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