Friday, December 20, 2013

Earthen Silence & Solitude (20 December 2013)

Tomorrow night is the Winter Solstice, and as such I am at the zenith of this year’s Yuletide Journey, coming to rest in the crèche of my Heart in the darkness that this night portends; awaiting revelations and potential epiphanies.  As chance would have it, I’ve been able to go out for short walks on four different nights this month after work.  On three of these wintry jaunts, I have gone down the rails-to-trails project near town that carries me off into landscapes long imbued by poetic fantasies.  _I have walked down to the arche of all my imaginings of the family known as The Whittiers, and come back with runes of poetic fascination.

Each of these after-work saunters has lasted just over an hour, going there and back again, yet they have silenced my being-in-becoming, drawing me on toward precipices of poetic luxuriance.  I have journeyed creatively into earthen Silence & Solitude; and then come home more deeply centered than I was when I 'left town.'

Wandering out, just beyond the pale of the street lights as the sun has vanished behind cloud-banked horizons, I’ve found my way into a vista where the natural seclusion restores my senses; solitude refreshes the soul.  I have been alone on the trail, most nights; mine being almost the only feet to have left tracks in the newly fallen snow; besides the evidence of raccoons, squirrels and various winter birds.  Alone without being 'lonely;' this is the goal toward which Solitude draws us.  To be quiet in the stillness, external and then internal, without distraction or angst; this is the state toward which an authentic experience of Silence draws us.

While Silence & Solitude can be experienced at any tide of the year, I often associate them most profoundly with the Winter Solstice; with the denuding of the senses that Winter brings and with the deprivations that cold and snow impose on our activities.  To be out walking in the Winterwood is to experience the 'absence' of the sounds of Nature that captivate us at other times of the year—e.g., the rustling of leaves and the singing of the birds that go south for the Winter.  To be out on the hoof in this darkening tide of the year is to experience the vibrant colors that characterized the Summer- and Autumnwood gone from the world.  Yet different colors; a refreshingly grey—white—brown palette – replaces them.  Each season has its own characteristic colours.

I walk along the rails-to-trails project – once a spur of the Pennsylvania Railroad – and marvel at what I do hear: the burbling of water, the crisp sound of the snow being crushed beneath my feet; all amidst an ‘openness’ made possible by the lack of leaves on the trees.  The more ‘muffled’ acoustics of a summerwood walk are gone.  I am in 'the Open;' and yet the darkness encompasses me about as twilight fades and night commences its reign.  Tomorrow night is the longest night of the year.

Yesterday afternoon I went out to a local park where they have a holiday light display.  Thousands of lights!  I walked around the lake in the silence of the afternoon, and felt grounded and resourced in the solitude I discovered there.  I saw only one other person in the park before I left at 4 PM.  There were ducks and geese on the lake, and in the dimming light of the late afternoon I felt almost haunted by memories of experiences I’ve had at that park over the years, with friends and with my parents.  It was that strange experience I sometimes have (perhaps you do, too)_ of being ‘in company’ in my imagination while wholly alone in the silence of a seemingly lonesome place. Yesterday, the lights of the various displays were slowly coming on as I got back to the car; it was an almost eerie animation of the place that spoke of even deeper experiences to come as the Yule comes to a close, once more.

This, for me, is what Winter Solstice is about.  I experience it as a time to embrace the experience of darkness and enter into Silence & Solitude in ever more profound ways.  The experience of the natural world at this tide of the year is conducive to the nurturance of Silence & Solitude.  If we allow that the bleak beauty of the Winter may be reflected within us, and if we let the hubbub that normally characterizes us wash quietly and effortlessly away, it becomes possible to come to rest; a contemplative state, naturalistically considered—in which a restoration of our bodily and spiritual energies becomes possible.

Returning from such walks, I oft find I want to remain in the quiet, so I sit near the Yule Tree and employ the old fashioned looking LED lights in which it is decked as a focus for imaging and meditative centering.  Quieted within, I can then return to work and the world the next day, as well as imagine the next year's poetic and spiritual journey and where I might be led, as the quest for wisdom continues.  So be it.

May you have a Merry Winter Solstice, and a blessed year to come!

Monday, December 9, 2013

A-Runing the Winter Sun (5 December 2013)

 - Montague Whitsel

The silence of Winter has come_
and everywhere my mystic’s pallet
is coloured in Plum Delight,
tinctured of a Mulberry-Sugared Sight.
The White Sun of Winter has come
infusing silence into life’s eaves.
And so I walk amongst naked trees,
my thoughts adorned_
               of Cranberried prophecies.                          1
The leaves no longer rustle on the bough,
but, morbid, process across the sod_
lichens and mosses and fungal beds
receiving them as if visitants
                from sylvan heavens.
Oak leaves breathe their last and fall_
surrendering earthward in rust brown gleam,
knowing in their spent dead cells –
that the Merry-Go-Rounds of Summer
                         are gone.                                           2

The White Sun of Winter has come
to grace us with its silent hum_
striating the skies above with beams
like icicle flares in a dream’s speculum.
Patterning the woodland floor so solemn,
white light pierces tangled copses,
tickling the misguided cares of mortals;
chilling our hidden fears_
rendering them out as dis-spelled sums.                        3

The Silence of Winter has now come
and everywhere my mystic’s pallet
is coloured in Hollyberry light;
tinctured of an Ivy-oracled delight.
Leaves no more rustle
              upon denuded trees;
the ranns of time pass by in threes_
whilst I sing my mustering rune
               to the beat of an earthening tune!                4

Winter’s rhythmed silences are here,
rustling upon the open back porches
where Mabon keeps his rabbits_
ingratiating meaning into life’s sullen eaves.
He walks through a vale of imaginings,
his brow lighted by the Pale, Cold Sun_
as he sings to his rabbits in tunes
all captured of Brown-Sugared prophecies!
                         I sing along_                                       5

Yet leaves no more rustle upon the bough
but, as if mortality’s scion,
   process across the hardened sod_
lichens and mosses and fungal beds
receiving them
like visitants from some old god’s city.
Oak leaves breathe their last and fall_
surrendering earthward in a rusted gleam_
knowing, in their spent, dead cells—
that the Merry-Go-Rounds of Summer
                           _are gone.                                         6

The White Winter Sun has come
with Butterscotch Rum intimations_
having stirred our Frankincense hopes,
applying Myrrh
            to balm our ice-fascinated souls.
Ever-shining in the frosted heavens,
its light seeking out the waylaid
and soul-burdened_
the White Winter Sun proffers gold
Hope hidden within its prolepsis_                                                                             of a New Life to come!                                                7

Leaves no more rustle upon grey boughs,
        but – like a brown-red carpet
for the coming of the Spring Queen –
rune-out patterns with moss and lichens
and the fungal flowers that sleep
       beneath their weathering blanket
all foretelling the coming of New Sun
and the myriad dreams and imaginings
that will flurry forth with it_ suggesting that
       new Merry-go-Rounds of Summer
will one day come.                                                    8

Joyfull, Joyfull_ the New Sun comes,
glistening our souls and the sídhe
with the radiance of Mistletoed hopes!
Gladdening through the slanted blinds
         of ever more freighted lives –
New Sun comes with Sugared Plums
         to put a quick bustle in our steps
and green our sodden hearts;
lifting our eyes towards New Thresholds
as yet dusted with gleaming, icy snow.                        9

Hear the ancient invocation:
“Wait ye now upon New Sun’s Rising.”
So mote it be.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Heart & Hearth: On the Question of Home (10 November 2013)

[Explorations of a spiritual and existential theme] 

What is a home?  What does it mean to ‘have a home;’ to ‘lose a home?’  What does it mean to be ‘at home?’”

These questions have fascinated me for decades.  As a poet and thinker I find these questions have moved me deeply and are at the root of my praxis of thinking and creating.  I am reminded of them whenever I hear of someone moving into their first apartment or house on their own, or when I hear of homeless people or people losing their homes, not to mention their lives, en-masse—as they did this week in the Philippines.  My creative life has been tethered to these questions.  There seems to be something so central to this question for human nature that I cannot stop thinking about it.  It recurs and has come back to me in a number of forms.  Just when I think I get a handle on it, something happens to call me back to this vortex of questions.
I have some inkling as to where the question of ‘home’ came from for me; what its roots and tendrils were—how it came to be formulated out of the kaleidoscope of my own early experiences and ruminations.  Everyone has their own personal history with a home, lack of a home, moving from home to home or desiring a new home.  My questioning arose through an experienced comparison between my own natal home with my parents and sister and my grandmother’s home on a farm in central PA.  These were two positive instances of home, though different.  The question of home then emerged as a literary and philosophical question in the early 1980's, just as I was awakening from my dogmatic slumbers; coming into my own as a thinker and writer—exploring the diverse ways in which people live and dwell and make themselves 'at home' (or not) in the places where they live..
The questions surrounding the idea of ‘home;’ what home 'is' for us, why we value it, what happens when we lose it and what it might take to reclaim it – I consider to be deeply spiritual considerations; they help to form and impact how we live our lives and the play a role in whether we can live our lives to the fullest, or not.  The idea of a ‘home’ is one of those universals; we ‘recognize’ it, we ‘know’ what the word means, though it is extremely hard to define.  If we are or become wanderers and wayfarers in the world, it is often through contrast with being at home or ‘having’ a home that we find self-definition, though it is entirely possible to live a nomadic life from the beginning, to have ‘home’ mean something more abstract than it does for those of us who live in solid buildings.  Does the nomadic person have a more abstract concept of ‘home’ – or is their idea of home altogether a different notion of existence and how to dwell in the Earth & Cosmos?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Lovecraft, Paganism and Horror I (24 October 2013)

"It would be trite and not wholly accurate to say that no human pen could describe it, but one may properly say that it could not be vividly visualized by anyone whose ideas of aspect and contour are too closely bound up with the common life-forms of this planet and of the three know dimensions.“
-         H. P Lovecraft The Dunwich Horror (1929)

This month, in the season of haunting, I’ve been reading HP Lovecraft again, this time delving into a couple of his more mature works; The Dunwich Horror (1929) and Dreams in the Witch House (1933).  I had promised myself earlier in the summer that I would return to HPL in the hopes of better understanding him and his craft.  I’d had a bad taste in my mouth from reading a few of his earlier tales, and then had been fairly impressed with The Color out of Space (1927).  I wanted – and still want – to know what drove him as a writer, as well as what makes him so influential in horror literature and film.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Lovecraft, Paganism and Horror II (10 October 2013)

“The dreams were wholly beyond the pale of sanity, and Gilman felt that they must be a result, jointly, of his studies in mathematics and in folklore.  He had been thinking too much about the vague regions which his formulae told him must lie beyond the three dimensions we know, and about the possibility that old Keziah Mason – guided by some influence past all conjecture – had actually found the gate to those regions.”
-         H. P Lovecraft  Dreams in the Witch House (1932)

This story comes at the whole superstitious, medieval idea of witches and the occult from a different angle; one in which mathematics and science are employed to open up a portal between our world and a trans-dimensional world where monstrous beings wait to invade.  The ‘witch’ of the “Witch House’ is said to a woman tried and imprisoned at Salem for witchcraft who, because she knew certain mathematical formulae, was able to escape.   She told the judges that “lines and curves could be made to point out directions leading through the walls of space to other spaces beyond.”  An interesting idea, as fantastic stories go.  She escaped, and went to Arkham, MA, where she took up residence in an old gabled house and (apparently) lived out her years there.  Or did she?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

My Life with Francis; A Poetic Naturalist’s Reflections (6 October 2013)

“The truth about living in the universe is elusive, exciting, and mysterious, and it is in the pursuit of mystery that we find all that is worth having, including ourselves” (1)

-          Moyra Caldecott  Women in Celtic Myth (1992)

Friday was the feast of Saint Francis. Today, as I walked in the woods and experienced the Autumnwood coming to realization, I remembered walking with Francis, imaginatively, as my guide and friend for several years in the late 1980’s, when I was fast approaching the threshold of my Poet’s vocation.  Last night I remembered that last December I was reading Murray Bodo’s The Journey and the Dream; a book that I had first received as a gift from a Franciscan sister in 1988, and which I received as a gift again last Fall, again from a Franciscan sister.  The more recent giver did not know I had read the book before; she thought it a fit exchange for something I was offering her.  But I’d read this book before, and it became one of those fecund guides for my spiritual footsteps for the next three or four years, from the late 1980’s until the early 1990’s.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Dream in Transit (5 October 2013)

[A Walking Meditation on the Feast of Saint Francis; 4 October 2013]

- Montague Whitsel
Walking alone in solitude in the woods,
I met Francis at a stream,
where he was crossing
stone to stone and mud to sand
near the cross-hairs of immanent transcendence. 

I said “hello_” tentative in presence,
but it was a dream,
and I was walking awake in the world!

I haven’t seen or talked with Francis
for a while_ I told myself,
as the dream continued to play out
before me. 
Francis was playing
at the stream’s flux and flow,
dancing from ripple to trough,
selflessly laughing to himself_
unaware of being watched
from such a far-stationed nearness.

On this side of the sídhe, I yet could hide.

He grasped a fish in both hands,
and stumbled forward off a stone
on which he was standing,
recklessly aloof_
laughing as he bumbled forward,
splash after muddy splash,
with the fish wriggling in his hands.
“I have become a fisher of fish!” he cried,
in a cornucopia of denuded joy
that was as infectious as his laugh!

I laughed, too_ and the dream faded from view.

And there in the aftermath I was left_
standing in the stream
on this side of the sídhe,
feeling completely revived and re-inspired_
to become what I am at my best.

I wept for this impromptu meeting with Francis,
and cherished each frame
of the dream-sequence_
‘til I had imbibed it so fully –
burning it
into the celluloid of my own soul –
that I could perhaps
re-enact the film myself as myself
someday along the Way. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Autumn Walking (24 September 2013)

"We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return, — prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms.” (226)
- Henry David Thoreau Walking 
(Library of America Edition, 2001)
“Story creates order out of the flux of happenings by arraying them in (or, discerning in them – let the question remain unresolved) such a chain of connectedness that leads one to speak of the end as the goal and the middle as directed movements.” (105)
- David J. A. Clines 
The Theme of the Pentateuch (1978)
“Since ancient times, poetry and walking have seemed to go hand in hand. From Theocritus and Horace, Dante and Petrarch, Spenser and Milton to the present, poets have represented themselves as walkers, figures wandering in a landscape and translating their movement into poetry.“ (3)
- Roger Gilbert Walks in the World (1991)  

It’s the Equinox_ and the Autumn calls me out to engage in its wonders!

There is time for work, and there must be time for play. And then_ there is the time we must give to walking. Spiritual walking; meditative walking _Actual walks, as well as imagined walks. Walks around the Meditation Circle as well as forays out into Nature. My sense of walking and its role in the spiritual life has evolved through the whole of my wakening life, from the time I was first conscious of my self as a self. Going out on day-hikes is something I’ve done ever since I was able (since I was first ‘allowed’) to walk about on my own, trusted to my own reconnaissance. It started with walks down the block, then walks around the block, then walks stretching out from the grade school I attended into a little wood behind the school and then up over the hill behind it. I soon discovered that walking down the railroad tracks could take you somewhere interesting, and by the time I was thirteen I was venturing out into a wood that stood north of the town where I grew up.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Dance in the Autumnwood (22 September 2013)

There’ll be a Dance in the Autumnwood tonight_
Sensuous thought in the Mooning Light!
There’ll be a Dance in the Autumnwood tonight_
Down by the Stream where the Deer take Flight!
Every breath_
Every Spark of Light_ 
    every cricket
singing death’s hallelujahs 
    into the dark of night!
Every toadstool mouldering_
Every spirit playing_
Every luminous sod
Shining in the mulch
There’ll be a Dance in the Autumnwood tonight_
Sensuous thought in the Mooning Light!
There’ll be a Dance in the Autumnwood tonight_
Down by the Stream where the Deer take Flight!
Every breath_
Every nibbling hare_
Every grasshopper
flying in the frosted air
tasting its own chilled flesh_
Every puddle shimmering
in the morning glare_
ice cracking under a walker’s feet_
Every whispering pumpkin_
There’ll be a Dance in the Autumnwood tonight_
Sensuous thought in the Mooning Light!
There’ll be a Dance in the Autumnwood tonight_
Down by the Stream where the Deer take Flight!
Every Breath_
every denuded bough_
every swimming salmon
laughing at mortal dross
in the shallow pools;
Every harvester in the fields_
every nut and seed
dying to be born again_
every chrysanthemum
in its composite glory_

There’ll be a Dance in the Autumnwood tonight_
Sensuous thought in the Mooning Light!
There’ll be a Dance in the Autumnwood tonight_
Down by the Stream where the Deer take Flight!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Lovecraft and Cosmic Dread (2 August 2013)

“Of such great powers or beings there may be conceivably a survival... a survival of a hugely remote period when... consciousness was manifested, perhaps, in shapes and forms long since withdrawn before the tide of advancing humanity... forms of which poetry and legend alone have caught a flying memory and called them gods, monsters, mythical beings of all sorts and kinds... “
 -        Algernon Blackwood

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”
  -       H.P. Lovecraft, from The Call of Cthulhu (1926)

As I’ve said in an earlier blog, I have been intrigued by the Lovecraftian mythos for some time, now.  I’d heard about Lovecraft over the years, and took him to be – by reputation – a genius of poetry and prose that moved the horror genre way beyond Poe and other 19th century writers.  But when I first read HPL last year, I was let down; with the stories themselves on one level, but also with the way in which Lovecraft limits the human mind and makes the universe out to be a forbidding place.  The early stories I read seemed very sophomoric; they were filled with gross generalizations; the prose lacking descriptive concreteness and specificity.  The narrator seemed to assume that the reader would be frightened just by being told that he or she should be afraid of what was confronting the characters in the story.  “Oh, there’s something unbelievably scary here; you’d better go insane!”  Really? 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Horror, Evolution and Spirituality (30 July 2013)

“He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.”
- Bill Denbrough, IT (1985)

I know this line from Stephen King’s novel IT, but recently I found it referenced in King’s book Danse Macabre (1981) as being from a story called Donovan’s Brain, where the main character resists the power of Donovan’s will (emanating from his brain in a vat) by reciting the line that Bill D later recites to resist the horror of his own childhood memories as they return to him in force after the reemergence of their nemesis Pennywise in Derry.  It was a very effective line in his own novel, and I was pleased to find it was a reference to an earlier story by another author.  King’s work is filled with such references, if you read carefully.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Lovecraft and Spiritual Horror (5 July 2013)

"Serious weird stories are either made realistically intense by close consistency and perfect fidelity to Nature except in the one supernatural direction which the author allows himself, or else cast altogether in the realm of phantasy, with atmosphere cunningly adapted to the visualization of a delicately exotic world of unreality beyond space and time, in which almost anything may happen if it but happen in true accord with certain types of imagination and illusion normal to the sensitive human brain.” (87)
-          H. P. Lovecraft  Supernatural Horror in Literature  
(1973; 1945)

I’ve always loved a good horror story.  I read widely in the genre when I was younger, and have continued seeking out interesting stories that manifest the gothic and spooky quality that has always fascinated me.  Looking back, I think that perhaps horror tales and ghost stories were my first taste of the ‘mystical’ dimension of reality; that quality of the mysterious that embraces, thrills and often awakens us to deeper dimensions of the ‘real.’  Though tainted with the veneer_ if not the substance_ of supernaturalism, horror tales and ghost stories invoke a sense of wonder that may help jumpstart a more genuine mysticism as one matures and grows into an awareness of Earth & Cosmos and one’s place in it.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Mythology and Literature (1 June 2013)

“At the root of myth is a praxis, a way of being within the world that expresses itself in a corresponding way of feeling and approaching reality, including the Supreme Reality that wraps all things around; God.” (215) 
- Leonardo Boff 
  The Maternal Face of God (1987)

“Myths are sets of symbols.  They are the oldest and most fundamental expression of the experience of ultimate reality.” (142)
- Paul Tillich  On Art and Architecture (1987)

Ever since the Winter Solstice, I’ve been thinking about the role of mythology and literature in an earthen spirituality.  I have been looking back at biblical mythology and the research I once did on biblical narrative.  I have revisited the Celtic Voyage myths (which you can see a revised page about at this blog) and found myself reflecting more deeply on their nature as texts, as well as their role in a narrative praxis.  I’ve thought about mythic themes in films and novels, games and plays.  I have seen some positive applications of mythology, as well as a number of negative ones.  In meditation this morning, I came round a bend with the thought that mythology is not literature; it is something else.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Coherence and Creationism (12 Feb 2013; Darwin Day)

“Evolutionary biology not only allows theology to enlarge its sense of God’s creativity by extending it over measureless eons of time; it also gives comparable magnitude to our sense of the divine participation in life’s long and often tormented journey.”
- John Haught  God After Darwin (2007)

As every student of philosophy is taught at some point, truth may be distinguished and categorized in a number of ways, but on certain broad grounds there are ‘two kinds’ of truth: the truth of coherence and the truth of correspondence.  Something that has the truth of coherence ‘hangs together;’ it makes sense and has no internal logical flaws or conundrums.  Something that has the truth of correspondence ‘relates to’ or ‘mirrors’ what we understand to be the external world.  It ‘corresponds’ – perhaps ‘point by point’ – with how the world actually is.  The more it corresponds, the more ‘true’ it is.  There is much more that could be said, and a great deal of nuancing needs done to more fully elucidate these two ‘types,’ but this is the basic distinction.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Musings on Fictional and Historical Spirituality (2 February 2013)

This morning at breakfast, a friend and I got into an interesting discussion about spirituality.  After reading the Corey Olsen book (Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, 2012), I found myself thinking once again about the distinction between fictional and historical spirituality, and reflecting on whether or not it is a valuable distinction to make.
The idea of a fictional spirituality is that you can base practices and even beliefs in a fictional source; such as LOR or Star Wars or Star Trek—and that this does not de facto prevent you from living a valuable and production life.  Some people would say that to live your life ‘based on a fiction’ is inherently inauthentic; but I disagree with the generalization.  I have thought of my own book, The Fires of Yule, for the last year or so as an exercise in fictional spirituality, as it is ‘set’ in Ross County and is now – in the new edition coming out this year – narrated by a fictional character – Cornelius Whitsel.
But what constitutes a ‘fictional spirituality?’  What defines it; especially as in distinction from an ‘historical spirituality’—and what defines that?