Saturday, June 4, 2016

A Throne for the Dead

The Elder Nemeton
The Hallows of the new Nemeton
At Tredara, the sixteen-acre patch of land that L. and I keep, here in NE Ohio, we have long been working to build remarkable and inspiring worship and magic spaces. L. began with a small worship circle in the forest for her Wiccan coven, many years ago, but even that small space was ringed in small stone and equipped with ringed firepit and wooden altar. Stone Creed Grove built a Nemeton working space in the back corner in the mid-90s, which served us for many years. In recent times we have begun to outgrow it, and we were making plans to bring a more major event to the place. 

Three years ago L. and I had the opportunity to double our acreage, and the new patch offered plenty of new space. We almost immediately chose a meadow in which to build a larger ritual space, and that new temple has been in use for over a year at this time, following some adventures. Firmly established, a year or so ago we turned our attention to new projects, and the item that occurred to us first was a Mound built for the Mighty Dead.

I won’t do a survey of Euro-Pagan burial mound customs here, but the heaping up of stone and earth over the graves of the honored dead has a long and widespread history. However confused Neopagan amateur scholarship may be about the relationship

Norse burial mounds
between megalithic passage-graves, Celtic and Germanic tumuli, kurgans, etc, the image of the Mound looms large (uh, note my title, coined a decade before this project…). Myself, Liafal and our departed Kinsman AJ committed to the project and began feeling our way around the property for where such a thing might be located. While I had an inclination to put it in the immediate grounds of the nemeton we determined that the central crossroad of the property, in the SE corner, would suit best. We removed a few ‘fire bushes’ and left many in place, building the mound between them to keep a sense of the original space.
Germano-Celtic burial Mounds

Skallagrim's Mound, Iceland
At the first important ADF nemeton, at the Brushwood Folklore Center, building and improvements were usually done at the Wellspring Gathering. Wellspring is the annual festival sponsored by Stone Creed Grove, which has been the location of the ADF annual meeting for many years. Building sacred spaces together has been a powerful source of group memory and identity over the years, and so we chose to do the primary build of the Mound at Wellspring 2016.

Offerings to the Dead began to be made on this spot pretty early in our ownership. We made a series of offerings over the months and weeks prior to the build. My general permissions and reception by the spirits of the new piece of land allowed me to proceed with confidence, and the outcome, thus far, vindicates my choice not to do immediate divination concerning the spot. We did take an omen at the consecration, as I’ll tell below.
gravel and dirt - I like them well.

Mechanically I found myself pressed by the scheduling of the Wellspring event to plan to build the Mound in a single day. Being the grateful owner of a modern tractor, I was confident of completing the work in the required time. To support that effort I prepped the materials like a sous chef with mounds of cracked stone, sand, and topsoil, arranged in a row.

To obtain enough boulders to feel well-supplied for the design was not inexpensive. To support the effort I ran an internet t-shirt fundraising campaign. I must thank the many who purchased shirts for the benefit of the effort, which specifically allowed us to reach the stretch-goal of a full ring of good rock around the Mound.

I must mention, as well, that the very weeks of that campaign saw the sudden death of AJ Gooch. I’ll be posting my eulogy for my kinsman and friend soon, but here I’ll say that he was the third man here at Tredara after L. and I, and his loss was a brick to the head of our local community. It did, however, help to inspire giving to our fundraising, our friend’s strength carrying us even in death. The timing of his passing meant that it would be his own ashes, in part, that anchored the spiritual construction of the Mound.

In addition, ADF has been entrusted with a modest gift of the ashes of our Founder, Isaac Bonewits. A nearly-homeopathic amount of that ash was given to us in a tiny reliquary, and was added to the burial. For this we thank Isaac’s spirit and his family, and remind all that the families of Gooch and Bonewits will always be welcome to make offering at this place.

The Initial Offering
The base and anchor of the giant talismanic project was the burial of an initial grave-offering beneath the center of the Mound. For this, AJ had asked Grove member Brian Wilmott to apply his professional skills to the construction of a ‘casket’ to contain the initial offerings. Brian is a master-carpenter, proven by his production of a cabinet-class, perfectly joined coffin of classic style. Substantial at 48”x20”x16”, the side-panels of the coffin were decorated with Underworld art produced by Ian Corrigan, and laser-burned (text-crisp) into the wooden panels by Michael Dangler and The Magical Druid of Columbus, OH. Fitted with a well-made lid and ( ! ) upholstered ( ! ) by members of the Grove the casket made, itself, a remarkable object - a wonder of craftsmanship on its arrival at the event on Thursday. To know that this art would be given in sacrifice forever to the land was… poignant.
The tiny relic of Isaac Bonewits
The coffin full of offerings, Friday AM

The four primary panels of the casket.

The plan was to consecrate the coffin at the Thursday evening Opening rite, allow it to “lie in state” overnight in the community area while folk made offerings into it, and then inter it on Fri morning. So we did, with several key offerings being given that evening. I can say with certainty that we gave: a drinking-set of pitcher and various memoried cups; worked platters and vessels of service; 12-year-old scotch whisky, various ale, the Underworld Gate token made by Rev. Raven Mann of honored memory, an ADF priest who has passed on. Also: a sealed casket of AJ’s personal hallows and power-objects, with personal family gifts and a skull-vase of his ashes; many personal gifts of rings, cups, cigars, talismans and small crafted marvels were added. By morning the coffin which I had feared over-large was full nearly to not-rattling with gifts.

This whole process was a combination of the serious and ceremonious with folkish and community revelry. The full Druid-Temple opening rite and blessing led to the coffin being pall-borne down the forest trail to the party, where we spent the evening drinking and admiring the memory of our beloved Dead as well as the skill of the craftsmen. The grief around our kinsman AJ was still rather raw for many, and the knowledge that this work of art was a one-night-only show made everything rather like a wake.

Morning At the Graveside
The Mound was sited at the ‘upper crossroad’ of the place, where four roads meet. The land-crew had cleared a small number of bushes (leaving more), filled holes, and dug the grave at the center of the circular area. We scheduled the graveside assembly for an abstemious 8:30 AM Friday morning, and missed it by most of an hour, but it got us going on the day. The weather was scheduled to be summer sun and 85F temperatures by mid-day, so we meant to get to shoveling.
Morning graveside prayers

The graveside rite was mainly improvised. I spoke about the work, and we lit a fire in the bottom of the grave, because we feel funny without Fire, and to confuse future archaeologists. We recited the Death Song and sang “Breaths”. The offerings were topped off with cut flowers and incense, and a shroud given from SCG’s ritual gear was tucked over all. Brian once again proved his skill by driving nine soft worked-iron nails into his sound, oaken lid with a round-ended ritual hammer to seal the coffin.

Building the Mound
The Fire was extinguished and the sealed coffin-offering was placed in the House of Clay. The shovels came out and we filled the grave by hand. With sufficient earth over the grave we began using the tractor to bring several of the larger boulders to pile over the grave, along with a couple of scoops of cracked stone.

The plan was to build a central offering shaft by propping three chimney bricks up on this pile of stone. Around this center we built the initial ring of boulders, carried by the tractor and arranged on the ground by hand. The cracked stone was then used to begin the filling, and a long morning of heaping up earth began. The pace rather required steady tractor work, but many folks pitched in with hand-tools to spread and level the scoops of sand and soil as they arrived. Names deserving of mention include Brian Wilmott (the craftsman), Mike Zurilla (who was our triple-blessed land-crew boss for the weekend), Tom and Debra from Arkansas, Oona and folks from Stone Creed Grove, and, really, too many to be sure to remember them all.
The covered grave, and the chimney-brick
that makes the shaft.

There are categories of work that are simple but not easy. The work of heaping up 4.5 feet of mound, bringing the earth roughly to the lip of the shaft-bricks was a trudge, though the thaumaturgical aid of Tantor the Robot Elephant did the work of ten mortals. The weather was premature summer at May’s end, and we sweated like two horses each as we completed the primary fill. We had discussed a stair to allow access to the top of the Mound, and Brian found three flat-sided boulders to install, making a steep but usable stile up the eastern side. The bit of brick showing at the top was decorated with small stones, as we declared a primary end.

There was one more key business, and that was the installation of the stone monument, carved for us by Sidney Bolam of BohemianHobbit Studio, who generously delivered the work to us, and accepted no fee. We stared at the work for a while, and finally chose a spot at the top of the stairs.

This project is a modern work, and some might call it a ‘folly’ in the older style. But I’ll say this about its authenticity – it is rooted and crowned with the craft of the craftsman, the inspiration of the artist. From the Vanished Offering deep beneath to the Skulls of Honor on top, its whole shaping was done by community, for community, with song and fire and beer and sweat and diesel. Inspiration is in it, and love, and will, so I’ll stack it’s beginning in spiritual power against any in the world.

The Stomping-In
Once the primary heaping-up was done, we invited people to climb up barefoot and stomp their way around the top. The mix of sand and topsoil was fairly firm, and a flat top evolved quickly. A steady progression of the folk, circle-dancing women, etc helped to conform the fill to future uses. My goal had been to have enough flat surface on the fourteen-foot diameter to provide seats for a small group, or a bed for one or two; this was achieved.

Women finished with a dance
I am told that there was a spiritual ‘breaking in’ as well. A roving band of Druid priests and fellow-travelers made improvised rite on the mound, and trancework led to results of which I suspect more will be heard. The new construction seemed to amount to a spiritual attractive nuisance, but nobody broke their head.

As mentioned the weather was lovely, if tropical-hot. Finally on Saturday afternoon the heat and humidity broke into a rolling thunderstorm, the mightiest of the season so far, with winds high enough to send folks scurrying, and rain in tubs. Despite the inevitable difficulties we were pleased to see the sandy Mound hold its shape and drain the water well. So we felt as if the construction had been well stomped-in by the time we reached the final Rite of Consecration on Saturday afternoon.

The Consecration
The final rite of the sequence was a modified Order of Ritual rite, done in full sun on Saturday afternoon, following the storm. We contemplated postponing the work, for fear of the flooding, but in fact the land drained very nicely and a little treatment with straw made it quite usable. WE assembled at more-or-less the appointed time.

I had planned the construction of the Mound in rather a lot of detail. We were winging the consecration. The weather conditions were high in my priorities – I wanted to avoid sun and heat injury. I devised a little trick, and instructed the company to attend with a towel or veil or cloth that could be draped over the head and face. The ‘veil’ would be drawn over the face for the vision portion, and could be used to protect the head and neck throughout the rite.

ADF has not developed a rubric that separates Underworld offerings from our common sacrifices. Among the Hellenes that split was fairly severe, though matters are less clear to the North. For this rite we decided to focus honor on multicultural Kings and Queens of the Dead. At the core level this meant Hades (Aidoneos, we learned), Pluto, Persephone, Velnius etc. As the Gatekeeper we offered to Hermes Cthonios, Manannan, and Arawn. We chose not to receive a drink blessing, but rather to give all to the Deep, and seek blessing in a vision.

We opened with a simplified outline, and a short Sacred Center affirmation. Three priests made the invocations of the Gatekeeper(s). The Landwights were honored especially as the beings whose bodies made up the Mound – kins of stone and soil. The Underworld Gods were invoked by a round-robin of priests and chiefs, and given precious crystal as an offering. That brought us to the core of the work.

The central offering to the Dead was worked in three parts. First we heard words of memory about the three ADF Honored Dead who are given special memory in the Mound – Raven Mann, AJ Gooch and our Founder, Isaac Bonewits. We then heard the Invocation of the Dead. Brian’s wife, Ygrainne, is a skilled Pagan priestess who has recently become a part of our Grove’s work. I had asked her to expand the simple prayer which I had written for the casket-panels into a longer invocation, which included the specific language for blessing the Mound itself. Finally we gave a gallon of milk, a bottle of whiskey, apples, bread, and honey into the new offering shaft at the top-center of the Mound.

Here is the full text of the Invocation to the Dead:

So we will remember the dead.
O, heart of the underworld, forebears,
Dwelling beneath the sacred land
To impart your watchful wisdom & guide our journeys.

Let us remember the Fathers & the Mothers; from our own cradles back into time.
Those in whose promise & potential we abide
As heirs of their gifts, given freely in love & hope.

Let us remember those we knew in love, of blood & heart.
Those with whom we shared life's simple joys,
Whose passing tore us asunder,
And yet now impart to us peace, 
in the knowledge that all must pass.

And those we know as heroes, as inspirations & as way-showers.
Whose lives, lived in virtue & valor, remain a beacon,
Despite their passage o'er the threshold
Into the realms of the mighty.

Let us remember the ancient wise & ask them for their good teaching.
Open our eyes for signs & portents of their pointing of the way,
And grant us the courage to make good of the wisdom they share.

Mighty & beloved dead, we make this gift to you of art & reverence.
With open heart, with all honor, with the keen power of our memory, 
And the will to continue the work.
Bless this place, we ask,
Where we will give you due offering.
So will we remember the dead. 

For an omen we drew three Ogham lots. The first was Nion, meaning “letters” and given to the ash tree; communication, tradition and the Warrior’s Shield. (This letter had appeared in the blessing of the casket, so it provides a frame.) Muin was the second, meaning “Esteem” and given to the vine; connection and clever effort. The third lot was Gort, “Garden”, given to the ivy; fertility, the soil, and bounty.

I took this as a good omen then, and agree now. The spirits offer us communication and support through the Mound, they offer teaching and gain in honor, and they offer the bounty of the very land in which graves are dug. May we gain the good of these blessings, over the years.

The Blessing confirmed, we called for a vision. Pulling the veils over our faces we opened our hearts to the spirits for a sun-shortened length of time. Sometimes truth comes like a cliché; I am grateful for the loving embrace of my kinsman that was the central point of my own short vision.

I felt the rite was concise yet detailed, and produced a proper atmosphere, even in the mid-day sun. It capped a work well-done by a community working together, and produced a modest monument.

Going Onward
Now we have this Mound – this Sidhe, this Seat or Throne made for the Dead. The next step is to devise both local cult and occasional extraordinary use for it. I’ll be writing about both as we go. I anticipate using the mound for regular offerings, and for regular divination and communion with the Dead. I plan its use as a place for a High Seat for Seidhr work, and a basis for utiseta type outdoor spirit-rites. Located in the center of our patch it should provide silence and darkness for many kinds of chthonic experiments.

As we said several times over the course of the work, it is the oath of Liafal and I that this Mound, as all of the Tredara sacred complex, will be accessible for worship and inspiration as far into the future as we can provide. May we all be blessed in the work.
This lovely pic, and several others herein,
are thanks to Michael Dangler of "The Magical Druid" in Columbus Ohio,
and more from Francesca Hedrick. Thanks to all.


Yucca Glauca said...

Amazing work! It's great to see a post here about all the cool stuff you're up to again--they're always inspiring.

Gilberto Strapazon (Sw. Prabuddha) said...

What a nice work Ian.
I like the idea of the ", and to confuse future archaeologists".
I can think in the future someone digging like crazy around. ;)