Thoughts on creating a Zen Druid shrine at home

For the longest time, I have entertained the fantasy of having a kendo at home, with tatami floor coverings, noren hanging in the doorway, art scrolls adorning the walls and a butsudan at one end. Reality dictates that this remains in the realm of fantasy for the foreseeable future, since we live in a small home with lots of people in it.

Since the zendo is not happening any time soon, my next best is to install a small shrine somewhere. I have a corner void next to my desk that is collecting dust, dog hair, and “stuff” right now, but with a little ingenuity I could turn it into a personal shrine, either on a small square table or on some shelving installed on the wall. I’m going to go with the shelving idea, I think. But do I want one or more stacked long shelves or do I want a couple of stacked corner shelves? Both have their appeal, so more thinking (and spousal approval) is needed.

But then what to put on it? I have my blue Buddha tea light holder (whom I chose to see as Medicine Buddha) and the singing bowl that I was gifted with a couple of years ago. I also have my ensō incense bowl. I think I have Zen covered, but what to add for Druidry?

I’m thinking a miniature mortar and pestle that I have, symbolizing herb craft, and a couple of offering dishes to include earth (salt) and water. I thik I might need one of these (or these, or one of these… Not sure which would serve me best), for Hecate, whom I will be working with for a while. Why? I’m not sure yet, but I’m decidedly Chthonic in attitude, and not ready to declare that I might actually be polytheist. I’ve got a lot of spirit to recover before I can even think about that. (another long story. Maybe I’ll tell it, not sure yet)

I know for sure that I want a 7-day candle burning on my shrine, but I’m not sure what the rest of the family will think about that. I also know that I do not want it to look like a coven of “Charmed” fans threw up on it. Clean, simple, direct.

But corner shelves or long shelves?

Just remember… I’m not part of that club, ok?

This is mostly for myself, but also to my partner in crime.  Remember, I’m not part of the same club you three are.  I’m not getting the same info flow that you guys are, and am, in a manner of speaking, left in the dark.

I’m not complaining.  So far, I’m being mostly included, at least as far as being kept in the loop of things.  Remember, I’m the lone nontheist animist in the group, and you guys are devotional polytheists.  I’m living with outsider syndrome currently.  At this point, though, that’s OK, since I have some things on my own plate.

I look at the devotional polytheists in much the same light that I look at artists and content creators: with a little confusion, some jealousy, and some awe.  I am always enthralled by things that are not part of my make-up, in large part because they are not part of me.  It’s something outside of my realm of understanding, and I like to understand things.  In small part, it fascinates me because I wish I was part of that group.  But I’m mostly solitary (and pragmatically driven) by nature, and part of me wishes I had more deep community.

On the other hand, I am so very thankful that I am not god-bothered (thank you to Nimue Brown for the term!) because I have so much else on my plate with my schooling, my own path, and my own mundane issues.  If I were god-bothered (which fascinates me, as an observer), I would be distracted more than I can probably afford.

But please, remember that I’m not part of the club, and it can get a little lonely when all your friends are part of something that you’re not.

She might have written this for ME!!!

When A Pagan Prays.  Bu Nimue Brown

Just a quick hit about a book I’m currently reading, “When a Pagan Prays: Exploring Prayer in Druidry and Beyond” by Nimue Brown.

I swear, she could be talking specifically about and for me, on a number of levels. Although I don’t think that she and I share a desire for prayer structure (she says as much, that she doesn’t necessarily feel it is necessary, but I am yearning), she is approaching it from a thoughtful and experiential direction. Even some of her misgivings about prayer match what I’m feeling. I am so grateful that I was sent a link to her blog, which lead me to this book.

“Always take the donuts”

A friend of mine turned me on to a book yesterday, and I have no shame in admitting that I devoured it in two sittings.  The book in question is “The Art of Asking” by Amanda Palmer.  It was a moving book (can’t really call it a novel, since it’s autobiographical, but it’s not a manifesto, that’s for sure) and one that I will have to stew upon for quite a while… I kind of drank from the fire-hose on this one.

Amanda’s writing is not always pristine, but it has something that I haven’t encountered much:  It is REAL on a significant level.  The emotions are right there, and they grab on tight.  Most of the emotions that she evoked were the happy kind, but there were a few places where it got kind of uncomfortable and awkward.

These places, though, were where she really hit home.  The self-doubt that she expressed was a mirror to my own.  Sure, she’s a performance artist (artiste?) and I am most decidedly not, so I can’t connect on that level, but there’s a part where she’s talking with her retired software programmer mother, and Mom recounts a fight that they had when Amanda was 13.  Amanda, in a fit of teenage pique called herself a “real” artist and said that he mom wasn’t.  So, twenty some years after the fact, Amanda came to realize (thanks to her mother’s words) that there are two kinds of creatives:  those who can hang their work in a gallery (and I’m including performance art, writing, etc here) and those who can’t.

In that moment, I connected.  I have said for years that I wish I was creative, I wish that I had the artistic spark, and could MAKE something.  Instead, my skills lie in finding solutions, in making connections, in making things happen.  I’ve stumbled into this realization a lot recently, but this was more poignant for some reason.  Maybe I was just more emotionally primed with the rest of the book for this to hit home.

One of the central themes of “The Art of Asking” is what psychologists call “imposter syndrome” which manifests in lots of people as feeling like a fake and inadequate when measured against “real” .  So, I guess, this explains my desire for external validation while walking a spiritual path that is decidedly NOT external.  Paganism general and Druidry in specific doesn’t really have the “professional framework” that I keep wanting to measure myself against.  Unfortunately for me, that doesn’t give me much help in realizing if/when/how I can legitimately call myself a Druid.

I guess I’ll have to just keep walking the path and not worry about it until the day that I can finally get over the nagging insecurity.

And accept that the word will probably come from others before I feel like I’ve earned it.

Not the Blood moon, but still colored

Orange moon
The moon is decidedly orange, Likely from Canadian smoke

Well, that picture didn’t come out the way I had hoped, but it’s off of my iPhone, so that might have something to do with it.

Anyway, the moon is distinctly orange right now, but is not a Blood Moon according to The Weather Channel.  According to TWC and NOAA, the color is almost certainly due to smoke from wildfires in Alaska and Canada making it’s way down into the American Midwest.  There are better images on the Weather Channel link above.

Note to self: Write a blog post concerning wildfires, why they happen, why they’re so severe, and what should be done about it.

Thoughts on Patron Deity (or the lack thereof)

I was sent a link today, because I had recently been lamenting that I don’t hear the God-phone ring.  I don’t feel the poke of a god or goddess, or, honestly, any supernatural entity.  I’m honestly a little jealous of the spiritual validation that I see others in my circle of relations get from their gods.

Anyway, I was sent a link to a post on Patheos, “Is Modern Polytheism Anti-Choice?” which I read with some interest.  I didn’t think that the post title matched the content, but I’m told that it fits in with the community discussion at the time.  Anyway, the second paragraph really struck me with this statement: “[M]any modern Polytheists are stuck in a paradigm where a religious calling is only legitimate if the Gods or spirits are the ones doing the calling.”  This!  This is what I’m feeling trapped by!

I’m over 40, and have been following a non-Christian spiritual path my whole life, with explicitly Pagan leanings for about half that, but I never heard the God-phone ring, even when I felt the need to take ordination (I’m a Universal Life Church minister, have been for over 20 years) all those years ago.  I felt a pull toward Spirituality, but never one by Divinity, and it made me wonder how legitimate I was, even.

I think, after reading Molly’s article, that it doesn’t matter that I never heard God-phone ringing.  My yearning for spiritual meaning is what makes me legitimate.  My moral compass swings true, and it doesn’t matter that I don’t have a god to call my own.  Even as a Buddhist, while I venerate the whole plethora of Bodhisattvas and Buddhas (and Shakyamuni as The Buddha), I don’t serve them.  I serve ideals, ones that I hold as close to my heart as the love I have for my wife and our children.

But, after reading what Molly wrote, I think I’ve come to realize that I don’t need to have heard the God-phone ringing in my ear in order for me to be on a legitimate spiritual path.  My path is just as legitimate as any follower of Odin, Thor, Gaia, Jesus or any other of the numerous gods, goddesses, and divine entities that are looked up to.

And that’s perfectly fine.  Now, I just have to internalize it, because I still want extra-personal (if not external) validation of my path.  Ĉu neh?

“…and I’m just a Buddhist.”

Seated Buddha Torso
Seated Buddha Torso, late 3rd century. Green limestone, 16 3/4 x 15 in. (42.5 x 38.1 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Ernest Erickson Foundation, Inc., 86.227.24. Creative Commons-BY

Our little clan (made up of just the people that I live with) includes me (Druidic Buddhist with a Wiccan background), a Discordian Heathen with Chaos magic background, a Hellenic polytheist (my wife), and three young people who don’t make much mind about spirituality at this point.  Our extended chosen family is even more of a mixed bag.

When the conversation turns to types of spirituality, I am wont to say “And I’m just a Buddhist.”  This somewhat upsets the missus, and she called me on it recently.  To her, my comment seems to diminish and dismiss my spirituality and is a negative.  Full disclosure: I also live with moderately severe major depression and anxiety, so negativity is particularly poignant in my case.

Anyway (and as I recall, my memory isn’t the best right now), as part of a larger conversation the other day, she flat out said that she doesn’t like it when I use that phrase to describe myself.  The message that I took away from her was that there is nothing wrong with being a Buddhist.  The word that upset her most was “just” because she sees it as me doing negative self talk.  I see it differently.

Part of Buddhist teaching is that everything in life is transient, nothing is permanent (See also: dukkha) and that unhappiness is caused by trying to hold on to something that will not remain.  I am currently trying to work back into Druidry through multiple avenues, but when it comes to my basic spirituality, I am, in essence, “just a Buddhist.”  I don’t think (or feel, anyway) as if I have a connection to Deity as the others in my house do, even the youngsters.  I don’t hear the proverbial “god-phone” ringing.  I don’t get the spiritual poke in the ribs by the divine.

I don’t know much of Druidry (at least, not consciously), but what I do know is that, in part, it celebrates the here and now and is present in this moment, this season. This is not different from the Buddhist doctrine.  Is Druidry significantly different than Buddhism?  Maybe.  But for now, I feel that I am mostly, simply, Buddhist.

Still, I am a little jealous of the people in my family whose god-phones ring.  I guess I want some external validation.

Book review: Zen Druidry: Living a Natural Life, with Full Awareness

Zen Druidry: Living a Natural Life, with Full Awareness  by Joanna van der Hoeven

Rating: ★★★★☆

Review: I admit, when I picked up the this book from the Kindle store, I was hoping for some profound realization, something that I hadn’t run into before. I was hoping for something novel and exciting, something that I was missing in my knowledge and experience. What I got was (as the Buddhist saying goes) “nothing special.” That’s not to say that this disappointed me, far from it in fact. The blending of Zen Buddhism and Druidry that van der Hoeven does is as simple as being totally present in this very moment.  In doing so, in being fully present this very moment, we give honor and respect to everything we’re interacting with. Because, when you get down to it, this very moment is all that we have. This book is simple and direct. My only complaint is that the author is a little heavy-handed with the “Vegetarian GOOD, meat eating BAD” in one section.

As part of the Pagan Portals series, the author only has about 70 pages in which to explore a frankly deep topic, so it is obviously not terribly in-depth.  Philip Carr-Gomm gave Zen Druidry a good treatment on his website (see here) as well as offering two other texts that he recommends as follow-ons to this one.  I’ll have to pick them up and check them out, I think. Beside that, I think I might need to re-read this little book and maybe make some notes.

Hello world!

Hello again, Internet, it’s me.  I’m back under a different name, mostly unrelated to my public life.  I’m doing this mostly for myself, but also to hopefully help other people struggling with some of these same questions that I have.

Moon behind trees at nightfall
Moon behind trees at nightfall

I’ll be writing mostly about how I get Druidry and Buddhism to work together in my mind, and spirit, and how I adopt it to my family-oriented suburban mid-life reality.

A little about me:  I’ve been a practicing Pagan and specifically Wiccan in the past, but that didn’t satisfy me, so I eventually grew past that.  I’m a 20-year minister in the Universal Life Church, which is basically most of my adult life.  I live with depression and anxiety, which sometimes includes crippling self-doubt.  I’m a grad student.  I have a family of six that I live with, and have been married for about 17 years as of 2015.

I’ve been studying Buddhism with some gusto for about 10 years.  I’ve also had my hands on the Bardic grade course from the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids for about 10 years, which I have recently decided to pick up again and complete.  This is actually the second time that I’ve decided to pick it up again (first was several years ago), and I am in a very different place, mentally and spiritually.  I’ve also got a “study buddy” this time around, as one of my local associates had mentioned that he was had at least a passing interest in the course.  He is now a member of OBOD (a requirement for taking the courses) and working through the first couple of months worth of material.

I’ve been away from any sort of spiritual involvement for a long time, and have forgotten and “lost” a lot in the interim.  But, taking the Buddhist theory of beginners mind, I am starting anew.

Oh, and by the way, I am a darkling, a night walker.  I’ve been on the night shift almost all of the last 20 years.  Mornings for me are a bear, but get me into the night air and I come alive.