Friday, February 27, 2009

Working With the Dead

Winterstar Ancestor Rite
ACE held our 27th annual Winterstar Symposium in February 2009, once again at the Atwood Lodge resort in central O­hio. This is always a pleasant event, with wonderful facilities and a select crowd of Starwood clan types and assorted interesting guests. An effort is made to make program a step above the introductory level, and a wide variety of ideas are usually represented.
(And thanks to AJ Gooch for drumming and singing for the rite, and for the photos shown here...)

This year’s theme was ‘Tribal Spirituality’. This came to include various ‘shamanic’ ideas as well as discussions of some actual tribal basics from several continents. Not surprisingly more than one presenter chose to do spiritual work with the spirits of the Dead. Sue and I decided to work a rite for the ‘Spirits of the Clan’ in a Gaelic sense. Good plan – now what do we mean?

I have recently begun a working intended to deepen my awareness of the spirits of the Ancient Wise, and this seems to be producing a general flow of inspiration about (one might hope from) the Dead in general. I’m writing some new material and the rite we worked at Wstar is a bubble in the pot of that work. In that rite we decided to bring the attendees into contact with the Dead in the Celtic cultural stream, especially as they might be ‘of the tribe’. This required a bit of thinking.

For those familiar with the ADF ritual order, I’ll mention that we did a thing we often do in non-seasonal ‘magical’ rites, and combined the Three Kindred Offerings with the central invocations and offerings of the rite. So rather than having a round of ‘preliminary offerings’ to the Gods, the Dead and the Sidhe, we made a simple offering first to the Landspirits, who had the least to do with the work at hand, asking them to tolerate and allow the working in their place. We then invited the Gods of the rite, and then the Dead of the Tribe, the central focus of the work.
It remains my custom to attempt to choose one male and one female deity for any work where I can make that model work. I admit that this may be a remnant of leftover Wiccaninity. On the other hand one of the most specifically Celtic things about the Gaulish images we have is that they often depict the deities in pairs of God and Goddess. Hellenic images are never arranged that way despite tales in which various Gods are ‘married’ to one another, but Celtic culture seemed to want to pair up the deities in a single devotional image. So I don’t feel bad about a policy of choosing a God and Goddess for rites of this sort.

For this rite the male deity was a simple choice – We offered to Donn, Lord of the Dead in Gaelic lore. I have considered the Antlered God to be Dis Pater for so long, and thus the Gaelic Donn, that I felt comfortable using an image of the Cernunnos of St Germaine for his idol in this rite. Donn would be invoked to open the way for the Host of the Dead that we would call.
The Goddess was a bit harder to decide on. At first I was looking for a ‘Queen of the Dead’ sort, but my conclusion was that Gaelic lore is just plain short of such a figure. Despite occasional efforts to turn the Morrigan into a Hecate sort of character, it just doesn’t fit very well. Instead I decided to go with the tribal theme by offering to the Sovereignty of the Clan. This paramount female deity is the power of rulership, and the bonds of oath and kin that hold the warriors to their service and the farmers to their diligence. She was also the font of the Poet’s inspiration – in fact she’s a tri-functional All-Mother, and she plays her political role as Sovereignty. In our Grove we have named this Goddess most commonly as Aine, after the Munster Earth-Mother, and so we named her for this rite. Of Aine it is said that she would marry and raise a family, and as her mate grew old and her grandchildren were reproducing she would renew her youth, take another mate and found another clan. This seemed to be in tune with our theme.

The rite was performed in a workshop room of the small hotel that hosted Winterstar. That meant no serious Fire and no very extensive physical offerings. We brought our own carpet, to minimize risk of spills, and used a circle of candles in glass with a large censer of sand in the center of the circle as the Fire. We know this works pretty well – nine candles give a pretty fiery effect, and sweeps the smoke of incense offerings upward. With our usual Well and Tree we had the antlered image of Donn, an enthroned Celtic Goddess image (that the makers called ‘Ceridwen’ but is just a generic Queen figure) for Aine, and a nice replica of the Irish Janus-faced image from Boa Island, used as a general purpose focus for the Dead.

Offerings were kept simple. We gave Whiskey to Donn and Mead to Aine, each getting a nice tumbler-full with a portion given into the offering bowl and the rest becoming the drink for the Blessing. The Dead were offered ale, bread and salt. I’ve pondered whether to be concerned about the custom held by some countries of not giving salt to the Dead, and have decided that the European custom of sharing bread and salt with a guest takes precedence. While the hotel has a technical ban on incense, they have also been putting up with Winterstar for 25 years, and a bit of incense during ritual doesn’t bother them, so all the ordinary offerings – Fire, Gatekeeper, etc – got incense sticks.

The opening rites were pretty much as usual, though when I work a formal invitation to the Dead of this sort it has become my custom to add some extra intention to keeping the Gates protected and warded. We worked the ordinary portions of the rite mostly unscripted including the invocations of Sovereignty and the Lord of the Dead, and read the longer invocation of the Dead.

This invocation is meant to approach the Dead in the traditional three categories of Indo-European (and certainly Celtic) society – the Arts/Intellectuals, the Warriors and the Farmers/Providers. This ancient social pattern is a difficult issue for moderns in some ways, because it reminds us of the many difficulties of opening our hearts to the inspiration of the past. The Gaels were a hierarchical culture, as hidebound in their ways as any. The elite classes ruled, and often held the lives of lesser classes to be of little value. Beneath the Three Functions, of course, was the mass of slaves and unfree laborers, who, I’m sorry to say, got bupkes in the rite we did – something I’ll consider fixing in the future. In our times we don’t build our lives around our social position, and I don’t want a religion that encourages us to, no matter what the values of the ancients may have been. However, I do think there could be something to be learned from the values practiced by those classes. My own model of Nine Virtues has always been based on three each for the Functions – Wisdom, Memory and Vision for the Wise; Strength, Honor and Courage for the Warriors; Diligence, Hospitality and Bounty for the Landkeepers. So we might hope that by invoking the holy Dead in their persons as these three classes, we might stimulate these virtues in ourselves. In these modern times we can say that we might each become our own Landkeeper, our own Warrior, and even our own Druid. SShhh… we might even have to be our own slave…

For the final moment of sacrifice I played with a method borrowed from eastern ritual. I ad libbed a formula in which I said things like: “Let this cup of whiskey be as a thousand, let this cup of mead be as a thousand, let this bread and salt and ale be as a feast set for you, etc.” This while encouraging the participants to envision just that, as we put the simple offerings into the bowl. All in all that felt pretty good. I’d hate to go all the way to reducing food offerings to a few grains of rice in the Fire as some eastern rites do, but the method as I used it felt good.

For the return flow the remnant of the mead and whiskey that had been offered to the Gods was blessed and passed (with water for those who wanted it). We then spent a too-short time in silent meditation in the presence of the Dead, seeking to See them and be Seen. I had a couple of good reports from this, which I take as evidence of more goodness I didn’t hear about.

All in all we felt the rite worked just fine for the limited hotel conditions and random workshop-going attendees with which we were working. Actually we’ve done ritual in that particular spot (in front of the cheesy gas fireplace) a half-dozen times, but it’s still a cement box, and I’m not really used to that. Still, we produced a nice atmosphere, I think, and at least a few of the guests reached some version of the place we were trying to get to. I’ll call that a win.

An Invocation of the Three Clans of the Dead
The refrain (recited by all first, and as called for):
• Now we make our call to the Mighty Dead.
Let our voices be strong, and our call be clear
To be heard in the Land of the Dead,
By deep root and water’s spring,
By skull and by bone,
By the Inward Road and the River Crossing
and the Fire in the Land of the Dead
We call to you, O Elder Ones.
• You who in old times were priests and priestesses; you who were seers and oracles, sacrificers and singers and keepers of lore, hear us as we call to you. You who in your time tended sacred Fire, come to our Fire. You who in your time drew blessing from the earth, come to our Well. Let us meet at the Crossroads, at the Tree of the World, you who would come to our call. refrain
• You who in old times were warriors and defenders; sword-folk and spear-folk, you who put your lives between your folk and harm, hear us as we call to you. You who burn with courage and honor, come to our Fire. You who protect the waters of the Clan, come to our Well. Let us meet at the Crossroads, at the Tree of the World all you who would come to our call. refrain
• You who in old times were farmers and landkeepers; you plow-folk and husbanders, you who bring forth the wealth of the land, hear us as we call to you. You who keep the hearth-fire, come to our Fire. You who carry the waters, and water the fields, come to our Well. Let us meet at the Crossroads, at the Tree of the World all you who would come to our call.
• To you among the Mighty Dead who have seen our Fires, who have heard our songs, who would answer our calling, we offer these gifts. We seek your wisdom, we seek your vision, we seek your memory of the Old Ways. Three welcomes we give and three givings we offer to those who will see us and be seen.
• To those among the Mighty Dead who will work with us without harm or ill, in body, mind or spirit, on land, sea or sky, be welcome with this ale. Mighty Dead, accept our offering!
• To those among the Mighty Dead who will see us plainly, and be plainly seen by us, be welcome with this bread. Mighty Dead, accept our offering!
• To those among the Mighty Dead who will come to our Fires and share the Ancient Wisdom, be welcome with this salt. Mighty Dead, accept our offering!
• refrain
• So let our voices arise on the Fire, let our voices resound in the Well, let our call be heard in the Halls of the Elder Ones. Come to our Fire, and be with us here in our hall - Mighty Dead, accept our sacrifice!


Linda said...

It sounds like a lovely ritual!

I actually found Aine as a patron deity of mine during the guided ancestor trance that you presented at Three Realms a few years ago, so I personally find it wonderfully appropriate that you called upon Her as one of the deities of the occasion.

At Pantheacon, we also struggle with the inability to use fire in our rituals. Unfortunately, we can't use incense or candles either. Seeing how central that fire is to us, it's definitely a challenge, and very interesting to see how people solve the problem. I love your nine candles. That is quite beautiful. And even though it is a gas fireplace, the flame in the background is a nice backdrop to your ritual.

Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

It's wonderful to hear, from this and one of your earlier entries, that others in ADF are working in this direction. I have some very strong connections with more immediate ancestors but have been trying to make connections with more ancient clan ancestors.

Working with the "Elder Wise" is something I'd like to bring into a grove working (I'm a black bear), Samhain I dare say. Last Beltane a little ancestor chant came to me, it needs a bit of tweeking but I'll share ;)

Ancient Ones, foremother and forefathers
Ancient Ones, heroes and kin
Ancient Ones, blood of the ancestors
Ancient Ones, we call you again

Ancient Ones, peasants and druids
Ancient Ones, slaves and kings
Ancient Ones, warriors and poets
Ancient Ones, be here again