Friday, March 23, 2012

Magic for the Revolution

Merry Mayday, Comrade!
(Early, but I've always wanted to make this art...)
When I was sixteen, I was an occult lunatic. I mean, I could pass, having the trickster’s skill of putting on an acceptable face almost anywhere I went. I didn’t make it easy on myself. It was 1972 and I was bell-bottomed, military-coated and long-haired, without my first mustache. But I could drink in working-guy bars, fit in with steel-town leftists and the rich kids on the east side, and mostly avoid the police. It was a great time to be kite-high, with a head full of Crowley, Michelet and Huson, wandering the streets and parks of one’s home-town under the moon.

That era also saw the high point of the organized American left. The organizing efforts of the Civil rights movement and the anti-war movement produced a sense of conflict in the country that I still think was greater than anything we see today. As a kid, I faced possible… probable… futures that included nuclear kill-downs of society and/or a government crackdown of which the shootings at Kent State were the paradigmatic event. I considered it entirely likely that there could be a shooting war between the government and the American left. But, I was a kid.
Still, I had a head full of visions, inspired not only by the plant and molecular allies we were learning to use, but also by half-assed rising on the planes, and amateur Vassago-summonings, as well as bootstrap season-based Paganism. Of course ‘Silent Spring’ had launched the environmental preservation movement in the US some years before, and that joined Crowley, Leary, Hoffman (Abby, not Albert) in shaping my ideas.

So I envisioned a world in which magic returned. Judging from the fashions in fantasy literature I’m sure I wasn’t alone, and it seems clich├ęd now. In those days I imagined a spell to make the grass defeat the cement, to crack the hard surfaces of the 20th century with a return to green. I saw the city fountains pour out the Mist of the Between, inspired by foggy city nights long before I knew of Celtic story. I saw the badge of the lawman replaced by the five-pointed star of the mage, and the streets lined with planetary temples.

The tale of the Yippie effort to exorcise the demons from the Pentagon, a giant circle of freaks chanting “Out, Demons, Out”, galvanized my imagination and I considered a book I would call “Magick for the Revolution” (everyone used the k then). It would have court-case magic focused on legislation, spirit-callings to enchant local parks, orgy-spells to disrupt church picnics, and of course good advice on using what we call entheogens as more than party-favors.

Thing is, I’m not really the messianic type. The years proceeded, neither the world nor the nation ended, and in fact I made my way into a comfortable corner of things and built a Pagan and magical life to live in. At this point I’d be annoyed by a revolution, though I have more resources than before. In youth one expects to speak the word and walk unharmed through the fire. At my stage I stand firm behind walls I trust.
But there’s more than one way to skin a world-view. What didn’t happen by strife has happened to some degree by sheer cultural weight. We now live in a world where multiple religions and spiritual paths advertise in almost every city, where every schoolkid with an internet connection can read Crowley, where the adherence to both orthodox religion and to social conformity is steadily declining. Environmental awareness is now normative, even if we’re still fighting the corporate money-eaters. As someone who has worked to create settings for the magical and Pagan worldviews to grow and be expressed, and done my bit to contribute content to that work, I feel as if a groundwork has been laid.

In fact, I have never seen a better chance for a revolution of spirit among American white people. Listen, I can’t speak for those whose cultural heritage varies widely from my own, but I know that in the culture where I dwell there is, more than ever before, a willingness to be open to the spirits, to hear the Inner Voices again, to light the fires and do the dances and set aside the rules of both religious custom and materialist rationalism.

I still want in on that. Really, my work has always been about re-enchantment (a pale term, really). Why did our generation like Lovecraft? I think because one of his big themes is “Let the Old Ones Through”. Lovecraftian paranoia aside it has always been the return of the Old Gods that I have sought. As we have begun to succeed in that effort, I find that it is equally important to seek the return of those that the Celts call the Not-Gods – the spirits of the Dead, of the daemons and war-band and feast-hall-servants of the Gods, who so often interact with mortals.

One of the greatest revolutions that Pagan magic could accomplish for western culture would be the return of a living relationship with the spirits. We can help ourselves to realize the living truth of the land, and thus to value and respect it. We can learn that not just the wellbeing of our climate and food-stream but of our spirits and minds depends on the wholeness of the world. We can learn to remember our Ancestors, and make a peace with the Dead that has been missing from our culture for hundreds of years.

I’m going to be a little more conscious about that mission. Don’t worry, I’ll be putting the soapbox away. But I’m working on a cycle of rites intended to be worked by a mage who wants to call the attention of the spirits back to a particular place, to weaken the walls that separate the culture’s normal awareness from the spirits. Maybe I’ll write a little charm… “How to Haunt a House…” Good for generating business for the new cunning trade… Did I say that out loud?…
Here’s a draft of the intro to that grammary. It’s rather like the Rant from the Bell-Charm, but more complete:

This is the call to the Ancient Ones. Return to us, in our time and our ways. The Fire is lit, the cup is full. Draw near again to mortals; give us your blessing, and we will give to you due offering.

This is the Calling of the Old Ones, the Reclaiming of the land. From time out of mind we dwelt with the Spirits, in a land filled with story, dancing among our ancestor’s bones. We grew in strength and wisdom, and the Gods and Spirits were our partners and our proud chiefs.

In time there came new kings, and those kings brought new ways. Priests in black robes swept upon our holy places, with soldiers of foreign rulers. They blasphemed the holy places, put out the sacred fires and cut down the ancient trees. With their book and their bell they pronounced an imprecation, and bid the wights of the worlds to flee.

The shadow of their temples fell where once the Sacred Fire had burned, and in time the true names of the spirits were forgotten. Perhaps many fled to wilder places, away from the places of mortals who no longer sang their praises. Many simply withdrew, deeper behind veils of appearance.
As centuries ticked by, what was first done by black-robed priests was done again by white-coated proclaimers of Truth. “Matter is all”, they bleated, and invented a war between good and evil, calling them science and superstition. Every child was taught their doctrine, every adult was set to making wealth for their masters. Where first hearts had been closed to the spirits, now the very Inner Senses of mortalkind were made weak and dim by the recitation of strings of numbers, and the flash and clatter of machines.

Now is the time for these errors to be put to an end.

A new day has dawned, and no longer must every person bow to some supreme creed. No king or priest may force our duty, and once again the Fire is being lit, and offerings made to the spirits. Neither any God nor the disdain of scientism stands in the way.
So let the voices of poets and magicians call for the spirits to return! Let us give a plain invitation, and a pretty welcome, and call the spirits to return! Let us knock at the door, and ring a new bell, and call the spirits to return!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Bell of Return - Against the Work of St. Patrick

So, I'm in a mood. I ran across the descriptions of early medieval priests 'exorcising' the groves and glens in northern Europe, and it pissed me off. Let their bans be broken, sez I, and their works be set aside.

1: A Rant
Once the black-robed conjurors
Brought bell and candle into every glen
And by their book, with prayers and imprecations,
They drove away the spirits from the folk.

By righteous hatred and by foolish fear
They cast their shadow over town and field
The spirits drew away, behind the Mist
And left their mortal kin to dwell alone.

In our time we have lit the Fire again
We say that those old bans are done and gone
We ring a new bell now, across the land
And call the ancient blessings to return

Now come to us, you mighty spirits old
Of our loved Dead, and spirits of the Land
Rise and return, this Bell I sound for you
To welcome you again among your folk!

2: The Charm
To work this charm, take a good bell or chime to a place of power or memory, where you feel the call of the spirits. This might be a deserted glen or a city park, or even a public monument to the Dead if you have the courage. Take also a simple offering, such as a bottle of good ale or wine to spill, or a piece of silver or crystal to be given.

If it is possible to work the charm at a hallowed place, where the Fire is properly lit, that is best, but it can be done wherever it might be helpful, to weaken the bans of the black-robes, and bring back the Old Ways.

Let fire be lit at the ancient well
Let offerings be burned
I call with the voice of this new bell
Let the Holy Ones return!
Rise you spirits from tombs and from memories. We the living honor the Dead!
Come all you tribes of the Land’s Folk. We offer peace to the Noble Ones!
Rise like serpents from the deep, from soil or under stone, and from living water.
Descend like a flight of birds, from wind and cloud and the shining lights of heaven.
Come you from green and from blossom, from pool and root and bone come forth.
Come back, Oh come back, into the ken of mortals. Dwell with us and among us.
Return, Oh return, to the hearth and the forest. Let us make the Old Bargain.
Come, Oh come, to the call of the folk, as we honor you as is your due.
By nine knells of the bell I break the ban, and call you to return!

I call you from dream. (knell)
From beneath (knell)
From beyond (knell)
I call you by the Fire (knell)
I call you by the Well (knell)
I call you by the Pillar of the World (knell)
Come, oh ancient and shining Gods (knell)
Come, oh mighty and beloved Ancestors (knell)
Come, oh noble hosts of the Spirits of the Land (knell)

By this offering we call to you to return. The bans are broken, the way is open, the folk remember the spirits. Accept this offering, and return! (knell, and give the offering)

3: A Song
Rise, rise, up from the deep
Ancient Powers come to me
Wake, wake, no more to sleep
Come among the living!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Nine Moons Isn't Enough (and other updates)

So, it has been most of a year since I released the alpha version of my training program in Druidic magic and occultism, as the Book of Nine Moons. (It's still available here, though I keep threatening to withdraw it...) My impression from my first year’s work-through of the Nine Moons system is that it is presented in a too-much too-fast way. I’ve watched students, including myself, make it through several months of the work and then stall, often to take the work up again, sometimes not. This matches closely my major concern about the formatting of the program when I put it together, and suggests a new direction for reworking.

I’ve said it before – Americans like having several colors of belt between white and black. Presenting complex material in easy-to-digest steps is just how-you-do-it in this day and age. Thus, I b’lieve I’ll give that route a try.

Here’s how this happened; I wanted to put the system I’d been building into a single outline. It would be a full-strength training program in magic, fully centered in a polytheistic, animistic world-view, with plenty of Gaelic Pagan emphasis. I wanted to create a system as complete and focused as what we used to undertake for our ‘degree’ work in an old-style Wiccan coven. So I put together rites and works I’d been developing, lifted a little from previous publications, wrote almost everything fresh and put it together in a series of weekly lessons covering nine months. After much dithering I published the entire system as the Book of Nine Moons.

I opened a group for students and provided recorded audio support for the first 5 or so months. Results were as described above. Several students have actually finished through the main empowerment rite of the system, and some more might do it. All those I’ve spoken with have reported improvements in their practice and work. The fact is that the intense nine month ‘retreat’ that is presented is still only the basic training for operative sorcery or mystical rites.

The system aims for several goals at once. The first is to deepen and solidify the student’s practice of our sacrifice-based, Fire-and-Well ritual form, develop the consecrated tool-set, and be familiar with solitary ritual work. Basic meditation, trance and energy work are taught, and a basic familiarity with a set of cultural divination symbols or letters is begun. By the end of the first three months students are consecrating a talisman and learning to step out into vision.

The second three months is the formal prep for works of power. In the vision-work the student builds the Inner Grove, and takes first steps into Otherworld locales. This is one of the more labor-intensive bits, requiring three-phase trance-works, etc. I’ll be working on that outline and presentation. Two personal tools of power are consecrated, used freely in the Druid’s hands rather than nailed into the shrine’s world-order, if you will. This phase includes rites of offering to the Not-Gods, beginning the process of calling them near for the alliance works ahead. The three months ends with the first formal practical-magic rite, the student now fully armed and rooted.

In the final three months the central work is the making of formal alliances with allies among the Ancestors and the Sidhe. Certain mystical threads from earlier months are brought together as the central meditation-pattern of the system is completed. Practical magic rites are worked for prosperity, health, and wisdom. Relationships with the newly-made allies are deepened, experimenting with trance-scrying and other methods. Finally all is brought together in a Convocation rite intended to establish the magician’s presence and authority.

So, that’s rather a lot. Where’s my monastery? Oh… yeah, I’m fresh out of dedicated nine-month periods of retreat in a nice forest enclosure, and so are most modern students. So it’s time to rework the material, to present in a more attractive and effective way.

I think that dividing the work into three courses makes sense. That will allow each one to be manageable in a few months, even with less-than-weekly workings. Most important, I think, I will disconnect the lessons from any sense of timetable, or urgency. It simply makes sense to allow folks to work the various exercises and rites at their own pace, while providing a relatively firm outline and order of proceeding. That last is important, I think – one thing that seems to have been valuable is the clear path and obvious next step provided. I think that I need to build more flexibility and breathing-room into the pattern.

So what I think will happen is that I’ll divide the program into three stages. I’m sorry – three is just too Druid-y a number, and the nine months of the existing program divide nicely that way.

The first part will be the basics of beginning a Celtic sorcery practice. Since it won’t be constrained by the desire to teach a whole religious practice I can skip dealing with seasonal rites and the like, and teach the basics of fire sacrifice and mental training. The course will complement but not replace ADF’s Dedicant Program, with a greater emphasis on preparation for practical magic.

The second part feels the most difficult to make into a free-standing program. In the outline the central three months are about key works of personal power and opening up to the spirits. I may have to add some detail to keep it from being plot-less and anticlimactic, like a bad second book of a trilogy.

The third part is the money, and will be able to come across in a pretty straightforward grimoire fashion. Again, there will be some fleshing out.
Now, how to frame and dress the three stages… Watch this space.

Other Stuff:
• I'm going to be doing the Court of Brigid working at the Eight Winds festival in Cali at the end of June. Once that is done, and some more personal efforts with several of the spirits are complete I may issue some sort of publication on it.
• I'm still writing the novel. I'll try to isolate an excerpt soon.
• I've updated by Cafe Press Store with new items, including some talismans and ritual items. Look for more there, and look for some unique items to come from a collaboration with the folks at The Magical Druid.
• Spring is early on the lakeshore this year. I hope that means that L and I will be beginning a round of work intended to draw nearer to the wights and rulers of this patch of land we hold. This should lead to some more new material in the Druidic spirit-arte dept. Spring Equinox directly, Beltaine before ya know it... time for another burst of occult work before festival season kicks in...

Friday, March 9, 2012

Celtic Sorcery Computer Art

This triskelion is made by placing three sigils made on Fionn's Window from the Irish word 'bendacht', meaning 'blessing'. I noticed the basic shape of the curling arm of the sigil, and it did indeedy-do work as well as it looked like it might. I may even work it up into a Celtic Sorcery T-shirt. I have thought since I began making them that the curvilinear sigils from Fionn's Window had a La Tene look to them. It really worked here, in my opinion.

I'm heading back to make some new art to support a project that you'll hear more about in the next weeks. Here's a simple thing, the point of which is really the Blessing sign at the bottom. I'm doing more preparing talismanic designs based on the sigil-set I've been working with. Here we once again have the Bendacht sigil as the centerpiece, along with signs for Sun and Soil, matching the content of the simple Day Blessing from my Hearth Customs.

Friday, March 2, 2012

More on Recontructionism and Its Limitations.

Rescued from Facebook, and preserved here...

On the problems of reconstruction: What is it I want to reconstruct? I want to reconstruct a North American polytheistic, nature-centered, esotericism-friendly religion that uses the mythic tropes and forms of the late pre-Christian Irish. (and the occultism to go with it, by-the-by.)

In order to do that I think I have two main tasks. First I must do my best to understand those tropes and forms. I'll probably never be able to verify whether I have understood them correctly, but I can continue to refine my understanding through study.

Second I must enliven those mythic forms through modern practice. In order to do that I must choose what sorts of practices to use with them. The actual record provides nothing more than bits and scraps of Celtic spiritual practice - their rituals, invocations, forms of meditation or trance. To fill in those blanks I tend to use later folklore, the spiritual practice forms of nearby literate cultures like the Greeks and Romans and those of further-away but culturally-related systems, such as Hinduism.

In the course of doing that for the last 25 years, and of helping a couple dozen groups do it as well, I've decided that the real point is to bring modern people into direct contact with the Gods and Spirits. *That's* how reconstruction will actually be accomplished. By working the rites, calling their names, making their idols, offering of our wealth and talent modern people will draw near the Gods, and bring the Gods near to us.

My understanding of how polytheism works suggests that the Gods we come to work with will not be precisely the same beings that the ancients knew. In working polytheism when a deity reveals itself in a new place it usually displays a mix of traditional characteristics and new ones. Thus 'Diana' of Ephesus is only vaguely related to Athenian Artemis, or to her Roman counterparts. Zeus is 'Zeus *of* somewhere, Dodona, etc.

So my work is to make the images and call the names of the old gods, often just ritual titles, like Dagda or Morrigan or even Brigid. (My own opinion is that we remember those names because they were poetic titles for god-types, that travelling poets could use in many tribes and be understood.) As those gods answer I learn about how they will appear, what offerings they seek and how they can best aid their worshippers. From that we will grow our new religions, reconstructed from bits and bobs, like a beast regrown from bone-splinters.

My guess is that in 100 years we'll have new religions with spirits that share characteristics with those from the past, but exist in ways proper for modern North Americans. We might have Kemetic and Hellenic and Gaelic sects doing frozen ethnic things, but I'm far from sure of that. I think these ethnic platforms are mostly just jumping-off points so that we can get rolling on the business of bringing the Old Gods into New Times.