A Druid could totally take a Ninja… plus, I summoned Merlyn.
On the most fertile day of the millennia… someone’s getting F*d.
On the most fertile day of the millennia… someone’s getting F*d.
I practiced with a samurai sword for five years straight and never cut myself once. During the course of six months, I have cut myself with my sickle twice.
It hangs from my belt when I go into the woods to worship. Suspended by a braided faux suede cord. If you leave enough length, it will get enough arc in its swing to come back and pierce your thigh, so I shorten it, always too late.
I guess this is a prime example of why a father is always worried about safety first.
When my seventeen-year-old daughter was obviously planning to sneak away for a teenage Halloween party, I wrestled with forbidding her to go or just handing her a handful of condoms.
Between her mother and I, we probably managed little more than persuading her to move out on the day of her eighteenth birthday!
Meanwhile, I was planning my own Halloween expedition, to sow seeds of a different kind, of thought, word, and deed.
This time, I am walking down a paved path. It’s an hour and a half ‘til midnight. The moon is full and it’s Halloween.
Trees arc over the pathway as I make my way a mile and a half north, skirting the edge of a wooded ravine on my right.
My pack is lighter than it was twenty four hours ago, when I first came out to cast the circle of pumpkins for the summoning.
Now, it only contains a bottle of water, an offering for Cerridwen, a midi speaker, loaded with Halloween song-spells, and about a pound of incense, made in three parts from an herb, a tree, and a flower.
I am extremely thankful for the footpath, as last night, I had trekked more than three miles through the woods in search of the perfect ritual site. Only after I had located the abandoned graveyard, did I pull up google maps on my phone and see that a short expedition east would bring me out to this more friendly trail.
Tonight, there is no cell phone.
I’m gonna have to sense when is the right time to deviate from the concrete path and head east into the woods.
I’m doubting that I will recall the spot. It all looks the same.
It took nearly thirty minutes to hike back this way last night so I’m just entertaining random thoughts about my sickle, which is swinging from my belt. After it jabs me in the thigh again, I cinch it up and imagine dangers from the underbrush, feeling more confident than before.
A person may think that my sickle is limited in reach by its short leash, but a meaningful tug on the handle would break it free without a doubt. The edge is sharper than any sword I’ve honed.
This forty-year-old man in robes may just be more deadly than his younger counterpart was, teaching Ninjutsu at twenty-five.
Last night, I was a mile deep in the dark woods and totally unarmed. Even a has-been ninja is going to eventually get a little tingle in his Medulla Oblongata that far into the wild.
I had started repeatedly telling myself that I should have at least brought my katana (I’ve always kept one in my trunk) in case a panther thought me an easy meal. As it were, I was pretty vulnerable… though I did eventually convince myself that if the need arose I could act pretty threatening with this bag of pumpkins.
It doesn’t matter how old you get, you still remind yourself of the same old lessons. The one on top of the list of most recited that night was, Fear is the mind killer.
While I made my way through the uncharted forest, I had to remind myself many times that there is no fear where there is no imagination.
I passed beneath uncountable spider webs, Banana spiders and Orb weavers the size of baseballs. In the light of my headlamp, I always saw them coming, always that is, until I started worrying about them.
As soon as my mind wandered to that place of fear, my imagination would override my awareness and I ended up with web in my face.
The imagination can make you blind.
If you let your mind get you into a spider’s web, you better get a hold of your senses quick.
Accidentally swat at a hand-sized spider and you’re liable to get bitten.
When I was a kid I use to pluck spiders right from their web and watch them run across my hand and descend to the ground on a piece of silk. Nowadays, my four-year-old son does something similar, smiling all the while. Of course, it scares the teens to tears.
I had an experience that brought me back to those days when the trail disappeared into an uncertain stretch of rolling sand.
A mile deep into the forest, it was an unnatural sight. At first, I assumed some machine must have been through there and turned over all of the soil, but there was no indication of how it would have gotten into or out of the large clearing.
As I crossed the pale dirt, I realized that tiny green emeralds peppered the whole area.
At least, out there in the open, I wouldn’t have to keep my head up, worrying about catching a spider’s web in the face.
I moved forward more freely and scanned the surface of the sand with my head lamp. Sure enough, more and more tiny green diamonds appeared. There were hundreds of them!
I reached down and scooped a handful of dirt into my palm, it had a particularly concentrated number of jewels, and lifted them for closer examination.
To my brief horror, I realized that I was holding a handful of nickel sized wolf spiders. They were running in all directions to escape my grasp.
I sucked in a sharp breath and wrestled to control my emotions. Looking back, I’m thankful my face wasn’t an inch closer or I might have inhaled one of the eight-legged-freaks.
To be fair, they’re not really the little freaks people make them out to be. I was the only one freaking out.
When I realized that the green shimmers were just the reflective eye-shine of the little creatures, I leaned down and released the more cooperative ones back onto the ground. Then I saw that covering my boots and the entire forest floor was a sea of life. Nocturnal ground spiders out to hunt under the cover of dark.
I can only assume J.K. Rowling must have once had a similar experience, because I felt like I was in a real life version of Harry Potter’s forbidden forest. There was literally no escaping the reality. There were arachnids in the trees, and arachnids on the ground. The only safety was in soundness of mind.
Perhaps that’s the only safety there ever is?
What do you do at a time like that? Well, the only logical thing you can.
I turned off my head lamp.
Problem solved. Out of sight, out of mind.
Then I kept heading north, saying a little prayer to the Oaks I had awakened along the path.
My hope was that I wasn’t injuring any of the little guys as I walked softly over their terrain. I wouldn’t want their combined wrath!
It was around one in the morning when I finally stumbled across the gate opening onto the centuries-old graveyard. I stopped at the entrance and reminded myself to see only what was. Truth, nothing else. Then I entered the sacred ground.
It was overgrown, long left unattended. A barbed wire fence, twisted and rusted, ran along the circumference, sometimes mashed down under heavy foliage or fallen branches. I saw no graves, so pressed further through the brambles, trying whole-heartedly to respect the creatures which had made that sanctuary their home.
After gently pushing aside some thorny vines I found some old headstones propped against the trunk of a live-oak and was relieved that I was in the right place. Just up a small rise was a spattering of old tombstones, markers etched with dates from the 1800’s.
An eerily familiar monolith marked the most northern point of the small cemetery. There, I unshouldered my pack and considered the best place to cast my circle.
I had carved the nine pumpkins a day earlier with the help of my two youngest children. They were happy to help pull the brains out and draw the faces on the skins. At one point, my son had been ankle deep in the bowl of orange mush like he was trying to mash pumpkin wine.
Now, they were already turning a bit soft around the lids. But, I gently placed them equidistant around a fallen log; a natural druid’s bench. Then I set my iron cauldron in arm’s length of the seat and stashed a bit of the herbal mixture under the log.
I poured out an offering of red wine near the site and left the remainder by the cauldron in hopes it would disappear before my return. That would be a sure sign of cooperation, though maybe overly hopeful.
I then placed candles in the heart of each gourd and turned them to face outward from the center. It was set. That night I would be spending a lot of time in the space and I felt stupid for not bringing my sickle to clear away everything and better prepare it for a small campfire.
Instead, I had to settle for gathering some tinder and recounting the many legends of Bran the blessed, which is the root of power in a protective circle of heads. It is indeed the highest form of protection for such a rite.
My wife had been teaching about the history of jack-o-lanterns at her preschool and had done some research, sharing with me the information she had found. Of course, the original jack-o-lantern was a turnip, easily carried by the leafy stems like a lantern.
She had asked me if I knew. I thought better about suggesting she teach the little ones that it is symbolic of a severed head gazing out toward the English channel! But, it was fun to remember that the pumpkin is actually a fruit; a fact I dug up while writing Pumpkin Planet a few years earlier.
Once my circle was cast and my kindling gathered, I stood there feeling at a loss. Like many of my excursions into Druidism, I kinda felt like I may have gotten the point of the exploration early.
Looking around, under the moonlight, at the site I had prepared, I took a deep breath. Then, I just enjoyed being there for a few minutes.
There had been a time, during my trek up through the friendly wood, that I had considered myself an easy meal. And then the fear of spiders had tried to soften my resolve, but it had been in my actions as I made my way north, that I found the necessary authority to continue.
Whether you call it earth magic, druidism, or adult dungeons and dragons, the true experience and the results all come down to authority. And though it was the morning before the actual summoning (which my mentor had cautioned me was well outside of my level of practice), I think it was then that the actual magic happened.
Recounting the night’s journey, I thought of the first thirty minutes of my hike, when I had passed beneath the creepy sign marked River Trail, and encountered my first majestically twisted and powerful oak.
It was only intuition to reach out and touch it with awe. Then it had been common sense to recite the spell of making and trace the Ogham symbol for its ancient and forgotten names, knocking on its trunk and awakening it to me.
Dare I say, acknowledging it as a sentient being. Encouraging it to speak again, as it’s words would no longer fall on deaf ears…
I performed this right three more times along the trail before I felt my first pang of fear. I had been standing on that trail thinking how stupid I was for not bringing a weapon, acres deep into a strange forest.
But, something spoke to me.
My inner conscience was telling me that this was how I used to do it. And I remembered my previous journey into my past lives. No blade was ever brandished in the company of a druid because he had the authority over such things.
I had awoken the trees! The trees were watching over me. What protection did I need besides the trees? They were the ultimate guardians of the grove. Oh, how times have changed!
But not really. As I write this entry, I think of how the Christians tithe, and the farmers sow their crop. How employees build tenure at some companies, and how nannies and butlers might gain a family’s trust.
The key is in action and how much of it you do. The idea almost seems foreign at times in a world where relationships are built over years and are dashed in a single moment’s misjudgment.
People are more vulnerable than trees.
A tree thanks you with every breath you exhale. It grows an armor of bark, made from the thankfulness of your breath, the Mother’s water, and the Father’s light.
Take a hatchet to its trunk and chip out a triangle for your doorstop. It will be hardly insulted, as you have given it life for all these years! It just stands in thanks and offers what it can to its givers. A home for the creatures, air for the people, a conduit for the sun to the soil, a super highway for those with a voice!
The mighty oak, king of kings, will never say I forget what you’ve done for me. It will always see the true you. The willow will weep with joy, and the reed will bow in humble accord.
Nail a perfect man to a cross made of planks from it and it will still say thank you!
You have lived and it lives for you. The smallest amount of appreciation will find flowers at its every tip, and furthermore will it impress you with it scents. An equal? Never! But what could it do if you saw it so?!
Just now, I measured the circumference of a live oak on my lunch break. Seventy inches divided by Pi and multiplied by four gives me its age. Eighty-nine years old! And it’s the first I’ve come to, in a parking lot of all places!
Eons of wisdom woven into all habitable ground. Elders speaking to uninterested youths for ages. How discouraged have they become? Not at all.
It is not I who was awakening the trees!
It was the spell which was welcoming my ears…
In the light of my new understanding about Neo-christian worship of the trees, I left the graveyard and followed a relatively beaten path west to the concrete trail I was now following back.
The valley finally shallowed out on my right, and I lifted my Palen tan up to see if I recognized anything. There was no use. But, this felt like it may be far enough to cut over.
I picked my way off the path and into the woods. After five-hundred yards or so I stopped, discouraged. I remembered that an old barbed wire fence ran around the graveyard, and I hadn’t encountered one so far, so I turned back.
I had learned in my many previous ventures that if the forest speaks to you, stop and listen to its advice.
I made it back out to the trail and continued north another five minutes. This time, not long after I ventured into the wood, I came upon the barbed perimeter. I gently worked my way along the northern side and back to the gate I remembered.
“Faint light gleam over the hearth, ghosts of Arden pass through and show your distant forms. Misty Loda, house to the spirits of men, when ghosts vanish like mists on a sunny hill, open your doors…”
This time I was doing everything right.
The fact that my pumpkins and cauldron were still set-up exactly how I let them twenty-four hours earlier told me a few things.
The spot was remote. Kids didn’t have fun on Halloween by creeping around graveyards anymore. And, the forest had been kind to me.
I plopped my bag down by my druid’s bench and went to untying my sickle from my belt.
I remembered the last time I used my sickle and giddily went to re-experiencing the event once again. There really is no greater feeling than a tool actually doing its job efficiently.
After about ten minutes, I had a good earthen circle and had scythed away particularly barren earth beneath and around each pumpkin just in case a candle got a little jumpy. Ya never know what can happen when your messing with potently hallucinogenic incenses. From what I had read, the three herbs I was gonna be burning had been used in differing cultures around the globe to raise the spirits of the dead for eons.
On one hand, I was feeling relatively safe, because I was far away from any habitation. That may sound like an oxymoron, but when you’re messing with uncertain magic (especially that which is dealing with time and space), the worst that can happen isn’t anything that may happen to you, but rather what may happen to those around you. Seclusion was important to my feeling secure.
An old memory warned me of the possible repercussions of acting out of your mind.
When I was a teenager, I had gone to pick up my friend and drop him off at his buddy’s house, but when his brother answered the door he told me that my friend had been acting a little weird.
“Well,” he said, “I told him to get his things together, and he came down with a clothes hanger. Which wouldn’t have been so strange, if he didn’t have his socks hanging on it.”
“What?” I asked.
“I think he’s on something,” his brother said.
“Well, where is he?” I asked.
“He shook his head like he forgot something and then went back upstairs to pack,” The boy told me.
“Is he okay?”
“I guess,” he said, “I just asked him, why do you have socks on a clothes hangar dude, and why is there three?”
We both laughed at that, but obviously something was fishy.
Then the boy said, “Come here.”
I followed him into the kitchen where he pulled a pizza box outta the trash can and showed me the charred corner of the parcel.
“You see this,” he said, “he told me he was warming us up some lunch and then I hear the smoke detector go off. I find this pizza box in the oven and the oven on, but no pizza… He’s definitely taken something.”
“Jesus,” I said.
Yeah, turned out he was on something. Good thing there was someone there to babysit him. What are younger brothers for?
But, when there is no babysitter, the last thing you want is to burn the whole dang forest down! There is a gentle balance between responsibility, lack of fear, and harnessing of proper authority.
I love that my mentor put my endeavor into such a lovely package of words when he wished me well on my journey. He had said, “One thing about the Pheryllt path is you can’t bite off more than you can chew.”
It wasn’t the chewing I was gonna have trouble with, it was the swallowing of cold truth.
Here is the thing.
I knew when I set out to summon the shade of Merlyn that I was dabbling with unknown forces. Or rather, maybe I was messing with forces that were suppose to be known to me, but weren’t. Perhaps, I wasn’t ready for the rite, but I still needed to do it.
As I sat there in my circle of illuminated heads, listening to Danse Macabre through the little midi speaker, I came to terms with myself. I stood up, and danced in circles with the music, slowly feeding the herbs upon the flames of the fire I had kindled there.
As the coals burned down (oak makes some great coals) I scooped them up with my sickle and put them into the cauldron, fashioning a red hot bed for the final rite.
I tried not to worry about the nothing that would happen. I worried as little about the nothing as I did about the something that might. Instead I asked myself questions while my coals slowly manifested.
What ifs. What if I go crazy? Wake up in some hospital somewhere… Family and friends worried and downtrodden…
What if I can’t control myself? What if I wake up in jail somewhere having gotten into a conflict somewhere and now it’s a day later…
What if, what’s done gets done, and there’s no going back?
It was these sobering questions that danced in my head as my body danced in the Mother’s wood.
When the fire and coals had finally calmed to a point that the final rite might be performed, I was myself utterly exhausted.
I do admit, that there was a moment when I felt that, had I spoke the summons just then, then without a doubt a threshold experience would have been initiated, but I instead let it pass. There were rules, after all.
I rested myself on the fallen log and took up the huge bag of herbs.
My questions were driving the rite.
I looked into the embers of the cauldron and the fire. They were leaning on one another. A big mass of crimson molten ash.
I felt enamored with the tongue of flame.
I had spent all this time clearing away what might catch fire at its uncertain spark! Why?
I threw a thick handful of incense on the pyre. Then I packed my pipe and lived in the column of smoke it would produce over the next half hour.
Anger of fire, fire of speech, breath of knowledge, wisdom of wealth, sword of song, song of bitter edge…
This kept coming back, over and over.
All the times I had ever been out there, or in here… anywhere but on solid ground, I had always been in control; able to return. Able to turn the engine of passion to whatever I chose. Fear into awe, and that awe back into creation.
But, there had been times, when I was a young child that it was impossible. And, those times were ones of brief anger. Of seeing red.
There’s a picture of me, in the old family photos, where I’m beside myself with anger at my brother beating me in ping-pong. I remember being told constantly to control my temper.
With age, my anger has been well, for lack of better words, tempered. But I can still really lose it every six months or so. Apparently, all people have cycles, not just the fairer sex.
Anger of fire, fire of speech, breath of knowledge, wisdom of wealth, sword of song, song of bitter edge…
Something about this prose was just driving my whole experience. If I could capture it, I could be more confident, more composed. A better druid. Better husband. Better father… Better man.
I had cleared away all the dry kindling around the potential flames to safeguard against flare ups… Maybe something similar needed to be done in my life…
Anger of fire?
How does a flame control itself?
I could always see it coming, as could everyone around me. My anger is like a dam waiting to burst. Held fast only by words unleashed.
Suddenly, I was one with the flame!
Fire of speech?
Evolution will never happen if emotions are always acted on impulse. One must take an extra breath to entice change. The direction of the breath is the key… What fuel will you consume?
I was a student of fire!
Breath of knowledge?
With time and patience and patience, the mulberry leaf becomes silk. All human power is a compound of time and patience.
Wisdom of wealth?
The bardic secret of words. In the beginning was the Word… and it was good. With the eyes half-closed, speak in reserve, and move deliberately.
“I never debate,” my mentor had once told me.
Sword of song?
The highest ranking ninjas were always the most peaceful. The great and powerful oaks… All bark, no bite.
Was my youthful passion for combat waning? And had it always been a choice, aggression?
Worse… was I sad to see it go?
Song of bitter edge?
I had been singing the spell all along…
Beth an ap t’layin, eem newais feenith, t’loo al gore, t’loo emrais, preeve dew ween meerthin emris…
or had it been the headstones? Either way, after three questions, I had been answering my own.
The great plume of thick brown smoke that cloaked thick ribbons up into the night, made a final gape and swallowed the full moon whole.
Was I finally making the transition from sword to sickle? From an active threat to a passive one? They are both just as dangerous. One just requires more discipline, more truth, and a shorter leash.
Only one true god of the wood stands alone. The one with the thickest skin. The greatest bark.
It’s the lion with the loudest roar that never needs to bite.
As in all things there are the opposites. The great duality between this world and the other.
While a lion’s roar establishes its dominion on the air of the animal kingdom. A kingdom man claims dominion with the longest silence.
To be silent…
As a tomb; like the monolith that jutted up from the earth just outside my lighted circle. I had been sitting there until the smell of juniper was like a blanket over the graves. The fire had transformed into stiff black slate, but the pumpkins still stared their piercing orange gazes out into the night.
Not a single one had guttered or failed all this time.
I blew them out reverently one by one and gathered up my things. Took one more last individual gaze at each sacred gravestone, and started my hike back the way I had come.
All those young years, punching the makiwara board. Beating on the suspended bag of sand. Lots of time to raw knuckles, and often in pure anger. Constructive, I use to call it. A positive way to redirect my heated emotions.
And perhaps it was, back then. But, I was a different person. Now, I know who I am. Whether I can say with any certainty if I knew who I was back then is lost to time… but an old adage from another life came through to me as I realized punching a heavy bag would never again be anything more than exercise.
When a ninja sees himself into training, a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick. When a ninja experiences the midst of training, a punch is no longer just a punch and a kick no longer just a kick. When a ninja understands his training, a punch is again just a punch and a kick is again just a kick.
I had been rewarded with a new found level of mastery, and was headed back to my hotel to celebrate.
My eagerness to learn and thankfulness for my freshest voyage of discovery was afoot. Similar elevations of authority and mastery along the Pheryllt path must also lie in wait. Of this, I am certain!
Jay Horne is an author and publisher out of Bradenton, Florida. He is a husband and father of four.
Listen to all of his works in progress for FREE at Bookflurry.com
Where Book Clubs Grow.