Saturday, October 20, 2018

Spirits, Daemons, Gods - Toward a Coherent Model

In the development of Neopagan religious practice and discourse several disputes have arisen concerning the true nature of the gods and spirits. In my opinion these disputes arise mainly due to the remains of Judeo-Christian theological thinking, combined with the influence of modern skepticism and rationalism. As one who finds consideration of theology and metaphysics useful, I will attempt to venture perhaps further into such speculations than is common in our modern Pagan discussion.

The Reality of the Spirits
Let me begin by saying that for this discussion we will treat the world of spirits as ‘real’. In this we need not adopt any firm description of the final nature of that reality. Whether it is a subcategory of ‘material’ manifestation within the quantum foam, or a psycho-linguistic field, or an epiphenomenon of human telepathy, or any other thing, the whole world – every culture in every age – has experienced the presence of the spirits. Communication; direct material action, possession and para-personal expression are just some of the spirit-phenomena common to many or most human cultural experiences. Materialist science has devised a number of clever efforts that attempt to ‘explain away’ such phenomena.  In the mythic reality of our Paganism, let us begin by taking spirits as given, and making it our business to know how to deal with them well. 

While we may not be able to box up the ‘True nature’ of spirits, we can approach them as phenomena, and discuss the traits that humans have seen. To avoid a long summary of world-wide evidence, I will presume to propose a list of general behaviors and characteristics of spirits, in no particular order:
• Spirits are not primarily material, though many traditions describe them as able to manifest bodies of air and smoke, or even of more dense elements.
• Spirits act both psychospiritually and on occasion materially. Like much of magic, spirits seem to operate by affecting How Things Go – which crossroads are taken, which way the coin falls, etc. It is rare to the degree of ‘miracle’ for spirits to act directly on matter, but it is not unknown.
• Spirits resonate with and respond to the material world. When described as ‘animism’ we think of spirits as being ‘in’ or ‘of’ specific material objects – the spirit in a tree or of a waterfall.
• Spirits act through living people, not only by direct possession or guidance, but by influence based on their nature. A merry spirit makes mortals near it inclined to merriment.
• Spirits are widely various in their influence on mortals, some being potentially or overtly dangerous or destructive and others providing blessings worthy of the divine.

Non-Locality of the Spirits
Spirits who become the ‘Gods’ of humankind seem to be those who are particularly powerful or able. In essence they are those who respond to human worship, and give good blessings. While some spirits seem rather localized – attached directly to a specific material basis - the spirits who are called ‘gods’ by the poets often have presence in a wider range of culture and geography; they transcend the local. Sometimes this has a natural material basis – the Sun is visible in all places, even if its effects vary. Sometimes it has a widespread cultural basis – customs surrounding hearth-fire can be relevant to most human habitation.

As a Pagan I take nature and its dance to be a map of the real nature of spiritual reality. As above, so below, the old wisdom says – nature is the materialization of spirit, and we can learn much about one from the actions of the other. When we apply this principle to the nature and presence of the gods we arrive at what I see as the center of polytheism.

Just as with any real thing in our natural world, the divine exists in and as multiple (infinite… uncountable…) entities. The gods as they appear in ‘mythology’ – in the bodies of tales preserved and retold by poets – bear only a generic resemblance to those gods as they are present in local temples and regions. If one considers “Diana” of the Anatolian city of Ephesus, in comparison to the Artemis/Diana of Greco-Roman story my principle is clearly indicated. This phenomenon happens across the polytheist world. In both India and in W African religions it is often formally acknowledged. The Goddess or honored spirit ‘of’ a local village may have the same name and stories as that of three villages away, yet have local presence, history and nature that clearly distinguishes her from another presence in another temple. This doesn’t prevent scholars and theologians inside the tradition from identifying them all as one entity, or villages from competing over whose Goddess is the coolest.

To me this entirely blurs the argument between so-called ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ polytheisms, in which ‘hard’ insists that every iteration of a deity is a distinct entity and not an ‘aspect’ of some other, while the ‘soft’ holds that deities are trans-individual, existing in many aspects. It is clear to me that traditional polytheisms today, and almost certainly those of European ancestors, are and were both. I sometimes propose an axiom that gods and other mighty spirits simply have the power to exist as multiple persons.

The Daemons
To find a specific solution in the myth and metaphysics of Pagan peoples I turn to the Hellenic notion of ‘daemons’. The word ‘daemon’ (from roots meaning ‘separate being’) is a general Greek term for ‘a spirit’. Homer applies it to the Gods while popular Hellenic Paganism could apply it all the way down to one’s garden-sprites as well. In Classical Greek Pagan theology the Daemons were similar to what we think of as ‘angels’ – agents and messengers of the gods. They were understood to attend the sacrifices on behalf of the gods, to carry the blessings of the gods in turn to mortal worshippers, and in essence to function *as* the god at the local level. In this way Zeus “of” a particular regional temple could be both a separate self-acting agency, and a ‘person of’ the storied deity.

I have described Sam Webster’s Fire metaphor before, but it is so very apt here. If I take a spark from a fire, and go a mile away, and use it to light another fire, it will be, in many ways, almost exactly the same as the original – same chemical processes, consuming the same kinds of fuel, etc. It is Fire, in the directly descriptive sense. Yet each such fire is distinctly individual – it is in a new place, it illuminates new things, it develops a unique history and narrative. So, we might think, it is with the Gods. A new image is made, a new ritual fire is lit, and customs are established influenced by the landscape and climate of the new temple.

We may say that in such work a different daemon of the deity is attracted to one temple than to another. In essence these spirit ambassadors or presences act and exist as the deity, as it may appear in the setting mortals have made for it. Mythic tales tell of deities making their own places of worship, reshaping the material world but, again, this level of the miraculous is not the rule. More commonly humans make a particular pattern, lay a sacred feast with a particular flavor, and it attracts the deity in and as a properly resonant daemon.

In this way it is not mistaken to think of the beings that act in each temple as separate and individual beings, who may have their own inclinations and desires. Likewise if you spoke with any one of them they would identify themselves as That God From the Stories, even as local versions of the myths diverge. This polyvalent perspective renders empty many disputes about which kind of worship, which narrative, which theology, is the “real” version from Ancient Days. The real pattern of ancient Paganisms was probably a patchwork of localisms linked by larger cultural forms.

This model has applications at both the most immediate levels, and at the transcendent. For those of us working to establish a home cultus it offers the freedom to establish the work as we will, and accept the results we get. When we establish a home shrine, develop out customs and implement them ‘religiously’ we summon a daemon of the god who is fit for the work we are fit for. If one wishes simply to establish harmony, get a good blessing, and live in peace then the simple sacrificial relationship with your own local daemon of your god may be all you need. For those of more mystical bent, the divine work of formal ritual makes a pathway of linkages – from the image of the God in your mind, through the material form of an idol and invocation, to the daemon of the God who serves at your fire to, perhaps, the cosmic principle of the God themself.

This model can lead us toward certain other speculations. Modern Pagans often ask ourselves about how such culturally similar forms as, say, Diana and Artemis, or Manannan and Manawyddan may be spiritually related. For those drawn to lumping, this daemon theory can easily be expanded from the local to the regional. I, myself, find it just too unlikely that thunder-gods from neighboring cultures with linguistically-neighboring names such as Taranis, Thunor and Thor must be utterly distinct entities. If there is some shorter list of great powers behind the many cousins of the European pantheons, the transpersonal and transcultural spiritual powers behind so many local daemons. Even so they need be no more relevant than a poet’s tales of the Earth-Mother are to bringing in a good harvest, as we approach those Powers almost exclusively through their local expressions. There is nothing in Pagan ways to insist that the ‘highest’ must be a special object of worship; practical work often is better done through more earthly spirits. Once again, we need not try to decide which is “true” – that all gods are separate individuals, or that some gods are ‘aspects’ or ‘persons’ of one another. We can comfortably and reasonably go for “both”.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Notes On Pagan Funerals and Death-Customs

Along with Liafal my partner, I have been officiating at Pagan Rites of Passage for decades. Typically the trend began with weddings, and we worked to develop Handfastings that one could present before family and co-workers. Baby-Blessings were really developed simultaneously with weddings, times being what they were.

In the past decade or so funeral rites have become more frequent. As functional clergy for a portion of our community we have found ourselves called upon to lead memorial and funeral rites. Some of these have been directly within our own kind of Pagan tradition (i.e. Neopagan Druidry, per A.D.F.), some within a general alternative-thought community, and some for grandma and the cousins.

Maturity precedes death. As the Pagan community, our movement, gains in solidity and wealth and depth Pagan groups and clergy will inevitably be called upon to organize and lead funeral services. This presents us with various practical and logistical questions, as well as theological and ritual ones. Having by this time been involved in a number of memorials, I have developed a set of scripts and invocations and may have some useful notes.

The Recent Dead in a Spirit-Based Paganism.
I write these notes from a mythic and spiritist perspective. I think that in order to think clearly about all this we must set aside any modern sense of materialism and cynicism about death and what comes after. We must operate from the assumption that some version of our consciousness survives and is aware in the time following our biological cessation

Of course we cannot know with any certainty what occurs immediately after death. It seems, from review of various sources, that classical Pagans expected to be greeted and guided by somebody or something. Perhaps the Ancestors are the most likely kind of spirit to meet us, though various mythologies propose various psychopomps, guides and challenges.

Ancient Pagan mysteries leave us with descriptions and a couple of actual maps of the proper road for the newly Dead to take into the deeps of the Otherworld. The newly dead person is instructed to take the right fork at the proper tree, to drink from one well but not another, etc. While most of us have not been initiated into such mysteries in our time we can still hope for the arrival of guides to lead us properly through the early stages of our next adventure.

From the standpoint of Pagan funerary rites I think we must assume that we will find reasons to stay near the places and people of our lives, and that we will be gratified by the attentions of the living. This leads me to categorically deny the modern cliché that “funerals are for the living”, implying that nothing the living do can matter to the Dead. Tradition teaches that it is precisely the actions of the living that help to give the Dead peace, blessing and an open path toward our fate.

So the funeral rites I have created have intended to open the hearts of the attendees to the beloved,
 to draw the spirit of the beloved to the place of gathering and give it good welcome. Tradition tells us that the love, tears and offerings of the living are welcome to the Dead. It may be valuable for modern western people to consider the practice of public mourning

So we begin with the assumption that the spirits of the recent Dead are accessible to here, can here our words and know our deeds. We look to custom and tradition for guidance on what is best.

The Worship of the Dead
I might begin by reminding us of the Pagan liturgical definition of worship as ‘mutual acknowledgement of worth’. The spirits judge our offerings as worthy, and we receive worthy blessings in turn. In a fully-developed funeral I see us as creating this worship with the specific spirit of the deceased.

For me that has meant arranging an attractive picture of the dead as the ‘idol’ of the rite, making a specific invocation and invitation to the beloved to be present with the group, and making offerings of the deceased’s preferred food, drink, etc. In short the beloved’s spirit is treated as the deity of this rite done to their honor.

Some funeral communities want a chance for many people to speak. One place where ‘parts’ can be assigned is in this making of offerings, and each can be an opportunity for a memory of the beloved. The placing of food and drink before the image will be an unusual moment for non-Pagan attendees and it is the Clergy’s work to provide a mental setting that allows understanding.

Following this phase is also a good moment for musical or poetic insertions of a kind favored by the beloved. This could include the eulogies and reminiscences. My director’s mind suggests pre-arranging and limiting the number of speakers, unless that sort of longer community engagement is specifically desired. The chance for a family to commune together before the beloved’s images and offerings, perhaps sharing drink, could be a centerpiece for a longer work. Often the desire is to finish the ritual portion and retire to the pot-luck for further toasts and memories…

The Farewell
In what I see as the most directly theological bit of these notes, I have come to understand the magical work of funeral rites as the calling of the allies and guides of the beloved, and the commitment of the beloved’s spirit to their guidance.

Per the outline below these beings will have been invited to the funeral fire earlier in the rite. Now we create the moment both in the vision of the assembly and, we hope, in fact for the beloved, of the uniting of the spirit with their guides. One supposes that traditional cultures have traditional prayers and customs to accomplish this goal.

I can see this moment as a chance for the grieving to perceive their beloved as moving on in safety and blessing. For a fully-Pagan assembly one could go all the way to guided visualization. The moment in a rite may be fraught with that grief, but I might hope that it would be a step in the road of solace as well.

An Outline
I was asked on line for a synthetic outline of my notion of Pagan funerary rites. Here’s one, based loosely in our Druidic Order of Ritual:
• The Hall is set with a shrine of the beloved where it can be seen by all. Pictures are arranged, and a space provided to receive plates, etc. for offerings. A Fire is prepared. This can be as simple as a candle or a full offering-fire for Druid High-Church rites, or any smaller size, perhaps even arranged directly before the image. A censer with capacity for lots of incense might also be provided.
• The company is gathered and seated. The rite is proclaimed, and the company is greeted.
• A short discourse on the intention of the work, the nature of Death and the person of the beloved can open.
• The company is led in a short attunement, settling or moment of silence.
• The space is blessed. This can be anything from a full ritual circle-casting or Sacred Center rite to the simple lighting of a single candle, establishing the place. The fire is lit or blessed, and asked to direct the spirit of the beloved to the work and welcome them. I like the turn of phrase that blesses the Fire as a ‘Fire of Welcome’ for the beloved and for all present.
• The ‘Constellation of the Worshiped’ of the beloved is called. This can be expanded or contracted according to the religious setting of the rite. I approach this through the Three Kindreds of spirits, as Our Druidry says.
• Calling the Ancestors of the beloved is utterly proper, if the social setting of the rite makes it acceptable. The beloved may have affection for or dealings with the Landspirits – were they gardeners? Hikers? The gods should be the gods of the beloved’s own home altars, if possible. Otherwise one can always call upon the guides and rulers of the Dead.
• The spirit of the beloved is specifically invited to the honor-seat of the rite. In Our Druidic Pagan rites, this includes making material offerings. These are best chosen as things loved by the Dead – food, drink, etc, but might always include flame or light, clear water, and incense.
• The Eulogies are given, perhaps with a musical or poetic performance.
Farewell Prayer
• A prayer of love and memory might be given to the beloved. What blessings would a spirit like theirs offer?
• The Allies, as invoked above, are given the final sacrifice and charged to take the beloved gently to their next adventure, rest, whatever. This can be carefully tuned by the clergy, to good effect.
• This is a good place for a further musical performance, or a longer Prayer For the Road
• The work is declared successful and the intent reviewed
• The beloved is given a final farewell
• Other beings who have been called are thanked and bid farewell. This can be done en masse in a single prayer.
• The rite is declared concluded.

To do this work well is to offer a real sacrament of solace and support both to the living and the Dead. If we are to regain what was lost in ancient Paganism there seems no doubt that the bond between the living and the Dead must be a part of the work. We must abandon materialism, which pretends that there is nobody left to talk to, just as we abandon doctrines that commit the spirit to some final judgement. Instead, I think, we can offer a vision of a future open and unknown; a road into fate that we will all travel in our time, yet which need not be traveled alone.

A Full Pagan/Druidic Funeral Script

This is a high-church version, based firmly on A.D.F.'s Order of Ritual, modified for a very mixed audience from the beloved's several communities. The deities mentioned are his, and would be re-worked as circumstances require. Hopefully various turns of phrase and prayers may be helpful even if the full script is less so.

Simple shrine – small FW&T, big censer for incense offerings, if Fire can’t be kept going.

 1: Welcome  (ending with: )
In Pagan paths, we are taught that death is a part of the cycle of existence. No form can be eternal – all arise from the womb of the world, and vanish again in their time – but essence can endure.  Many wise people have believed that a soul, a spirit, remains alive after death, that death is just the leaving of one form for another, while our eternal essence carries on. We hope that this is so; yet, as long as human memory does not fail, we can be sure of another sort of endurance – we endure in our deeds, in the memories of those whose lives we have touched. The dead live in us, of that we can be certain, even as we look outward into the unknown adventure that may await us all.
So, we are joined here by our memory, by our lives with ***,  by our affection and by our sorrow. Let us spend a few moments preparing our hearts….

2: Attunement/ simple Two Powers
• Take a few moments to settle your body… and take a deep breath… let it out and take another… and another…
• In our work, we remember the impersonal divine as Fire and as Water…
• Just as every tree is rooted in the deep, sustaining water that flows in the land, so each of us is rooted deep in the rich, fertile power of the divine.
• Just as all life derives its energy from the shining sun, as all are guided by the moon and stars, so are we illuminated and guided by the shining fire of the divine.
• Take a deep breath… and feel the deep in you, the light in you…

3: The Gate To Home
• It is by this flow, and shining, that each of us is connected with one another, with the holy world in which we live, and even with the Gods.
• So we will open our Gate. The Gate Between is our Fire, which we feed… is our Well, to which we make offering of silver… it might be a shining mist… a spiraling light… a deep opening… an Oaken Door…
• When we open the Gate, we choose to open ourselves to the divine… in ourselves, in the world, and in the realms of dream and story that we call spirit…

• Today we make this Gate for ourselves - to make our connection to ***… to his story, to our memory of him, and to his spirit
• We also make this Gate for *** – that this fire be a beacon to his spirit, that he see us and hear us, that he see clearly his way forward in his next great adventure…
• Let the Gate be open…

4: The Invitations
• Now to the Sacred Fire we call
The Threefold Kindreds, spirits all
• Mighty and beloved dead
Be welcome at the Fire
• Wild Ones, Spirits of the Land
Be welcome at the Fire
• Eldest, wisest, Shining Gods
Be welcome at the Fire
• Holy Ones, accept our offering!

• Likewise let us call to the Gods of ***’s heart and hearth. In our ways we say that we are drawn to the divine by the beauty and power of the gods, each of us drawn to the proper beloved. On the altar in ***’s home the chiefest gods were the Goddess called Brigid, the High One, and Manannan MacLir, the God of Wanderers.
• To the Lady of Fire and Water, the Daughter of the Sacred Fire, Brigid the Foster-Mother we call. Often have you had gifts and honor from our ***, now we ask you to see our fire and folk, to spread your cloak of love and comfort over our kinsman as he enters the world of spirits. Grant him your rest and peace, Mother of Healing, and in time, guide him to a gentle fate at the table of the Dead.

We spill this offering to you in ***’s name- - Brigid, accept our Offering!
• To the Grey God of the Misty Border, the Sailor on the Seas, the King Without a Throne, to Manannan MacLir we call. Often has our kinsman *** called to you, now we ask you find him where he wanders, O Guide of Souls, and show him his right path. Let him be welcomed in Tir na Marbh, fed on your ale and apples. Grant him a clear path, Son of the Boundless, and guide him in time to his future home. We spill this offering to you in ***’s name- - Manannan macLir, accept our Offering!
• Come to our fire, spirits, join us in this remembering, in this blessing, of Anthony Joseph Gooch, his life and his legacy.

5: Offerings to ***
• So open your hearts, and fill your memory with ***… Let him be present in your heart… call to him with the joy you felt in his life…
• ***, we speak to you from this world you knew, though we know not where you are. We keep this fire, for a time, to guide you to us, we kindle a fire in ourselves in your memory.
• We set this table for you… (drink) and (bread), in the old way, that you might be certain of your welcome
• In the Mother’s Love be welcome
In the Joys of Life be welcome
Be welcome here among those who remember you with love.
So be it!

7: The Eulogies

8: Prayer of Sacrifice:
• Now, at last, we offer to the Host of the Feast of the Dead, to Donn MacMil, whose death opened the way for us all. Receive this offering, Brown Bull, Chieftain of welcoming, and receive with it our kinsman, *** into comfort and his next work.
Donn, accept our offering!
• And again we offer to all the powers – to the Kindreds three, to the line of ***’s forebears, to his allies among the spirits; to Brigid the Comforter and Manannan the Guide, and again to Donn the Lord of the Hall of the Honored Dead. Throw wide your gates, and welcome the bright spirit, the deep soul of our *** among his friends and kin who await him.
Holy Ones, accept Our Sacrifice!

9: Thanks & GoodBye
• Before we end this formal remembrance, it is proper for us to give thanks to all who have aided us.
• First we thank you, ***, for being here with us. We will hold you in our hearts as we go from here, but we do not hold you to your life. Let the gate be open for you and the fire guide you, let the waters of the well sustain you, as you go on your way with our offerings of love.
***, We Thank you!
• Remember again the Gate, our connection with the divine… While we never truly banish that connection, we must now turn our hearts away from the past, and toward the future.
• So let us close what we have opened, let Fire be flame and Well be water, let the oaken door be shut, the connection loosened for now…
Let the Gates be closed.
• We offer our thanks to the Mother of All.
We offer our thanks to the Gods, Dead and Spirits.
May the Three Sacred Kins
Bring joy to all beings, and renew the ancient wisdom.
To the Fire, Well and Tree
We offer our thanks.
May Wisdom, Love and Power
Kindle in all beings and renew the ancient wisdom.
To the Earth, Sea, and Sky
We offer our thanks.
May the ancient wisdom be renewed, and may all beings
know peace, joy and happiness
In all the worlds.
So be it
And so, our work is ended. Let us go now to our feast, joined in fellowship.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Seeking A Familiar: A Festival Summoning Rite, 8/2018

This August, at the 20th annual Summerland Gathering in SE Ohio I led an operation to allow the
participants to make a personal spirit alliance. I framed this alliance as seeking “a familiar” – that key individual ally that magicians work with to gain wider entrée among the spirits, and direct aid in practical magic. It was an interesting and, I think, productive effort overall, and I’ve made some choices of direction as a result, for further workings of the rite.

Summerland is primarily a gathering of Druidic Pagans working in ADF and is held in a 4H camp with good facilities. With chancy weather on the day of the rite we chose to use the small hearth in the large, covered pavilion for the rite. This may have reduced the romantic-setting factor, compared to an outdoor firepit, but the mechanics of making rather a lot of offerings were probably improved.

The rite itself is a fairly complex thing, as modern rites go. It is based on my understanding of the patterns of grimoire spirit-arte, adapted for group work. It relies on entrancement and vision to provide the ‘appearance’ of the spirits, but treats them as real and specific entities, whose alliance we intend to make. Let me give a summary outline, in lieu of the full script:
• Preliminary entrancement and centering
• Blessing of the ritual space
• Establishment of ‘the Gate’, and invocation of a gatekeeper God to ward the Gate and the work.
• Preliminary offering to All Spirits, as the Three Kindreds of Gods, Dead, and Landspirits.
• Invocation of the God of the Rite – In this case Dagda Mor, as God of Magic, and especially his person of Ruad Rofessa
• Receiving the Blessing of the Gods – in this case as an anointing of the eyes with blessed water, to induce spirit-sight.
• Convoking the ‘Court of the Willing’ – all those spirits who are inclined to gather at our Fire
• Oath and Binding of the Convoked spirits: Very gently done.
• Individual calling: a litany during which each participant called to an individual spirit, if one would come
• Treating with the spirit: time of silence for individuals to speak or experience the result.
• The License to Depart, and closings as usual.
Once participant described the rite as having ‘quite a few moving parts’, but it took about an hour including the periods of silence and vision.

The work went smoothly, from my side of the fire, with L and I doing a pretty tight job with the multi-stage ritual. Though we worked in a large ‘hangar’ of a room with merchants etc, the ambient noise was both quieted and nicely vanished behind the trance-work, I thought. There’s nothing like live fire and regular oil-offerings to help concentrate attention.

The new and chancy portion of the outline is the transition from the presence of the Host of those who arrive, and accept the Oath (see my other articles onthis method) to the individual alliances, done personally, by each committed participant. I devised a repetitious litany of calling to lead into the trance silence, and recited a quiet charm about alliance while they worked. There was the common wait for the last members to open their eyes and make contact to signal that they had finished, but no specific rescues were needed.

The ideal model for a festival-working like this would be to have briefings both before and following the ritual itself. It can be an imposition in an event’s busy schedule to take that much space, and so I had no de-briefing round-robin of responses from the company. I did have conversations with a number of them, and responses ranged from “I saw the crowd of spirits’ among those less experienced to what seem significant personal alliances. In a festival setting I am always pleased if even a core number of folks really get their button pushed by the work. I will call this a reasonable win on points.

First Steps with a New Ally
In Lieu of a chance for instructions and further work I’ll include some notes here.
• Your memories and impressions of the contact may vary in the hours and days following. Your final impressions should be balanced against your first impressions, as you get to know the spirit.
• Represent the spirit at your home shrine. You may have a sense of the form, or proper image – cards from oracle decks, nature-images, etc may provide options. Relatedly:
• Consider deriving a sigil, if you have not been shown one. Sigils are derived by various occult methods from the letters of the spirit’s name. The sigil can be combined with an image to good effect as a real-world anchor for the spirit.
• Develop a simple yes/no/maybe divination tool, and begin using it to converse with and confirm messages with the spirit. I have used plain and fancy two-sided coins, sets of three dice, short packs of red and black playing cards. Get used to actually abiding by the omens of such conversations, even while you open yourself to direct conversation.
• Instruct the Familiar. Bring them to your shoulder explain to them important things in your life. Do not assume a spirit understands material life the same way you do. This can also be done, together, in vision.
• Assign your familiar simple tasks after explaining the elements and target clearly. Consider using divination to see whether the task is doable.

• A Simple Charm To call the New Ally to You
• Arrange the spirit’s sigil, or contact-item, and have the proper offering, according to the pact.
• Hallow the space with a simple blessing unless a more formal offering is required.
• Speak the Spirit’s name and call it to you in simple words, then recite the central part of the Charm of the Pact. I provide the whole text, as in the rite:
• The Charm of the Pact
So this we swear, we two, and make our pact,
Between my mortal spirit and your own
By my eyes’ light and blood within in my veins,
By flesh and breath, and by ancestor’s bone.

Our troth we give, together, you and I
You by your power, me with offerings true
Come when I call, and aid me as I will
And all due honor I will give to you

If ever I should fail to keep the pact,
Or you should fail to come when I do call
Then null shall be our bargain, done and done
      And each depart, with harm to none at all.

• Greet the spirit and make the offering. Converse as you may.
• Charge the spirit as you will.
• End the session with a polite send-off.

I just posted a longer rite that employs the Familiar for a specific practicalmagic goals by sending it as a herald. That can be a next-step, and a way to work with your ally for more distant goals.

To Ask the Familiar For An Agent.

This is imported from my small, practical book "Pagan Spells", which also contains a rite for making alliance with a Familiar Spirit.

In many cases, when you have a specific need for magic, it can be answered by asking your allies for aid. The Ancestral Teacher can convey many things to and for you, and the Familiar can be your herald or your guardian. But no spirit has every power. If your Familiar should be of the Wise, then martial tasks are not best suited to it, if it is of stone then it might not work the weather. Yet the Familiar is a spirit, free in the realm of spirits, and it can be asked to find a proper agent among the spirits to do as you wish.
            For those with a developed relationship with their allies this can be as simple as an inner conversation, the spirit called by will alone. In moments of immediate need, the simple charms in the calling section of this work can bring the Familiar quickly, without formal ritual. For newer students, it is well to set this request into a ritual format. Even for the experienced, we find that our calling and speaking with spirits takes on a repetitive, ritualized tone. In my opinion that is simply the spirits’ way of communicating with mortals.
            In this simple charm you will need only a simple fire-offering for the Kindreds, and whatever offering has been customary between you and your Familiar. If you are regularly offering to your allies at your shrine, you can simply ask them for aid in honor of your relationship. If you have something more serious or unusual a special offering is best. When in doubt, make the offering.
The Work:

• Find your basic trance, and attune to the Two Powers
• Offer to the Fire, Well & Tree, saying:
Mother of All, Let this Well be blessed.
First Father, kindle magic in this Fire.
Let this Tree be the Crossroads of All Worlds,
That the Sacred Grove may be established.

• Sprinkle all from the Well, and cense from the Fire, saying:
By the might of the Waters
and the Light of the Fire,
this Grove is made whole and holy.

• Make an offering into the Fire, and say:
Keeper of Gates, aid me to open the Ways.

• With your work hand, make a welcoming triskel (in to out, deisil) over the Fire, saying:
By Land, Sky and Sea;
By Gods, Dead & Sidhe;
By Fire, Well & Tree;
Let the Gate be open!
• Turn once deasil, saying:
So the Way is opened and this place is claimed. Let no ill or harm come to me and mine, and Wisdom, Love and Power flow to me through this gate. So be it!

• A short invocation to the Kindreds, with a simple offering, can be done if this is being done formally at the shrine:
Gods and Dead and Mighty Sidhe
Powers of Land and Sky and Sea
A gift I give, from me to thee
Come and lend your aid to me.

Prepare the Offering and envision the Familiar, calling to it both with your voice, if possible, and aloud in your mind, saying perhaps:
O spirit (spirit’s name) O Noble One
I call to you by Well and Fire and Tree
Draw near, and come in peace, I bid you now,
Take you this gift, O (spirit) come to me!

• When you feel the presence of the spirit, greet it with a flow of love and welcome in your heart, asking it your boon, saying perhaps:
Welcome (spirit), to my fire in peace. I would ask a boon.
Can you send a spirit, O (spirit)
Can you send a spirit?
I would work my will, whether you are sent or you can send a spirit.
To: (state intention clearly and specifically)
Do this for me and I will give to you due offering.

This can be repeated, often three times. After each repetition, open your Inner Eye to the Familiar, and seek a response, conversing as is useful. Can the Familiar find an agent? What are your specific needs? – include a time-based deadline if you need to. If you like, use a simple divination to see whether your visions are true. After three repetitions, you may spend some time communing with the Familiar, perhaps meeting the agent that is found for the task, perhaps not.

• When you know that the work will be done, thank the Familiar, saying something like:
Depart now, my friend, O (spirit’s name), and remember your oath, complete the charge I have given you, with harm to none, and come again at the proper time, or whenever I might call you, and I will make to you due offering.

• A Short Closing

Let bound be bound and wound be wound;
Thus all is done, and done, and well done,
And thus I end what was begun.

Make a banishing spiral (out to in, tuathal) over the Fire, saying:

The sacred center has held well,
Now, by Tree and Fire and Well,
Let this gate be closed!

To the Three Holy Kindreds I give my thanks.
To the Keeper of Gates I give my thanks.
To the Mother of All I give my thanks.
Let wisdom, love and power kindle in all beings

The rite is ended!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

A Prayer to the Mothers

In the world of formal neopagan 'Church' in which I do my work, people are often moved by the news of the day, and the distant suffering of strangers is brought to us in our hands through our media. Whether or not one supports the involvement of religious work in chosen 'causes' it is the plain goal of Wisdom to help people process our reactions to life's troubling events, and choose the best path toward better outcomes. In the Clergy Council of Our Druidry we discussed the creation of prayers and works proper to circumstances as they arise in the socio-political currents.

After a few drafts this arose for me. Writing it brought me up against several bumps in my road to 'topical prayer'.
I believe (not a phrase I start sentences with often) that my progressive values are simple and rational, and conform well to my polytheism, and even to many (not all!) of the tropes of ancient society. So I ought to be able to write a prayer that asks for the kind of good I want, without beginning to cite specific circumstances that I want changed.
(This produced the insight that a prayer tells the gods what kind of world you want, while a spell or charm aims to make specific changes...)

I want to write things that seek what is unarguably The Good, regardless of the times, or the circumstances of this quarter's politics, or the specifics of issues. I believe that by doing so I will advance progressive ideas, since those inhere in nature. Likewise I want the work to remain useful even after whatever current political circumstance may have inspired it has passed away.
I feel the asking-for part of this verges a bit close to the recitation-of-modern-political-norms thing, but I still rather like it. May it be a blessing to the work.

(plain text below graphic)

A Prayer to the Mothers
For the Sake of Children

Let this be a prayer to the Mothers.
To those powers of spirit who bear forth the living
Who nurture the young
Who ladle out sustenance
In the Land, and all kindreds
Among the Gods, you Shining Mothers
And surely among the Beloved Dead
You peace-weavers, home-warders
To you I call.
And Three-fold I call:
To mother Abundance – that all may be kept whole
To Mother Liberty – that all my walk their paths in freedom
To mother Wisdom –that together we may build in peace
Mighty Mothers, protect our children.
The children of my hearth, and of my clan,
Of my town and of my valley, of my mountains or plains.
Let the wanderer’s children be protected as our own.
Let us value humanity before nationality
Let the freedom of persons be honored
Let us value liberty before conformity
Let the compassionate heart be honored
Let us value kindness before severity
So, Mothers of us All, keep you the hearths of our people.
Let The Fire be lit for all who come with a guest’s heart

Sunday, June 3, 2018

A Pagan Pub-sing Folk-roots Discography

If you hang around me for any length of time, you discover that I'm a singer. I mean, I do perform on stage, with L. in a formal way. I'm also likely to burst into song at random nearly any time... sometimes whatever earworm or free-association has appeared in my head, sometimes just nonsense-lyrics to my cats. Nature gave me an acceptable voice, and I've worked it all my life, so I enjoy using it.

A.D.F. (Ár nDraíocht Féin) the Druid order I work in, is rather full of folks like me, in that regard. As a group focused on the pre-Christian religions of Europe, very little is more authentic to the spirit of the Old Ways than the singing of traditional songs. ADF rites are intended to be tuneful, with songs for walking and standing, for worship and for receiving blessings. It helps move us from the atmosphere of a ceremonial temple to that of a joyous village even as we do tight, detailed ritual.
After a cup of mead (or whatev) there is likely to be singing at our campfires. At least here in my region many of us share a certain repertoire, derived from the British and Celtic folk revival of the 70s and onward. We have grown up, musically on some of the same albums and performers, and these songs tend to burst from us at the slightest poke. 

The body of song and music that grows from the culture of the British Isles - England, Scotland and Ireland, to be simple - enjoyed a revival in the 1970s as a style of 'folk-rock'.  The bands and singers below mixed-and-matched, producing albums in multiple styles, varying between unadorned preservation and hot, 1970s psychedelic guitar. They drew their material from the deep wells of traditional music.

Whether Britain, Ireland or Scotland there is a store of folkloric music that has been preserved by scholars and periodically revived by performers. Much of this material is modern, from the age of sailing ships or steam engines - one can find many songs about the dire arrival of the factories. Some is historical, preserving causes and wars long passed. Shape-note church hymns, labor songs, and both celebrations and laments of common living are strung throughout. However many modern Pagans feel that bits and scraps of the kind of old lore we seek are preserved in these songs, sometimes in unlikely places. Shreds of lost English dialects, Gaelicisms in the Irish songs, and the long memory of the farmers and land-bound 'peasantry'. (... forgive me, much of this material is plainly peasant music, though there is a courtly tip) Songs of the seasonal year, planting and harvest, and narratives of spirit contact feel like they hold clues for us.

The albums linked below are core collections that I still recommend both for Pagan material, but also for general pub-singing, bardic circle performances and self-satisfaction on forest walks. It isn't Pagan music, primarily, but it is music that has inspired Pagan bards, and is being preserved folk-style in the mouths of many living singers in homes and at campfires. There's an emphasis on a capella singing and simple performances, though listen for the 70s hi-tech variants of some songs.

For your edicifation, I'll start here. This is Steeleye Span (more below), in recent years, still working. They are the paradigmatic brit folk-rock band, Featuring three or four of the artists I'll detail below, and the incomparable Maddie Prior on vocals. Yeah, it's a boogie...

The Watersons
Perhaps the single most influential album on anglophillic US Paganism is Frost and Fire, by the Watersons. The Waterson family is one of several preserving families for this kind of English singing; Mom, Dad and the kids, at this point. Their kids and grandkids are still singing today.

Image result for frost and fire watersons
This album has a lot of folk-Christian references, if one considers the like of "Jesus Christ nailed to a big Yew tree" to be Christian. Many will recognize the May Carols, and Yule songs, and the many examples of the form and structure of folk versification has instructed many. It also offers a style of singing accessible to good singers who haven't a moment's schooling.

Anything by the Watersons will have some interesting stuff on it. The album "For Pence and Spicy Ale" doesn't seem to be up in entirety, but it has material I still use, as well as Music-Hall silliness such as 'Chickens in the Garden".

As an interlude, here's a Morris side singing a hunting song in the same vocal-group style. As is often the case, one must overlook the modern context of a fox-hunting song, and enjoy the lads singing about their dogs by their names.

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem
The three brothers Clancy joined with their old friend Tommy Makem to create the sound that brought Irish folk music to the US in the folk-revival years of the 60s. Politically aware but willing to trade on  the old blarney, their singing introduced us to songs revolutionary, idyllic and occasionally drunken, though none of the lads were great drinkers, themselves.

The Irish repertoire in the US is heavily infected with vaudeville, and 'burlesque Irish' is a discernable category, in such gems as "Who Put the Overalls in Mrs Murphy's Chowder". Irish-Americans organized and fought to end the burlesque depiction of the lazy, drunken mick. Nevertheless if you, like me, are one who enjoys an ounce of the best (at a time, let us say) there are some lovely odes to the Water of Life, lots of cultural and nature references, and some good stories. Also this old material is very widely known, among folk-geeks and even those of more regular tastes.
Here's the boys on Pete Seeger's folk-music TV show, back at the dawn of TV time. Links will take you onward into the Clancy rep. The song straddles that Irish line, but it's still sung everywhere. Hang in for an Easter Egg with Pete.

Sea Shanties and Pye-rate songs
Yar, mates, tap the grog, willya? The Age of Sail, the establishment of world-wide deep-sea travels however perilous, and the creation of great national and commercial navies by the European powers led to a category of work and leisure song that is still recalled and sung. The list is uncounted, by me, at least, but here is one of my fave collections. And here's another, from the Smithsonian collections, and a third, with some more popular sing-its.

Shanties are primarily work-songs, the rhythm meant to time and coordinate work with pulleys, ropes and winches. They are ideal for raggedy, fun-time singing, and can spring up unexpectedly...

Silly Wizard

Lest we neglect the northern Gaels and Scots, let me commend the work of the seminal Scots folk band Silly Wizard. Led by the gifted Andy Stewart they adapted Scottish and Irish songs, added an instrumental element that sometimes featured Dougie MacLean on the fiddle, and introduced new songs that have sunk seamlessly into folk performance.
Fun with dialects is part of the joy of folk-music. This thick Scots brogue amounts to English, nearly...
For a more preservation playlist of Jacobite Scots ballads, go here.
Steeleye Span & Pentangle
In the early 70's Steeleye Span, a folk-rock supergroup consisting of Tim Hart, Maddie Prior, Ashley Hutchings, Martin Carthy and others created a modern sound that combined fine a capella vocals with hot electric fiddle and guitar to create a unique sound. Their first 4 or 5 albums, beginning with "Hark! The Village Wait" and "Please To See the King" including the classic "Below the Salt" and "Parcel of Rogues". This music informed the Neopagan and early festival scene, and many filks have seen these songs end up in Pagan circles.
I may not neglect Pentangle, the work of  John Renbourne and Burt Jansch, with their compatriots. Their jazz-influenced approach took a different path from Steeleye's guitar-rock style, but their influence extended to Bob Dylan, who hung with them on his UK travels.
This period of music deserves an article of its own, which I'm not proceeding to at this time. I'll leave you with a band composed of some of the children of these famous players, who are updating the music in their own way.
Sing, my friends, and be happy!