Monday, April 8, 2019

Concerning Offering, and Offerings.


(One of these ‘FAQ’ articles…) 

A full shrine prepared for a formal offering-rite.
One of the most important new developments in Pagan and even ‘western’ occult/magical ritual in the past decades has been the adopting of material offerings to the gods and spirits as part of invocation and welcoming. Continuing research into the actual practices of ancient polytheisms, combined with observations of modern surviving systems, has led many modern Pagans to offer food, wine, silver, etc to the Powers. Many of us have experienced significant results, comparing previous work done without offerings to work that includes them.

Traditional Pagan ritual was/is centered on the making of material offerings to the Gods and Spirits. The business of pouring flammables or food into the fire, of dropping silver into the earth forever, of viewing incense as a burnt offering and not just a way to perfume the space were not a part of early Neopagan ritual, though they were central to ancient Pagan ways. Perhaps it was remnant Christianity, transmitting the notion that ‘sacrifices to daemons’ were improper, that prevented early witches and Pagans from adding offerings to our rites. Certainly the notion of animal sacrifice was rejected from the outset, and that rejection carries over into most modern Pagan restoration work. In Our Druidry we are specifically forbidden from offering an animal’s life in our rites.

Making an oil offering to a full fire
For many Pagans this prohibition would certainly be a moral one. Many (not all, and probably not a majority) Druids are vegetarian or vegan, and some are concerned with the modern idea of animal rights. However many Pagans are meat eaters, and meat is sometimes offered in ritual, as a food offering. This has led to discussions, over the years, about the moral unclarity of eating factory-butchered livestock while refusing to be involved in the work of killing. Some people find no moral objection to the idea of offering an animal to the gods, butchering, cooking and eating it in ritual. However the practical obstacles to successfully killing, butchering and cooking a small animal for sacrifice are considerable. Simply put, and taking all into account, it is easy to make powerful, significant offerings without taking the life of an animal.

So we have developed a style of ritual in which invocations are almost always accompanied by offerings. The most common offerings used are either vegetable oil (olive oil burns best) or powdered incense or herbs given to the fire. (At this point I imagine most any ritual centered around a fire, real or token.) At home shrines incense sticks make a convenient, if modern, adaptation. Also common are offerings of drink – frequently ale, mead or whiskey. These may be spilled directly on the ground, poured into an offering bowl to be given to the ground later, or sometimes poured over an image. Food offerings are often given, bread, honey and butter being common. Other common offerings often include flowers, clear water and precious metals and stones.

Whenever possible burnable offerings are given directly into the Fire (or burned in the censer if you’re working at a candle-ring Fire). Silver, metal and stones are often offered into the ritual water – the ‘Well’. Some Groves and Hearths allow silver to accumulate in the Well, occasionally offering much of it into some place of water or earth. Others deposit such offerings following every rite. In general all offerings should be deposited outdoors when the rite is complete, no later than the next sunset unless special reason dictates otherwise.
 
Those who live in the concrete circumstances of some cities will benefit from finding a way to take their offerings to bit of bare earth. Offerings should never be taken back into your own use – once given they must be discarded or destroyed entirely. The exception to this is whatever portion of a food offering is shared in turn with the participants in a rite as a part of the Blessing.

AS you study the Old Ways you may find rules about offerings held by specific ancient cultures. For instance among the Hellenes offerings to the Celestial and Underworld Powers were separated, made in different ceremonies in different ways. Such cultural rules are a matter of choice for modern observances.

One small technique borrowed from Eastern methods is helpful for those working indoors on a small scale. While offerings made entirely in one’s imagination may not be worthless the grounding of mental effort in even a token material basis seems to generate more connection. So do not hesitate to let your small piece of bread and butter or honey serve for a feast, and a small offering of ale or wine for drink. Offer such things with an open heart, and the vision of that which you would give a king in your eyes. Such a token might be left on an altar a little longer than a larger offering.

Let me also say that making such token offerings at a home shrine seems more effective if/when you have previously made more substantial offerings. When we have come to the Fire and made offerings, poured our gallons over the stones, etc, we are more believable when we offer by the ounce.


Bullet-Points:
• Offerings are usually either to be burned or given into earth or water.
• Incense is a fit basic offering for indoor rites. Don’t be stingy – send up a good smoke.
• Keeping offering-vessels filled with clean water is a basic as well. The water-offering can be basic to any further work.
• Use food items of a simple kind that you would eat. Bread, fruit and tasty treats are common choices. Full formal meals may be offered as proper, but token gifts can be placed before images and left for a time before disposal.
• Use an offering bowl to collect earth-offerings for disposal. This is helpful even if those offerings are left at a shrine for a time. Bread, wine, bits of crystal, whatever, all can go in the bowl for the Earth in their time.
• To make offerings, decide where and how you will make them; light your fire, true or in token, and bless the Water with a simple prayer; Invoke as you wish, proclaiming your offerings as you make them; Many modern invocation texts include moments for offerings. Oil to the fire, or incense, can always serve if you do not have a special offering for a spirit.

• If you wish a more complete list of fair offerings for a noble guest: Clear water; bread and honey; ale, wine or other drink; silver or copper for precious metal, clear quartz crystal for precious stone, incense, flowers, etc…


Modern Paganism, in adopting the custom of material offerings hopes to develop a sense of reciprocity with the Powers, which seems to have been central to ancient spirituality. Worship is a mutuality among allies, in which the Powers acknowledge the worthiness of our welcome, and we welcome the worthiness of their generosity in turn. In this way the flow of exchange is maintained, which is said to be the life of all beings.


Friday, March 29, 2019

Receiving Blessing; Getting the Good from Group Ritual



My spiritual life has included a slow move from private, often solo ritual to ever-larger group rites. Literally beginning alone in the attic of our community house I found my first circle of 8 or 9 people, and spent the next years working in ‘covens’ of no more than that number of folks. However the 1980s saw the invention of Pagan Festivals and soon I found myself involved in efforts to do magical work, or produce spiritual results, for randomly assembled groups of 50, and 100 and more people, using methods developed for those smaller groups.
        But this article is not about how to do ritual for big groups. More often than I found myself leading such rites I found myself as one of the folks in the circle, trying to open myself to whatever magic the operators intended. Somewhere between the operator’s skill and my own willingness and ability to participate in receiving, lies the answer to the question “am I wasting my time?”
      This article is about the latter – the skills and methods that allow an attendee at a public rite to make the hour into a personal spiritual and even magical experience, and not that of an ‘audience member’. I think that being present at the Sacred Fire, as we Druids do, or coming into the Magic Circle is an opportunity for blessing. However it requires effort, and even skill, to best receive that blessing.


     By Blessing I do not, incidentally mean only the sweet calm and excitement of coming out of a rite with the Fire and Water in you. Rather (or in addition) I want to talk about how a regular round of such ritual and spiritual world can help (by ‘magic’, as some might say) to create a magical life of weal and wisdom for those who participate in our Pagan religions.
      So, my reader, I’ll assume that we enter into participation in a group ritual with the intention to help the ritualists achieve their goal, and thus to obtain for ourselves the portion of the rite’s result available to us. If you attend a Pagan group’s rites as an observer, or an inquirer, and are not committed in that way, I still suggest that adopting these ideas as an experiment will help you understand what is being done.
           Let me begin with a core assumption that positions all the rest of the work:


I Am Not The Audience
A formal group seasonal or spiritually-thematic rite (even a wedding or funeral) can be very like a theatrical. This is no accident, of course – theater grew from the performance of ritual. However the modern Pagan lives in a world where information parades before us almost non-stop, competing for our slim bank-accounts of attention to be paid to them. We ignore vast quantities of signal, triage inputs, and are used to critically assessing all efforts to hold our eye.
        All that needs to be set aside upon entry to someone else’s rituals. As I see it we must all come together the way a village might have done, all confirmed in our earnest desire for that good harvest and peace. It is not the job of the ‘priesthood’ or celebrants to ‘entertain’ the assembled folk. A rite of this kind is performed both to and for the Gods and Spirits, and it is performed by everyone whose face can be seen in the light of the Fire. So even if one is two rows back in the gathered folk, it is good to begin by understanding that you are a player in the work at hand, even if not a central one.

        Just to belabor this a bit, we can hope that when the Gods and Spirits come to our fire, in answer to our calls, they will be presented a scene of dignified ritual, with a dedicated company that includes all of the folk. It has become my custom to assert that the Holy Ones “see our hearts and know our thoughts”, so it seems proper to encourage us all to join mutually in the focus of the rite. Together we will offer a good sacrifice (sacred work) and seek, in turn, a good blessing.

Trance Participation
One of the primary ways of accomplishing that mutuality is through group trance and vision. It is fair to say that ancient ritual did not include periods of focused or directed meditation or guided mutual thinking. My opinion is that lacking the mutual cultural hypnosis of a group of villagers, raised in the ways, we must compensate through deliberate effort.

               Successful participation in group ritual requires first the clear intent to participate, and then the willed effort required to do so. Settling one’s mind into concentrated entrancement in a church-basement or backyard, as a distant train rumbles on by and the celebrants rattle papers is precisely such willed effort. Make it your work to listen closely to whatever voice is guiding such work, and allow your inner process to be guided like a caller guides a dancer’s steps.
               Participation is enhanced by what I call Basic Trance – a combination of physical relaxation, mental focus, and the suspension of the critiquing impulse for the duration of the rite. This latter is key; a willingness to dive in, to refuse aloofness, to ignore the criticizing voice is one of the primary efforts of will of the work – especially if the ‘performance’ is less than polished. Holding firm to your Center, reminding yourself of your trance by patterned breathing, and deliberately constructing the intrinsic visual forms of the rite (the Circle, or Gates, the forms of the spirits, etc) will help bring a more powerful result.

Projected Awareness
I’m uncertain what to call the technique of identifying yourself with the words and ideas of a ritual, even when you are not performing them. In this work it is good to be familiar with the experience and feel of personal, solitary ritual – of speaking one’s will firmly into the air, or displaying the mystery-symbols to yourself. As a participant in group ritual all that experience is conferred on the performing celebrants, and must be inferred in turn by the observing participants.
               So as participants we make the words of the ritual script, of the celebrants, our words. We can recite them quietly, in affirmation, in our own minds, saying again what was said by our own voice. The ‘speaking part’ ritualists become the representatives of each individual in the company, and all join their intent together around the worlds and images of the rite.

Receiving Blessing
In the Order of Ritual (OoR) used in Our Paganism (ADF Druidiry) special attention is payed to the work of invoking and receiving the Power of the Powers, once the invocations and offerings are done. We teach that ‘a gift calls for a gift’ and the Holy Ones give us their various good things in response to our worship. Most magical religion includes such work, but sometimes it can pass with less emphasis than other sections. Our Order of Ritual includes a specific invocation, usually a litany shared with the whole company, which calls on the Powers to give their Blessing. As a participant it is worthwhile to note this moment in the rite, and be certain to employ it personally.
Our OoR Invokes the presence of a number of spiritual Powers in every rite. Along with the Earth Mother and Fire Gods, we call the hosts of the Three Kindreds, and the specific persons of the occasion. Other traditions will have a different ‘constellation’ of Powers, but in general it is valuable to open one’s awareness to those presences. A Visualization of the assembled Holy Ones is a fine way to open oneself to their blessing. This is followed by conscious participation in the visualizations of blessing the Drink, or the Flames, or whatever symbols the ritual is using. We have never formalized such visions. Many find that our vision of the Blessing has grown and changed over time, but one can always begin by seeing the flow of the Nectar or Mead descending into the cups, even as the material ale or water is poured.
Internalizing the Blessing is a moment that is usually private an individual. Some ritual scripts may include some meditative guidance for it, but often one is left to quietly feel the material blessing, drink, etc, in us physically, and open up to the power of the Powers we have helped to invoke. ADF’s OoR usually includes at least an affirmation that the Blessing has been received.

Group Ritual, Personal Magic
This is the moment when the combined power of the group’s work becomes available for the individual mind. A deliberate effort can make it useful for specific desires or boons. However in my opinion the best use for such magic is to flood the whole body, whole self, in whatever pattern of energy-flow one has used for centering. The Blessing requires very little detail beyond “Let me be whole, and well, and let every good thing that is proper to my way be mine.”
The work of gaining the good of these blessings, in our Pagan ways, relies on persistence. We are offered the Blessing of the Season, each in turn. If we consciously and deliberately accept each in turn we can hope to be blessed with life, strength, beauty, gain, reward, and rest, each in the measure our fate allows. But it all happens at the pace of the sun and seasons, perhaps with Lunar occasions for more detailed work.
Some corners of our modern Pagan scene seem to want to use spellcraft as a method building a blessed and whole life. The use of spiritual power for personal, specific goals (fix my car, chill me boss, etc) can be valuable, but it can also bring us to a point where we have too many lamps to tend, and possible cross-purposes in our several intentions (be rich, or have leisure?) I think that the persistent, slow-burn work of Pagan ‘religious work will eventually result in the Health, Wealth and Wisdom we might seek, and do so in gentle harmony with the turning of the world.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Tredara Good News


Spring 2019
Oh my friends, I have a story for you. It’s a good story, because it has a good ending, and being near the end of it makes me Very Happy.
Many of you know that I and my partner have, for many years, been using and developing our patch of land as Pagan sacred space. Starting with an 8-acre lot that Sue has been on since 1975, and expanding in 2013 to include 8 additional acres to our north. Along with a small patch on the other side we now work with 17ish acres. The tale begins following the expansion.

The new acreage was, when we purchased it, a disused satellite growing-field for the nursery-stock, shrubs, etc that is a common local agriculture. On our early inspections it was serene, with shoulder-high grass, overgrown shrubs and a variety of lovely flowering trees. It was a lovely acquisition, but with it we also acquired new neighbors. 
Just north of the northern boundary of this new property a family keeps their several acres of small agriculture, horses, etc. We seem to have frightened them. It was certainly the case that for as long as they had owned the property that patch had been quiet, even deserted… flowers, deer and bunnies, nice place for the dogs to run – I get that. Then comes us. The grass is mowed, the roads regraveled, regular tractor action, and people – our people. (for details on the progress, click the Tredara tab on the blog front-page, and recall that articles are reverse-time-line order)


Having acquired the acres in 2013, we immediately began building a new, larger worship space, and by the following spring we were holding our Stone Creed Grove seasonal rites in it during the summer. That fall we built a new 30 x 50’ pavilion-roof and attached shower-house. With that in place we hosted the ADF Wellspring Gathering at Tredara in May of 2016. This modest, 120-ish-person event had previously been held at the Brushwood folklore center, but this moved it into our full management.

Even prior to that we had our first visit from our local zoning inspector, who mentioned some neighbor concern and wondered just how commercial an operation we were running. He explained that some complaints about our activity (and some presumptuous youtube vid claims by me...) had brought him out, but was satisfied that we were making incidental use of our personal back-yard to host our church events.

The fact is that Tredara is not and has never been a ‘campground’. We do not charge by the night to camp, nor advertise ourselves in that way. We are, and have always been a sacred space for Pagan worship and spiritual practice. From the days in the 80s when our coven met in the woods, through the evolution of our public Druidic work the place is the private project of Lia Fal and I. We build in service to the Gods and the folk, and with honor to the land. While we have been blessed with donations we seldom seek them, and we’re just not in it for the money, as they say. Nevertheless, the place has been a buzz of construction, campers, hippies, pagan drumming and chanting and the installation of idols in the five-ish years we’ve owned it. I can understand a degree of culture-shock for the closest neighbors.

So this past fall the zoning inspector returned to our door, and had a look around. I’ll keep the details simple – our ‘agricultural’ zoning forgives a lot, but we’re not really doing agriculture. The decision was that our uses were ‘permitted’ under ‘conditional uses’ in the local ordinance. That began a process of determining the ‘conditions’ under which we would be permitted to continue.

Of course I was prepared to stand on the first amendment. I was allowing my church to use my farm for services and our annual reunion-campout. However in the USA if anything overrides the bill-of-rights it’s local land-use sovereignty. I hoped to avoid the employment of attorneys in the matter, and in the end I was able to do so. 

I have also had my faith in the culture of my corner of NE Ohio affirmed by the lack of passionate Christian opposition to our efforts. The offended neighbors held back from any religious reference, and we debated noise and imposition. Early on there *were* people at the podium with concerns about “what kind of church” was being permitted, but the members of the Board of Zoning Appels plainly said that such a topic was not at issue in the discussion. At no time past the very first speakers were our ways mocked or belittled – mainly they were accommodated. In the end there was no outcry from either Evangelical or Catholic local churches, may they be blessed by the spirits of America.

The offended neighbors leaned on issues of noise and property-security. It seems they had had a distressing random visit or two, which they wanted to attribute to our guests. We agree that good fences make good neighbors.

My kin, this all-winter process has had my brain just Parked! Our goal here has been to make a sacred space for the sake of our folk, and now we faced an external authority’s mandate on whether we would have to undertake a serious fight to keep our dream alive. Discussion happened only on the record at live meetings, so we were simply suspended for weeks at a time. By the final meeting quite a groove had been worn in my patience.

However the process was, I must judge, fair and right. The bureaucrats were helpful, the board members cooperative and neutral-to-neighborly. They all toured the place for an eyes-on judgement, and listened in fact to our needs and plans. It seems plain that they had never seen anything quite like us, before.

In the end we were granted our conditional use permit as a ‘place of public assembly’! The only bad news is a mandate to install a big, damned-expensive fence along the boundary with the offended neighbors. We’ll do it, fulfill a few other simple requirements, and be free to flow as a working Pagan sacred forest and worship garden here in NE Ohio.

Magic? Well, some… we’re not done with every little thing, but I’ll say that I began asking Certain Others for their aid last fall, and various measures have been taken over the months. I give thanks, of course, to all those who have aided us.
All in all this is the public birth of the Tredara Hearth Farm & Shrine. Now we can actually put up a sign (must do, in fact…) and publicly be what we have been. At this time we’re not soliciting new events, or looking to expand our event program. Rather we’ll focus on our facilities for worship, and making our occasional camping guests even more comfortable. Our sacred work will continue, teaching and incidental ceremony will probably increase, and we can begin really fitting ourselves into this thing we’ve built, and growing into the corners.


Monday, February 11, 2019

I "Work With" the Gods


Hello, readers - yes I, and el bloggo, are still alive. Been a hibernatious winter, but the creatures are stirring, and we'll start seeing some life here again. I'll start with a short archived-answer post on a topic that recurs often in recent Pagan discussion:
Arranging a full working can be, well, work.
As is so often the case for modern Pagans we find ourselves somewhat stymied by attempts to apply standard popular religious vocabulary and understandings to our ways. Nowhere is this more evident than in discussions of worship and our relationships with the divine in the persons of the Gods. One common Pagan turn of phrase, often used to avoid less-agreeable characterization – is to speak of ‘working with’ a deity. This phrase has been offensive to some polytheists, who find it inadequately respectful. Myself I find it apt, so let’s have a look into the idea…
First, I do not 'follow' deities, I am not a 'follower' of my gods. I think that the image of Jesus as wandering teacher, and the church’s presentation of Christianity as a set of prescriptions for how to live, has over-emphasized ‘following’ as a religious model. But my Gods don't teach me how to live, or make rules. They aren't leading a movement of which I am a member.
I do worship the Gods and Spirits. All of them, really. I use the term ‘worship’ to mean ‘ritual reflection of relationship’. I intend to build and keep my kinship and friendship with the spiritual world. There are many facets to that project, and one of them is the formal politenesses of ritual. My own aesthetic is fairly High Church – I like good art employed consciously to bring spiritual forces closer to the mortal world. So I enjoy making Shrines and devotional corners in my home and life.
So my spiritual practice takes me from the handicraft bench out to the woods and back to the meditation-seat at my shrine. When I’m being observant it can be rather a lot to do. So I refer to my religion/spirituality as my 'spiritual work', not as my 'faith’. I conceive spirituality as rooted in practice, not belief, and consider a ‘religion’ to be defined by its method more than by its doctrine. I commonly say that I 'work' a ritual (I like that better than 'perform'), and refer to the material props of ritual as 'tools'.
To digress, I do not consider ‘worship’ (nor ‘work with’) to imply rank or hierarchy, nor expect it to be a one-way, bottom-up transaction. Worship operates precisely because human effort is worthy. We greet the gods as honored guests, give the kind of worthy gifts that mortals give. One core principle is that a gift calls for a gift, and each ought to give according to their nature. So the spirits, in turn, give us the gifts spirits can give – the blessings we seek in our work. In this we each – mortals and the gods and spirits - ‘work’ according to our nature, each for the good of the other.
So to say that I ‘work with’ Brigid is simply to say that Brigid is included in (is a part of) my spiritual work. The form that part takes is or includes worship, and I’m willing to refer to the relationship as ‘devotional’, implying that I approach Her with love, not merely as a transaction. It says nothing about the relative status of me and Brigid. I do not count her as my ‘Lord’ in the sense of “-and-master”; she is a noble being, who inspires awe. Likewise it would be just silly to think of myself as her ‘equal’ – can I be the equal of a river or mountain? I make myself available to ‘work with’ her will, and I ask her aid in working my own will. So far that has all been good.
So then, I find 'work with' to be a reasonable, neutral usage for describing polytheist practice, one that describes what really happens without any connotation of disrespect for the gods.