[This post was lost last night when I wrote it, and in the midst of writing it, my internet connection died. A small bit of it was saved, though, so I can reconstruct it without too much difficulty...]
Just a short, rather practical, reflection for today that I’ve been thinking about over the last few days since I’ve been trying something new.
In the last three months, I’ve been using a kind of lorica text in the morning (or, rather, “whenever it is I get up” and get dressed) and before going to sleep (whenever that is) which I wrote in late February, and that I’ve been instructed to use at least for three months through an oracular source. I may give the text of it at some point in this blog, I’m not sure…I might also put it out in a publication later this year. In any case, Antinous and Hadrian are involved in it, and I call it “Lorica Hadriani.”
It is seven verses long, with the first and the final verse being the same. Each verse is between three and nine lines long. Though I’ve done it 180+ times now, I still don’t have it entirely memorized–don’t know why, but there you go. As I had been using it for the last three months, I was trying to figure out how to make it “feel” more like it was having an immediate effect. After doing it for a week or two, I started noticing that I’d sway slightly, back and forth, as I recite it. I always recite it standing, usually in front of my home shrine, but also in front of my portable shrine if I am elsewhere for the night.
Then, in the last week or so, I thought that I might be able to try using and paying very close attention to my breath in the process of doing it. Many months back, I was having some trouble getting through one of the five-line verses without running out of breath, so I figured I could only get through about five lines at a time at most without breathing. As I could break the two longest verses–of eight lines and nine lines each–into two four-line sections with a breath in between, or a four-line and a five-line section with a breath in between, I decided I’d try to do the whole thing in nine breaths. But, after trying that once or twice, I thought to myself, “Seven verses; seven breaths.” And, as long as I really do pay attention to my breathing, and take a good big breath (especially before the two long verses), I am able to get through it.
Why all this attention on breath, you might ask? (Or, if you’re quite learned in these sorts of techniques in various worldwide spiritual practice contexts, you might be asking, “Why didn’t you pay better attention to this earlier?” which is also a perfectly permissible question!) Of course, with singing and chanting, one has to be really mindful of breath; but in just regular ol’ recitation, I don’t think a lot of us really do pay much attention to it, unless we’re performers of some sort who are doing a performance for an audience. (And, really, even though I think of all ritual as performance, the tendency is to think of private ritual that is just for one’s gods to be less of a “performance” because the gods “know our intentions” and so forth, etc., which I’m thinking is an increasingly dangerous set of assumptions to have, personally…but that might be another issue for another time.) So, just a general old recitative text might not seem as important in this regard.
And yet, in doing this, I think to some of the Ulster Cycle tales–particularly Tochmarc Emire–in which Cú Chulainn threatens various supernatural women to extort their favors, and they tell him in turn that he can have whatever he asks for as long as he can ask for it in one breath. He does this when being trained by Scáthach to Scáthach, and he also does this when he defeats Aífe to Aífe (and we all know how THAT turned out…!?!). I’ve often wondered, though, if there is some sort of “magic” in doing it in one breath, or if instead that’s just a poetic and metaphorical way of saying “keep it short,” because if he is given too much time to say whatever it is he wishes, he might end up taking even greater advantage of them.
Of course, in doing this prayer, I’m not extorting favors from supernatural women…not really, anyway, though I am asking for the favor of some of them, but anyway…!?!
So, I wonder, what is your experience with these sorts of things? Do you pay attention to how you breathe, how often you breathe, or where you breathe when you do non-chanted or sung prayers to your deities? Do you think there’s a kind of magic to being able to do something in one breath, or to limiting the numbers of breaths you take on a particular occasion? I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.