Friday, December 19, 2014

Yuletide Blessings



From Ian, Liafal and Tredara, this blessing on my readers, and on the whole Northern Hemisphere in this season of renewal.

Have a great season... I'll probably do a year-end wrap post sometimes around the calends of January.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Pickman's Model

Regular readers will know that I'm an HP Lovecraft Hobbyist. Since my boyhood I have read the ongoing tales of the Necronomicon and the Great Old Ones, and the lesser-known monsters that began with the work of the Old Gent of Providence.

A couple of years ago I took a shot at narrating some of HPL's stories. This is my fave, based on one of my very favorite stories. I've set it up with thematic slides and some audio effects. It runs about 35 minutes. I hope you'll enjoy it.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Prayer After Ferguson



A bit late, but I wanted to store this here.
May justice prevail, and peace be the outcome.


***********************************
A Prayer for Ferguson and After

I call for nine blessings on the nations of America.
On the transplanted, on the remnant, on the deep-rooted,
on men and women and every child let there be nine blessings.

First a Blessing of the Well. Let the land and the nation give to each the fullness of sustenance. Let us remember that we are all one tribe, and that the Well must serve us all.
Second a blessing of the Fire. Let us all come together at one hearth in our hearts. Though we dwell apart, let there be a fire of welcome in our hearts for one another.
Third a blessing of the Tree. We are many families, many clans, many colors and tongues. Yet our roots drink from the same Well, our faces are warmed by the same Sun. Let us stand together in that joy and peace.
For it is only by living as one people that we can have peace.

But let there be Justice, and True Dealing, and Wise Reform.
Let force be leashed for the common good.
Let arrogance be quelled. Let prejudice be schooled. Let the bully’s heart be softened.
Let poverty and desperation be relieved.
Let ignorance be scorned. Let diligence be praised. Let generosity overcome judgment.
Let old ways be cast aside.
Let the Clubs of Old Boys be thrown open, the Codes of past centuries be discarded, let locked arms be opened. Let the people’s strength stand against that which harms the people.
For it is only by living as one people that we can have peace.

But let there be Kinship, and Forbearance, and a New Heart
Let us forgive the errors of the Dead.
Many were fools, racists, exploiters of their fellows.
Many killed for their gain, and allowed killing.
The wealth of our tribe is built on this slaying.
It is fit to speak truth in love.
Let us forgive the errors of the Dead;
Those who raged in violence;
Those who mistook vengeance for justice;
Those who taught hatred to their children.
Let rage and spite be the rot that feeds the tree of wisdom.

For we all live on One Earth, drinking from One Well, standing at One Fire.
So let it be kinship, my kin!
Let it be Euro and African, Asian and Islander, pale and red and ebony and every kind of beauty.
Let it be forbearance, that we remember and set aside, that we open our lives to one another.
Let it be a New Heart, and an end to old fear.
I call for nine blessings on the nations of America.
For it is only by living as one people that we can have peace.

So let it be peace.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Polytheism and Patronage

Some of this is my fault. I mean this emphasis in the Pagan community, and especially in ADF, on ‘Patron’ deities in personal worship. The topic remains important and somewhat controversial in Euro-Pagan reinvention, arising in regular waves in public discussion.

In my opinion the idea that individual practitioners have, or should have, ‘Patron’ deities enters Neopaganism from two or three directions. First, of course is the Euro-Christian custom of providing every believer with a Patron Saint upon baptism. This cannot be shown to have Pagan roots, but it has a firm grip on western imagination.


Secondly we have the Patronage practices of African Traditional Religions in the new world. Customs such as the Haitian Lave Tet and the Crowning of Santeria  present the worshiper as being naturally and intrinsically aligned with one of the Powers of that system. In the course of early spiritual work the initiate determines, through divination and ritual, who is the ‘God of the Head’ and ritually acknowledge the relationship. That spirit then becomes the personal ‘god’ (fine points of Ifa theology aside) of the initiate’s work, even though s/he may interact with many other spirits.
 
As I think back to the early 1990s, as we were working on devising our new, more formal polytheism this notion of personal Patronage loomed large. One of the core problems in translating scholastic study of old religions into working modern cult is determining which of the innumerable Holy Beings is to receive ones real attention.  We approach an ethnic pantheon, do our reading, and begin offerings. Fortunately, in ADF our ‘Druidic’ ritual order begins with general offerings to all beings in all classes, so one can get a foot in the temple door without a specific invitation.

The ancients must have had this problem as well, and we can ask how they solved it. Focus on specific deities seems to have come from several directions – perhaps especially from family and caste, from profession, and from locale. All of these can provide some guidance for modern choices, though we are disadvantaged by our non-Pagan surrounding culture. Most modern Pagans will not inherit our family’s gods, nor have local deities whose festivals are community norms. Not Pagan ones, anyway… We can still take some guidance from our career and artistic choices in life and many Pagans do so.

Back when we were starting out, I fixated pretty firmly on the idea of ‘Patronage’ – that worshipers would choose or be chosen by (as you like…) a specific god who would become the god of their Altar, their House, their work. I experimented with the methods locally with some success, devised scripts and guidance materials, and it was included as a goal in the first version of ADF’s Dedicant Work.

Fairly enthusiastically received, within a couple of years problems with the model became obvious.
First, it became obvious that the methods were too advanced for new students. Many ADF students arrive entirely new to Paganism, meditation or ritual. The goal of decisively arriving at a Patronage relationship was a stumbling block, likely to produce either a withdrawal from the work or a provisional decision that had little of the weight of the model found in traditional systems. As a side note, continuing research didn't turn up the idea of Patronage in literate pre-Christian Europe. The Orthodox Christian custom of affixing a saint’s name to believers does not appear to be inherited from Pagan times.

Some practitioners stuck with the model and, for a few, got the kind of results I might have imagined. They became real devotees of a particular deity. There’s been very little overt henotheism, I’m happy to say – little choice made to worship no other gods than the Patron. I would find that inconsistent with what I know of polytheistic religions generally. On a practical level the more common result was that individuals focused on specific deities sequentially, as their lives’ needs guided.

This seems typical of Neopaganism’s self-directed spiritualties. The big, big difference between us and the ATR systems I had been observing is the manner by which Patrons are chosen. In ATR systems it is done by an external authority – by the divinations of a priest. The decision is binding on the initiate regardless of how s/he “feels” about the outcome. I understand that changes and corrections are not unheard-of, but in general the fact of Patronage is bestowed, not chosen.

I know of no Neopagan system that is ready to administer such a thing. The ATR divination systems are all adapted for it – they generate indicators of the various gods and spirits as a matter of course. There simply is no such system in western occultism or Paganism. Even more centrally there is no accepted lineage or source of authority that would make people willing to accept the decision of another.

After maybe half-a-dozen years of working with the original model ADF formally changed the nature of the requirement. Instead of prescribing Patronage we began to talk of “developing the Hearth Cult”. This helped us to move the conception beyond deity – traditional Paganism seems as much focused on the Dead and on the Landwights as on the Gods and Goddesses. The recommended practices expanded to include the Three Kindreds broadly, and the requirement to have an acknowledged Patron was removed.
 
Our house's devotion to Brigid
has been constant for many years.
As I have observed, this history in ADF rather mirrors the development of the idea of Patronage in the wider Pagan community. At present the idea still exists, and there will always be people who are plainly drawn to one god or another. There is a real movement of Pagan devotionalism, and some folks become henotheists – worshiping only ‘their’ god or goddess to the exclusion of others. Currently, my opinion is that such exclusivity does not reflect the practices of most traditional polytheism.

Tradition seems, to me, to recommend a balance of intimacy and utilitarianism. One develops alliances and friendships among the spirits over long or focused work. One’s ‘Home Cult’ is a unique print of one’s spiritual history and expression. Many people maintain a central relationship with a very few gods and spirits for many years. However for new students there is often a period of transition, and a sense of being ‘handed off’ from god to god. No formal methods of securing Patronage have become generally accepted in modern polytheism, and no divinatory method or priestly authority has shown up, either.

Yet the subject of Patronage continues to percolate. New students, especially those looking to modern polytheism rather than post-Wicca, tend to bring the question “How shall I find my Patron?”, and some degree of confusion still exists. Of course many new students arrive out of religious systems with actual rules, and so they may stand staring at the notion that they’re free to do as they please. From there we hope to provide some guidance in sorting the spirits (and helping them sort us).

When I give advice to new students now, it goes something like this:
• Your path is your own, but progress is more easily made on paths with good signage. Choose a system and work it for a year at least, preferably three. It will adapt as you go, but start with an outline.
• Choose one or two ancient cultures on which to focus your reading and experimentation. Begin with the descriptions of the gods in mythic summaries, but make an effort to read about the ancient ways of life, hear the culture’s music, etc.
• Put up a shrine and begin worship. The spirits are unlikely to speak to you unless you speak to them first. There are many places to find instructions on how to begin. If one is unsure of who one is offering to, there are several models for general offerings, including Our Druidry’s Three Kindreds, and Jason Miller’s spirit-offering outlines.
• Open your heart. Some of the discernment exercises in places like our Dedicant’s book may be useful. Work on meditation skills and let the ideas of your reading and shrine-work percolate. Not everyone (but some) will naturally turn toward a specific god quickly. Place as many gods from the culture you’re working with on your shrine as you like, and work with them as you study.
• If you find yourself with an obvious inclination toward a god or spirit, go with it. Resist exclusivity but allow emphasis, and watch your heart and the omens. Use divination, or even consult a diviner.
• Don’t resist change, but don’t mistake momentary interest for a calling. Once you have established work with an ally, maintain it even if you take up something new, all according to your own understanding, of course.

• After a year or three of this kind of work it is likely that you’ll have a sense of what gods are at the center of your personal Constellation of Worship. After another nine years things may or may not be different. Don’t sweat it, our work changes shape like a stream-bank. You’ve watched a stream-bank, haven’t you?

It pleases me that practical polytheism is percolating in our (people… no! too much…) community. New students are seeking direct interaction with the deities, and even with the Not-Gods. Even more hopeful is that fact that Neopagan religions are trying on various approaches experimentally, and then changing and responding to the results of those experiments.
On we go, my kin! Raise up the idols!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Traveling Magic - A Druid's Crane Bag


Forgive my participation in seasonal retailing, but I'm still enjoying the ability to produce game components, card-decks, markers, etc, on demand. The folks at GameCrafter.com do a great job, and a fun service! Substantive article next/soon...

Last spring I launched a little ritual kit, that delighted my heart with its pocket-sized convenience. (See that launch here, if you care). However it lay like a flounder in my catalog - my blessings to the seven people who bought one. The problem, I b'lieve, was the price. On-demand game components are not cheap, and nice little printed boxes are especially not-cheap.

Time passes, and I do art. By careful reorganization of the contents, and by adding a number of new cards while removing clever-but-unsalable ideas, I have reissued the kit at a pleasantly reduced price.




The box is gone; it was a pretty box, but didn't add any actual utility. Everything fits nicely in the velour bag that ships with the kit. Being a game company their robot is confused if a product has no box, so you'll see a big bar telling you it "ships without packaging". Yes, you'll have to put the items in the bag yourself. Sorry.

In any case, the content of the new kit is both more complete and more concise. Carried over from the old kit are the four 'tiles' used as 'altars' for the Fire and Well, and the Blessing. The Blessing tiles are backed with a conjuring triangle for use in spirit-arte. I've rounded out the deity image cards to a full nine Gaelic gods, kept the general Three Kindreds images and Gate and Tree Cards. These are all jumbo cards in vibrant color.

My design-leap is to include a 'grimoire' deck - cards with attractively arranged ritual text. Actually there are twenty-seven faces - nine of the cards are two sided. This Breviary Deck includes the nine invocations for the gods pictured, a full simple druidic rite usable with the kit, and nine additional charms, prayers and small spells.

Regular readers will not be surprised that I wanted to make sure that the kit contains a practical magical element. The kit contains three talismanic spell-cards, for Healing, Prosperity and Vision. They are intended to allow a tea-light to be placed at their center, to focus and enchant the intention with the Irish words and sigils drawn upon Fionn's Window. I actually really dig the way the graphics turned out, so they'll work for me, at least...


The kit also includes a full mini-deck of the Ogham letters, presented with their Irish names and English translations, tree associations and divinatory keys. 

To me this serves to make the Traveling Magic kit a true Crane-bag, a pocket-sized Nemeton that should be useful to travellers, students, solitaries, and anyone who enjoys adding color and symbol to their altars.

The Travelling Magic kit is available now for $24.99 +sh here.
(This price won't last, I guarantee... Forgive GC's shipping costs - your items will arrive carefully hand-packed.)

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Big Book, and the Little Big Book; Last Minute Offer!


Attention shoppers! Regular readers here will know that I have assembled a great pile of my ritual, trance and teaching work into a single Great Book (Leabhar Mór). For the past couple of years I have offered several editions of the content. Rather than producing a ‘limited run’ and selling them from my home, I have simply limited the time of availability. Leaving aside the degree that such an item might ever by ‘collectible’, it at least makes it rare and unique.


I am offering a new edition of the full-sized, Wizard-Book edition, this one bound in plain black linen with gold-stamped title on the spine, and with a dust-jacket.

In addition I am offering a paperback edition, in novel-format size, at 700 pages. This edition preserves all the art and text of the larger edition, but is entirely more forgiving for airline or backpack travel. I wanted one myself, so you can have one too.

Here’s the big news.


And the Very Small Book here. 
Current Lulu sale offer - 35% off with the code WQT32, until 12/03

The offers will stay in place at their regular prices in my Lulu catalog at least until the turn of the secular year. After that the big hardback will disappear forever, I think.



Enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday in the US.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Spirits and Energies

Lately I find myself hearing folks who want to describe the gods and spirits as ‘energies’. More and more, this bothers me. Obviously, people will have what opinions they will. However I think there are real problems in an ‘energy’ model of magic and spirit from a Pagan perspective.

We all know what we mean. Ever since the mid-20th century, latest, occultism has attempted to reshape its metaphors to fit with modern science. Crystal broadcasting and receiving, telepathy-as-mental-radio, artificial spirits, ‘vortexes’; these are all metaphors of spirit that imitate material science as it has evolved in the 20th c. Previous technological metaphors in magic include magnetism, the prediction of astronomical events and, well, fire. It is normal for magical methods to imitate scientific advances.


The modern mechanistic wave of this began, perhaps, with Mesmer who proposed that ‘magnetic’ energies could be manipulated both using actual magnets and by ‘passes’ of the hands. His successful trance inductions helped pave the way for modern hypnosis, in which the ‘magnetism’ metaphor has been discarded with no loss of efficacy. However the idea of ‘subtle transfer of energy’ (subtle meaning undetectable by instruments) became ingrained in modern occultism.

By the time I was learning invocation it was entirely normative to envision the target deity ‘shining’ or even ‘transmitting’ their power into or onto the ritual. In the same way we envisioned ‘beams’ or ‘waves’ of our intent, ‘conditioned’ by our words, chants and symbols. The whole body of technique around ‘power-raising’ grows from this model.

However, this is almost certainly not what an ancient magician, one operating in the days of European polytheism, would have visualized himself doing. The descriptions found in the PGM, as well as folkloric magic, suggests rather that the magician saw herself directing crowds of spirits. In traditional conurations for love, business success, gambling wins, etc the Gods are specifically asked to ‘send their daemons’ forth to do the mage’s bidding. The vision might have been of a rushing stream of un-named servants of the God hauling-tails away to bring that whatsis or whatever.


In ancient days if one desired a cooling breeze on a hot day one had to find a servant to command. Whatever relationship and deal one had with the servant allowed you to require them to fan you. In our time we build a mechanical device and plug it into an impersonal and commercial source of power. We can then generate a breeze at will or, as we say, ‘like magic’.

Magic has imitated that technical reality for some decades. The part that starts to bother me is when folks start to describe the spirits as ‘energies’ but not persons! To paraphrase; “The gods and spirits are not people living in some spiritual landscape, they are energies that we tap into in order to work our will. We do not worship them so much as respectfully use them.”

The problem I see with that model is the loss of relationship. Simply put, impersonal forces are understood by modern people as slaves. They are used at will, without a please or thank-you, as we go about our business. Now, this is not to say that living people weren’t treated that way back when slavery was one of the kinds of “relationship” that got you that fan-worker. However for me slavery is not an ancient custom that we wish to revive, and certainly not with those beings who join with us in worship.

Rather, I think, a modern Pagan sensibility seeks relationship with spirit(s) as persons, as beings with wills of their own. The work is then to remain in friendly relationship with those powers, through the traditional round of rites and customs. Certainly we do not approach the gods as equals, any more than we approach a river as equals. Each brings their special power and character to the relationship; mortals participate on a mortal level, spirits on a spiritual level. The point, to me, is that humans must maintain our part of the bargain in order to expect the cooperation of the divine.

It seems to me that the danger in imitating technology by thinking of the spirits as ‘energies’ is that we will imitate those things in western culture that we dislike – mechanization, impersonalization and loss of story. It seems to me a capitulation both to reductionism and to rationalism. There are those who dislike anthropomorphism; I’m not one of them. The spirits who like to work with humans like to appear as humans – makes perfect sense to me. Who am I to ask them to appear in some imagined “true” form. How well did that work for Semele?

So I’m just unwilling to agree that the gods and spirits are “really” energies, any more than my wife is “really” just a pattern of electrons in motion. I am in relationship with the spirits as persons, not plugging in to some cosmic generator.