By Way Of Introduction

I’m happy to be writing here on A Sense Of Place on the Patheos Pagan channel. There are writers I admire and appreciate here already. Whenever one is in a new place, it is important to take time to get one’s bearings, and a new writer should try to explain where he is coming from. Thus, I will try to describe my place so we can both get our bearings.

First snow of autumn. Maine 2014.
First pre-winter snow. Maine 2014.

It is the dark time of year. The darkness is peaking, and for a brief moment the sun will appear to rest and stand still for the first time in half a year. The clear nights always seem colder, and tonight is the first clear night in some time. There have been a lot of clouds and precipitation — water in its various states — much of it still lingering on the ground in the form of ice. I miss my friends in the sky, especially this time of year when it seems to change so quickly. It’s good to see them again. I can see Sirius, Betelgeuse, Rigel, Aldebaran, with the Pleaides almost directly overhead. This year has the added bonus of Jupiter shining brightly in the east. And tonight, on Yule, it is also a New Moon, so the sky is doubly dark tonight. The view is beautiful from this planet. This place.

I look at all my friends in the sky, and to all the energies in the forest around me. I hail them, lifting my drinking horn full of mead — a sweet, traditional mead that I brewed with local honey, fresh maple sap instead of the wild spring water I normally use, wild chaga, and wild staghorn sumac —  and pour an offering to the ground, saying words that have become familiar to many of us in Maine and beyond:

From the Gods, to the Earth, to Us;
From Us, to the Earth, to the Gods.
A gift for a gift.

All existence is a gift, but mead is one of my favorite gifts. For me, mead is the highest alchemical expression of an ecosystem. Honey itself is the lifeblood of the ecosystem, having been created by countless bees foraging for pollen, fanning their wings to cause the water to evaporate, and stewarding the hive, the womb of the honey, such that each bee will create 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. Honey is, without a doubt, one of the most profound foods on the planet, existing on every continent in all but the most extreme latitudes. When I make mead, I am participating in a tradition that is millennia old, that our ancestors practiced as far back in history as we can see. By bearing in mind the ecosystem and my relationship with it when I make mead, homebrewing becomes a devotional practice, and the local ingredients I use are both a means to preserve the ingredients, and a devotional offering.

But devotion to what? Or to whom? One could argue that this is the central question of my entire spiritual life, from the time I was a child. As I got old enough to start thinking for myself, the received theology of the Catholic God I was raised with made less and less sense. I would later learn that the ideas about divinity I was entertaining at this point in my life were called panentheism, or the idea that the divine is in everything that exists, another foundational concept for me throughout my life.

I am not a literalist, but rather have a deep appreciation for metaphor. One possibility I entertain a lot is that divinity is a metaphor for consciousness. One thing I am certain of is that when I use the words “divinity” or “God” I don’t mean specific supernatural personalities per se. Until I have direct experience with such things, I feel I would be ill-equipped to comment on them. For me, spirituality is all about manifesting the divine within (the “lesser work” of alchemy), and putting that divinity in positive relationship with the divinity around you (alchemy’s “great work”).

This point of relationship is a contact zone between my energy and the energy of that which is around me, whether it be the wind blowing over my skin, a Northern White Pine or a Hemlock tree under my hands, or the Pleaides as I gaze upon them. We are in relationship. And without these relationships, we don’t have place. Each moment in relationship is a “drop of experience, complex and interdependent.”

Place, philosophically speaking, is a given point in spacetime that contains relationship.

My writings for A Sense of Place will try to articulate some of these relationships, through the lens of various images & concepts that are familiar to me. We will begin with the Elements in the next post.

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