Monday, January 13, 2014

Wiccan Ossuary – Reissuing the Portal Book

Happy New Year to all! I had a quiet Yuletide, somewhat laid-down by a two-round hit of stomach
and respiratory bugs. I’m back to various sorts of work, especially this project, and preparing the first of the expanded-lesson post-Nine-Moons training courses; more on all that directly.

Here at the start of year six of the old bloggo I find myself slowing down a bit on things to say. I will be journaling a new round of ritual work with Brigid and Dagda, finishing the Cthulhu Occultism series and working on more Wisdom Way posts. There are things brewing here in terms of organizing and building, and you’ll hear some of that. Internet chat will no doubt produce occasional topics to rant about, and then there’s the Novel…

I am grateful to my readers as always. A writer writes, and the blog is a spur to my effort. I hope to average 4 posts per month for my readers – I fell a bit short of that goal last year, but I’m after it again this year. On we go, into another year of conjuring a more enchanted world.

Opening Old Boxes
                I began my occult quest in maybe 1970, around the age of 15. For years it was books only, for me, and occasional ritual experiments with like-minded friends. In those efforts whenever I found a need to cobble together a group ritual I found myself turning to models drawn from the developing ‘witchcraft’ movement.
                One of the great successes of the early Pagan Witchcraft movement (i.e. Gardner’s covens and their imitators, and a variety of other variously-Pagan, magic-using, initiatory systems) was the crafting of a ritual form that could handily be used by one to four people with a minimum of gear. Early-70s manuals such as “Mastering Witchcraft” and “The Tree” provided simple but traditional instructions in consecrating Dagger, Wand and Cup, and a temple of magic could be ritually erected by one or more people in a relatively simple way. That made the Neopagan Witchcraft model (or ‘Wicca’ as it came to be known) the default for a huge percentage of late twentieth-century occultists.
                By 1977 or so I was practicing organized quasi-Wiccan Paganism, actively searching for a tradition in which to be initiated. I might have approached Gardnerianism but their conservatism, in the people I knew, made them a bad fit. In the meantime I developed personal and group rites based on the four-fold, elemental circle-casting and invocation of the gods of witchcraft understood as the Lady and the Lord.
                I became involved in the rise of the Pagan festival scene in the early 80s, and participated in the process by which the formal invocational methods of traditional Wicca were reframed for untrained mass audiences. However my own inclinations led me to initiation with a non-British line of initiatory witchcraft, in which a growing interest in Gaelic material mixed with a focus on Hermetic ritual magic. I completed my three traditional degrees, and undertook to create my own recension of the tradition, as was common in that lineage at that time. Let’s call that, oh… 1986.
                As was common in traditions that practice initiatory secrecy we established an ‘Outer Court’ in which interested students could attend rites with the flavor and symbolism of our system without being given access to the reserved material. We opened the ‘Sabbat’ mysteries to them, and worked a fairly rigorous monthly schedule of mystery and practical rites.
                In time I made an effort to systematize a book of material for those outer court students. There in the late 1980s desktop publishing was barely on the horizon, and so I undertook to hand-write and illustrate the roughly 70 pages of material. I had completed a fair copy of our coven Book of Shadows some years previously.
A handwritten, fair-copy page
from the original pulbication.
                I published “The Portal Book” in 1988, and taught a number of students using it.  It was well-received, and has sold several thousand copies in the years since. However the most recent printing is dwindling to its final copies, and it is time for a new edition.
                So I’m typing it up, from a former print copy (don’t ask, computers frequently suck). It’s archeology of my brain from 20 years ago, not to mention of my writing style.
                I spent the Eighties slowly getting something of a clue about traditional Gaelic polytheism and lore. I began reading Irish lore in my coven training, and worked my way through the sources available. I actually corresponded for a minute with Sean OTuathal, a founding mind behind Celtic Reconstructionism, who (it will be no surprise) set me straight onto the path of triplicity-not-quadriplicity, and other CR fundamentals. I became involved with Isaac Bonewits and the start-up of ADF, but didn’t leave my traditional work for that system until just as the Portal Book saw publication.
               This was, perhaps, three years before I would begin local ritual work with ADF, but my Celtic leanings are already well-represented. Triple-Cosmos material is mingled with traditional four-elements symbolism in ways that reflect my efforts to preserve traditional material in the face of my changing scholastic understanding. The content of this old work, as I re-examine it, holds up pretty well, except that I have abandoned several central opinions about the nature of the divine. I find myself reading my rationales for Neopagan Duotheism and ‘aspect’ theory as to the gods. The cult of our old system was a fairly usual five-fold pantheon of the period – Triple Goddess and Dual God. My descriptions of all of this are already colored by my growing understanding of Celtic lore – I hedge on Maiden, Mother and Crone while keeping the skeleton of the form. The Portal Book was an introduction to our system, and it makes an effort to gently move students from the most common Neopagan forms toward our more specific material. Much of the work consists of my instruction in basic shrine-work and meditation, as I understood it twenty years ago.
The cover of the 1996 typeset edition
                Likewise it is bemusing for me to read my efforts to construct a consistent Year Myth that contained some actual Gaelic motifs. To the extent that our Wicca was a Mystery Religion, it was in the turning cycle of the Sabbats, and the dance of birth, love, war and death between the gods and goddesses. This coherency is something I rather miss in my more recent focus on folkloric content of the seasonal feasts, though I’m afraid it is not something we can find in ancient ways. I note that, for this transitional book, I adopted the modern Neopagan names for the solar feast days (Litha, Mabon, etc). Embarrassing as that may be to my present scruples I’ll be retaining my 1988 usages as I prepare it again for print.
                One could let such a box of bones lie in the ground, but I still get occasional comments that suggest that it has been useful to folks doing Wiccan style work. Sometime later this year (sooner rather than later) I’ll be issuing a new edition of this old text. I should be able to rescan all the original art and clean it up – the original was assembled with scissors and rubber cement. The Portal Book has always been an artistic effort, and the new edition will be as pretty as I can make it.
                I have left Wiccan ritual and theological forms behind me in my personal path but I have nothing but gratitude and respect for the part that the initiatory Craft, and even popular Wicca, have played in our magical revival. Wiccan Paganism has gently nudged many people toward polytheism and self-empowerment. Let the seed be flung widely – that our restored Paganism will flourish where it may.
Update: The Portal Book is available here.

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