Thursday, April 17, 2014

Easter Fakelore

(This little screed has gotten hundreds of shares on FB. I thought I'd post it here, being timely for the weekend.)

Attention Pagans - repeating this makes us look stupid. This stuff comes from half-wit anti-Catholic literature of the 19th century - it is worthless in light of modern scholarship.
Let's do this in a little detail:

1: Ishtar is not pronounced 'eester' - silly. If one pronounces a long 'I' one can arrive at "eeshtar', but that's only so close. In any case see below for the origin of 'Easter'
2: Ishtar was a goddess of fertility and sex, also war and sovereignty. While the Spring equinox season was important, it was not her particular feast. In any case the Feast of the Resurrection has only a coincidental association with spring equinox.
3: There are no depictions of Ishtar with eggs or rabbits. These symbols might be associated with the Germanic goddess below, but not with Ishtar, who has no relationship with the Christian feast.
4: Constantine did not Christianize the Roman empire. He made Christianity legal and was, to some extent, a patron of the early church. My impression is that there was no active worship of the ancient goddess Ishtar in Constantine's day.
Most specifically, the name of the goddess "Ishtar" has nothing to do with the Germanic name of the Christian feast, 'Easter'.

Easter was said by the early medieval scholar, Bede (and only by him) to be derived from the English goddess-name Eoster. That name is hard to trace, though a bit of progress has been made. It occurs elsewhere hinted at in place-names, and in literature only as a name of the month of April - 'Ostaramonath' or 'Eastermonath', which may just mean 'Easter Month'. A germanic goddess-name of that sort would be connected with goddesses of dawn - Eos in Greece, etc. The most likely meaning for the name 'Easter' for the Christian feast is "the feast we keep at dawn".

Most of the Christian world does not call the Feast of the Resurrection 'Easter'. In most languages it is called some variant of 'Pascha', derived from the Hebrew 'Pesach' - the Passover feast. Only English speakers call it "Easter" (and German Ostern) - nobody in Rome ever called it that. Constantine surely never heard the word "Easter", which would not have been invented for several hundred years after his time.

Summary: There may be pre-Christian remnants in the folk customs surrounding the Christian Resurrection Feast, but they have nothing to do with the ancient goddess Ishtar.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Fun with Cernunnos (vaguely nsfw)

So, in lieu of writing, I've been doing art. This began with redoing the Ninefold Oracle, and went on to the Traveling Magic thingy. Now I'm dredging up more stuff from my sketchbooks. I don't consider myself a 'good' artist, but I can make stuff that pleases me, and that means I'll show it to you : ).
The first (and most recent) one is my shot at a figure that properly reflects ancient models:

Cernunnos was one of the first of the ancient gods to receive my earnest worship. Understanding him based on Huson and Gardner, the combination of wild-forest and Underworld vibe was juicy for a young magician.

Just to get the basics out of the way, I'll quote myself from FB:

"The Antlered God is depicted in Romano-Celtic statuary in central and coastal Gaul and into Roman Britain. We call him 'Cernunnos' (meaning, more literally 'the pointy one') because of a single inscription, and because Gardner adopted the name for the 'devil' of his witch-cult.

The Antlered God is usually depicted cross-legged (the Celtic position of feasting and socializing) with deer's antlers. He is always shown clothed, and there are no phallic depictions of Cernunnos. Likewise, almost no Celtic god is depicted with the head or hooves of an animal, including Cernunnos.

Cernunnos is never shown as a hunter, or with weapons or hunting tools. He bears and wears torcs - often multiple torcs - and is accompanied by the mysterious ram-headed serpent. I take the latter to represent the fertility power of the Underworld.

The Underworld Power of wealth and growth seems the central theme of the figure, to me. He is depicted with bags or cauldrons of wealth, and surrounded by the symbols of wealth - the cow and the deer. I find it likely that he represents a vision of the Fertility Father."

For a very nice review of what we know and guess about this interesting Celtic deity, read Cei Serith's excellent article.
That's the roots of the matter.

The Gundestrup Cernunnos - in many ways the seminal
source for modern depictions.

A Romano-Celtic hunting deity,
with hound.
In the folkloric rehash of the mid-twentieth-century Pagan and witchcraft revival, this obscure Celtic figure was rediscovered and melded with both Pan and with the English folkloric tale of 'Herne', the huntsman of Windsor Park. There is some slim chance that the Saxon name Herne is related to british roots connected with 'cern', but otherwise the only link is the presence of antlers in Herne's tale. There are hunter gods in Romano-Celtic statuary, but they are never antlered and have no connection with Cernunnos.

Levi's Baphomet, the
Goat-god of the witch's
As I was entering Pagan work the image of Cernunnos had been very much merged both with traditional depictions of the Hindu Shiva and with Victorian notions of Pan, as well as with Levi's Baphomet. He was often depicted seated cross-legged, his Ram-headed serpent mixed with Shiva's snakes, and the subtle caduceus-phallus of Baphomet becomes the plain depiction of the Roman Pan and satyroi figures. The example that really sticks in my mind is Oberon Zell's full-page telesmatic figure of the god, probably from somewhere like 1968. That image is surprisingly difficult to find on the internets...

So when I drew my own figure in  late 1980s I had no issue with drawing the above. I never went for the 'Hunter' thing, and preferred to stick to the Gundestrup basics. For me, by the late 80s, the witch's Cernunnos was afigure that combined Shiva's teaching of sorcery and mysticism with the forest and wildlife symbolism of Cernunnos, and a strong inclination to view the original Celtic Cernunnos as the God of the Underworld. In this I was certainly influenced by witchcraft mythology, and I'm really still sorting it all out

This is like the full monty of syncretic Cernunnos-in-my-head. I'll probably stick with the top image, the nicely correct one (once I flip the hands...) but I still dig this one.

May wealth rise from the deep, and plenty flow in from the wild, and may we praise the Antlered God for the Blessing!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Traveling Magic – A Portable Pagan & Druidic Ritual Kit

I talked about this last week, over here. Pleasantly, The Game Crafter got me my final proof well ahead of schedule, and so we are ready to go.

Just to say it very clearly - the kit pictured above does not include the non-game components - the altar-cloth or small vessels. Those are available, or some of them, at my Cafe Press shop.

I hope this kind of easily-carried kit of ritual supports will be useful to some folks. I expect it to be to me.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Demons & Daemons

Animism & Dualism

I've seen some discussion in Blog-land this week on the topic of ‘daemons’, and on how that relates to the idea of ‘demons’. I find the Hellenic category daemon to be a useful way of understanding the general category of ‘spirits’ in a Pagan sense. I've written a bit on the topic already, here.

In that sense, I understand Hellenic ‘daimons’ (or daemons – I probably won’t be consistent) to be spirits of almost every type, up to and including the Olympians themselves and down to the smallest pool-sprite or Cloacinian imp. In Hellenic religion these were understood as servants, messengers or persons of the gods, or as active on their own. Members of the mortal Dead might become daimons. One important function of daemones was to carry sacrifices to the gods themselves, and to return with their blessing. These spirits became associated with the rites and tools of domestic and civic cults – the ‘familiars’ of the sacrificers, the ‘genii’ – which means, at base, ‘family spirits’.
In the Hellenic sense a satyr is a daimon, if not a very noble
one. The depiction of daemones with animals characteristics,
including wings and/or horns, is quite traditional;.

In any animist or spiritist system it will be plain that not all spirits are safe, easy or friendly. The Greeks distinguished between eudaimones and kakodaimones – ‘pretty’ spirits and ‘shitty’ spirits, rather literally. Yes, Virginia, there are fairies in the dung… The spirits of rot and decay, so mandatory for the management of a forest floor, become less welcome in human habitation. If there is a daimon in the waterfall, or in the corn, there is surely one in cholera or crib-death as well. Some parts of lovely and holy nature will just plain kill yer butt – the spirits of those parts are often thought of as ‘wrathful’ or even as ‘demons’ in the Hollywood sense. In traditional cultures it is often the task of priests and magicians to manage them.

Then there is the issue of moral dualism. I do not believe that there is a spiritual battle between Good and Evil. The spirits are not lining up into skins versus… other people’s skins… Just like mortals, the spirits go about their business- waterfalls fall water, cholera eats and kills, etc. It does make simple sense for mortals to divide our categories between spirits who benefit us and spirits who might harm us. We do as much with animals, plants and landscapes. However many dangerous, powerful things make good allies, even gods.

Which brings us to operative magic in a traditional European model. The usual powering agencies behind the magic of the Greek Papyri are the daemones, whether of the gods invoked in the rite, or sometimes in general, and sometimes as categories of the Dead. These spirits are tasked with the usual goals of love-spells, revenge, legal cases and sports-betting.

As the Hellenic moral sense became more restrictive (or refined, as you like) theorists began to assert that some daemones became ‘base’ in their desires and inclinations. They hung around boxing-matches, low sport and Underworld sacrifices. As they became base so the mortals they influenced became more inclined to vicious behavior. These spirits became the servants of low sorcerers, essentially thug-spooks for hire. This was not all so much based upon a matter of ‘sin’ as it was on the idea that wallowing in dung makes one stink. (Back to kakodaemones…). Magicians (especially theurgists) proposed that virtuous living supported contact with wiser, calmer, spirits long before Christian dualism developed its spirit hierarchies.

I remain interested in how the Book of Enoch’s notion of ‘fallen angels’ got wrapped up in all of this. Of course we see there the same pattern – divine beings attracted by earthly delights. The separation of the spiritual from the material seems to have been trending in 1 ce or so. One Hellenic notion of the origin of the daemones is that they are the souls of the humans of the Golden Age, ennobled by the gods to act as guardians and aids for mortals. Throw in the jealousy of the God of Sinai, and those noble spirits, children of the first days, become rebellious angels. To the Hellenes and other Indo-European Pagans, the siring of children by mighty spirits with mortal women was neither improper nor unclean. The spirits of such children often became mighty daimones.

As the classical era ends, Paganism slowly becomes illegal in the Roman Empire. Pagan rites are transferred from the public temples to private chapels and living-rooms. In these reduced circumstances we may have the beginnings of ‘high magic’, and certainly of later theurgy. It is from rites of this sort combined with the low magic of the Greek Papyri that the magic of the grimoires is thought to spring, long and winding though the trail from 700 to 1700 may be.

As Christian myth and spiritology became the norm among scholastics (and so among magicians) the baser daemons were reckoned part of the Enemy’s legions and called ‘demons’, while better daemons were assigned to heavenly quires to become ‘angels’ – messengers – of ‘God’. The whole War In Heaven myth is applied, God’s Kingdom opposed to the World, the Flesh and the Devil. The material world being part of the unholy triad of primal Christian thought any spirit not immediately part of the angelic hosts was a ‘demon’ – a subject of the Prince of This World. So elementals, ‘fairies’ even the worldly end of the spiritual hierarchy were considered ‘demons', i.e. fallen angels and/or servants of 'Satan'.

Among magicians, who were always influenced by but other than orthodoxy, the spiritual hierarchy of, say, any given planet began at an archangel (or a ‘god’ in earlier and later material), descending through layers of servitor spirits. The very lowest layer of those servitor spirits – the actual workers of the magician’s team – were often called ‘demons’. In one of the classical model of spirit-arte demons are commanded by the magician through the agency of the names of the proper angels. In this way the sovereignty of the system’s ‘God’ is preserved, while putting power into the magician’s hands.

We arrive at the era of the famous grimoires with lists of spirits that are known to serve magicians. Some of them seem to be reflections of specific ancient gods, others are more obscure. Some actually do things like slay and coerce, but many create gardens or teach mathematics. If one reads the list of ‘demons’ in, e.g. the Goetia of the Lesser Key one hardly gets the impression of seething evil, disease and revolt. My favorite mythic-style guess is that those spirits began as daemons serving the Gods at the sacrifices, and continued to answer the calls of magicians over the centuries. After all, some sources say that spirits change their names every 40 years…

For many modern magicians approaching the daemones by the names remembered in the early-modern grimoires is a matter of practicality and mechanics. Most grimoire rites involve no diabolism, no worship of Christian mythic figures such as Satan and Lucifer. Rather the piety and focus of the magician allow him to deal with the spirits. The very latest revisions have added a respectful relationship of alliance with these daemones, which seems reasonable to me.

My own opinion is that we can safely discard the whole separation of spirits into ‘angels and demons’. If one prefers to consider spirits who function specifically as ‘messengers’ of a god to be angels, that’s linguistically sensible. There isn’t really much use for ‘demon’ unless one uses it as shorthand for ‘wrathful, dangerous or predatory spirit’. I didn’t mention the idea of spirits who deliberately set themselves against humankind as our enemies, because I’m unsure that such things exist. Of course madness and malice might occur in all classes of intelligent beings, one must assume.

Once again the depiction of daemons (or
'demons' of the later grimoires) is often as
chimeras - a combination of multiple animal
and/or human elements.
To address the question of 'dangers', I can begin by dismissing the idea of there being a danger to my 'salvation' by dismissing the need for salvation. I ain't in that. Most dangers of dealing with the spirits remembered as grimoire demons seem to be the same as dealing with any powerful spirit - to insult or ll-use the spirit can result in a wrathful response. I reject the notion that there is a kind of spirit that makes its business to mislead or destroy humans, and I especially reject the idea that such spirits (should I be wrong about them existing) would brave the protection of magicians to pretend to serve mortals. Since I do not believe there are two opposing moral teams in the spirit-world I don't think there's a danger of choosing the wrong team. 

The original Hellenic analysis may have some merit. Success in human life depends on the cultivation of certain social virtues - moderation, communality, honesty. Nature does not share these virtues widely, and many spirits do not, either. Many noble and useful spirits are no more concerned with human morality than is a plow-horse. The magician is advised, wisely, so work rites that attract spirits of wisdom and sense. Again, if one reads Solomon's Goetia many of those spirits seem to fit the bill. The discernment of early-modern spiritology seems, from my perspective, to have been badly clouded by the 'angels and demons' mythology of the day.

As someone concerned with Celtic and Germanic magic I have no real resonance with the spirit-lists of the early-modern grimoires. I gave some thought to attempting to work with them inside our Druidic fire-sacrifice ritual form. In the end I took the route of prospecting for new spirits. I have no dog in the fight over whether the spirits of the Lesser Key (or of other goetic grimoires) are more dangerous than useful. However, useful things are often dangerous, and I would never advise magicians to play things entirely safe.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Portable Nemeton

Warning, this is a teaser. The product will be available in 2 - 3 weeks - watch this space...

Ritual magicians dig their tools. Yes, yes; we know that we can do all that cool stuff in our heads, in temples built by vision that feature special effects far beyond what can be achieved in suburban side-rooms and gardens. To the ritual magician the use of material tools is a way to bring spiritual principles into matter, to earth the potential into the real.

When possible, ritual magicians like to build temples. Whether it’s in a spare bedroom, attic or basement, a
rented warehouse or a (backyard) woodland glade, the present magical and Pagan revival is seeing a re-emergence of temples for magic, and to the Old Gods. If there’s a more direct material representation of ‘re-enchanting the world’ than restoring temples of the gods and spirits to the West, it escapes me at the moment.

However, the ritual magician on the road, or in reduced circumstances, can find herself at a disadvantage. One grows used to one’s habits, and working outside them can require energy that may not be available at the end, say, of a business-trip day. Life’s circumstances can reduce our available space for spiritual work to a dresser-top, and maybe part-time at that. As a result our Pagan movement has produced a variety of min-Altars and travel kits.

Our Druidry, being (at 30 years old) a newish thing as religions go, is still short on material supports and props available for easy purchase. I have been making some effort to fill that vacuum, with the sorts of on-line products that I can manufacture from my desk with a computer. The modern world provides such marvelous outlets for creative effort; when I found an on-demand supplier of card decks and games I had a huge geek-attack.

The first results of that have already appeared. Those are both conventional oracle-decks, useful for divination and other symbol-arrangement activities. My ongoing fascination with the ability to produce professional cards has also taken me in another direction.

This amounts to my answer-of-the-week to the portable temple problem. I have suggested the use of Tarot images as cheap-and-easy portable idols to many students over the years. Those concerned with the merit of worshipping pasteboard images should refer to Indian popular religious culture, where posters and post-cards provide deity-images in homes and shops across the region. In this kit I go a step further and design simple colorful images directly for Druidic Paganism, with, I hope, crossover potential for other systems.

The Traveling Magic Ritual Kit is a portable nemeton. – The Druid’s Hallows tiles are four game-board quality, double-sided tiles symbolizing the Fire, Well and Blessing. They are meant to be the ‘altar’ for your own small well, fire-candle and blessing-glass Careful use should allow the tiles to serve for a long while. The twelve Temple Image cards provide ready images of the World-Tree, the Gate and the key gods of the rites provided. These can be stood upright, to create a temple atmosphere in small. The tiles serve as ‘altars’ for the simple candle and water-bowl of a travel-altar, (not provided in the kit… I’ll say that again, too…)  adding color and symbolism to a dresser-top or coffee-table.  Along with the basic Blessing Altar cards the set includes twelve blank spell-cards and a Conjuring Tile along with instruction and resources for arranging them for personal spellwork.
No, the kit does not include the altar cloth,
but it's available from my Cafe Press shop, at the above link.
I’m especially pleased to be able to include a full deck of ogham letters in a quite miniature size. Fortunately the Ogham signs don’t require much graphic detail. Each card is annotated with the letter’s irish name, the translation of the name, the associated tree, and a phrase from lore.

The kit includes a 20-page full-color mini-grimoire that instructs in the use of the kit for a basic offering-and-blessing rite with the Spirits. An additional file of ritual work based on the symbols provided will be available for download with purchase.

This is one of those “Maybe someone will like it” projects. I like it, that’s why I did it, but I hope it might be useful to others. Travelers; students in dorms or at their parent’s hearths; visiting ritualists in hospitals or even prisons; folks with kids or limited free space might all have a use for a ritual kit that can be carried in a suit-coat pocket, briefcase or purse.

This article amounts to advance notice. I’m waiting with bated breath for the final proof to arrive, but everything seems go. You can scope the page for the kit here, and sometime in the 2nd or 3rd week of April it will be available.  Incidentally, props to The Game Crafters for making this on-demand service available. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Portal Book is Available

I wrote at the beginning of the year about my efforts to get a new edition of The Portal Book into print. It is now available in hardback, paperback, and E-book, through the miracle of self-publishing.
Buy the paperback here.
Buy the hardcover w/dustjacket here.
Buy the E-book here

Dear readers, hang on to your hats or whatever for a round of commercial announcements again here on el bloggo. I done been creatin' stuff. I'll do my best to keep relevant content coming as well. Watch this space...

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Learning Magic

preserved from casual FB-ery
Magic is a human skill. It is learned from other humans, practiced until one is good at it. It is comparable to learning to play music, or do carpentry, though I think it's more like art than science, in practice.
Like art, there are traditional forms and methods that allow a student to learn to do the basics. This is what Taliesin is talking about, first of all. If you can't imitate a note, you won't be able to sing a song - first things first.
Now, there are always a few people who seem to have natural talent at an art or skill - they can sing as soon as they can talk, or know calculus at 9. Even those people will benefit from being taught by experienced teachers. Occasionally - very occasionally - such talent is matched with creative power (which is not the same as expressive power) and some kid produces powerful new art or ideas or magic right out of their, er, butts.
That doesn't happen very often. Most people aren't special like that. The new student should not plan on being a unique genius.
Instead, the new student should read traditional books and find a working teacher (that applies to learning magic, gymnastics or saxophone). Plan to sepnd a few years doing exercises and experiments, duplicating previous efforts, and building skills. Of course we all pursue our little personal schemes along the way, and eventually we get enough skill to actually try them.
There's no short-cut. You can't just "listen to your heart". You have to listen to other people.