Holding to the center

A crescent moon hovers over silhouetted trees in a sunset sky that fades from burnt orange near the horizon to deep, smoky blue at the zenith.

As I was walking home yesterday, a major front was blowing in. Low rainclouds had covered the sky all day, but the strong winds that had picked up toward the end of the workday were breaking them up, shooing them eastward to reveal a shifting tapestry of mid-level clouds, puffs and gauzes limned orange with the last rays of the setting sun. And as I curved around the high school football field, I glanced up just as the clouds parted to reveal the crescent moon, low above the school’s roof.

* * *

Over the past year I’ve been committing more purposefully to a regular ritual practice. For a few years now I’ve offered coffee to the Kindreds most mornings, a portion removed from my own cup, a candle lit and a prayer said before I take my first sip — my daily, modern version of an offering of the first fruits. That practice grew from an occasional practice when I had time and was at home, to a now-daily practice that I bring with me, my little offering cup and travel altar tucked into my suitcase on vacation, on a trip home for family Christmas.

And it’s grown and deepened as I’ve added more to my ritual, particular when I added an omen draw in October as I began to learn the ogham. Previously I had usually just lit a candle, said a quick prayer, and gone on my way. Occasionally (for a high day away from my grove, or for days when I had both time and energy for doing something more extensive) I would perform a full ritual according to ADF Core Order, but usually the quick prayer was it. The addition of the ogham changed everything, though, because of all it implies: if I’m asking the Kindreds what blessing or wisdom they might hold for me, then it starts to feel more imperative that I have a formal return flow, wherein I take those blessings and draw them into my waters coffee of life. And if I’m more formally requesting those blessings, especially as I’ve experimented with explicitly asking whether my offerings have been accepted, it behooves me to be far more intentional about giving due honor and praise to the various spirits. I don’t perform a full Core Order ritual daily — if nothing else, I often omit the Gates portion, which is a whole different essay about how I see the Gates functioning in personal vs group practice — but I’m usually spending a good fifteen minutes or so at my altar.

* * *

Seeing the crescent moon, I paused my podcast, turned to the west, and raised my hands in prayer:

Hail, Manannán, Son of the Sea!
Hail, wave-rider; hail, bringer of tides!
May my prayers transport me to your shores,
And may I be washed in your sea.

* * *

The uptick in my daily practice has been largely good. I have felt more grounded, more connected to the work I do, both in druidry and in the rest of my life. The daily practice with the ogham has taught me to work with those symbols in ways that reading books never has (or could). In very mundane, but valuable, ways, I feel accomplished for making a daily commitment and sticking with it with very closely even as it has expanded in scope. (And I feel proud that I’ve done so while also not beating myself up over the occasional days when I miss it — that’s an important caveat!)

But in expanding and formalizing my daily practice, I’ve also let go of some of my earliest occasional, ad hoc practices. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; practices evolve. But some I let go without even realizing I was doing so, and without recognizing how important they are to me and my relationships. One of my earliest connections to Manannán (which came not from the lore, but from my own intuition and desire) was to honor him at my first sighting of the crescent moon each month. Though I didn’t do so purposefully, I was forcing myself to pay attention to the cycle of the moon, which in turn led me to observe more closely the larger changes of the seasons and the year. It was a gift that Manannán and I gave to each other, a reciprocal attention that formed the foundation for a deep, strong patronage relationship built on caring and trust.

Manannán is a forgiving god; though he sometimes manifests as the storm over waves, or as the proud king regally arising from the waves, he most often appears to me as the kindly grandfather, wise and warm and only sometimes stern. I don’t sense anger from him when I drift away at times, but rather an understanding. This past weekend, when I had time for a more involved trance offering in the morning, he said to me “So, you’re recognizing that you’re pushing too far, too hard? That’s good. I still need you to do the work, but you can’t do the work if you burn out.”

At the time, I understood his words as dispensation, forgiveness for laxity. And they were. But yesterday, I understood the second, deeper meaning, a call to a return to basics: as I grow and reach further, I should also keep an eye to my center and to those practices that formed the basis of my druidry, before it could even truly be called that. My orbit can and should expand, but it’s the center that keeps it steady, not the periphery.

* * *

Lowering my hands, I pulled my water bottle from its backpack pocket and poured a stream of water onto the winter grass, saying “Protector, guardian, patron, guide: accept this offering of my heart and of my hands. Too often I have missed these moments, the cycles of the moon and of my life. Though I grow and change, may I not forget to honor the relationship I have built with you.”

Header image: “30th September 2011,” by George Armstrong/Flickr. License: CC BY-NC-ND.


2 thoughts on “Holding to the center

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