Archive for December 2013

Snowhenge   2 comments

It’s not really a henge at all, of course — just a large boulder we removed from our garden space a couple years ago and set along the north-south axis in our front lawn. A simple bed underneath it, a few other small rocks to steady it.  Grass grown back now.  Lichens finding the stony surface to their liking, adding their dull green patina to the stone.  But the word henge came to me as I looked out the front window at the solstice evening. So I’ll go with it.   The heavy band of cloud along the horizon behind the trees presages rain.  The mailbox — it seems out of place.  But let’s go with that, too, I say to myself.  Is this a message?

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Mystery is a landscape. OK, I think.  There’s always more to see. Even a finite object like a boulder presents a myriad of perspectives. By the time I’ve looked at even a small number of them, the boulder has subtly changed. The light on it has shifted, lichens on its surface beneath the snow cover are growing and dying, and a small, small portion of its substance has crumbled and fallen.

That’s part of it.  Hmm, I say to myself.  This second sentence, like the first, feels like a communication from outside myself.  Is this the start of another Druid dialog?  Don’t get hung up on the source, I chide myself, or you’ll miss what comes next.  You can worry about doubt and truth and origins later.

The snow’s gone blue in the twilight.  The bare trees — “an infinity of tragic shapes, to make thinking difficult,” as Charles Simic says in one of his short poems.  Lovely, or inaccurate, or a distraction, depending on your reaction.  But decidedly other — not my own primary experience, but the report of another person’s.

Landscape reveals itself when we walk through it.  Mystery at its fullest is participation, not just standing apart and analyzing.  Then it may be obscurity, or incomprehension.  Yes, I can read a scene like a Tarot card, but I can also move into it, inhabit it.  Which is a good way to work with Tarot, too.  Mystery needn’t be alien or unfriendly.  It can and often does reside in the utterly familiar — until all is changed and it steps forward, or we see it again.

Mystery’s not just a quality of experience, though, but a presence.  I get why the Lakota call it wakan tanka, “great mystery.”  Not “a god” or “gods” but “great mystery.”  It’s something specific, even as it remains mystery.  The merely obscure darkens.  Mystery, on the other hand, deepens.

Updated 24 December 2013

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Goddess at The Turn of the Year   3 comments

rgingrasfire[The following rite is freely adapted from Ceisiwr Serith‘s Deep Ancestors.*  In particular, the Proto-Indo-European (in bold) differs in conception from Serith’s reconstructions.  Serith knows both his PIE and his ritual; the changes here match my esthetics and inner sensibility, which I trust — for me.  Your mileage may differ.  I repeat the words I speak to close my own rites: Solwom wesutai syet!  [sohl-WOHM WEH-soo-tie syeht] May it be for the good of all!]

Gumete, gumete, gumete!
[GOO-meh-teh, GOO-meh-teh, GOO-meh-teh] 
Oh come, come, come!

Gumete gurtibos solwom deiwom.
[GOO-meh-teh goor-TEE-bohs sohl-WOHM day-WOHM]
Come to praise all the gods.

Usme keidont — klute tos.
[OOS-meh KAY-dohnt — KLOO-teh tohs]
They are calling you — hear them.

Gumete ognim,
[GOO-meh-teh OHG-neem]
Come to the fire,

gumete spondetekwe!
[GOO-meh-teh spohn-deh-TEH-kweh]
come and worship!

Tusyomes, tusyomes, tusyomes!
[toos-YOH-mehs, toos-YOH-mehs, toos-YOH-mehs!]
[Let us hush, hush, hush!]
May we all maintain a holy silence.

May we be pure
that we might cross through the sacred.
May we cross through the sacred
that we might attain the holy.
May we attain the holy
that we might be blessed in all things.

Goddess who burns on the hearth, in our homes,
we call you to join us here
bringing our prayers to the gods
forming the means by which we sacrifice.
May the holy arise in our midst, the pure and the blessing.

Shining Lady, unite us all,
for by worshiping at a common hearth
we are made one family, one people.
Asapotya**, Lady of the Hearth, your household is here.

stove12-13

Our soapstone stove, alight with Brigid’s blessing.

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A blessed solstice to all!

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*Serith, Ceisiwr.  Deep Ancestors.  Tucson, AZ: ADF Publishing, 2007.  Pp. 122-124.  Serith is a long-time and respected member of ADF who maintains the Nemos Ognios grove north of Boston.

**A possible reconstructed name of my own devising. The Proto-Indo-European (PIE) word *asa becomes (among other words) Latin ara “altar.”

The * indicates that the word is reconstructed — we have no written record of it — from actual words in one or more of the descendant or “daughter” languages. In general, the more extant “descendant” words deriving from a PIE “ancestor” word, the better the evidence for that particular PIE ancestor. Historical linguists have worked on PIE for over 200 years: we have a few thousand “restored” words that most agree on.  One advantage Indo-Europeanists have in making such reconstructions is the large number of documents in older  forms of languages like Greek, Sanskrit, Latin, Gothic, Avestan and Old Church Slavonic.

Image: fire on shore.  Be sure to visit Richard Gingras’ fabulous images of fires at the URL indicated for the image.

Servant of Isis   2 comments

oliviarobertsonThe passing last month of Olivia Durdin-Robertson, author, painter, and priestess of Isis, was remarkably non-reported in the American press.  The London Times (preview only) and Telegraph, and the Irish Times, however, all carried extensive obituaries.  Colorful and delightfully eccentric, and co-founder with her late brother Lawrence of the international Fellowship of Isis in 1976, Robertson inspired many in a rediscovery of the feminine divine.  Her writings, art, liturgies, rituals and personal example helped give a form to a widespread longing to experience the Goddess.

huntcastleRobertson was a member of the Irish landed gentry, and the family’s splendid Huntington Castle in County Carlow became under her influence a devotional center and extended series of shrines to the Goddess.

chartlabyI’m writing about Robertson not only because her life and work deserve to be known, but also for more personal reasons. As I’ve tried with varying success to record (Goddess and Human, Of Orders and Freedoms, Messing with Gods, Potest Dea-A Dream Vision), the Goddess is alive and on the move, even in my life.  I say “even” because many trends often seem to pop up, flourish and fade before I even discover their existence. And I can be remarkably obtuse even when spirit knocks on the door.

But the Goddess, through Her grace, is no mere trend. Will we look back at the present as another period of renewed veneration for Her, similar to the century or so of inspiration behind the construction of over 100 glorious Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals dedicated to the Virgin Mary in medieval Europe?  (The most famous is Chartres, which many know both for the cathedral and for its labyrinth.* The best website is in French, worth visiting for its images even if you don’t know the language.  On the horizontal menu, click on “La Cathedral” and then on “Panoramiques  360” — if you have sufficient bandwidth, the virtual tour is well worth your while.)

The most recent appearance of the Goddess (or a goddess — She/They may figure it all out someday) in my life is a series of meditation experiences this October over the span of a week.  Isis called to me.  The nature of the call wasn’t completely clear, and I also didn’t pay adequate attention.  Goddesses aren’t really my thing, I might say, in an arrogant ignorance I intermittently see the extent of.  As if the divine in any of its forms is something to dismiss as a matter of personal taste.  But I have two color images of Isis I printed from the web (though they’re in a jumble of a side devotional area I haven’t finished ordering and dedicating), and I am continuing to work with meditation and vision to see what comes of it. I pulled a couple of her books** off my shelves, too — evidence she is a presence whether I attend to her well or not.

I mention this because now it feels more significant, in retrospect, with Robertson’s passing.  Another reminder this life is finite, and that such opportunities, to the degree they manifest in time, do not wait forever, even if they may reoccur and reappear.

And if you can see from my admissions here how patient the divine can be with human slowness, indifference, ego, stubbornness and a few other choice weaknesses I’m probably missing at the moment, there’s really hope and encouragement for anyone at all.

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Images: Olivia Durdin-RobertsonHuntington Castle; labyrinth;

*A good starting point for learning more about labyrinths is the extensive site of the Labyrinth Society.

**M. Isidora Forrest’s excellent Isis Magic (Llewellyn, 2001, recently out in a second edition), and Rosemary Clarke’s The Sacred Magic of Ancient Egypt (Llewellyn, 1st ed., 2nd printing, 2008).

Ieth Gelteg — a Celtic Language?   Leave a comment

wflagI’m sitting here in nerd rapture with an interlibrary loan copy of Ranko Matasovic’s Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic.  There — I may just possibly have driven away 99% of my readership with a single sentence.

On the off-chance you’re still with me, let me explain.  In “Talking Old”  I tried to convey my delight in the sounds and shapes of our ancestral language — I say “our” because over half the planet speaks an Indo-European language, itself a pretty remarkable fact.  Proto-Celtic is a daughter of Indo-European and mother of the six modern Celtic tongues:  Manx, Breton, Cornish, Welsh, Irish, and Scottish Gaelic.  So Indo-European is our “grandmother tongue,” or maybe great-grandmother. Beyond the nerd appeal that only Celticists, conlangers and a few other assorted dweebish types can comprehend, Proto-Celtic is a window into Celtic history and culture, a fragment of our human past — and a potential source for a ritual-liturgical-magical language in the Celtic tradition.

nedmandrellThe Celtic languages today are struggling.  Manx has been brought back from the last edges of extinction — with the last native speaker of Manx, Ned Maddrell (image to the right) passing in 1974.   Take a look-listen at this short video of Manx children and a couple of teachers talking in and about the language.  Cornish died out about 200 years ago, but has been revived and has, depending on your source, a few thousand speakers, and along with the other Celtic languages, a cultural fire banked under it to keep it alive.  Scottish Gaelic is threatened but has speakers in the tens of thousands, and Welsh and Irish are also at risk, but have active communities of speakers.  Breton struggles against an official French-only policy, and retreats annually, as older speakers die, and younger people turn to French to get ahead.  If you’re interested, check out these links to some short clips of speech in these languages.*

prceltbrillThe Etymological Dictionary I’m currently drooling over, confirming everyone’s worst impressions and stereotypes of nerds, provides linguistic reconstructions of Proto-Celtic words — something like a museum restoring missing portions of an old painting or piece of furniture.  As the restoration proceeds, the face of one of your ancestors takes shape before your eyes, and you hear a whisper on the wind of a voice speaking a language gone for over a thousand years.  That’s the closest I can come to the sensation of reading and pronouncing slowly to myself the restored words.

But while you shake your head at one more poor fool taken in by cultural seances and linguistic necromancy, I’m wandering mist-covered hills and listening to ghosts reincarnate in dream, as long as I hold the book open.  I make my very own Samhain-on-the-spot, the veil between the worlds thins, and I converse with the dead, with the Otherworld, with the generations stored in my DNA and blood and bone.  Perhaps you could call it racism in the best sense of the word — a celebration of all who have gone before me and who, by living, have delivered me to this moment of my own life, as I write these words.  It doesn’t last, but it also endures forever.

As a linguist and conlanger it wouldn’t be hard for me to reconstruct a couple of different usable versions of  a Celtic language.  One version could be a somewhat simplified Proto-Celtic, another a sister tongue to Welsh, Breton and Cornish, ieth gelteg, a Celtic language.  Would it be “authentic”?  About as authentic as I am, descendant of so many bloodlines that like everyone else on the planet, I’m a mongrel.  Who would want to speak such a mongrel tongue?  That’s not my concern — I’d restore it for some of the same reasons a museum sets about a restoration: for what it can tell us about our past, and about ourselves as preservers of our past, and for its “thingliness,” its solidity and existence in our world.  These are potent magical reasons on their own.

Why not learn a living and threatened Celtic language instead?  Do something more practical!  I can hear the critics and naysayers.  Can’t you best connect with your supposed past through those alive today, speaking a descendant tongue just as you are a descendant person?  Well, I have.  I know a fair bit about the Celtic languages, as I do about some other endangered and dying languages. And I look at them as I look at the branch of my own ancestral line, destined to die out because my wife and I have no children.  Half of all our current languages are destined to die before the end of this century, along with a comparable number of plant and animal species.  Some have seen a reflection of one in the other.  Given how closely tied human rights, tribal survival and environmental degradation are, it’s not a stretch to see human languages and ecosystems as mirrors for each other.  “What we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”

The analogies of blood and speech start to break down, the Samhain door of linguistic reconstruction begins to shudder shut, and I’m back in my diminutive study, holding the hardbound book, more than an inch thick, and shivering a little.  I stand up and step into the living room to stoke the fire in our soapstone woodstove which has subsided to embers during my extended reverie.  And I wonder and remember and plan and dream again.  Celtic twilight is not the same as Celtic dawn, though at any point the light level might look the same.

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Images: Welsh flag; Ned Mandrelldictionary.

*Here are short Youtube clips of Irish (a 2-minute weather report), Welsh (a Welsh teenager talking in both languages), Cornish (a story in English and two varieties of Cornish, with a strong English accent), Irish again (4 minutes, this time showing how Manx and Irish speakers can understand each other), Scottish Gaelic (2:14; also a weather report) and Breton (2:10 — short interviews, subtitled in French, that you might mistake at first for French, so strong is the French influence on Breton pronunciation).

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