Friday, February 27, 2009

Working With the Dead

Winterstar Ancestor Rite
ACE held our 27th annual Winterstar Symposium in February 2009, once again at the Atwood Lodge resort in central O­hio. This is always a pleasant event, with wonderful facilities and a select crowd of Starwood clan types and assorted interesting guests. An effort is made to make program a step above the introductory level, and a wide variety of ideas are usually represented.
(And thanks to AJ Gooch for drumming and singing for the rite, and for the photos shown here...)

This year’s theme was ‘Tribal Spirituality’. This came to include various ‘shamanic’ ideas as well as discussions of some actual tribal basics from several continents. Not surprisingly more than one presenter chose to do spiritual work with the spirits of the Dead. Sue and I decided to work a rite for the ‘Spirits of the Clan’ in a Gaelic sense. Good plan – now what do we mean?

I have recently begun a working intended to deepen my awareness of the spirits of the Ancient Wise, and this seems to be producing a general flow of inspiration about (one might hope from) the Dead in general. I’m writing some new material and the rite we worked at Wstar is a bubble in the pot of that work. In that rite we decided to bring the attendees into contact with the Dead in the Celtic cultural stream, especially as they might be ‘of the tribe’. This required a bit of thinking.

For those familiar with the ADF ritual order, I’ll mention that we did a thing we often do in non-seasonal ‘magical’ rites, and combined the Three Kindred Offerings with the central invocations and offerings of the rite. So rather than having a round of ‘preliminary offerings’ to the Gods, the Dead and the Sidhe, we made a simple offering first to the Landspirits, who had the least to do with the work at hand, asking them to tolerate and allow the working in their place. We then invited the Gods of the rite, and then the Dead of the Tribe, the central focus of the work.
It remains my custom to attempt to choose one male and one female deity for any work where I can make that model work. I admit that this may be a remnant of leftover Wiccaninity. On the other hand one of the most specifically Celtic things about the Gaulish images we have is that they often depict the deities in pairs of God and Goddess. Hellenic images are never arranged that way despite tales in which various Gods are ‘married’ to one another, but Celtic culture seemed to want to pair up the deities in a single devotional image. So I don’t feel bad about a policy of choosing a God and Goddess for rites of this sort.

For this rite the male deity was a simple choice – We offered to Donn, Lord of the Dead in Gaelic lore. I have considered the Antlered God to be Dis Pater for so long, and thus the Gaelic Donn, that I felt comfortable using an image of the Cernunnos of St Germaine for his idol in this rite. Donn would be invoked to open the way for the Host of the Dead that we would call.
The Goddess was a bit harder to decide on. At first I was looking for a ‘Queen of the Dead’ sort, but my conclusion was that Gaelic lore is just plain short of such a figure. Despite occasional efforts to turn the Morrigan into a Hecate sort of character, it just doesn’t fit very well. Instead I decided to go with the tribal theme by offering to the Sovereignty of the Clan. This paramount female deity is the power of rulership, and the bonds of oath and kin that hold the warriors to their service and the farmers to their diligence. She was also the font of the Poet’s inspiration – in fact she’s a tri-functional All-Mother, and she plays her political role as Sovereignty. In our Grove we have named this Goddess most commonly as Aine, after the Munster Earth-Mother, and so we named her for this rite. Of Aine it is said that she would marry and raise a family, and as her mate grew old and her grandchildren were reproducing she would renew her youth, take another mate and found another clan. This seemed to be in tune with our theme.

The rite was performed in a workshop room of the small hotel that hosted Winterstar. That meant no serious Fire and no very extensive physical offerings. We brought our own carpet, to minimize risk of spills, and used a circle of candles in glass with a large censer of sand in the center of the circle as the Fire. We know this works pretty well – nine candles give a pretty fiery effect, and sweeps the smoke of incense offerings upward. With our usual Well and Tree we had the antlered image of Donn, an enthroned Celtic Goddess image (that the makers called ‘Ceridwen’ but is just a generic Queen figure) for Aine, and a nice replica of the Irish Janus-faced image from Boa Island, used as a general purpose focus for the Dead.

Offerings were kept simple. We gave Whiskey to Donn and Mead to Aine, each getting a nice tumbler-full with a portion given into the offering bowl and the rest becoming the drink for the Blessing. The Dead were offered ale, bread and salt. I’ve pondered whether to be concerned about the custom held by some countries of not giving salt to the Dead, and have decided that the European custom of sharing bread and salt with a guest takes precedence. While the hotel has a technical ban on incense, they have also been putting up with Winterstar for 25 years, and a bit of incense during ritual doesn’t bother them, so all the ordinary offerings – Fire, Gatekeeper, etc – got incense sticks.

The opening rites were pretty much as usual, though when I work a formal invitation to the Dead of this sort it has become my custom to add some extra intention to keeping the Gates protected and warded. We worked the ordinary portions of the rite mostly unscripted including the invocations of Sovereignty and the Lord of the Dead, and read the longer invocation of the Dead.

This invocation is meant to approach the Dead in the traditional three categories of Indo-European (and certainly Celtic) society – the Arts/Intellectuals, the Warriors and the Farmers/Providers. This ancient social pattern is a difficult issue for moderns in some ways, because it reminds us of the many difficulties of opening our hearts to the inspiration of the past. The Gaels were a hierarchical culture, as hidebound in their ways as any. The elite classes ruled, and often held the lives of lesser classes to be of little value. Beneath the Three Functions, of course, was the mass of slaves and unfree laborers, who, I’m sorry to say, got bupkes in the rite we did – something I’ll consider fixing in the future. In our times we don’t build our lives around our social position, and I don’t want a religion that encourages us to, no matter what the values of the ancients may have been. However, I do think there could be something to be learned from the values practiced by those classes. My own model of Nine Virtues has always been based on three each for the Functions – Wisdom, Memory and Vision for the Wise; Strength, Honor and Courage for the Warriors; Diligence, Hospitality and Bounty for the Landkeepers. So we might hope that by invoking the holy Dead in their persons as these three classes, we might stimulate these virtues in ourselves. In these modern times we can say that we might each become our own Landkeeper, our own Warrior, and even our own Druid. SShhh… we might even have to be our own slave…

For the final moment of sacrifice I played with a method borrowed from eastern ritual. I ad libbed a formula in which I said things like: “Let this cup of whiskey be as a thousand, let this cup of mead be as a thousand, let this bread and salt and ale be as a feast set for you, etc.” This while encouraging the participants to envision just that, as we put the simple offerings into the bowl. All in all that felt pretty good. I’d hate to go all the way to reducing food offerings to a few grains of rice in the Fire as some eastern rites do, but the method as I used it felt good.

For the return flow the remnant of the mead and whiskey that had been offered to the Gods was blessed and passed (with water for those who wanted it). We then spent a too-short time in silent meditation in the presence of the Dead, seeking to See them and be Seen. I had a couple of good reports from this, which I take as evidence of more goodness I didn’t hear about.

All in all we felt the rite worked just fine for the limited hotel conditions and random workshop-going attendees with which we were working. Actually we’ve done ritual in that particular spot (in front of the cheesy gas fireplace) a half-dozen times, but it’s still a cement box, and I’m not really used to that. Still, we produced a nice atmosphere, I think, and at least a few of the guests reached some version of the place we were trying to get to. I’ll call that a win.

An Invocation of the Three Clans of the Dead
The refrain (recited by all first, and as called for):
• Now we make our call to the Mighty Dead.
Let our voices be strong, and our call be clear
To be heard in the Land of the Dead,
By deep root and water’s spring,
By skull and by bone,
By the Inward Road and the River Crossing
and the Fire in the Land of the Dead
We call to you, O Elder Ones.
• You who in old times were priests and priestesses; you who were seers and oracles, sacrificers and singers and keepers of lore, hear us as we call to you. You who in your time tended sacred Fire, come to our Fire. You who in your time drew blessing from the earth, come to our Well. Let us meet at the Crossroads, at the Tree of the World, you who would come to our call. refrain
• You who in old times were warriors and defenders; sword-folk and spear-folk, you who put your lives between your folk and harm, hear us as we call to you. You who burn with courage and honor, come to our Fire. You who protect the waters of the Clan, come to our Well. Let us meet at the Crossroads, at the Tree of the World all you who would come to our call. refrain
• You who in old times were farmers and landkeepers; you plow-folk and husbanders, you who bring forth the wealth of the land, hear us as we call to you. You who keep the hearth-fire, come to our Fire. You who carry the waters, and water the fields, come to our Well. Let us meet at the Crossroads, at the Tree of the World all you who would come to our call.
• To you among the Mighty Dead who have seen our Fires, who have heard our songs, who would answer our calling, we offer these gifts. We seek your wisdom, we seek your vision, we seek your memory of the Old Ways. Three welcomes we give and three givings we offer to those who will see us and be seen.
• To those among the Mighty Dead who will work with us without harm or ill, in body, mind or spirit, on land, sea or sky, be welcome with this ale. Mighty Dead, accept our offering!
• To those among the Mighty Dead who will see us plainly, and be plainly seen by us, be welcome with this bread. Mighty Dead, accept our offering!
• To those among the Mighty Dead who will come to our Fires and share the Ancient Wisdom, be welcome with this salt. Mighty Dead, accept our offering!
• refrain
• So let our voices arise on the Fire, let our voices resound in the Well, let our call be heard in the Halls of the Elder Ones. Come to our Fire, and be with us here in our hall - Mighty Dead, accept our sacrifice!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Spell for Fast Cash-flow

Choose an object as the talisman of the spell. Best is a piece of real silver, but a silver-colored dime, quarter or dollar can work as well. Hold the talisman in your right hand, as you recite the charm and work the vision of the spell, thus:

The Charm:
Flow the riches of the river
Glitt’ring gold plucked free
Wealth arises from the waters
From the deeps it flows to me
Fire to form it, shape it shining
Bright now bring it near
Well I’ll wield it, wallet filling
With cold cash my call draws here
Dagda’s Cauldron, Boann’s River
Filled with bounty’s flow
Through me, to me, getter, giver
By my magic, be it so!

The Vision
As you recite the charm, with your vision eye bring a rich flow of Underworld power into your left hand. Gaze into it, looking for the gain it has to offer. Bring a flame of the Fire into your right hand and fill it with your desire and intention. Feel it heating the talisman with your desire. Place your right hand over your left, dropping the talisman into the left hand and making a closed vessel with your hands. Feel the Fire and Water mingle and act, and see the Sigil of the charm shining on and in the vessel of your hands. As your reach the final verse open your hands into a bowl or cauldron with the talisman in the bottom. Hold onto the talisman as you spill the conetents of the bowl out into the world. Put the talisman in your pocket and go on your way.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Druidic Mystical Practice Pt 5: The Da Fein

This is the final phase of the large meditation pattern I've been developing, based on several complexes of Celtic symbolism. if you put all the exercises of these sections, 1 - 5 together you have the whole pattern. Coming soon I will give the whole spoken charm together, together with some comment on the overall mystical state I hope it will induce.

In a polytheistic spiritual system, it is possible to be bewildered by the crowd of spirits, of divine beings. If there is an advantage to monotheism, it might lie in its simplicity. Systems that posit a single deity make it easy, at least, to determine where to focus one’s worship. In system where the model of the divine more closely mirrors the patterns of nature, the forest of possibilities can seem daunting.

Practical Paganism addresses this problem by the creation, by individuals, of personal pantheons. Each land, each people, each village, each family hearth, even each individual has a constellation of Gods and Spirits that best suits the needs of their life and circumstances. For an ancient Pagan this process would have been a natural product of their upbringing. As modern Pagans, we work our way from our 20th century upbringings. This can make the process much more conscious and artificial, and perhaps, more difficult.

Pagans seek the divine in many places. We address the Gods and Spirits, we find the divine in a tree or a stone. However, modern Pagans may find it difficult to consider honoring the spirit of a living human as divine – including, of course, ourselves. Some religious and cultural traditions teach that humans are intrinsically unworthy, weak, even depraved or evil, requiring an external divine intervention. Even in secular discourse it seems common to devalue our human nature. Perhaps this is a reaction to the sort of recent western arrogance that considers humankind to be the ‘highest’ of all creatures. In any case, the concept of the divine present in our own human nature is not a common one in our culture.

It seems to me that traditional IE Paganism neither devalued nor overestimated humankind. When the divine can be immanently present in beasts and stones, we cannot think ourselves superior to our environment. Yet humans who do great deeds – or who simply win the love and reverence of their kin - can become objects of worship. Certainly this may happen after death, as ancestors, but it may happen even while alive. The Roman custom of deifying the ‘genius’ – the personal divine spirit – of their emperors after death has been frequently criticized by Christian historians, but it is only a state example of a custom that might extend into any village.

If we have such a divine spirit in ourselves as might be worthy of worship, then making ourselves aware of that spirit and its capacities, and working with it consciously, seems a fine goal for those inclined to spiritual work. Socrates spoke of his daimon – the spirit that advised him in his deeds. Later theurges from Hellenic nations, and various yogis and rishis of the Indic peoples developed detailed methods of approaching one’s internal divine power. We have no specific record of such things among the Pagan Celts – such practice would have reeked of ‘sorcery’ to the monkish chroniclers. It does not seem unreasonable to suppose that Druids, in the course of their searchings into the world, would have sought contact with their own Divine nature.

We must remember that in such a formula we offer worship to our own divine core or crown, not merely to the personality and flesh that we commonly identify as ‘me’. Just as when we offer to a tree we are not worshipping its cellulose and water, so we are not asking any being to worship our meat and mannerisms. It will be to our great advantage to recognize that in each of us there is a true Flame, a true Well of power and wisdom and love. Each of us contains, by right of birth, the divine.

As Druidic Pagans it is proper for us to honor the divine in every place that we find it. Thus it is reasonable for us to begin to learn how to worship out own divine nature, and those of the mortals around us. I cannot say, in this short musing, how such a doctrine may find expression in Our Paganism, but I have included a short poetic charm and exercise which could be added to personal devotions or ceremonies. I expect that the inspiration and genius of our folk will lead us to powerful expressions of the this core Pagan idea.
May we come to know the spark and flow of the divine power in us all!

A Charm for the Divine Self
I am a kinsman of the Fire
I am a child of the Waters
My flesh is holy, born of the holy union
My Spirit is a drop of the Cauldron of Wonder,
A spark of the Divine Fire.
(Place a hand on the forehead)
The Divine Presence is in my head
(Place hand on heart)
The Divine Presence is in my heart
(Place hand on the loins)
The Divine Presence is in my loins.
(Join hand at the heart)
I do honor to the God of my own soul
Shining spirit of my spirit
Font of Wisdom
Spring of Love
Source of Power
I offer to you the worship due to every God
(Open hands wide)
Honor to the holy being that is the Center of my Self
Shine bright and flow deep in me, I pray!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Faith and Works in Pagan Theology

Discussions in the comments sections here have led me to want to think a bit about what I mean when I say that ‘Faith’ doesn’t play much of a role in my understanding of Pagan religion. I guess the primary thing is that one doesn’t have to ‘have faith’ in the Gods and Spirits in order to begin work in a Pagan system, or to get results from it. To me, Paganism is about technique and method, much more than it is about doctrine and faith.

Paganism doesn’t require us to believe anything specific about the deities and spirits (such as that they are objective beings, or human mental constructs, or masks of impersonal forces), nor does it ask us to believe in strictly defined forms, names and attributes of the Deities. Dagda in Munster may well be different from Dagda in Leinster, but either would be recognizable by your average Gael. Likewise Paganism does not teach (or need) fixed opinions about things like why sacrifice is useful, or what the fate of the soul may be. Students can decide as they please, or decide not to have any ‘beliefs’ (fixed opinions) at all about things like the afterlife, simply waiting to see what happens. Success in Pagan spirituality does not depend on ‘orthodoxy’, i.e. correct opinion.

That being the case we have to ask why a new Pagan would take up the work at all. If we don’t expect newcomers to begin by ‘believing in’ the Gods and Spirits why would anyone take up the work of ritual and meditation that is the heart of Pagan practice? I think the answer is one that Pagans won’t like very much, but which remains true – we must begin by having faith in authority.

Much of what we call ‘knowledge’ is actually just our faith in authority. For instance, how many of us have seen an electron? Our belief that electrons exist is based on our faith in the scientific system that instructs us. Even if we have used some piece of equipment to ‘see’ one, we must have faith in the people who built and operate the device.

To some extent this is the basis for Pagan practice. We read or hear of folks who have gotten some good from the practices of ritual and meditation, and we find an affinity for the style and flavor of Pagan myth and symbolism. We begin to practice, and we begin to see results from the practices, whether subtle personal results or the occasional special effects of healings, visions, etc. In this way the faith that is based on trust in authority is replaced over time with faith based on trust in the methods one uses. I trust that a sacrifice will bring blessing for the same reason I have faith that turning the key of my car will produce an engine start – it has done so reliably. To me, this is rational faith – faith based on history and experience – and rational faith is the sort needed by Pagans.

Of course some Pagans arrive by more direct means – they are called by a specific deity or cultural complex, and over time learn the patterns of worship. In this case the call itself becomes both the authority and the experience on which trust is built. Once again, it does not include what some skeptics like to call ‘blind faith’.

It does require a certain sort of conditional faith, though. When we pour whiskey to Morrigan we cannot be *certain* of the nature of the being we honor. We know we can make an idol of Her in our shrine. We know we can make an interior totem – a vision, a presence – of Her in our Inner landscape, and we know that with proper skill the Inner Idol will move and speak. We have trust (faith) that somehow we are making contact with what we call ‘the divine’ and we find ourselves experiencing the divine as the person we call Morrigan, but we are as uncertain about what’s really going on as Ben Franklin was about electrons. We could choose to accept some explanation that someone tells us is ‘traditional’, but there’s nothing in Pagan ways that requires us to do so.

Now, how is this different from the sort of faith that is more commonly spoken of? Maybe not by so much... For those who follow the so-called revealed religions, the scripture of their faith is the source of authority. The thing is, for that to work the authority of the scripture has to remain unquestioned. It’s impossible to believe in the literal and inerrant truth of scripture based on any rational position – it must become an ‘article of faith’, with all events interpreted to support the theorem. Now *that’s* the sort of blind faith I think has no place in Paganism.

I’m confident that at no time in Celtic history did the Druids teach that there was One True Way to tell the old stories, or One True Way to interpret the symbols. That just isn’t the way with polytheist cultures – we have zero examples of a polytheistic culture in which doctrine was reduced to a single True interpretation. Homer and Hesiod weren’t ‘scripture’, there are four Vedas with many variations, and even the stories of Finn and the Cu vary from version to version.

So when I say we don’t need ‘faith’, what I mean is that we needn’t have complete trust in any source of information or claimed authority about what Irish Paganism might be. We don’t need to agree on what the Gods are; we don’t even have to agree on the details of their stories. Not only do we not need to have social agreement on such matters, we don’t have to have inward certainty. We needn’t feel certain about the nature of the Gods, we only need to trust that the work we do will bring the results we seek. Even in mortal life, we have meaningful, productive relationships with other people – do we know what those people ‘really’ are?

To me, a Druid’s wisdom demands a skeptical eye, to see past appearances, and past culture. It may be that in old times the Druid had to keep such critical observation to himself, lest he confuse the farmers and warriors, but in our time I think it’s good for us all to cultivate that perspective, just as we cultivate the warrior’s strength and the farmer’s diligence. Faith can be a valuable emotional response in some cases, but it does best when partnered with skepticism and a rational analysis.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Scripture and Fakery

Well, my mention of the Druidic fraud, Lebor Feasa Runda, has sparked the biggest conversation yet here on My Little Blog. Nice to see folks like John Greer and Erynn Laurie chiming in - thanks for writing, guys.

Stephen Akins, the author of the Lebor (despite its pointless claims of ancientry) is obviously unable to provide the smallest scrap of evidence for his claims that the book originates in an ancient Irish manuscript. His sock puppet, the character who calls itself raven-wildewood began with a simple assertion: “It is so!” and then went to a series of “well, it *could* be” sort of arguments that are the usual resort of people trying to cover a lie. Obviously if the author had any actual evidence, he would produce it. If none is forthcoming, it is safe to assume that there is none. Despite a frequently recited cliché, lack of evidence *is* strong evidence of a lack of factual basis.

This morning the wildewood character found itself driven to the last resort of occult fakers, asserting that even if the book is fake, it’s cool and could be a cool thing for Irish Pagan types. This is a typical half-baked post-modern assertion, and one I find particularly empty. My comparison of this book to Simon’s fake Necronomicon seems even more apt – defenders of that volume are likely to exclaim “So what if he’s lying, it works!” From a practical standpoint this is hard to argue with. However, wildewood makes a rather different claim.
It says:
My own personal interpretation is that … the book is a gift to those who have long wished for a sacred text at least in the arena of Irish Druidry; and whatever it's origins, it is no less original, no less authentic, no less real, than the sacred texts of other religions - all of which were conceived by the mortal minds of humans and composed of stories from different sources at different times all brought together and written by the hands on men.

To me, this is kind of strange. Why, exactly, would Celtic polytheists need or want holy scripture? The whole notion of a religion based on a specific book has been such a bad thing for the systems that do it, has produced so much conflict, so much disregard for the real, that I can’t see why it would even be sought. Systems such as Hinduism or Taoism or the ancient Greek religion, which produce a variety of holy books, often in some degree of conflict with one another, are somewhat less likely to produce foolish results, I think. But in those systems the authorship of specific books is fairly well known, though some are so ancient that the ‘real’ author has been lost in a cloud of history-dust.

In my opinion the days when a teacher can actually gain status for his teachings or writings by falsely claiming an ancient origin are over. Paganism could use a large selection of holy books, but modern people should be too bright to be interested in fake claims of ancient manuscripts. (And of course you have to be a moron to think that associating such a thing with the Nazis would do anything beyond giving it a certain nasty stink.) If we’re to have new scripture I think it must come from the creativity and inspiration of modern people. Even if we found an ancient book on “How to be a druid” I feel sure it would have to be taken with a grain of salt for modern times. Modern efforts do well to look to the past – it’s where we get the inspiration for our work – but we also need to guide past ideas into the modern, replacing such things as social hierarchy with equality.

To me, the two things that make Akins’ book unlikely to amount to anything in the movement are first his obviously false claims about an ancient manuscript and second his claim that the content was interesting to the Nazis, connecting it with the most vile and stupid ideas of the last 200 years. If Akins wants to be taken seriously he should simply admit his initial hoax, and take the heat when he does. A fake ancient book is worthless to the movement. A new book about how to do ancient style Druidism could at least be judged on its own merits.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Druidic Mystical Practice Pt 4: The Elements of the World

The Elements of the World – the Druidic Macrocosm and Microcosm.

The principle that the greater world (in Irish, bith - ‘what is’) - both material and spiritual - is reflected in the personal body and spirit of the individual is an Indo-European universal. “As above, so below; and as below, so above” the old aphorism says, and we can find plenty of evidence for the principle in Irish lore. The Irish poems describe a correspondence between the parts of the natural world and the parts of the human body and mind. These parts are called the duile, which means ‘elements’ or ‘components'. (See Searles O'Dubhain's key article on the Duile here) There are several traditional lists of these symbols. We will adopt a ninefold model similar to those current in Neopagan Celtic circles.
• Crown of the Head - Starry Heavens
• Brains - Clouds
• Face - Sun
• Mind - Moon
• Breath - Wind
• Blood - Sea
• Hair - Plants
• Flesh - Soil
• Bone – Stone

We can, with a little divide these into the Three Worlds so that:
Land: Plants, Soil and Stone
Sea: Clouds, Wind and Sea
Sky: Heavens, Moon, and Sun.

The source of these correspondences, in the misty past of Indo-European origins, is said to be the myth of the First Sacrifice, in which the First Cosmic Being is offered, or offers itself, on the altar. From the death of that First Being, and from its body and spirit, the cosmos itself is created. In some versions of the tale this is also the beginning of the work of sacrifice itself, in other versions the Killing is more like war or murder, but in every case the world is then made from the bones, blood, breath and mind.
This being the case it is true to say that, regardless of our form, we are all made of one substance. From Gods to gardens, from ourselves to the stars and stones, we are all made of the Holy Flesh of the First Sacrifice. This is the archaic root of the later metaphysical doctrines of the Hermeticists, and the macrocosm/microcosm complex seems as Gaelic as it is renaissance Italian.
In the previous stages of this work we have created a Sacred Pattern of the cosmos - the Two, the Three and the Four, and focused and channeled the world’s flow into our own bodies and lives with the Cauldrons. In this stage we seek to realize the unity of our personal existence with the greater existence of the worlds. Our flesh is the flesh of the world, our spirits are the spirit of the world – and so is everything else.
Most importantly, from a mystical perspective, our personal spiritual nature is, at the deepest point, still one with the spiritual nature that infuses the whole of existence. The First Person became Impersonal Mind, by dying, and by living, we participate in that Mind. By entering deep into our own awareness, by moving past layers of common thought and focusing on patterns of holy symbol, we hope to have the experience of the all-mind, to expand awareness beyond our self and name, beyond our apparent flesh into the mind and flesh of the Divine World.
As in the previous stage, in this exercise you will build the pattern of vision, and then spend time in contemplation of the pattern. This stage becomes rather different – it is relaxing, opening and dissolving to the constructed self, where before the work had been about consciously constructing and using the pattern of self. You may find your complex of Fire and Water, Worlds and Quarters dissolving into the pattern of the world, or you may simply leave it behind for a time as your awareness expands past its limits. In any case upon finishing the meditation on the whole pattern, and opening up to the oneness with the Elements, you will return to your pattern of Two, Three and Four, with the Cauldrons, before closing the work.

Stage 4: The Elements
Bring the Powers into balance again in yourself, remembering your detachment, remembering your lessons, gently and firmly bringing the Two Powers and the Three Cauldrons into a balanced flow. Remember the vision of the Worlds, and become aware of your flesh as well as you spirit as you work the Duile Attunement.
By the following charm you will turn your attention to the elements of the Worlds, one element at a time. As you are learning the exercise feel free to take each section as slowly as you like, meditating on the union, the co-substance, of your individual existence with the much greater world of All That Is.
Today I open myself
To the Elements of the World.

The first triad concerns the Land. Feel your solid flesh sharing its substance with the stones and roots and growing things of the Land, letting it become you, and you, it.
Eternal stone my bones.
My flesh the warm soil,
My hair the green bounty,

The second triad concerns the Sea. Feel the processes of your material life as interchangeable with the great ebbs and flows of the endless deep, letting it become you, and you, it.
The sea my blood,
My breath the wind,
Cool moonlight my mind,

The third triad concerns the Sky. Feel your reason and emotion and spirit shining and turning among your thoughts, like the eternal heavens. Let it become you, and you, it.
The sun my face,
My thoughts the clouds,
The stars behind my eyes.

Feel yourself vanishing into the world, and the world vanishing into you, but all the while, your core of Fire and Water, your Three Cauldrons, remain balanced and firm, even as your awareness opens.
All the world is in me,
And I am in the world.

on to pt 5

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Creeping Druid Fakery

OK, I'm confused. Here's a story from Witchvox, with disclaimers from the spoof site that the story is 'entirely fictional'. However the book mentioned in the so-called fictitious piece is available from The Lebor Feasa Runda:A Druid's Grammar of Celtic Lore and Magic. Aside from the suspicious similarity to the title of my own book from several years earlier, this item has become rather famous among Celtic Pagan types as an abject fake, an oak-king/holly-king, wicca-form concoction with a whiff of racism and no evidence to back its provenance. Maybe I'll eventually spend the bucks to actually read a copy, or hopefully someone will pirate it soon so that the pretender who wrote it can stop getting money for it. In the meantime we can follow the controversy here and here.
I think it's important for conscientious Celtoids to have an eye out for this fraud, and make sure it gets no serious penetration into the movement. Just a heads-up.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Paganism, Magic & Religion

I was interested to read this article, “Walking the Broken Path” by Jimmy Two-Hats in the monthly on-line of the new Thorn Magazine. (I’m excerpting it heavily, so I suggest reading the whole thing there) I’ve said before that I have little use for articles the point of which seems to be “You’re not doing it right” – here’s one with the chutzpah to say so in so many words. I’ll italicize portions of the original article, and write some thoughts.

I'm probably not a very good Pagan because I'm far more interested in magic than in religion.

Whatever a ‘good Pagan’ means… I don’t think modern Paganism has any model by which one is good or not based on what one believes, or what version one practices. That said I do agree about finding magic more interesting than religion broadly. On the other hand, I mainly consider religion to be a special case of magic. Usually a few magical methods (such as concentration through prayer, consecrated symbols, etc) are employed in service of a specific mythology to produce effects for the villagers, or congregation. In order for a priest/ess to successfully operate a religion on a local level, I think she needs a solid grounding in what westerners call ‘magical’ skills, but what systems like Hinduism or Voodoo simply think of as part of their ‘religion’.

To me, the idea of an important distinction between magic and religion seems unlikely. I just can’t see a clear dividing line, except perhaps that magic is operative. Magic isn’t something you ‘believe in’ it’s something you *do*. Since the invention of ‘faith based’ religion it’s possible to identify as a member simply by holding a set of opinions. In that sense I suppose there is a difference, but when it comes to getting results I can’t see much split between the two. For me ‘Pagan religion’ (Wiccan or otherwise) is magical in that sense – it isn’t about what you believe, it’s about how you practice.

Personally, I work to make sure that Paganism (at least in some forms) is the sort of religion that embraces specialized or occult spiritual skills (‘magic’), and applies them consciously to its religious work. I work to encourage Pagans to think of ‘being devout’ as including meditation, personal shrine practice, and relationships with the spirits. I don’t think Pagans need to ‘believe’ things as much as to do things to build spiritual skills and apply them to our lives.

I don't worship anything, even though I believe supernatural beings are real.

‘Worship’ means ‘give respect to’. I’d like to see the Pagan movement reject modern notions of ‘worship’ as abasement, humiliation and groveling. That’s just not what the term meant to the old Pagans, and there’s no reason why we should use it that way. We give respect to the spirits, both by our casual deeds and by the formal offerings of ritual. The arts of ritual worship are, themselves, a specific technique of magic. Crowley wrote a lovely guide to working worship and devotional magic in Liber Astarte . Every magical system from ancient Egypt through the OTO has recommended worship for the magician. As a magician I want the friendship and alliance of the spirits. I don’t want to get this just by ‘commanding’ them, but by befriending them. Worship is one of the methods by which we make alliances with the spirits.

… my work has more to do with the forces behind Pagan beliefs than it does with the ceremonies and the trappings of those beliefs.

I guess I know what that means… Certainly some of us are interested in the ‘how’ of metaphysics and esotericism, the rather abstract issues of what the spirits ‘really’ are. I’m more concerned with how they act than with what they’re made of. Personally, I have found that what some modernistic versions of magic call ‘energies’ are more accurately described as personal beings, with personal wills. So the individual doesn’t “use” them, but rather enters into relationship with them and relationship includes worship. The discussion between an ‘energy’ model of magic and a ‘spirits’ model is an interesting one, and both models work just fine for getting results.

I know that the physical trappings of rituals can be very efficient, with effects that qualify as legendary in scope--but most of them, like the crystal rods of Wyrd Science and the wands, athames and chalices of Wiccan ritual, are effective only in imagination.

OK, noted; you think that there can be powerful magical objects, but you don’t think Wiccans know how to make them. I guess I agree, if the sort of Wiccans you mean are folks who read a few books and decide that they want to ‘believe in Wicca’. There are certainly enough books that teach students that they don’t have to do any serious consecration or blessing of their ritual objects. However my impression is that plenty of Wiccans still seek magical skills inside their religious practice. I think that Wicca is generally trending the way I’d hope, with everyone encouraged to learn at least a little magic, and some people going further. I know there are people in modern Wicca and Paganism that would like us to go a more rationalist route, but I’m not among them.

… Magic circles filled with worshipers can become as empty of magic as a church full of Christians on Sunday morning.

Yes, that’s possible, I suppose, if the leadership has bought into some reductionist notion that Paganism is a ‘belief system’ rather than a ‘method of contacting the Gods and Spirits’. The thing is most human beings are never likely to make spirituality one of their lives’ primary pursuits. Those of us who are drawn to serious personal effort, like most magicians and many Pagans, are willing to spend our free time meditating, reading, doing personal rituals, etc. Many people who might benefit from a dose of spiritual experience (i.e. ‘religion’) will simply never have the level of interest to take up serious long-term spiritual work. I think Paganism does well to serve those people by encouraging our trained magicians to take up the work of priestcraft – the work of facilitating religious experience for the general population. Of course the reverse is equally true – anyone who wants to be a ‘priest’ in a Pagan system should be skilled in magic, as well.

But there has to be a balancing force in the world. People who believe in the power of life … need to actively work in those old realms that no one officially believes any more.

Just so, and one of the best ways to do that is to use our magical skills to bring understanding to those who would otherwise not experience the power and beauty of the web of life. By creating public opportunities for “lay” Pagans to participate in powerful invocation, trance and blessing – to actual experience the ‘energies’ or the ‘spirits’ (whatever) – we can help to lead toward a more magical world-view for all. The most effective way I know of to provide those experiences to groups is through rites of worship. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to make initiates out of the whole population – most folks will always be more interested in material life than in the spiritual path. That doesn’t mean they don’t benefit from religious experience.

In the early 1990's … (some) people were adamant that Wicca was not a religion, social gathering or a ceremony of worship; to them, Wicca was the practice of magic.

I was there too, and for a decade before that, and I can’t really say that I recall most traditional Crafters arguing against Wicca as religion. The basic model of Wicca is of a religion that uses magic – since there’s no conflict between those categories that makes perfect sense. Once again I agree that religion without magic is a weak thing, but magic without religion is, in my opinion, only a little better. At least it produces results, but without the element of relationship between the magician and the cosmos (which is the core of religion) magic becomes mere engineering.

… Some covens still talk about raising cones of Power and make a token effort to manifest the Watch Towers, but the usual focus today is self-discovery. I have no interest in that.

You think magic amounts to anything without self-knowledge? Where did you hear that? I mean, you can cast spells and fiddle with spirits ‘til the cows come home, but if you aren’t working on your own mind and soul it just amounts to cute special effects – always nice, but of limited value. A good spiritual system should do both – lead the student to self-understanding, and teach them the methods of wielding power - two sides of the same coin.

For the old witches and warlocks, raising a cone of Power … raised a vortex of energy that the members of the coven could see and feel, … that they could imbue with purpose and send to accomplish a goal. Without that Power, it's all just empty ceremony.

The ‘cone of power’ used in traditional Wicca is just one sort of energy-based magic, among many kinds. Personally I’m inclined to think that Gardner invented the cone of power, and that it wasn’t a part of magical practice before him. There are lots of ways for a coven (or temple of Pagan religion) to do magic that don’t involve it.

I suppose you can do ‘spells’ purely with the so-called ‘magical energy’ of the Cone of Power model, but there’s so much more to work with. I guess I’d say that without the alliance with the spirits a Pagan ceremony doesn’t amount to much. It takes magic to make those alliances, but the business of working with them is precisely what the ancients meant by ‘religion’.

The secret that has been so closely guarded from us is that we are the catalytic force that makes things happen--we are the beings of light who can change the world.

At least we’re one category of such beings. I’d never suggest that the Gods and Spirits aren’t themselves such beings. In fact, I don’t think any individual can make much change at all, without relationships with the Powers, with the Deities, and with other human beings. Since there is no Supreme God in a polytheistic (Pagan) model, then no human being can be supreme, even if we *are* Gods. We need relationship to make the world work, just as does the divine.

Real magic is a very powerful force. All it takes is a few people who know. The rest of the beings of light are welcome to play games and pretend other things-- I think it would be nice to have a world left when the game is done. The rest of us are here to keep the balance.

To me Paganism, and certainly magic, have always been systems without a ‘save the world’ mission. The Old Ways don’t exist to lead humanity into some bright new future – we don’t have a notion that reality needs to be saved from a cosmic enemy. The Old Ways, to me, have always been about maintaining the balance, about making people happy now. Now, those with the inclination to practice magic gain more skills that allow us to fiddle with our lives if we like. But using one’s spiritual skills to build a relationship with the divine – with the Gods and Spirits – brings in intelligences and resources far outside of mortal human reality. That’s why as a magician, I work to create powerful working worship rites and as a Pagan I work to develop modern Pagan forms of magical practice suited to our models.

I guess I can’t really be upset about the rise of even the most eclectic, anything-goes sorts of Wicca – better to have the kids thinking polytheistically and magically, even at the simplest level. Out of each batch of “I like Wicca” kids will come a smaller number of committed practitioners, and it would be my hope that at least some of those will make it their (our) business to keep standards high in the community. I see it as the job of those of us who do have magical skills to infect modern Paganism with them. Those who want Paganism to remain a results-based, ritualistic, magical set of systems (as it has mainly been) need to make it our business to teach and lead.

So, I guess I don’t exactly disagree with Jimmy Two-Hats about much. I guess the main point of disagreement is that I don’t see anything in the current state of the movement as ‘broken’ or ‘not the way it should be’. We’re growing and changing, and the influences that those who care bring to bear this year could have effects for times to come.
• There *is* a trend toward viewing Paganism (especially ‘eclectic Wicca’) as something one ‘believes in’. I hope we can encourage the understanding that without actual practice – meditation, ritual, divination, etc. there isn’t much point to Paganism or Wicca.
• Personally, I think Neopaganism should fight hard against demythologization and against reductionist rationalism, in favor of a mythic reality and a magical world-view. It’s more fun to live in a world of poetry.
• Since I work in ADF no-one will be surprised that I prefer formal training and practice to informal ‘learning from the trees’ whatnot. I hope that at least some branches of Paganism become the sorts of religion that encourage real study, as well as real practice.

What I didn’t like, I guess, about Jimmie’s article is the attempt to split magic and religion into competing ideas. I think they’re totally complementary ideas. Magic is the set of skills that makes religion possible. Religion is the set of results that makes magic humane and mindful. Worship means respect and formal recognition of value, not abasement and devaluation of the self.

I also disagree that the Neopagan movement is 'broken' in any important way. We're growing and changing, and many challenges are before us. In my opinion one of those challenges is how to integrate the 'esoteric' or 'occult' techniques of magic into a spiritual and religious system for the 'lay' person.

I guess I am interested in discussing what Paganism (I’m not Wiccan per se any more, so I use the larger category) “should” be. The movement is what it is, and I’m committed to the work of the community whether or not I like the way it’s going this decade. As a Druid I’m committed to the restoration of the worship of the Old Gods in the modern world, in ways that will last for centuries to come, and grow in strength and depth as it grows in influence and social presence. To do that I expect us to need all the magic we can get.