Friday, December 16, 2016

Big Deal

A cosmological hymn, this one almost utterly naturalistic.
(Does anyone care about, uh, 'book of shadows pages' these days? I'm just an old typesetter, and like doing them. Someday I'll offer a full-color grimoire...)

A Blessing for the Big Deal

In all the world, from pole to pole, Life is puzzle-tight with Life,
Pieces making a pattern, threads in the weave.
Pull this thread and the other end will change, remove a piece and the picture becomes unclear.
Each and all and every one is needed for the whole.
The Great Pact between all things
That I will breathe out what you breath in, that I will consume death to maintain life,
That I in my turn will return to the Mixer – is the Big Deal we have made,
The Old Bargain that keeps mortals, gods and all in good order.
It is that to which I call.

To the Great Lights, and the Powers that hold the Heavens I give praise.
Where mass and velocity swirl in the Great Dance of Stars,
Where a web invisible holds the hands of the planets in their reel,
I gaze up from the Well of green life,
And stand in awe.
So, Oh Great Lights of the measuring, time-keepers, ever-present, I give you my blessing.
Be steady as you are bright
Be constant as you are lovely
And I will keep my watch

To the Shadows in the Deep, and the Power that remembers and restores I give praise.
In deep pools, where the corpses of lives go, The Rivers of Memory and Forgetting run.
Where form becomes essence, where bones pile high,
the roots of lives find growth,
And I am nourished.
So, Oh Powers of Death and Powers of Birth, Cauldron of Wonder, I give you my blessing.
Be dark as you are deep,
Be giving as you are full
And I will give what is due.

In the Midst of the Living World, among the Green and the Lively, to the Great Ground I give praise.
Where Fire and Water meet, stone rises, cooling. The realm of ever-changing makes soil of stone,
And there the seed catches. Life springs forth in the middle Realm,
Rooted Deep and Crowned High
And that is such as me.
So, Oh Nine Clans of Beings, Court of the Midrealm, Makers and Shapers I give you my blessing.
Be fruitful as you are plentiful
Be true as you are beautiful
And I will play my part.

So as mortal folk among the worlds, we are blessed.
Let light and time be our blessing.
Let fertile dark be our blessing.
Let ever-changing dancing life be our true blessing.
And let us keep sharp watch, make due gifts, and play our roles with skill
in Wisdom, Love and Power.
And as we are blessed, so we give blessing in turn
To the Great Bargain, the whole Big Deal of the Holy Cosmos.
Let our voice go forth, and let blessing be increased for all beings.
So be it!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Spell of the Spirits

I have an ongoing project to develop simple modern practical magic methods that employ the spirits, rather than working with "magical energies". It's been a while...
This charm is intended to be an easy spell for practical magic rites, usable especially by those who have developed alliance relationships with specific operative spirts among the Gods, Dead and Landwights. For newcomers it might serve as a general calling to willing spirits, but it is surely better used by those with a developed group of allies.
Arrange the materials for your spell within the form of the conjuring circle as given here. Many enjoy drawing or inscribing the form of the circle on the floor or ground, but it can simply be used as a schematic for altar-top arrangements. Also arrange a small fire, and a small black bowl of water in the center of the figure. In the three circles arrange three small offerings of incense (a single cone for each works well), ready to light. With everything ready, bless the Water and Fire, saying:
The Fire, the Well, the Sacred Tree, flow and flame and grow in me
In Land, Sea and Sky, below and on high,
Let the Water be blessed and the Fire be hallowed!

Purify all, and perform any other preliminaries, then perform this preliminary convocation, lighting the three offerings for the Kindreds for the three verses . When concluded, proceed to work your spell, or even to simply describe your desires to the attendant spirits, closing with thanks.
So gather now, my spirits bright
Or shadowy, by day or night
By Fire’s light and Water’s dark
Come to me now – hear me, hark!

Come to my work, be by me seen
Up from earth and stone and green
Out from the cloud and wind and sea
Sun, moon and stars, all come down to me.

Come you forth from the House of Clay
From the Court of Death to the world of day
Mighty Dead, forebearers all
Heart and blood, come to my call

The Shining Ones, their power divine
I drink their blessing, make it mine
Strengthen my mind, my heart, my hand
In Sea or Sky, and on the Land

You who are my allies true
Come to me now, I call to you
Gods and Dead, and spirits all
Hear me, hark; come to my call

Magic I make now, three times three
Spirits I call you, come to me.
Beneath the Sky, on Land or Sea
Hear my spell, and make it be!

Friday, November 4, 2016

A Simple Funeral.

It fell to me to manage the funeral 'service' for my younger brother on the occasion of his passing. A lifelong diabetic, he passed suddenly but not too surprisingly. As a completely 'unchurched' guy it did not seem proper to bring in a Christian minister, and the weirdo brother (that's me) got called on to manage the very simple service. I had three days to write an utterly secular yet ass-kicking piece, including the eulogy for my brother.
I must say, this was a tough writing project, even though short. After staring at the page a while, I gave myself permission to adapt an opening from another set of rites. I devised a centering/settling thing that even this audience would probably do. Unable to be completely without ritual elements (or fire) I chose the lighting of a single candle as the centerpiece. I attach the text.
The setting was a funeral home with its own chapel - very nice in that way. Guests moved easily from the viewing parlor to chapel seating, the coffin was closed and rolled in, and the little table and candle placed before it.
The performance went well, with a minimum of chokeyness on our parts. L. and I did it together in our alternating-voice fashion ( was giving the eulogy, so I wanted a second voice anyway).

The service was well-received by the mixed Christian and don't-care audience. We went to the dinner following and I did have The Conversation (eh... are you ordained? in...?) with some elderly ladies. They seemed tolerant behind their mild astonishment.
All in all, a win. We try not to be the 'groovy ministers', and to require some level of actual Paganism in our work, but for my brother, of course, I made exception.  I give the text, in case it might be useful.

A Very Simple Funeral
The front is set with a single candle on a table, in front (or on top) of the coffin if present.
1: Greeting (ending with):
•Death is a part of the cycle of existence. No form, no flesh, no name can be eternal – all arise from the nature of the world, and vanish again in their time – but some things remain. 
• 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 ….

2: Attunement:
• So let us pause for a moment to calm our hearts, after a difficult time.
Take a deep breath, and for just an hour let’s sigh away what we can of our tension and trouble.
And another deep breath.
• And, my friends, let us join hands for a moment, or touch a shoulder, or a knee.
And as we take a third deep breath together…
Let us abide for just a moment in silence, and rest in the comfort of friends and family.

3: Invocation
• And from silence, let us light a single candle.
• So that there is warmth, like the family’s fire.
• So that there is beauty, in the shining Light
• So that there is love unending, like a steady flame.
And if we may, let this light show the way for **’s  memory, to light up old corners of our lives with him, and let it be as if he might draw near us here, we who loved him.

(This is a good spot for music, or a recitation or performance, if there’s a need.)

S: So, let us share our memories of **.

3: Eulogies
(Following the Eulogies there might be a ‘prayer for the Dead’ in whatever fashion the family desires)

4: Closing
• So as we close, let us seek to go forth in peace, knowing that **’s life was well-lived and well-loved, and that he leaves behind a real legacy.
• Though we travel with our sorrow, I think we can be sure that if we could ask ** he would tell us to live our lives, love our loves, and, when we can, to have one for him.
• So, my friends let it be peace in our hearts, we are finished here.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Veil Is Thin...

It has become a cliché of modern Pagan discourse to say that at certain seasons “the Veil” between the world of mortals and the reality of the spirits “grows thin”. As we approach the November Cross-Quarter Day (whether it is Hallowe’en, Samhain, Beltaine in the southern hemisphere, or whatever) It is recited commonly. Occasionally one hears the question “What do you mean by that? What is the Veil” etc.

It’s a metaphor, that’s what. It is a poet’s description of what it is like to see dimly, and with less detail than one would hope, as if through thin cloth or mist. I suspect that modern people are less used to seeing veiled faces, and to gazing out from behind veils, than people were in earlier fashion ages. A single veil can reveal this, conceal that. Layers of veils can be entirely opaque. For those who never saw a digital image ‘res up’ out of nothing, the thinning of layers of veils expressed the idea of increasing clarity and revelation of what had been concealed.
We live in an era of jaded

There is no Celtic original for the metaphor of the Veil. I suspect it arose with spiritualism, in Victorian times. The metaphor used in Celtic lore is the Mist. Heroes and magicians must pass through mist – through a space in which the air itself precludes sight – before the mist thins and reveals the hidden world. One of the Druidic wonder of the tales is the creation of a ‘hedge of mist’ around that which they would conceal. The notion of the ‘Veil’ certainly doesn’t insult this Celtic original; it simply expresses it in the technology of a later age. There is a solid Celtic explanation for why days such as Samhain are times when the boundary-of-perception between mortal and spiritual realities grows more passable and transparent. 

Among ancient European peoples, and strongly among the Celts, magical power or potential could be found in things, times and places that were ‘neither-nor’, that were between one state, category or locale and another, that were ambiguously located in time or space. Modern anthropology has referred to this as the ‘liminal’ quality, or as ‘limnality’. In this way we see that Celtic sacred spaces were often built in the borders between tribal territories, indicated the sacred (and politically neutral) Between nature of spiritual work. We find, in one of the few examples of Celtic magical ritual that is preserved, the placing of offerings to spirits in a doorway to partake of that access to the Otherworld. The strand of the Sea, the tops of high hills, these are places of boundary between Land, Sea and Sky, and so places where magic is easier to make effective – places where the ‘veil’ between mortals and spirits is thin.

In keeping with Celtic patterns of sacred number, the primary division of the calendrical year is into two – the light half and the dark half, summer and winter. These two great halves are ‘hinged’ upon the two great feast days of Bealtainne and Samhain. Both of those days are thus spaces Between major categories. Samhain is neither summer nor winter. These great moments of between-ness recur in Celtic story as times when spirits and mortals cross between worlds, when visions are seen, and great deeds are done. They naturally become times when modern Celtic Pagans and magicians seek to gather and express magical power. In such seasons the magician (and, from the Other side, the spirits) can more readily part the Mist, can see the turnings in the Forest, can pass through the thinned Veil.

The spiritual world is no more uniform than the material world, I think. It is true to say that a skilled magician can always find a thin place in the Border if they know how to look. Yet in such seasons as this the effect is more general, - all-encompassing, perhaps, by the time one gets to sunset or sunrise on Samhain night. Let the Spirits walk, or dance, into a welcome as they come to us through the Veil.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Meal Offering To The Dead

I'll be posting a quick round of short things here in the run-up to Samhain. This is a short and simple offering that could be made with and by the whole family.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Designing Your Personal Practice

The work on my forthcoming book (working title, presently: "Pagan Magic; Esoteric Spiritual Technique for Polytheists") continues, though not at the pace I might like. As a bit of proof-of-life I offer this chapter-section on developing a personal schedule of spiritual work.

The Order of Work
• Development of the hidden powers within Pagan spiritual practice requires diligent effort over an extended time. Of course some techniques can be tried immediately, and simple worship and meditation begin their effects immediately. More advanced techniques, like those of any discipline, require committed self-training and applied effort. The magician is a spiritual artisan, the shrine is the workshop, and magic is the product. Only practice, and learned skill carefully applied, can move the student from apprenticeship to journeywork to mastery.

• Many traditional polytheistic magical systems have been taught in controlled circumstances. This was often a ‘school’ of students surrounding a master, in which daily work and focus were maintained by a master-servant relationship. In more ‘civilized’ Pagan places monasteries grew up in which occult students could be supported in detailed temple ritual, long-term retreats and group ceremony. In either case the student of magic participated in a formal regimen of study and practice that led to both skill in spiritual arts and earned recognition of skill.
• One of the hallmarks of the medieval grimoire tradition of magic is its insistence on the development of spiritual power through basic ‘religious’ rites. Daily prayers, purifications, attendance at rites and the receiving of the church’s traditional blessings were all major sources of the magician’s power. Many ritual tools are made with the aid of priestly rites.

It seems to me that it would not have been different in Pagan days. Taking advantage of the spiritual power of local temples, the blessings of the public sacrifices, etc. would have been a basic part of the magician’s work. What can be difficult for modern practitioners to understand, perhaps, is that in both the medieval grimoirist’s work and the Pagan sorcerer’s magic was directly integrated into the religious work of their cultures. Certainly we may call the former ‘heretical’, and some Hellenes would have said the same of the latter, but both depended on the workings of their mainstream cults to empower magic.

• In our modern times, many Pagans seeking occult skills are simply unwilling to resort to the rites and customs of the Roman Church. “High Church” occult styles, such as the post-Masonic orders (three sash minimum…) are often bound around with oaths of secrecy, and also sometimes modeled on monotheistic and medieval theologies that deter Pagans. Public Pagan temple rites are difficult to find (though no longer impossible). A solitary modern student of magic must, essentially, devise and conduct their own personal temple, as well as a magic school or monastery. The invocations, offerings, power-exercises and spells that are part of the traditional arsenal of the Pagan magician must be derived from books, digested in thoughtful analysis, arranged (whether written-out or re-written) for practical performance, practiced until performance is competent and, finally, set into a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly cycle of magical and spiritual rites and practices. In short, the Pagan magician begins by functioning as the priest of their own temple.

• The Daily Sequence: Common modern life will prevent many from devoting more than a maintenance level of effort to daily offerings and works. If one chooses a simple morning prayer or invocation, supported with a simple offering and short moment of meditation, then that can be enough. It should be said that there can be a difference between common daily work and more specific preparations for major magical rites. The latter may be well-served by added invocations, offerings and trances proper to the intention at hand.
            A simple Daily Work routine might include simple morning salute/offerings, Ancestor prayer and meal offering, and bedtime prayer. Additional offerings for special principles could include special daily offerings to a god or spirit one means to invoke, as well as meditations or workings meant to reinforce the magician’s integrity and spiritual power. As a magician’s work advances they will almost certainly find themselves developing a personal ‘constellation’ of gods and spirits, unique to their own altar. Making the proper offerings to these in the proper times will become a part of daily work for many.

• Weekly or Monthly Sequence: Regular performance of more detailed ritual is valuable for the building of personal magical power. This provides a chance to build ritual skills, work useful spells for personal growth and gain and build relationship with the Gods and Spirits.
            Weekly work is a matter of personal choice. Those who must keep their daily schedule short and simple (usually in service of their work and family duties) may find a weekly hour (or day…) at the shrine a useful way to develop their work. For those working with family a weekly rite is a chance to involve the whole clan in one’s magic in a way that will simply become the ‘way we do things’ to the kids, and build powerful mental consensus in the mage. If family or those who are not actively training for magic are involved such rites can be kept simple, with the mage quietly working the Inner patterns to activate them for their goals.
            Perhaps the most traditional clock for timing monthly work is the moon. Certainly Neopagan methods have tended to imitate the Wiccan pattern of meeting at the Full Moon – it is both the most obvious of the moon’s phases and often the best night to be outdoors. World polytheist systems have a variety of lore-sets about the moon’s phases and stories. For now I will talk about how I have used the moon to time magical and religious rites.

            The moon’s magical power is associated with its phase, and the amount of its light. The two primary phases of the moon are the Waxing (from the first visible crescent until the end of Full Moon) and the Waning (from the end of Full Moon through the Dark Moon days). In European lore these are universally understood to affect life, work and luck. The waxing moon stimulates growth and gain, while the waning moons retards it. On a far-too-simple level these are sometimes perceived as ‘positive and negative’ times, but this is so only in the most literal sense. Much good can be done under the waning moon, to retard the growth of disease or reduce the influence of an irritant. 
            Within the twenty-eight day turning of the moon are several moments of traditional magical power. Workings that hope to use the moons power to grow a result can choose the early phase of the waxing moon, when one has many days of waxing power to draw on. The very first visible crescent is good for this, but can be hard to spot. Druid tradition has emphasized the ‘sixth night’ of the waxing moon – roughly the end of the first quarter – as a night when the growth power of the waxing moon is both well-established and still growing, making it a good time for many kinds of magical working. Of course the full moon is the legendary height of magical power. As the crest of the moon’s growth, it is a time when one wishes to grasp and use the force of the wave’s top – to work for things that manifest immediately. I think it is for this reason that the full moon is the time of the Witch’s Sabbath – the summoning of gods and spirits is especially proper at that time. The Full Moon’s power of manifestation makes it a fine time to invoke and assemble the ‘constellation of worship’ of whatever is included in one’s home cult, maintain one’s offerings, and receive their conversation and blessing. This is essentially the ‘esbat’ of the witches.
            Finally, many cultural systems assign symbols or names to each of the  lunar months, and those can be of use in designing an annual ‘retreat’ of  rituals with specific focuses. Astrological symbols for the passages of the sun and moon can also provide symbols on which to focus a sequence of rites. This can allow a set of cultural symbols to be more completely expressed and understood, and provide a powerful set of blessings.

Seasonal or Annual Sequence: I have already written about the traditional Year-cult, and its eight-fold expression in Neopagan ways. Those working a specific ethnic reconstruction will choose how to adapt the seasonal and calendrical rites of the past to modern times. Such work is off-topic for this instruction in magic, and is yet another instance in which I must recommend detailed additional reading. Learning the lore of whatever cultural form you pursue can only deepen and clarify your magic.

            High Day rites (as we Druids have come to call the larger annual ritual occasions) present an opportunity to create and arrange ritual on a scale larger than home-shrine work. Attunement of the personal spirit to the tides of the great wheel of seasons, the Gods and Spirits who dance through them, and the Blessings conveyed by each are sources of personal magical authority and respect among the spirits. Incidentally, these notions apply whether one is working the Neopagan Eightfold Wheel, the seasonal cycle of ancient Athens (so different from the Anglo-German north), or the annual saints’-calendar of the Roman Church.
If one is able to present rites for friends or community then elements of theater, development of performance persona, etc can all be useful to practical magic. In a later chapter we will discuss using occult techniques to strengthen the effects of public seasonal rites, but the ritual skills developed for effective public ritual also strengthen one’s personal magical authority and power.

All of this structure can be allowed to develop organically inside a magician’s practice. For a certain sort of student (such as myself) the tendency to begin by getting a blank book and pre-writing the outline of such practices will be nearly irresistible. There is value in that work (and a version of my own version of the work is provided here in the Rituals section) but I advise you not to postpone beginning simple daily or weekly work until you have everything ‘just right’. Your understanding will grow with experimentation and work, and pre-writing may serve to constrain your choices. It is inevitable that you will outgrow your first efforts, and some students are hampered by a sense of loyalty to their own writing that restricts experimentation. I might humbly suggest beginning with another’s printed scripts and rites, such as those presented here. One need feel no special loyalty to those when the time comes to change or abandon them.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Paganism and Politics 2016

I've always like Heinlein:
"Politics is the only alternative to violence"

It’s a divided and divisive year in the ol’ USA. Political feelings are running high. The hottest feelings are driven by concerns well beyond commonplace politics. Simple fear for one’s life and safety drives the organizing efforts of both people of color and women in general.  More traditional political positions – taxation or not, firearms and freedom, can we “get tough on crime” to any effect – have also become heated, and uncivil rhetoric and demonization of fellow citizens is common. I’m guilty of it on occasion myself, finding it difficult to understand or sympathize with traditional social arrangements of power and privilege, and using barbed language to their advocates as a result. Generally no good is served by such behavior beyond that nasty little satisfaction one gets in hurting a bad guy.

Our Druidry (ADF) has mainly been politically quiet about our predominantly left-of-center ethos. No political litmus test is applied for membership, and we do have members who probably vote Republican, or whatever. We would feel like unAmerican scum if we policed such a thing, I suppose. Groves are encouraged to do ‘community service’ which may be anything from food-banks to stream-cleans to donating to causes. The volunteer top-end board has generally been busy running as fast as they can to keep up with an org with 70+ local chapters, etc. Recently there has been a call for the organization at large to begin responding to current-events causes. Our core documents make our progressive positions on environment, race and gender inclusion explicit. The call for immediate responses to this week’s news caused a bit of a dust-up.

Modern social-justice advocates took stands in favor of the org becoming a public supporter at least through statements and teaching. Those who found reason to dispute the positions of this specific effort or that organization took issue. Most notably, a seeming majority of respondents (whatever their wing) simply wanted their spiritual organization to focus on the work of spirituality, and did not see social-justice advocacy as part of that focus. It's interesting to me that this week's discussions have produced anger in both progressive *and* conservative members. We are, in fact, a politically diverse group.

I take some comfort, even pride, in knowing that the org values tolerance of diverse ideas more than any specific cause or socio-political position. To me there is a primary ethic of the sacrifice-ground – that tribal and personal enmities be set aside for the sake of the Blessing. Despite my own concern for social issues such as racism, sexism and environmental protection I am willing to share the sacred fire with those who feel differently than I about the nature of and solution to those problems. 

The old charm says "Without malice, without envy,
without jealousy, without fear, without terror of
anything under the sun..."

That's because the restoration of polytheism, and multivalent worship of the Gods and Spirits, is my primary socio-political goal in life. I consider the defeat of the notion of One Truth and One Way the single most valuable tactic we can employ in the fight against oppression. We can break the hold of the idea of One God and the heritage of its institutions on our culture. We can restore not just respect for nature, but love for its very mud, and delight in its sensual reality. We can help modern people build personal spirituality not just in the public square, or even in the public church but in hearths and hearts, where it can have deep enough roots to withstand public weather. We can expose mortals to the presence of the Spirit(s), which cannot help but deepen their compassion and brighten their lives. Maybe we can help to restore the element of Mystery to a western society subject to the machines. Not everyone who devotes themselves piously to our works need have these goals as their Grail, but I do. I have remained with ADF these decades because ADF has clung closely to work that supports these goals. I suspect that many of those drawn to the organization do as well.

The thing is, there are a lot of organizations and coalitions that work for public socio-political goals. Those whose passion directs them there have many choices for where to put their efforts. Some people can manage intense involvement in both spiritual and political work (which I do not think consist of the same actions, generally) but many must choose where to commit their resources. I think that our most valuable job as a national Pagan church is to make a house of the spirits available to regular modern folks who live in apartments and get by. One that is home-grown in the culture in which it operates, and thus actually can belong to any modern citizen of a developed country. We have come a long way toward that goal in 35 years. I see it as the only seriously valuable institutional thing a church like ours can do to move the planet onward toward peace, joy and happiness.