Saturday, December 15, 2018

Prayer-a-Day Prayerbook

So, I completed the Prayer-a-Day writing game with my ADF friends this past november. Straight 30, a prayer for each day of the month.
I started with no outline, taking my inspiration for each day's item from whatever free-associations my morning brought. As a result the set is a random mix of liturgical pieces, musings, small charms, and a couple of full-on spells.
I reaffirmed by enjoyment of writing in verse. Almost none of the pieces are straight, rhythmless  prose. I'll admit I loves me some iambic pentameter, though - it fits so well with English structure, even if one isn't rhyming. But my old witchy instruction said to let the spell be 'spake in rhyme', and the business of knotting up words into a net to catch one's desire certainly seems like magic to me. Lacking strings of vowels to howl into the night, I'll take meter and rhyme for power.

I've collected the 30 pieces into a slim book, and issued it in full color with some art and, one hopes, style. Price is low, and this is the sort of content, I think, that you might leave laying around to be seen, without fear of scaring the relatives.

You can purchase the book from Lulu. Watch their front-page for notices of discount codes over the midwinter season

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

What is a spell?

In the ongoing series of long answers to frequent questions. Pardon my formatting difficulties, please:


 The word ‘spell’ travels with a lot of baggage, and is used with very little technical consideration. It has been redefined especially by fantasy writers in so many ways that sorting nonsense from tradition, and determining a useful technical definition for our modern magic art is a project worth doing.

Linguistically the word means 'a spoken charm or incantation', and so we could limit its meaning to 'the spoken component of a magical rite'. That isn't what people mean, these days, though.

Allow me to begin at the end, and attempt a definition of a spell – we’ll see whether it’s the same at the end.:
“A spell is magical or spiritual work with a specific intended effect and usually a specific target”

In traditional magical literature ‘spells’ are most often small ritual patterns, involving a combination of natural objects, spoken words, proper timing, ‘occult’ symbols and often the aid of specific gods or spirits. Folk magic tends to quietly bury these elements in traditional rules, that often don’t accompany the transmission of spoken charms – one is supposed to know the rules. More formal ritual magic instructions may make a spell seem like a complex working of its own, by listing the work in detail and sequence. Both of these approaches can be practical and correct. I tend toward the latter.

The whole business of using magic to obtain a specific goal may involve multiple smaller sub-rituals, offerings etc. All these ‘spells’ together are often described as a ‘working’.


In our post-European, post-Christian USA there is that tendency to want products neatly packaged and labelled with instructions. So many who ask for ‘spells’ in internet forums seem to want the proverbial ‘magic words’, that make things change in the blink of an eye. This is, in fact no more likely in magic than in medicine, and spellcraft can involve multiple ‘appointments’ to accomplish a goal. 

Here it may be useful to quote and discuss my favorite definition of ‘magic’. It comes from the Greater Key of Solomon

“Magic is the Highest, most Absolute, and most Divine Knowledge of Natural Philosophy, advanced in its works and wonderful operations by a right understanding of the inward and occult virtue of things; so that true Agents being applied to proper Patients, strange and admirable effects will thereby be produced. Whence magicians are profound and diligent searchers into Nature; they, because of their skill, know how to anticipate an effort, the which to the vulgar shall seem to be a miracle.”

Allow me to paraphrase:
“Magic is the study of the secret and spiritual forces of nature, their character and powers, so that by applying proper force at the proper place and time effects can be produced which have been called ‘magical’. So magicians learn to predict effects by knowing cause, which makes them seem to be wizards.”

Can I tighten it up?:
“magic is the knowledge of the hidden (occult) powers of things, and of the spirits, and the application of those powers to produce effects.”

So spells are a specific application of this principle – the application of the occult powers of natural and spiritual things to work personal will.


Spellcraft Inside Polytheist Religions
In many world traditions of polytheism and animism the use of religious symbols, rituals and skills for the immediate personal gain of worshipers and their families is a normal part of the work. These traditions teach rites for prosperity, health, fertility and inspiration, much the same as the desires of modern magic-users.


A symbolic arrangement for a sadhana
            The Sanskrit term ‘sadhana’ can be translated as ‘a specific practice or form’. In dharmic religions the term is used both for the prescribed spiritual practice a teacher might set for their student, and also for specific sets of practices intended to produce results. The latter are patterns that may include proper herbs, proper colors and numbers of candles, proper offerings of incenses, flowers, etc and of course a proper spoken incantation (i.e. ‘mantra’ in Sanskrit). These patterns are often transmitted through what amount to spellbooks, and are an orthodox part of Hindu and some Buddhist religion
Offering array for an Ebbo
            In the post-African religions of the New World ‘Ebbo’ is a word meaning offering or sacrifice. It can be applied generally to religious offerings to the spirits, but it also refers to specific patterns of practice intended to produce specific outcome – i.e. spells. The forms of some such ritual offering are determined by the spirits themselves, but there are also specific traditional forms, including arrangements of specific numbers, types of fruits, colors of candles, etc., arranged in the proper way, place and time, with the proper invocations. Again, by the terms of western magic, this amounts to a ‘spell’.
Late Classical Paganism
Remnants of traditional Euro-middle-eastern polytheism and spiritism were preserved in the important proto-grimoire called the Picatrix. This ritual manual focuses primarily on the Planetary powers, themselves remnants or reflections of Olympian Gods. The rites usually center around an image or idol of the spirit, and then use number, color, type, etc, to determine a proper set of offerings. This style of offering-ritual, preserved for us in text over the past 2,000 years or so, bears a remarkable resemblance to other forms of spirit-based devotional spellcraft.
A planetary rite of offering

This style of devotional, offering-based ritual seems ready to introduce into our modern polytheist efforts. Drawing on lore, tradition and the inspiration of the spirits rites of this style could be devised in nearly any ethnic system. Of course ethnicities will each have their distinct customs, which can add to the depth of such designs.

Folkloric and Popular Spellcraft
Offering-based spells that draw on the spiritual power of core cultural gods and spirits are one side of the coin of traditional spellcraft. The other is the vast body of lore that employs the ‘occult' (i.e. hidden or little-known)  powers of natural things’, along with the basic principles of mechanistic spellcraft.


The latter were defined by Frasier as “sympathy” –like affects like; and “contagion” – that which has been in contact continues to influence the contact. These are not so much the actions of spirits but natural principles, which operate regardless of the spiritual environment in which they are used. These techniques, plainly called ‘tricks’ in some traditions, become dressed in the mythology of whatever culture takes them up.

For instance, the ‘packet talisman’ – a small bag or wrapped packet containing herbs, stones, seals etc. can be identified in the 16th century scholastic occultism of Agrippa, yet it also arrives in the New World through Congo ethnic custom, producing the ‘gris-gris’ or mojo-bag of the hoodoo tradition. Such a charm-bag employs sympathy by using herbs and stones of the proper resonance, and employs contagion by the wearing of such a charm next to the user’s skin. Charm-bags are made with prayers to saints, invocations of the polytheistic gods, or even animistic address to the aggregated spirit of the charm itself. This is icing on the basic mix that makes the spell.
Crystal 'grids' use the powers of semi-precious stones
to accomplish specific goals.

Colored candles or lights, proper incenses and perfumes, traditional or discovered magical sigils and seals, all of these are part of this category of spellcraft. Image-magic, the old hair-and-fingernails gag, the use of photographs, drawings or even the written name of a target, all of these use sympathy and contagion to ‘transmit’ the intention of a practical spiritual work. Often these methods are employed along with offering and invocation to direct the power of whatever spirit is offered to.



Wrapping Up
So, then, a spell is a ritual or set of rituals intended to employ spiritual or occult power for a specific practical goal. This sort of practice may exist as part and parcel of a religion or spiritual tradition. If it doesn’t it almost certainly exists just outside of it, relegated to some category like ‘witchcraft’. In my opinion our Neopagan religions, as we construct them, can benefit from making such techniques integral to our spiritual work.


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A Pagan Family Dinner-Table Rite





Output from the prayer-a-Day challenge continues, and I manage to rack up some posts for the annual count on el bloggo. Hopefully this might be useful for families over the holidays

A Family Table Rite of Blessing

In addition to service for the food, arrange the Center of the table, as desired, with four good candles, one shorter than the others, and an attractive bowl of clean water. If desired a decorative Tree symbol completes the array. A piece of silver or quartz crystal might be present to drop into the water, and incense is good, if tolerable for a meal-table. Also have present a preferred beverage, or two, to receive the Blessing.

• With all prepared, the kin join hands, and breathe together in silence for a moment.
The Head of the Table lights the short candle, drops the silver into the Water, and speaks:
Let us seek blessing.

• All recite:
The Fire, the Well, the Sacred Tree
Flow and Flame and Grow in me
By Land, Sea and Sky
Below and On High
Let the Water be blessed and the Fire be hallowed.

• It is good to formally cleanse all if the company wills it – pass the water, or sprinkle all – pass incense if do-able; this may be light-hearted. One simple charm (spoken three times) is:
By the Might of the Waters and the Light of the Fire
Let this meal/table/gathering be blessed!

• The Head, or another, lights the three tall candles in turn as all recite:

Oh all you Holy Beings of the Worlds
In all your might
We call you, whether unnamed or by name
By these three lights

(light one tall candle)
Beloved Dead, you travelers, gone before
To you in love
(light one tall candle)
Oh wond’rous spirits of this land we call
To you in awe
(light one tall candle)
And every shining god, in every heart
To you in honor true
Love, awe and honor, these we light
With these three flames here, burning bright
And bid the spirits bide with us in peace.


• Any readings or songs the family enjoys might be done.
• A daring and confident host might choose to draw an omen at this time. Many will be happy simply to proceed to the Blessing:
• The Head of the Table, or another recites:

The lights are lit, and the feast is spread. Let the blessing be poured for us all.
The prepared drinks are poured, and a single passing-cup is raised, or everyone raises their cup, and recites: 
Let this be blessing, poured for us
From Holy Powers true
Let it be wisdom, Let it be strength
Let it be love, between us, true.
Let this meal be blessed!

• The Head concludes, saying:
Let us keep gratitude in our hearts for this blessing, for this labor, for this good food we are about to eat, in the light of the Holy Ones.
Holy Ones, we thank you (all repeat)
Let’s Eat!



Sunday, November 18, 2018

Three Charms to Open Vision-Doors

Hot-diggity-doggerel, here are three rhyming charms meant to set one's course for the Underworld, Heavens and the back-side of the Middle-world. Real text article coming before month's end...






Friday, November 16, 2018

Prayer-a-Day Project, Pt 3

A few from week 2. These tend a bit toward 'high church' - formal invocations for formal occasions.








Tuesday, November 13, 2018

How Do I Become A Pagan?


A direct question, from a Facebook Pagan group. Let me just fizz about it for a minute, and I’ll offer some direct answers.

Of course the fashionable answer, among all those who imagine themselves woke from the yoke of “religion”, is that one may do as one pleases and call that Paganism. Sigh… 

In my opinion there is simply no real thing in the world that can be whatever one decides it should be. To start at that point is simply to assume that one’s spiritual work is not real, but rather a game or fancy, devised by a whim. While I suppose that might be enough for some people, I assume that when someone asks how to ‘become’ a Pagan, they mean more.

Several answers seemed to recommend a set of “beliefs” as definitive of being Pagan. Often these were very general – “believe in the Earth”, etc. Nobody seemed prepared to offer any systematic set of ‘beliefs’, which I suppose is just as well.


My own opinion is that Pagan religious participation is not defined by beliefs. Beliefs, in religion, are mandatory opinions, and modern Pagan religion has very few of them. Some specific sects may have their own little lists, but even that seems the exception rather than the rule in Pagan sub-groups. There is no organized agreement among Pagans about what ideas must be a part of a system in order for it to be Pagan.

My opinion is that in order to “be Pagan” one must be doing Pagan religious activity. Ancient Paganism was defined by participation in traditional action – in the sacrifices, and festivals and events of the local community. In ancient ways nobody seems to have asked one another what they though the Gods “really were”, nobody tried to exclude (or include) other people based on their enshrined opinions (i.e. beliefs) about the gods and spirits, or about the old stories. Myths and old tales were not mandatory objects of belief, nor taken as literal fact. Many such things would have had the unspoken presumption of fact in the local culture – e.g. “of course there are spirits – we’re just talking about what kind…”. Skepticism of cultural norms is seldom popular, but those norms were not usually codified into scripture or statements of belief.

Practice was another matter. Many ancient polytheist traditions kept ‘scriptures’ that were essentially records of hymns, invocations, spells and other specific ritual elements. The Indic Vedas are the most famous of these, but examples are found in Persia, Greece, and Rome, as well as from the city states long prior to those nations. Some ritual traditions were as tightly-regulated as any modern ideology. In Rome if an error in the traditional work was made, or a bad omen occurred one simply cancelled the rite and tried again another time.

While most modern Pagan systems don’t take such a formal approach to ritual, our ways are often defined by the practice of formal rites, in which words, symbols and natural forces combine to seek a spiritual effect. In many formal sects of neopaganism, such as traditional initiatory Wicca, or some forms of Druidry, a formal outline of ritual has been developed, that defines the sects the way a colors of a bird’s wing define its family. One becomes a part of that tradition by being taught the ritual form, and learning to do it effectively.

Like many elements of tradition this emphasis on ritual and deliberate religious action has been greatly watered-down in the post-internet Pagan world. The same hipster-philosophers will explain that we do not ‘need’ formal practice in order to interact with spirit, and that we can do ‘whatever feels right’ as we develop our personal practice. While these assertions may be true in some circumstances and for some people, I find them to be very bad advice for new students. Spiritual practice is a set of skills, and it is sensible to approach learning any new skill by following the instruction of a skilled teacher.

Both ancient and modern Pagan religious tradition is characterized by a variety of teachers, schools and methods. Modern schools tend to descend from two or three major styles of ritual work, but local groups often have major variations and specific customs. This too directly resembles the ways of the ancients. At the most individual end every household, every private altar, may have our special ways and specific beings. The gods are not jealous, and our own home ways never need stop us from joining with our neighbors for community practice.

So – How does one become a Pagan? 
My short answer is:
By learning how to keep ways of Pagan spirituality, and then keeping them.

This means that it is a bit of work to actually become Pagan. You can’t do it (in any meaningful way) while reading this, simply by deciding to apply a new label to yourself. Instead you must take up the work as you would any skill, whether guitar-playing or spiritual devotion.

For some people it can be a short-cut to choose one of the public Pagan teaching groups and simply practice their ways for a year or three. Groups with long-time, tried and fixed methods can prevent wasted time by providing a coherent outline of learning. There are a number of such schools, allowing students to find which of them best suits. Some traditions of ritual and practice are also well-preserved in modern published materials.

Many modern people seem to have been conditioned against ‘joining’. For those who demand to do-it-themselves there are a number of activities that I think add up to actually doing Pagan ways. Being Pagan means, to me, actually doing Pagan ways.

Here’s a list of categories of work that can add up to a Pagan-style spiritual practice.

1: Good Reading. Popular Pagan publishing has a very hit-and-miss record of providing real information about the ancient ways. Find some good academic reading lists from on-line resources, and commit yourself to reading whole big, dry books, cover to cover. Look, Paganism will almost never ask you to fast for days, or crawl up a mountain on your knees… read some books!
2: Spend time in Nature. This needn’t be any fancier than you like. Simply getting yourself out of the straight lines and machine hum of human life is a teacher about Pagan spirit.
3: Choose a simple ritual form. There are choices – learn to cast a circle, learn to bless the Sacred Center, or any of a dozen similar methods in print. Simply find one you like, or write one, then learn to do it smoothly and with a sense of inspiration. Having simple ‘start and finish’ prayers can be enough, though the fact is that tradition usually prefers complexity.
3a: Consider keeping a Calendar: Setting yourself to do ritual work based on the course of the moon or the turning of the seasons can help provide an ‘excuse’ for actual practice.
4: Learn Simple Trance & Meditation. Oh yes you can. It’s like exercise – you can’t do it until you’ve done it a while. You have to just do it. If you don’t do it, you end up a couch-potato warrior.
5: Find a Local Pagan Temple. These days there are often public organizations making worship and teaching available to the general interested community. Attendance at such rites can help a solitary Pagan meet community, and work the seasonal blessings on a scale often unavailable at home. 

So, life is busy, and very few people really manage to keep busy with all five of these all the time. But if your goal is to have a Pagan spirituality then trying to keep at two or three of these going in your life will keep you developing and growing. In time you will probably come to have close feelings for some Gods, perhaps know the affection and protection of your Ancestors, and deepen your wonder at the non-human beings of the spiritual worlds. In that way we hope to walk in harmony with all things, without strife.


Friday, November 9, 2018

Prayer-a-Day Challenge Pt2

More prayer-graphics (the rest of week 1) from the November project:




Thursday, November 8, 2018

Prayer-a-Day Challenge, Pt 1

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and many intrepid writers are attempting 50,000 narrative words this month. Not me. Maybe some year...

However in ADF the custom has arisen of writing a prayer or charm or such each day in the month. So far we haven't done group prompts, but let each of us locate them for ourselves. So far I have found that the most difficult thing, and we're only eight days in.

In any case here are some items from week one...






































Sunday, October 28, 2018

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Spirits, Daemons, Gods - Toward a Coherent Model



In the development of Neopagan religious practice and discourse several disputes have arisen concerning the true nature of the gods and spirits. In my opinion these disputes arise mainly due to the remains of Judeo-Christian theological thinking, combined with the influence of modern skepticism and rationalism. As one who finds consideration of theology and metaphysics useful, I will attempt to venture perhaps further into such speculations than is common in our modern Pagan discussion.

The Reality of the Spirits
Let me begin by saying that for this discussion we will treat the world of spirits as ‘real’. In this we need not adopt any firm description of the final nature of that reality. Whether it is a subcategory of ‘material’ manifestation within the quantum foam, or a psycho-linguistic field, or an epiphenomenon of human telepathy, or any other thing, the whole world – every culture in every age – has experienced the presence of the spirits. Communication; direct material action, possession and para-personal expression are just some of the spirit-phenomena common to many or most human cultural experiences. Materialist science has devised a number of clever efforts that attempt to ‘explain away’ such phenomena.  In the mythic reality of our Paganism, let us begin by taking spirits as given, and making it our business to know how to deal with them well. 

While we may not be able to box up the ‘True nature’ of spirits, we can approach them as phenomena, and discuss the traits that humans have seen. To avoid a long summary of world-wide evidence, I will presume to propose a list of general behaviors and characteristics of spirits, in no particular order:
• Spirits are not primarily material, though many traditions describe them as able to manifest bodies of air and smoke, or even of more dense elements.
• Spirits act both psychospiritually and on occasion materially. Like much of magic, spirits seem to operate by affecting How Things Go – which crossroads are taken, which way the coin falls, etc. It is rare to the degree of ‘miracle’ for spirits to act directly on matter, but it is not unknown.
• Spirits resonate with and respond to the material world. When described as ‘animism’ we think of spirits as being ‘in’ or ‘of’ specific material objects – the spirit in a tree or of a waterfall.
• Spirits act through living people, not only by direct possession or guidance, but by influence based on their nature. A merry spirit makes mortals near it inclined to merriment.
• Spirits are widely various in their influence on mortals, some being potentially or overtly dangerous or destructive and others providing blessings worthy of the divine.

Non-Locality of the Spirits
Spirits who become the ‘Gods’ of humankind seem to be those who are particularly powerful or able. In essence they are those who respond to human worship, and give good blessings. While some spirits seem rather localized – attached directly to a specific material basis - the spirits who are called ‘gods’ by the poets often have presence in a wider range of culture and geography; they transcend the local. Sometimes this has a natural material basis – the Sun is visible in all places, even if its effects vary. Sometimes it has a widespread cultural basis – customs surrounding hearth-fire can be relevant to most human habitation.

As a Pagan I take nature and its dance to be a map of the real nature of spiritual reality. As above, so below, the old wisdom says – nature is the materialization of spirit, and we can learn much about one from the actions of the other. When we apply this principle to the nature and presence of the gods we arrive at what I see as the center of polytheism.

Just as with any real thing in our natural world, the divine exists in and as multiple (infinite… uncountable…) entities. The gods as they appear in ‘mythology’ – in the bodies of tales preserved and retold by poets – bear only a generic resemblance to those gods as they are present in local temples and regions. If one considers “Diana” of the Anatolian city of Ephesus, in comparison to the Artemis/Diana of Greco-Roman story my principle is clearly indicated. This phenomenon happens across the polytheist world. In both India and in W African religions it is often formally acknowledged. The Goddess or honored spirit ‘of’ a local village may have the same name and stories as that of three villages away, yet have local presence, history and nature that clearly distinguishes her from another presence in another temple. This doesn’t prevent scholars and theologians inside the tradition from identifying them all as one entity, or villages from competing over whose Goddess is the coolest.

To me this entirely blurs the argument between so-called ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ polytheisms, in which ‘hard’ insists that every iteration of a deity is a distinct entity and not an ‘aspect’ of some other, while the ‘soft’ holds that deities are trans-individual, existing in many aspects. It is clear to me that traditional polytheisms today, and almost certainly those of European ancestors, are and were both. I sometimes propose an axiom that gods and other mighty spirits simply have the power to exist as multiple persons.

The Daemons
To find a specific solution in the myth and metaphysics of Pagan peoples I turn to the Hellenic notion of ‘daemons’. The word ‘daemon’ (from roots meaning ‘separate being’) is a general Greek term for ‘a spirit’. Homer applies it to the Gods while popular Hellenic Paganism could apply it all the way down to one’s garden-sprites as well. In Classical Greek Pagan theology the Daemons were similar to what we think of as ‘angels’ – agents and messengers of the gods. They were understood to attend the sacrifices on behalf of the gods, to carry the blessings of the gods in turn to mortal worshippers, and in essence to function *as* the god at the local level. In this way Zeus “of” a particular regional temple could be both a separate self-acting agency, and a ‘person of’ the storied deity.

I have described Sam Webster’s Fire metaphor before, but it is so very apt here. If I take a spark from a fire, and go a mile away, and use it to light another fire, it will be, in many ways, almost exactly the same as the original – same chemical processes, consuming the same kinds of fuel, etc. It is Fire, in the directly descriptive sense. Yet each such fire is distinctly individual – it is in a new place, it illuminates new things, it develops a unique history and narrative. So, we might think, it is with the Gods. A new image is made, a new ritual fire is lit, and customs are established influenced by the landscape and climate of the new temple.

We may say that in such work a different daemon of the deity is attracted to one temple than to another. In essence these spirit ambassadors or presences act and exist as the deity, as it may appear in the setting mortals have made for it. Mythic tales tell of deities making their own places of worship, reshaping the material world but, again, this level of the miraculous is not the rule. More commonly humans make a particular pattern, lay a sacred feast with a particular flavor, and it attracts the deity in and as a properly resonant daemon.

In this way it is not mistaken to think of the beings that act in each temple as separate and individual beings, who may have their own inclinations and desires. Likewise if you spoke with any one of them they would identify themselves as That God From the Stories, even as local versions of the myths diverge. This polyvalent perspective renders empty many disputes about which kind of worship, which narrative, which theology, is the “real” version from Ancient Days. The real pattern of ancient Paganisms was probably a patchwork of localisms linked by larger cultural forms.

This model has applications at both the most immediate levels, and at the transcendent. For those of us working to establish a home cultus it offers the freedom to establish the work as we will, and accept the results we get. When we establish a home shrine, develop out customs and implement them ‘religiously’ we summon a daemon of the god who is fit for the work we are fit for. If one wishes simply to establish harmony, get a good blessing, and live in peace then the simple sacrificial relationship with your own local daemon of your god may be all you need. For those of more mystical bent, the divine work of formal ritual makes a pathway of linkages – from the image of the God in your mind, through the material form of an idol and invocation, to the daemon of the God who serves at your fire to, perhaps, the cosmic principle of the God themself.

This model can lead us toward certain other speculations. Modern Pagans often ask ourselves about how such culturally similar forms as, say, Diana and Artemis, or Manannan and Manawyddan may be spiritually related. For those drawn to lumping, this daemon theory can easily be expanded from the local to the regional. I, myself, find it just too unlikely that thunder-gods from neighboring cultures with linguistically-neighboring names such as Taranis, Thunor and Thor must be utterly distinct entities. If there is some shorter list of great powers behind the many cousins of the European pantheons, the transpersonal and transcultural spiritual powers behind so many local daemons. Even so they need be no more relevant than a poet’s tales of the Earth-Mother are to bringing in a good harvest, as we approach those Powers almost exclusively through their local expressions. There is nothing in Pagan ways to insist that the ‘highest’ must be a special object of worship; practical work often is better done through more earthly spirits. Once again, we need not try to decide which is “true” – that all gods are separate individuals, or that some gods are ‘aspects’ or ‘persons’ of one another. We can comfortably and reasonably go for “both”.



Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Notes On Pagan Funerals and Death-Customs


Along with Liafal my partner, I have been officiating at Pagan Rites of Passage for decades. Typically the trend began with weddings, and we worked to develop Handfastings that one could present before family and co-workers. Baby-Blessings were really developed simultaneously with weddings, times being what they were.

In the past decade or so funeral rites have become more frequent. As functional clergy for a portion of our community we have found ourselves called upon to lead memorial and funeral rites. Some of these have been directly within our own kind of Pagan tradition (i.e. Neopagan Druidry, per A.D.F.), some within a general alternative-thought community, and some for grandma and the cousins.

Maturity precedes death. As the Pagan community, our movement, gains in solidity and wealth and depth Pagan groups and clergy will inevitably be called upon to organize and lead funeral services. This presents us with various practical and logistical questions, as well as theological and ritual ones. Having by this time been involved in a number of memorials, I have developed a set of scripts and invocations and may have some useful notes.

The Recent Dead in a Spirit-Based Paganism.
I write these notes from a mythic and spiritist perspective. I think that in order to think clearly about all this we must set aside any modern sense of materialism and cynicism about death and what comes after. We must operate from the assumption that some version of our consciousness survives and is aware in the time following our biological cessation

Of course we cannot know with any certainty what occurs immediately after death. It seems, from review of various sources, that classical Pagans expected to be greeted and guided by somebody or something. Perhaps the Ancestors are the most likely kind of spirit to meet us, though various mythologies propose various psychopomps, guides and challenges.

Ancient Pagan mysteries leave us with descriptions and a couple of actual maps of the proper road for the newly Dead to take into the deeps of the Otherworld. The newly dead person is instructed to take the right fork at the proper tree, to drink from one well but not another, etc. While most of us have not been initiated into such mysteries in our time we can still hope for the arrival of guides to lead us properly through the early stages of our next adventure.

From the standpoint of Pagan funerary rites I think we must assume that we will find reasons to stay near the places and people of our lives, and that we will be gratified by the attentions of the living. This leads me to categorically deny the modern cliché that “funerals are for the living”, implying that nothing the living do can matter to the Dead. Tradition teaches that it is precisely the actions of the living that help to give the Dead peace, blessing and an open path toward our fate.

So the funeral rites I have created have intended to open the hearts of the attendees to the beloved,
 to draw the spirit of the beloved to the place of gathering and give it good welcome. Tradition tells us that the love, tears and offerings of the living are welcome to the Dead. It may be valuable for modern western people to consider the practice of public mourning

So we begin with the assumption that the spirits of the recent Dead are accessible to here, can here our words and know our deeds. We look to custom and tradition for guidance on what is best.

The Worship of the Dead
I might begin by reminding us of the Pagan liturgical definition of worship as ‘mutual acknowledgement of worth’. The spirits judge our offerings as worthy, and we receive worthy blessings in turn. In a fully-developed funeral I see us as creating this worship with the specific spirit of the deceased.

For me that has meant arranging an attractive picture of the dead as the ‘idol’ of the rite, making a specific invocation and invitation to the beloved to be present with the group, and making offerings of the deceased’s preferred food, drink, etc. In short the beloved’s spirit is treated as the deity of this rite done to their honor.

Some funeral communities want a chance for many people to speak. One place where ‘parts’ can be assigned is in this making of offerings, and each can be an opportunity for a memory of the beloved. The placing of food and drink before the image will be an unusual moment for non-Pagan attendees and it is the Clergy’s work to provide a mental setting that allows understanding.

Following this phase is also a good moment for musical or poetic insertions of a kind favored by the beloved. This could include the eulogies and reminiscences. My director’s mind suggests pre-arranging and limiting the number of speakers, unless that sort of longer community engagement is specifically desired. The chance for a family to commune together before the beloved’s images and offerings, perhaps sharing drink, could be a centerpiece for a longer work. Often the desire is to finish the ritual portion and retire to the pot-luck for further toasts and memories…

The Farewell
In what I see as the most directly theological bit of these notes, I have come to understand the magical work of funeral rites as the calling of the allies and guides of the beloved, and the commitment of the beloved’s spirit to their guidance.

Per the outline below these beings will have been invited to the funeral fire earlier in the rite. Now we create the moment both in the vision of the assembly and, we hope, in fact for the beloved, of the uniting of the spirit with their guides. One supposes that traditional cultures have traditional prayers and customs to accomplish this goal.

I can see this moment as a chance for the grieving to perceive their beloved as moving on in safety and blessing. For a fully-Pagan assembly one could go all the way to guided visualization. The moment in a rite may be fraught with that grief, but I might hope that it would be a step in the road of solace as well.

An Outline
I was asked on line for a synthetic outline of my notion of Pagan funerary rites. Here’s one, based loosely in our Druidic Order of Ritual:
• The Hall is set with a shrine of the beloved where it can be seen by all. Pictures are arranged, and a space provided to receive plates, etc. for offerings. A Fire is prepared. This can be as simple as a candle or a full offering-fire for Druid High-Church rites, or any smaller size, perhaps even arranged directly before the image. A censer with capacity for lots of incense might also be provided.
Beginning
• The company is gathered and seated. The rite is proclaimed, and the company is greeted.
• A short discourse on the intention of the work, the nature of Death and the person of the beloved can open.
• The company is led in a short attunement, settling or moment of silence.
Blessing
• The space is blessed. This can be anything from a full ritual circle-casting or Sacred Center rite to the simple lighting of a single candle, establishing the place. The fire is lit or blessed, and asked to direct the spirit of the beloved to the work and welcome them. I like the turn of phrase that blesses the Fire as a ‘Fire of Welcome’ for the beloved and for all present.
invocations
• The ‘Constellation of the Worshiped’ of the beloved is called. This can be expanded or contracted according to the religious setting of the rite. I approach this through the Three Kindreds of spirits, as Our Druidry says.
• Calling the Ancestors of the beloved is utterly proper, if the social setting of the rite makes it acceptable. The beloved may have affection for or dealings with the Landspirits – were they gardeners? Hikers? The gods should be the gods of the beloved’s own home altars, if possible. Otherwise one can always call upon the guides and rulers of the Dead.
• The spirit of the beloved is specifically invited to the honor-seat of the rite. In Our Druidic Pagan rites, this includes making material offerings. These are best chosen as things loved by the Dead – food, drink, etc, but might always include flame or light, clear water, and incense.
Eulogies
• The Eulogies are given, perhaps with a musical or poetic performance.
Farewell Prayer
• A prayer of love and memory might be given to the beloved. What blessings would a spirit like theirs offer?
• The Allies, as invoked above, are given the final sacrifice and charged to take the beloved gently to their next adventure, rest, whatever. This can be carefully tuned by the clergy, to good effect.
• This is a good place for a further musical performance, or a longer Prayer For the Road
Ending
• The work is declared successful and the intent reviewed
• The beloved is given a final farewell
• Other beings who have been called are thanked and bid farewell. This can be done en masse in a single prayer.
• The rite is declared concluded.

To do this work well is to offer a real sacrament of solace and support both to the living and the Dead. If we are to regain what was lost in ancient Paganism there seems no doubt that the bond between the living and the Dead must be a part of the work. We must abandon materialism, which pretends that there is nobody left to talk to, just as we abandon doctrines that commit the spirit to some final judgement. Instead, I think, we can offer a vision of a future open and unknown; a road into fate that we will all travel in our time, yet which need not be traveled alone.

A Full Pagan/Druidic Funeral Script


This is a high-church version, based firmly on A.D.F.'s Order of Ritual, modified for a very mixed audience from the beloved's several communities. The deities mentioned are his, and would be re-worked as circumstances require. Hopefully various turns of phrase and prayers may be helpful even if the full script is less so.

Simple shrine – small FW&T, big censer for incense offerings, if Fire can’t be kept going.

 1: Welcome  (ending with: )
In Pagan paths, we are taught that death is a part of the cycle of existence. No form can be eternal – all arise from the womb of the world, and vanish again in their time – but essence can endure.  Many wise people have believed that a soul, a spirit, remains alive after death, that death is just the leaving of one form for another, while our eternal essence carries on. We hope that this is so; yet, as long as human memory does not fail, we can be sure of another sort of endurance – we endure in our deeds, in the memories of those whose lives we have touched. The dead live in us, of that we can be certain, even as we look outward into the unknown adventure that may await us all.
So, we are joined here by our memory, by our lives with ***,  by our affection and by our sorrow. Let us spend a few moments preparing our hearts….

2: Attunement/ simple Two Powers
• Take a few moments to settle your body… and take a deep breath… let it out and take another… and another…
• In our work, we remember the impersonal divine as Fire and as Water…
• Just as every tree is rooted in the deep, sustaining water that flows in the land, so each of us is rooted deep in the rich, fertile power of the divine.
• Just as all life derives its energy from the shining sun, as all are guided by the moon and stars, so are we illuminated and guided by the shining fire of the divine.
• Take a deep breath… and feel the deep in you, the light in you…

3: The Gate To Home
• It is by this flow, and shining, that each of us is connected with one another, with the holy world in which we live, and even with the Gods.
• So we will open our Gate. The Gate Between is our Fire, which we feed… is our Well, to which we make offering of silver… it might be a shining mist… a spiraling light… a deep opening… an Oaken Door…
• When we open the Gate, we choose to open ourselves to the divine… in ourselves, in the world, and in the realms of dream and story that we call spirit…

• Today we make this Gate for ourselves - to make our connection to ***… to his story, to our memory of him, and to his spirit
• We also make this Gate for *** – that this fire be a beacon to his spirit, that he see us and hear us, that he see clearly his way forward in his next great adventure…
• Let the Gate be open…

4: The Invitations
• Now to the Sacred Fire we call
The Threefold Kindreds, spirits all
• Mighty and beloved dead
Be welcome at the Fire
• Wild Ones, Spirits of the Land
Be welcome at the Fire
• Eldest, wisest, Shining Gods
Be welcome at the Fire
• Holy Ones, accept our offering!

• Likewise let us call to the Gods of ***’s heart and hearth. In our ways we say that we are drawn to the divine by the beauty and power of the gods, each of us drawn to the proper beloved. On the altar in ***’s home the chiefest gods were the Goddess called Brigid, the High One, and Manannan MacLir, the God of Wanderers.
• To the Lady of Fire and Water, the Daughter of the Sacred Fire, Brigid the Foster-Mother we call. Often have you had gifts and honor from our ***, now we ask you to see our fire and folk, to spread your cloak of love and comfort over our kinsman as he enters the world of spirits. Grant him your rest and peace, Mother of Healing, and in time, guide him to a gentle fate at the table of the Dead.

We spill this offering to you in ***’s name- - Brigid, accept our Offering!
• To the Grey God of the Misty Border, the Sailor on the Seas, the King Without a Throne, to Manannan MacLir we call. Often has our kinsman *** called to you, now we ask you find him where he wanders, O Guide of Souls, and show him his right path. Let him be welcomed in Tir na Marbh, fed on your ale and apples. Grant him a clear path, Son of the Boundless, and guide him in time to his future home. We spill this offering to you in ***’s name- - Manannan macLir, accept our Offering!
• Come to our fire, spirits, join us in this remembering, in this blessing, of Anthony Joseph Gooch, his life and his legacy.

5: Offerings to ***
• So open your hearts, and fill your memory with ***… Let him be present in your heart… call to him with the joy you felt in his life…
• ***, we speak to you from this world you knew, though we know not where you are. We keep this fire, for a time, to guide you to us, we kindle a fire in ourselves in your memory.
• We set this table for you… (drink) and (bread), in the old way, that you might be certain of your welcome
• In the Mother’s Love be welcome
In the Joys of Life be welcome
Be welcome here among those who remember you with love.
So be it!

7: The Eulogies

8: Prayer of Sacrifice:
• Now, at last, we offer to the Host of the Feast of the Dead, to Donn MacMil, whose death opened the way for us all. Receive this offering, Brown Bull, Chieftain of welcoming, and receive with it our kinsman, *** into comfort and his next work.
Donn, accept our offering!
• And again we offer to all the powers – to the Kindreds three, to the line of ***’s forebears, to his allies among the spirits; to Brigid the Comforter and Manannan the Guide, and again to Donn the Lord of the Hall of the Honored Dead. Throw wide your gates, and welcome the bright spirit, the deep soul of our *** among his friends and kin who await him.
Holy Ones, accept Our Sacrifice!


9: Thanks & GoodBye
• Before we end this formal remembrance, it is proper for us to give thanks to all who have aided us.
• First we thank you, ***, for being here with us. We will hold you in our hearts as we go from here, but we do not hold you to your life. Let the gate be open for you and the fire guide you, let the waters of the well sustain you, as you go on your way with our offerings of love.
***, We Thank you!
• Remember again the Gate, our connection with the divine… While we never truly banish that connection, we must now turn our hearts away from the past, and toward the future.
• So let us close what we have opened, let Fire be flame and Well be water, let the oaken door be shut, the connection loosened for now…
Let the Gates be closed.
• We offer our thanks to the Mother of All.
We offer our thanks to the Gods, Dead and Spirits.
May the Three Sacred Kins
Bring joy to all beings, and renew the ancient wisdom.
To the Fire, Well and Tree
We offer our thanks.
May Wisdom, Love and Power
Kindle in all beings and renew the ancient wisdom.
To the Earth, Sea, and Sky
We offer our thanks.
May the ancient wisdom be renewed, and may all beings
know peace, joy and happiness
In all the worlds.
So be it
And so, our work is ended. Let us go now to our feast, joined in fellowship.