Word, Card, and Star: language, divination, inspiration are my three lodestones. Guidance and insight for the spiritual searcher who feels called or connected to Nature and the Ancient World. Beauty, connection, openness, groundedness, and wonder.
I am a druid, linguist, and author. I write about meditation, relationship with Spirit, soulful fulfillment in scholarship and art, reconnecting the ancient with the modern, creating beauty, and healing the world. I write and podcast with my wife and partner Ali at Faith, Fern, and Compass.
Professionally, I am a computational linguist, with a focus on speech science, lexicography, lexical semantics, syntax, comparative linguistics, sociolinguistics, and historical linguistics. (My LinkedIn profile is here.) I have a keen interest in the minutiae of the working of the human mind and the centrality of its manipulation of symbols, as well as the broader patterns of social change and development. I have published papers on conversational implicature, dialect analysis, lexical semantics, and syntactic universals.
Spiritually, I was raised Zen Buddhist in the culturally conservative South, and am now a revivalist druid. I have worked in the fields of internet search, speech processing, and the defense industry, and am the father of four children. I live in Seattle, WA with my wife Ali and our black cat, Cu Gwyn.
Like most of us in today’s world, I wear a number of hats. I’ve been Ali’s husband since 2011, and her partner since 2009. I’ve been a father since 1998. Longer than that, I’ve been a linguist — I began my studies in 1991, and have been working professionally since 2000. And I’m a follower of the druid path, though it’s hard to say how long I’ve been doing that. I’ve been doing “druid things” all my life, but I only put the label “druid” on them in 2006.
What are “druid things”? Meditating, especially meditating in and about the natural world. Feeling connected to the spiritual realm, and cultivating a relationship with its denizens. Finding soulful fulfillment in scholarship and writing. Reconnecting the ancient world with the modern one. Creating beautiful things, and healing the world with words.
I was raised Zen Buddhist in the southeastern United States, which led to some difficult experiences. Regardless, I’ve always been drawn by the spiritual side of life, and though I usually waffled around between Zen, atheism, and agnosticism, my explorations of Spirit were ongoing and earnest.
Then, in the late spring of 2006, I began struggling with a number of issues, including debt, exhaustion, and fear — a lot of fear. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the foreshadowing of the end of my first marriage. For no reason I could figure out at the time, I suffered random attacks of panic that were almost paralyzing. (You can read more about this fear, and some of the things I did to overcome it, here and here.) During meditation, I made contact with a spirit / being / archetype who called himself Apollo, and who urged me to create a blog, though he was vague about its purpose. You can read more about this encounter here. Around the same time, I picked up John Michael Greer’s Druidry Handbook, and was amazed to realize I had been a druid all my life without knowing it. As I wrote to him in my letter to apply to his organization, the Ancient Order of Druids in America:
I have always been interested in just about everything under the sun, but there are disadvantages to that. Chiefly I have felt that my interests and passions in life were somewhat weakened by being so spread out and unrelated. I was brought up American Zen; my interest in writing and music, my fascination with historical and cognitive linguistics, my reading in comparative mythology and Jungian psychology, my love of nature and commitment to renewable energy lifestyles, the Waldorf education my children are receiving — all these themes seemed either completely unrelated, or related in some way that I could sense but not grasp.
But — and you can see this coming — it all flows together naturally under druidry. As I read your book, a dozen disparate themes in my life were converging, tributaries merging into a single river.
So it came to me that I could blog about my journey down the druid path — a journal of my journey into Druidry. Beyond that, I had no idea where the blog would lead me.
There is no way to tell the story briefly and do it justice. But as a result of this blog, I have
- made many new friends (online and in real life),
- explored a huge inner landscape populated with dozens of spirits and gods,
- went from moderate democrat to libertarian to anarchist to tribalist,
- helped hundreds of people with name analysis and astrological readings,
- went through a divorce,
- met and married an amazing woman,
- changed jobs (not before I was ready to ;-),
- moved 3500 miles,
If you’re interested in getting near-daily updates of my fascinating doings, you can always become a fan of the Druid Journal facebook page, G+ page, or twitter feed (see the sidebar). I post inspirational quotes and insightful links, and of course, you’re welcome to post there as well.
Top Ten reasons I’m a Revivalist Druid:
- It gives spiritual context to my love of nature and commitment to environmentalism.
- It gives religious depth to my fiction and non-fiction writing.
- It fits well with my American Zen upbringing.
- It is a great companion to my interest in history.
- It gives depth and meaning to my linguistic studies.
- It fits with my interests in Jungian psychology and mythology.
- It gives me an excuse to make musi
- It gives guidance and comfort in difficult times.
- It offers the deep peace of the Buddhist tradition, the grounding of an indigenous tradition, and the cultural comfort of a European tradition.
- It has a big holiday every six weeks. (Woot!)
Top Ten Favorite Places I’ve Visited
- Chaco Canyon, NM: for the colors, the sense of deep history, and the long-forgotten tragedy.
- Angel Oak Tree, SC: the oldest and largest oak in the eastern US.
- Seattle, WA: a city poised between land, sea, and sky, where the evenings glow with the light reflected off the water.
- Santa Fe, NM: for its museums and landscapes and memories.
- Big Bend, TX: for the bamboo on the Rio Grande.
- Sedona, AZ: for the hoodoos and vortices.
- Boone, NC: for the mountains and the parkway.
- Bryce Canyon, UT: see Sedona.
- Black Hills, SD: for the buffalo and prairie dogs and sacred caves.
- White Mountains, NH: for the mists, the stones, and the falling waters.
For the record, I’ve never been out of the US (except for one three-week trip to China — which was awesome, but not as awesome as these places… sorry, sinophiles. 🙂 )
A Parable of Religion
An archipelago sprawls across a tropical ocean, each man an island.
My island is large and populous; even the jungles and deserts are dotted with villages. At the center of the island is a handsome mountain, its slopes decked with manicured gardens. At the top of the mountain is a strong ivory tower, where I live, alone.
I have everything I need. The lower portion of the tower is stocked with a rich and varied library, for example. I have met few other monarchs who have libraries as large and heterogenous as mine. A whole section of the library — in fact, one of the oldest sections — is devoted to my own works. My drawing studio, where I spent many happy hours as a child, goes unused much of the time these days, although I do enjoy dropping by from time to time. I spend hours trying to tend the gardens on the mountain, despite my lack of skill in such things.
I have a radio near the top of the tower, and I communicate with the monarchs of other islands thereby. When I speak with them, my lonliness drops away, for a time. Sometimes I can even imagine that I am speaking directly to them, in their very presence. But there is always static and interference, and one can never really be sure a real connection has been made.
After the tropical sun sets into the sea, I watch the stars rolling overhead and try to find patterns in them.
There are servants in the tower with me, I am nearly certain of that. I glimpse them now and again, but whenever I look directly at them, they are gone. Perhaps I only imagine that they smile impishly at me as they disappear. But the evidence of them is everywhere. I always have sumptuous feasts laid out for me when I dine. I find books and pictures set out for me to find in opportune places. When I am painting, or writing, or speaking on the radio, I sometimes suddenly find helpful notes and ideas pressed into my fingers — and if I turn quickly to see who did it, no one is there. And when night falls and I creep downstairs to exit the tower, an unseen hand opens the door.
Yes, I leave the tower at night. I pass down the garden paths to the base of the mountain, and wander the highways and woodland paths among the villages. Here, I see my subjects. Sometimes they all ignore me. Sometimes they follow me, watching, saying nothing. Some try to speak to me, and I to them, as they go about their tasks, but it is a difficult process, because they do not speak my language, and my knowledge of theirs is very incomplete. Usually, I have to try to remember what they said and consult my library in the morning to interpret their speech. If I do so, I find that their words are full of wisdom.
Somewhere on my island, I feel very strongly, is a temple — perhaps deep in the jungle, perhaps buried in the desert. I seem to remember having seen it once before when I was young. (Were there others on the island then, that I could speak to? It seems to me as though there were.) Perhaps there was a great statue there, wound round and bound with vines, with eyes made of huge emeralds; perhaps it was a monolith, baked in the sun, carved with faded characters. Sometimes, when the air is clear on a bright morning, I look out from the top of the tower and try to see the temple; or I search my library (which contains many incomplete and partially accurate maps of my island). Frequently at night I search for it, wandering, a stranger in my own land, through mist-filled jungles, over parched deserts, surrounded always by my subjects, watching me curiously and speaking unintelligibly.
At the temple —
Was there a ceremony there? A coronation? One child was chosen from among the people of the island, chosen to be king, at least for a while. A monarch alone he would be, one set apart. He would serve the island, and the island would serve him. There on the altar of the temple his memory was sacrificed, for only by forgetting all could he be pure enough for kingship. No memory of companionship, family, or speech was left to him; naked and empty he was set in the tower — attended by servants that had to be invisible and inaudible, lest his innocence be corrupted — and left to learn what he could. A sacrifice of one child for the good of all.
But I am grown now. Surely I am old enough to be allowed to remember. Let me remember.
I must find that temple.
- Name: Jeff Lilly
- Date of Birth: May 26, 1973, approx. 11:30 pm.
- Place of Birth: Henderson, North Carolina
- Moved to Stoneville, North Carolina, in 1975.
- Moved to Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1980.
- Moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1991.
- Undergraduate Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1991 to 1995.
- Graduate Work in Linguistics: Chapel Hill, 1995 to 1996.
- Moved to College Park, Maryland, in 1996.
- Graduate Degree: Master of Arts in Linguistics, College Park, Maryland, 1996 to 2000.
- Married in 1998.
- Four children born between 1998 and 2004.
- Linguist and lexicographer at Answerlogic Inc., 2000 to 2001.
- Moved to Buffalo, New York, in 2002.
- Software engineer in the defense industry, 2002 to 2005.
- Moved to western Massachusetts in 2005.
- Computational Linguist for Nuance, Inc., 2005 to 2009.
- Divorced in 2009.
- Moved to Pittsburgh, PA, in 2009.
- Research Linguist for Yap, Inc., from 2009 – 2011.
- Married Alison Leigh Lilly on Sept 16, 2011.
- Machine Learning Scientist for Amazon from 2011 – present.
- Moved to Seattle, WA in 2012.
Sun: Gemini; Moon: Pisces; Mercury: Gemini; Venus: Gemini; Mars: Pisces; Jupiter: Aquarius; Saturn: Gemini; Uranus: Libra; Neptune: Sagittarius; Pluto: Libra.
Ascendant: Capricorn. Midheaven: Scorpio.
Major Aspects: Sun opposite Neptune; Sun trine Pluto; Mercury square Mars; Mercury conjunct Venus; Mercury and Venus trine Jupiter; Saturn conjunct Venus.