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A Word or 1,742 About Honor…

Let me first begin this missive by telling you what this post is not about.  It is not about honor in the sense of violent reprisal or warrior spirit.  It is not about the honor of taking offense the way a Klingon might if you insulted their spouse.  I’m not interested in dueling pistols or swords at dawn and I certainly don’t intend to have a discussion of pride.  The honor I wish to speak of may have its roots in the same mud but grows along a different path towards the sun.

To quote George R.R. Martin, “Words are wind.”  There is so much that is lost in spoken language that I sometimes wonder whether we shouldn’t have skipped right over language and gone straight to some kind of telepathic thought exchange made of pictures and impressions.  No doubt it would be far more honest than even my own humble and heartfelt words might express.  As nice as that fantasy is, I find it unlikely that our species would find the sudden onset of telepathic abilities any less distressing than a full out zombie apocalypse with a lack of defensive armament.  So probably best to put that aside for now.

When I began setting down my ideas for this post, I wanted to talk about the words that contribute to my own definition of the term “Honor” and why they feel so important.  I thought of words like “Respect,” “Truth,” “Justice,” “Honesty,” and “Sincerity.”  As I drove home with that handwritten draft folded neatly in my bag and awaiting redrafting to the digital medium, I realized that all of these words, while powerful, have a commonality I had overlooked.  They are all bridges to relationship.

At Druid College, we talk about “edge work.”  Edge work is the practice of blending our own edges with the edges of another being.  It might be our spouse or partner, a family pet, a squirrel, a tree, a bush or any number of other beings that we might come into contact – or even a semblance of contact – with.  The idea here is always to craft a gift exchange relationship with other beings.

The gift exchange relationship is an honoring of the sharing between beings.  It is ensuring that both receive a benefit from the transaction between edges.  It is a manner of understanding our own edges and how they interact with other edges.  So to me, Honor is about the gift exchange relationship.  When we interact with another being, there is always a transaction that occurs on some level.  Perhaps you notice an attractive stranger and hope to catch a glance and a smile from them.  This is edge work, this is a transaction between beings.

Edge work though can (and probably should) go much deeper than this.  It is a blending of edges with nearly any being one might come into contact with.  The trees, the hills, the Earth, the land.  Even our feet as we walk across the bosom of the Earth is a transaction that we often take for granted.

If we pare it down though, most beings who interact with one another want something from that interaction.  When we look outside to the untamed wild, our cousins there interact frequently and the biological organization of nature insists that a level of gift exchange occur.  Wolves on the hunt cull the deer herd of the sick and elderly allowing the strong and young to prosper.  In essence, both predator and prey benefit from this transaction, it is only our human propensity for emotion that places a human face on the “suffering” of nature.  So here we have an excellent example of how even (by human standards at least) what seems like a terrible, horrible thing, has a great value to the untamed wild that our ancestors lived and died in.  More than that though, their myths and stories tried to understand the wild, untamed earth upon which they walked and the sometimes senseless manner in which it chose life or reclaimed it.  Nonetheless, this is a gift exchange, a clear and honest relationship.

What I have discovered from my journeying and meditation is that Honor comes from honest relationship.  One cannot be honorable if they are not honest with themselves.  The bear or the fox have no self image problems, they never doubt what they are.  One cannot project their own honor if they are not honest with the beings they seek to craft relationship with.  So the deer never wonder whether the wolves are wolves.  In both cases though, we are talking about relationship, first with oneself and then with others.  I often find that the word “Honor” and the word “Ego” are used in place of one another which leads to the type of mentality mentioned earlier in this post with two people meeting at dawn with pistols or blades (or any of the other forms of mutually assured destruction that are out there to be utilized for the same purposes).

Often, when I find myself angry or frustrated, I find that it is my ego that talks me into it and my honor that talks me out of it.  Who hasn’t been angry with a spouse, partner or friend?  I have been angry with all three, sometimes at the same time!  An exploration of that anger, though, often leads me to the truth of it.  My ego has somehow been bruised, my cultural or community standing questioned.  When this happens, it is not always easy to see past the red.  I have certainly gotten better, I am by no means perfect.  Then again, I forgive myself for that because I am human and my emotions keep me human.  In those times though, engaging in relationship with the people that make me angry often removes the cloud of that emotion from my thoughts and gives me greater insight into my own misgivings.

To me, the path to Honor is a path of honesty with oneself which then becomes a path of honesty with others in the delicate intricacies of edge work.  So Honor is also patient relationship.

I thought, at one point, to use the term “respectful relationship” rather than honest relationship but there is a truth that underlies those words and essentially unhinges them.  I can respect someone without having a relationship with them (I never knew Martin Luther King Jr.).  Likewise, I can have a relationship with someone and not respect them (my old boss).  In both cases, I can form a relationship that is honest.  I can respect someone I have never met when I understand that my honest relationship is limited to what I know about them, remembering that I don’t know everything about them.  Likewise, I can have an honest relationship with someone I don’t like by accepting that I cannot change them to suit my needs, no matter how much I feel trying to do so might benefit them.

This comes from understanding that they do not wish to blend their edges with my own in a way that suits me.  If I let go of that expectation, though, I can have honest relationship with them that benefits both of us and that is honorable.  Even with our enemies we can share honor.  So there too, Honor is sharing.

I would be lying if I expected that everyone who reads these words who didn’t feel this way about honor prior to reading them will suddenly jump up and yell “Dad GUM!  I think he’s done it!”  Honor, like so many other words in the English language, is highly subjective and I am certain that there are at least a few who will scoff at the idea that Honor needn’t be linked to violent reprisal for its offense.

I hope merely to offer another perspective, one in which the way of peace supersedes the desire for hostility.  It is my belief that honest relationship is the key to the term “Honor” and even though there are times that I struggle with my own ego over its assertion that my honor has been affronted, remaining true and honest to myself and to others that I form those relationships with is what leads me back to the central path from the divergences of modern day life.

In summation and to reiterate my point perhaps more clearly than the above missive; I believe that Honor is patient, honest relationship with oneself that is shared with those one interacts with.  It is just exactly this kind of honor that, in my opinion, we need to maintain in the course of our interactions if our community is to continue thriving.  I honor you, I hope only that you honor me as well.

So, I will leave you with some impressions, some images that come to mind, of honest, patient, shared relationship that perhaps you may ruminate upon in times when it bears reminding that the honor we seek can be found all around us in our wild hearts and the wild hearts of everything around us.

The sun climbs into the eastern sky at daybreak.

A bear forages in the stream for leaping salmon, snapping one out of thin air as another bounces off of the bear’s nose and he drops both.

Beneath the ground, bacteria blossom in the decaying form of a deer that failed to navigate a log and broke its leg.

A woman looks at her partner and realizes how much she loves them.

A wind blows the trees around in a sudden gust and they wave at the sky as though saying hello to a long lost friend.

There is a picket fence that has fallen over in a field and flowers grow through gaps that used to keep the sheep from wandering too far from the safety of the farm.

A rock, worn by millions of years of wind and water, tumbles into an icy brook.

An Oak tree deep in the forest produces oxygen as it has done in increasing amounts for 50 cycles of the sun.  At its base, a lone person sits and listens to the creaking of its body, the sway of its leaves in the summer air.  The tree speaks in a language slower than the glaciers, older than the stones and deeper than the hidden waters its roots strain to reach.  The squirrels trace scuttling tracks across its branches, birds nest in its spread twigs.  All of them listen for the wisdom it speaks out of the Land where its roots are buried deep in the Earth.

A Druid Order for Maine

I’ve been wondering lately, what exactly is Maine?  In the strictest sense, Maine is lines on a map that define its political boundaries, to the West with New Hampshire and to the North and Northeast with Canada.  However, within the arbitrary lines that define our political existence lie innumerable regions, micro-climates, geographical features and geological history.  The spirits of place are innumerable here and their stories are even more so.  The land we call Maine is many lands, many places and many are the stories that describe both.

Having been raised with the context that Maine is defined by the political processes of boundary creation, it is not hard for me to see that familiar shape when I think of this State and all that it means to me and many more people who live, work and play here.  Maine is a place that seems so spiritually fertile that it nearly begs for more people to root into the land and make connection.  No matter where I go I tend to feel the pull of something that desires my attention: a stone, a tree, a bird, a bush, a stream, a mountain.  When these things fall under my gaze I no longer see them as geographical features or flora and fauna, I see them as godlike, divine, inspiring.

When I speak of Maine, the rocks sing to me.  Katahdin springs up from the land, Mt. Desert island forms from lava spewed before the last ice age.  I think of visiting Cadillac Mountain, how the sides are just steep enough that every step seems like you are going to encounter a cliff and yet it just keeps going.

I pick up rocks at the beach, geological history in my hand.  Here are my ancestors, the trilobite, the ancient fern.  I feel the grit of the sand and imagine the stories it tells, perhaps lovers under moonlight, the bodies of billions or even trillions of beings washed up upon it, most microscopic, some as large as whales.

I go deeper inland to the forests and there the conifers and deciduous trees watch me pass as though I am burning a path as I go, the essence of my existence like a quick burning fire, a counterpoint to their own more deliberate existence.  Their language is slow, deep, sometimes sorrowful.  The trees hum in bass tones that vibrate up through the land into my feet and the stones absorb these vibrations like sinks and hold them.  I go further into the mountains and high hills where millions of years ago the Earth moved and creased new structures.  Above the tree line it is as though the wind has swept away everything yet here and there a plant pokes out from the rocks in stolid defiance…it reminds me of a balding man’s scalp but with more character and ancient stories written into it.

I dive back down into the River valleys, run the course of spring waters through the torrent of the rapids.  I see the great boulders as the rivers rage around them and think of the smooth and weathered beach stones I held in my hand and know that their stories are ancient and different.  I find a stream feeding fresh water into the torrent of the river and I follow it up to a pond where the loons make their mournful sounds and the trout and white perch feed mercilessly from the swarms of mosquitoes and black flies at dusk.  Surrounded by the pine, the water is still at sunrise, reflective and beautiful where songbirds call from the cattails across the marshy boundaries of a lake.

When I see the land of Maine, this is how she speaks to me.  In Mountains and Rivers, lakes and seashores, stones and trees.  I wander off the path of the forest into the wild and I see stories, so very many stories.  The dance of mating dragonflies, the chattered recriminations of the squirrels, the diving swoop of the Hawk.

I want to tell these stories, I want to climb into them, live them and then sing the songs of Nature, the songs of the wild, so that others may hear them and perhaps seek to find the music themselves and I am not alone in that desire.  There are others who wish to do so as well, other practitioners of Druidry for whom this land, this region, is home.  It is a place of Land and Sea and Sky in such natural beauty that one can barely help but Love it and feel Loved in return.  This is the place where our feet touch the land and through it, the Earth.

To that end, several of us are in the early stages of forming a Druid Order for the State of Maine.   Maine is a land that is vibrant and alive in its natural beauty and yet still in need of relationship to the people who inhabit her.  Druidry is a living tradition, one that seeks to craft sacred relationship with the land and the spirits that inhabit it.  We hope to be the keepers of tradition and a relevant addition to the foundation of the Pagan community here.  The Order will serve several purposes.  It will allow those who practice Druidry to belong to a central hub by which we can share information, knowledge and inspiration that is relevant to our individual communities.

The Order itself is founded on three basic principles, each of which have three contexts:
Location:  The Place, the Land and the Earth
Being:  Our Ancestors, Ourselves and our Community
Becoming:  Knowledge, Learning and Teaching (1)

[Another concept here is that] this Order can support Druidry, which has a unique hum to it. We don’t all have to have the same definition or the same practices or the same core of learning. Druidry is bigger than that. It is about questing Awen. And we do that through our relationships. The most prevalent relationships are self, family, community and the spirits of place. Always it is about wakeful honorable relationships, for those bring inspiration. That from my studies is unique to this tradition. Others may talk about ecstatic practices, but Druidry is very clear, holding seeking Awen at its center. (2)

We presently have no “name” for this Order and that will likely be forthcoming soon.  Ultimately though, this is a Maine Order of Druidry and I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we look forward to presenting ourselves in this capacity to the community.

If you have any questions please feel free to shoot me an email:  lightofthebear@gmail.com

(1) Quote Courtesy of Aracos
(2) Quote Courtesy of Snowhawke

Maine Pagan Traditions

As I look up at the crescent of the Moon slowly climbing over the sentinel pines in the Eastern sky I am reminded of what a magical place we live.  Maine is not without its eyesores, something that can be observed in rapidly-deteriorating roads and suburban sprawl, yet most of what makes Maine a destination spot for vacationers is the rugged wilderness that seems almost untouched by the hand of human beings.  Wide valleys give way to ranges of hills and small mountains that seem to come alive each fall with the waning fire of warmer months as the leaves change.  Leaf peepers come from all over to view them, never knowing that beneath the canopy of orange, red and gold, Maine Pagans dance and sing our place on the Earth.

I have spoken to many people both from here in Maine and as far away as Australia, who admire the relative ease and comfort the Pagan community enjoys here.  Maine is a place of rugged natural beauty and generally friendly people.  It makes sense to me that a population of people who wish to walk gently upon the Earth and live spread out enough to have space for our own spirit to soar unhindered, would for the most part choose to get along and celebrate.

It seems long past due I believe, that we come together to create a strong tradition of Maine Pagans.  A mutual framework of  recognizing core values that does not impede our personal spiritual beliefs but rather celebrates the things we share in common.  Such traditions clearly already exist.  The Temple of the Feminine Divine in Bangor offers public ritual for each station on the Wheel of the Year.  Beltane on the Beach just celebrated its 34th year and the recent establishment of The Druid College in Hollis, Maine, as well as the yearly Weaving ritual in Casco, further exemplify a desire to impart the importance of a core tradition which can celebrate the eclectic nature of our community.

I am hardly the progenitor of this thought.  Being a “student” at the Druid College myself, this idea has been bandied about and it was more or less formally announced during the Gorsedd at Beltane on the Beach by Michael B. who immediately launched into a song he wrote called “I’m a Maine Pagan (and this is my place).”

For most of us it is an important aspect of our spiritual values to honor our ancestors and this is an important aspect of my Druidry as well.  I can often feel the multitudes of my ancestors traveling at my shoulder, peering around over my shoulder and looking forward to see what I am observing and why.  These are men and women who existed (for the most part) in a time where things were simultaneously more simple and more brutal.  The stories they tell are the stories of the three invasions of Ireland, the heroes, the meddlesome gods and the feats of strength and courage that have inspired generations.  When viewed in context of the stories of their homeland, they are powerful and impressive.  When viewed in terms of our connection to the Earth where our feet touch the land here in Maine though, they lose the critical element of authenticity they enjoy in the place where our ancestors walked in Pagan antiquity.  Certainly the lessons taught by these stories are critical to the method of our connections, however, they lose relevance if we are not actively participating in relationship with this land and instead focusing upon those stories as a way of identifying with our ancestors.

It is inherent to us that we make sacred connection to this land by forming a relationship to the land we find ourselves in now, based on the connections our ancestors formed to the lands of Europe.  Also inherent is that we recognize our status as invaders, a people who have come as conquerors to the Aboriginal, First Nation peoples of this land.  If we are to build a sacred relationship with this place, we must certainly consider that this land should reject us if we are unable to make relationship with the people our recent ancestors savaged in their conquest of this continent.

I am aware that the Wabanaki Confederacy has extended an invitation to all people, especially environmental activists, to join with them in an effort to preserve and protect the land.  If this invitation is still open, I suggest that we organize ourselves enough to lend a hand and learn from the people of this land how best to weave our connection as people to the Earth here and live in harmony so that we may someday be able to earn forgiveness for the actions of our ancestors and together live in peace with the land.

As a Pagan, as  Druid and as a human being, I firmly believe that we are in crisis mode on the long slope of decline.  A future of limited resources awaits us but it is also important to remember that human beings lived without many of the resources we enjoy now for many, many more generations than our species have exploited them.  Creating traditions that honor the Earth and demonstrate community through our tribe will be vital to us in the future and there is no better place I can think of to begin than right here at home.