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.

The seasonal offer has ended on 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.

I am still 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.

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. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

How We Know What We Know About Druids:

Another micro-essay, stored from a FB post so I don't ever have to type it again ; )

1: Classical Commentators. Greeks traded wine for salt with central-European Celtic-language peoples (Gauls). Romans encountered Gauls as early as 400 bce. Several key accounts by early Greeks (i.e. 
Julius Caesar writes about the Gauls and Druids. Current scholarship considers him a reliable source on the topic, though he often merely quotes older sources.,(Poseidonius) become references for many later Greek and Roman writers.

Typical Victorian Druid-depiction.
2: Insular Literature (insular means 'from the islands'). The arrival of literacy in Pagan Ireland led to the writing-down of various bits of lore. Famous works include the Book of Invasions (story of the coming of the gods and men to Ireland); The Tain Bo Cuailgne (Cattle Raid of Cooley - the story of the hero Cuchulain); The Dinnsenchas ('place-stories' - the stories of how places in Ireland got their mythic names; and the tales of the hero Fionn MacCumhal (Finn MacCool). Later, medieval authors wrote literary versions of British ("Welsh") stories. These are contained in the "Mabinogion" (Childrens' stories) and include the earliest tales of King Arthur.

These sources preserve a wealth of lore, but should all be examined for Christian, Biblical and Classical influences. While they contain bits of "Celtic mythology", the stories in them are certainly edited by monks. Note that in this I am, as always, making the word Druid mean primarily "Celtic Pagan priest".

3: Archaeology. The effort to establish the facts of material life in the Celtic Iron Age has provided confirmation and support of a great deal of the first two categories, while casting doubt on other portions (there never seems to have been chariot warfare in ireland, for instance...)

Corn-dollies. Like Shinto paper-folds, we
haven't the slightest idea what these mean.
Sure feels Pagany, though.
4: Early-modern folklore. Gaelic, British and even Franco-German countryside custom in the 18th and 19th centuries contained ritual, song and story that preserved ancient elements. Versions of the Cuchulain and Fionn stories remained in oral tradition into this period. 

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries it was fashionable to believe that folk customs preserved truly archaic elements down through many centuries, so these customs were looked to as sources for old ways. Current scholastic fashion is less confident of the memory of folk tradition, noting frequent innovation and re-strats. Still, when folk custom matches the previous two sources, one is on to something.

5: Comparative cultural parallels. Celtic peoples were part of the spectrum of languages, cultures and religions that are called 'Indo-European'. They shared cultural structures, vocabulary ('bo' is 'cow' in irish or latin...), artistic forms and, almost certainly, religious and ritual forms as well. Again, when something from the first three sources echoes a motif present in neighboring cultures one can be confident of a 'hit'.
Ritual in the Baltic cultural style. If these folks don't look
like Druids, I dunno what does.

That's the deal. Everyone from Elias Ashmole onward has been drawing on these same sources mixed with whatever bit of esoteric or Masonic fashion influenced them. Academic scholarship on all four topics has improved dramatically since the 18th century - modern readers can know so much more than those of former centuries. Likewise we have been freed from established religion - we are free to worship as we will, without hiding under the cloak of 'fraternalism' or 'philosophy'. Unless we like those, of course...

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Pagan Ethics Notes

In the past weeks I have been finishing the three 'courses' required of an ADF Senior Priest to keep our priestly status. While I find the rote work annoying there has been actual learning involved, as well as some writing. never one to waste the effort, I've edited together an article on my Ethics ideas, including my own self-invented ethical standard, as required for the course. Hope it is of some value to you.

1:Defining “Morals and Values”

Morals, and morality, are the societal and personal systems of behavior-control and self-management in an individual’s mind. While it is possible for individuals to develop personal moralities the term most often refers to social norms, which are taught to children as moral facts, and often become effective guides to and restrictions on behavior. Moral tenets become the basis for personal judgments, both of one’s own deeds and of the deeds of others. The young woman refraining from pre-marital sex, the teenager refraining from shoplifting, the antiwar protestor and the young soldier returning an enemy’s fire are all responding to ‘moral’ judgments.
In order to make personal choices in life we must have a sense of the cost and worth of things. As with morality, we learn many of our “values” from society. In our age the concept is often bound up directly with wealth and worth – we learn the value of a dollar, the value of a hard day’s work. The greater culture extolls the value (i.e. the worth and worthiness) of the soldier, the businessman and the entrepreneur, wildly rewards those with exceptional athletic or artistic talent (or luck), and preaches the moral value (worthiness) of daily trudging labor to those who are less-than-well rewarded.
            Perhaps values are more responsive to personality and personal history than are ‘morals’. Both inherent inclinations and life’s events may lead one to value art over money, to seek security over adventure. In large part these are not matters of morality, but still strongly influence our choices and directions.

How is Morality Related to Bias or Prejudice?
The combination of moral and values enforcement often produces a personal sense of certainty and righteousness that is sometimes allowed to substitute for clear-eyed judgment. My own inclination is to refer to this process as ‘programming’ – the human cybernetic system organically develops its own software through a lifetime of experience and societal reinforcement. Once an individual is fully adapted to a set of programs it can be difficult for them to act or decide in other than programmed ways.
While we often think of bias in terms of legal or human-rights issues, it applies equally in scholarship and the construction of ideas. One makes over-arching prejudgments on issues such as ancient matriarchy or Indo-European society and those judgments (pre-judgments; prejudices; biases) influence what books we read and what opinions we develop on what we choose to read.
I think that when we start using simple, broad terms like ‘right and wrong’ we enter fully into the social-consensus, programmed realm. These terms have a literal and objective meaning. There is a ‘right’ (correct) way to assemble an appliance, or to mix volatile chemicals. There is a far less clear ‘right’ way to have a marriage, or to wage a war, or to conduct competition in business. There is a ‘wrong’ way to wire a television set, but much less clearly a wrong way to raise a child.  In those cases the morals and values of the society become treated like the rules and methods of physics or engineering. Historically they have sometimes been turned into ‘instruction manuals’ for living which, perhaps too often, replace independent thinking and personal judgement. It is a short step from there to accepting the moral authority of social leaders as equivalent to their authority as skilled carpenters or plumbers. However ‘right and wrong’, in the moral sense, are simply not subject to even as firm a set of ‘laws’ as are found in the sciences.

2: My Personal Values
My personal values center on individual liberty, kindness and growth. I have spent a lifetime carefully setting aside commitment to the common values of our society, consciously retaining those bits that I find acceptable or advisable. I reject the values of authority and obedience, choosing instead to do as I please. This liberty I seek to temper with the corresponding values of kindness and growth. My goal in any interaction is to have all parties emerge emotionally peaceful (if not gratified) and a little better than when they went in. Kindness requires me to minimize pain or harm to others, as circumstances allow. In keeping with modern values I extend the concept of ‘harm’ to include violations of autonomy or privacy – personal liberty demands the right to manage one’s personal space, and what I take for myself I surely grant to others. The goals of personal and mutual growth demand the nurture and tending of both the self and of those with whom one comes into relationship.

As a colleague this makes me a cooperative team-member, but perhaps hard to ‘manage’. As a working priest I hope it has made me approachable, helpful and, well, kind. While I can be direct in my efforts to police bad data I do my best to refrain from ad hominem, and to leave folks (members) feeling like their understanding has been advanced.

3: How do we ‘learn right from wrong’ and ‘choose to do the right thing’?

A: Instruction during upbringing. The infant/toddler learns what is acceptable to its family and immediate adult surroundings. The infant’s perception of the authority of the parent as absolute is reinforced by the basic warnings of life – “That’s hot” turns out to be true, so “Don’t touch yourself there” must be equally true. This is the primary “right-v-wrong” programming that each of us carries through life. It is entirely subject to the wisdom and programming of our parents and culture.

B: Personal Inclination and experience. It is my opinion that we are born with (or programmed with at a very early age) specific ‘settings’ in terms of such things as reaction to pleasure and pain, cooperation-vs-competition, and risk-aversion. These personal inclinations combine with the experiences of our lives and our reactions to them to provide incentive for individuals to examine their upbringing and make conscious choices about their beliefs.
            In my opinion it is in the tension between these two programming factors that a great deal of individual indecision, moral tension and cognitive dissonance are found.
A: To satisfy the demands of a social authority that has the power to reward or punish. This is the outer, cops-n-robbers level of morality.

B: Right action produces good results, and good results mean more health, wealth and wisdom for everyone. This is ‘enlightened self-interest’. What is good for me can be good for all, if I avoid errors of greed or cruelty.

C: When the heart is full of simple kindness it is difficult to do wrong intentionally. From there only Wisdom can prevent foolish error. We might offer this as the ‘spiritual’ approach, and some might consider it more ‘pure’, or a ‘higher’ motivation than the previous. While I seek to cultivate kindness, I value results above motivations. Let those who do good deeds for simple reasons be praised.

4: Discuss ethics in the clergy-lay relationship.
            Philosophically I am a situationalist. I believe that the application of wisdom and values to specific individual cases produces better outcomes than the establishment of and obedience to codes of behavior. The tailoring of individual cases to a pre-existing set of standards is unlikely to produce results equal to wisdom and virtue applied individually. That said, I understand the value to an organization of the ability to predict behavior and generate accountability in a diverse group of practitioners. It is especially useful to a client to be able to refer to a set of guidelines against which to measure the work of their local priests.
            Obviously we all have ethical and moral obligations to one another. It is a common understanding that any special circumstance in human relationships produces special moral imperatives. Teachers, lovers, team-mates all are surrounded by ethical customs and, often, rules. The special relationships generated between a working priest and the folk being served can require no less.
            In our religious system the priesthood is granted little to no specific ‘spiritual authority’. The folk are not subject to or lesser than the priesthood in any hierarchy; they do not need the priesthood in order to operate the religion. Local priests are not in charge of the training, evaluation or advancement of students in our study programs. At no point are we ‘spiritual parents’ or ‘gurus’ to our students.
            As a result our interactions may be less fraught with emotional hazards than some other models of clergy. We are unlikely to be forced to deal with “power-over” issues, and abuse of authority can only happen if the priest assumes an unauthorized and presumptuous position with their folk. This happens especially when a leader plays on the unspoken social assumptions about the meaning and authority of ‘priests’ or ‘ministers’. Perhaps that deserves to be in an ethical statement…
            It might be that the primary ethical responsibility of a priest of our order is to keep our skills sharp and ready. Isaac used to say that an ADF priest should be able to “demonstrate claimed skills on demand”. We hold our offices by virtue of the study and practice we have done – using those skills actively in service to the folk, the land and the gods seems top of the list. A priest should be ready to step in and step up, should be a walking bibliography, a go-to voice when the question is “What’s the real story”. In turn the priest must have the personal understanding and clarity to be able to parse their answers from “I think so” through “This is how it is” while keeping their own biases in check.
Confidential privilege is a legal term that describes the placing of certain communications between a citizen and a professional under legal protections. The professional cannot be forced to divulge such communications in matters of law. The pertinent section of the Ohio legal code is 1317.02c. To summarize, it grants legal privilege to communications shared under a “sacred trust”, unless the cleric is specifically released by the communicant. If we cared to split hairs we might discuss whether the idea of communication under a “sacred trust” exists in Our Druidry. Without specific doctrinal positions on the matter our legal coverage is weak.
From an ethical perspective we must begin with the general merit of a closed mouth and a rejection of gossip. As Druids we must know the value of speech, and the power of an ill word to produce ill outcomes. Wisdom and kindness therefore teach that when we learn a friend’s secrets or private matters we should keep them confidential. From the perspective of organizational professional boundaries, it makes sense to me first to enjoin our clergy not to involve themselves in gossip. No tale or rumor or accusation should be spread or shared, unless the priest has been specifically employed as a mediator or advocate for a member or members.

5: Utilizing the ADF nine virtues, develop a Code of Ethics for your use as ADF Clergy. Describe how you derived this code from the Nine Virtues and how you would apply this Code.

Five Principles of a Druidic Priestly Ethics:
1: Seek always the good. See that by your work the world is made better – more beautiful, wiser, more learned, more loving, stronger.
2: Be true. Say only what you mean (barring jest) and mean and do as you say. This means keeping promises and contracts, as well as fair judgment and the eschewing of gossip.
3: Be strong. Keep your body, mind and skills strong and sharp. Tend to your talents and practice your skills, so that when need arises it is met.
4: Be kind. A warm heart brings a happy life. Compassion, empathy and gentleness are the most reliable ways to bring good to relationships with others.
5: Keep the Rule
            A: Do not harm the work by entangling your personal life with your duties as a priest
            B: Practice transparency and impeccability with all monies connected to the work
            C: Keep confidences between the priest and any member or client, and eschew gossip.
            D: Maintain study and practice, keeping knowledge and skills sharp for the work.
E: In all things consider that the reputation of the work, the org and the priest depend on good work and good name.

It is not hard to analyse these according to our virtues. Of course from the first we say that virtues are those qualities that produce good outcomes and good lives. The first Principle simply states that as the goal of the work.

Often I parse each virtue into a triad. For wisdom, I sometimes think of Reason, Discernment and Compassion as central sub-ideas. These apply certainly to the fourth Principle, and to many of the Elements of the Rule. It is Reason and Discernment that allow us to determine when and if our social entanglements interfere with the work, for instance. Discernment also applies to speech, to knowing the difference between cleverness and counsel, judgment and support. Vision supports the third Principle as well as the second, in that we can only be sure that we speak true when we can see clearly. Piety is the point of the exercise, of course; it is piety itself to remember such a code and to live by it. 
            Some might think of courage as the Warrior’s work rather than the Druid’s but it takes courage to speak truth, or to respond with commitment to past words when conditions change. Integrity is, again, the center of the work. Let our deeds be integrated with our ideas, our minds, hearts and bodies serving one
goal. Perseverance is equally important, especially to the third Principle. It is easy to begin, easy to plan, perhaps less easy to stay with the work consistently.

Hospitality applies to the second and fourth Principles. In many ways a good hospitality is the outcome of living by the Principles, the provision of good counsel and good support to the community.

I’m not much of a fan of ‘moderation’ as a ‘virtue’ – it seems more like advice than like an innate quality, which is what I see virtues as being. Still it surely applies to several points. Moderation in speech and promises is wise, moderation in food and drink is good for the third principle, and everything in the Rule is supported by it. The virtue sometimes called ‘fertility’ I refer to as ‘sensuality’ or ‘grandeur’. It refers to the value of using wealth for pleasure, deriving abundance from the use of good things, etc. In my opinion this supports truth, strength and kindness alike.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Are We God(s)?

Reviewing my files, I found this item - unpublished, I think. If I'm wrong and you find it on here somewhere, tell me and you get a no-prize.

Here in our modern esotericism we are seldom very far from the whole issue of whether and how humans have the divine power to create our own world and shape our own fate. This is a topic that has been present in Neopagan discussion for as long as I remember. I see it as one of the recurring intrusions from ‘New Age’ thinking into traditional western magical and polytheistic religious ways. In general I view it as pernicious.

In the early 80s it was common to hear newer Pagan teachers suggest that we all choose and shape our own incarnations, and that some ‘higher self’ chooses our life-path for us, usually with the excuse of ‘teaching us lessons’. ‘Rebirthing’ was one New Age system that spread the notion widely, along with the Course In Miracles. The discussion and dissent around it happened largely inside the feminist community, where the issue of rape, victimhood and the responsibility of the parties involved pulled New Age thought up short against perceived reality.

Shall our spiritual path teach us that we choose suffering, and must only forgive our tormentors, because they only serve our greater good?
Sit down, Dr. Pangloss…

Years ago I rejected the idea that some divine source within human beings creates our own universe and controls our own destiny. I always try to reject doctrinal teachings in favor of direct description of reality, and I simply don’t see any way to reconcile my observation of either my own life or those of my fellows with the idea that we’re all making the life we… need… deserve… whatever. The paragraphs of special pleading required to imagine a mechanism by which the events of various tragedies can be reconciled with the New Age model just can’t stand up to “Shit happens, and nobody is in charge.”

My philosophical path in this is made easier by my polytheism. I hold to the theorem that there is no supreme person of divinity, no single will that guides the cosmos. I don’t think that absolute omnipotence or omniscience exist in any personal being, or *can* exist in any personal being; neither in macrocosmos, nor in microcosmos. Thus I have no reason to expect the divine portion of myself to be able to perfectly guide my evolution through the shaping of events.

I do think there is a portion of myself (and everyone’s) that participates in the same power and awareness as a god. I think that the quest of mysticism is to bring the conscious personal self into proper relationship, even identity, with that personal divine self. I don’t think the result of that work will be complete control of apparent reality, or the freedom to act without consequences. I don’t think the gods have those things now.

So we’re all just stepping on through the Great Dance, hoping not to trip or stumble. It’s good to be a god, if that is one’s fate, but it doesn’t guarantee an end of trouble or strife. I think that’s why the Buddhist impulse arose – can’t we just go somewhere quiet?
None of that for me… I like the nightlife, baby.

So, I’m all for abandoning the teaching that individuals choose our births and our fates. Nature just doesn’t seem to be that way, and imagining that it is seems puzzling, and more likely to allow various smugness and guilt; that just doesn’t seem wise. We all dance along. Those with a plan try to work their plan. Some of those may be Gods, and some big plans may be happening; if the mortal actors play along. Things bump into each other, conflict brings strife and pain. Strife and pain aren’t *for* anything, they’re symptoms *of* something. They teach the wise.

Inside all that we are tiny beings with a spark of the power of a god in us. Discovering that power certainly produces euphoria, and so it should. However there’s always training to do, to stay as wise as we are strong, etc. There’s no harm in reveling in one’s divinitude, as long as it isn’t taken too seriously… it’s only god… It won’t plow the field unless you can get the oxen to work.