Sunday, April 26, 2015

Official - moved to Patheos

My first (and very introductory) post is up at Patheos, and future stuff from me will appear there. I'm leaving this blog open as an archive, while I repost the top articles (judged by poplarity, or by me) in the new joint.
If you've enjoyed my work here, do follow me over. Forgive the ads - the wife is retiring : ).
New blog here:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/intothemound/2015/04/hello-to-patheos.html

Monday, April 6, 2015

Changing Tides

The Spring spring was wound down tight by the weight of 30" of February glacier, but it has finally sprung! We've been able to get out into the flooded woodland of Tredara, and get the fun... uh, work... started.
 The gradual thaw has left the place fairly workable, and our rush to put gravel on the roads at the end of last season is paying off. I've got mud on the tractor, and lots more to come

One of the central tasks of developing our new acreage is the building of our outdoor Nemeton worship space. In imitation of the Brushwood Nemeton, which I have helped to design over the years, we have arranged our new space with Eidola of the Earth Mother and the Keeper of the Sacred Center ('Gatekeeper') in places of permanent honor. These two gods are offered to at every rite, asked to uphold the sacred space and guide the work.
The Eastern porch, with Well and Bile (World Tree), and now the shrines of
the Mother of the Land and the Lord of Wisdom
 














We are very pleased and proud to enshrine carvings done exclusively for us by Sidney Bolam of Bohemian Hobbit Studios. She worked from sketches by me, and so it's a bit of my own art mingled with her excellent execution.

Here's the real news. 
This blog is moving to the Patheos platform! I'll admit to being pleased and flattered to be asked (by Jason Mankey) to be part of the Pagan blogging team on what is, I think, the largest religion-topics portal on the web.

I expect the topic list to be mainly unchanged, though I will put some greater effort into producing 'essays' rather than just rambling on about my life and stuff. This is going to mean a period of confusion (for me at least) as the switch is made. I'm not transferring content from here, so the old archive will remain, though I will post the top-twenty posts from here over the first months, along with new material. We're about to hit the traditional working-not-writing part of my year, so having reposts will be helpful.

I hope my readers here will follow me over to this fun shiny new building. I'll be keeping stuff coming. More detail in a week or so...

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Spring Invocation of Persephone


My own spiritual work is focused on the ways and lore of the Pagan Gaels - the Celtic peoples of Ireland and Scotland. However I have worked ritual in a number of formats over the years, in many cases writing eclectic and modern pieces that mix-and-match mythic elements. Most notable for that are rites I created for the Winterstar Symposiums. These were events promoted by A.C.E., the folks who do Starwood, and held in a resort setting with cabins and hotel meeting rooms. Every year the Saturday night "Multi-media ritual" transformed the hotel ballroom into a temple of light, color and sound. Rites done there included ecstatic wildness by Bate Cabal, Walk-through symbolic and interactive labyrinths, and, occasionally, actual circle-style ritual.

Usually scheduled in mid-February, one year the event was held later than usual, on Spring Equinox weekend. I wrote and directed the rite, and for that unusual crowd wrote an unusual rite. In the middle of it is this invocation to the Winter Queen (who transformed into the Spring Maiden in the rites climactic mystery). It is plainly a call to Persephone, though the name is unmentioned. 

The Equinoxes have no particular Celtic context - there is blessed little lore or mythic content available to fit them into a Gaelic calendar. Our own local Grove (which does a variety of ethnic Pagan rites in addition to our core Gaelic work) is celebrating Equinox in Hellenic fashion this weekend. Looking through old material I thought this invocation was fitting, and so I offer it here.

(I have an announcement coming about the fate of this blog, readers, so watch this space...)


An Invocation of Persephone

The Green Earth is a Goddess, this we know
By ancient lore and by our own heart’s eye
In winter she abides beneath the land
The Underworld her home, and she its queen
For in the Dawn-time she was wedded true
To that dark power of the Underworld
A maiden she, she went into the earth
There to be crowned, and reign among the dead
The Gods of Earth were loathe that she should stay
Away from light and life, from warmth and weal
For with her gone, the land lay still and gray
Cold winter banning blossom, bud and fruit
So by their wit they struck a bargain fair
Twixt life and death, between the dark and light
When sun and shadow are together joined
The Goddess goes from one world to the next.
Now see her, seekers, in your vision eye
Upon her throne, deep in the wide world’s root
Her power keeps the Flame of Life alive
Preserved, like pomegranate seeds, for spring
For there, in her deep realm, lie riches great
The force that makes seed spring lies in her hand
From last year’s death she makes the stuff of life
That new good may spring forth from old and gone
We call you now, Great Goddess, we who seek,
We bring you gifts, hear us, we ask you now,
Flowers we bring, that you remember spring
And rise from your cold throne into the world.
We stand with star and sun within our souls
And offer incense, that our prayers may rise
Unto your spirit, come to us, we cry
Garbed in your winter pallor though you be.
For you are Death’s Queen still, who keeps the Dead
Rise now among us, Goddess, hear our call
In wonder, awe and wisdom, love and dread
We offer fire, now come into our hall!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Druid YouTube Vids - Under the Oak

All things considered, I love the internet. I'm prone to wasting my time, and the internet certainly helps. It isn't as if I didn't fill my time with pointless amusement before the web - that's why the gods made fantasy novels. The biggest advantage to the webs, in my opinion, the the degree of interactivity it allows between people.

So I', amusing myself one day when I get a message from a radio DJ down in Florida. Jerry Waller (The Ragin' Pagan) does the Pagan Sunrise radio show, which is an actual broadcast program.


"They took a jigger of Irish Whiskey, a bowl of Texas Chili, mixed it in a Cajun Cauldron under the full moon…. and out came The Ragin’ Pagan. As a musician, DJ and entertainer, he plays, sings and produces a message of compassion and conservation. His weekly broadcast, Pagan Sunrise, airs on 91.5 WPRK, Winter Park - Mondays, 5am EST, and you can find a schedule events and musings on his Ragin’ Pagan Facebook page."


Jerry has bought a few of my books, and has an interest in Celtic Paganism. he invited me to do a short interview on the show, and then a series of five-minute clips on Druidic and Celtic lore.

We're a few weeks into the process now, and I decided to take a further step, and arrange the short clips as videos for storage. They're just simple slide-shows over the narration, but they may be useful as short introductions to Celtic lore, easily accessed.

I dunno how many there will be in the end, but I'm on episode six on the radio, moving along into telling Celtic story. Here are the first three. I'll post them in bunches as I put them up.





Tuesday, March 10, 2015

St Patrick's Fakelore


Let's be very clear - St Patrick was no friend of Pagans. However he is in no sense responsible for a genocide of Celts, Pagans or Druids in Ireland. Since the bad folkore that circulates on the internet has trouble distinguishing between those three terms, let’s start there.

Celts refers to a language and cultural family that was prominent throughout Europe between c. 800 bce and the conquest of most of their territory by Rome at the turn of the first millennium ce. The Irish of St Patrick’s day were Celtic-language-speaking people, living a Celtic-style culture. They remained so after the conversion to Christianity, save for the radical change in religion.

Druids were the priests, judges, healers, and magicians of the Celtic tribes. They were not themselves a people or tribe – there was no ‘druid people’. Rather Druid was a profession among the Celtic peoples.

“Pagans” is what the incoming Christians later called the religions of the traditional peoples of Europe. Characterized by land and nature-centered worship, polytheism and ancestral heritage, it became a term for “the Enemy” as the Roman Church gained power. Celts kept Pagan ways, the Druids were the Celtic priests of those ways.

Pagans being readers, most of us know the outline of Patrick’s legend. A British Celt, he is taken by raiders and enslaved in Ireland. Escaping, he returns to Britain. Converted either miraculously on an Irish hillside, or culturally in post-Roman Britain he undertakes the priesthood. His visions call him back to Ireland, and his mission becomes the stuff of legend.

Legend is the right term for most of the story of Patrick in Ireland. Druids managed the Irish religious life. Since St Patrick made it his job to “bring souls to Christ” he would have found himself preaching in opposition to the Pagan ways, and in opposition to Druids. He (or “God”) is recorded as defeating and destroying various Druids in what amount to magical battles. These are the fantasies of the Church novelists who write the “Lives of Saints”. In some stories St Patrick takes the place of Pagan Gods, such as the famous tale of the destruction of Cromm Cruach

Snakes are not a metaphor for Pagans in the famous story. The snake legend occurs very late, and is not part of the original Patrick tales. It was copied from other saint's lives to add another cool story to Patrick's tale (See Morgan Daimler's article, below).

There was never a holocaust of Paganism in Ireland – at least not in the early stages. At St Patrick’s death a few kings had been converted, and the first monastic houses had been founded. Those houses, no doubt informed by the Celtic tradition of scholarship, later helped restore Christianity to Post-Roman, Anglo-Saxon England. The Church grew slowly over several centuries, and no Christian missionary was ever martyred by the Pagan Irish. Even in the 7th century (hundreds of years after Patrick) the compilers of law saw need to discuss the place of Druids in the system.

Here’s the thing – I love St Patrick’s day. Don’t let any modern Pagan tell you that sobriety and modesty is the traditional way to keep Pagan customs! I enjoy the celebration of Irish heritage, culture and struggle here in the US, and the chance to tell a few truly old stories, some years. However it seems just kind of… lame to spend emotional energy “Hating the Romans” here in our age, and St P just wasn't particularly a villain.
Here are a few links that do a better job on the scholastics of this than I mean to do this morning.




Sunday, March 1, 2015

Concerning the Dead


Proof of life - a section from the chapter on the spirits for the new book.

Across the ancient world the veneration of the spirits of the human dead was practiced in a variety of forms. Long before letters were invented the megalithic peoples built great mounds and tombs and kept complex rites of bone and sun and land. The historical peoples we know inherited a land already haunted with unmemoried monuments, with clans of spirits whose names were forgotten. Upon that soil and stone new lives and deaths came and went. Newer mounds and tombs were added to old, and the Dead were never absent from either popular religion or the practice of magic.

In many Pagan farm cultures the family dead were buried under the very earthen floor of the family home. The intimacy of the living with the immediate generations of the Family Dead was part of daily life. Only in places where the press of human population demanded it, such as the growing City of Rome, were the dead transported to ‘cemeteries’. As the Christian churches gained power in the late Roman Empire a deliberate effort was made to divide the living from the dead. Church doctrine taught that the dead were inaccessible to the living. Any manifestation of family spirits or the Heroes of the old religion were demons, impostures of their imagined “Enemy”. Except for certain sanctioned Christian heroes – the ‘Saints’ - there was no licit contact between mortals and the spirits of the dead.

Any effort to restore the ethos and practices of traditional Paganism must certainly include a restoration of the Cult of the Dead. It is an indispensable part of every version of ethnic Indo-European Paganism, and is often called the basis of all work with the spirits. In modern Paganism it is an element that was excluded in early forms, and is now returning.

For those who entered Pagan revival through Wiccan-style rites the absence of the Dead and the Ancestors from most usual work is notable. I think we can find two major influences behind that. Gardner’s Wicca developed in the mid-twentieth century, and the influence of both spiritualism and of Theosophy was still strong. Mediumship – especially physical mediumship – had been frequently involved in fraud both paranormal and financial, and was greatly reduced in influence from previous decades. Dissociating witchcraft from mediumship was part of the effort to legitimize witchcraft practices. From the other side of the same Theosophical influence they received a doctrine of universal reincarnation. Theosophy took the Hindu doctrine of reincarnation, edited it for westerners, and made it a standard part of ‘esoteric teaching’. This was picked up by the early waves of the Pagan revival. When I began meeting other Pagans and witches back in the 1970s a model of universal reincarnation from human life to human life was an assumption of the movement.

A Roman Lararium, house-altar
for the Dead.
The study of real sources about ancient Euro-Paganism has convinced many that no such doctrine was a part of traditional Paganism. Plainly there were teachings about the continuance of individual awareness as a ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ although many ethnic systems contain the idea of multiple soul layers or components. The core of traditional Pagan afterlife beliefs seems to involve the journey of the spirit into the Land of the Dead (usually the Underworld, in some sense). This involves various landscapes, incidents and mysteries, which various sects and teachers used as the basis for rites of initiation and seership. However reincarnation or rebirth is clearly a part of some ancient teachings. In some cases it occurs within family lines, in others a great hero is reborn among his folk. Even in such cultures the cult of the Dead is present, offering a bit of paradox about the fate of the individual soul.

The fate of common personal souls was thought to reside in the Land of the Dead, in which they were subsumed in a general cult of ‘the Dead’ or of ‘the Ancestors’. It was hoped that one’s family and clan would preserve one’s name and memory, and in that way one’s spirit would receive personal offerings and remain close to the love of the folk. Those who were initiates of some ‘mystery’ might expect to be received in some deity’s house or garden, to experience a more personal existence than that of the unremembered mass.

On a family level this was much more personal. Many cultures place a shrine or altar for the house’s lineage in the house itself. Daily spiritual work would have been at least as involved with the Ancestors as with any of the Gods. In Northern lore we find some families who expect their Dead to dwell in a local mound or mountain. Nobles might choose to ‘set up court’ in their own burial mounds, receiving offerings and giving blessings from that seat. The notion that the Dead receive offerings at their graves, whether those are in family homes or in separate spaces, seems to be nearly universal.

We will examine the development of a personal Cult of the Dead for sorcery in coming chapters. Let us examine a few of the broad categories under which the spirits of the Dead were worshipped and conjured in traditional Paganism.

The Ancestral Dead

This category is personal and specific. It refers to those in the line of your family history who are honored as beloved Dead by the living. Some cultures are very concerned with reverence to the recent Dead, with the keeping of family tombs or of house-shrines to the recently passed. Honor to one’s immediate parental and grandparental generations is central to this category.


For many modern Pagans this presents a difficult hurdle in our restoration of traditional practice.  There are two primary difficulties that modern people encounter – first, many families do not share the religious or occult inclinations of modern practitioners. Second, many families have been damaged by a cycle of abuse, or by addiction or other dysfunction that weakens the bond between generations.

The problem of ‘worshipping’ a recently-dead family member with whom one may have had a less than affectionate relationship is addressed by tradition in a strict manner. It simply does not matter what relationship one had with the formerly-living. They are now among the Dead, and must be honored as we honor the Dead. If a parent does badly by their children so that the children refuse to give that proper honor then the whole luck of the family might fail – this encourages the elder generation toward kindness. The Ancestor-worshipping traditions often have specific rites and methods for reconciling ‘difficult’ ancestors with the living. Those can be found in several of our recommended books.

As to the question of recent or Ancestral Dead who were not polytheists, or were in fact devout or nominal Christians, we can answer in several ways. First we might assume that they will have gone their way, and be unlikely to remain to answer the call of a Pagan’s altar. However we know, in most cases, that the Dead loved us while they lived, and so love us now. We can make the proper offerings in any case, in love, and hope that their own gods will allow them the happiness of being remembered. In some cases the recent Dead are entirely happy to remain near their family for a time. It can be a kindness to include some element of the spirit’s religion in their commemoration, but the simple offerings and honoring we give can only be a comfort. We might even assume that the reality of spiritual life becomes clear to us all at death, regardless of our ‘beliefs’ during life. The modern conceit that we shape reality with our beliefs certainly has no basis in tradition.


In any case the degree of intimacy with which the Cult of the Dead is approached will vary widely among practitioners. The basics of the work are done in the home, integrated into the common life. While reverence to family Dead is often seen as a first step, as a gate-keeper between the mortal shrine and the wider world of spirits, this can be approached in a formal and respectful way whatever the personal emotional position of the student may be. There are also many who say that it is the Oldest Dead who bring more power to the work, rather than the more recent.


The Heroes
Notable mortals sometimes become notable spirits. Throughout the Pagan world those whose lives are worthy of memory, those who have done some great or terrible deed for their folk, those of special power, charisma and skill are held in special memory and high esteem. Some of these become active sources of blessing and the object of cult. Often such worship is associated with the tomb or historical locales of the Hero’s story, but sometimes such spirits are subsumed into the pantheon of gods, and generate temples and images widely.


The Hellenes referred to the mightiest of such heroes as the children of the gods themselves, and thus Demigods – “half-gods”. This idea – of mortal offspring of the gods – occurs in various ways and with varying degrees of literalism or importance. Whether or not the local system allows the idea of literal divine parentage the Heroes are those who seem to shine with divine power, and who use that power for the good of their folk. This may occur after death, in the mind’s eye of story, or during a charismatic and effective life.

For modern Pagans in our decentralized and eclectic culture we might each have our own heroes. Of course we share various historical and cultural commonalities. Figures of national or ideological history, from Jefferson and Franklin to Crowley and Gardner, might become a part of a home shrine-cult. For those seeking the work of magic and priestcraft a specific subset of the Heroes may be valuable:


The Elder Wise

It has always been a part of magical wisdom for the living to be taught by the Dead. That which is remembered, lives, as they say, and the memory of the skills, ways, and lore of a people is a matter of great importance to the Dead. Many of those who have undertaken the work of restoring the Old Ways have sought to hear the voices of these beings.


In Our Druidry we often refer to such spirits as the Elder Wise. Spirits, as we say, of those who were once magicians, once priestesses, oracles, spellbinders, conjurors, we call to them and ask them to bring us their teaching. Our experience suggests that this approach is fitting for anyone who dedicates themselves to magical arts or Pagan spirituality. These spirits have shown themselves to be responsive and actively ready to support our modern efforts.


The Unhappy Dead
Life can be hard, and fate is not always kind. To the ancients the rites and memory of mortals were central to the maintenance of a happy afterlife for the recent Dead. Those who passed without proper rites, without a tomb, without kin to mourn them, without formal remembrance were unable to make the usual transition into the Land of the Dead. They became ‘ghosts’ specters that haunted the living world.

This fate was not limited to the lower classes. Those who died unknown while traveling, in shipwrecks, in great battles, by crime or murder – any who died with their life unfulfilled – might find themselves in this category. Together these spirits made up a crowd or mob or host of grey and unhappy beings, some of whom might hate or resent the living. It was not a judgment of moral character. In fact it was the default for all – to become a part of the Host. The rites and works of religion and religious magic were developed to provide a better portion, just as agriculture provided more plentiful food.


This Host of the Dead was a major source of power for practical spellcasting in ancient magic. While they are called on for almost every kind of work, in the Greco-Egyptian material they are called upon for the more “low-down” intentions – harm, coercive love-spells, winning at gambling by disabling the opponent. They might also generate serving spirits. In modern spirit systems it is sometimes taught that such spirits can benefit by working with mortal sorcerers. Their work helps them remember themselves, their names become known to the living, and they can often grow in wisdom and power, along with the magician.


The Ancestors and the Dead are the gateway to working with the spirits. Whatever one’s spiritual perspective the value of work with the Mothers and Fathers, with the Mighty and Wise Dead, and even with the Host of the Hungry cannot be overstated. In many ways it is the single most vital missing element in restoring a polytheist perspective to modern magical practice.

Friday, February 27, 2015

New FB Pagan Occultism Group, ConVocation 2015, Where-The-Hell-is-Spring Update

See, this is why I'm bitchin. Not just a little cold for the season,
this is, like, moons of Uranus cold. And when you go out for the
paper in your jammies on some of these mornings you know
just how cold the moons of Uranus can get.
Let's start with the obvious first - where the hell is spring? Oh I know, I can't bitch until March - It may already be March when you read this. I'm bitching now! The forecast is for a cold first half of March. I've got important shoveling to do, and a May 1 deadline for some projects. Yes, I know what part of the world I live in... I'm still bitching!


WE're waiting reeeal hard to be able to get rolling on our plans for Tredara this year. In the meantime the weather leaves little to do but write; however we did get some travel in.

Just back from the ConVocation gathering over in greater Detroit. Hotel gatherings are a nice thing, and we were especially thankful for spaceship Hilton in the Martian-summer temperatures of the latest arctic blast. How can I get housekeeping service for my camps in the summer?


I want to praise the con staff and planners broadly. They run a tight ship, with program beginning on schedule, registration no more screwed-up than can’t be helped (I work festival organizing myself), and support for guests and presenters well-arranged. A fully-stocked hospitality suite was especially appreciated, and can’t have been a small budget-item for an event of over 1,100 people. My coffee-cup thanks you, my forebrain thanks you.

With over 140 programs, fun public spaces and a hoppin' dealer room (and nearly no drama) I can heartily recommend this event.

Pagan and Polytheist Occultism FB Group
This week I opened a new discussion group, Pagan and Polytheist Occultism, hoping to focus my own fun conversations on ancient magic in practical application.


It's new, but we've had some good chat already. I mention it here because readers will know the kind of topics I hope to dig into. If you enjoy FB chat, give it a look.
From the rules document:
"This group is dedicated to the discussion of traditional polytheist, tribal and Pagan techniques of esoteric spiritual practice – that is, of Pagan occultism, magic or sorcery. We will understand this to include divination, invocation and evocation of deities or spirits, spellcraft, natural magic of stones and herbs etc., trance-vision and seership, and the induction of transcendent or mystical experience.


In general the topic will focus on polytheistic cultures and systems. This begins with the remnants of Indo-European polytheism, but can include indigenous and traditional polytheisms.  It certainly includes ‘witchcraft’ both as folk magic and as heretical cult, but especially when practiced in a polytheistic context. We use ‘polytheism’ colloquially, to refer to systems in which many spirits or beings have places of important honor, regardless of whether the system contains a chief god or unitary principle. This may extend even as far as respectful traditional Christian orthodoxy. It may include Asian, African and New World systems, so long as posts focus on actual technique and magical practice in those systems. In all cases the group will support reference to sources, and can be expected to ask posters and commentators to source their ideas, even if the source is “my own opinion”."


The Book is coming along nicely. I'm probably twenty-thousand words in as I work may way through the third chapter. I'll begin posting excerpts here soon. Working title is now something like "Pagan Occultism; Spiritual Techniques for Polytheists".

Come on spring... I'm tapping my toes and drumming my fingers... but I'm not holding my breath.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

New Audio Meditation Releases

So, I've been digging in my files, and discovered that I had a couple of solid products I could release. 


The second "Training the Mind" album is less of a coherent 'workshop' than the first. It contains 11 exercises from the Nine Moons training program, but I left out the expository and set-up material that I included in the first suite. A slightly more advanced set of exercises assumes that the student knows their uses. 

The texts are explicitly from the Book of Nine Moons. Included:
• Blood, Breath & Bone; basic entrancement exercise
• Exercises for basic, or 'open' meditation and for contemplation meditation
• The full Daily Shrine Work, with meditation
• The Caher Draoí - Druid's Fortress - an energy-working with the Two Powers.

• A contemplation meditation on the Druidic Cosmos.
• An introduction to "Rising in Vision" - standing out of the body for vision-travel and work.
• Two files of vision and invocation to the Earth Mother and Gate Keeper. The first gives the vision, and then recites the full invocation. Students can follow either in text, or hands-free, repeating the ritual words. The second removes the ritual text-voice, for those who prefer to work without it.
• The final file also supports the 'Audience with the Earth Mother and Gatekeeper' from the Nine Moons work. It is to be used after the Blessing has been drunk, as a final contemplation and attunement.

This suite of exercises is aimed at students who are familiar with achieving basic trance and focused attention. Students just beginning meditation or trance practice should work the first collection first.



The second offering presents a full ADF-style simple Rite of Offering, with full trance-guidance in the "Inner Work" components of that rite. The trance-guidance takes the student from mental preparation in the opening prayers, through awareness of the Worlds and Hallows, to the Opening of the Gate.  Visions are suggested for the Kindreds Offerings, and a full guidance is given for receiving a good blessing.

The same script is presented twice, once with a second voice giving the actual ritual speech, and once with the ritual-speech sections left silent. The first allows students to work the rite 'hands-free' as they learn.

For students of Our Druidry this offers a level of explanation and deepening of the rite that  is hard to come by in printed instruction.

Both of these, as well as the first Training the Mind collection, are available at my Bandcamp shop, here.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Pontifices - A Note on Pagan Priesthood


Stored from a Facebook discussion


One of my favorite terms for "priest" comes from the Latin. "Pontifex" means 'bridge-builder'. In a time when Pagans work toward defining what priesthood consists of in our ways, I think this is a
valuable idea.

Neopagan culture often displays a gut objection to 'priesthood' based on the orthodox Christian default, in which the priest is the 'mediator between God and man'. In parts of Christian tradition this has allowed priests to develop social and spiritual authority that is often perceived to be misused. Pagans often reject the idea of formal priesthood, some in reaction directly to a Christian upbringing, and some from an upbringing in Reformed Christianity in which formal, ritual priesthood has been replaced by "ministry'. Even in such places, where formal hierarchy has been rejected, the 'Pastor' or "Preacher' still has considerable social authority. Many Pagans hope to avoid creating any such institutions in our time.

However I think there is a place - a job-description - for skilled spiritual and ritual operatives who can help untrained and unpracticed people remember their center, remake their connections with the spirits and gain the blessings that improve our lives. Just like any other craft this requires skill and practice and focus, to a degree that is difficult to achieve while working full-time at more common work. To me that is a primary argument for developing a way to allow some people to live as full-time Pagan priests. Let's leave aside the economic and organizing hurdles along that path for now, and focus on theology.

So the priest as pontifex; we build bridges, span the gap between common awareness and spiritual attention. We are not 'mediators' but 'facilitators'. Most notably the ‘power’ of connection between mortals and the spirits lies not in the priest herself, but in the lasting result of her work. Let me labor at the metaphor a moment.

Religion is the work of re-linking (re-ligio) the island of mortal existence with the mainland of the divine world. A 'mediator' builds himself a boat and ferries the goods and words of the divine world to the mortals, sometimes charging a fee. A facilitator - a Pontifex - builds a bridge, opening the way for all who can make the walk. We might imagine multiple 'private' bridges built by many builders.


The point, to me, is that there is work to be done and a skilled builder of spiritual bridges is a useful artisan.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Holy Magic - next book project prospectus...

I have been dithering for some while, but I think I have chosen the subject of my next book, and made a start. I just can't bring myself to begin doing 'journalistic' titles - choosing a subject, researching it and writing to the audience. However I do feel a need to attempt to 'popularize' some of the ideas and methods of my work. My focus on a Gaelic context has led me down some lightly-populated pathways, and I feel as if the work I have been doing could be of benefit to a larger section of the Neopagan scene.

So me plan is to compose yet another iteration of basic Pagan Spirit-arte skills. This outline will be more synthetic and direct than the lengthy method given in the Book of Summoning. It will be focused directly on training and empowering a magician, with less concern for Druidic theology. The Druidic (and ADF) context will be folded into a general Indo-European model that I intend to be usable by any modern Euro-Pagan practitioner.

If it sounds like I'm re-treading old material, there will be a degree of that. However I will be writing new instruction and perspectives for most of the material. I will be re-orienting the material to a more general IE Pagan, polytheist-and-animist perspective, less dependent on the specifics of ADF practice. Where the Nine Moons system, for instance might be more complete and well-mapped to ADF mythography, this model will be streamlined and direct, focusing even more directly on magical empowerment.


My presumption is that I can write a manual in core magical practice adaptable by and to much of the current 'reconstructionist' Pagan movement. We'll see; not, perhaps, an easy job. Of course being magic it doesn't have to be widely accepted to have influence...

I don't have a real working title yet... "Pagan Occultism; Esoteric Spiritual Skills for Polytheists" has all the ring of a tupperware bowl, though it gets the point across. I keep thinking about "Holy Magic" with that subtitle...
In any case, here's an excerpt from the draft of the Preface and Introduction.



Preface 
Greetings, readers. By what blessing shall I greet you? By Wisdom, surely; may you grow in understanding. This small book is an effort to synthesize and schematize my understanding of a Pagan spirit-arte and its application in practical magic. Of course such a subject is vast and complex, ranging from stars to stones. It is not my plan to create a new compendium of today’s occult knowledge. Rather I mean to offer a simple and direct method by which a student may accomplish the basic work of self-initiation into the mystery and power of the art.

The arts on which I mean to draw for this method are ancient and noble. They began at the sacrificial fires of the ancient Magi and Brahmins and were carried on through the Wise Ones of pre-Christian Europe. The work of this book is especially influenced by the ways of the Celtic peoples of Gaul, Britain and Ireland, and by the lore that is thought of as Druidic. Secondarily Scandinavian and Germanic influence plays a role. On the edge of the world of the great traditions of classical magic, Celtic ways bring a wave of mist, Norse ways the depth of green forests, magic tongues and signs neither Latin nor Greek. They reveal a mythic cosmos separate from that of the Gnosis, or of Trismegistus.

In this manual we will address magic primarily as the art of dealing with spirits, though we will refer to neither demons nor angels. We will teach the basics of the invocation of a god, and the means to call to the Dead and the Spirits of the Land. We will take some time to teach the basics – Home-Shrine work, creating sacred space and basic invocation. We will teach simple exercises to help ritualists open the Inner Eye and experience the presence of the spirits. While any of this work could be accomplished in micro-groups of two or three, it is written for a solitary practitioner at a personal altar. Also, while your author cannot avoid a strong Celtic and Northern influence, my intention is to make the forms and symbols of the work easily accessible and adaptable by any Euro-ethnic Paganism.

The core of the work is the empowerment of the magician for and through the making of core personal alliances with the Gods, the Dead and the Landspirits. We will discuss what kind of personal cult is useful for the working sorcerer. We will give a method for procuring a primary personal ally-spirit from among the non-deity beings – a ‘familiar’. Basic patterns learned in that work can be applied for the conjuring of the Dead and the genii Loci of any region. The making and maintaining of such relationships is the basic skill of traditional magic.

This book is meant to be accessible to new students, but it is really an intermediate text. The well-prepared student will already have an established set of opening and closing rites, know the basics of meditation and trance, and be acquainted with the deities and spirits of their chosen Euro-Pagan pantheon. While there will be discussion of practical magic, the work is intended especially for those who seek a personal spiritual relationship with the gods and spirits. The sort that opens the spirits to a modern heart, and that helps shape the magician into being of wisdom, love and power.


Introduction
The Cult of Sorcery – Magic and Pagan Religion

A Little History
The revival of the direct and conscious worship of the old gods of Europe and the Middle East has reached a minimum of seventy years of work. If we count even our most obvious history we can begin with Gerald Gardner’s first initiations circa 1950. By the mid-1970s, when your author began Pagan work, the idea of Pagan Witchcraft was firmly entrenched, and ten years later the developing Lord-and-Lady, quartered-circle ritual style of Gardner’s witchcraft had been made public in the “Eclectic Wicca” style of Pagan worship. Pagan festivals created a blending and ‘culturalization’ of Pagan chants, rhythms and ritual actions. This set of forms remains highly popular and influential at this writing.

            However there had always been counter-currents in the Pagan revival, as early as the mid-70s. The Gardnerian rites were a combination of material from Freemasonry and the western ‘grimoires’ – magical instruction-books – mixed with bits of folklore. Other groups had attempted to create ritual and mythic forms based more directly on what we know of ancient religion. Both Hellenic and Khemetic (Egyptian) efforts were well-known even in the early days of the revival.

            The impulse to reconstruct a more authentic style of ancient ritual worship manifested in the mid-80s in both Norse (or ‘Viking’) and Celtic forms. Asatru (veneration of the Scandinavian gods) had been recognized in Iceland in 1972 and was making inroads in the Neopagan community in the 1980s. Ar nDraíocht Féin (ADF) was founded as an Indo-European Pagan religious organization in 1983, and CelticReconstructionism becomes formally visible a few years later. Hellenic, Baltic and Slavic groups have also arisen.

            For simplicity we will quote the Hellenismos FAQ document preserved on “The Cauldron” internet Pagan forum:

“Reconstructionism, as used here, is a methodology for developing and practicing ancient religions in the modern world. Reconstructionists believe that the religious expressions of the ancients were valid and have remained so across time and space. We believe that it is both possible and desirable to practice ancient religions—albeit in modified form—in the modern world. “


Reconstructionist groups draw on the real scholarship of archaeology, anthropology and history for inspiration in crafting modern rituals and customs. They are far less likely to turn to the ‘occultism’ of the past hundred years for inspiration or technique than are post-Wiccan practitioners. In fact some streams of this return to traditional Paganism actively reject the religious validity of magic, as did some elements of ancient Pagan societies. Some cultures, and some segments of those cultures, found magic impious – a human effort to usurp rights and powers proper to the gods. This idea arose before Christianity by hundreds of years.

Magic For Pagan Religion
However no ancient polytheist society was without its magical component. When we look at the intentions of traditional magic art we find all the fears and delights of humankind. Love, hate, health, wealth, and luck can all be taken into the hands of the worshipper through skilled ritual interaction with the spirits, often  aided by a priestly or professional ‘magician’ – a ritual specialist. Those same specialists could support the personal spiritual work of a patron, becoming in effect a household teacher whose job included ritual work and technical spiritual support. 

...unorthodox.
In some cultures such specialists were one and the same with the ‘priesthood’ of the traditional polytheism. This is the case with Vedic Brahmins, it seems, and one whole volume of the Vedas is devoted to specific charms and spells. The pre-Zoroastrian Persian Magi seem to have had a similar custom, and many scholars suspect the same to be true of the mysterious Druids – the wizard-priests of the Celtic tribes. In such cultures rites intended to produce specific blessings for specific ‘clients’ were simply part of the job of religion in general and of the specialists in particular. In cultures that began to  make a distinction between legitimate religious devotionalism and civic cult, and the more technical practices magical specialists became non-clerical, or unorthodox clerics – i.e. sorcerers.

At no time in Euro-Pagan history can we see polytheist religion without a directly corollary occult practice. Whether performed and accepted by the elites or relegated to lower-class circles every age has seen magic available to the general public, both to learn and to purchase a la carte. Whether performed by accepted priesthood or market-square conjurers no ancient religion existed without a component of occult practice.

One hears occasional objections that the most ‘elevated’ or ‘refined’ of ancient philosophy rejected much of popular magic and was skeptical even of deliberately spiritual efforts such as theurgy. Magic is often considered part of “the irrational”, which many modern seekers of spiritual truth would like to exclude. Other modern critics repeat the ancient accusations of impiety and hubris. It is my opinion that neither of those concerns constitute a reason to avoid the cultivation of magic in our Paganism.

In my efforts to think my way into the mindset of a polytheist I have found it impossible to evaluate the meaning of religion without including the presence of magic. Whether or not it is approved of, I know that if I have the skill and courage I can go beyond the work of village and hearth devotion to the gods and ancestors. I can go to the crossroad, to the old battlefield, to the lone tree on the hill and make my own pacts with spirits. I can approach a god, and make myself an adopted child, gaining favor and power. I can employ that power as my will and wisdom inclines me, regardless of the opinions of philosophers.

This potential for personal empowerment is intrinsic in animist and polytheist religion, I think, and cannot be excised without cutting away the roots of ancient ways. Magic was part and parcel of traditional Paganism, whether integrated into ‘religion’ or not. The small spirits, daemons and ghosts of the goetic conjurer were every bit as much a part of ancient polytheism as the highest gods. For those of us who hope to restore the relations between mortals and the spirits, magic seems almost mandatory.

Religion for Sorcerers
Along with those who find magic improper for Pagan religion, there are those who find religion improper or unnecessary for magic. I find I must disagree with them as well. As I see it there is no significant traditional style or school of magic that is not based directly on and in a religious system. Magical practice is intimately bound-up with religious practice, often sharing symbols, gestures, liturgical language and implements with local temples. Of course the most likely people to practice technical spiritual arts are those with a special calling, and access to temples – the priesthood. Taken from the other direction we can say that any magician who develops the work fully will be a functional priest of his gods and spirits, whether or not he is of any recognized lineage.

The work in this system has been developed in and for modern Euro-traditional Neopaganism, especially in context of the Gaels. My own focus is strongly Celtic, but the basic principles of traditional magic can be applied across the spectrum of polytheist religion. In order to work within a traditional sphere there are a few traditional terms that I feel should be addressed.

We will speak of gods and spirits. By ‘god’ I in no way refer to any omnipotent, ruling creator of the worlds. No such being exists in the mythic systems we will address. A ‘god’ refers to one of the Great elder powers of the culture, and to a variety of other spirits who rise to that position. My own working definition of a god is “A being that has the power to answer worship with blessings”.

We will speak of worship between the magician and the gods and spirits. By ‘worship’ I do not refer to servant-master relationship, nor to any attitude of groveling or personal disempowerment. Worship means ‘acknowledgement of worth’, and ritual worship is the recognition of the might and wonder of the gods and spirits, the giving of offerings, the praise of poetry, which brings a response from those beings. On the simplest level the blessing of the spirits may amount to direct aid in our spells and works. More generally the blessings received in worship ritual bring the magician into harmony with the order of things, making magic more effective. Many systems suggest that contact with the gods can awaken power and nobility in mortal hearts, to the betterment of the world. In many magical systems that awakening is the very center of magical initiation.

We will speak of cult. In this I do not refer to the usages of modern journalism, with implications of authoritarianism, coercion and dysfunction. I mean to use the term as religious studies use it: “A complex of belief and practice around a particular mythic image or being”. We will speak of the cults of the gods, of the dead, of the sorcerer’s ‘private cult’. Again, the working magician functionally becomes the working priestess of her own private cult temple, in pursuit of magic’s wisdom and power.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

An Imbolc Charm for the Beer


Readers know that the goddess Brigid is the chiefest god of our house. Such a thing is not easy to say, meaning no slight to the Dagda, her father, nor any other mighty one. Still, Brigid the Inspirer is close to both me and my wife, and Brigid the Hearth Mother has been kind to us over the years. In the ways of our Paganism, Imbolc is the special feast of Brigid, and we're working our Grove to work a big ol' sacrifice for Her this coming weekend.

Last night L and I kept our monthly Druid Monday work, which involves checking in with certain Inner contacts. I often spend a certain portion of that work asking for teaching, and the result is often a whirl of brain-contents and attempted clue-bricks, that sometimes knock together. Last night I was given most of this charm in a bag, and told to manifest it in the morning.

Like most of the Gaelic deities, we know of Brigid only by hints and reflections, especially in stories of her namesake St. Brigid of Kildare. This semi-historical figure is so surrounded by tales of magic and wonder that it is impossible not to suppose her a reflection of the earlier Celtic goddess. It is in stories of St Brigid that we hear of her connection with beer. 

It is not often that I link to Franciscans, but do have a look here for a marvelous 10th century poem about offering a lake of beer to god.
"St. Brigid also was a generous, beer-loving woman. She worked in a leper colony which found itself without beer, "For when the lepers she nursed implored her for beer, and there was none to be had, she changed the water, which was used for the bath, into an excellent beer, by the sheer strength of her blessing and dealt it out to the thirsty in plenty." Brigid is said to have changed her dirty bathwater into beer so that visiting clerics would have something to drink. Obviously this trait would endear her to many a beer lover. She also is reputed to have supplied beer out of one barrel to eighteen churches, which sufficed from Maundy Thursday to the end of paschal time."

This verse is especially meant for the brewing of beer, but I'm sure it could be used to bless any beer you might drink in celebration of the Power of Good Welcome, the Inspiration of Arts. Later today I mean to go brew beer for the coming season with fellow-Druid AJ. Perhaps he'll let me charm it with this verse: