Something I’ve thought about more than actually experienced is the fact that the kindred — just like other people — aren’t guaranteed the answer the question that you ask. On Monday, as I was drawing my omen for the week, I wasn’t careful enough in choosing a question.
In general, I’m a fan of more omens rather than fewer. That is to say, I think it’s better to ask three general questions of the kindred, rather than one specific one. It gives them more chances to communicate clearly, and it indicates genuine interest.
On Monday, however, I think that I went too far. I’ve been struggling with back pain and — in the druid meetup that led to my first prayer making a request — I spoke about asking the grandfather whose body I have (that is to say, whom I strongly resemble) if he had back pain and how he dealt with it.
The question I formulated was something like “how should I think about approaching you about how you managed life in your body?”
The response was this:
Nothing I found in any of the books really spoke to me. I mean, it didn’t seem helpful as an answer to the question — but, to be honest, what could — and it I couldn’t see what my grandfather was trying to tell me through the omen.
Eventually, I accepted that this was not an answer to the question I had asked, but I also began to see that I wouldn’t have been able to answer that question if someone else had asked me, and I have a much broader vocabulary than just 78 symbols available to me. So, I thought, maybe it was a suggestion that I need to be better in asking my questions.
Today, I decided to formulate the question more exactly and to say: I’ve been struggling with back pain and I would like your wisdom on how to approach it. Changing up the decks, I got this as an answer:
And in both of my tarot books, meditation was indicated. To me, it seems fair that, when I finally decided to address my grandfather, he said “forget your back, focus more on meditation.”
“Hearth” is a word you’ll hear often in paganism. You might hear things like:
I keep a Celtic hearth
Hestia is the goddess of the hearth
I place my offerings at the hearth
Hearth and home
But, what is a hearth? To be honest, I don’t know. This isn’t a post I’m writing because I’ve found an answer, but because I’ve found something positive in asking the question. (Though, now I’m thinking I should ask the ancestors about this and take an omen.)
Ultimately, it’s easy to define a hearth. It’s either a fire, a fireplace, or a part of a fireplace. A hearth for heating and cooking was such a basic function of a home that it came to stand in for one. That’s where the phrase “hearth and home” above comes from.
And, since I’ve learned that, I’m happy that we still heat with coal (environmentally sinful, but I still build a fire for my family in the winter — and that feels somehow ‘rooted’ in the past) and that we have ‘home fires’ which need tending.
So, simple, a hearth is a fire, right?
I’m learning Latin with the goal of using it with the kindred and in general. And, interestingly, the Latin word for the hearth fire is ‘focus.’ Obviously, they weren’t thinking of the English usage when they gave it that name, but I’m giving it a connotation. How can I not?
And Vesta — the goddess of the hearth — had a temple in Rome where the fire was never allowed to go out, with dire consequences if it did. Her hearth fire was clearly something more than just a place for cooking and warmth.
Vesta wasn’t only the goddess of the hearth, she was also the goddess of the home and family. And I think that (for me) illuminates the meaning of a hearth some. A hearth was a fire — and still can be — but it was also something more. Some abstract thing around which a family formed.
Or, maybe it’s some abstract thing that defines a home or a family. In this understanding, maybe the hearth is that indefinable quality that a lived-in house has, that makes it feel welcoming — or makes you feel out-of-place.
Perhaps — and I like this understanding of the word — a family is more than just genetics. It’s a collection of people who belong at the same hearth.
The ‘sacred fire’ does not have to be your hearth fire in an ADF ritual. At least, not as best as I can tell. It can be any fire. But, I think of the one specific candle on my altar as my ‘hearth’ and I sometimes take it with me onto the balcony to read in the evening. I like being ‘beside my hearth.’
(Though, interestingly, I don’t think that I’m opening any special gate to the heavens when I light it this way. Apparently, intention is important.)
Still, I hear people speak of their hearth in a way that makes me think it makes more sense to substitute the word ‘altar’ for hearth than ‘home.’ And that makes sense, if you look at the translations listed under focus above. Even without the translations, there is something nice about the idea of the altar being the focal point of a home.
I’m not sure that my own relationship with the kindred is at the point that it could be the focal point of my family, but I can see why the idea is appealing.
This is — I think — the meaning that people have in mind when they say “I keep a Celtic hearth” (or, in my case, “I keep a Roman hearth.”) We’re saying: my altar (and practice) tends in one certain direction. You can also “keep an eclectic” hearth which borrows from many different practices.
Generally, I’m one for clarity. I like precision (though obviously not economy) in language. I like people to say what they mean.
And yet, I embrace the ambiguity of the hearth. I like the idea that it can be the ‘center of the home’ or the ‘altar’ or both at once. Or maybe it’s just a fire.
I still don’t know what the average pagan is thinking when she uses the word, but I don’t mind having the opportunity to turn it into a conversation.
My omen drawing for this week was a difficult one. Not least because there wasn’t much clear in the Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom book, but also because what I did find didn’t seem to be helpful.
This was this week’s omen.
In Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom (the only book I consulted on Monday) the explanations talked about the conflicts between the Knight as a figure of action and the passivity of the cups. And that may be true and I do sense both of those in me, but it wasn’t helpful as an omen.
This week, I reflected less on the omen than I did last week. (And I suppose there is nothing wrong with that.) I can remember there being some sense of “avoid apathy” whenever I thought about it, but I can no longer explain why.
Now — after the time period covered by the omen has come and gone — I had the idea to consult my only other Tarot book, The Druidcraft Tarot. This is what it says under meaning for the Knight of Cups:
You, or someone you know, may be following their heart and their romantic dreams, and the challenge is to avoid the pitfalls of illusion and glamour. It is also hard to act when so much of your attention is in the world of dreams, and so you may be experiencing a conflict between what you feel in your heart and your need to take action in the world.
And that seems like actionable wisdom.
Upon reflection, I think that I did spend a lot of the week in fantasies of action (thinking of the things I wanted to get done, congratulating myself on the excellent formulation of plans) rather than in action.
Partly, this was understandable: I was out of the house a lot, working and driving between jobs. And, partly, it was enjoyable: I got a hike in in a forest I used to visit more often, and of course, that was accompanied by more daydreams.
There was something I did only once, which I could have done more often: writing down the ideas I was dreaming of in a note-taking app, so they could be implemented more easily. The next time I draw this card, I would encourage myself to make the plans I dream up more permanent, to invest more energy in contemplating how they’re going to be implemented.
So, after last week’s success with taking, contemplating, and reflecting on an omen, I was so happy with the results that I took an extra omen on Friday to think about the past week and the upcoming weekend.
And this is what I drew:
Obviously, I wasn’t thrilled at the omen. It seemed ominous.
I won’t quote the book, because the entry for the Tower is long and good, but there isn’t one short part that I can copy here to sum it up. So, what I took away from the text was that the Tower meant:
(possible) new beginnings (out of ashes, so to speak)
things being torn down to make room for new
And none of that is what you want as an omen for the weekend.
How was I to deal with that? How should I use that to approach my weekend?
The best I could come up with — in conjunction with the positive experience of the week I’d just had — was that I needed to be open to new beginnings and to accept that they might be hard.
Since I drew the omen, it’s hard to say that I’ve had new beginnings. I do feel a general call to re-commit myself to adulthood (that is to say, buckle down and do the next several weeks ‘properly’ before retreating again to fatherhood and projects of my own design) but I feel that is me trying to force the omen to fit.
Maybe, the kindred were answering a different question, or pushing me to ask the ‘right question.’ I don’t know.
I had an experience that was remarkable in a number of ways. It’s about the pagan community, trying a different kind of prayer, and trusting an omen. But, it’s a bit of a long story.
I have all-day classes that run on Monday and Tuesday, in addition to Tuesday evening classes. The all-day classes are ongoing classes that I’ve taken over from a colleague.
That means that, in the near future, I have to get to know a new group every Monday and hold their attention through the end of Tuesday, and then go teach my regular Tuesday evening classes. It might not be a big deal to you, but it’s exhausting for me and I never get a chance to catch up in the course of the week.
And then this Monday, I got thrown a curve-ball. I had a difficult first experience, with some students wanting to talk too much and others almost not voluntarily talking at all. I stressed that it wasn’t going well and that I was bombing. (Teaching, at least the way I do it, is performing with an academic component to it.)
I knew what I needed to do: As the teacher, I needed to pipe up more, cut off the one person who wanted to monopolize the conversation, draw out the ones who were not speaking. But I didn’t trust myself to do it. Everything I imagined saying felt… wrong, or harsh, or off-putting.
When I was finished, I told myself I’d brainstorm the things I did to build more of a group-feeling and try again anew on Tuesday.
Then, I drove to the local druid meet-up. (Or however you want to translation Druidenstammtisch — this part all happened in German). There, perhaps emboldened by a different omen suggesting I be open to change, or maybe just unwilling to be out of control twice in one day, I resolved to show up and talk more than is typical for me.
I even had questions, so I fired away as soon as I saw even the slightest socially acceptable opening: “How limited do you think the gods are and — on a related note — do you think the gods can hear you if you don’t pray out loud.”
A great conversation followed teaching me that maybe I should ask more questions (but that means, being spiritually active enough to find things I want to learn more about).
Even more, someone said that “even if you don’t see how the gods can fix whatever problem you’re looking at, they can maybe put an idea in your head or arrange an introduction.”
Thinking of the problems I’d had in the morning, I resolved to give it a try.
I got up early enough on Tuesday that I had an hour to myself before work. Then, I took some of my wife’s white wine (I didn’t have any red of my own left) to use as an offering and I prayed to Mercury and Apollo, asking for the knowledge of what needed to be said, and a gilded tongue to say it without offense, respectively.
Having prayed, I drew an omen asking for wisdom from both of the gods as I approached the rest of my day.
This is what I drew:
And this is what I read in Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom:
This card reversed means a determination to make something from dreams. This does not mean rejecting fantasies, but rather doing something with them.
I took that to mean that I had to trust my gut instinct. When I hit the situation where I knew something needed to be said, I needed to trust that I’d have the gilded tongue and the wisdom of what to say.
I resolved to do it.
The classes on Tuesday went great. Partly that was because I knew that I needed to do more introductions and group-building exercises with the group. But it’s also because I found myself ready to cut speakers off, ready to provoke people to speak more than they were comfortable doing.
The prayer was answered. Surprisingly effectively.
An interesting addendum
So, if you’re familiar with Tarot (or, more familiar than I am), you might be surprised at the text I included. Not until I was writing this up did I realize that I’d read — and taken some measure of strength — from the text assigned to the Seven of Cups.
Now, I don’t know what to think about that, except that the shining ones got their message through, regardless.
I want to return to my previous habit of drawing omens weekly (and more often, as I have things to consult the kindred on). And, because it’s worked in other projects, I think I’m going to try writing about it, both as a form of reflection and as a sort of record of all my omens.
I approached my altar this Monday knowing that I had a full (by my standards) week ahead of me. It was going to be hard to carve out time for myself, and I wasn’t going to see the kids super often as I was working evenings.
On top of that, I’d fallen behind in classroom preparation (I’m a teacher) and I was going to have to be doing a lot of prep work. I was not excited about this week as I approached it.
The way I general phrase these things when I approach the kindreds is to briefly describe my week as I did above, and to ask for an omen that I might reflect on as I search for their wisdom. (I’m a big fan of not being super-specific with the question because I don’t give them a chance to reject it.)
I drew the7 of Wands. I wasn’t thrilled by it, because I initially thought it meant I was risking some sort of conflict.
This is what Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom says about the card:
Like the Nine, this is a card of conflict, but here we see the battle itself, and the effect is exhilerating. with their natural strength and postiveness Wands expect to win and usually do. Through active conflict the figure in this card rises above any depression into the clear intoxicating air. In a way this card shows a background to the Nine. We become defensive and committed to fighting through an earlier experience of winning, stayingon top. While the fight goes on we enjoy it. People under Wands’ influence need to know they are alive, they need that charge of adrenalin to show them that the Fire still runs through them. Only later does the habit of constant battle close them in.
Looking back at that moment now, I can remember being unhappy that I had a card that spoke of conflict. It just felt like any conflict that I had would be in addition to the already difficult week I knew I had coming.
I did latch onto the idea that the struggles of the coming week provided an opportunity at exhilaration. At knowing I am alive.
Planning to write about the omen at the end of the week was a good idea. It kept me thinking about the meaning of the card, trying to understand what the kindred were trying to tell me.
I can remember experimenting with various formulations of what could be written, but I no longer remember what I thought about writing.
The week itself came and went as planned. I was tired most evenings, up early in the morning because that was the only time that I reliably had available to do my prep work before getting the kids out of bed. Then, I was either in the car or teaching or waiting to teach.
My back hurt this week. More than the workload, my memory of the week is of trying to figure out the right way to handle my own back. Should I engage in more sports? Less? Were there stretches I should be doing? Was I risking something more serious by continuing to work?
As the week continued I often thought of the ‘promise’ (though I know it’s a bad word) of exhilaration that the omen offered. I told myself it was on me to cash in on that offer and to try to approach the work I had to do with an attitude that was… is it cheesy if I say “an attitude that was fertile for exhilaration”? It’s the best phrase I have for it.
I don’t know that I can say that I felt any exhilaration or any more alive than in another week. However, I can tell you that I remember the week as a good week. I’m tired and ready to recuperate, but I’m feeling good at the end of the week.
Something I like about Tarot is that I don’t know — and can’t know — if I am playing with my head when I do this. Would I have enjoyed the week? Can I point to this and say “the kindreds gave me some words of encouragement, and that made all the difference?” (Analog to how touched I continue to be that the birds have now accepted the feeder I put out for them.)
I know what a dyed-in-the-wool atheist would say: either the omen had no effect, or you drew it and then played mind tricks on yourself.
On the other hand, I know what I would say: Add this to the list of things that have made this spirituality seem much more real to me than any other I have experimented with (or had thrust upon me).
You might think it a bit strange, for a person who is more into nature than into the ancestors, and into the ancestors more than into the gods, that I don’t do a lot with the nature spirits.
Chalk that up to guilt, maybe. I know how I live, and it’s not “in harmony” with nature. Or maybe it’s just self-absorption.
Either way, aside from offerings of birdseed at rituals and picking up trash in the park (which I do as much for me as for the nature spirits) and a pretty strong relationship with one particular tree… Well, I live mostly parallel to the nature spirits.
Then, last year, we expanded into a second apartment and I carved out a space for me to work, including a window where my altar is located.
Great, right? Over that summer, the balcony adjoining that workspace was closed due to renovation work but this summer I have what amounts to my balcony. (I’m here the most, but I guess it belongs to the family, like everything else.)
I built a bit of an elaborate birdfeeder stand, holding the bird feeder where I could see it from the standing desk, and looked forward to more communion with — or entertainment from — the nature spirits.
And they didn’t come.
I was a little insulted. Maybe even more than a little insulted. Even when the birds were picking through the herb garden on the other balcony, they didn’t come.
And, as part of the ritual, I changed the birdseed and offered new to the nature spirits. That evening, a visiting neighbor said she saw birds on the feeder. Since then, it’s been non-stop action.
Sure, it could be random, it could be the fresh bird seed. But I like to think that the nature spirits have accepted my offering. It’s a nice feeling, and it makes me happy when I clean up after them or add a bit more feed to the feeder.