There, the Dance Is

The World
(C) Will Worthington, from The Druidcraft Tarot

Before I left Seattle for my pilgrimage (and subsequent journeys, which I’m suspecting comprise even more of the pilgrimage than I’ve quite suspected), the one card which would show up repeatedly in my Tarot readings was The World.

There are all the usual meanings of the card–completion, fulfillment, travel, the end of a cycle, etc., but the card, more than anything, has made me think of these lines from T.S. Eliot:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless,
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but i cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.

Those words came to mind after a friend asked me to look over some (really good) writing he’d done regarding Polytheistic Monism, or what he calls Polyvalent Polytheism.  To be clear, I’m not a monist, but not because I believe there’s no underlying unity beyond the apparent singular existences of each entity.  Actually, I find it rather likely there is, but I find it doesn’t matter.

I mentioned to him my understanding of this, and I’ll reprint a bit of it here, less because it’s relevant to the matter of monism in general (and you should really consider reading his essays, as they’re quite good), but because they’re relevant to the way I understand my own existence.

In the Eternal, which is not just “outside time” but is what all time is as an unfolding, all experiences (or becomings) of a god then compose that god as a part of the whole. An underlying one-ness cannot be known except in moments of the eternal, but the moment the mystic or poet returns to the temporal the one-ness is technically not-true. That is, every Brigid and every worshiper of Brigid throughout all of time composes together what is meant by Brigid, despite each of those worshipers and Brigid Herself being distinct. The sum total cannot be known except in an unknowable and unattainable state of all-time, or the Eternal.

That “of what we’re all composed,” then, while true on the mystical level, is utterly useless when actually becoming part of the thing which composes everything. That is, we must live in time in order to fulfill eternity, because time can be said to be “unfolded” eternity. Those mystical moments typically give us a glimpse of something that more confirms our direction, like poking one’s head up over Rumi’s great ocean and seeing it’s all ocean. Like pulling oneself out of a sexual experience in order to analyze it, or taking a photo of a sublime moment, both which in essence end the thing being observed (like the photon question) by withdrawal. Being-both seems impossible for the human mind.

Put more simply, “Rhyd” is everything that I have been, am, and will be, as well as every other being’s experience of Rhyd throughout time.  The “true” Rhyd at any point is only a fragmented glimpse of all which composes Rhyd which is utterly unknowable to me while I live.  Ancestor worship relies heavily upon this notion, as well–the dead continue to be experienced and continue in an existence which is not-living yet still fully unfolding.  My grandfather died, but is still becoming through my acknowledgment of him, as is true of every ancestor before him, and will be true of me upon my death.

That being said, I still suspect there’s a sacred, inviolate being called Rhyd (or, more precisely, the full name I was told in a dream), and it’s that Rhyd that I am always attempting to become.  He’s probably the sum total of Rhyd which is knowable to me at this present (despite him being also future-Rhyd), and I can only experience him through glimpses in my becoming, particularly at mystic out-of-time moments, or what Eliot called “The Still Point.”


I’ve been thinking a lot about who I’ve become and whom I’m becoming lately.  That last two gwersu in the Bardic grade of OBOD focus on this, but I’ve been thinking about this even before getting there (another way in which OBOD tends to be synchronous as all bloody-hell).

Besides the dark threads I’d mentioned in my previous post, there’s been so much fucking light it’s nearly unbearable.  Brigid is considered the Mother of Bards, at least within some Druid traditions (and it’s not lost on me that Arianrhod is seen as the Initiatrix and Ceridwen is the Mother of Awen…that the three goddesses I worship are so intrinsically linked to the Bardic tradition, and I didn’t necessarily seek them out, fascinates me).  And more than anything, the metaphor of re-forging works best to describe what the fuck has happened to me since this all started.

800px-Depuis_le_Ménez-Hom_vue_1I remember trudging up Menez-Hom, the druid mountain in Bretagne with an expectant trepidation.  I knew I would find something that I would return with, that even if I didn’t find answers to why I’d been led there in the first place, I’d at least have an idea of what sort of questions I should be asking.

What I hadn’t expected is that I’d lose something.  I’d written in my travel journal the following, just remembered when I condensed them for A Sense of Place last week:

After the night on Menez Hom, a resounding inquiry voiced itself: “What are you going to do now, without your fear?”

The experience on that mountain, asleep under the full moon without a tent, the dreams and visions and whispers ripped me from my fear, and, to be honest, I sort of miss it in the way that one might miss an abusive lover or a gilded cage.

Tracking what else has been reforged looks to be a rather long task, one that I’ll probably be doing for quite some time.  That being said, I’ve been wanting to talk about the strange wheel I found myself in during Beltaine.

This involves several apparently unrelated stories.  Bear with me, if you would.

This journey began in the ashes of a life and a relationship, nigredo as the Alchemists would have it, the blackening, akin to St. John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul.  The life I built and knew and loved in Seattle had come to an end, as had a relationship that we both needed out of.

The Hearth-Keeper

I’d had dreams of Brigid before that ending, and the one I mentioned previously had been quite profound, her calling me “outside.”  After I started this, I’d had another dream.  I was in an old wooden building, making food for people who desired each other.  I was “in-between” their desire, neither the cause nor the obstacle, just merely there, in a sort of still point.  I wasn’t Brigid, but I was somehow in Her place, doing some work for Her, and it ended well.

The Caffeinated Messiah

14 years ago, when I moved to Seattle, I stumbled on a coffee shop run by a Radical Faerie.  Besides being absurdly cool (part goth, part hippy, full of Sunday-School kitsch and punk-drag), it’d also been one of the meeting places for radicals involved in direct-action against the WTO in Seattle.  I found the place 3 days after I arrived, and I can trace pretty much every fantastic and meaningful thread of my life there from events which occurred in that coffeeshop.

I met my first long-term partner there.  I gave him a quarter to put into the slot in the bathroom which turned off the lights, turned on a disco-ball and made “Disco Inferno” play on repeat for a minute.  We were together for almost 10 years after that.

Another man I met there haunted me for a decade later, a beautiful, feral looking punk-twink whom I crushed over hardcore.  He became a caretaker for a Rad Fae sanctuary and I never saw him again until a few weeks ago.

The Elder

When my recent partner and I ended, a man had a vision during a Naraya ceremony.  He was told that my former lover would be in pain and would need help.  When he returned from the ceremony, he offered him a place in his home.  One of my greatest fears upon the end of our relationship was that some addiction issues that my lover had faced would become more profound after the end of our relationship, and being taken in by that elder pretty much negated all of my fears and made it much easier for what we’d both hoped would come out of our end, a continuation of the close friendship on which our relationship had been built.

That elder, I should mention, is the same man who started that coffee shop.  One other thing you should know–he traditionally cooks the largest meal during Beltaine celebrations at the Radical Faerie sanctuary, for 200+ people.

She and He and They and I

The figure dancing in the World is an androgyne, and this has a particular meaning to me beyond the general alchemical unity and oneness, though that’s part of it.

If you’ve met me, you’ll know that I have a rather low voice, a clumsy stagger, lots of body hair, and a general, oafish-male persona.  No one guesses I sleep with men because I’ve none of the affectation of a stereo-typical gay male.

But even if you’ve met me, you may not know that I have never quite come to grips with being “male.”  Or better put, being “only male.”  I don’t talk about this much for several reasons, the largest being that my experience of being both male and female doesn’t compare to the experiences of many of my friends who have experienced gender disphoria and thus chosen to alter their physical body to match their gender.  I don’t feel embodied in the “wrong” gender; rather, I feel embodied in only one of them, and have always found it jarring when people react so severely to my male presence without also noting my female-ness

This is what the “Mystical Marriage” is said to be about–the unity of both the male and the female in the same existence, symbolized (but only symbolized, not actualized) in the sexual union of male and female.  Coming to an embrace of both my maleness and my femaleness wasn’t fully possible for me before Druidry, and not until this most recent Beltaine.

Brigid in The Barn

"The Barn"
“The Barn”

Back to the circle.

I’m sitting in a circle, actually, as someone is asking for a volunteer to make dinner for 200+ people the night before Beltaine.  I’m raising my hand, and the person looks relieved.

“We know each other,” this person says.  “You knew me by another name.”

It’s the feral punk-twink I’d crushed over a decade before, now a feral looking bear.  But they’re different, but so am I.

“I was here last year, too, but we didn’t recognise each other, because I was a woman.”

I learn their story.  They’d become a woman not long after I’d last seen them as a male, and because of, medical complications, they then had to stop the hormones and become, in essence, male-embodied again.  And they’d been fearful about the dinner that night, because the person who normally would have made it was away.  And also, they’d always had a crush on me, they said.

So, it’s Walpurgisnacht, and I’m in “the Barn,” which is the old wooden building where all the dinners are prepared and eaten at the sanctuary.  I’m “topping” (that is, directing) the 200 person dinner that night, and just before I begin, I pray to Brigid, dedicating the making of that dinner to Her as an act of devotion

It goes very, very well, but that’s not the point.  I’m making dinner as a devotee of Brigid for people gathered because of desire (it’s a queer pagan gathering–almost everyone’s slathered in desire).  I’m in an old wooden building doing so, and I suddenly see what the fuck it is I’ve just done, what I’ve just fulfilled, and I’m laughing.

ryan ragleAnd I keep laughing.  The person who normally makes that meal each year? The Elder I mentioned.  And he’s not making dinner because he’s initiating a man before a fire elsewhere.  That man he’s initiating?  My former lover.

At this point, every apparently loose and unmeaning thread in my life weaves itself into one great tapestry.  The next morning, the spirit of a nearby stream appears to me, both male and female, and that night, in the back of that same barn, I’m wrestling naked with that man who was a woman who then became both, and I’m a man and a woman and both, and we’re surrounded by men who became women who were in essence both, keeping a silent, beautiful watch.

This was a Still Point.

The World, The Fool, The World

Stories don’t end, of course.  Some stories become fulfilled, just as some journeys are fulfilled.  The World means both fulfillment and ending, both wholeness and the crossroads.  The next card is The Fool, a new journey.

During this last Beltaine, despite being amongst so many beautiful people, my heart and mind kept longing elsewhere, outside the sanctuary towards a man who’s quickly gonna get embarrassed by how much I want to write about him.

This first journey started in the ashes of a life and a relationship, and here I am at the beginning again, deeply in love with a man and likely about to return to the city I left.

There’s an underlying unity to all of this, yes, a constant return.  But we’re never the same who return, or the same who leave.  Every bit of this story writes itself into the past and the future, and every bit of my life is a relentless act of becoming, each singular act a re-weaving of all that was and is and will be, each fulfillment a dance at the still point of the turning world.




7 thoughts on “There, the Dance Is

  1. The persistence of the monism/pluralism debate baffles me, possibly because I’m circling back around to Tree, Crow, and Mouse through dharmic religion where it’s something of a false dichotomy. It’s sort of like saying that one can say “sister” or “family” but not both.

    I should probably do more writing on gender. I don’t have much in the way of body dysphoria but I’ve always been self-conscious as the wrong kind of man: pacifist-leaning, limp-wristed, crossing my legs wrong, playing the wrong kind of games, wearing the wrong clothes. I’m pleased things are moving for you.

    1. I think that’s similar to Christopher Scott Thompson’s point, actually, that it’s a false dichotomy, and I remember that this comes up as well sometimes in the questions of identity posed by many “new” animists. That is, we are composed of millions of entities, so where does the “one” and the “many” come from?

      The answer is, to me, is to actually extend it even further. That is, we are not only composed of millions, but the self is myriad and not just self-determined, and it is not fully knowable because we must experience it within time, rather than in the Eternal moment. So, knowing that there are many and that there is likely a unity which it composes changes nothing of the actual temporal existence.

      It can of course be both, but we can only experience one or the other at any given point, like looking through a camera lens or looking at the camera lens. We can switch between these views at will (or the practiced mystic can), but only one view allows the photo to be taken as we intend. The single cell within the body, if it were to focus on the body-itself, wouldn’t be able to be a cell composing the body, anymore than our focus on the myriad of things of which we are composed would allow us to embody that composition.

      Embracing both/and is really difficult anyway, particular insofar as gender was concerned for me. : )

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