Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Great Book

I am pleased to announce a special project, undertaken almost completely for my own amusement, but offered to you, readers, because, why not?

The Great Book (An Leabhar Mór) is an edited mega-grimoire of my rituals and teaching, prepared in an artful style and offered in two full-color hardback bindings. Six-hundred-and-sixteen pages of text and art combine material from Sacred Fire, Holy Well, The Book of Summoning, The Book of Vision and Draiocht with a measure of new material. The core rites and works of the Court of Brigid are also included, making this my most complete Druid Grimoire to date. While the bulk of the work is composed of ritual scripts and texts there are many chapters of teaching as well, from the basics of Irish polytheist symbolism to the secrets to gathering and using magical power.
Part 1: Seanchas – Lore & Symbols
Part 2 Iobairt – Basic Rites, and Sacrifices
Part 3: Imramma – Meditation and Trance
Part 4: Thogairm – Evocation and Spirit-Arte
Part 5: The Court of Brigid
Part 6: Draiochta – Works of Magic

With fifteen full-page illustrations and dozens of symbolic drawings, magical diagrams and sigils, the Great Book is a rich and inspiring trove of magic – a tome fit for a wizard’s oratory!

The book is offered in two cover designs (so far) - The Black Book and the Antique Tome. Both feature a synthetic pantacle of Druidic magic, surrounded by Ogam-sigils of power and magic.

This special edition will be offered only between Imbolc and Beltainne of 2013. Further editions or compilations may be possible, as the content grows and changes with my understanding, however this typeset and art will be retired at the Hinge of Summer. Purchasers are always welcome to have a copy signed at any of my public appearances.

The Black Book edition is available now.
The Antique Tome is also now available.

 An Apologia
Weelll… why wouldn’t I do this? 

Blog readers will know that I enjoy making books, and am totally hooked by the image of the Mage and his Book.   Read here and here for a little history of my mild mania with personal grimoires and spellbooks. I still have an agenda, which will include some sort of high(er)-quality publication, but in the meantime I’ll proceed as I may.

One of the fun things about staying alive and actually improving one’s access to resources is that one gets the chance to manifest a few things that previously existed only in one’s mind. I’ve been in that business for a long time, really, with things like Starwood, thanks to my luck in being associated with a wonderful gang of creative manifester types. (Is that a word… Uncle maniFester?) However it’s one thing to create scenes that blossom and vanish, and another to create artifacts.
Now, this is no Brahm’s book (nor does it cost like one) it’s just a color-printed case-wrap, but it is an artifact with some actual weight. (3.2 lbs according to the printer : ). I’ll just have to try to avoid stalking around the house with the book raised before me, muttering and the like. My wife will forgive me, at least for a while. I may have to get a podium.

Whether or not any of you lot want one, I have one now!! Bwahahaha… sorry…

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Winter Speaking

DDtRH and Pagan Fire
I’ll be speaking and teaching in two very different venues over the next weeks. 
Next Tues, 1/29 I’ll be appearing on Deeper Down the RabbitHole with Andrieh Vitimus and Jason Colwell. If you haven’t been listening to this excellent interview and discussion program on modern magic, try to find some time to catch up on past episodes that interest you.
I was on DDtRH last year, and I recall that it turned into a walk down Pagan-history lane, with only some discussion of actual magic. This time I hope to focus on my Pagan Spirit Arte material, and do some more detailed theory-and-practice discussion.
Then on March 2nd I will be down in the Columbus area, teaching at the Pagan Fire Seminar.
 This is the second year for a regional Grove event, and they are trying to build a strong, tight program in a one-day intensive. I’ll be doing two presentations, the first on Sacred Fire & Water & The Shrine of Magic, with a practicum on the use of the Two Powers energy-model. The second will discuss working with the Spirits inside a Pagan system, including classification of the spirits and how to work with allies once you’ve got ‘em. The practicum will teach the Threshold Vision entrancement, intended to open the inner vision to the spirits.
That evening I'll be facilitating a larger group exercise/ritual/working that will apply some of the day's skills and ideas.
I’ll post a spring/summer schedule soon. I’m still kind-of waiting for the next wave of inspiration, as to both writing and Magical work. There is a publishing surprise in the works, though, so watch this space ; ).

Friday, January 18, 2013

Ol’ Wassisname and Paganism

Bless their robotic little hearts, eblogger isn't letting me upload pics just now... Here's this anyway.

“You can’t worship Jesus Christ and be a Pagan.” So sayeth Sam Webster in his provocative new blog. Sam is proposing that we consciously take up the mission of restoring the worship of the many gods and spirits to the modern world. He feels, as do I, that a dose of polytheism, respect for the human spirit and celebration of embodied reverence would be good for the ol’ culture. He asserts that a part of that process will involve the growth and clarification of just what in the Three Worlds ‘Paganism’ actually is. That will involve making some yes-and-no choices, which will inevitably make some folks feel less identified with the results. (To me that is simply the eggs for the omelet.) It is in context of what Paganism is and is not that Sam made the above rather direct statement. 
Of course many folks objected to the assertion. Objectively, lots of pretty-obviously Pagan people occasionally worship Jesus. Jesus is a name to conjure by in various folk-magic, and some folks come out of a Christian upbringing with a fondness for the figure. The problem, of course, is the cultural and theological baggage that is part and parcel of the god Jesus.

I am skeptical that gods have a true nature separate from their cultural construction (humans either, really). I see no use in looking for a ‘historical’ Jesus separate from the figure in the Gospel tales – those tales are certainly the best source concerning his history. Gnosticism doesn’t appeal to me and my Pagan path has pretty much led me to discard the whole notion of ‘salvation’. At this point even ‘enlightenment’ seems like a spiritual option for certain sorts of specialists, not something that everyone needs. The world is a good enough place to just dwell in blessing for most folks.

Many people seem to think that there’s a huge difference between the ‘real’ Jesus and the figure worshipped by Christians. I disagree. I do reject the idea that jesus is a literary construct made in imitation of Pagan mystery cults. The evidence plainly indicates an existing historical figure. WE can agree, perhaps, that the gospel tales are mythologized, however let’s realize that the only materials we have to base a historical Jesus upon are the Gospels. The gnostic books show a slightly different figure, certainly a different set of doctrines, but they are universally admitted to be later and more derivative than the canonical books (Barring perhaps a couple of things, like Thomas and the unedifying Gospel of Peter). So if we are going to look at the historical Jesus we must look at the guy in the Bible. I think he looks like the sort of guy who would invent Christianity.
I’ve never been that impressed by the person Jesus seems to have been. First, let’s just discard the idea that he was a man with a special line to the divine. Of course in my polytheism there is no ‘God the Father’ in the biblical sense, and so no ‘son’ of that figure. I don’t really deal with the notion of prophets, instead preferring systems that teach each member how to have a line to the gods and spirits on our own.  So, I have nothing invested in the idea that Jesus had some special authority or voice. I must examine his words and works on their merit.
I agree with Morton Smith that Jesus was what has been called a ‘wonder-working rabbi’. Smith makes a good case for Jesus as a user of magical methods related to the PGM. The type wasn’t uncommon in the first-century century Roman world. A mage or mystic would arise, combining a body of doctrinal teaching with magical powers of healing and the mastery over demons. Those methods were among the most important healing modalities available in those days, and a new healer with successes would always draw a crowd. What seems clear, if the outline of the Gospel accounts is to be credited, is that Jesus was good at both the preaching and the healing. In any case the ability to do real healing remained central to the appeal of Christianity through the early centuries.
As a preacher the most common topic of Jesus’ discourse, by number of references, is to righteousness and punishment. More ‘verses’ of his words concern those topics than any other. To me it is plain that as a mystic Jesus expected the world of his day to end promptly, being rescued and remade by ‘God’ into the image of righteousness. I would guess that his preaching regularly contained admonitions to be prepared for end-times and judgment – to ‘get right with God’.
A great deal is made, sometimes, of Jesus ministry to the poor, and his willingness to ignore taboos and eat with the unclean. I’m sure the sense of righteous mission that would lead one to break taboos to spread one’s message is admirable, in a way. However I think it is clear that the reason Jesus went among the poor was to preach to them; again, not so different from his inheritors. He didn’t forgive sin without the admonition to ‘go and sin no more’. Jesus seems like the sort of guy who would do you a favor and then use your gratitude to tell you what to do.
He certainly was high-handed and insulting to those whose beliefs he disagreed with. He was a Pharisee of a sort, himself, doctrinally. However he plainly had issues with the temple priesthood, and was publically insulting to them. One suspects they were in turn unimpressed by the unregulated desert mystic.
On the good side, Jesus was a follower of the school of Rabbi HillelHillel, who died approx. 10bce, taught that compassion and reciprocity were more valuable than the letter of the Torah law, and encouraged the replacement of sacrifices with ritual prayers. Jesus’ teachings about forgiveness, the spirit of the law, and ‘agape’ love can all be found in Hillel before him. Jesus seems to have translated Hillel’s cautions about the spirit of the law into a disdain for the keepers of that law in his time, and combined it with a millennial (as we might say now) vision of the destruction and rectification of the world.
Now, what about the whole “Jesus-as-Tiferet” thingy? Many modern mystic freethinkers seem to find inspiration in the figure of Jesus as the ‘divine descended to mortality, then sacrificed for the sake of its own immortality’. When Christianity manages to focus on those mysteries I think it can approach the sublime. However there isn’t anything that unique or unusual in it. In many ways it simply reprises the core mystery of sacrifice and blessing that is the heart of Pagan ritual religion. We give, so that the spirits may give.
On a more history-of-Paganism level, I think that Hermetic Qabalah is of little value to modern Pagan theology. I know it is practically doctrinal in some sectors, but my own opinion is that GD Qabalah is a confusion of bad mythography, renaissance Neo-Platonism and Jungian reductionism. I am quite certain that it cannot assist in understanding and worshipping the gods and spirits of the Pagan Celts or Germans. I am almost as sure that it distorts and confuses understanding of Hellenic and Egyptian pantheons as well.
In the same way scholarship doesn’t take the Frazerian notion of the ‘Dead-and-Risen-Corn-King’ very seriously anymore. In general the scholarship upon which Crowley based his aeonic model has all been deflated and left behind with Margaret Murray. So there is really no more need in Paganism for the Salvific Son than there is for the Great Adversary. (That simplistic statement ignores all kinds of specific examples of gods who save this group or that from this enemy or that. Many gods are called ‘soter’ – savior – but I think you knew what I meant…) In any case the ‘center’ of most Euro-Pagan pantheons isn’t at all like the ideas contained in the HQ Tiferet.
For me it comes down to asking what point the Jesus-god would have in my pantheon? If I feel a need for unconditional love or compassion, I turn to the Mother of All, not to some prophet type. If I need magic power I appeal to the Lord of Wisdom; for healing to a healing god. Of course one can often get all those things from whichever of the gods and spirits one is in close relationship with.
I don’t usually feel a need for a ‘god of rescue’ – someone I can call upon if I’m in trouble. For immediate things that’s what my familiars are for, and I’ve asked various gods for various emergency aid over the years. I don’t have an eschatology in which I need the special favor of a particular god to get the best deal in the afterlife, so that doesn’t enter in. If I want an iniator and psychopomp, I know who to ask.
I know of some magicians who approach Jesus as a powerful ‘saint’ – an ancient spirit who will answer prayers and offerings with blessings. Certainly I might number him among the Wise Dead, in the way we Druids formulate such things. I’m far from certain he would enjoy sharing my Shrine with the Dead and the Goddesses. If he was a man of his time he seems to have been a righteous and observant Judean, within his understanding of the spirit of the law and his own authority. If we modern Pagans are to be careful to avoid putting the wrong two gods of the same pantheon together on a Shrine (Is it Oya and Yemaja?) it seems equally sensible to avoid placing deities from hostile systems together. Judaism was a system hostile to its neighbors’ polytheism (and actively proselytizing against it in the Roman empire) and Jesus was a player in that Judaism. So, as one of the Dead, he isn’t exactly a spiritual ancestor of mine.
Categorical statements of what Paganism is or is not are premature at this time. However, I see no use for Jesus in Paganism, and plenty of ways in which his presence makes no sense. I agree with Sam in the mission of creating institutional polytheism in modern society, and that will require some more concrete statements of identity. It’s fine with me to leave Jesus outside of them.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


A couple of posters have pointed out my unfortunate turn of rhetoric at the very end of this post. I referred to "the gods of ancient Europe" as a defining quality of 'Paganism', when I should have been more inclusive. I've changed the phrase to "the gods of the ancients", much more what I meant... Thanks for pointing that out!

I'm all for personal power and the ability to shape and guide one's own life. After all, that's why I'm a mage and not the sort of mystic who simply 'lets go and lets God'. However I rather think that my generation, and the children they have taught have made fetish of it in a way that is in danger of becoming an obstacle to sense and understanding.

When my first marriage was ending I once told my wife that I would do this or that. "But that will affect me thus-and-so," she complained, and asserted that she should have the right to veto my action so that she would not have the consequent ill feelings. Being past caring at that time, I refused her. Sez she "So, I don't have a right to control my life?" After a moment's thought I answered "Not the part of it that is me..."

The point here is that she thought she should have the right to control her life - even the parts of it caused by other people. Here we reach that fetish I was pointing out. Boomers and post-boomers have come to believe that individuals have a 'right' to 'control' almost everything about our lives. We expect social convention to give way, rules to be bent, and even for authority to come down to support us if we insist that things should be our way. Many Pagans seem to view the right of absolute self-determination as a kind of cosmic principle, often expressed as an imperative - "No one can tell you what is right for you, but you," etc.

Some Pagans are like this...
I find this ideology of sovereign individualism to be one of the primary hindrances to our development as a community. Students have the notion that they need not do as teachers teach, people reject the very idea of community leadership. People talk about not being a 'joiner' as if that spoke to good character rather than to personal foible. Myself, I see a distaste for groups and community as a disadvantage, maybe even a handicap.

Certainly the traditional mindset is based on community above individual. Iron age tribal life was socialist, with the Chief/King (i.e. the state) owning all property and assigning it to the tribe based on rank and merit. Personal definitions of self were based in social class, and on the individual status earned through deeds. One was what one was, and one did what one did. Modern society put an end to that. Every American child is taught "You can be whatever you want to be". I suspect that for many humans the simple prescription "You'll be an X like yer daddy" would be an easier leap into the world. Hell, I dunno what I wanna 'be' to this very day...

I started out by saying that I support personal freedom and empowerment, and I do. But one of the aspects of power is wisdom, and I think wisdom requires acknowledging that humans are social primates, adapted to living and working in groups. Our nature is to sort ourselves out into working, fighting and family bands. However our big brains give us a level of ability to think up alternatives and schemes that is mainly beyond other primates. We have the ability to leave the band (humans don't have 'herds' we have primate bands) and make up a life on our own. We also have the ability to expand the band conceptually beyond our immediate bio-survival group.

Various romantical authors have made the notion of the heroic individual adventurer central to their tales. Certainly the business of departing from home, leaving hearth and garth to seek the path is core to the western mystical vision. However it is hardly central to the daily blessings of health, wealth and wisdom that are the core work of a Pagan religion. Most of the Hobbits will stay at home and do just fine, thank-you. I don't think that the Pagan model of the world includes the notion of a time when everyone will be heroes. 
Some more like this...

So I think that modern radical individualism needs to be balanced with a good dose of the traditional virtues of loyalty, kinship and community. Certainly there are pitfalls in those big words, but we've lost a lot of value in our turn to cocooned mercantile self-sufficiency. That's why my left-wing politics fits well with my spirituality - it shames me that any member of my kin should go hungry and, on some level, my nation (and my planet) is my kin.

But, you can certainly ask by now, what is the point?
I don't think it's realistic to expect a 'right of self-definition'. Likewise, It is foolish to hope to not be 'labeled'.

Nouns are nouns, dude. If a noun describes you, you 'are' that. In many cases that noun will also describe people/things who share only that characteristic with you, maybe things you don't like or wouldn't care to be associated with. Too bad, that. You can ask people not to refer to you by that noun, I suppose, but you can't stop them (by either right or ability) from simply knowing that it describes you. We are defined primarily by others. If you don't want to be labeled as anything, don't look like anything.

Now, must we review the benefits and difficulties of lables? Benefit is mainly in concise and direct communication - broad sets of categories can be transmitted easily. The downside is in the same feature - the individual cannot control the contents of the assumptions attached to the label, and those assumptions will vary widely. In one part of town gay may contain "likely to be a prosperous customer", while very different ideas may attach elsewhere. So wearing a label openly will produce different results at different times. I understand how that leads some to try to avoid labels.

I think that wisdom must admit that we can, at most, influence our world, and not, in almost any case, control it. We can't control the name we grow up with, and various hilarity in the Pagan community is the result of our stumbling efforts to try. (I actually support the idea that kids should get to pick their own names at some point, assuming we can rule out Rainbow Medicine Turkey...). We have failed to control the content of the word witch, though it has at least been pulled in the right direction. Now we continue to bicker over the term Pagan.
Some even like this - all Pagans, though...

The cause of this rant is the continuing discussion around the label Pagan. I remain disappointed at those who want to create separate categories and discard the general one. I far prefer to contend for the content of the label. Some folks like 'polytheist', but I just don't find that a broad enough term. Really, polytheist describes a single doctrinal position, not a religious category. I find it most useful when attached to a cultural tag, like 'Gaelic polytheist' thus distinguishing my Celtic interest from various 19th century fun. But I find that the Eyes Glaze Over factor is very high when one's self-description involves even one hyphen. We're better off working to improve the attachments to a simple, large-group label than we are dividing into multi-hyphenate special cases.

So.To me, anyone who worships one or more of the gods of the ancients is a Pagan.(Along with various sets of gods of the moderns, I'm sure...) Tie-dyed or white-tied, circle-castin' or fire-lightin', tightened-up system or pants-seat improvisationalist, Evola conservative or California lefty; if you're a polytheist, you are described by the noun Pagan.

You don't have to like it, but there it is.