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: druidry.org
ADF main site: adf.org
The Celtic Reconstructionism FAQ, and more: https://www.paganachd.com/faq/whatiscr.html
The Ancient Order of Druids in America maintains some traditions of British Revival Druidry, and offers a program of training: aoda.org

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.

Monday, September 30, 2019

13 Books To Introduce Modern Paganism

Out on the Internet there is a constant clamor by new students for direction, advice, and first-steps maps of the route into Pagan spirituality. It remains simply true that reading books is the primary door to Pagan ways. The ever-flowing streams of modern Pagan books can  be, in turn, puzzling for new students.

So I'll do another archival article, setting down my recommendations for a basic reading list. This list is focused on general-purpose Paganism, neither Wicca as such, nor any specific ethnic or reconstructionist path. I've tried to keep it practical - most of the titles give ideas and instruction on actually doing Paganism home and life. The list isn't about magic and occultism, though several of the listed titles give good instruction. Rather it concerns Paganism as spiritual and religious practice in personal life.

I might suggest reading one title from each category for a start, then working through the rest.

A: Survey and Background Two books that introduce general concepts and outline major traditions and styles of Paganism
1: The Path of Paganism; John Beckett: Beckett is a UU member and  Druid. His book introduces basic concepts of Pagan ways such as Sacred Space, Gods and Spirits, and the Seasonal Calendar. Very cross-traditional, well-thought-out and readable.
2: Pagan Paths; Pete Jennings: A survey of multiple named or nameable Pagan systems, paths and traditions, including witchcraft and Wicca, Northern Mysteries, Womyn’s Religion, etc.

B: Non-Wiccan Basic Paganism Three books that teach broad basic themes and practical approaches.
3: Basics of Ritual Worship; Ian Corrigan: A simple method of establishing home altars and shrines, beginning work with the spirits of nature and the gods, and establishing one’s Paganism in one’s life.
4: To Walk A Pagan Path; Alaric Albertson: Covers much of the same material – home temple, family ritual etc. Albertson is a Saxon Pagan, and the book has that slant, but is widely applicable.
5: A Book of Pagan Prayer; Ceisiwr Serith: A huge compilation of original prayers and invocations for Pagan worship. Most of the Prayers could be used in almost any traditional context.

C: Traditional Wicca: Wicca (Neopagan Witchcraft)  as developed in the mid-20th century was private, small-group-centered, and based on initiation and focused training.
6: Traditional Wicca: A Seeker’s Guide; Thorn Mooney: a discussion of what traditional Wicca is, and how to find your way to a traditional, initiating coven.
7: Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft; Raymond Buckland: An at-home how-to for those who would like to practice Wicca in a traditional style, but haven’t found initiation.

D: Eclectic Wicca and Paganism: In the 1980s, Pagan festivals and public groups developed an eclectic style of Pagan ritual based loosely on traditional Wicca. Many modern ‘Wiccans’ work in this style.
8: Wicca, A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner; Scott Cunningham: Simple instructions, few rules, little connection to tradition, but very accessible, very doable. A book that changed the movement.
9: A Book of Pagan Rituals; Herman Slater: A full round of lunar and seasonal ceremonies designed for solo or small-group practice. This text has created countless small Pagan groups.

E: Non-Wiccan Witchcraft: ‘Witchcraft’ is a broad and indistinct category, and Wicca is far from the only style of it. I’ll include one good book, which will be made easier to understand by the other reading here.
10: Treading the Mill; Nigel Pearson;  a grimoire of English traditional Craft-style work. With rituals clearly related to those of Wicca, it brings a greater attention to the field and forest, to landspirits and ancestors.

F: Traditional Euro-Paganisms: Many Pagans find inspiration in a specific culture, such as Irish/Celtic, Hellenic or Norse.
11: Sacred Fire, Holy Well; Ian Corrigan: A review of Irish Gods and myths, with a full, non-wiccan style of ritual, Seasonal rites and works of magic and vision.
12: Hellenismos; Tony Mierzwicki:  Introduction to the Paganism of ancient Greece, home worship, invocation of the gods.
13: A Practical Heathen’s Guide to Asatru: Patricia Lafayllve: Norse Paganism is one of the most popular traditional paganisms today, and this presents a simple introduction.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The Hearth Keeper's Way

I'm very pleased to be able to announce the public release of  the  Hearth Keeper Way, a new expression of basic training in modern Pagan ways as understood in ADF. You can download a free 94pp book, offering complete instructions in the basics of home Pagan worship, here
In it we teach a method of establishing a home devotional and spiritual practice based on a polytheistic and animist view. We offer outlines and support, and encouragement to customize personal work according to personal need.
If the links here don't work, the PDF is at  https://www.adf.org/system/files/public/training/the_hearth_keepers_way.pdf

ADF is one of the formal Pagan 'church' organizations. We have a cost for membership, collect donations at local rites, and in turn rent actual community locations for Pagan rites. We are working to build Pagan spiritual institutions that will survive our current generation and carry the work into the future.

As a result, perhaps, we have had a tendency to retreat behind the pay-wall of our membership. It is fair to say that we have always offered a thick file of free material on the public portions of our web-presence, and of course ADF local public rites are free. Our training has always been members-only. The Hearthkeeper Way is ADF's extension of our training - a gift to the Pagan community.

And building a personal practice is what the method is about. While the guide offers some pre-packaged ritual speech, outlines, etc, we know that individual home altars will grow and develop in individual ways. All of ADF's traditional advice and game-rules may apply - Indo-European focus; one-culture-at-a-time preference, hard-ish polytheism and spiritism, etc. The org has barely ever policed such things for our Groves - it will not (I predict) attempt to do so for Hearths.

It also represents development in ADF's vision and the implementation of our vision. Founded strongly around the notion of local Pagan ritual-group congregations - "Groves" - the reality of post-internet Paganism has produced a large percentage of solitary members, whether by circumstance or inclination. The Hearth Way is a new support for solo and family micro-group Pagan practice, and we hope it will encourage folks who wish to identify as Pagan to build an effective home practice.

A full array for a solo or Hearth ritual..
On another level the creation and content of the HKW marks a coming wave of ADF leadership. While I can fairly say that the notion and preliminary outlines were mine, the text as we offer it is new material, and in no way a re-tread of previous text. They younger leadership handled the matter with very little input from me, and that is, itself, a marker of the progress we're making toward transgenerational survival. May wisdom be increased!

I encourage you to have a look at the PDF (which is still in some need of some editing, though complete). We offer these methods in whole, or as a vocabulary of ritual forms to be made into the poetry of your own Hearth-Paganism. May it be a blessing to you!

Friday, May 31, 2019

A Declaration of Pagan Religious Rights and Duties

This is a draft of a statement of progressive socio-policy principles based on my understanding of basic Pagan religious choices and spiritual inclinations. While I have expressed it in the plural, it is my own reasoning and rhetoric, and no others’ – most notably it does not represent the opinion of ADF or any other group or whatsis with which I am associated. It is me at the end of a plank, neck stuck-out, right next to John Beckett this week.  
I invite critique. I have not attempted to fine-tune for obvious exceptions to these guidelines, which are many. I do not believe that setting simple rules and sticking to them without exception is generally wise, and so all this is offered only as an example of the kind of theological and values-thinking of which our movement is yet rather short.

I: Principles
1: Axiomata
• We declare that individual humans contain a worthy spark of the divine flame, a pure spring of the divine waters, and that the individual mind and will embody the divine will in those sparks and springs.
• We perceive that individuals are naturally entangled in the web of both nature and society (human nature). Therefore just as we owe honor to our own divine nature we owe conscious participation to our networks and the duty to ensure to individuals full and equal participation in all aspects of civic and religious life.
• We assert especially a holy sovereignty of the body, mind and will of living humans. Barring an unarguable need, it is not the business of community or individuals  to intrude on the choices of the flesh or spirit.
• We assert the divine freedom-of-action of every being as a primary Good. When such freedom is reduced the good of all is reduced, so let us be wary of responding to fear with restriction.

• Likewise we observe the interdependence of living things and systems, and acknowledge that individual will must often conform to larger need. In this we pray to wisdom for guidance.
• Because wellness and good outcomes are cumulative in a system we therefore undertake to seek wellness, wholeness and harmony in our lives and work.
• Thus we describe these principles, that we may seek that harmony for ourselves and our communities.

2: Property
• We perceive that the world and its beings belong each to ourselves. All being is holy life, and all life proceeds on its path as our interactions allow.
• It seems fair that individuals should claim such resources as are needed for their own life and work. When such claims are done in the public eye and with community consent we call such claiming ‘property’ and ‘ownership’.

• We assert the spiritual right to claim a hearth on the land, and take our spiritual place among the beings of the land. In this we follow the customs of our community, but we stand, at last, on our spiritual right of claiming.
• Such claiming bestows an equal responsibility for the well-being of the beings and communities of the land, balanced with our right to use resources according to our need. In this let us seek wisdom and balance.
• Therefor we also advise against greed. To hoard resources in private is to deprive community of its life-flow, for little beyond imagined benefit. Let wisdom teach the difference between prosperity and greed.

3: Gender, Love, and Pair-Bonding
• Perceiving gender-presentation to be a social construct, we affirm every individual’s holy right to be who they are led to be, according to their will and work.
• We assert that sexual and intimacy expression and the pursuit of sexual and intimate pleasure are of equal value to the bearing of children; that they develop and deepen the human person in ways otherwise unobtainable. We assert a religious right to seek sexual and intimate pleasure for our own sake, and that of the greater good of our communities.
• Therefore we acknowledge and celebrate the joining in Love of all people who are drawn together by true and holy Eros, or by Caritas, or even by Agape.
• Specifically we feel bound by religious duty to honor all bonds of loving union made between consenting persons. In this we again may take advice from the community, but we assert our religious right to sanction unions regardless of statute.

4: Duty to the Land
• We perceive the ‘ecosystem’ of the world around us as a direct expression of holy spiritual persons and powers, present in and as the land. A major part of our spiritual work is to establish and maintain relationship with those beings and systems.
• We choose to live as participants in the ecosystem in which we reside, doing our best to do good for both ourselves and for whole systems.
• Therefore we assert that human society has a collective duty to protect and maintain local and planetary ecosystems. We see a religious duty to pursue this work in our own lives, and in public policy, as we are able.

5: Duty to our Fellow-Humans
• We assert the individual sovereignty, as equally-noble spirits, of every mortal born. While fate and strength may set us all in our several places, we find no spiritual cause to see greater merit in one human ethnic clan, lineage, gender-group, or circumstance than in another. Individuals rise and fall according to our fates, and our heritage or biology need not be our destiny.
• We assert that it is contrary to harmony and beauty to grant privilege to one sort of human, or place restriction on another, based on the fate of their birth.

• Especially we hold that the gods and spirits are unconcerned with the family, ethnic, or gender heritage of their worshipers. Those who assert such things deform the truth.
• Therefore we welcome to the Hearth of Kinship and the Fire of Worship all who come with a guest’s heart, regardless of ethnic or gender presentation. We affirm a core of relationship with all humans.

6: Duty to the Gods and Spirits
• We perceive the divine in and as the uncountable beings of myth and lore, from the Ancient First Ones to the nearest garden-spirit. These beings great and small entwine in the webs of spiritual ecosystems.
• As ‘religion’ it is our work to help establish and maintain the relationships between mortals and the spirits. Therefore it is our religious duty and right to perform ceremonies of worship and spiritual craft, as our traditions teach.
• In this we claim all the customs and ways of those traditional religions; the raising of idols as presences of the divine; the establishment of Altars and Fires of Offering and worship; the honoring of the features and wonders of nature as the presence of the divine; the keeping of the Sacred Calendar, and the words and songs and deeds of ritual. Likewise we claim as part of holy tradition the practices of divination – sortilege, mediumship, and the seeking of omens; also the work of spiritual healing, and of spiritual methods of seeking luck, prosperity and blessing, which are often called ‘magic’.

II: Specifics

In light of these principles we claim these social and spiritual rights and duties of our religion, without disallowing any others which might reasonably follow from our premises:
• We assert the right to keep public and private rites of worship and offering without hindrance, and with the accommodation offered any religious body. This includes all the common works of religion – marriage, funeral, sacrament, and other personal-passages.
• We assert the right to make private spiritual services of the kind called divination and magic available to our folk and the community.

• We declare that every member of our society is kin, worthy of maintenance and the chance to contribute to the people’s good. We support societal effort to prevent and relieve disadvantage, hunger and want.
• We see that we, individually and collectively, owe the land the honor due a parent – to care for it as we would an aging Elder. We support careful restriction of commerce in service to those goals.
• We affirm the social equality of ‘queer’ sexual natures and gender non-conformity with the common norms. We affirm the value of personal sexual expression as greater than that of social conformity or regulation.

• We affirm reproductive autonomy and body sovereignty for all people. We support responsible reproductive planning for all people, and ready access to birth and pregnancy management for women and their doctors.
• We affirm the right to compose families and affection-groups as life and choice lead.

• Centrally we affirm both the sovereignty of individuals and the obligation of individuals toward the human collectives that sustain us, and likewise to the spiritual collectives existing in the worlds around us. Let us each keep our own flame, and come to the Fire of Sacrifice together.

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.

• 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.