By Jack Wolf
A long time ago…a very long time ago it seems to me some days, one of the earliest things I was taught about the Thornish way was a saying that goes like this:
“Everyone brings their own meat to the table.”
This, I was told, was something that was fundamental to understanding the Thornish tradition and what kind of things were practiced in the Thornish tradition.
At first this sounds like a rather simple thing – but it actually has little to do with dinner time. It has everything to do with the role of the individual as they interact with the greater tribal body. What you bring to the table is your own, unique, individual self – and that self remains unique and individual…yet also blends with the tribal people who you have accepted as your own.
This is not the easiest thing to explain to outsiders: It is something better experienced than simply described.
The way of the Thornwood is not a religious path. In general religion has for a long time been viewed by Thornish people as being something that strips way too much of the individual. Instead, Thornish tradition has considered itself to be a spiritual and practical tradition. In the way of the Thornwood the goal is to hone oneself into a fine, sharp, useful implement of the powers of nature; it is to become a functional steward of the Earth once again. It is to realign oneself with the spirits of the land, waters, sky and the elements. It is to reacquaint oneself with the teachings of the ancestors and indeed, if one is fortunate, to gain audience and even teaching relationships with the Elder Kin.
The way of the Thornwood is a not a ‘revealed’ way, in which some so-called wise man (or wise woman) has a vision and implements that vision as the path for all to follow. Thornish people are not sheep; not herd animal-humans; not followers. They are expected to go out and make their own direct contacts with existence and learn directly from that. The tribe itself is simply a repository for our unique culture and everything that those who came before us have gifted to the tradition. It is a common tribal ground where those of similar hearts and minds might meet and grow in power…and act in alliance and in defence of our sacred world.
The Thornish way expects that everyone will have their own vision; their own direct interface with the world and the realms of spirit – and they will use that vision as their guide. It is kind of like someone singing: They add their song to the larger song of the people but the song of the people is not so loud that it completely drowns out the individual.
Bringing one’s own meat to the table means that one of the things that makes Thornish culture unique is the perspective of its people. Indeed there is a body of shared values and even shared myth, legend and certain ways of doing things, yet at the same time it is expected that the folk who come to the Thornwood will remain the rare, special people that they always were before they became Thornish and that they will generously share of these personal gifts with the tradition.
As with everything Thornish, bringing your own meat to the table is about maintaining a balance in all things. No one is expected to give up who they are in order to walk the way we do and yet it is expected that one will open themselves up to the opportunities for growth and wisdom that come from the Thornish tribal ways. It is expected that through this interface we will all become more than we were before.
To Thornish people, individualism is seen as being valuable so long as it is held in balanced measure with the values of the tribe. After all if one is so fierce an individualist that they need to stand completely on their own, there would be no point in such a person wanting to be part of a community or tribe, right? To traditional tribal people the needs of the family and tribe must come first, yet not so much that the powers of the individual are overwhelmed. Again this is a delicate balance which must be maintained.
In terms of years, the Thornish traditions have not been around for all that long, yet in that time we have had philosophers, healers, singers, musicians, artists of various other kinds, woodsmen, fisher-folk, witches and sorcerers. Some Thornish people have considered themselves to walk along a very druid like path and in some ways Thornish ways are very similar to the ways of druids. There have also been dedicated warriors; fighters skilled in the ways of battle, and on the other hand there have been oracles, seers and folks who have dedicated themselves to the nurturing of innocence.
The bottom line is that of you are a Pagan who loves the sacred Earth and are dedicated to direct interaction with the spirits, elements, ancestors and Elder Kin – there is a possibility that there may be a place in the Thornwood for you. The Pagan part of what was just said is very important because a foundation stone to the Thornish way is that we are all deeply Pagan in our spirits and our acts. There is no place in the Thornwood for someone who is not committed to this worldview.
The Thornwood is not an easy way, nor is it for everyone. It asks much of its people yet it offers much in return. There is room for many different voices at the Thornish foreside. This is the way it has always been and the way it shall always remain.