Thursday, July 2, 2020

Starwood 39.5

Your Festival Staycation.

So, here in Ohio we continue to face Covid-related caution advisories. None of them have been Draconian – we’ve gone out for supplies as needed, but socializing here at Tredara has been minimal, and all spring/early summer events have been cancelled. As a result we have been learning how to use the internet for our work – our Druid Grove has offered our rites on live feeds, and we’re all meeting on various meeting-platforms.

As most of you know I’m a founder of and organizer for the Starwood festival, which is approaching its 40th opening this year. Things being what they are, this year we felt it wise to cancel our Big Camp-out. Instead we are producing a virtual event that we hope will be as interesting and engaging as a live Starwood.

Attendees will receive a link to the “Lobby”, where scheduled programs can be accessed. Beginning with the Opening Circle meditation on Tuesday evening, we will offer four days of workshop program. Each day will open with a “coffee at Camp” chat-meeting, where folks can get face-time, test their connection, ask questions, etc. We will often offer two, three or more choices per scheduled slot. 

I invite you to review the schedule and speaker list at the link. Selena Fox, Jeff McBride, Vermin Supreme, and so many of our favorite folks (we couldn’t possibly have them all…). Workshops will be interacting, tough our monitors will work to keep things organized, prevent extraneous noise, etc.
Musical guests will play at lunch-time and post-dinner slots each day, and various unusual overnight feeds will be accessed. We will maintain a non-themed chat-room, and offer unique programs from our 40-year archives.
There’s some fire-tribe building a Pretty Big Fire in my back meadow as we speak. Saturday night, after concert, we will light it and join our eyes and hearts together, even if we can’t all dance in the same place.

So if you have the cabin-fever, a persistent nagging itch to do something cool, and an ache in your bones for the fam, consider pitching in the measly fee.
Then get yer wi-fi in order, with a good screen, arrange some camp chairs (or your fave chairs…) around a fire – even a little bitty one, maybe get a cooler full of your fave cold stuff.  You can meet friends and like-minded mutants from across the planet (probably), while relaxing with your very own plumbing.
You can register at this page:
It’s the 2020 thing to do…

Monday, March 30, 2020

Two Charms Against Disease

Sheltering in place, here in Ohio, in a county not too hard-hit (yet) by the Covid infection, I contemplate how to apply magic to the situation.
In my personal work I have a long-practiced, nearly-unconscious pattern of applying the Two Powers (as some Druids say - the Underworld and Heaven Powers) to cleansing myself and maintaining a healthy pattern. For those not immediately in Our Druidic work, let me expound a little.
• One can approach the impersonal spiritual energies of the cosmos as the powers of Underworld and Heavens.  Allow me to quote myself, from my "Basics of Pagan Worship":

... the ‘energies’ of the spiritual world. Most common is the work called ‘grounding and centering”. In that technique we make ourselves aware of a flow of “spiritual energies” in the cosmos, and balance those energies in our own bodies and spirits. ...
                At the basic level we address these energies as the Light of the Heavens and the Waters of the Underworld. The Underworld Power is envisioned as the Waters Under the Earth, in which all the wisdom of the past is dissolved. The Power of the Heavens is seen as the Light of the Turning Sky, which brings order, pattern and growth. This duality corresponds to cosmic principles, poles of cosmic structure between which the manifest world appears. ...
                Working with the Fire and Water can be a core technique of practical magic, ... The Fire and Water are the primal powers of creation. When we take conscious control of the Two Powers, through imagination and will, we are doing in the microcosm what the Gods and Spirits do in the greater cosmos.
                The standard of proficiency in this technique of energy-work is to learn to bring (awareness of) the Two Powers into the self quickly and surely. ... From that base any number of specialized forms and applications of the energies can be devised.

The 'Fire and Water' healing charm here is precisely that sort of specialized application. I'm sure it could be worked with any sort of 'grounding and centering' but it is designed for the Two Powers work of Our Druidry.

The second charm here is a direct invocation of the Goddess brigid, who I look to as a primary healer goddess. It calls upon Her Three Powers - immediate daemons of the goddess who I know as the Cup, the Harp, and the Hammer. Details of that concept can be found in the Court of Brigid material. Even if not familiar with those ideas, following the images and poetry of the charm should get you close to the goal.

So here's my wish, for strength to our flesh, skill to our physicians, and the comfort and protection of the spirits on us all.

Healing by Fire and Water
A charm to prevent infection and strengthen wholeness

If desired you may work with a candle-flame and a small bowl of water. The charm can be worked in vision, conceiving the left hand as the Water and the right hand as the Fire.

• Begin by centering yourself in the Two Powers, establishing the Flow and Shine of Underworld and Heavens in your body. When you are ready:
• Extend the left hand (holding the water, or with a small amount in the palm, or only in vision), and understand the Underworld Power as flowing up through you, to concentrate in that hand. Breathing strongly and maintaining that vision, recite:
Deep Water rise,
Dark water bright
Strength from the Deep
All-Cleansing might

(and incant this nine times, charging the water)

• Then anoint the forehead, chest and belly or loins with the water, or place the hand on them in turn, from top to bottom, saying:
Flow, Oh Power, from the deep, through my heart, to my hand, that I may be cleansed,
 that I may be rinsed, that every ill be washed away.
That bonds be broken, and washed away.
That hooks be released, and washed away
That every bit be cleansed, and washed clean.
For the Blessing of the water I give thanks

• Abiding in your cleansed state, extend your right hand, holding the flame, or lit incense, or only in vision, and understand the Heaven Power shining down into you, to concentrate in your hand. Breathing strongly in that vision, recite:
Fire of heaven, Fire of the Sky
Moon’s white Silver, Sun’s bright gold
Shine upon me, shine within
That your power I may hold

(and incant this nine times, charging the fire)
• Then use your hand to warm or brighten the belly or loins, heart and forehead in turn with the flame,  from bottom to top, saying:
Shine, Oh Light, from the heights, through my head, to my hand, that I may be made whole.
Let the Light of Formation fill every empty space, and restore me to wholeness
Let the Light of Knowledge fill every empty space, and restore me to wholeness
Let the Light of Illumination fill every empty space, and restore me to wholeness
That I may be whole, and healed, and well.
For the Blessing of Fire I give thanks.
• And clasp the hands before the heart, understanding the whole work, the cleansing and restoration, and affirming.
So by Fire and Water
Let me be cleansed and whole.
So be it.

Brigid’s Protection Against Disease        By the Might of Brigid, Daughter of Danu
By the Mercy of Brigid, Flame in the Hearth
By the Flow of Brigid, Water from the Well
Spirit of the Hammer, Warm the Forge
Spirit of the Quaich, Bear the Draft
Spirit of the Harp, Sing Beauty
So ring, Oh Hammer, in the Cauldron of Warming
Let my furnace burn warm, my power be strong, 
to keep me from all ill.
Be full to spilling, Oh Cup, into my Cauldron of Movement
Let your healing flow through every course, 
to keep me from all ill
Sing like the Birds of Dawn. OH Harp, 
with words of understanding
Let me hear the Song in my Cauldron of Wisdom
to keep me from all ill
Mighty Goddess, make strong flesh and bone
Loving Goddess, make clean blood and wind
Wisest Goddess, Make clear mind and will
In my heart and at my hearth
For my kin and for my folk
That we may all be well.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A Solitary Spring Equinox Rite

This season our local ADF Grove cancelled our public seasonal ritual performance for, I think, the first time in our history. We've had a couple of weather-related close calls, but this is the first time that we simply won't hold a rite, thanks to the COVID 19 problem.

Here is a reasonably simple rite that can be done at a family dinner table, or alone. It requires a few candles, a bowl of water and a couple of simple symbolic props

I will take the strength of the land for our own, and let growth and the rising light overcome ill.

A Family Table Rite  for Spring

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:
We come together to celebrate the turning of tides, the rising of light, the balance of the rolling wheel. In the name of the Earth Mother and the Spirit of the Grain, 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– 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!

An offering is given, saying:
• Where Fire and Water Meet, Where Land and Sea and Sky are joined
There is the Sacred Center, The Crossroads of Worlds.
We light the Fire of Welcome, we draw water from the Holy Well,
And to the Gods of Crossroads we offer,
That this place be a sacred place, a between place,
A place of meeting for mortals and the spirits.
 Let the Roads be open, let the voice be heard, let the Gates be Open!

• 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.
The Spring Charm:
For this charm have a stone from the surrounding land (or a small bowl of dirt), a handful of seed-wheat or corn, Two offerings of incense are also ready

The Head, or another, begins:
• Light and Dark in balance, turning; Year comes forth from Winter, changing
Shoots come forth from mud and soil, kits and young are birthed, as well
Sing we springtime one and all, as all the land rejoices.
Unto the landfolk we give honor, remember we your sleep and waking
Give us your blessing in the planting, and multiply it in the reaping
As spring brings summer and the harvest

The stone or soil is taken up and held as the charm is said. The stone or soil may be passed around the table for each to contemplate, if desired.
• To the Mother of All we make our prayer, and likewise give this offering.
An incense offering is made
Many named, who upholds every path, womb of grain and final tomb
Let your power be growth in the season of growth.
Let water run free, and soil be rich and quenched
Let sun be warm and winds kind, and the storm bring the protection of the Thunderer
Earth Mother, you are the Womb of Spring
Be for us the Mother of Peace

The Corn, in a bowl, is elevated, or passed around the table, saying:
• To the Spring Thunderer we make our prayer, and likewise give this offering
An incense offering is made
Thunder-wielder, who wakes the seed and guards the corn
Let your power be growth in this season of growth.
Shake the sky, rumble the ground, and let no good seed stay sleeping
Lightning charge the air, and guard against all ill; keep safe the Beloved Mother.          
Thunderer, you are the Hammer of Spring
Be for us the Shield of Protection

This charm can be said or sung three times, or until all the tokens have returned.
So turn, turn, from dark to light
We stand in place ‘tween left and right
One hand is winter, one is spring
Between is each and every thing.

All recite or sing the prayer of sacrifice, and a final offering of incense might be given.
• Hear us Holy Ones
Offering we give to all
In Honor, Reverence, and Joy
Accept our sacrifice, we call

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 ready. 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 the Holy Powers.
Let it be wisdom, let it be strength, let it be love, between us, true.
Let the World be soil, in which our hearts sprout and bloom and bear.
Let the Season be life, and energy, and strength for the growing
Mother of All, Thunder-Champion, we ask your blessing on these cups.
• All drink, then bide a moment in silent unity.

• The Head begins closing, saying:
• So we accept the blessing of Spring! To all those who have come at our call, All who have given us their blessing, to all those who bide with us in Spring, we give thanks. We bid you go in peace, if you will, or stay at our sides in blessing. Spirits, we thank you!
The Gatekeeper is thanked and the gate closed, saying:
• Keeper of Gates, Lord of Ways, for keeping the crossroad, we give you our thanks.
Now let the Fire be but flame; Let the Well be but water
Let all be as it was before; Save only for the magic we have made.
Let the gates be closed!

Then all recite the Great Blessing:
• 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!
• 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!

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Cleansing and Banishing in Pagan Ritual

(a basic replacement for 'smudging')

Pagan social-media conversations often circle back to the use of herbal smoke for cleansing material spaces, and ‘banishing bad vibes’. In my summary opinion the notion of ‘sage-ing’ or ‘smudging’ has reached the level of superstition, in which people imitate gestures without understanding, seeking an effect. This trend has bumped-up against efforts by native peoples to preserve their own ways, and prevent their dilution by misappropriation. Recent internet notices have warned us against depriving native people of revenue and recognition in our sources of specific plants, and reminded us that merely imitating a picture of a ritual action does not mean we’re actually doing it.
                When I was coming up in the craft in the 1970s we never spoke of ‘smudging’. The first time I saw the ‘shell-and-fan’ set-up was probably in the mid-80s, at a festival.  Traditional western magic performs cleansing of space with a dual approach, using water and fire. That is how I learned to clear a space, whether casting a circle or giving a basic cleansing to a house. Water-and-fire cleansing is also used in western magic to cleanse and pre-bless objects used in magical ritual, whether the ‘tools’, or the physical basis of talismans, charm-bags, etc. While each of these symbols deserves a full research-report, let me say a little about the traditions surrounding ritual fire and water:
Ritual Water
                The central symbol of cleansing in Euro spiritual ritual is water. The work of finding, bearing, and protecting safe water sources is always central to the lives of early people, and such matters make their way from the mundane into the sacred in a variety of customs. Evidence for the use of specially-dedicated water and water-sources extends as far back as written sources allow.
                In the Greek Magical Papyri of the turn of the first millennium ritual water is gathered from different sources for different intentions. So for work with celestial gods, and various blessings one might collect rain-water, while for Underworld work, fertility, etc water from underground springs is preferred. For modern practitioners this offers a chance to consider the sources of water in your region, and to pay direct attention to weather as a concern in magic.
                If you choose to bring water directly from a natural source, try to choose places where you can gather clean, clear water. Water pure enough to drink seems to have been the basic standard for traditional ritual water, and great care was taken to insure its cleanliness and purity. There is no reason to avoid using the tap water from most modern water-systems – ritual water is always formally consecrated.

The summary of the method of making ritual water is to bring pure water, add some further agent of purification, and speak intention over the water. The added element is often salt, though some Celtoids have the custom of ‘silvering’ water – silver has active anti-microbial properties, so that’s cool.
The western traditions of ritual magic (what is often called the ‘Solomonic’ style) use this basic formula with its usual lengthy ritual recitations. There’s a very complete set of such consecrations at the Digital Ambler
A simple working consecration is given below.
Fire and Smoke
                Ritual flame is the traditional center of much Euro-Pagan ritual. In archaic forms the central fire receives the offerings of the people, and may represent the very presence of divine power. Its lore emphasizes ritual purity, spiritual power and the Right Order of wholeness and wellness.
                Among Indic ritual traditions the fire retains most of this archaic power, and stands at the center of what remains of Vedic ritual. In Persian religion (‘Zoroastrianism’) the fire becomes the only idol, the very image of the divine. In Hellenic and Roman religion the sacrificial fire consumed the portion of the offerings given to the gods, and was treated as a deity.
                Ritual fire has the same emphasis on ‘purity’ as does ritual water. Fire can be employed to burn trash, cleanse illness, even consume corpses. Ritual fire is to be made with clean, dry materials, carefully laid, with no unintentional or incidental contents. It receives equally-pure offerings of food, oil, etc.
                In many traditional cultures the ritual fire is connected directly to the hearth-fire. Hearth-fire is kept burning perpetually, the spark carefully preserved over each night, for months at a time. Hearth fire was, in many places, renewed annually or bi-annually, to allow for cleaning and purity. In such cases the hearth was extinguished, and new fire brought into the home from one of the blessed ritual fires. For the rest of the year all ritual fire was lit, in turn, from a hearth-fire.
                Some sects of modern Paganism are attempting to establish the keeping of a perpetual tended flame in homes. The old 20th century dodge was to bless the ‘pilot light’ of a gas stove. (If you don’t know what that it, it’s because the tech has largely passed away, and I don’t think anyone blesses their piezo…). On modern Pagan shrines and altars a flame can be kept in a succession of seven-day candles, in an oil-lamp, or even a gas fireplace or lamp. Such a light is carefully kept through the year, and ritually snuffed and re-lit in a sacred occasion – often at Spring Equinox or Beltaine. In the many circumstances where a ritual fire cannot be lit from a good hearth-fire, then custom calls for a proper incantation recited over proper fuels, and lit at a proper moment.

Blessing by Smoke
                The central formula of cleansing by water and incense is that it is the water which first rinses away pollution, and the incense smoke which then confers blessing on the clean thing or place. In ancient days bad smells were associated, not unreasonably, with ritual and physical uncleanliness, and smells themselves were considered to transmit disease. Thus perfumes were used to drive off such impurity, and to fill the air of a ritual space with scents attractive to good influences, especially those proper to the rite at hand. Thus it was ordinary to clean a room with water and brush, and then to burn pleasant woods, etc, in the hearth, even in cultures that didn’t use ‘incense’ as such. Both Gaelic and Scandinavian cultures preserve very little trace of the use of formulated incense for either religion or household perfume, but might burn boughs of pine, or apple, or juniper to scent their rooms, especially after sickness.

                In ritual magic of the late classical and medieval days evil spirits, as such, were banished by the burning of ill-smelling smokes. No sense of ‘opposites’ involved – burning asafetida and pepper will drive most beings out of a room. Resorting to such measures today would be for the most extreme matters, I suppose.
At the core of this formula, I think, it is the sacred power of the spark of ritual fire that serves to bless and purify, much more than the effect of any specific herb. Of course there are a variety of herbs used for banishing ill in European tradition, lists are easy to find Any combination can be burned on charcoal (maybe mixed with some nice frankincense) to good effect. If you find yourself unable to use smoke in an apartment or public space simply blessing a candle or (more dramatically) a fire in a bowl will be fully in keeping with the core symbolism of the work. Even the light of an electric candle can serve, especially if the space is dark enough for the light to be visible.
                Refer to the ‘digital Ambler’ link above for the full Solomonic version of the consecration of Fire. For small ritual fires a simple prayer or charm is the usual method.
• It is usual to arrange a token ritual hearth indoors. This is easily done by placing a circle of candles around an incense-burner, allowing incense offerings to be made in the center of the symbolic flames.
• Such a Fire should be lit with a proper charm or incantation, such as the one given below.

Purification By Water and Fire:
A Druidic-style 'altar' arrangement
These simple customs can be used to spiritually cleanse a house, a room, or a person or object. Choose a proper place for the altar – at your home shrine if you keep one. For cleansing a house consider starting at the highest reachable point and working downward and out the doors. In a single room an altar might be on the eastern wall or at an eastern window. In any case the simple tools can be arranged as needed, with consideration as to beauty and harmony.
• Bring clean water, and a little salt.
• Prepare a fire, whether a true wood fire or a ring of candles surrounding a censer. If you are clearing a space, be sure the censer can be easily lifted and moved. If purifying an object the censer can be stationary. Have a good supply of incense – enough to last for the whole area you intend to bless.
Druidic arrangement in detail
• On an experiential note, if I am not using herbal incense on charcoal I have come to prefer good, fresh cone incense – Indian brands are usually nice and oily. Cones can be lit at the tip, and will often burn with an open flame for a minute or three, making a dramatic visual and a literal magnification of the ritual fire before snuffing into fragrant smoke. Setting such a cone on charcoal insures the cake will light, as well.
• As a performance note, a full house cleansing will benefit from having two operators – one for water, one for fire. In this way the elements can move through the house together. It is entirely reasonable for a single operator to do the two phases sequentially, but takes more time.
• With all arranged in the chosen starting-place, take up the salt, and conjure the water, saying:
The water is poured into the vessel, and/or the full vessel is raised, saying:
Here we bring the Waters of the Land, 
Clean from the deep, borne by the pure, 
So that everything it touches may be made pure. 
Let this Vessel be the Spring of the Deep for our rite, from which we draw purification.
On Land (add a tiny pinch of salt)
Beneath the Sky  (add a tiny pinch of salt)
And within the Sea  (add a tiny pinch of salt)
Let the Water make pure the earth, make pure this (place), 
Make it whole and Holy, and free from every ill.
• Light the incense, preferably from an altar-candle or fire and as the initial flame rises, conjure it, saying:
I kindle this fire
In the presence of all the spirits
Upon the Land, within the Sea, Beneath the Sky
At the Center of Worlds
I kindle this fire in Wisdom
I kindle this fire in Love
I kindle this fire in Power
To be the Light of the Heavens upon this Earth.
To be a Fire of Welcome to all of good-will
And a blessing to all beings.
So be it!
(• The above is a ‘long form’ for consecrating the Water and Fire. It is best for new students and beginners to us the long form, paying full attention to the intent of the words. When you have some experience, it can be more convenient to use a short for, such as:
• Salt the water, light the flame, and recite three times:
The Fire, The Well, The Sacred Tree
Flow and flame and grow in me
In Land, Sea and Sky
Below and on high
Let the Water be blessed and the Fire be hallowed.)
• The elements having been blessed, we can use them to purify objects or spaces. In Pagan ritual preparation the space in which ritual is about to be done is cleaned with water and fire. Objects which are being dedicated to sacred work are cleansed, and the materials which are used for talismans, as well. Such things can simply be sprinkled with the blessed water, and held in the smoke of the fire or incense.
• The work can be supported by proper visualizations – see the water rinsing away a layer of dirt to reveal shining; see the fire sparkle on and within the item.
• To cleanse a space, start at one corner or position in a room, and go sunwise around the space (right shoulder to the center), first with the water, and then with the smoke.
• To cleanse a house thoroughly start at the highest room in use and cleanse each room in turn, finally cleansing the front door. Doors and windows can be specifically cleansed around their frames.
• For a single-story house one might start at the front door and go sun-wise through the place, cleansing each room in turn.
• It is traditional to speak one’s intention aloud. If you wish you might speak to the work without script, politely instructing (don’t ask – tell) all inharmonious influences to depart. It is also traditional to repeat a charm.
• In our Druidic ritual, we incant, simply:
By the might of the Water and the light of the Fire, this (place/thing/etc) is made whole and holy.
And slightly more detailed:
Fire and Water, Earth and Sky, 
Rooted deep and crowned high,
Ill be gone and good draw nigh, 
Fire and Water, Earth and Sky
• If cleansing a house, the elements might be returned to the original altar, or taken out the final door and spilled/extinguished at the boundary of the property. Sometimes it is proper to take the live elements out the door and work the edges of the property itself, though often this is impractical.
• When finished return to the original Altar or work-spot, and envision the whole work, solid and complete. Conclude with an affirmation of success and blessing, such as
The Blessing of the Holy Ones
Be on me and mine
My Blessing on all beings
And peace to thee and thine.
The Fire, the Well, the sacred Tree
Flow and flame and grow in me.
Thus do I affirm the work of the wise!



Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Druidism Intro Article

There is a new wave of Pan-Pagan organizing happening here in Ohio, and while it seems mainly focused on the SW corner of the state I became involved through social media. Typically, I volunteered for the 'education' committee, and volunteered to write a short briefing on the modern Druid movement in Paganism.

Unlike some Pagan traditions, which maintain a single line of history, initiation and/or practice Druidry in modern times is a patchwork of several lineages, each with fairly unique origins. I have made an effort in this simple document to summarize each in a concise way. If the reconstruction movement gets short shrift it is only because that movement has been generally hesitant to create 'Druids' or involve itself directly with self-described Druid work.
By all means inform me of substantive errors. Differences of interpretation can be worked out in chat :)

Druidism in the Modern Earth-Spirit Movement.              

The Ancient Druids and the British Revival
A modern Druid ritual array
• The term ‘Druid’ comes into English from the writings of Greek and Roman historians prior to the rise of the Church. The Celtic-language cultures of central and western Europe featured a class of professional priests, healers, and judges called the Druids (Drui in Gaulish, Draoi in Irish). 
• The rediscovery of these figures in early-modern scholarship intersected with the Fraternal/Masonic impulse, and with Welsh and Celtic ethnic and cultural revival/maintenance. From this stew the first reconstructed Druid ‘Orders’ arose.
• Modern British or English Druid Orders include the Ancient order of Druids, the British Druid Order, and the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. This last group has produced a very successful and useful correspondence course for building Druidic Spirituality.
The 'Awen' sign, a central symbol used by british Revival Druidry

• The British Druidic movement, coming from a culture with a legally-established Christianity, has resisted describing its work as ‘religion’ or their groups as ‘churches’. The OBOD plainly describes itself as a ‘philosophy’ which can be applied inside many religions – they welcome Buddhist Druids and Christian Druids, though much of their membership would identify as neopagan .

North American Druidry
• A few of the British Revival groups found extension in the New World. The Ancient Order of Druids In America still has a few visible lodge-halls and chapters. 
• However North American Druidic Pagan groups mainly arose with the invention of Neopaganism in the middle and late 20th century. The discovery (by amateur Pagan hobby-scholarship) of Celtic myth and folklore produced multiple interpretations and ideas, often led by Robert Grave’s mytho-poetic work ‘The White Goddess’  (first published in ’48. With an important edition in ’61). Early versions of self-described Druidism and Celtic ways usually mixed closely with ‘Wicca’.

• The Reformed Druids of North America was formed in 1963 at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota as a humorous protest against the college's required attendance of religious services. Catching on, and catching the wind of the growing counter-culture, RDNA produced various overtly Neopagan expressions, and is the direct ancestor of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) the largest N American Druid Church.

• Ár nDraíocht Féin (an Irish phrase meaning ‘Our Own Paganism’ or ‘Our Own Druidism’) was founded in 1983 as an effort to apply modern scholarship, and the experience of decades of public ritual, to the work of creating working modern Pagan ways. Choosing to leave aside both Wiccan ritual forms and the post-Masonic style of many British Druid rites, they used the skeleton of RDNA custom and drew on models from the ancient world and from living polytheisms to create a ritual form that now serves dozens of local Groves across the world.
ADF was founded with the intention of creating a large-scale Neopagan ‘Church’, serving multiple congregations. To quote the ‘vision statement’:
“Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) is a Pagan church based on ancient Indo-European traditions expressed through public worship, study, and fellowship.

The 'Druid Sigil' of reform Druidry,
as expressed by ADF
Our vision is that the Gods and Spirits are served in the modern world through:

Public temple worship with a skilled priesthood
Accessible religious training for all
A spiritual relationship with the Earth
Sustainable Pagan institutions
A flourishing family and community Pagan culture”

• ADF takes advantage of the American freedom of religion to claim the advantages of ‘church’ status for its groups and members. They are a registered tax-exempt church,  and assume all the duties and privileges that go with that status.

• A third strain of influence on Druidry is the “Celtic Reconstructionist” movement. Reconstruction Paganism arose during the 1980s, as a reaction to the often sub-amateur understanding of Celtic myth and culture which had become common in Wicca and even in some self-described Druids.
• Reconstructionist paganism is an effort to draw on the most reliable scholastic sources to create modern Pagan practices that accurately reflect the Old Ways. More of a style than a spiritual movement, reconstructionism has produced a few organizations and worship groups, most of them remaining local to their founders.
• Some reconstructionist groups reject the creation of ‘Druids’ in their systems. The title is considered to be one of the great things of the ancient cultures, and discussion seems ongoing about whether it should be 'retired'. Nevertheless the real work of sifting through ancient sources to find what Druids may have truly done has helped to deepen and inform the entire Druidic Movement.

Druidic Spirituality
The 'Three Cauldrons',
drawn from Gaelic symbolism
• Druidism is at least as likely to be a solitary practice as is Wicca. While ADF creates local congregations (Groves) that observe the seasons and work other blessings, many students work their path alone at home, or with their family. OBOD functions largel;y through its correspondence lessons, which encourage solitary practice, though OBOD also supports study and ritual groups.
• Drawing on the remnants of what is known about the ancient Druids, we could say that all modern Druids seek to know the divine, to speak the Truth, and to face life with courage. The interpretation of these broad principles varies widely.
• We might say that Druidic spirituality draws on three principles:
                That nature is the manifestation of the Divine
                That human nature is one with all of nature
                That human skill allows us to build relationship with the divine.
• Druid spiritual practice extends from direct experience of nature, personal meditation, and small personal ritual to larger community rituals and seasonal celebrations. All are likely to be performed outdoors when possible.
• Many Druids draw on the myth and culture of the ancient Celtic-language cultures. The pre-Christian traditions of those countries are fragmented, and a great deal of study has been devoted to combing out clues to the spiritual ways of old. For this reason Druidry is sometimes called a “Path with Homework”.
• Also central to any understanding of Druidry is the search for inspiration. The ancient Druids seem to have considered artistic inspiration to be a light of divine power. Druids were poets, and poets were seers and magicians. So modern Druid groups and students take the remnants of ancient ways, and seek the inspiration to use them in ways that are useful to modern seekers.
• There is a core difference between the spiritual paths of OBOD and ADF. OBOD emphasizes personal mysticism, while ADF’s basic teaching emphasizes a devotional relationship with the Gods and Spirits. Their introductory instruction:
“to devote yourself to the basic work of druidry - to welcome the gods and spirits to your hearthfire, to keep the holy days simply, and to integrate paganism into your daily life. “ 

Druidic Practice
• Druidic practice is both focused on living nature, and based on  ritual observance.
• Many Druids center their personal practice on a shrine or altar in their home. Such a place becomes the focus of attention given to the spirits. ADF Druidry describes the spirits in three great families or ‘Kindreds’ – the Gods, the Dead, and the Landspirits. By offering to those great categories, new students can begin a practice without addressing specific beings.
• Many Druids use a ‘circle-casting’ ritual to establish sacred space – a ritual form drawn from Wiccan tradition. Reform Druidry has a unique ritual style, while ADF works with a ‘fire sacrifice’ outline that resonates with ancient Pagan ritual.
• Individual students may follow scripts and traditional ritual forms and language, but inspiration and personal experience is central to Druidic work. In general Druid groups do not police member’s personal practice.
A public Druid Rite of Offering
• Most Druids observe a sacred calendar of seasonal rites. Usually this is the typical eight-fold Wheel of the Year, using the same dates and core symbolism as Wicca. Celtic Reconstruction efforts may focus on the four distinctly Gaelic holidays, and de-emphasize the solstices and equinoxes.
• OBOD offers detailed and complete correspondence courses for its three levels of learning. The three 'grades' are Bard, Ovate and Druid, based on Late-Classical observations of Celtic culture. ADF offers deepening levels of introductory instruction, with study for ordination and initiation available. In most cases Druids consider study to be an active element of our spiritual work.

The ancient Druids were the spiritual specialists, the ritual leaders, the living memory, the operative healers, and the supreme courts of the ancient Celtic peoples. Those of us who take on the name today can only do our best to bear a spark of their ancient wisdom.
OBOD main site:
ADF main site:
The Celtic Reconstructionism FAQ, and more:
The Ancient Order of Druids in America maintains some traditions of British Revival Druidry, and offers a program of training:

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Three Occult Books for Pagans

                I am an occult hobbyist as well as a Pagan religionist. In fact my entry into Neopaganism was entirely through the ‘occult’ reading of the 60s and 70s, in which ‘witchcraft’ made the short walk from academic study of medieval beliefs to modern Pagan worship and spellcraft. Worship and spellcraft – those two things were never far apart in my understanding of how this stuff works. To call and speak to a deity is to use a spell of invocation. Traditional Paganisms and surviving polytheisms freely combine simple devotional worship with esoteric specialized spiritual practices. The latter are what I understand as ‘magic’.
                So I read widely in modern occult literature, as well as in the anthropology and archaeology of ancient religion. I hope to learn from ancient religions the models and methods that sustained those spiritual patterns for millennia, and which ought to work for modern folks as well. From modern occult literature I hope to learn the technical details of how to successfully connect with the spirit and spiritual worlds.  The classics I read as a new student are now being well-supplemented by new material from the current generations of magicians.
                Modern occultism seems to be trending in directions compatible with traditional animism and polytheism. Many modern students are approaching magic from the assumption that a multitude of spirits inhabit the spiritual world, and that both spirituality and practical magic grow from relationships with those beings. The thinking is moving far beyond the spirit-catalogs of early-modern grimoires, driven by both ‘shamanism’ and by reference to such surviving systems as the post-West-African sects of the New World. By gaining a vantage-point from outside the west, magicians are discerning the spiritist and animist base beneath the heavy layers of Christianization in western magic. In application, we see magicians creating methods of building relationship with spirits, employing styles of conjuring and esoteric practice that draw on ancient and traditional European sources while learning from living systems.
                Here are three publications that illustrate the trend, and which provide a great deal of practical guidance as well as useful modeling for your ongoing magical practice. They all are products of the ‘occult’ community more than of the Neopagan, and each has a particular focus, but all of them offer many lessons and clues for anyone seeking to develop a practice in modern magic.

Holy Daimon -  Frater Acher; Scarlet Imprint, 2018
                Students of western occultism are likely to be familiar with the concept which turn-of-the-20th-century occultism called “the Holy Guardian Angel”. The notion proceeds most directly from the famous “Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage” – an early-modern treatise of mystical and ritual magic. In the hands of that culture the HGA (often so-called) resembled a Roman Catholic or Anglican Angel of the common type. Pagan students may be less familiar with recent research which demonstrates that the conjuring of and communion with a personal spirit-ally who connected the magician with the divine is a technique traceable to the very earliest remnants of Pagan magic available to us.

                The front section of Frater Acher’s book summarizes quite a lot of legwork on the topic. He describes the place of ‘supernatural assistant’ or ‘personal daimon’ beings in three Indo-European (mostly) cultures – the Chaldeans, the Zoroastrian Persians, and the Greeks. He teases out both the thread that intends to conjure a ‘familiar’ or ‘supernatural assistant’, and that which seeks contact with an appointed agent of divine wisdom. Both of these threads are spun together in the notion of the HGA. Students with a solid foundation in ancient cultures will be shown some unusual by-ways, seldom examined by mainstream mythography.
                The second section of the book is the author’s journal of the magical working by which they established formal contact with their Holy Daimon. His process is a retreat similar to that recommended in the famous Book of Sacred Magic – several months of increasingly monastic withdrawal from common life and company (including, it seems, his wife) and formal purification, invocation, and mystical meditation. He recounts both his interior process and some practical details of how he managed the retreat.
                The third section amounts to the author’s mystical and spiritual understandings, and advice to students. The stages of the work are listed as “trust; joy; darkness; encounter”. The chapter provides a suggestive map of the author’s understanding of the psycho-spiritual process of the work. There is precious little formal thought about mystical and spiritual internal process in context of western occultism – nice to read some, whatever one thinks of the assertions.
                If this book does no more than inform on the lore of the Holy Daimon, it is worth the (original) price (watch for paperback re-issues, or buy the e-editions). If it inspires some to undertake the spiritual work it describes, so much the better.

Living Spirits: A Guide to Magic in a World of Spirits -  
BJ Swain; independently published, 2019
                This book may be the most paradigmatic text I have yet seen of the sort of New Magic I’m discussing. It combines modern understandings of grimoire magic, familiarity with traditional Wiccan and Neopagan forms; world magic and Spiritism, and modern Pagan reconstruction, polytheism and animism. It does so in a well-ordered outline, packed with detail both scholastic and experiential. Can you tell I like it?
The book begins without apology by addressing spirits as essentially objective beings with which the magician builds relationship. The author uses the European Grimoires of the Solomonic  family as a default for discussion, and early chapters directly address the vocabulary and methods of that school. However this runs parallel with discussion of the devotional approach to spirits, and the author generally rejects coercive or oppositional approaches to the spirits, even if conjuring those that old books call ‘demons’. As to that, the author provides ongoing discussion of the nature and classification of spirits, without attempting any organized hierarchy or chart.
Chapters discuss work with Ancestors, and with elementals and ‘nature spirits’. There is a chapter on the idea of intermediary spirits or ‘gatekeepers’, about which the author reaches an interesting conclusion based on grimoire spirit-charts. The Holy Guardian Angel gets a discussion, which pairs well with the above book. Chapters discuss other categories of spirits that have traditionally been conjured by magicians, including a chapter of ‘Fairy’ conjuration. The author focuses mainly on what felt to me like a Pagan sensibility, but does not limit himself to pre-Christian forms. Be prepared to encounter discussion of traditional Christian ritual and magical forms as well.
The ‘theory’ chapters in the front of the book also include a few full ritual scripts –for conjuring the gatekeepers to send a spirit for your will; a rite to install a devotional image; and a necromantic rite based on the tale of Tiresias. These are presented in such a way as to be adaptable to a variety of framing rites and ritual styles.
The theory chapters end about halfway through the book’s 390+ pages, and the remainder is filled with a spellbook using techniques referenced in the text. This begins with spells and talismans drawn from grimoire tradition, including seven planetary talismans. The section on ‘Southern Conjure’ (a nicely culturally-neutral designation…) applies the book’s ideas on spirits to several central techniques of traditional spellcraft. The ritual section concludes with two group-rituals, including a formula for a scrying-by-conjuration group rite.
Whether you’re a devotional Pagan interested in magical arts, or an occultist seeking to build relationship with spirits, this book provides a solid modern guide.

Ferocious – A Folk Tantric Manual on the Sapta Matrika Cult; Theion Publishing 2019
                Far from being the ‘Yoga of Sacred Sex’, or whatever, traditional Tantra in India offers systems of worship, meditation and ritual magic comparable to the best efforts of western magicians. Tantra is one of the trunks of the great tree of Indic religions often called “Hinduism”. It is often secret, often transgressive, but always present even if in the background of Dharmic spiritual work. While ‘Tantra Yoga’ may be presented in a high-minded way by some teachers, in popular culture ‘a tantra’ is often ‘a grimoire’ or spellbook – a popular manual intended to allow householders to use its magic. The authors describe this book as an effort to produce such a manual in English.
                This book lists no personal author – rather it presents itself as the result of a circle of Tantric practitioners. It is an eminently practical book, undecorated by elevated prose, with which a student could begin a practice with the spirits it presents. Unfortunately for some readers it is available only in a quality hardback edition, for some tens of dollars. The edition is lovely in fact – my habit is to try to spend such money only on quality editions of information I find truly valuable – in this case I got a win.
                The book opens with chapters introducing and contextualizing  the Tantric tradition. The spirits of this text – the Seven Mothers – exemplify Tantric moral ambiguity – they are wrathful goddesses, some fearsome in form, some beautiful. The book discusses the place and meaning of wrathful entities, and the work of Tantra as something stranger than the common devotions of religion.
                The authors are at pains to discuss the cross-cultural and open nature of tantric practice, and of the Sapta Matrika cults in particular. Acknowledging the concern for cultural misappropriation, they point out that the work they described is, within Indic culture, open to all regardless of caste, social position, gender or ethnic heritage. It requires no initiations, and the mantras circulate freely in written form. It is clear that the authors have been careful to offer material that is legitimately available to all readers.
                The chapter on ritual forms and practice offers a good general introduction with some details specific to the tradition. Once again, familiarity with the previous book in this review would help students set up the kind of practice that is taught in this.
                The bulk of the book is given to the descriptions of the Seven Mothers. These tantric goddesses present an interesting study in how polytheism expresses itself in practice. In Tantric metaphysics the male aspects of deities are accompanied by their ‘shakti’ – a womanly expression who is considered the ‘active force’ of the deity – the power that actually acts in the world. For that reason such shaktis are often invoked by magicians. So here we find Aindri, the Shakti of Indra; Vaishnavi, that of Vishnu; even Brahmi, the Shakti of Brahma. Some of the Seven have freestanding cults, while others occur mainly in the set of seven. Some are ‘acceptable’ to mainstream religion, others far less so. The text often ventures into interesting discussions of how these figures express apparently ‘other’ deities, and about the distinction/bond between a Shakti and the various ‘wives’ of the gods.
                Each of the Seven is introduced in detail, with lore and discussion of how she is worshiped/worked-with in the traditional setting. Notes are provided on proper specific symbolism and ritual customs. Four mantras are provided for each – a simple name-mantra, a slightly longer offering mantra, a ‘Gayatri’ mantra in the proper 24-syllable metre, and one more. This last Mantra is called a ‘dhyanam’ mantra, meaning ‘for meditation’, and it is a formal description of the visualization of the Matrika. This is one of the most clear examples I have seen for the formalization of a visualized image of a spirit in ceremony.
                I have been dipping into Tantric studies for some while. ‘Ferocious’ is one the most clear and straightforward introductions to practical Tantra I have yet seen.