (one was talking about waiting to be taken back to the mothership...). There were people placing their hands on concrete posts, attuning to the energies. It was quite surreal.

Even though we got there in good time, parking was awful (as predicted), but Will Rathouse managed to get the National Trust to get the police to allow us to park the minibus locally (as the NT had height barriers in place) and so we were able to wander around without worrying about Will needing to walk a good couple of miles from the other car park.

We were then supposed to join in the open ritual of the Gorsedd of the Bards of Caer Abiri, but they were nowhere to be found (and we looked around the stones and at the usual meeting place!) so we ended up sitting within the main area of the stones and drank sparkling rosé and ate strawberries (and, as an aside, we cleared up. The same can't be said for the majority of the peeps there - bloody pagans!) while we listened to Will telling us the Tale of the Physicians of Myddfai (right). It was quite a wonderful experience. It's quite a feeling to be within this temple once used by our ancestors. I wondered, whilst there, if this place was used for the purpose the priestly caste being earthly psychopomps. Many of the sites around here seem to have some focus on death or burial (West Kennet Long Barrow, maybe Silbury Hill etc.) and it does, in a way, have that Graveyard kinda feel - that detached peaceful sensation.

After our brief luncheon, we set off to visit the town a little - we went to cafés, raided the souvenir shop (I bought *laods* of books and a celtic knotwork ring for Kay) before setting off for some of the places such as Overton Hills and The Sanctuary. The former appear to be small versions of Silbury Hill and The Santuary is thought to be a (former) wood-henge where preliminary rites would be performed before traversing the Avenue to Avebury. Liz seemed to be taken by The Sanctuary.

Finally we ended up at the Long Barrow, passing Silbury Hill on the way. I plucked a piece of Elder on the way and, with some local chalk, peeled the bark off before turning it white intended as an offering when I got there.

However, when we got there, we saw a smashing crop circle!

The Barrow was interesting. Now, with burial places (mostly dolmens and certain graveyards), I tend to get an uneasy feeling of something/one not wanting me there but with the Long Barrow, I had that same feeling I got in the Avebury circle; of detached peacefulness. It was lovely. There were people inside meditating, candles had been lit, gifts given over (bunches of cereals and flowers) - and some birds were nesting inside!

Again, it was lovely. Such a nice place. We pretty much went home after that. Will dropped me off in Llanelli (really nice thing to do, tbh...) and they al lwent back to Lampeter.

So yes, Avebury was lovely; a nice way to spend the Solstice, if not surreal.

UWL Pagan Society at West Kennet Long Barrow '09
We're so sexy...

Zach proving we were there...