Swimming at Lúnasa (1216 words) by MToddWebster
Fandom: Andrew Hozier-Byrne (Musician)
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Andrew Hozier-Byrne/Original Character(s), Andrew Hozier-Byrne/You
Additional Tags: Swimming, Irish Language, Irish Mythology – Freeform, Gender Ambiguity, unspecified gender, Kissing, Tea
Wind on sea and wave on ocean… and tea and kissing.
I am not a racist. I am not cheering when police commit murder on Black citizens. I am not even insisting that if protesters (especially Black protesters) just assembled peacefully and obeyed the cops, they wouldn’t be rounded up, tear-gassed, shot, arrested.
But I am a white person who grew up in a racist society, a society that was and is sexist and homophobic, transphobic, and generally xenophobic, as well. If I look at myself honestly, I have to acknowledge that. I have to acknowledge that as a white person, I have tremendous privilege, and that I have been socially conditioned to accept that as my due and regard Black people as not really people.
On the other hand, I am also an adult human being, over fifty, who has lived all her life in a racially and culturally diverse city, who has a mind and will of her own. Deep down my heart and my gut reject -isms and othering. I reject the programming that teaches me to regard Blacks as less than human. I choose to be anti-racist. I choose also to be anti-fascist and anti-sexist. I do this as a human being with a conscience, as a white person, as a genderqueer bisexual person, as an American. I choose this stance on the basis of my upbringing as an Episcopalian and on the basis of my values learned from polytheism, from Tibetan Buddhism, from magical practice.
Black lives matter. They matter because they are human lives. They matter in America because much of what is truly American culture, our music, in particular, is Black culture. They matter to me because I have lived near Black people, gone to school with Black people, ridden the bus with Black people, sung in choirs with Black people, waited on and been waited on by Black people, worked with Black people, my entire life. They are my neighbors, co-workers, friends. They are people. Black lives matter.
I am one person and not well known. I don’t have a huge platform. I walk with a cane and can’t stand up without pain for more than five or ten minutes and hate crowds, so I don’t go to protests. To say what I have said here means little, perhaps, but it seemed important to me to say it, as it has seemed important for me to signal boost Black voices on other platforms where I am active, like Facebook and Tumblr. As it has seemed important that I should pray in reponse to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has not conveniently gone away while our putative President waves a Bible in the air and threatens military action against his own citizens, and in response to the protests, the deaths, the brutality of police forces who claim “to serve and protect”, the chicanery of white supremacists infiltrating protests for their own aims, everything, it’s overwhelming, but I pray and I write, because that is what I can best do.
A month ago when serious quarantine measures started to be required here in the U.S., Scribd announced they were giving a free 30-day trial of their service: e-books, audiobooks, and access to podcasts, documents, articles, and other such entertainment. I’ve never not been interested when someone waves a book at me–like a dog is never not interested in a strip of bacon in front of its nose–so I signed up.
After three weeks, I dropped my subscription to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, and today, I paid for my first month of Scribd, for $8.99. I’m still paying for Netflix, but I’ve made far more use of Scribd in the past month, let me tell you. You can legally read all sorts of books, even very recently published ones, even books from niche publishers like Llewellyn and Weiser and the like. I have a reading list of probably a hundred titles saved, at least, sorted into topic lists. I have marked thirty books on Druidry alone for my reading pleasure.
I haven’t read any of them.
I’ve read and listened to a book on Celtic (Christian) spirituality, The Soul’s Slow Ripening by Christine Valters Paintner (which I recommend). I’m reading and listening to my gwersi, the lessons of the OBOD course; I decided to get them in dual format, booklet and CD. I’ve rearranged my shrine with more druidic ideas in mind (though Antinous still has a corner and a lotus candle-holder). And I indulged in an Awen pendant from OBOD, a beautiful silver item I will be happy to show off when it arrives. (It just seems so… English to me that the OBOD office takes things to the post for shipping once a week, on Thursdays. Only on Thursdays.)
Today, after faffing around online with Tumblr and Facebook for far too long, I suddenly got up out of my chair, clapped my hands, and shouted, or at least declared, “The answer is not to be found in books!” And immediately thereafter muttered, “I can’t believe I just said that.” Because for 99% of my life, the answer has always been found in books. In school, the answer was in the textbook, and my mother once went to bat for me because my social studies teacher did not accept my answer to the test question, “Who was the founder of Buddhism?” I wrote “Siddhartha Gautama”, having at that point read half a dozen books on world religions. The textbook, however, said “Gautama Buddha”, so the teacher took off points. Except for that question, I would have had a perfect score. Yes, I am still mad about this.
At church, the answers were in the Bible, but also in the Prayerbook and the Hymnal. In college, the answers were in the textbooks. When I was curious about something, when I was bored, when I was anxious or frightened, the answer was pretty much always to be found in a book. You just had to find the right book–and holy gods, have I spent a lot of my time and money looking for that One Right Book. One time when I didn’t do that so much was when I started taking yoga classes. I found that I liked it; I had a wise, gentle teacher who taught modifications for those of us who couldn’t do the postures perfectly already, like the models in yoga calendars. And it felt right in my body, in a way that no other form of exercise ever had. I think I had a sense that books would only take away the great gift I had found in yoga, of getting out of my head and into my body. I didn’t want to think about yoga; I just wanted to go to class and sweat. A lot.
I do want to read about Druidry, to learn more than I already know, but to tell the truth, I’ve already read so much. I know a great deal about Druidry, about various forms of the Craft, about Christianity, Judaism, Tibetan Buddhism, and other traditions. I don’t really need more intellectual knowledge. What I need is practice, something embodied, something that brings knowledge down into the heart and the gut. And while my first thought is often to make a plan, compose a rule of life, write a liturgy, I know from experience that the best practice often results from wading in, splashing around, and eventually finding a rhythm.
Which is why, once I post this offering to my blog, I’m going to pour clean water, light an candle and incense, and sit to meditate in front of my shrine. And see who or what comes to me, and where I go.
My taste in books took shape pretty early in my life. The Oz books were probably the first complete series I owned, followed by the Chronicles of Narnia. I first tackled The Lord of the Rings when I was around ten, and began reading books about Star Trek around the same time–books about the show, and novelizations of the animated series, as this was after the show originally aired and before its first movie came to the big screen.
Then there were the books influenced by Welsh mythology: Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, a wonderful series of children’s books that should be more widely known; and the Mabinogion Quartet of Evangeline Walton and the Deryni Chronicles of Katherine Kurtz, which were not children’s books but that never stopped me. And with them, perhaps before I read LOTR, even, the stories of King Arthur.
There were always versions of the Matter of Britain in print and available. I believe I had a copy of Sidney Lanier’s retelling that had belonged to my sister, eleven years older than me. I read several but not all of Howard Pyle’s retellings, owned by my neighborhood library; I was more influenced by Pyle’s Robin Hood than by his Round Table. (Pyle introduced words like “marry!” as an oath and “victuals” into many a young reader’s vocabulary.) I read The Sword in the Stone as a separate book but got nowhere with the rest of The Once and Future King. And I was in my early teens when The Mists of Avalon dropped into my life, as an anvil drops on the head of a wiley coyote.
Morgaine and the priestesses of Avalon swirled together with The Spiral Dance and other books about paganism and Goddess religion made an intoxicating brew that I quaffed for many years. (I think I learned the word “quaff” from Howard Pyle, too.) And I continued to sample various retellings of the Arthurian legends, though I wasn’t enthralled by many of them; Lawhead’s Pendragon books, Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy, and T.A. Barron’s Lost Years of Merlin all left me unenthused.
Then I came across some nonfiction books about the Mabinogion and the early Arthurian legends by a couple of British writers named John and Caitlin Matthews. Their work unfolded magical and spiritual meanings out of the Welsh myths and legends, as others had done for the myths of Greece and Rome, and they have continued to do so for over thirty years. Their books drew me as strongly and steadily as the stories themselves had, and they led me to Ross Nichols and The Book of Druidry.
I confess that I never read all the way through Nichols’ book. It’s an intimidating melange of archaeology, poetry, speculation, what we now call UPG couched in 19th-century language. It is perhaps more akin to the work of Sir James Fraser and Margaret Murray or to Gerald Gardner writing about the witchcraft he was discovering and inventing than to what is now taught and practiced by the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids that Nichols founded and his protege, Philip Carr-Gomm, revived.
Carr-Gomm was a stringy teenager when he met Ross Nichols and began to learn druidry from him. He was in his thirties when he became the Chosen Chief of OBOD and began, with the help of the Matthewses and other contributors, to put together a correspondence course that would soon be used by people around the world. Today OBOD is the largest druid organization in the world and Carr-Gomm is stepping down as Chosen Chief, handing the office over to a woman.
I remember that back in 1990 or thereabouts, when I was just discovering that there were people who called themselves druids (not witches or pagans) and that they found meaning in stories that had possessed me for most of my reading life (which was most of my total life), I wanted to join OBOD and take their correpondence course. My ex, or husband or fiance as he may have been at the time, was also interested (he was always interested in my spiritual pursuits… but that’s another post). The course just wasn’t affordable, even for one of us; we were pretty broke for much of our marriage, as it happens. I let it go and for a couple of years we experimented with a DIY version of pagan practice that was something of a fusion of witchcraft and druidry (and that, too, is another post).
Thirty years later, I am single, solitary, and not in terrible shape, financially, although I’ll never be rich or win any prizes for money management. More importantly, other than my bird, I have no one to please but myself–and my gods. And the god with whom I have been most deeply involved for the past year, the antlered one whom I know only as the Forest God, has led me back to the forest, to druidry.
I joined OBOD earlier this year by signing up for the correspondence course. I’ve received two installments so far. I am slowly reshaping my shrine, my altar, and my daily practice into something I can call “druidic”. And it’s not easy–not because the OBOD material is difficult, not because I don’t want this, but because I have wanted it for so long, and now I have to let go of so many things that were once good in order to move forward and welcome this new thing. I love so many things about Anglican Christianity, and the Christian tradition has wisdom I think pagan traditions desperately need, but I cannot go back to just being a Christian. I have loved Antinous dearly and the initiation he gave me moved down to the deepest levels of my being, but my relationship with the god has changed; it feels like he himself wishes me well but is telling me to move on.
What strikes me most when I think about my early reading, and especially about the Arthurian legends, was that as a child, I didn’t want to be a queen or a damsel or even an enchantress. I wanted to be a knight, with a sword and shield, or one of Robin Hood’s band, dressed in green and armed with a bow. Or, even more than that, I wanted to be the wise old hermit in the forest, the one who always had provisions and wisdom to offer the knight errant or the lost damsel, along with a safe place to sleep. Druidry is my path, I think, I hope, to becoming that wise hermit, a sort of pagan Julian of Norwich, my cell open to nature, the gods, and wandering travellers.
On this day the seed is planted:
The earth being soft again after winter,
the early flowers being in bloom,
the hens laying, the rabbits mating.
On this day something bright and
incomprehensibly swift lands on the sill
of a sleeping girl and wakes her
with its rarified fragrance, frankincense
and jasmine and just a hint of myrrh.
On this day the offer is made:
beloved, favored, mother,
the son of David, the ruler,
god with us.
In the trembling of the angel’s wings,
like an anxious dove’s, the girl sees
all that was not spoken: the silence,
the gossip, the looking at and the looking
away from her swollen belly,
loneliness, death–not hers but his,
and the long years after that, outliving
her memories in a foreign land. She cups
the spoken and the unspoken together
in her thin brown hands, holds them,
drinks: I am the handmaid of the Lord.
Be it unto me according to thy word.
Old man, I never listened to you
until you were already gone from us
and your voice drifted out of the radio
as if down from heaven, old and broken
and full of power, still. As a child
I hid when you came on tv, man in black
with your big guitar, but later in life I heard you sing
when I needed a voice that was older than mine,
wiser, sadder, more grateful, more humble.
All your addictions, recoveries, marriages,
crimes, conversions, your darkness and brightness,
you crushed in your hands and made into a song,
distilled through your heart into bittersweet droplets
that I taste one by one as I grow older myself.
Here I am now with my joints giving out,
wiser and stronger than I ever imagined.
Old man in black with snow-white hair,
with weathered face, no longer nimble fingers,
mention me to Jesus, you two were always close.