negative capability and positive capability

It’s a strange path I have walked these past few months – if it is a path at all. Perhaps I should call it a shore: I have walked along the edge of the known, skirting the unknowable, without really testing the limits of either. Not really getting my feet wet, and not quite walking on solid ground. One month into my archives course, any spare moments I can devote to my gods are spent simply sitting, experiencing, listening. Scholarly research is for credit now, not for the advancement of my spiritual life (I would say “not for the service of my gods” – but that would be wrong). But still, I feel the lack of it.

Negative capability, as Keats described it, is a good quality to cultivate as a student of mysteries: to be “capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact” allows us the faculty of wonder, the immersion in experience that enables us to reach out to the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of land and sea and sky; without it, we could not establish the relationships on which modern druidry is founded. These are unverified, unverifiable experiences. There is no external measure of what is ‘valid’ (except, perhaps, consensus) – and although we have the touchstones of myth and folklore, these stories speak to us from different worlds; who is to say whether my ancestors would have made the same sense of these experiences as I have, living in this time and place? Yet these experiences are a real and valid part of who I am.

What does certainty teach us? And uncertainty?

This has been the first big question posed by my devotion to Manawydan.

I walk along the estuary shore at sunset and wonder. What belongs to land and what belongs to sea? Where does the river really end? When mist rises from the sea to obscure the horizon, where does the sky begin?

What can we learn from a figure who is son of the ocean, a chieftain without land who moves from place to place as circumstance dictates; who slips from myth to legend to folklore, cloaked in mist, and whose worship cannot be attested anywhere by physical remains?

These questions are frustratingly reflective: instead of allowing clear insights into the nature of the shore and its mysteries, they show me the state of my current understanding. I am still so focused on what I can learn. My understanding of boundless mystery is still formed with reference to boundaries, clear distinctions between this world and the other; between land and sea and sky. But whether these are good or bad (or, more likely, neutral) things to know about myself, cultivating this awareness helps. Learning the boundaries is a good place to start. If we do not know where they are, we cannot expand them, or seek to go beyond them.

Research and gnosis both have a place; accepting the limitations of what cannot be known goes hand-in-hand with establishing what can be known. Without accepting uncertainty, we can end up conjuring fantasy histories from wishful interpretations of slender facts, leading ourselves and others astray. Without establishing certainties, we can end up spinning off on our own solipsistic flights of fantasy, which in the end serve no-one, not even ourselves.

I have been wondering how best to answer the need for both research and gnosis in my spiritual life; how to honour certainty and uncertainty (not to mention how to work out which is which; not always easy when following a deity of sea-mist and illusion).  For quite a while now, I have been thinking of following the 30 days of deity devotion on this blog, without quite feeling ready.  Talking openly about devotion to a deity is not something that comes easily to me.  But reading Naomi’s blog in spring last year and following her journey through the 30 questions, which culminated in her dedication to her Cailleach Bhéarra, was an inspiration and a privilege; it reminded me that I have so often benefited from the boldness of others.  It is my turn to be bold now, though I don’t feel it. As of yet, I have very little idea where this challenge might take me, or what value may come of me writing about it here.  My own take on it may vary quite a lot from the intention behind the posing of those questions.  All I do know for sure is that the 30 days are unlikely to be consecutive, though I will try to keep up the momentum.

Cailleach Bhéarra, incidentally, is one of the many partners of that slippery sea-god, the son of Lir (perhaps even the son of Llŷr)- it seems fitting that a series of blog posts devoted to her should start me on this journey!

30 Days of Deity Devotion: topics

1. A basic introduction to the deity
2. How did you become first aware of this deity?
3. Symbols and icons of this deity
4. A favorite myth or myths of this deity
5. Members of the family – genealogical connections
6. Other related deities and entities associated with this deity
7. Names and epithets
8. Variations on this deity (aspects, regional forms, etc.)
9. Common mistakes about this deity
10. Offerings – historical and UPG
11. Festivals, days, and times sacred to this deity
12. Places associated with this deity and their worship
13. What modern cultural issues are closest to this deity’s heart?
14. Has worship of this deity changed in modern times?
15. Any mundane practices that are associated with this deity?
16. How do you think this deity represents the values of their pantheon and cultural origins?
17. How does this deity relate to other gods and other pantheons?
18. How does this deity stand in terms of gender and sexuality? (historical and/or UPG) 19. What quality or qualities of this god do you most admire? What quality or qualities of them do you find the most troubling?
20. Art that reminds you of this deity
21. Music that makes you think of this deity
22. A quote, a poem, or piece of writing that you think this deity resonates strongly with
23. Your own composition – a piece of writing about or for this deity
24. A time when this deity has helped you
25. A time when this deity has refused to help
26. How has your relationship with this deity changed over time?
27. Worst misconception about this deity that you have encountered
28. Something you wish you knew about this deity but don’t currently
29. Any interesting or unusual UPG to share?
30. Any suggestions for others just starting to learn about this deity?

To be continued… once I get back from watching the moon rise over the bay.


walking this path

It has been a while since my last proper post; in all honesty, bar the tenuous, Telegraph-given connection, the subject of my last actual post is a little out of keeping with the blog (oh hai there new followers!  It is very nice to have you, but I thought you all deserved a warning).  Like its non-identical twin sister, this blog fizzled out a little over the latter part of last year.  I had been using them both to skirt around the sayable, while privately, silently, exploring the unsayable.

Last year feels as though it should have been a turning point, though nothing much has turned.  After withdrawing a little from the online community of pagans, and immersing myself in the mystery tradition of Anglesey Druidry, I have emerged with more or less the same perspective as before, but with a much steadier sense of the ground beneath my feet, and a lot more clarity about how I could explore it further.

Mystery is, in essence, inexpressible; finding ways to express the inexpressible is what art is for – and although I make no claims to be an artist, this blog exists to express ideas about druidry: a path which is partly rooted in gnosis, mysticism and subjective experience.  I need to use it to express the things that actually inspire me, no matter how hesitant I am to expose them to the winds of internet opinion; otherwise it has no heart.  I am starting to understand a little more about what it means to be a bard, having thought for all these years that perhaps I could just quietly avoid that aspect of the druid path without anybody noticing.  Unfortunately, “anybody” included me (who, privately, noticed very much); it also included the deepest wellspring of my inspiration, a deity who is not the type to insist, but is not exactly easily suppressed…

So: what am I doing?

This question (“the old song”) is a favourite of Cat Treadwell’s, and I have learned a lot from the clarity of its simple directness.

Right now, I am re-reading Kuno Meyer’s translation of The Voyage of Bran, son of Febal, thanks to the Forgotten Books project.  And I am writing.  Writing here, because over the past few days I have been devouring pagan blogs; clicking my way into a labyrinth of links and references and, gradually, reading my way out again, laden with a list of new books to find and references to check, and correspondences between ideas that had never quite met one another before.  In that context, it seems miserly to read so much and not offer something in return, no matter how little.  There comes a point when there is more to be learned by sharing one’s own ideas than by hoarding other people’s, and some connections can only be made out loud.  But that leap of faith is terrifying.  I know so little.  Will I ever know enough?

Enough for whom?

Enough by what measure?

If my measure is an inspired and inspiring life, then I think I am at least on track.  The inspiration I feel may not always express itself in art – in the words or music we associate with bard-craft (though the moment on Sunday when I sang to the turning tide and saw a cormorant fly overhead and land in the water with each verse, was a moment of pure magic) – but in some small way I can feel it expressed in everything I do.  Just under four months ago, I was initiated as awenydd; now, I am learning to be one.  It takes faith to spend so much time and effort researching old tales and traditions, and to glean inspiration from sources that have been obscured by time; it takes still more faith to pour our souls into the work of singing this inspiration back into the world.  But it is the work I vowed to undertake.  And – however I try to rationalise it, whatever stories I weave around it –  Manawydan mab Llŷr (and maybe also Manannan mac Lir) is at its heart.

image by the wonderful Thalia Took:

image by the wonderful Thalia Took:

Let not thy intoxication overcome thee;
Begin a voyage across the clear sea

The Voyage of Bran, son of Febal

So I begin.