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Posts Tagged ‘Two Powers’

I didn’t wear the right footwear to trek into the woods behind my parents’ home, but I didn’t let that stop me. The house was chaotic and our schedule today is packed. I needed a moment, so I locked myself in my childhood room as I did as a teenager. The weather was springlike today. I found myself wondering why I brought my wool coat. I let the breeze waft over me as I faced the woods. I studied the gray branches of maple trees etched against a cloudless, cerulean sky. 

I easily found myself transported to my inner grove. I walked the familiar trail to a mighty oak. On the right, a fire pit circled by smooth stones. The flame magically stays a manageable height. At the left is a semi-circle stone wall built into the river. Water seeps through openings, creating a small wading pool; not a well, by it’s what my mind has constructed in its place. I walk in and let my the energy of water and sun meet me in the center. 

Just like that, all was well within and without. Even though I couldn’t easily go into the forest and my day was packed, I made the most looking through a window. 

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It was difficult to get into any deep trances this past week.  We went away to a camp with some family members for a few days, which will always throw me off my routine.  However, compared to going away to a hotel, it was easier to maintain my typical devotional practices.  I set up a temporary altar and even did a little working on Lughnasadh.  In addition, my daughter and I picked some raspberries and we offered them to the local spirits.

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A temporary altar on the windowsill at camp.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2016.

Like I said, I didn’t engage with any deep trances, but I did do some meditation.  I woke up and left my husband and daughter to rest.  After my morning toilette and devotional, I went outside to the dock where I sat towards the water, relaxed, and breathed.  In my opinion, the best way to engage with the Two Powers or the Three Realms is to sit on the shore of a lake, river, or ocean.  It’s all right there for you to soak up and contemplate!

One day, I noticed a beautiful spiderweb on the dock and just stared at it for awhile.  I was struck by how delicate it was, how dainty, and yet it withstood heat, rain, and wind in order to assist the spider’s killing.  Life and death… all part of the cycle.  I realized it was Lughnasadh, and contemplated the nature of harvest.

After meditating, I did some yoga.  I would love to live on a lake or river one day.  I would go out as often as possible to do yoga on the shore!  How invigorating.  I kept it simple.  I started in child’s pose on the dock, looking through the wooden planks at the shimmering water below.  Behold the waters of life!  I then stretched my arms and fingers upwards in a sun salutation.  Hail to the sky!  I moved into a tree pose, fixating on a pine directly across the lake.  I stand like the World Tree rooted deep, crowned high!  The whole process was a moving meditation, and I felt deeply at peace and connected with the world around me.

While I’m on the topic of trance, I’ve had to put Harner’s book on Shamanism down for a bit.  While I liked the beginning, both for the author’s experiences with Shamanism and indigenous people, and for the “Journey to the Underworld” exercise, I’m starting to find the book worrisome.  The following exercise, about meeting your spirit animal, seemed… well… for lack of a better phrase, it felt like “playing Native.”  I’m all for respectfully learning from other cultures, finding parallels, etc… but it just felt too much like ripping off Indigenous people. Besides, I’ve done a variety of “meet your spirit guide” exercises before, and have been working with spirit guides for awhile in the context of modern Paganism…  Not that I don’t have more to learn (I totally d0), but I just was not feeling that exercise at all.  Amazingly, I started to see a lot of criticism of Harner and his Core Shamanism popping up among my ADF and Reconstructionist friends.  I’m sure there’s some more to learn from the book, and I’ve already grown in trance from the first exercise, but I’m not as enthusiastic about that title anymore…  I’ll pick it up again at some point.  Ah well.  It’s part of the process.

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A lovely, moss-covered rock I encountered on my walk today.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

A lovely, moss-covered rock I encountered on my walk today. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

Today I went to the forest to do a devotional. It’s a perfect day for that. The sky is clear, allowing the sun to hit the changing leaves. It makes them look like a brilliant flame!

As a precaution against hunters and bears, I donned a red jacket and, once I was in the forest, sang “We Approach the Sacred Grove” on my way to my little nemeton. When I got there, I circled clockwise, stopping before the oak tree. I then allowed myself to breathe and take in the beauty of my surroundings. I felt so at peace and thankful to be there. It’s something I look forward to each week. If I miss my walks for some reason, I do my devotionals inside, but there’s something extra special about doing them in the forest.

I called to Brighid as a Goddess of inspiration and as a gatekeeper. Like others in ADF, I have been experimenting with this portion of ritual and looking to the fire as the beginning of a ritual working upon reaching the sacred space. While I do not start fires in the forest, I look up to the sun as the great bonfire in the sky. I prayed to Brighid:

Lady Brighid, Goddess of flame,

I pray that your fire sparks the flames in my mind

Inspiring me to speak with truth, beauty, and eloquence.

I pray that your fire shines a light into the darkness,

Chasing away the negativity.

I pray that your fire’s smoke carry my prayers to the Other Worlds

And that you open the ways.

Lady Brighid – let the ways be open!

 

It is a work in progress. I feel that I tweak that process and prayer a little each time, but I like how it is working out.

I attuned with the fire, well, and tree, meditating on their symbolism and power. This is always very visceral for me when I’m outside. I focus on how I sense them. The sun’s warmth and light touches my face, the creek nearby often gurgles, or the sun glints off the raindrops on the leaves. The oak tree, which I lean on when I focus on the Two Powers, gives me strength and stability. The firm earth gives me a foundation on which to stand.

I sang to the Earth Mother, then bent to give her a kiss. Next, I prayed and gave offerings to the Three Kindreds, followed by special offerings for my spirit guide and patroness.

When I am in the woods, I meditate, but not the way I do inside. Being out in a forest, off a path, I need to be mindful of the possible dangers. I relax but generally don’t close my eyes. I stand against the oak tree and soften my gaze. I let myself truly open up to the sensations of the forest. My purpose in going to the forest is to commune with the land, with the Nature Spirits there, and praise the Kindred among the trees. I’m not trying to escape that in some way by visualizing an alternate grove. When I meditate in the forest, it is to fully immerse myself in that environment. When I leave, I carry that with me for all the times I pray and meditate inside. Going into the woods is like recharging a battery.

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Land, sea, and sky meet at Alexandria Bay, NY. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

How does a Druid-in-progress, who also happens to be a busy new mama, find the time to meditate?  I’m finding that my usual methods of sitting quietly and focusing on my breath are not very reliable at this time.  Or…doable.  Baby Bee needs a lot of attention at this point in the game.  When she rests, I try to relax.  And honestly, my mind has difficulty focusing lately.  Must be part of the mama mind.

Today we went on a little day trip to the nearby Alexandria Bay.  The sun was shining and it was the perfect day for a swim.  Only…  I can’t swim right now due to my cesarian incision.  Next best thing?  Putting my feet in.  As I slipped into the cool waters, I felt this tingle rise in my body and I immediately thought about the powers of the sea, the powers of the Underworld.  The sun was shining brightly above, and I was very aware of its heat cascading down upon me, through me.  The sun in the sky – the power of the Upperworld.  They met and mingled in me, a denizen of the Middle Realm.

I enjoyed that for a few moments before returning to my husband and baby who were resting in the shade of some lovely pine trees.  It wasn’t a long meditation, or even a deep one, but I took a moment to reflect on the Three Realms and concentrate on the Two Powers flowing into me.  I needed that.

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I’m a few days early, but I’ve nearly been living in Northern NY for two years.  It feels like I’ve been here longer than that, but I guess winters slow our perception of time.  I moved here for a job.  It’s taken me awhile to feel part of the area.  The forest near our apartment has only felt truly welcoming this past year, for example.  I know people here – I’ve made friends!  I’m taking classes, attending workshops, and even have some favorite hang-outs.  I’ve seen new opportunities spring up like the North Country Arts Council in Watertown, NY.  There’s been a small international film festival.  There is a growing sustainability movement here.  There is plenty for me to get involved in once I’ve obtained my graduate degree and have more time.

Winters are rough in that I stay inside more, see my family less, and tend to stick closer to home.  My eyes were looking at jobs near my family.  Now summer has come and I’m out on the River just about every week. There is so much to do – craft shows, farmers’ markets, outdoor concerts, swimming, kayaking…  And this area is just gorgeous.  My parents are talking about moving up here someday.  At the very least, they want to get a summer camp.  They adore the area.

Feet in Clayton, NY

Our pale feet in the St. Lawrence River in Clayton, NY. (Photo by my husband.)

It’s so easy to be inspired here.  There is so much grandeur.  No matter where I look, something reminds me of how spectacular Mama Earth is.  What a marvelous piece of work we live in!  Weretoad and I often talk about traveling to other places, and indeed I love going to major cities to admire human-made works of art and feats of engineering.  Humanity is very gifted and some Gods have blessed us with talent to create and manipulate our resources.  And yet…  I’ve only found myself starring, as if in trance, at a manmade structure once in my life and that was the rose window in Notre Dame de Paris.  Otherwise, human structures, while inspiring, fascinating, and breathtaking never seem to capture my attention the way nature’s temples do.  Yes, I found myself in utter awe in and around Newgrange.   There was a great sense of power there and I felt really connected to my Irish ancestors.  But for me, I’ve always been more drawn to the Nature Spirits. It is their sanctuaries, made and/or perfected by their hands, that truly take my breath away and leave me dumb with reverence.  They make me feel small.  To some that may be discomforting.  For me, it is reassuring.  No matter what is going wrong in my little life, it is nothing in the grand scheme of things.  Something about that puts it all into perspective.  I am part of the great pattern.  I belong.  I’m where I need to be.  I’m home.

Some people call getting outside ecotherapy.  Sometimes, that’s what it feels like – especially that first time at the river after a long, cold winter; the first sighting of a flower or leaf bud; the first robin; the first snowflake after a hot, humid summer…  Nature is my favorite medicine.

Going outside helps me connect to the divine.  The Nature Spirits are everywhere, of course.  In fact, I’ve seen more wildlife here than I ever did in Central NY – and my parents have a large forest in the backyard.  Living in farm country, I feel more in touch with the agricultural cycles.  The Wheel of the Year is more meaningful when approached through a local diet.  Not only do I enjoy the benefits of seasonal, local food – I see it grown and harvested all around me.

I feel Brighid in the fiery sun as it rolls like a fire wheel over green pastures, corn fields, and lakes.  I see the Cailleach in the dead trees and craggy stones of the forest.  I hear The Morrigan in the calls of the ravens from the tops of tall pines.  The forest itself seems to be it’s own Goddess.  I see her leap through the trees as a deer, inhale and exhale with the change of seasons, and hear her in the voice of the loon on the lakes.  The Two Powers aren’t merely something I visualize – I go out of my way to experience them.  My favorite thing to do on the River is to put my feet in.  I feel the sun beat down upon my upper body, and the chilly currents of the St. Lawrence River rise from my toes up.  It’s become such a powerful exercise for me that it’s what I visualize and feel when I do my shrine devotionals and meditations.

The St. Lawrence River stretches from the North Atlantic waters, winds itself through the Thousand Island Region, and joins Lake Ontario at Cape Vincent, NY.  The waters of my European ancestors – the rivers of Ireland, England, France, and Germany – are there.  They course through the rivers of my Native American Ancestors, the Cree, in Canada.  They mingle, they struggle, they dance, they mate, they lay together on their backs and stare up at the stars …  They mix with the mighty cauldron of Lake Ontario and the other Great Lakes.

Today we stood at Tibbetts Point in Cape Vincent, NY and stared out into Lake Ontario.  I sometimes forget it’s a lake – it’s so vast.  I thought of all the waters mixing.  I thought of the River Gods from many places coursing through to visit.  I thought of how interconnected we all are.

Last summer, I started to warm up to life in Northern NY.  This summer, I’ve fallen in love with it.

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Learning to perform the Two Powers Meditation was not difficult for me.  As a former Wiccan I was often exposed to different meditations and guided visualizations.  One of the most common meditations, the Tree of Life, shares some characteristics of the Two Powers Meditation of ADF.  Each asks us to reach into the upper and lower realms and absorb some of that world’s energy.  It wasn’t until I started working with the ADF model that I began to consider the symbolic implications of such an exercise.

Regardless of whether I stand or sit, I first feel myself firmly on the Earth’s surface.  I take three deep breaths to establish a mindset.  In this way I am telling myself that it is time to work and think in the symbolic world – the spiritual world.  I feel myself connected to the middle realm – to Midgar, if I may use the term from Norse cosmology.  Two Powers or Tree of Life, I think of myself as the world tree – as Yggdrasil or the Bile. I am suspended between the depth of the underworld and the sky.  I am of the earth and live in a realm of plants, soil, and animals. Whether I see myself as a human being or the actual tree, I am still very much a being of the middle world, pressing my body into the underworld and stretching up to the upperworld.

I imagine that the powers of the underworld are always available to us.  They are deep beneath the surface for spiritual taproots to drink up and they undulate across the earth to seep through our feet.  I experience the energy as a pulse or vibration that crawls (and sometimes shoots) up my legs.  It spirals in my loins, heart, and skull.  This power is both chaotic and ordered.  I imagine the first current as water.  It has the disruptive potential of a tsunami or raging rapids, yet it is also the same calming, healing, and organized power that trickles out of the earth in the form of sacred wells and rivers – the same forces that determine where many settlements are located.  It is the playfulness of the otter and the wisdom of the salmon.  The energies of the underworld are therefore powerful and deep, calming and healing.  Because of the underworld’s association with the dead, this current has a connection to such energies – the potential for rejuvenation and transformation.  The energies are the mysteries of Hades and the creative potential of dwarven smiths.  It is as masculine as the cauldron of An Dagda and as feminine as the holy waters of the Boyne.

When I lift up my hands, fingers outstretched, I call on the energies of the sky – the upperworld.  I reach to the sun and guiding stars.  I cannot say that I feel a temperature from the underworld current but I definitely feel a heat from the upperworld.  It is subtle but there.  Like the first power, the second pulses and sometimes shoots through my body, spiraling in my skull, heart, and loins.  I see it as fire.  It is the chaotic energy of a wildfire or an explosive star, yet it is also the protective campfire and meditative candle.  It is the transformative flame of the alchemists’ lab and Ceridwen’s cooking fire.  It is the passionate energy of lovers, the rage of a warrior in battle, and the inspirational fire in the head.  It is the might of dueling dragons and the all encompassing sight of the high-flying eagle.  It has the masculine energy of Helios’ chariot and Lugh’s spear, but the feminine energy of Brighid and Vesta’s sacred flames and protective hearth fires.

I believe that the primary difference between the Two Powers is that one is more visible and accessible to us.  The powers of the upper world are equated to the sky.  Although the numerous stars that appear at night are distant to us, we can see them and we know our place within the vastness of their territory.  The sun and moon, which are even more noticeable, determine our daily routines.  A layman can look up and try to predict the weather.  The underworld, on the other hand, though equated with water (something very visible to us) seems more concerned with what lies below the land and the surface of the water.  It is very mysterious to us.  The plants grow out of it, caves delve deeply within it, and we bury our dead there.  We cannot quite grasp it in the way we can the upperworld.  That is not to say that the heavens don’t offer any wonder or mystery, but the underworld is certainly more hidden and, I think, spiritually harder to access in a comprehensive way.  This is why the ancients were both amazed and fearful of their blacksmiths, the priests and artisans of the underworld.

When I perform the Two Powers I am able to concentrate on and experience the deep symbolism of the energies.  I believe that the exercise is called the Two Powers because we call on the energies of the upperworld and underworld into ourselves, we being of the middle world – a third power.  Yet as beings familiar with the middle world, it is the powers of the upper and lower realms that truly inspire, empower, and awaken us, hence two powers rather than three.  We are already the third and we seek union with the other two.  By connecting with the upperworld and underworld, I am essentially recreating the cosmology I believe in and thus deepening my spiritual understanding of the other worlds.  The Two Powers not only connect me to the literal realms of upper, lower, and middle worlds, but to the spiritual realms of the Three Kindreds.  This is a wonderful exercise for simple meditations, and it also works well in ritual as it reminds all who participate of our interconnectivity with the realms and Kindreds.

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