Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Spiritual Symbolism in Druidic Rites

This article is an abridgement of one of the very last articles in the Nine Moons system. I'll have an update on that work and some news very soon. This article is framed as advice to those who are completing the program, and hints for possible future work.

The same work that allows the practice of religion and sorcery can lead into a vital spiritual and mystical path. The term ‘mystical’ carries a heavy load of cultural freight. We’ll use it in a fairly specific meaning: “The relationship between the common self and the divine.” In magic we are often acting according to the will of that version of the self which we call ‘me’. We use our personal will to determine what should occur, and our personal power to make it happen. Mysticism is rather the other side of the coin. We open our personal spirit to the influence of the Gods and Spirits, and we seek to join our personal mind and will with the patterns of the cosmos.
These two ways – the sorcerous and the mystical – make fine companions on a personal spiritual journey. Together they bring the Druid’s goals of Wisdom, Love and Power, in proper measure as each person might need them. So we encourage you to attend to both in your ongoing Druid’s path.

Meditation and Ritual
Meditation is core to mystical work. It is the primary means by which we adjust our consciousness toward the goal states of awareness of the work. The basic skills of open meditation and contemplation will be used constantly, and your skills at concentration and visualization should be strong and well-practiced.
Ritual also brings spiritual expression to the personal soul, and helps to link the manifest self with the many expressions of the divine. From simple devotions to rites of offering and blessing to meditative rites of union, ritual can be a central part of a mystical practice. Skill at contemplation allows you to be present in and as the symbols of the rite even as you pursue the intention.
Forgive me for reminding you again. Please do not neglect regular open meditation, with no intention except to relax and refresh your spirit. The sages recommend a minimum of a half-hour of meditation daily, but even half that, perhaps broken into morning and evening sessions, is useful. When you are off-center or confused by your life, choices or circumstances, open meditation will help you arrive at the cool moonlight mind that can best solve problems.

Cosmos Meditation
In Cosmos meditation you create the vision of yourself as present both in and as the sacred pattern of existence. The ‘mandala’ (i.e. symbolic arrangement of icons or images) of the worlds and beings is arrayed around you. Into this mandala you seek to expand your spirit, to widen your awareness beyond the boundaries of your individual self into the greater worlds.
That work can be supported and enhanced with preliminary meditations on the Horizontal and Vertical Axes. Trances to explore the Three Realms and the Three Worlds can naturally follow from the Inner Grove vision work, and all this can be assembled as a single vision.
Of course every full sacrifice worked in our Druidic Order of Ritual contains a cosmos meditation. To begin with the Mother and establish again the Three Realms and the Three Worlds, is to be, yourself, the Creator of Worlds. You can always take those chances to contemplate the Cosmos, to share your own duile – your components – with those of the greater world, bone to stone, breath to wind.

The Da Fein
We have been referring to your Personal Inner Divinity, the God-of-Yourself, as the Da Fein. Of all the work you have done, this is the most intimate and personal, and the least amenable to instruction. Your visions, your intuition, will lead you toward greater communion with the Da Fein as you continue to meditate upon it.
One approach is to set up an active shrine to your Da Fein. It may seem ironic to attempt to make an exterior shrine or to offer I-and-Thou worship to that which is the very center of the self. However, ritual, representation and symbolism satisfy and focus the common conscious mind, and with the mind calmed and focused, you can more clearly hear the voice of the God of You.
The choice of an icon to express the presence of the Da Fein is itself an exercise. Some have chosen an ‘angelic’ style of depiction, and another approach is to choose an entirely non-human, even non-living, representation. From the perspective of Celtic lore, no more proper symbol occurs to me than the Vessel of Wonder. The Cauldron or Dish is one of the complexes that feed the medieval ‘Holy Graal’ stories. The Cauldron was the object of quests and raids often held deep in the Underworld or Otherworld. But, again, you must choose the depiction of the Da Fein, if any, as you are led by your own learning and intuition.

Microcosm and Macrocosm
A constant in Indo-European religions is the principle of reflection and mutual influence between the worlds. This was expressed in late Pagan times in the famous verse: “That which is below is as that which is above, and that which is above is as that which is below, to accomplish the Mysteries of the One.” So we begin with the idea that whatever beings exist in the spiritual worlds – the Gods and Spirits – may each have a reflection in an individual’s soul. When we invite the Kindreds to our Fire their presence is reflected in us in turn.

The Kindreds as Mystery
Most ritual worship workings are intended to announce yourself to the spirits and gain their good will. This presents the chance to seek their power in your own psyche, in the cosmos-in-you. While there are many sorts of exercise to enter that awareness, it can be enough to remember that you stand as a mirror to the spirits, and they to you, even as you work ritual.
• The Dead
Every human being draws life from the lines of blood, of womb and seed. When we mirror the Dead in our spirit we open ourselves to the great line of memory. In the voices of the Ancient Wise we hope to hear the echoes of the work of ancient Paganism.
On a personal level the presence and power of the Dead awakens the very blood and seed of the divine-in-us. In time we, ourselves will join the Ancestors, and receive the offerings of the living, offering our potent blessings in turn.
• The Nobles
As mortal folk we dwell in the Middle Realm, which is also the home of the Other Clans, the Good Neighbors. The blessing of the Sidhe is the core of the luck of the world, and the wise seek to keep their goodwill. When we mirror the Host of the Sidhe in our spirit we may glimpse the stealth of the night-runner, or the vision of the eagle, or the warm deep of borrow or the high perspective of mountain winds and moonlight.
On the personal level work with the Noble Ones can awaken affinities and related powers in the magician. The Wights are often called upon in magical arts, and we can learn secrets that we can turn to our advantage, even as the Nobles learn by dealing more closely with a mortal.
• The Gods
The Shining Beings we call the gods and goddesses are the Eldest and Mightiest, those who in the first days helped to shape cosmos and set life in it, and who still live eternal. The Gods are the very persons of the divine, in its brightest and deepest sense. In the presence of a god, especially, we may be carried out of our common self into a greater perspective
On a personal level, you may find your relationship with the Earth Mother and the Gatekeeper to be sufficient for your work. However it is common for other gods to become a part of your personal spirituality, and you should be aware of their voices when they call to you.

• Sacrifice and Blessing
Druidic spirituality is based in reciprocity – in the proper exchange of good for good between mortals and the spirits. The symbol of sacrifice and blessing, when we seek its deeper meaning, reminds of the eternal link between the individual and the great pattern of existence – between the dancer and the Dance.
In the drinking of the Blessing (or even in the working of a spell, in a practical rite) we become ready to focus directly on the reflection between the invited beings and our own spirit. We have that moment that is called by words meaning ‘audience’ – when the divine beholds us, and we behold the divine. Such are the moments that fill our inner cauldrons, granting us health, wealth and wisdom.

• A Mystical Practice
Even if you feel more drawn to sorcery and practical magic than to the search for spiritual awareness it is worth your while to remember these things. As you work your rites remember these other meanings, these deeper mysteries, behind the symbols of your working shrine. To advance this kind of awareness can only increase your wisdom, and thus your power.
Whatever your inclination, may you walk your path in the Druid’s Peace, with a clear heart and a steady hand, and wisdom in your brow.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Gods & Spirits

The topic of the 'Third Kindred' has been a lurking elephant in our big room since we took up the conventional 'Three Kindreds'. I think it is an unsolved problem of lore and even worship in our mix, and I am interested in how it goes when members take up actual efforts to include the Others in the work.

I think we come to our ideas of the Third Kin with a couple of half-formed notions from modern times that may hinder us from understanding what the ancients meant.
• The post-Theosphical idea of 'devas' as the spirits of plants, stones, etc is at least a step toward animism, and so perhaps in the right direction. The use of the term 'fairy' for the twee artistic constructions connected with such things has muddied the water badly, in my opinion. Even using 'deva' to mean small spirit instead of 'a god' has created confusion.

I couldn't prove that the ancients held this level of animism, viewing every individual plant and animal as a spirit. Though, customs such as leaving a coin in the hole or 'hunting' the plant do suggest concern about an individual spirit. I think it's safe to suggest that some degree of ground-level animism was part of the IE worldview.

But when we talk about the 'Nature Spirits' or 'Landwights' I think we may be limiting the category too strictly by focusing on this model. Let's look at the second problem notion:

• Popular ideas of 'Power Animals' and 'Totems' based in American and central Asian shamanic cultures have also been a gateway into animism for some folks. However some of the ideas that have built up around 'core shamanism' and its even-newer-age successors, as well as the fictions of Castaneda serve to limit our understanding of the Third Kin.

In IE tales we don’t very often see beasts speaking for themselves. We fairly often see various gods, heroes and other spirits choosing to assume animal forms (or having them imposed upon them). There is some notion of ‘clan animals’ in some Gaelic clans. Both Bear Warriors and Wolf Warriors may have existed in Celtic or Germanic societies, but we should be careful not to lump these into some vague idea of ‘totems’. It seems to me that in the tales the appearance of animals is more often a guise of some other sort of spirit than a visit from a ‘spirit animal’.

On the other hand, I think we can discern several things from ancient tales and lore that are important to an ancient understanding.
• First, there are whole categories, or races, or species of beings that are not the spirits 'of' material things, not are they Deities, in the sense of the Eldest and Mightiest, though the greatest of them may be 'shining ones' in fact. We hear of centaurs, and satyrs, of tree-nymphs and pool-nymphs, but also of Ghandarvas and the Dancer Women, and the Night-Hags. We have medieval legends of the Court Under the Hill, trooping and processing hosts, etc.
• Second, a great deal of medieval and even Pagan description of the 'wights' mixes the Dead with non-human kindreds freely, as if the Dead join the category. The Alfar of the Norse are often understood as Ancestors, but the Liosalfar (light-elves) are one of the 'races' of otherworld beings.

My continuing-to-evolve understanding of the Hellenic idea of daimones suggests that the category included both a variety of non-deific, non-human spiritual powers, and at least those we might call the Mighty Dead. We see a very simple, non-triple division of the Powers in Irish lore, when they refer to "De agus ande" - the Gods and the not-Gods.

So when we talk about mobile or immobile wights, we certainly have a wide variety of possible behaviors of the spirits. Some will have been stationary. Some will have been, or become, family allies and have come with the family to a new land. Who even knows what beings involve themselves in mercantile trade. Dreams alone would be enough to transfer a spirit from one land to another, in my opinion - they're tricky that way.

Our practice, then, can include efforts to approach any or all of these categories. I think lore makes it clear that to keep one's luck and weal one should be at peace with the spirits of the soil and green and local spirits. I think our offerings as we do them now are pretty well focused on that sort of work. In traditional lore there are also local cults of greater spirits – various local ‘gods’ of the forest or shrines to a specific non-deific, human-animal hybrid or spirit-tree beings. Many times these special shrines and rites are focused on magical goals – healing, fertility or wisdom. We’ve been nowhere near dealing with this sort of being yet, and I think there’s a lot to be gotten from the effort.

Well, this has been a ramble, but it's a complex topic...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Coolest Thing I've Seen This Week: The Dwale

Some years ago I crafted a fake Lovecraftian Grimoire called the Dwale of Avagddu, writing the content and creating a big fake-evil book. The book was made easily enough, by composing the pages, having the book hot-glue-strip bound at a neighborhood print-shop, aging the pages and then pasting all into a case ripped from a full-size sketch-book and sculpted with paper clay. My kinda pointless fun...

I'm very pleased that the Manager over at the Propnomicon blog (who I recently added to my blog roll over on the right hand side of your screen) likes the item enough to post the photos I sent.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Kindling A Fire of Blessing

In the 'altar work' of modern spellcasters, one of the simplest sorts of spell to cast is called 'setting a light'. This will be functionally familiar to most Pagans (and most Catholics, for that matter) as the lighting of a candle or small lamp for a specific intention, on one's own behalf or that of another. Healing for a distant friend, prosperity, return of lost items are just some of the things commonly worked for by this simple means.
In the process of writing 'cleanup' for the Nine Moons, I put together this simple candle-blessing charm, meant to accompany the setting of a light for a specific purpose.

A Charm for Kindling a Blessing Candle
• Prepare a spot for the candle to rest. If possible that spot should be on or near your Shrine, and be arranged with a sigil or photo or other expression of the intent of the candle.
• Hallow the Fire and Water on the Shrine, perhaps with the usual simple charm:
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.
• Make an offering to all the beings of your Shrine, perhaps saying:
Gods and Dead and Mighty Sidhe
Allies all, upon my Shrine
Offering I make to ye
And ask now that your aid be mine
Now state your intention in clear and direct words, speaking to the spirits and the Shrine as persons, telling them the intention for which the flame is kindled. If you wish you might intone a proper conjuring word, draw a sigil over the candle, etc.
• With the candle ready upon your Shrine, find your peace and your power, and balance the Two Powers in yourself.
• Hold your left hand cupped before you and drip a few drops of water from the Well into your palm. Draw the Underworld Power strongly into that hand.
• Take up the candle and place it in the left hand, setting it in the drops of water.
• Draw the Sky Power into your right hand, and take a light from the Fire. Kindle the candle, saying:
Out of the Deep I draw a light
Fire on Water brightly shine.
I claim my will, by magic’s might
And set this flame upon my Shrine
Set the candle in place, and say:
Hear my voice as I do call
As this boon I ask of ye
Bless and aid me, spirits all
And as I will, so let it be!
• Contemplate the candle in its place for time, and then conclude with a short final charm:
The blessings of the Holy Ones be on me and mine
My blessings on all beings, with peace on thee and thine
The Fire, the Well, the Sacred Tree
Flow and Flame and Grow in me
Thus do I remember the work of the Wise.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Caesar’s Druids Review

Caesar’s Druids; Story of an Ancient Priesthood
Miranda Aldhouse-Green
2010, Yale University Press

I’ve read rather a lot of books about the ancient Druids over the years, and it’s delightful to see this excellent new piece. The first edition hardback is handsomely produced, with dozens of illustrations of artifacts. The 267 page text is supported by 30 pages of notes and 20 of bibliography, plus a useful index. While Green’s style remains personable and occasionally humorous, this is in every way a scholastic treatment of the subject and not a popularization.

“Caesar’s Druids” is a survey of what we know about the ancient Gallo-British category, the Druids. It begins with the classical authors’ discussion of the Druids, laying out the ‘noble savage’ and ‘merely savage’ schools of comment. However the author is an archeologist, and she concentrates heavily on the archeology of the questions of who the Druids were, and what they did.

The book begins with Pliny, and sets the tone for how the subject will be approached. The famous description of Druids in white robes cutting mistletoe after sacrificing a bull is deconstructed in detail. Using the best current archeology of Gaul and Britain, she looks at bull sacrifice practices, sickles, and lunar symbolism in Celtic artifacts. She also brings cross-cultural comparisons into play. Throughout the book she is willing to seek to understand what a Druid might have been doing by examining what other tribal, polytheistic peoples have done, or do today. So she finds a perfectly apt quote concerning white robes among an African cattle-culture quite acceptable as support for the idea of Druids in white robes. She is careful to use such things only as suggestive hints, however, and she refrains from trying to tell us ‘what the Druids really did’ at all times through the book.

The book assumes that the classical authors were describing what they knew of a culture and religious system that actually existed. A few pages are spent dismissing the argument that Druids are a classical literary construct, and then that idea is considered finished. Caesar is considered a reliable witness (as he is throughout the scholastic world, now) though he may quote/plagiarize older sources. Still, Caesar was on the ground among Druids, and wrote about it. Green uses classical description as her starting point as she combs the archeological record for traces of the Celts’ religious professionals.

One thing that will please Pagans is Green’s total acceptance of the Druids as religious professionals – that is, as a priesthood. From the title on through, Druids are described as priests, physicians, bards and possibly engineers, the archeology nicely supporting classical descriptions of the multi-skilled intellectual class. Green looks for material evidence of religious activity – sacrificial practices (animal and human – the book assumes that Druid human sacrifice did occur), temples and sanctuaries, Druidic tools and regalia, actual depictions of Druids and their tombs. She finds some remarkable stuff, including possible divination tools unknown to moderns.

The author is also interested in situating the Druids as the magico-religious practitioners of a traditional people. She examines the idea of ‘shamanism’ among them and while reaching no conclusions finds interesting parallels that may illuminate some archeological finds. She looks at calendar-keeping and festivals. Her discussions of the power of sacred groves, and of musicians and singers as religious specialists are excellent. She neither accepts nor scoffs at the cultural descriptions of sacred things, often reporting spirit or spiritual events without comment.

The book rounds out with a fine chapter on Druidic afterlife teachings, and an interesting look at what Druidic survival and resistance might have been like under Roman rule. There is also a good chapter on the question of women Druids, and finally a short and rather whimsical history of British Druid revivals. While the author treats these a little lightly, she does not disparage modern Paganism, and in fact takes its (our) side against those who would dismiss it (us) as merely silly.

This excellent survey should be on the shelf of any student of Druidry who wants to keep up with recent archeology. It may also just kick up some new ideas. Three cool things I learned:
1: “Crane Bags” may be legit.
2: Druids may actually have used rattles for trance (if not drums…)
3: Wands are just as important as I thought they were.
Thanks, Miranda, for the teaching and the inspiration.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Druid's Discipline

Here's an abridgement of one of the final articles for the Nine Moons book. I'm within about 6,000 words of officially done! I'm working to have the whole thing done by the calends of January.
This article is aimed at students who have just completed the big 'Convocation Rite' at the end of month 8 and are starting on the final month, in which they begin to establish what their ongoing practice will look like.

Doing the Work – The Discipline of a Druid.
The culminating ritual of the Nine Moons system is a Convocation Rite in which the allies and skills that have been learned are brought together in one formal ritual. By the time the student has completed this work, if they have done this work diligently they will have experienced things outside of the experience of most mortals. They will have come a little closer to the world of spirits, learned a little more about inner power and opened the psyche to new insights. This remarkable journey is, of course, only the first chapter in a great spiritual adventure.

The Druid's Skill-set
This system is intended to provide a solid introductory foundation in magical and spiritual skills:
• Sacrifice and Ritual. The Druid is able to readily perform full rites of offering and blessing, both from scripts and ex tempore. The rites in the system have been solitary, and the next step is being able to perform magical sacrifices with and for small groups or clients.
• Divination and Seership. The Druid has a basic knowledge of a divinatory symbol-system and has practiced for herself and for others. Some work with scrying and the pendulum has at least been attempted.
• Vision & Spirit-Travel. The Druid has established a Threshold home environment, and has journeyed into mythic environments, and been in the presence of the spirits.
• Spellbinding. The Druid has performed successful acts of practical magic, and is prepared for further experiment.
• Alliance With the Spirits. The Druid has made clear and specific alliances with an Ancestral Teacher ad a Familiar among the Nobles, and has cultivated his relationship with the Gods.

The Path Ahead
These basic skills provide opportunity for further work and growth in several directions. With these skills in hand, custom suggests that you might choose to offer your services to the community. Divination , helping other Pagans manifest their goals in life through practical magic, house-blessings, uncrossings and Opening of Roads, rites to help the folk attune to their local Landspirits or their Ancestors, rites for healing, or prosperity, all are traditional community applications of magical skills.
There are paths of mysticism open to you as well. Your developing relationship with the Allies can bring new understandings of your own nature. Work with the Cosmos Meditation patterns can deepen your awareness of yourself, your place and work in the worlds and your connection with the divine. You can choose a path of meditation, theurgic ritual and vision that will bring high and deep spiritual experiences.
So do what spiritual work you find to do, even when 'life' gets in the way. One of the most reliable ways to maintain your practice is to take up a specific outline of practice – an Order of Discipline, if you like.

Doing the Work
• Keeping the High Days: Each High Day offers the chance to attune your spirit to a particular complex of Gods, spirits and stories. The skills of ritual and trance-vision are central to work of this sort.
• Daily Work: You should keep simple daily work as regularly as you are able. This should include 15 minutes of devotion, purification and meditation, and making simple offerings to the spirits.
• Retreat Days: Twice per month, if possible, you should keep a retreat day of the sort you've kept during this training. While three or four retreats is a fine, intense pace for a specific period, maintanance can be done on much less. The best choice is to work a retreat on each full moon, leaving the entire waxing phase for whatever additional work is desired. The outline of a retreat can continue as you have done:
• Morning Practice: a detailed contemplation meditation, such as the Nineteen Working.
• Non-Gods Cult Work: Formal offerings to the Dead and the Nobles, more detailed than the daily offerings.
• Divination: This should be a real 'reading' for oneself, not just a ritual omen.
• Evening Work: At least monthly some version of the Sorcerer's Sacrifice should be worked, renewing your relationship with your Allies, beneath the Da Fein. This rite will include a detailed divination.
A second retreat evening each month is advised. New Moon might be spent in trance, vision and journeying, working from the Inner Grove. Sixth nights provide opportunity for spellwork and practical sorcery. You have the opportunity to please yourself, pursuing those works that interest you.

A Personal Magic
While this training system has provided scripts, ritual outlines and key symbols, these can only be the beginning of the discovery of power. Every magician that really does the work develops a personal magic.
In a Neopagan system like Druidry we have full authority to create our own work, based on what we learn from teaching and tradition. We bring our core symbols, and our own connections to the spirits, and we study and learn and apply new ideas to established practices. New rites and practices, or evolutions from older ones, can come from the smallest such seeds.
The other vital source of new ideas and personal adjustments will come directly from the spirits. The spirits can be consulted to reveal memories of the Old Ways, which will come to you as vision or inspiration. From these you can build new ways, suited for modern work.

Your spiritual path is in your own hands. Your Nine Moons training has given you a firm
start with the basic skills of arcane spiritual arts. A lifetime of spiritual exploration

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Pagan Thanks

It’s Thanksgiving, and my times have changed a little concerning this holiday. For 30 years, I spent the day itself at a big dinner party with my chosen family, the Chameleon Club. We’re the conspiracy behind the Starwood festival, and one of the original pagan organizing teams in the NE Ohio area. Like all families and affinity groups, life moves on, and as young boomers we’re not that young any more. So last year we chose, for the first time, to skip a communal dinner on Thursday and move the whole shebang to the Friday after. I went to dinner with the bio family, and that was a very good thing for me, because last T-day was our last with my mom. Sometimes things work out.

So I’m in a more reflective mood about Thanksgiving this year as well, and I suppose I’ll go on a bit about what there is to be thankful for. Here at Into the Mound, I’ll try to stay on-topic…

• I’m thankful for my birth, as a North American in this era. I have had access to information, resources and freedoms unavailable in much of the world in the past or today.

• I’m thankful for the decline of Christian authority in the west, which has allowed spiritual adventurers and heretics to experiment somewhat publically, to write and teach.

• I am thankful for the Founders of the USA, who made it impossible for the government to tell me I can’t worship the Old Gods in parks, rental halls or my own backyard.

• I am thankful for my teachers, whether the writers of books or those who have taught me personally. If I’ve grown my own Path, I’ve done it from seeds they helped me plant.

• I’m thankful to Isaac Bonewits especially, for his vision and effort in founding the system I’m working in, and the trust and confidence he showed in my work.

• I’m thankful for the work of Pagan and occult organizers, publishers across the world, who are remaking the Old Ways for new days.

I could go on, but I think I’d become redundant, and if I get specific I'll never be done. I am supremely thankful for my partner, who is my spiritual coworker, my lover and my best friend. And I am thankful for the love and co-work of my friends, as we make our lives together.

So, I know this is corny stuff, but ‘tis the season, and nothing is harmed by it.
May we all be blessed on this American holiday for all of us.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Curmudgeonly Crankiness...

Look, it’s surely not my place to tell other folks what to believe. If people want to hold to six-day creation, the value of chastity before marriage or other unlikely notions, it really isn’t any of my business. Still there are a few ideas in the Pagan and magical scene that really piss me off when self-proclaimed teachers assert them, not just because they are plainly mistaken, but because they do, in my opinion, damage to the ability of students to get the most out of the work. Of course the main reason it pisses me off is that my own opinions differ sharply. So, since I have my little soapbox, I’ll get up on it.

1: Religion, Magic and Spirituality.
As far as I can tell, the opposition to the concept of ‘religion’ among magical people is based on nothing more than personal emotional anger toward specific religious organizations, and perhaps toward one or two streams of specific religious doctrines. We hear that ‘religion’ involves rote and empty ritual, ossified doctrine and dogma, money-greedy materialism and power hungry hierarchy. This leads some folks – folks who are busy meditating, working with spirits, doing rituals and having opinions about the nature of things (i.e. doctrines) – to say that they don’t do ‘religion’.

I have come to make an important distinction between ‘religion’, ‘a religion’ and ‘a religious organization’. ‘Religion’ is a scholastic category that assumes some degree of commonality between human styles of relating to the spiritual or metaphysical. Many sweeping statements are made about ‘religion’ (by me, occasionally) but it's very difficult to make generalizations of religions. It is so difficult to find commonalities, even of the things people object to. For instance, Hinduism generally does not mandate ‘belief in’ specific doctrines or models of metaphysics – hundreds of different models are contained within it. Modern evangelical Christianity has little or no ritual of any kind, unlike traditional styles of religion. Many tribe-based religions, such as Judaism or Zoroastrianism, actively reject converts, and do not proclaim that their way is for everyone.

‘A religion’ is a specific body of practice and doctrine intended to produce specific spiritual effects. If one has a unique and totally personalized spiritual practice, it might be more apt to call it ‘spiritual practice’. In fact we could restate and say that ‘a religion’ is a specific set of spiritual practices, especially those shared among a group.

A ‘religious organization’ is created and managed to practice and promote a religion. It is a body of humans trying to run an organization, and is subject to the same problems as any arts or sports organization. Asshole behaviors never fail to occur occasionally, even among the wise. Centuries of power and privilege can lead to corruption.

Most of the complaints people have about ‘religion’ seem to actually be about ‘religious organizations’. For instance, the Roman Catholic Church isn’t a religion – it’s a religious organization. It has financial officers and secretaries and owns a bunch of stuff that it manages. There are plenty of Catholics who aren’t Roman – Catholic Christianity is ‘a religion’ in the way Hinduism is – an umbrella term that includes several specific religious traditions and a number of organizations. ADF isn’t ‘a religion’ – we’re an organization created to build and promote Pagan Druidry, or whatever we might call it this week.

So when a magician or witch takes up any orderly work of relating with the spirits, of doing regular meditation and trance, of group celebratory or worship ritual, she is doing some religion. Perhaps it might be possible for some folks to kind of duff at it, taking a little here and there as they please, and have that be sufficient for their spiritual support. But I think many Pagans are in it for the doing of it, and end up looking for a more focused spiritual practice – that is, a religion. So face it, if you’re in a coven or worship group, or even if you just work alone at your home shrine, you’re doing religion. You may not create a religious organization for it, though some level of organization is inevitable if a group continues, but what you’re doing is religion in every sense.

A religion involves a body of skills that a person must work with. From simply knowing the prayers, small rites and symbolism of the path, to study of its texts and sources, to higher-order skills such as bigger or public ritual, meditation and trance, etc, religions require effort and attention on the part of their folk. That’s because they are training systems, meant to allow the individual to develop their own spirituality.

The result of keeping a spiritual discipline is ‘spirituality’ in my opinion. Now, there are many kinds of spiritual discipline, and the kind of arty and formal ritual I like won’t be everyone’s cuppa. That’s why there are many ways, but all involve at least a certain amount of focused work - even ‘not-doing’ is a method.

If ones keeps at a religion, and does it well, one will develop a personal spirituality. In every faith, even the most dogmatic, those who succeed in developing a personal spirituality will have their little touches, the things that make the path their own. In Pagan religions these can swing pretty wide, as folks alternate through periods of discipline and periods of expression.

That means we should stop bashing ‘religion’ as a category. Asserting that one is ‘more evolved’, or ‘not of the herd’ because one has replaced ‘religion’ with ‘spirituality’ is just a misunderstanding, in my opinion. It’s not a matter of ‘evolution’ (whatever that means in that context), but rather of the growth that happens when you practice a skill. If you’ve reached a mature personal spirituality, don’t look down on those who still enjoy the traditional work, or on beginners, or even on the imperfect organizations that exist to help other people find their way.

2: The Nature of Magic.
I’ve ranted about this, so I’ll keep it short. Magic (or magick, if you still must…) is something you do. It isn’t some quasi-substance or spirit that instills everything, it isn’t another word for the Life in Everything. At least, never in the history of the art has it been used that way, until some fantasy-soaked modern kids started doing it. Now it’s appearing in otherwise-not-awful pop magick books. Damn it!

Magic is a body of human skills, that allow us to work with spiritual powers under our own wills. It’s a category of human art like science, or woodworking, and it has its methods and customs, its tips and tricks. Magic isn’t something you ‘attune to’ – magic is something you do. Even in the above sentence, the ‘attunement to’ would be the magic part – so what is there to… never mind.
I can hardly think of a more misleading teaching than to refer to magic as some current in the world, rather than as a skill you use. It seems likely to lead students more toward lala-whatever-feels-nice country than to the actual effort that magic requires. I guess I just dislike completely redefining terms to suit some romantic notion.

OK, told ya it was cranky stuff…

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tantric Thelema

Review: Tantric Thelema
& The Invocation of Ra-Hoor-Khuit in the manner of the Buddhist Mahayoga Tantras. Sam Webster 2010, Concrescent Press I must quote (or paraphrase) Jason Miller. He is known to say that just as European culture has spent the last 1,000 years developing, say, orchestral and symphonic music, so the cultures of Tibet and India have spent that time developing method and instruction for spiritual practices. Indic magico-religious practice (whether Hindu or Buddhist) has a level of clarity, of detailed vocabulary to describe precise states, of tricks and work-arounds to help ritualists get the results that they seek. By applying those to western deity forms we can recover a great deal of what was lost in the west with the end of theurgy and Pagan religion.

Sam Webster is an old co-conspirator in occult and Pagan organizing and philosophy, and I’m very pleased to say that he has done a fine job of presenting a very useful spiritual technology. Tantric Thelema is an application of Vajrayana Buddhist esoteric methods to the myth and symbol of Aleister Crowley’s magical religion of Thelema. By doing so he offers western magicians and theurgists the best step-by-step guide to the invocation of the presence of a deity I can remember seeing in print.

The small book is arranged as a manual, in the form of a teaching. It is delivered in the author’s voice speaking to his beloved wife, Tara, who was lost to illness some years ago. The gentle, reverent voice thus produced gives the whole teaching an easy, pleasant feel.

The manual is utterly practical. With only a few pages of introduction it moves immediately into the first section of the detailed spiritual practice (sadhana) that it teaches. In this section we find the most overt orthodox Buddhism. Classical Buddhist ideas such as ‘taking refuge and dedicating merit’ are taught in a fairly straight-forward Vajrayana way, using symbols and verses from the Book of the Law. The author does a fine job of reconciling Buddhist ideas with Pagan ones. Some are very nicely suited to Druidic work, such as the invocation of the Lineage of Teachers. While I hesitate to fiddle with a well-made device, these preliminary exercises could be replaced with whatever preliminaries one’s own system preferred, without harming the later techniques.

The meat of the teaching concerns what is called Deity Yoga. Combining incantation with visualization and offerings it will all feel quite familiar to experienced invokers. What is less familiar is to see the method laid out in such clear, step-by-step detail. Two forms of invocation are described. “Generation In Front” invokes the deity as though into an image before you, to receive worship in an I-Thou formula. “Arising As” formulates the deity in the person of the invoker, allowing the invoker to act as the deity in some ways, for instance in granting initiations and empowerments. It is through the latter formula that further Thelemic Tantra becomes possible, as a couple arises together as god and goddess.

Yr Hmbl writer knows very little about Vajrayana, but I was never at sea with Webster’s descriptions of ideas or methods. I know rather more about Thelema, and it is a pleasure to see it expounded so gracefully, and without gothery. I know, I think, rather a lot about the mechanics of invocation, and I still learned quite a bit from this small tantra. Anyone interested in restoring the juice to western theurgy could benefit from Tantric Thelema.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A New Year

Yes, I know that the case for the Samhain feast as the “Celtic new year” is only so good. But it's good enough that, combined with a lifetime of personal custom, I'll continue to make it an annual turning and assessment point. The past year has actually been pretty productive in occult and Pagan matters, and there's more to come. I’ve put out a new book, finally assembled a Stone Creed Grove Book of Rites, and developed a couple of new workshops for presentation.

The Nine Moons project is very near to conclusion. The ritual material is complete and being tested, and I'm a couple of articles away from done. I'm also moving along recording the trances and audio support. I'm left with one big question. Should I offer the material as an actual correspondence course, or publish it as a book with accompanying CD(s)?

There are several examples of the latter model. Ashcroft-Nowicki, Tyson, Buckland and, I'm sure, others have written and published self-contained month-by-month magical training courses. With the recorded support, I think I could offer something useful in a one-shot, which would require much less management and time from me than a correspondence course.

However doing the course would allow me to tweak the system with a round or two of students and is, of course, where the money is. Do I care about generating actual income (rather than a bit of extra book-money) from my occult work? That *is* the question.

On consideration, I’m leaning toward doing the direct publishing. That doesn’t preclude offering a course, with personal guidance and assessment, and new material as it develops. I just can’t resist the lure of having a shiny new book to sell.

At home, our transition is nearly complete, and we’re moving our Home Shrine into a new room, even now. We’ll have lots more room to work and I mean to make something nicely sculptural on the walls as I had done at a previous shrine. I want to be able to light it up into an inspiring display, my own indoor temple.

On Monday, which is roughly the first crescent of the moon of Samhain-month (November is called ‘Samhain’ in Irish), we will hallow the new shrine. That will begin a new round of observance and experiment for me. L. has been diligently meditating along these past months, but I’ve been slacking over the summer. I’ll be getting back to regular daily work, and to Retreat Days, working the material from the Nine Moons from where we left off. I must admit I’m hungry to do some serious magic. Just a little more prep work – a couple of key tool-consecrations – and I’ll be ready to attempt some of the spirit arte I’ve been designing.

On that side of things, I’ve been doing more work with my own Allies, especially the Familiar I’ve worked with for over 20 years (holy whoever… 20 years since that rite…). All results have been immediate and positive, for small, ordinary things. There’s been some sense of warning and reminders of reciprocity, but that’s all been working out, and will become easier with the new shrine in place.

I look forward to a productive year, spiritually, some of which I will chronicle here. This is the second birthday of this blog, and I do thank you all for reading it, and encourage your comments. On we go…

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Death Song

Another item repaganized from Carmina Gadelica, the famous collection of Scots Gaelic poems, charms and prayers. A blessing on all those who have passed, especially in this last year.
You go home this night to your home of winter,
To your home of fall, of spring, of summer,
You go home this night to the Turning House,
To your pleasant rest in the House of Joy.
Rest you, rest, and away with sorrow,
Rest this night in the Mother’s breast,
Rest you, rest, and away with sorrow,
Rest, O beloved, with the Mother’s kiss;
In the Many-colored Land,
In the Land of the Dead,
In the Plain of Joy,
In the Land Beneath the Wave,
In the Land of Youth,
In the Land of the Living,
In the Revolving Castle, the House of Donn.
Rest in seven lights, beloved,
Rest in seven joys, beloved,
Rest in seven sleeps, beloved,
In the Grove of the Cauldron, Morrigan’s Shrine.
The shade of death is on your face, beloved,
But the Cauldron of Rebirth awaits you,
The Threefold turning of your fate
When your rest has given you your peace
So rest in the calm of all calms
Rest in the wisdom of all wisdoms
Rest in the love of all loves
Rest in the Lord of Life and Death
Rest in the Lady of Life and Death
‘Til the Season of Turning
‘Til the Time of the Returning
‘Til the Mystery of the Cauldron

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Halloween Time!

I love secular Halloween, with its tropes of zombies and witchcraft and demons and other supernatural Hollywood fun. I do my best to separate it from the reverent and arcane holy day of Samhain, but I enjoy indulging in it's fun. So this month we'll be seeing reviews and stuff on horror and weird-occult themes. We'll start with the reviews below. Next I think we'll do a review of other occult Yog-Sothothery. There's rather more of it than there used to be, even aside from Tyson's work.
Have a spooky season!

Necronomicons Aplenty

A Review of the Donald Tyson Necronomicon Material
Thanks to the work of occultist Donald Tyson in recent years, there is a much longer list of items with ‘Necronomicon’ branded across them than previously. Unlike several of the previous efforts, Tyson’s items are not presented as hoaxes, or provided with spooky back-stories about vanished manuscripts or forgotten traditions. Instead Tyson plainly says that he has taken the forms and tropes of HP Lovecraft’s fictional mythos and used them both to write new occult fiction and in an effort to create usable occult methods. At least, that’s where he has ended up. The earlier efforts in the series are much more plainly horror tales, using real occult history and ideas to present images of the kind of ‘forbidden rites’ that HPL only hints at.

Donald Tyson is a thoughtful and experienced occultist. He is producing valuable scholastic work in his editions of Agrippa, and his pop magic titles are often unique and interesting, firmly founded on classic magical art. He has also shown a real streak of interest in the macabre, in his publication of the remarkable oddity ‘Liber Lilith’. One would hope to see some interesting and useful occult weirdness in Tyson’s take on Yog-Sothothery. Does he succeed? Sort of.
There are five items in Tyson’s Mythos material:
Necronomicon: The Wanderings of Alhazred
This was the first, and still my favorite, of the lot. The whole idea of ‘the Llewellyn Necronomicon’ was just too funny in the first place, but seeing Tyson’s name on it gave me some hope. In this case I wasn’t disappointed.

Lovecraft’s description of the Necronomicon changed over the course of his tales. His original imagining seems to have placed it as a kind of combination of a book of wonder-tales (if dark and evil wonder-tales) a la the Arabian Nights, and a travelogue and description account rather like Herodotus. In this case the difference between Alhazred (Lovecraft’s fictitious author) and Herodotus is that the Mad Arab finds the Hideous Reality behind the apparent myths and customs of mortals – the material that becomes the so-called Cthulhu Mythos. Later, as Lovecraft investigated a little actual occultism, the descriptions started to resemble the medieval grimoires. Most of the fakes and hoaxes called the Necronomicon have focused on the grimoire version, providing lists of gods and spirits, texts of rites and conjurings, etc.

Tyson’s Necronomicon harks back to the earlier version. He opens with a straight narrative, presented as Abdul Alhazred’s account of his youth, his fate and his subsequent wanderings across the early-medieval middle eastern world. He plainly and directly uses Mythos names and descriptions, referring directly to Leng, R’lyeh, Yuggoth, Cthulhu etc. He ases the Middle Eastern settings well, introducing the ‘ghuls’ as combined Arabic and Lovecraftian beings, and taking us beneath the pyramids for some tasty sorcery. Throughout the text are sprinkled bits of arcane lore and ritual, sigils, signs and incantations, including Tyson’s take on just what an Elder Sign might be.

Tyson also begins as he intends to continue, presenting the core of the cults of the Great Old Ones as a kind of anti-cosmic Gnosticism. In this interpretation, the GOO represent the return of the universe (or the ‘world’) to its pre-manifest state, an end to suffering and joy, to filth and pomp. This is scary (cosmic-aly horrific, in fact) to ‘normal’ awareness, which can only perceive the destruction of the body and the mind. The cosmic devourers come to return all to the stomach of eternity… spooky, kids…

This has been covered in a very sophisticated way by biblical scholar and leader of the Cthulhu Prayer Breakfasts Robert M. Price, and by author Richard L Tierny. (Do read Drums of Chaos, for the best depiction of Jesus as Wilbur Whateley ever…). In my opinion Tyson manages nothing so interesting. He will spend the next books developing this theme, to, I’m sorry to say, little effect.
However I did enjoy the atmosphere and imagination of this book. Tyson does have a feel for Lovecraft, and for the nasty end of sorcery. I found myself experiencing several real chills through his images and ideas. For this and for its clear difference from any other Necronomicon pastiche, I give this volume pretty high marks.
• Alhazred: Author of the Necronomicon
This book is an expansion of elements of the narrative in the Necronomicon. Unlike that book, which pretends to be Lovecraft’s famous book, this is plainly a novel. As far as I can tell it is material that Tyson found himself inspired to write having completed his first book in the series. In general there’s simply too much of it, and not enough plot. There are various attempts at ‘wonder stories’ and horror vignettes, but it just doesn’t succeed half as well as the first book, which is half as long.
• The Necronomicon Tarot

Tyson is a learned occultist, and while he has never written extensively on the tarot, he certainly knows his way around. In this deck he applies recent tarot motifs to the Mythos, with mixed results.
The kit is pretty nice. Sturdy box that holds the items well, deck, book and weird-ish veil bag. As usual, Llewellyn’s art and production standards are high.
However I wasn’t satisfied by the art itself. It’s certainly well-executed, with full-color paintings for each card.
In general I think the art has a rushed feel to it, with less detail than one might hope for. The frames and backs of the cards have some nice, detailed work – too bad they didn’t give the artist time for the same in the images themselves. As it is, the art in general isn’t as good as a good Mythos card-game card. In fact I was most reminded of the illustrations in a role-playing manual, which disappointed me. A Mythos tarot is a chance to show the Lovecraftian figures in a hieratic, occulty mode, and that’s lost entirely here.
As you might expect, I agree with some of Tyson’s attributions of the mythos figures to the trumps, and disagree with others. In order to get 22 images, Tyson draws on the quasi-Egyptian-Babylonian setting of his Necronomicon, and specific new monsters/gods from those books. So we find Bast and Amun, and the Beast of Babylon. Some trumps become chances for some pretty cool Mythos illos – such as the Lovers as a marriage between a Deep One and his human bride, or Strength as a battle between a flying crinoid Elder Thing and a rebellious shoggoth. Others simply fail to achieve any hint of Lovecraftian cosmic scariness, like Azathoth as a fat lumpy flute-player for the Fool. Some images are incomprehensible without the context of the earlier book, such as the ‘Well of the Seraph’ for the Hanged Man. Of course some exposition is provided in the hefty book that comes in the set.

Allow me to just be annoyed at Cthulhu as ‘the Devil’, and that without even a nod to the form of the original card. The Dreaming One could have looked cool squatting like Baphomet, one arm up, one down, with a deep one and a human chained at his feet. But no…

The suit cards are arranged to tell a Mythos type tale as they proceed. Wands are a tale of ill-fated Atlantean commerce with the Deep Ones. Cups are an Egyptian tale of love and the gods. Swords tell a Middle-Eastern tale of violence and plotting, and Disks display sorcerers and magicians in a tale of necromancy (along with Tyson’s version of the Elder Sign). These are all moderately successful, and produce images that mostly support the traditional interpretations of the cards.

All in all this is a nice piece of occult Lovecraftiana. As a tarot deck, I think it’s too off-kilter to be of much use for divination, and just wouldn’t do meditations or other occult work with these symbols. Like the whole series apart from the first book, I think it fails to be either spooky or disturbing enough to capture Lovecraft’s essence, but Mythos fans will enjoy some of it.

• The Grimoire of the NecronomiconThe series began with two plainly fictional treatments. The tarot then crosses between fictional work and traditional occultism. Here Tyson undertakes a book of formal ritual based on Mythos tropes.

We talked about the Mythos as Gnosticism, and here we see it fully employed. The introduction proclaims, in the voice of Tyson’s Mythos cultist, “…the great work of the Old Ones (is) the cleansing of this world that will alone restore her purity, and allow her elevation back to her former high estate, from which she fell into this pit, where she is ceaselessly defiled by life.” This is, to me, just the sort of scary-weird idea that informs some kinds of world spirituality. In the hands of some systems, like the aghoris of India, it gets pretty spooky indeed. Unfortunately Tyson then runs, it seems, up against Llewellyn’s editorial policies. He simply can’t recommend the eating of hallucinogenic spiders or the use of corpses in worship and magic in a Llewellyn practical book, and is forced to fall back into much more prosaic symbols.

Like several occultists before him, Tyson attempts to fit the Great Old Ones (affectionately called the GOO) into the pattern of the seven classical planets. This is how he arranges it:
Azathoth: Sun
Nyarlathotep: Mercury
Yig: Saturn
Shub-Nigurath: Venus
Cthulhu: Mars
Dagon (and Hydra): Moon
Yog-Sothoth: This should leave Jupiter for ol’ Yog, but the text mentions Caput and Cauda Draconis, along with the sun, again. However in the later rites given for the days of the week Yog-Sothoth is worked on Thursday, so that’s clearly what the author meant.

One of Tyson’s nicer innovations is the notion of the Twelve Idiot Gods who dance around Azathoth who, in his madness, has become the demiurge. These he attributes to the zodiacal signs, providing names and sigils allowing them to be summoned for practical magical work.

In fact sigils and arcane glyphs are provided for all the GOO and other beings. For these Tyson uses the glyph system that he teaches in his book “Familiar Spirits”. Each English letter is represented by a simple geometric form, and the letters of the spirit’s name are then arranged to create glyphs and sigils. This all works pretty well, although the very straight-line art used in the text robs the glyphs of any sense of creepiness.

Tyson makes an effort to make the ritual system seem unique. The temple is a seven-station circle, with each planet and GOO arranges with a ‘standing stone’ and its ritual symbol. The oddest part are seven metal ‘keys’ – simple geometric shapes made of iron or brass that are struck on the stones to produce invocatory tones. The book goes so far as to propose the form and structure of a magical “Order of the Old Ones” no doubt in an attempt to capture some of the ‘strange cults’ element of the Mythos.

The actual ritual work, after plenty of build-up, is pretty slight. There is a seven-day round of rites to invoke and offer to the GOO. There is also rather an odd section giving advice for working with each of the Old Ones. Amusingly, Tyson claims to provide the Long Chant, the invocation to open the Gates of Yog-Sothoth which was sought by Wilbur Whateley in “The Dunwich Horror”. He has constructed an Enochian incantation with content based on his Gnostic ideas that might be sufficiently spooky given a nicely established atmosphere.

The Grimoire of the Necronomicon just doesn’t have the requisite atmosphere to be very interesting in a Cthulhu Mythos context. I can only hope that the spiritual ideas in it don’t get traction among occultists, since I find the ‘darkly shining world’ to be much more holy and interesting than some imagined pleroma. If these books ever get a re-edit, it would be cool to see the first volume bound together with this one, creating a Necronomicon that covers all the Lovecraftian bases.

• The Gates of the Necronomicon: A Workbook of MagicIn the process of doing all this Lovecraftian writing, we must assume that Tyson read a lot of HPL, and a lot about HPL. In this volume he dumps his files, providing lists and descriptions of Mythos gods and monsters, human characters, earthly places and fictional/mythic locales. Each category gets a pretty detailed treatment, and Tyson has plainly both read extensively and thought geekishly deeply about each one. All of this is set into a vague ritual and symbolic format of thirteen gates into an unnamed and suggestive Arabian city. Each gate is provided with a stellar correspondence, sigils and key symbols, but they only seem to open up into this cyclopedia of Cthulhu Mythos lore.

In my opinion this book has zero value to those working on a Mythos occultism. Fans of the mythos may find Tyson’s insights and descriptions useful, but the job has been done better, in my opinion, by Dan Harms.

So that’s the list. Does any of this amount to a serious contribution to occultism or Mythos literature? Maybe. The first volume is really a nice attempt to capture a certain atmosphere, but later books have a knock-off feel to them. The good news is that Tyson hasn’t stopped writing good pop occultism as well as doing useful occult scholarship .
Personally, I hope he gets HPL out of his system, and produces more of the sort of evocative occult horror of his Liber Lilith.

As a final preachment, I’d encourage even the geekiest fanboy occultist (and it doesn’t get much geekier than me…) not to waste their time with Cthulhu occultism. First of all, Chaos Magic doctrines aside, fiction is simply not the same thing as myth, and the two cannot be effectively interchanged, except for the most short-term and shallow goals. Secondly, while occultists can try their best to make something mystical and Gnostic out of HPL’s ideas (and they are his ideas, fictions invented by one man’s (or at most a few people’s) imagination) the system was never made coherent by lovecraft or his imitators. In fact there was a general agreement that it shouldn't be made coherent, but rather left indeterminate and vague. Thus, efforts to make it clear enough to actually do magic with are generally doomed to fail at capturing the Lovecraftian atmosphere. I suggest finding a real Mythos, and leaving Cthulhu and his lot in the land of entertainment, along with Tolkein's elves.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Paid Clergy

I found this article on Rob's Magick Blog to be interesting. I have generally always rejected the idea that "A witch (mage, etc) is born, not made." Magical power may derive in some measure from innate talent, but it is much more immediately based on practice and developed skill.
One thing I found odd was the assertion that folks who advocate for paid professional priesthood in Paganism rely on the 'magic is innate' argument. Having never once heard an advocate for paid clergy use it, I was puzzled. Read the original post and my primary reply at the above link.

You will also see Rob's reply to my post. Rather than fill up his comments box, I thought I'd get a little mileage out of it here, and post my reply to his reply. Rob's snipped comment is in bold italic:

I’ve seen the idea of innate ability get thrown around a lot in regards to paid clergy. After all, what other criteria could we use to figure out who should get to be paid clergy.

Well, as I said, training, qualification and skill are the criteria I support for who might work as full-time clergy. While talent (or ‘innate ability’) is useful for developing those things, it isn’t the only requirement, or even the primary one. Commitment, focus and devotion to the work count for much more and, of course, we would want the most committed and devoted folks to become paid priest/esses.

I’d wager that most people who are involved with the magical community would love to leave their jobs and get paid to focus on their spirituality full time, even if it does mean helping out the community. I’d also wager that most people who enter a system, be it Paganism or Ceremonial Magic or anything else, expect that if they stay with it they will eventually be in a position of leadership, either running a group, founding a group, involved with the leadership of a group, or teaching their own students.
I think it’s naïve to say that most magical students expect to become leaders. The need to be willing to rebel against common spiritual paradigms in order to even take up magic may mean that a higher percentage of magicians would be interested in that, but my experience is that many – maybe most – practitioners would never willingly take up the task of being a congregational leader and teacher. Note the percentage of solitaries in every magical system - the assumption is not that students will become leaders.

I’d also wager most people would also (wish they could) leave their jobs to be a full-time musician or portrait painter or whatever art-form they practice. The fact is, most practitioners of magic or of arts will not have the temperament to do it.
Even that wager may well be a stretch. There are lots – lots – of people for whom standing before a group of 100 people and performing (whether on the fiddle or as a ritual leader) is about as attractive as an amputation. As a public performer and a public priest, I find lots of folks who plainly say that they are glad someone else is willing to do it, because they wouldn’t even if they could.

You also have to remember that most people enter Pagan religions to explore their spiritual growth and for personal empowerment. A paid clergy system allows for the clergy to explore their spiritual growth and be empowered, but it doesn’t provide this for everyone else. In fact it takes it away from them.
I don’t see why that’s so. The task of full-time Pagan clergy would be to teach and support their membership in how to establish and operate their personal spiritual practice, as well as providing powerful and moving group worship and spiritual experience.
In ADF (where we are working toward full-time clergy) we encourage each and every member to take up the work at home. We teach meditation, home ritual, study and experimentation. In addition we encourage members to come together for group worship and other practice. We are training clergy to be skilled in supporting students as they develop their personal practice, and to have the skills to create and manage good group ritual. All of that serves to educate and empower members, rather than the opposite.

There is nothing I’d like to see more than hundreds of thousands of powerful and capable magicians. And I think that anyone eager to grow spiritually should not only be allowed to do so, but encouraged to do so by both giving them good information and forcing them to take care of their spiritual problems themselves instead of doing it for them.
Yes, that’s what paid Pagan clergy should do. There’s no reason why they wouldn’t.
Now, whether it’s really wiser to ‘force them to take care of problems themselves’ is debatable. Lots can be learned by watching a skilled practitioner take care of a problem the first time or two. Would you encourage folks to work out their own electrical wiring problems rather than call a skilled practitioner?

But most importantly with paid clergy, no one wants to pay for it. There are very few people who believe that paid Pagan clergy would add anything to the community that would be worth a livable wage.
In other magical religions pro clergy are common. In the African Traditional ways some clergy are full-time, some part-time. Most all charge for their services on a fee-for-service basis, and many of the upper ranks live as priests on the proceeds of their ‘house’. In those cases their students are learning magic, moving through the ‘grades’ of training, and generally being as empowered as they wish to be.
Pagan folks have an aversion to putting our money for their religious work, based on a confused ideological perception of corruption in institutionalized churches. My own hope is that Paganism will grow institutions that transcend their founders, and to do that requires financial resources. I agree that it is on those who seek that to provide services to devise ‘products’ that folks will pay for. That’s a matter of desiring to do so, and having the skill to do so. Give us a few more years.

That’s why paid clergy is such an uphill battle. If they were providing an invaluable service to the community, people would gladly pay for it.
Again, that’s rather a naïve assumption. People don’t gladly pay for their music and movies – in fact they’ll gladly steal them.

In fact the clergy could charge for it. But they don’t.
And they don’t primarily because of an ideological attitude among Pagans, *not* because the effort and skill they bring to the work has no value.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Back At It

Okey Doke, fellow weirdos, the retrograde has ended and I am actually writing again. I have done rather a lot of staring and, well, staring at the work to be done over the last weeks, but now I have actually finished the ritual content for the Eighth Moon of the system, as well as finally (I do believe) and effectively reorganizing the outline Ninth Moon is begun, and soonish done.
You can expect to see stuff coming up here much more regularly, as I finish the several essays I have cooking. I won't be posting much detail from the final two months of rites from the Nine Moons, but there will be plenty of other stuff.

Thanks for your patience, and here's a tid-bit:

The Charm of the Worlds

In the work of trance and contemplation that I call the Nineteen Working, the student is led through a series of visualizations meant to progressively create the Pagan cosmos model in and around the meditating Druid. Inside that vision the Druid then expands awareness and experiences a glimpse (or more) of a sense of oneness with all manifest existence.
This practice has several goals. First it opens and harmonizes the individual mind, providing a sense of scale concerning the individual and the cosmos. Second it allows the human magician to experience a bit of the awareness with which the Gods see the worlds – the non-local oceanic experience of existence. In practical work with spirits, my opinion is that being able to produce this state, and drawing the spirits into it, creates a sense of awe and authority for the magician. When the magician can produce in herself the sort of Unity that defines the awareness of the Gods, she gains status and power among the spirits.
If you have been working the Nineteen Working regularly, you will be growing more and more adept at producing this expanded awareness. As with most spiritual practices, that which has been learned in a ‘long form’ can then be worked in a shorter form, in which the entire work is recapitulated in a convenient, focused exercise.
The target state could be described in a trance such that below. I don’t know whether I’d recite the description aloud – it’s rather redundant with the charm. I prefer to simply establish the state through memory and trance, and then affirm/confirm it with the charm. Here’s the set:

I am seated in the Center of Worlds, and my Da Fein is enshrined in my heart. I am like the World Tree, with my roots in the Underworld and my branches in the Heavens. The Waters and the Light flow through me and shine in me. Around me are arrayed the Three Realms – Land, Sea and Sky, and these, and the heavens and the deeps, and even my own Da Fein are all made of the Nine Elements, the flesh of the Mother of All. Into this all-pattern, I extend my awareness. As I am aware of my face, I am aware of the lights of the sky. As I am aware of my flesh and bone, of the beating of my blood, I am aware of the stone and soil and sea. As I am aware of my breath, I am aware of the wind. My mind stops paying attention to my little shape of flesh, as my spirit opens into the greater Worlds of which I am merely a small part. As my awareness expands, my attention leaves my body, and I say:

The Worlds are in me, and I am in the Worlds
The Spirit in me is the Spirit in the worlds.
I am One with the World Tree, in the Sacred Center.
With the Two Powers in me
With the Three Realms surrounding me,
And the Cauldron of Wonder within me.
I reach into the Four Airts in wisdom and magic, strength and life
And my substance is the very substance of the worlds,
Nine things in one, and one thing in many.
The Worlds are in me, and I am in the Worlds
The Spirit in me is the Spirit in the worlds.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Altars and Shrines. A New Start

Jason Miller has been blogging about his ongoing process with his home shrines and altars. Now Jason’s a diligent practitioner, including to doing teaching and magic-for hire, so he does need some gear and some space. However his recent post is about his choice to pare down his permanent home-shrines in favor of doing as-needed work. I must suspect it’s all about real life, Jason’s new twins (wit and strength to them) being a major influence on his choice.

I suppose it’s all about phase of life. Me, I’m eagerly awaiting the departure of our adult daughter from the house. She’s been a fine room-mate but I do covet a corner where I can establish a larger working shrine, and pull a chair into open space to practice. We’ve gotten by with out nice bedroom shrine for the last couple years. In fact we’ve done some pretty cool work there, including ADF’s clergy practice. If we needed more work-top space, a handy tray-table could be purified and worked.

I want more space for specific small God and Spirit shrines, and a way to sit comfortably, not on a bed, before the shrine. I think I’ll take a corner of the room, and run shelves up the walls, with a big surface at the bottom. This should lead to improved opportunity for trancework and theurgy, as will having the place to ourselves. All stage of life… if there’s any advantage to getting older, it should be more access to resources and more freedom to use one’s time and effort as one pleases.

Keep an eye out for pics of the new library/temple as it shapes up this winter. Also, expect at least another post even later today. Damned if I’ll have a month with just one or two posts ; )

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Catching Up on Meditation Instruction

Ya know, I've rewritten instructions for a basic course in meditation, mental discipline and trance so many times, but I seem to have missed a basic element that I actually use personally all the time. Students complain regularly about the effort of 'silent' meditation, focusing on no particular thing but just letting the mind flow and become calm. Many such students can benefit from this form, in which a specific focus is chosen. The focus can have actual idea content to 'meditate on' during the work.
I know some teachers hold that only one sort of method - the silent sort - is 'really' meditation. That's all too doctrinal for me, and contemplation meditation of this sort may be a fine way for students to get used to sitting silently doing only mental activity.
In any case, this is catch-up, and will end up in the new month 1 of the Nine Moons. I *am* getting back to work... expect more stuff soon...

Contemplation Meditation
In Contemplation Meditation you choose a specific pattern or symbol as the focus of your attention. In many cases the symbol – such as the Hallows, or the image of a God – may be physically present. It is also common to contemplate a mental construct image. You visualize, imagine or conceive the symbol in your mind, and observe it as if it were in front of you.
In this exercise the goal is similar to Open Meditation. You intend to keep the symbol always the entire focus of your attention. You may find your mind ‘thinking about’ the symbol – your task is to return attention directly to the object of Contemplation, without attachment to the flow of consideration about it. In this way we hope to allow the reality of the symbol to enter our awareness directly, and deeply. There is always time to think about these matters – meditation is a time set aside for other mental goals.
The technique of Contemplation is core to most of the higher-end of ritual and magical trance. As you work your way through ritual the ability to address each action with a whole and focused mind, to experience each thing for its unique power, is key to effective results. You learn to be in the presence of the Gods themselves, while maintaining the Peace and Power of your own Center.

Three Primary Contemplations
1: The Two Powers.
You will develop the ability to easily bring the Two into your awareness, and you can then use their flow and circulation as the object of Contemplation. Set the circulation to turning in yourself, and allow your breath to keep the flow as you turn the focus of your attention to the feel and experience of the Two. Without attached consideration, allow yourself to observe the flow and shine, at peace. Each time you find yourself following a ‘train of thought’, simply return your attention to the continuing flow of the Two. Finish with balance and a blessing.
2: The Hallows. In this you will meditate with open eyes, focusing your attention on your fully operative Hallows of ritual. You will sit before your shrine or ritual arrangement, with the Fire lit, the Well blessed and the tree and all cleansed with Fire and Water. You allow your gaze to fall on the whole pattern of your ritual tools and symbols, experiencing their form and meaning without attachment to any flow of thought. Finish with balance and a blessing.
3: Nature Contemplation. This practice is described in the Dedicant’s work, but it should certainly be part of your regular practice. Find a place where you can observe a bit of nature, preferably with no visible thing obviously made by humans. You might choose a specific great tree, or a stream or other water, or any natural spot, but it is good to practice this also in more ordinary natural settings. You find a seat and with your Peace and Power on you allow the reality of the place to be the object of your contemplation, without attachment to idea or emotion, to beauty or ill. Finish with balance and a blessing.

The Practice
The Shrine is set with an object for contemplation – a symbolic card or image, a deity, flame, or the Three Hallows themselves. This technique can be applied to music as well, though music may be more inductive to reverie than to concentration. Contemplation can also be fixed on a phrase or an envisioned image, but to begin it is best to contemplate a material object.
1: Basic Trance: The Blood, Breath and Bone Exercise
• Stand or be seated firmly, spine erect, arms able to relax.
• Take three Complete Breaths and continue to breathe.
• Become aware of your body, where you are supported on the ground by your firm bones. Be aware of your bones, holding you upright as you feel your flesh relax.
• Continue to breathe fully, and focus attention on the sound of the breath. Concentrate inward, listening only to the sound of your breath.
• Turn your attention inward, and hear and feel the beating of blood in your veins. Feel the subtle pulse, as your breath flows and your bones uphold you.
• Continue this pattern as you open your eyes. Allow yourself to remain relaxed, focusing only on your Blood, Breath and Bone.
• Recite this charm:
Bone uphold me
Breath inspire me
Blood sustain me
In this holy work.

• Return to silent breathing and listening within.

From this state there are two basic kinds of meditation with which to begin your work. Ritual actions can also be performed, while maintaining Basic Trance state. In this case we continue to:

2: Meditation
• Continue your basic trance, settling peacefully into blood, breath and bone.
• Open your eyes, and bring your gaze gently upon the object of your contemplation.
• Allow your gaze to focus on the object of contemplation, and only on that object, concentrating your attention to that single object or symbol. Just as in Open Meditation you focused on your breath, allowing all thought to flow by ungrasped, so in Contemplation Meditation you focus your attention on a powerful symbol, and allow only considerations and perceptions of that symbol to fill your mind.
• First always return to the material form of the object, its real presence. From there you may carefully open to ideas concerning the object. This will inevitably lead to associated thought. Whenever that happens, simply return your awareness to the visible (or audible) form of the object.
• The goal is to extend the periods in which your awareness is wholly occupied by a single object, especially one with spiritual or symbolic meaning.
• When the time is sufficient, close your eyes and return to basic trance, then close.

3: Closing
• Always end the session of meditation formally, with the recitation of a closing charm and/or other formal gesture.
The blessings of the Holy Ones be on me and mine
My blessings on all beings, with peace on thee and thine
The Fire, the Well, the Sacred Tree
Flow and Flame and Grow in me
Thus do I remember the work of the Wise.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Monism and Monotheism

I don’t feel like talking a lot about this, but I want to respond to RO in the comments. This also addresses the notion of ‘basic framework' he talks about in another post. I may actually try to do one - it would surely be instructive
• Monism is the notion that, at root, all things are One. This is most fully expounded in the Vedic notion of the Brahman – the all-mind that contains and reconciles all things in itself. Let me quote myself, from my ‘Toward a Pagan Mysticism’ monograph:

The idea that at the deepest level all things are united in a single thing/process/existence is a recurring presence in what we know of ancient spiritual philosophy. The Vedic Brahman, the Hellenic Anima Mundi, Norse Wyrd and Orlog all point to the idea of a ‘soul of all’ or ‘mind-material of all’ or ‘underlying unity’ that is within, and shared by, all things. If nature is One Nature, then in the same way the divine might be One Divine (though not One Person…). Monism is more prominent in the eastern systems, but occurs in various forms in western Pagan experience as well. … Monism has, in a few sects, sometimes rejected more folkloric polytheism, and many Pagans are skeptical of its value in our contexts, but it remains a menu-item in the list of IE models of mystical experience.

• Monotheism is the notion that only one being can truly be called ‘divine’, that one consciousness is the owner-operator of reality. This is always a specific being with likes, dislikes desires and intentions. There are only a few examples of monotheism in the religious world, almost all Abrahamic. Some sorts of Saivite Vedanta may come close, though they have too much of the brahman to imagine Shiva as caring about ‘what happens’…
• Monism does not hold that the all-mind is any specific person. It cannot love rather than hate, cannot be just rather than unjust, or express any other moral or conditional quality above another. Especially it cannot have a Providential Will that manages the cosmos.
• Monotheism denies the deity of ‘lesser’ spirits, positing a difference of kind between ‘God’ and the ranks of other spirits. Polytheism tends to see only a difference of degree between Gods, Dead and other Wights – Homer referred even to the gods as daemons.
• Monism holds that all manifest things are expressions of or constituent parts of the One. Thus ‘the divine’ can be multiple and also participate in the One, without making that One, itself, a god.
• I’ll admit that I don’t really know what a ‘monad’ is. Neoplatonism is really too late for my theological focus, and renaissance hermetic theology is right out at this point. (I tend to center around Homer and Parmenides, since we don’t have any Pagan Gaelic theology to read.) I assume there was/is a First Cause, but consider that far in the cosmic past, and not in any way equivalent to an owner-operator. I don’t find infinite regress unlikely – “it’s turtles all the way down…”

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Tale of the Blind Men

Monotheism is like tying together a python, a bear and an ostrich in a room, then telling three blind men that there’s only one animal there. They will feel about in perplexity, each devising some imagined chimera, and begin to argue between them about whose perceptions might be right. Thus in monotheism the effort to imagine a single god who contains justice and mercy, love and wrath, cunning and honesty, who manages the whirling cosmos and knocks the sparrow off its branch is as unlikely and confused as some hairy, feathery, serpentine beast.
The divine is multiple, and it cannot be understood if the perceiver insists otherwise.