Friday, October 24, 2014

A New God

Formatting is bugging me... posting anyway...

One of the biggest dangers of error in designing one's own religion is that one will simply make symbols of the parts of oneself one likes best, and then worship them. Without the guidance of an experienced ancient Celtic polytheist it is difficult to judge which of the great gods should be given attention. Pagans attempt to deal with the problem through 'Patronage', often modeled vaguely on West African models. What is usually missing is that in those models there is no sense that one chooses what god will become one's patron. Patronage is determined by divination, and the results can be surprising.

In modern Paganism it is more common for folks to focus on gods and spirits that resonate with the obvious and positive parts of our personalities and preferences. That can be fine, but it tends to create blind-spots in one's mythography. It seems that I'm not more immune to that than anyone else.

I'm creating another deck of cards. I've authored a full divination system, and fooled with an effort to pack ritual resources into a nice, pocket-sized box - you can see those here. Now I'm trying to expand the 'Temple Deck' in the Traveling Magic kit. I've added new cards for the deities, bringing the full deity-eidolon set to nine gods of Gaelic and/or Tuatha De Danann provenance. In an effort to amuse myself the set will also contain a 'grimoire deck' with ritual text artfully arranged on cards for, I hope, convenient transport and ritual use. There are invocations for each of those nine gods. More about all that down the road. Here's the point:

I reached a point of trying to decide who the ninth god would be, and asked myself (and some friends) what I was missing. Referencing the obvious Book of Invasions list of Gaelic gods it became clear that I needed a Nuada image and invocation to have the set be even vaguely complete. I'm familiar with the famous tale of Nuada of the Silver Arm, of course, who is King of the Tuatha Dé when they arrive, and is eventually dethroned and restored, before passing away and giving his throne to the next generation of gods. I also knew of his association (linguistic, at least) with the North British god Nodens, who was a healer of war-wounds, associated with the ford of a river, where warriors traditionally met. From those bits I felt confident devising this image:
As I turned to the next step, the writing of an invocation, I realized that I had simply never written an invocation to this important Irish god in all my years! Perhaps it is because he rather vanishes in the stories, and is supplanted by kings whose folkloric persistence has been greater. In any case he had simply never been a part of my work. I did what any good modern Druid does, and turned to my library of books.

I'll spare you the details in favor of summarizing my results. Nuada seems to me to be the Indo-European Law/Warrior king to balance the Dagda's Magic/Poetry king. Nuada is the god of the Well of Wisdom, balancing Dagda's presence as the Sacred Fire. He is the husband of the White Cow Queen - Boann - who is tricked by the Dagda into birthing the Wonder Child. He is the ancestor or father of Fionn, and shares with that figure the traits of hunter, leader of the war-band and keeper of inspiration - his name probably means "he who catches". He holds both the Sword of Victory and the Stone of Sovereignty and is, himself, the Once and Future King, as his arm is stricken from him and restored. In my reading I discovered several titles that seemed to lend themselves to invocation.

I'm satisfied with the effort, though I need to look into what might be proper offerings for such a god. I suppose I'll have to actually invoke him, soon enough.

So again, I suppose the lesson here is to be aware of one's blind spots, to note what one has not noted, to know what one doesn't know. May we all grow in wisdom.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

ADF Clergy Retreat 2014

    This past weekend Tredara hosted the ninth annual retreat for ADF’s clergy. I’ve written some about these before (here, and here) and these weekends remain some of my favorite moments of our busy year. The growing cadre of ordained ADF Druids (whatever) is the most skilled and focused group of ritualists I get to work with any given year, and we’ve been involved in a long-term project that is coming to a fuller completion.
Many readers will know that our Druidic system addresses the spirits in three large categories (Kindreds, we say) – the Gods, the Dead and the Sidhe. This last category becomes de-ethnicized to the ‘nature spirits’, though that presents problems. In fact this Third Kindred remains a confused catch-all for a variety of animist and folkloric categories of spirit. Thereby hangs the tale of the work this past weekend.

Our Order of Ritual always involves calls to two specific deities – the Earth Mother, or All-Mother, and the Gatekeeper, or Lord of Wisdom. These two have become the patrons of our Clergy Council in the category of the gods. While we may address them at home in specific local and cultural names, when we work together we satisfy ourselves with broader category-titles. Nevertheless the offerings are made, and the work gets done.

Some years ago we began working with a category of the Dead that we call the Ancient Wise. In this we hope to make contact with those from old times who can teach us more directly than we can learn from books. Using a vision-locale that we have developed over many years, we regularly commune with allies that we have made among the Wise.

So we found ourselves looking for an angle on formal alliances with, and within, the Third Kindred. Of course each of us, working on our own, has personal alliances. There is no requirement that our priests have formal spirit-alliances, but the training offers lots of opportunities, and I think most do. Collectively we are multi-ethnic, though united in our work at the Fire of Sacrifice and our service, as we say, to the Gods, the Land and the Folk. The diversity of personal mythic model among us makes the matter more complicated.

Having made alliance with two categories, we have been discussing and experimenting with the third. The problem, in my mind at least, has been that I wanted to be able to narrow the focus of a working from the countless kinds of the wights. My studies into the spirit-tech of the grimoires led me to want to evoke and pact with a specific list of ‘herald’ spirits that could act as intermediaries between mortals and the Many Kins.

My problem was that I couldn’t generate any enthusiasm in the members for the idea. We attempted a version of it three years ago, in the Silver Court work described at the link above. I was fairly pleased with the results, but several in the group weren’t, even those who had strong visions. The results didn’t ‘stick’ very well or get taken into cult in the priesthood, as the Ancient Wise had done so smoothly. After a lively discussion both on-line and on our Friday discussions at the Retreat, we ditched the ‘specific heralds’ idea.

I can surely understand resistance to the concept of selecting any single being or small group of beings to represent the innumerable kinds of spirits in their nearly infinite places. Part of my goal was to choose from a category of ‘nature spirit’ that was easily available in whatever ecosystem one might work. The members of the Council brought a variety of familiars and allies to the work. Trying to decide on a single one – or even a single class, just wasn’t going to happen. The inclination was to do a general ‘convocation’ call, and see who showed up.

The Council has developed/discovered a specific Inner vision locale in which we meet the Ancient Wise. We have toyed for some while with the idea of using another section of that landscape for Landwights work. We began our Saturday working by journeying to that locale in our usual way, together at a lightly-consecrated fire. By speaking with our existing allies we got confirmation on our basic notion, and various other omens that shaped the later work. We also drew a runic omen (because we had runes with us…) that we felt gave us the OK to proceed.

We decided to work in the late afternoon, then retire to dinner and music. Weather conditions were chancy so we resorted to the fire-room in our barn, a mostly-closed room where we can still have open fire. Not the most romantic or evocative setting, but it’s good to have choices. We were comfortable for trance, which is a fair trade.

Framing the work in a full liturgy of sacrifice, we offered to the Mother and the Gatekeeper, the Ancient Wise, and then I made a call to the Many Clans, supported by others as their voices were inspired. Unlike the earlier rounds of work, which included fully-guided trances, I simply led the crew to the edge and sent them on, telling them to ‘arrive in our place by the ways you know’. This is the blessing of work with an experienced group.

We worked in silence for some while, then returned. We had also set ourselves to do a simple sending of healing to several members and kin who were in need, so we did that work and then retired. The evening that followed was a delight (for me) of making music and beery fellowship.

The next morning we discussed our visions. I’m going to keep the majority of the content of that private at this time. In the 18+ of us who reported significant vision (we had one person ill with an allergy attack who missed the rite) there were two or three obvious repeating motifs and commonalities. These reflect several mythic patterns associated with Druids, such as wind and winged messengers. While the whole business wasn’t the specific spirit-mining I had envisioned the company had strong visions, and seeds are planted that are likely to grow.

Nine years after beginning these Retreats the ADF priestly training program is in full operation. In that time the Clergy Council (as we clumsily call it) has also slowly developed an esoteric pattern that we share with new members as they arrive. In this we don’t intend to be secret as much as discrete, to keep the keys and operative symbols limited to those of us who share an oath.
The oath of our priesthood is neither secret nor complex. We say:
I swear to Honor the Gods, to love the Land and to serve the Folk, and to this honor, love and service I dedicate my hands, my heart and my head.

Even as we build the national Pagan religious organization that helps make those goals real in the common world, so we build the relationships with the Shining Ones, the Middle-World co-dwellers, and the Mighty Dead. May what we work on the Inner become true in the mortal world, and the old ways be renewed!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Harvest Blessing

This is a day late, but it has been rather a busy weekend. I'll have a post about that later. In the meantime it is not at all too late to make your peace with the spirits in the Grain, and perhaps this charm can help.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Jeff Rosenbaum, 1955 - 2014

Some may not know, but my old friend Jeff Rosenbaum has suffered a rapid onset brain-cancer which ended his life yesterday afternoon. Listen to this while you read, if you like:

It is proper, now, to speak of my old friend Jeff Rosenbaum, a man who was like a like a brother to me, over many decades. Sometimes closer, sometimes less so, but always loved as family. He has passed far too soon, his work still in progress, but he has left a legacy that continues to bring joy, wisdom and art to the world.

I met Jeff in the mid-1970s, through the Society for Creative Anachronism. He was, at the time, living as an Orthodox Jew, and was the baker of bread for the wonderful medieval feasts that the Barony of the Cleftlands (SCA in Cleveland Oh) put on. Jeff’s golden challah loaves won him the honor of royal baker to the king of the Midrealm.

But Jeff enjoyed baking more than bread, we soon found ourselves part of a circle of friends interested in experimental consciousness exploration, using methods ranging from those of Aleister Crowley to those of Timothy Leary. Many an evening was spent in contemplation of such things as the football-shape that the universe must assume when you look at it as a cross-time object, or discussing whether the Abyss was really as close as that tree’s shadow.

Jeff remained a student and advocate of traditional Judaism and Jewish culture all of his life, but his personal devotion didn’t survive his consciousness studies. Jeff participated in our late-70s experiments in eclectic Paganism, but in general he was more of a scientist than a religionist. While he surrounded himself with students and teachers of a variety of esoteric spiritualities he never personally identified as anything in particular except, perhaps, as a fellow traveler on the great voyage.

In the spring of 1977 it was Jeff who convened the meeting that founded the Chameleon Club and, later, the Association for Consciousness Exploration. The Chameleon Club was brought together by a mutual interest in mind arts and sciences and a quiet revolutionary optimism that we could make a corner of the world a cooler, freer, sweeter place. With an agenda drawn largely from “Cosmic Trigger” we set about hosting events as simple as showing movies at a Case Western Reserve University venue and as major as bringing Dr. Leary to Cleveland for the first time as he returned to public speaking in the late 70s. By 1980 we had bought into a house in Cleveland Hts. and were keeping an office as well, all managed by Jeff’s hard work, supported by the Club.

Tim Leary, Robert Shea, Pat Monaghan, Jeff, Gillie Smythe
In 1980 the Club made a road-trip to the Pan-Pagan Festival. Pan-Pagan ’80 remains a historical moment, when 500+ Pagans and Witches gathered to share community. From that festival were born the majority of the round of “national festivals” still in business today. The Chameleon Club came home and immediately began working on what became the Starwood festival. Thirty-five years later that festival is still rockin’ on.

Starwood became Jeff’s love-child, his farm and his factory. It is a festival that drew on the Pagan community, yet included new science, environmental and political activism and performance art along with anything else cool we could drag into the woods. With Jeff’s guidance over the years the festival grew to provide inspiration, pleasure and learning to thousands of people. Generations of children have grown up with Starwood as their ‘church camp’, bands have been born, religious systems invented, all brewed in the bright, faceted jewel cauldron of the Starwood Festival.

It is entirely likely that none of that would have occurred without Jeff’s vision and direction, but he wouldn’t want me to give the impression that he did it alone. The Chameleon Club, and our later allies and heart-kin, were the family that made Jeff’s plans materialize. Yes, when our lives became busy and balls were dropped it was usually Jeff getting them back into the air. If no one else did it, Jeff did. His personal time, talent and treasure were devoted to making the Starwood community, and promoting Starwood’s ideals of beauty, freedom and growth. However he did it for and with others. Jeff never promoted himself overly. He never wanted “the credit” for the wonderful thing he helped to build, freely sharing that with the many staff and volunteers.

Jeff could be counted on for his enduring care and loyalty. Those of us from the old Chameleon Club are Chosen Kin, mostly as inescapable to one another now as any big ethnic clan. Jeff was one of the Old Uncles, as alternately beloved and annoying as any. He could be counted on for a good joke, a weird movie, a cool new band, a bad joke (did I say that?). He could be counted on by his friends when times were hard, his quiet charity a boon to several over the years.

Jeff’s life can serve as a lesson that a devotion to ideas, to manifesting dreams, to serving a community can be fulfilling, and leave a lasting legacy. The Starwood Festival will continue, rolling on the solid chassis of Jeff’s old bus. The enchantment he helped to weave is only made the wilder by Jeff’s transition from at-the-desk manager to his new life in story and memory. May his atoms make new beauty, may his work grow new wonder, may his spirit find joy in its fate.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

New Nemeton Report

Regular readers will know that we're building a new ritual space here at Tredara. Following Celtic (at least Gaulish) tradition we refer to these neo-Celtic ritual spaces as a 'nemeton'. While the form of that word clearly indicates its Gaulish derivation, the root that produces the word also produces a complex of words in Irias, such as 'nemed', indicating both 'noble' and 'holy' in different examples. So a nemeton is a noble place for sacred work, and that's what we're trying to build.

We just finished another work day, with several of our Grove mates showing up. The crew was about right - we were doing more detail work that grunt work, and we had some skilled help.
Here's where we left off. Looks good, but the salvage brick at the fire altar just wasn't going to make it. Also, the first big rain caused erosion in some of the brick-work on the eastern porch that holds the Well and Tree, filling the offering shaft with sand and collapsing some of the brick deck. So our job yesterday was to finish the firepit with the proper new brick we found, and repair the deck and offering shaft.

The Fire altar turned out to be easy. We started early, before the heat had grown too oppressive. AJ has actually mixed mortar, and we had three hands (two and half - AJ's in a cast) working it, so placing the brick went easy. We tried a trick on the top course, to create better ventilation and, hopefully, a neat light effect as the fire shines between the bricks.
The finished brick-work
and filled with dirt,
to raise the fire properly into the air

The traditional Euro-Pagan fire altar is a raised stack of brick or stone, with the fire on the top. The word "altar" means 'high place', and the central porch and fire-altar are, in fact, the highest spot in the nemeton's meadow.

The east porch and offering shaft were a more complicated matter. We needed to seal the lip of the actual pit to prevent erosion from filling it, and provide a solid base for the brick deck.
So we started here, mortaring a collar
of 'castle wall' salvage brick. this

We don't know much about ancient Celtic ritual, but we can be pretty sure that they made 'deposit offerings' into shafts dug into the earth. Archaeology has found gigantic examples - we commemorate the custom on a smaller scale. The 'shaft' receives offerings to the Underworld powers, and is part of the symbolic complex we call 'the Well"

We wanted a collar of brick to bring the shaft-top
up above level. Our skilled help was able to cut a proper
frame of brick, which I love.
Finally cementing the whole thing in place,
and ready for the capstone.

Finished East Porch, with cap on the shaft.
By the end of the day we had built the fire-altar, fixed the shaft, and even filled the holes on the new processional way. We should be ready to consecrate this baby at Fall Equinox which, come to think of it, is the Grove's birthday.

The view from the processional way, on entry.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sacrifice, Reciprocity, Gods, and Spirits

I encountered a discussion on-line concerning the idea of reciprocity between Mortals and spirits, anchored from John Halstead’s excellent article in two parts ( here and here). John is a humanist and atheist, though perhaps not a materialist in the most reductive sense. He strives for a Paganism that does not depend on a relationship with non-material intelligences. Regular readers will understand how different that is from my own interests in spirituality and sacred occultism. Let me say that I have covered a lot of my background opinion on issues surrounding sacrifice in an article here.

As I read John’s well-reasoned paper, I find that it is his original assumptions that make it flawed for me. Like many humanists he seems to have skipped the step where one discards the common monotheistic notion of God, and addresses the persons of the divine as specific, limited beings. Whether or not one ends up at pantheism or monism or even atheism (as many polytheists over the ages have done) I see value in moving from the idea that ‘gods’ are cosmic creator-owner-operators-of-existence, or cosmic background-principle-of-existence, to a model in which the divine is expressed locally and specifically. I think that is invaluable in reclaiming the essence of what pre-Christian religion was about, which is a goal that is still at the heart of my idea of Neopaganism. It seems to be a step that many Humanists simply don’t see, or decide to avoid.

Of course the Universe doesn’t give a crap about the horn of ale that I spill. I don’t worship the universe, and I don’t see what the point of doing so might be. To me, worship is a social exchange, and that makes sense only with beings that can know and respond to my worship. It makes no sense to me at all to ‘worship the divine in the sunset’ unless one understands the sunset to be a person who can respond to one’s worship.

I note that some branches of traditional Paganism, such as certain Buddhisms, reject such personal worship in favor of a discipline of contemplation and self-refinement. This seems to be a natural path for some folks, though the folk-religions that have been made on the Buddhist base almost all return to the core tradition of offering-and-asking. That tradition is so central to world non-Abrahamic religion as to be an identifying marker of religion itself. I understand, I think, that John isn’t trying to be rid of the practice but rather is reaching for a rationale that satisfies his humanist leanings. Nothing wrong with that.
Finding the living intelligence in the awesome beauty of
the land is rather the point for me. Why stop at the material?

Somehow I suspect that Humanist Paganism is no more likely to be interested in direct dealing with spirits of the Dead, or local Landwights. In my opinion traditional Paganism (which is my model) does not limit its religious work to the gods. There is no notion that only gods are worthy of worship in the ancient model – local spirits of the Dead and of natural features had at least as much to do with one’s fortune and life as did the poet’s gods. While any small worshipper might wonder whether an offering to the Highest Queen would be noticed the blessing of one’s lineage of ancestors, or the local Chief Tree is a much more intimate thing.

I suppose that a symbolist, materialist rationale could be devised for reciprocity between the idea of the Ancestors or local land-features. That is simply unsatisfying to me. I don’t bother with religion for the sake of community building or personal aesthetic satisfaction – I could get those without religion. I do magic and religion to engage with mythic reality (to use a rationalist description). I consider mythic reality a part of the natural world, and consider that to ignore it is simply to ignore part of the natural world in a system that takes nature for our revelation. So, whatever my own little philosophical opinions, I address the gods and spirits as the gods and spirits, and have repeated the experiment many times over the years because I have been pleased with the results.

Finally, let’s directly address some of John’s concerns. (John in italic):
The notion that the gods will grant worshipers material well-being assumes certain things:
• that deities exist (whatever that means) in some sense independently of you (whatever that means),
Good, as below we’ll take that as given, especially with the “whatever” tag. But I’d like to reduce this from ‘deities’ to ‘spirits’ if I can do it and preserve the sense. The divine is not expressed as deities alone.

In general, the culturally-universal history of human interactions with spirits, which has never ceased except in the more repressed segments of western cultures, makes me unwilling to replace mythic and traditional narratives with those of modern scientism.

• that your deity is aware of you,

Here, again, we have a difference of type and degree in a polytheistic or spiritist system. To get the attention of the highest gods, Olympians, etc, was always a Big Deal. The notion of getting on one’s knees and ‘praying’ to Athena seems silly to me. Why would such a great being notice such a small deed – unless the worshipper has come to the god’s attention through a more serious effort. Not all deities are aware of me, I suppose, but my formal efforts make me comfortable in assuming that my local deities are.

My Ancestors are linked to me much more intimately, of course, and I make some effort to enter relationship with the strange non-humans of my area. While the latter are quite local, they seem more alien in their way than the human-shaped gods we usually deal with. There is never a lack of Mystery.

As to how I know they’re aware, I trust both the results of my own technical vision-work, and the results in my life. They respond to me and stuff.

Even if we take #1 for granted (that your god exists), I just can’t see how you get through the rest of the assumptions.  Even if you have had an experience of a powerful personal presence which you identify as a god, how do you infer the rest of the assumptions from your experience?

• that your deity cares about you,
“Care’… I don’t concern myself with their emotional response. You functionally mean ‘will respond to customary approaches’. As long as they ‘keep the Old Bargain’ I don’t ask them how they feel about me.

• that your deity has the power to alter your life circumstances,
Here again we rely mainly on the testimony of tradition, though each practitioner will get results according to their effort and skill. We seek that general luck-splash blessing through community religious work, and that can be enough for most people. Some religions provide more technical methods of getting spirits to aid one’s work, and some systems call that ‘magic’ while others just call it part of religion. Magic, in general, relies only partly on the power of ‘gods’, often being more involved with non-deity spirits, and with the ‘occult powers of natural things’.
An altar arranged for a technical spiritual experiment.

Humans have the power to alter our life circumstances. With the aid of beings whose perspective and ability is different from ours (I think ‘greater' is fair) we can alter it more. Nothing is omnipotent - no spirit can bring that Palace of Gold (probably) but it is good to have strong allies.

• that your deity has more power than you alone have to alter your life circumstances,

Any two beings have more power than any one being. That one’s easy.

• that your deity will chose to help you under certain circumstances (i.e., in exchange for offerings), and
They have always done, and always said they will. There’s no reason to set aside the planet-wide pattern of traditional religion because it offends some philosophical position.

• that your deity’s influence on your life circumstances will be greater than other influences working in the opposite direction.
That’s a crap-shoot. Nothing is omnipotent. My allies and I forge ahead with skill and strength.

As to whether reciprocity ‘works’ when deliberately used for material benefit, I’d say that such experiments depend on a number of variables. We know that in material science an experiment will only work replicably if all the details are performed correctly and all the variables are controlled for. In general, if an experiment fails it must be because the operator ‘hasn’t done it right’. In art there is rather more leeway – a familiar melody can be approximated and result in a successful performance. Still in general an artistic effort must be ‘done right’ to achieve any specific effect. To wish there were a system that could work by wishing is merely… wishful. (sorry…)

It seems to me that John wants to measure religion by a different standard than material nature. Why doesn’t it make entire sense, in a model in which nature is our revelation of the divine that religious practices meant to produce specific material effects would be subject to some of the same rules as other types of human effort? Traditional Paganisms generally include a body of formal method by which devoted and skilled operators can get results beyond those of a dabbler. I suspect that dropping one’s silver in the wishing-well works as well today as it ever did – unless one has built a specific relationship with the spirit of the well, perhaps.

I don’t want to go too far into mythic psychology and the relationship between one’s chosen worship and one’s psychological condition. I’ll say that polytheism (as opposed to pantheism or other monisms) offer a menu of human potentials to be awakened through the long list of gods and spirits. I hold with “as above, so below” – when I bring a mighty power near me, the microcosmic mirror of that power lights up in me. If I need Motherliness, or Loverliness, or Coachiness I can get it. It is not regressive to make allies and to interact with them to improve and direct one’s life. My theism does not lead me to make the gods the big actors in my life’s story. I am the big actor in my life – the gods have stories that converge with mine, like any other being.
Here's a nice roadside shrine.

Here’s the deal for me – I want to bring the divine down out of the realms of Great Cosmic Wonder to where the rubber meets the road. I love those moments where I look out into the world within my heart and just Dig it All, for the sake of digging it, but I don’t consider that to have much to do with religion. I do religion to bring the power of the spirits (whether conceived as psycho-linguistic bundles or ethereal wights) into the common world, for the blessing of mortals. Again, for me, that means engagement with the mythic, regardless of whatever ‘rationalist’ discourse may say. I’ll always be more interested in the roadside shrine than in the mystic’s suggestions of natural wonder, but that's just me.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Cleansing Blessing

Public Purification Rite, Summerland Festival 2014

For many years L and I have attended the Summerland Festival, organized by our ADF kin of Sixth Night Grove in Dayton. Held at a pleasant 4H camp in the woods, the event features high-quality program, good fellowship and an excellent Saturday music night. This isn’t a full review of the event, but I want to tip my hat to the fine group of bards working in our region. Talent is best graced by skill, and the increases in skill and confidence to be seen are marvelous!

Our shady glen

 Summerland has given me the chance to do some of my favorite experimental magic over the years. I did early Core-Shamanism-style ally rites, introduced the 9X9 divination system and did the first Court of Brigid rite in the ritual space (actually the ‘camp-fire circle’ of that 4H camp) there. Not being an organizer leaves my mind available for real magical work – something I just can’t manage at, say, Starwood any more.

This year our program piece was a rite of cleansing and purification, based on work I wrote last winter. It is part of an effort to devise ways to use magico-religious work to affect change in the hearts and spirits of people.  I’m more of a teacher than a healer, by inclination, but the work of priesthood in our time seems to demand some degree of work focused on the ‘cure of souls’. In our time people come to spiritual work seeking personal healing, comfort and restoration. Maybe they always did, but I think that in ancient days they didn’t expect to get it from priests of the gods. However they did expect priests (loosely defined) to be able to relieve “ritual impurity” (See my previous article here). When life brings us into contact with traditional sources of impurity it is traditional ritual that relieves it. The script for the large rite I composed is here  .

Approaching performance of the rite our primary concerns were adapting it for a larger-group performance. The rite is really composed to be worked by an operator on an individual or small group of clients and their witnesses, and in that form the ritual gestures would be able to proceed smoothly and rhythmically. However we were mounting this for 30 – 40 people (final # about 36, if I counted correctly).
The Three Blessing Cauldrons, ready.
Most central, the rite calls for the hands of the clients (i.e. everyone, in this case) to have their hands laved with water from the blessed cauldron. My first inclination was to do the old receiving-line, and have folks parade past the big ritual cauldron to receive their cleansing. Boring. Finally we decided to set three Blessing Bowls up the center of the seating area, and hallow each of them with the blessing.

We decided that the clients would actual cleanse one another, grouping around the three cauldrons. To do this we would give each of them a spoon. My reading has taught me that traditions that cleanse with water frequently do not use their hands to do so – most usually a ladle or spoon is used to dip water cleanly from a sacred pot onto its source. So it was clear plastic spoons for all.

The rite also calls for the clients to cover their heads in a simple white cloth for a section of the work. For the larger audience this was reduced to 2” strips of cloth, draped over the neck. Both of these adaptations were a little scary – to me the risk was tipping over into silliness. Fortunately the real cooperation of the ADF audience prevented that from happening… much…

The offering table. Ritual waters on top, deity images, spoons
to the left, cloths to the right, offerings, and the set-up for
the three blessing fires.
The final adaptation of the original script was the choice to sing the two key incantations. My goal in the work was to induce trance with a minimum of spoken guidance, allowing the crew to find their own requirements for purification, and to focus solidly on the mechanics of the rite as conveying the blessing. The litanies of water and fire in the text seemed long to me – induction through boredom is doable, but doesn’t get return trade. So I decided to add intonation and a mantric chorus-sing to the water-blessing, and to sing the fire-blessing as a hymn.

We worked the rite on Friday afternoon, and the shadows of the trees had perfectly covered the seating area we were using for the rite. We encouraged the crew to group around the blessing bowls, and distributed the spoons and cloths. L and I opened the work with a simple offering to the Three Kindreds (Land-spirits, Ancestors and Deities, for new readers). In this we honored first the general category of each Kindred, then added a more specific call to beings proper to the intention.

In this the Landwights was the most difficult, and a contemplation of how they may relate to ritual impurity and purification might be proper. I note that I might have offered to the spirits of the material water and fuel which we used in the rite, had I thought of it. Along with a general call to the Ancestors we called to Grandmothers and Grandfathers, understanding them as keepers of custom and rule surrounding purity – ‘reproving and compassionate’. Along with calling to the Gods in general we asked Brigid and the Dagda to aid us. This choice will be obvious enough, especially given the core fire-and-water symbolism of the rite. In parsing the sources of power for the rite, I go first to the innate power of water and fire, to which are added various natural-magic components. Secondly the consensus and cooperation of the community empowers the purification and return to normalcy. To these are added the special blessing of the Kindreds, brought through sacrifice.

All in all, the performance went well. L and I were pretty well in-tune, and our ritual performance partnership is a reliable support. We worked the initial sacrifice unscripted, then resorted to scripts for the detailed invocations. All in all we could have used more hands. I found myself sitting down to drum and lead the intonation, and still required to speak parts. In terms of my own trance I was able mainly to channel intent into the singing of the choruses, my attention otherwise divided between aspects of the progress of the work. I was forced to rely primarily on the design and execution – I wasn’t pushing a lot of juice myself.

The scrum around the blessing bowls was not too bad. Everyone got their nine lavings accomplished in just a little longer than the performance of the Hymn of Cleansing. Perhaps having operators at each of the bowls would be helpful, but I do like the mutuality of the community cleansing one another.

The second phase of the cleansing is the purification by fire. In the Two Powers analysis of the rite’s formula, the Underworld Waters are first used to dissolve and wash away impurity. The Fire of the Heavens is then used to restore original pattern, empower the target’s system, and to ‘purify by sunlight’. So we prepared small, portable fires, by simply lighting very fresh incense cones and not blowing them out. My experience has been that this will produce a 5-minute, sweet-smelling flame that, even if it goes out, will produce a pleasant cloud of smoke. In this case we got all three flames back to the work-table intact, so that worked just fine. So did singing the entire Hymn of the Flame, though I could regularize the verses a little more.

The original script called for blessing and passing a cup on completion of the Water and Fire. We were afraid of going too long, and excised it. In the end the working took about forty minutes. That tells me I could leave that module in place – I like the idea of the newly-purified folk sharing a cup.

Oh, one radical element of the rite was the Confession. In keeping with what I have discovered about purification work, a Hymn of Confession was recited prior to the cleansings. This led the crew to admit to a series of abstract errors or failures of virtue, and provided a moment for each to contemplate what impurity they might bring to the work at hand. This feels controversial, and the final text was the result of some discussion here at home. In the end the folk made no objection, and it seemed a fit and useful part of the formula.

The feel of the rite by the end seemed properly blessed and joyful and, as we burned the cloths in the ritual fire, it seemed to me to lighten. The emotional responses in the crowd were varied, from obvious delight to some examples of tears and obvious introspection. Several folks took occasion to say that the rite had pushed some of the buttons that were targeted, and all in all I consider it a good first performance of a fairly complex rite with fairly complex goals.

I want to thank the Summerland folks again for the opportunity and support (and Sai for building and tending the Fire), and thank all who participated. May we grow in wisdom by the work.