A stillness and a quietness of contemplation
suddenly illuminated by a flash of brightness,
a familiar shift into vision:
I get a sense of you passing, your horse stepping on
And you wearing not the golden silks of the story
But a leather surcoat that is tangible, its scent and its texture
As I follow, not on horseback but on foot, and you remaining
Just as the story has it, the same distance in front of me
Though I walk and you ride.
Then at my call
You turn and smile : like the lifting of a veil it is to me
Before you ride on leaving me the gift of your presence
In the still air that your passing troubled and which now
Contains you and is contained by you in one world
And in the other.
Rhiannon, it is your presence
That brings me here
Not to meet you, for you are always near,
But to greet you in this special place
Set up for you to mark your presence
In my life.
I feel you close; your hair,
Your leather harness as you ride
And I ride with you, near and far;
As you approach, go by, and onward,
Pass to Otherness yet remain
A living presence to my senses
Even when far – never more
Than a breath away from here.
A beautiful bronze slow worm was on the stone in front of my garden shrine this morning. It stayed a while then slid sinuously under the fountain and so lives now in the care of Mererid, Guardian of the Shrine.
In the Realm of Rhiannon such treasures are blessings :
Devotions are not something occasional or just for special events, but part of my everyday life. Waking … dressing … visiting the shrine. For special events I do special things. But each day I go to the shrine to maintain it, make offerings, speak a few words, stand quietly for a time. So it has become part of the rhythm of days, weeks, months through the years.
I offer blessings and feel blessed as the patterns of devotion integrate themselves into the patterns of daily activity, common experience and of passing time. These things reinforce the presence of deity – near and far, but always there because I nurture that presence not just in visions, evocations, creative work, but also in the small everyday things which make up my life.
(following the last post’s thoughts on silent prayer while away in an unfamiliar place and how this applies in more familiar surroundings)
In a place new-visited it is most appropriate to seek an experience of the place openly, without expectation, allowing the numen to express itself, to make itself manifest; to adopt a state of suspended animation, a quiet assumption of being at one with and attuned to all that the place as itself has to offer, and to listen attentively to what the spirit(s) of the place may wish to express in the quietness and the stillness that you bring.
In a familiar place it is more appropriate to greet the spirits that are there, to acknowledge those things that the place has already communicated and to offer whatever is fitting according to what you know of the place. Then is the time for silent reflection and so at-oneness with the place that can enclose you and take you to deeper levels of experience. A simple devotional attitude can enrich both the place itself and the worshipper who is immersed in its its ethos.
In a place set-up, or set aside, for a goddess, a god, or as a sacred precinct for the worship of multiple deities, a more active role for the worshipper is required. Words, deeds, work to be done, all bring offerings to the gods and to the place set aside for them. This is the basis of ritual, though my own preference these days is for simplicity: words and offerings that frame or introduce a period of silent reflection, brief or extended, which is characteristically concluded with a shiver of recognition and acknowledgement that what is brought is accepted.
These propositions concern prayerful devotions rather than visionary experiences, path working, guided meditations and other exploratory activities which may bring the gods into focus and take us to the places they inhabit. These are valuable and rewarding activities, though I find myself both less inclined to perform them and less in need of them as I have grown older and my devotional regime builds on visions and spirit journeys from my younger days. I am, nevertheless, always prepared to be surprised and new revelations do emerge, though as gradual epiphanies rather than sudden visions. Increasingly my emphasis is on the quiet extension of sacramental space – and so a place for otherness – within the white noise of the world as everyday life goes on around me.
Then there is silent prayer. How can this be? Silence does not ask for anything, nor apparently make any offering. It is, rather, a waiting upon what is there, outside the self and not constructed by the self. It attempts to resist the human imposition of meaning on what is experienced: to let what is be itself and for the worshipper to be aware without directly influencing the experience of awareness. It may be that this is not fully achievable. But in silent waiting such awareness may endeavor to come.
So, standing on Marazion Marsh, not very far from the coastal path where I had been walking and taking in the views of sea and cliff with others passing by and the restless ocean rushing in towards us, all was now, by contrast, very still. I watched a white egret in the pools, then a grey heron gliding over the reed beds to land farther off. To be still here was the only appropriate response to the place. To be outwardly silent was not difficult, but turning off the inner commentary on what I was experiencing, suppressing the impulse to interpret, to project and to shape what I was seeing into a narrative, was not so easy. But it was necessary.
This place, and the spirits that are here, can only be fully experienced in the stillness of silent worship. So this is what I brought: not so much my presence as my absence, to allow the presence of the place to fill it. The water birds moved through the marsh. I did not move. At least not while I remained in that condition of silent worship. Time stood still. But it was running out. I caught the movement of some rabbits on the drier ground to one side of me. Some walkers coming along the narrow track from the coastal path on the other side. The prayer ended. Not abruptly or with and real sense of disturbance. It seemed quite naturally to come to its proper end. I moved off quietly, but now contemplating the experience of not contemplating, the human mind active once again. Busy with its busyness of moving on from stillness, of making sense of it, which was not a prayer because the prayer did not try to do that.
This is the first rose of the summer to bloom in my garden so I offer it to Rhiannon.
It is in water from the fountain of Mererid flowing through the cup of Rosmerta which is placed in that fountain. All this is part of my regular devotional activity: to ask a blessing of Mererid as Guardian of the Shrine and to offer back many blessings more. To pour from the cup of Rosmerta and then to dedicate all my devotional focus to Rhiannon for whom the shrine was made, which I affirm as make my dedications.
Today this rose is special because it is the first to bloom and so given to Rhiannon. There will be many more.
In the month of May the land becomes enchanted. The apple tree which was bare, then leaved with fresh green, then adorned with bright blossom, now casts a shade below which a bower of shadow reaches far into the deeps of the world. These deeps are everywhere in this enchanted time between Calan Mai and Midsummer and the long days which continue beyond. I can only respond to this prayerfully : not with a pre-learnt set of words or a pre-defined response, but from the heart, spontaneously reaching out to the gods in the deep places of the world and following the paths they open through a pathless realm. This is one way to pray, directly and instinctively, with or without words as they come to the heart, to the mind or to the tongue as the worshipper responds to a god’s prompting.
But there are other ways to pray. I have written things in advance which are in themselves offerings, anticipating and preparing for a special occasion or purpose. Words produced on these occasions have a particular form in my experience which is, I suppose, determined as much by my researches into prayerful assertions from ancient times as it is to my need to acknowledge the gods in our own time. Typically, as with the recently posted words for Rhiannon, they go with actions : “I will do this …”, I do this …”, I speak to you for this purpose … and for this reason …”. Why do I have to tell a goddess what I am doing when I am doing it? I don’t know. But it does seem to reinforce the actions I take in a positive way and to set up a line of communication that is more effective than the actions alone. It also helps to define what I do and, at least potentially, share it with others.
This is another function of prayer. Even those who work alone rather than in organised groups need to observe the social conventions of communication. We are creatures of words and the words of prayers, even unspoken ones, need to be articulated whether directly or indirectly to the gods. But also to other devotees who might be inspired by them, supported by them, or simply validated in what they also do however different that might be.
So I will continue to pray spontaneously, wordlessly and instinctively as well as to shape prayers into forms of words that reflect our relationships with the gods and also with each other. But I do this whether anyone is listening or not, for the gods are audience enough.