Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Brigid of the Mantles - Devotion to the Goddess.

Brigid is the chiefest god of our house, it is fair to say, without slighting in the least several others. For both L and I Brigid became a patron before we found our  way to Our Druidry. She has protected us and blessed us, we proclaim, at many turns of life.  Together we have developed and worked a series of more esoteric rites with the Goddess that have deepened and focused our personal work.

We've been feeling the juice here at the house. Locked down hard by winter, we've been feeling Brigid's shoulder-tap. We have ritual work planned for the immediate feast-weekend, including our big public offering in the park. For those it is customary for folks to bring an offering of song or poetry. I've been asking for new material, and this week has provided some.

This is a simple devotional song, set to a well-known irish aire with the well-suited name of 'Brigid O'Malley'.
This is just a scratch-track recorded at my desk, but I want to get it out there, and I neither write nor read music, I fear. I offer it to be sung in Her honor, and may we all have blessed season of purification, sustenance and renewal.

Brigid O’ the Mantles – Ian Corrigan 2014
(to ‘Brigid O’Malley’)

G                         Em                    C                                  
O Brigid of the Mantles, you make my heart easy
C                                         G           Em                     C       
With a wondrous admiration I come to your shrine.
C                            G            Em               C           
My heart in exaltation, I call to you sweetly
C                                       Em                  C                 G
That your healing and blessing, be on me and mine.

The Winter is passing, though ice is still clinging
To bough and to hillside, but your hearth is warm
With clan and with kindred we come to you singing
O Brigid of the Kindness to keep us from harm

The Fire of inspiration, that shines in the poet
Burns too in the forge and the Healer’s kind hand
The wondrous transformation, of loving and knowing
The gift of the Goddess in Sea, Sky and Land

O Brigid of the Mantles, you make my heart easy
With a wondrous admiration I come to your shrine.
My heart in exaltation, I call to you sweetly

That your healing and blessing, be on me and mine.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Buy In

                OK, I’m a hippie. Or I would have been, if I was just 6 or 7 years older. By the end of the Viet Nam war ‘Hippie’ had been declared dead and buried since 1967. Us high-school kids (I was 18 in 1973, 
the year the draft ended) of a certain long-haired, anti-establishment sort called ourselves ‘Freaks’. So, really, I was a freak, not a hippie.
The funeral for the death of 'Hippie',
Haight-Asgbury, October 1967
I’ve spent my biologically ‘adult’ life focused as firmly as life allows on art, music, organizing and spiritual practice. I’ve had to keep a job throughout, though I’ve opted for low-rent work that doesn’t bother me when I’m not doing it, so that I have mental space for my personal efforts. My serious lovers and life-partners have been partners in the art-and-magic as well. Certain character weaknesses may have kept me from being more artistically ‘successful’ in the common way, but I’ve produced a body of work that pleases me, and if I get another 20+ years I’ll surely produce more. I’ve done it without adopting the suit-and-tie hypnosis but while participating in a good deal of the world of adult social life – mortgages, management and the like. It has not crushed my spirit.
                There is an ongoing discussion about the value and meaning of institutional Paganism. Usually the
desire for property, physical worship spaces and ongoing local Pagan programming is contrasted with the freedom of spiritual renunciation and living in freedom. Some of the objection is simply concern that spiritual mission will get lost in the minutia of operations. There is also a more philosophical objection, in which an image of ‘witchcraft’ is offered that places the magic-user outside of society’s limits – a sort of combination of the Indian Sannyasins, Tantric sorcerers and western Satanic Witches.
                I dig that. Magic is juicy when it is part of Forbidden Knowledge, and there is personal power to be gained in stepping outside the safe zone and standing firm. Even in the ancient Pagan world the magician or sorceress was a figure at the edges of Hellenic society, though maybe not so much so in Vedic or Celtic lands. However the other end of traditional magic and ritual was worked right in the center of personal life; the rites of temples and home shrines, invoking the gods, offering to the Dead, divining and charming for small things, consulting professional spookers for spooky stuff – all normative, and all part of ‘religion’, as it was loosely understood.
                That’s the front-end of a magical culture which I am interested in helping to restore to the west. Despite life-long fantasies of conjuring the Green to crack the concrete fa├žade of the sleepers I find myself working to establish Pagan temples and public worship, and design ways in which occult skills can be brought into the lives of people with no particular time for or interest in learning them for themselves. My vision is of Pagan temples where the Fire of Magic burns, and modern people have access to vision, devotion and teaching.

                I haven’t given up on the other side of the work. Here’s the thing – antinomianism is only as powerful as the Law it pushes against. Where I live the general spiritual atmosphere is one of apathy. There is no serious devotion to Christian values in my local culture, in terms of sexuality, commerce or social duty. Tell modern kids that they can join an orgy-cult and they’re like, “Hmmm. Orgy cult… what am I doing Friday night?” When the sense of shock is gone, antinomianism is less fun.
                In fact, for a lot of modern hipsters commitment to growing an institution might be more psychologically revolutionary than individualist seeking. Many of us grew up with individualism, iconoclasm and skepticism as norms. Whether we learned them from our families or adopted them from elsewhere, many of us have long accomplished the work of cutting ourselves free of the values and expectations of mainstream culture to one degree or another. For us it may be more of a conscious effort to decide to devote ourselves to a group project whose goal isn’t focused on the self. To choose to identify with a group even if it isn’t as cool as we wish it could be, to commit to both sweaty material effort, financial participation and even ideological mutuality might seem like the worst sort of ethical compromise.
Doesn’t that make it valuable as antinomianism?
                It seems to me that establishing a main-street normalcy for the more simple end of occult practice will provide a cultural background within which wilder systems can grow. The renunciate often needs the temples to shelter her, both physically and ideologically. Public, family-picnic religion (sweet as it is) could be
contrasted with more private mystery rites that lead us away from common norms. Private teaching of occult arts could be sheltered within socially-protected shelters with cool ritual rooms and gardens. The possibility of antinomian and other radical self-targeted work could be greatly enhanced.
                Back in the day we used to worry that we would be tempted to ‘sell out’ – to trade our birthright of freedom and creativity for the bead-strings of suburban life as we saw it before us in the 70s and 80s. However, as time went by, some of us developed a bit of personal juice – some resources, financial or personal. We began to realize that we might be able to buy in to the larger society, while maintaining control of the transaction.
                Perhaps this is a metaphor for the way the magical understanding of the Pact with Spirits has changed. As a kid I learned that any ‘deal’ with dangerous spirits was a bad idea. Today many of us think that dangerous is often where the power is. When we make deals with ‘devils’ we hold firmly to our own sovereignty even as we bargain in good faith with powerful forces. It is just as reasonable to make a deal with the devil of modern society, to buy in and get one’s box-full of useful crap.
                This requires the magical skills of the shapeshifter, of the cloak of invisibility and the Essence of Look-Over-There. It involves just walking into Mordor, for many of us, as we pass through the gates of the corporate hell-worlds where so much treasure is stored. But the treasures we take away can be employed in the work of re-enchantment. It is rather satisfying to subvert traditional values using the very substance of the inhumane system.
                I’ll conclude with a pitch – even if you’re a wild, naked, animal-sacrificing, gender-indifferent woods-witch, it is valuable to support local Pagan organizing and help to build institutional Paganism. Apply your shape-shifting skills, assemble some resources and go help, or at least tell your local Pagan priestesses how you can be reached, in case someone needs a dose of the wild. If we are firm in our understandings of virtue and confident in our own power we can avoid being ‘polluted’ by our involvement with and proximity to mainstream culture. We can be beacons of the weird in the fog of common life, etc… but I’m not going there now.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Wiccan Ossuary – Reissuing the Portal Book

Happy New Year to all! I had a quiet Yuletide, somewhat laid-down by a two-round hit of stomach
and respiratory bugs. I’m back to various sorts of work, especially this project, and preparing the first of the expanded-lesson post-Nine-Moons training courses; more on all that directly.

Here at the start of year six of the old bloggo I find myself slowing down a bit on things to say. I will be journaling a new round of ritual work with Brigid and Dagda, finishing the Cthulhu Occultism series and working on more Wisdom Way posts. There are things brewing here in terms of organizing and building, and you’ll hear some of that. Internet chat will no doubt produce occasional topics to rant about, and then there’s the Novel…

I am grateful to my readers as always. A writer writes, and the blog is a spur to my effort. I hope to average 4 posts per month for my readers – I fell a bit short of that goal last year, but I’m after it again this year. On we go, into another year of conjuring a more enchanted world.

Opening Old Boxes
                I began my occult quest in maybe 1970, around the age of 15. For years it was books only, for me, and occasional ritual experiments with like-minded friends. In those efforts whenever I found a need to cobble together a group ritual I found myself turning to models drawn from the developing ‘witchcraft’ movement.
                One of the great successes of the early Pagan Witchcraft movement (i.e. Gardner’s covens and their imitators, and a variety of other variously-Pagan, magic-using, initiatory systems) was the crafting of a ritual form that could handily be used by one to four people with a minimum of gear. Early-70s manuals such as “Mastering Witchcraft” and “The Tree” provided simple but traditional instructions in consecrating Dagger, Wand and Cup, and a temple of magic could be ritually erected by one or more people in a relatively simple way. That made the Neopagan Witchcraft model (or ‘Wicca’ as it came to be known) the default for a huge percentage of late twentieth-century occultists.
                By 1977 or so I was practicing organized quasi-Wiccan Paganism, actively searching for a tradition in which to be initiated. I might have approached Gardnerianism but their conservatism, in the people I knew, made them a bad fit. In the meantime I developed personal and group rites based on the four-fold, elemental circle-casting and invocation of the gods of witchcraft understood as the Lady and the Lord.
                I became involved in the rise of the Pagan festival scene in the early 80s, and participated in the process by which the formal invocational methods of traditional Wicca were reframed for untrained mass audiences. However my own inclinations led me to initiation with a non-British line of initiatory witchcraft, in which a growing interest in Gaelic material mixed with a focus on Hermetic ritual magic. I completed my three traditional degrees, and undertook to create my own recension of the tradition, as was common in that lineage at that time. Let’s call that, oh… 1986.
                As was common in traditions that practice initiatory secrecy we established an ‘Outer Court’ in which interested students could attend rites with the flavor and symbolism of our system without being given access to the reserved material. We opened the ‘Sabbat’ mysteries to them, and worked a fairly rigorous monthly schedule of mystery and practical rites.
                In time I made an effort to systematize a book of material for those outer court students. There in the late 1980s desktop publishing was barely on the horizon, and so I undertook to hand-write and illustrate the roughly 70 pages of material. I had completed a fair copy of our coven Book of Shadows some years previously.
A handwritten, fair-copy page
from the original pulbication.
                I published “The Portal Book” in 1988, and taught a number of students using it.  It was well-received, and has sold several thousand copies in the years since. However the most recent printing is dwindling to its final copies, and it is time for a new edition.
                So I’m typing it up, from a former print copy (don’t ask, computers frequently suck). It’s archeology of my brain from 20 years ago, not to mention of my writing style.
                I spent the Eighties slowly getting something of a clue about traditional Gaelic polytheism and lore. I began reading Irish lore in my coven training, and worked my way through the sources available. I actually corresponded for a minute with Sean OTuathal, a founding mind behind Celtic Reconstructionism, who (it will be no surprise) set me straight onto the path of triplicity-not-quadriplicity, and other CR fundamentals. I became involved with Isaac Bonewits and the start-up of ADF, but didn’t leave my traditional work for that system until just as the Portal Book saw publication.
               This was, perhaps, three years before I would begin local ritual work with ADF, but my Celtic leanings are already well-represented. Triple-Cosmos material is mingled with traditional four-elements symbolism in ways that reflect my efforts to preserve traditional material in the face of my changing scholastic understanding. The content of this old work, as I re-examine it, holds up pretty well, except that I have abandoned several central opinions about the nature of the divine. I find myself reading my rationales for Neopagan Duotheism and ‘aspect’ theory as to the gods. The cult of our old system was a fairly usual five-fold pantheon of the period – Triple Goddess and Dual God. My descriptions of all of this are already colored by my growing understanding of Celtic lore – I hedge on Maiden, Mother and Crone while keeping the skeleton of the form. The Portal Book was an introduction to our system, and it makes an effort to gently move students from the most common Neopagan forms toward our more specific material. Much of the work consists of my instruction in basic shrine-work and meditation, as I understood it twenty years ago.
The cover of the 1996 typeset edition
                Likewise it is bemusing for me to read my efforts to construct a consistent Year Myth that contained some actual Gaelic motifs. To the extent that our Wicca was a Mystery Religion, it was in the turning cycle of the Sabbats, and the dance of birth, love, war and death between the gods and goddesses. This coherency is something I rather miss in my more recent focus on folkloric content of the seasonal feasts, though I’m afraid it is not something we can find in ancient ways. I note that, for this transitional book, I adopted the modern Neopagan names for the solar feast days (Litha, Mabon, etc). Embarrassing as that may be to my present scruples I’ll be retaining my 1988 usages as I prepare it again for print.
                One could let such a box of bones lie in the ground, but I still get occasional comments that suggest that it has been useful to folks doing Wiccan style work. Sometime later this year (sooner rather than later) I’ll be issuing a new edition of this old text. I should be able to rescan all the original art and clean it up – the original was assembled with scissors and rubber cement. The Portal Book has always been an artistic effort, and the new edition will be as pretty as I can make it.
                I have left Wiccan ritual and theological forms behind me in my personal path but I have nothing but gratitude and respect for the part that the initiatory Craft, and even popular Wicca, have played in our magical revival. Wiccan Paganism has gently nudged many people toward polytheism and self-empowerment. Let the seed be flung widely – that our restored Paganism will flourish where it may.
Update: The Portal Book is available here.