About Brotherhood of the Briar
The Brotherhood of the Briar needs no introduction to its loyal coteries which still exist in far-flung corners of the earth. For those who do not know, the following description will suffice to tell the story. It is my purpose to chronicle these weekly meetings so that their substance and importance will not pass into obscurity and to give those who are separated from the circle by distance a chance to rejoin it again. For weekly updates, click on the link below or on Chronicles from the Brotherhood of the Briar in the categories box. Or, if you prefer, subscribe to this blog to automatically receive updates.
The Brotherhood of the Briar
They are drawn as stragglers, travelers, scholars, men. For a time, their roads coincide; wanderers with stories to tell, and time to tell them. They come with questions and visions.
My journey among them has lasted some four years. One night a week the long, rolling year through, we gather outdoors around a large fire. Our leader, a weathered man by the name of Root, is a voluminous repository of knowledge and wisdom. Right now he points a gloved hand to the winter sky, identifying the Pleiades, Orion and a red pulsating star named Betelgeuse. Root is a jovial man who wears a thick beard that grows nearly to his eyes, which are friendly, humorous, and greatly magnified behind thick glasses.
As a way of slowing down, immersing ourselves in the night and in contemplation, we smoke pipes. The mingled scents of tobacco and woodsmoke waft like genial ghosts through the air.
Each man will be offered a tumbler with about two fingers of single malt highland scotch whiskey. Unhurriedness is stressed. Sip slowly. Think deeply. Taste the peat through which clear highland water and mists have seeped. Slowly.
A few lines of poetry, chanted in unison with raised pipes suffice to draw us together into the arms of the night, a band, a brotherhood:
I have some friends, some honest friends
and honest friends are few;
my pipe of briar, an open fire,
a book that’s not too new.
I find myself, one of the quieter ones of the group, staring from time to time into the sky through the tangled arms of the tree spreading above us in benediction. I am not thinking, per se, but am rather aware of a deep content, a rightness, an excitement, and a mystery that I cannot name. I tap into a source of renewal and my life coincides with this mystery for a time. This rudimentary, almost primal act of gathering around a fire to share stories is the catalyst for such renewal. It is as if my dreams line up. As if fires that have slept are suddenly blown into flame. My passions step forward, and my vision clears. I seem to tap into a rightness that is not often present at other times in my life. Roots go down through dark earth into uncharted waters.
There is a silence that descends among us from time to time; the only fitting response is to stare into the flames and send a few wisps of pipe smoke heavenward, as prayers. The fire lights the paths down which our minds wander. Where will we go? Where will we not go?
The wind sends the smoke stinging into our eyes. Tomorrow we will wake and smell a faint tang of woodsmoke in the room. Our coats. The memory of last night.
Perhaps, to an outsider, it is strange to see a group of men, in all weather and all seasons sitting around a fire, smoking and talking. It is a cut, a conspiracy against the modern trends of culture that strive for ease and access. What great revolution is being whispered around the flames? What insurrection is impending? A small knot of men. We begin here. We may go anywhere.
The winter does not daunt us. We heap the logs high while the snow settles on our shoulders.
Like a map of the skies, the map of these nights is densely populated with life and truth. Conversation creates an existential tapestry, whose weavings wander, whose pattern is strange. Yet we create this pattern with our words and silences, our laughter and listening. The firelit shadows flit over our faces.
The fire gathers us, concentrates our energy, warms us. Its elemental force gives life to our tongues and minds.
Travelers come and travelers go. Some stay longer than others. Many leave with reluctance. This gathering is like a fixed point in the night sky. Our orbits may change, but it remains unchanged, a north star to our wanderings.