I remember the first time I really got turned on to poetry; it was while listening to “Sergeant Pepper’s” when I was in my early teens. Here was this fantastic world of opulence and decadence where sitars swirled, acid was dropped and Aleister Crowley stuck out his baldy head amongst the starlets and icons. Those moustachioed boys in their lurid band suits captured the spirit of the age not only via their music but also the lyrical vibrancy contained in tracks like “Lucy in the Sky Diamonds”, “Within, Without You” and “A Day in the Life”. This album had a truly magical impact on me, and has shaped the direction of my spiritual journey in ways that few books ever have.
In thinking back to my own beginnings in paganism and magical practice, I was initially drawn to the path of Druidry and the emphasis on poetic inspiration that is found in the role of the Bard. Sadly many early druid revivalists (most probably influenced by Freemasonry) projected a rather linear grade system onto Strabo’s observation about there was three groupings or classes within the Celtic priesthood, and had placed the Bard at the bottom of the heap. Thankfully many contemporary druid Orders while retaining a three grade system to enable a holism in magical training are re-emphasising the mythic and historical centrality of the poet as custodian of tradition and inspiration.
Within the Druid tradition the idea of poetic expression is innately linked to the concept of “Awen” or Spirit of inspiration. Mythically speaking, Bardic inspiration and the Awen are inextricably linked to the tale of the great poet Taliesin who ingests this spirit via a magical elixir. As the brew was intended for dark Cerridwen’s son not the nascent Bard, she pursues him in a fit of pique. With the elixir on board he’s not so easy to catch, and so ensues the now legendary shape-shifting show down as she pursues him across the verdant Welsh landscape.
Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the way in which we as magicians are seeking to describe the circular relationship that exists between magic and art. Shifts in consciousness can be accessed through art and the creative expression itself can entail the same internal processes as more formal meditative or ritual practices. Whatever the medium employed- be it dance, web design or good cooking, the connection between human creativity and spiritual aspiration feels fundamental. Unfortunately the need to keep reminding myself of this often highlights the sense of disconnect many of us get caught in as we lose sight of the sense of spontaneity and “Flow” that we can experience when we truly immerse ourselves in the act of creation.
The idea of “Flow” (see the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) – that sense of relaxed productivity that enables us to express our Self can extend out to all areas of life where creativity and fluidity are of benefit. For me this idea of Flow also connects to the tantric concept of “Sahaja” or naturalness and spontaneity. This idea of seeking to experience ourselves as more fluid and shifting can often help as adapt to our Postmodern world-seeing the self more as a river moving through an ever changing landscape rather than a pool in which its parameters are fixed.
Now this is all well and good, but how do we access this state of creative flow? Going back to the tale of Taliesin and the druid tradition, I think that there are a couple of pointers that can aid our journey:
- The Role of Stillness – Of course I’m going to mention mindfulness practice! Cerridwen employees the young Gwion Bach (who was to become Taliesin) to tend the cauldron containing the elixir for a year and a day. So he sits, and he sits-listening to the wisdom of the old man Morda as they tend the cauldron together.
From the perspective of aiding the flow of the poetic this represents a profound listening to the self. In contrast to those traditions that promote a distrust of our intuition, the path of Bardic inspiration is one in which the deepest stirrings of our souls need to be attended to, be it Walt Whitman’s sense of nature mysticism or Rumi’s longing for the beloved. We are more likely to contact the poetic if we are able to access the fires of our passion.
- Driven by Darkness – Once He has imbibed the Awen, Taliesin flees the on-coming wrath of Cerridwen. Cerridwen as the dark mother pursues him and doing so forces him to access those shamanic states that make transformation possible. The darker aspects of ourselves are often store-houses of poetic power that we need to access in order grow and develop. Into the Shadow we not only repress those aspects of our lives that we fear, but also the best parts of ourselves that we cannot acknowledge. The glory of Art is that it often provides a conduit via which out darkness can flow without overwhelming us.
- Connection to the Elements and the three realms – In a way similar to much tantric technology, the arising of spontaneous, natural flow often comes through an increased awareness of the natural world and the body. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, most contemporary Druid orders include in the foundation of their training a thorough focus on the elements and the three worlds (earth, sky and sea). As Taliesin seeks to escape his pursuer it seems significant that the animals that they shift into embody each of these three realms.
Most of us are acutely aware how barren our lives can feel when we feel the absence of flow and creative juiciness in our lives. To contact our own darkness and connection to the body involves commitment-for Gwion Bach to become Taliesin meant job loss, dealing with confrontation and the transformation of his body. Dangerous I know, but worth the risk. As they say in the British Druid Order-“Be the Awen!”