Archive for October 2017

3: Druid & Christian — Samhuinn & Sovereignty   Leave a comment

[Part 1|2|3|4|5]

In a 2013 post I wrote that when I remember the ancestors,

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.

Samhuinn is remembering and honoring connection. One reason it looms so large in Pagan practice is simply that the essence of ritual is connection, and successful ritual means good relationships. On social media like Facebook, we think that we decide if we’re “in a relationship” or not. Westerners in particular like to imagine we’re free, among many other things free to choose. But many of our relationships that matter most aren’t matters of choice. Our existence itself, as a part of this universe of beings, is the first and greatest example. So the biggest “relationship” question often isn’t whether but how: how will I maintain good relationships — with myself, with other beings, with the planet?

In language many Pagans would find congenial, Catholic priest and eco-theologian Thomas Berry writes* (in The Great Work):

…we will recover our sense of wonder and our sense of the sacred only if we appreciate the universe beyond ourselves as a revelatory experience of that numinous presence whence all things came into being. Indeed, the universe is the primary sacred reality. We become sacred by our participation in this more sublime dimension of the world about us.

“Religious naturalist” Loyal Rue makes an immense and related claim,** deserving (as I try to approach such things) neither acceptance or rejection at first, but simple meditation and reflection:

The most profound insight in the history of humankind is that we should seek to live in accord with reality. Indeed, living in harmony with reality may be accepted as a formal definition of wisdom. If we live at odds with reality (foolishly), we will be doomed, but if we live in proper relationship with reality (wisely), we shall be saved. Humans everywhere, and at all times, have had at least a tacit understanding of this fundamental principle.

And we see a movement among some Christians towards a center that Druids and other Pagans also strive towards. Michael Dowd, former fundamentalist and author of Thank God for Evolution!, writes:

I am an unabashed evidential mystic—a sacred realist, a Christian naturalist. Reality is my God and evidence is my scripture. Big History is my creation story and ecology is my theology. Integrity is my salvation and doing whatever I can to foster a just and healthy future for the full community of life is my mission.

In Arthurian tradition, the Lady of the Lake gives Arthur his sword, affirming his right to kingship, and she receives it back again when, mortally injured after the battle of Camlann, he is borne away to Avalon to be healed.

We can see the Lady as a exemplar of Sovereignty, right relationship to the cosmos. As a representative of the inward reality that lies behind our outward world, she initiates and instructs the king — metaphorically, the archetypal “royal line” in all of us. Demonstrating again and again through her actions that leader and land are one, she shows that psychic wholeness and healing can never be isolated or merely individual. We are communal beings. Hermits and recluses often report dreams filled with people, a compensation for their outward communal “drought”. The famous Grail question points to this same reality: “Who(m) does the Grail serve?” Not just the one who finds it or achieves it! The cheap and shallow English labels “winner” and “loser” simply do not apply.

If we connect with our ancestors in the largest sense of the word, with our physical forebears and also with anyone who has helped us to reach who we presently are and may become, we may begin to see that even in spite of what may be our best efforts to live only for ourselves, we still end up contributing to the entire cosmos. Whether that contribution makes us worthy ancestors to those who will come after us is another matter, and our individual and communal charge.

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Interlude — a different preview of Edinburgh’s annual and marvelous Beltane Fire Society Samhuinn celebration. Samhuinn can provide us with a mirror to see ourselves as ancestors (don’t we all “see through a glass darkly”?).

Here’s the link to the Beltane Fire Society’s Samhuinn 2017.

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Right relationship — the first ritual goal I will strive to keep in mind as I finish drafting my personal Samhain rite.

This evening my wife and I will gather with another couple a few miles away.  We’ve shared several of the “Great Eight” festivals before, sometimes with a formal ritual, at others with that most ancient ritual of all, friendship, food and fire. One partner of the couple often faces a difficult time at Samhain, due to her psychic awareness and to past bad experiences with the day. So for us sometimes the kindest ritual is not to celebrate Samhuinn in any formal sense at all, but simply to be present and grounded ourselves, and to help be grounding for her.

A fire can help burn away negative energy, and making a practice of imaginally gathering and tossing into the fire any negative energy, to be consumed and returned to its elements for the cosmos to rebuild into healthy and balanced forms, is appropriate work. Doing it physically and unobtrusively can also be part of maintaining the fire.

A blessed Samhuinn to you all.

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*Berry, Thomas. “The Wild and the Sacred,” in The Great Work. New York: Harmony/Bell Tower, 1999, pg. 49.

**Rue, Loyal. Religion Is Not About God. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005, pg. 135.

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2: Druid and Christian — Elemental Sacraments   Leave a comment

[Part 1|2|3|4|5]

In the previous post I wrote: “In sacrament rather than creed lies one potent meeting-place for Druid and Christian”. It’s this junction that I’ll continue to explore here.

What’s a sacrament? A means of perceiving the sacred. Though every culture has them, in the West our access points to the holy can feel few and far between, even more precious because of their rarity. Of course we’ve trimmed and peeled many of them away ourselves — some too soon, others well after their expiration dates.

 

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Fire worship among the Yi people in Kunming, China. Xinhua News.

Nonetheless, as a doorway, sacrament itself isn’t holy, except by association. It acquires a secondary patina of holiness that makes up part of the uplift we can experience when we turn its way, if it’s still working. For it can indeed be profaned, though the underlying sacred reality it points to is immune to human tampering. That reality wouldn’t be worth much, after all, if we could trample it in the mud.  (And we do our share of trampling. One of the more startling instances comes from Quebecois French, which intentionally repurposes Catholic vocabulary for profanity — including the word sacrament itself.)

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Hence, when “the barbarians are at the gates”, they (we) can destroy things of beauty, reverence and spiritual power, but the reality that gave them birth remains untouched. It will burst forth again in new forms and guises to open the eyes and the hearts of people yet unborn.

Will it? We certainly say and believe such things. Are they merely a kind of whistling in the dark?

One test lies in sacraments themselves. Many of them may receive scant acknowledgement in a given culture. Yet who among us who has deeply loved another person doubts that there is a sacrament made manifest? We can and do sentimentalize it, in part to avoid its sacramental power.

Other examples abound, instances that many cultures hedge about with rituals of word and action. A meal shared with others, a birth, a death, a “first” in a young life: first love, first kill, first sexual experience, first assumption of other adult roles and responsibilities. The fact that in so-called secular cultures we still institutionalize and legalize such things as drinking alcohol, driving cars, voting, joining the military, merely confirms a spiritual fact — awkwardly, perhaps, and blindly groping for its deeper truth, no doubt. That we confer grades of status by age attests to our discomfort with other criteria — ones that require wisdom, vision, insight. It’s easier to grant status mechanically, by the calendar, than to search a heart.

A sacrament, then, because it’s “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace” as the 5th century St. Augustine perceived, acknowledges something that already exists. We don’t create it, though we allow it to take shape and form, to have an impact, because we make room for it in our lives. (There seems to be a Minimum Sacramental Quotient, an MSQ, in every life: we’re all born, eat, and die, even if we shy away from, and struggle to avoid, every other divine intrusion on our human busy-ness.) We can midwife the sacred, and catalyze and welcome it, then, or resist it, but only up to a point. Grace is gratia, gift — and ample reason for gratitude.

When Druids initiate a new Bard, something happens that allows a sacrament that outward manifestation. When a Christian experiences the presence of God in prayer or Communion, the connection with the sacred moves from inner potential to outer expression. We can sense it, often, with our physical bodies. Or in the words of one of the repeating songs from Beauty and the Beast, “There’s something there that wasn’t there before”. Lacking other means of access, many people experience sacraments, or at least a sacramental flavor, in the “profane” world of Hollywood and the entertainment “industry”. So let’s be more profane, not less: pro-fane, standing near a fane or shrine, rubbing shoulders with gods and spirits outside, if not in the fane, or making a fane of our bodies and lives.

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One common friction-point in midwifing a sacrament is means. “What’s your fane?” Deny another’s access-points to the sacred by discrediting their sacraments, and you attempt to own and control and box in what is not, in the end, wholly subject to human will. Extra ecclesiam nulla salus, “No salvation outside the Church”, just doesn’t work for many people any more. (Not to mention that sometimes what you’re looking for isn’t salvation but something else entirely.)

There’s a Pagan movement towards what has been critiqued as “inflation”, and a Christian one that has been likewise critiqued as “deflation”, of the human self. Pagans appear to deify, and Christians to abase, the self, Both meta-techniques strive to open the doors to the sacred by removing obstacles to sacraments. And making a proper container for what is holy can be a deal of work. Latter-day solutions like “spiritual-but-not-religious” attempt to bypass the need for containers altogether, but they offer their own problems, and containers tend to creep back in.

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Samhain. Hallowed Evening. Masses, rituals for the Dead-who-live. Calling out their names, those who have passed in the previous year. Hear them named around the evening fire.

“Look in the mirror, Ancestor. The veil is always thin.”

“What we have received, we pass on.”

“What do you bring from the Otherworld? And what can we offer you?”

“Assist me to erect the ancient altar at which in days past all worshipped, the great altar of all things” run the words of one Pagan rite.

Introibo ad altare Dei, intones the Catholic priest, using the words from Psalm 42:4. “I will go into the altar of God”.

“Look at the shape of the altar; it is your own consciousness”, says one of the Wise.

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Can we see here the faint outlines of a shared set of sacraments for Christian Druids and Druid Christians? What links followers of Grail, Cross and Star, who long to extend what each does best, sacramental elements, elemental sacraments in the broader sense of components, basic parts, building materials for the Door that is always open, the “Door without a Key”? Jesus says “I stand at the door and knock”, and Merlin waves and beckons from the other side. Earth and water, air and fire, blood and mistletoe, wine and breath, we bring you to our altars.

In our awkward groping ways, we all stumble on and into sacraments. For those looking to learn from these two neighboring traditions, ones with Trees at their centers, maybe one of the first sacraments to celebrate is humility with each other, humilis, an attitude and approach close to the earth, humus. “Earth my body, fire my spirit …”

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Images: Fire worship; “Living water“.

 

1: Druid and Christian — “The Table Round”   Leave a comment

[Part 1|2|3|4|5]

In this post I’m more cranky than usual, so I invite you to read with compassion rather than judgment — for your own sake, never mind mine.

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Where’s the real “Good News”, Jesus? Why is it so hard to find it in the churches with your name attached? Saints still appear, but more often in spite of Christendom than because of it. “Jerusalem, we have a problem”. (The problem, of course, is limited human consciousness, not the example of spiritual mentors and teachers, whom we keep deifying rather than actually following. Slow learners, all of us.)

“Be not simply good but good for something”, Henry David Thoreau exhorts his readers. Like what, Henry?

“A Christian must be esoteric!” exclaims Father Heinz Naab, in David Lindholm’s article, “Meeting a Modern Druid Christian in the Garden of Delights“. But what that esotericism means is left to the spiritual discretion of the seeker.

“The practice of sacramental spirituality can be pursued apart from the various pathologies of political religion”, notes John Michael Greer in his essay “The Gnostic Celtic Church“. In sacrament rather than creed lies one potent meeting-place for Druid and Christian.

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In Christian tradition, Jesus is about 33 when completes his mission, dying on a Roman cross and afterward appearing to his followers, still spiritually alive. His “actual” age matters less than its metaphorical value, just as dogma matters less than experience. In Christian and Jewish terms, he was the right age to enter the priesthood (see Numbers 4:3).

In terms of the tarot, that much disputed and profoundly useful tool, we can gain further perspective. With Caitlin and John Matthews’ version, the Hallowquest Arthurian deck, the numerological practice of adding the numbers of his age together gives us 6, the card of Taliesin (who assumes forms human and animal before he is devoured by Ceridwen and nine months later is born again as the future bard). A fruitful theme for meditation — I could, for instance, see Taliesin as an avatar of the divine incarnating in creation, a model for human transformation through spiritual practice.

Or we can add the 11 years’ difference between the 22nd and last card of a traditional deck and Jesus’ age, and taking a second passage through the deck, arrive at the 11th card, which in Matthews’ version is the Round Table.

Last-Supper

Da Vinci, “The Last Supper”. Wikipedia — public domain

So many of the paintings depicting the Last Supper present Jesus not at the head of the table, but at its center, fulfilling his words (John 15:15) and dissolving the distance between them: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you”.

And the medieval Round Table, which the 13th century French poet Robert de Boron‘s Merlin creates in conscious imitation of that Passover table of Jesus and his followers, also seats 12, with an empty seat left by Judas and only to be filled when a worthy knight achieves the Grail. (In later versions of the story, it’s Sir Galahad who earns the right to sit in the Siege Perilleux, the Perilous Seat.)

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Galahad taking the Perilous Seat. Painting by Evrard d’Espinques (15th  c). Wikipedia public domain. Words in red: “… assist galaad au siege …”

Jesus does not establish a hierarchy but abolishes it instead. He is immanu-el — god with us, present in humanity and in the natural world. And as a model for such fellowship — no one can claim a dominant seat at a round table — the object is a fitting symbol. Merging human and divine in his own person, Jesus offers a powerful exemplar. This is how creation is healed: we manifest our true identity instead of cowering behind our imagined powerlessness. For we are fearful of nearly everything — the future, the world, disease, death, and each other perhaps most of all. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).

We see how distant we are from such manifestation if we attempt it through such avenues as “identity politics” today, for this spiritual achievement is precisely what politics of any sort can never deliver. Nor, in the end, is it intended to, though “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” fail without the spirit. (Humans as political animals have had long enough, after all: centuries, millennia! And nothing better within “Christian states” than non-Christian ones. Advantages of geography and resources, yes. But does anyone sane imagine America as a “fully Christian nation” (in the terms its Dominionist advocates propose) could provide such consciousness?)

Instead we have a model, a guide and a set of images from a blend of Druid and Christian sources that point toward a profound spiritual practice common to both traditions. But if we would follow it, we also need to hear the scale of things where it happens most readily: “where two or three are gathered together in the name of divinity in creation …” Let what we incarnate today be a sacrament that we share with others we meet.

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Images: Last Supper; Siege Perilleux/Perilous Seat, by Evrard d’Espinques (fl. 1440-1494), Wikipedia public domain.

Passing It On   Leave a comment

What would you teach a young person asking to apprentice with you for the wisdom, skills and insights you’ve gained in your life? And how would you go about teaching these things?

The season itself encourages me to be mindful of such things. With its focus on harvest, completion, the Ancestors, and with my own middle age upon me, it’s natural to take stock and ponder what’s most worthwhile out of all the experiences and insights a human accumulates over several decades.

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Before going any further, why not take a few minutes and write down your responses to those questions in the first paragraph above?

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What follows is one half of a possible conversation with the other person.

“Thank you for asking. You honor me by bringing these questions to me. In turn, I’ll start by asking you what you’ve learned so far. We build on what we already have discovered, so this is a good starting point. Let’s go for a walk — you choose the direction.”

“One way to begin to answer these things for yourself is to look at times in life when you are happy, or totally engrossed in whatever you are doing. What were you doing, and what did the experience feel like? No need to hurry toward an answer. We can talk again in a few days. Time for a cup of tea or coffee, right?”

“What would go on your ‘favorites’ list? You know — favorite colors, places, animals, people, activities, etc. These things can be a source of comfort, encouragement and energy when you need to recharge or rebalance. Turning to them consciously and gratefully and making them a regular part of your life can assist you greatly. And they can be keys to explore further, and develop as part of your personal toolkit for living. For instance, carving out space and time to practice them, and making a physical space where they are represented, can make a surprising difference in our experience of each day.”

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“For some people, these can become doorways to a profession or career. For others, they become rituals and practices to restore and rebalance. For still other people, they can become spiritual symbols and subjects for meditation and insight. Here on my table altar is a hawk feather I found while my wife and I were looking at property here in Vermont. It was a teaching symbol that continues to remind me to pay attention to small signs. Because way beyond random probability, they can often turn out to be big signs.”

“What kinds of things are you good at? If you don’t know or aren’t sure, start asking and paying attention. Everyone has certain latent strengths, talents and abilities. It may be that others have already helped you find some of them, or have encouraged you if you’ve started showing or practicing them, but you can find them on your own as well. They may not always be things that others value right away, but you probably practice them anyway. In fact, some of the things we can be shy about are often things we deeply value and don’t want to expose to others’ opinions or judgments, so we keep them hidden. In spite of what Western culture tells us, there are such things as good secrets. Respect your own sense of when to open up about them, and when to keep them private. Or if I’m listening to the wisdom of plants and trees, build my root system first, then flower second.”

“If you’re wondering about what we’ve been talking about so far, or if you’re thinking they don’t seem very spiritual things, you’re partly right. We often undervalue such things, or think they don’t matter, or overlook them when we’re considering ‘matters of real significance’. Yet all these things make up part of the value of each individual. Each of us has importance, and each of us has core purposes we can discover and fulfill.”

“One powerful way to grow and learn is to serve. You hear a lot about service, and about ‘selfless service’. But I’ve found that the most balanced service is one that we may enter knowing we’ll benefit along with others, but not worrying about that either way. We serve because it’s another way to be grateful for what we’ve received. But we also serve because the universe makes us curious, and service takes us places we can reach in no other way. It connects us to people and places and other beings who we can help and who can help us. Service builds relationships. It’s a form of love. Though it may sound very strange to say it, loving another person can be a form of service. That includes loving ourselves. If we think about the numbers of unhappy people in the world today, loving ourselves is truly a vital and desperately needed form of service.”

“Finding something larger than myself and connecting to it is the only lasting source of happiness and fulfillment I’ve found. We long to feel deeply that our lives matter, and that kind of connection brings meaning and purpose and a deep sense of rightness. We may connect to a craft or art or skill, and we may connect to another person or organization or movement. During my life, I’ve moved around a bit among these at various times. Some people find one way to connect and spend their entire lives with that single way. But like everything else, there’s no single ideal way for everyone, but simply the way that works best for you right now. This isn’t something to believe, though you can if you want to, but it is something to test and try out and determine its validity for yourself.”

“Extending these insights into the practice of a craft, an art, a religion or spiritual path, an organization or cause or profession, are each natural developments of the initial urge and instinct to serve and to express our talents and abilities. A god or gods may help us focus our service, or become the center of what we do. But our service may not take that particular form. Our judgments about others’ choices will always be incomplete. To know our own purposes and priorities is the task of a whole life. We can honor others’ choices and give them the freedom to choose just as they give us that same freedom. There’s a deep test: does my practice afford others the freedom to choose? And does their practice offer me that same freedom?”

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“In this world of time and space and change, there is a spiritual adage whose insight I’ve learned the hard way, repeatedly throughout my life. And it’s this: each day’s rhythm means we must re-win our spiritual freedom for that day. It’s an ongoing practice, not a single achievement. In fact, it’s the substance of our service.”

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Four Seasons as a Guide to Manifestation   Leave a comment

“Winter doesn’t mean Summer has failed”, says one of my teachers. It’s not a competition, though sometimes our seasonal myths and stories can make it seem like winter and summer take turns through time in “winning” and “losing” and grudgingly parcelling out the year between them. (It’s more a tussle between lovers.)

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North, early morning, October

And if the world follows its cycles of manifestation, so do humans who live and grow and die and are born here. After all, we’re one of the things the universe does. That mountain ash is as well, and this solitary bee sunning itself on the east wall of our house this october morning, and taking flight in a sudden thrum of wings as I walk past, lugging the laundry.

I’m stingy enough (if you’re kind you can call it thrifty) that I pause under the clothesline a moment, savoring the October calm and light. Sorting through clothespins for the large ones, I calculate how much I’m paying myself per hour to air-and-sun-dry the laundry, rather than spend money for electricity to do the job.

Either it’s the clothesline in good weather, or the drying rack indoors, with a fire in the stove. Labor-intensive, but easy on the wallet. The day’s weather forecast, rather than traffic and distance to the laundromat and spare quarters on hand, is my guide. As a builder-acquaintance of mine likes to say, you have to earn so damn much just to save so damn little. If I can remove one more homely task from that cycle, it’s a victory. In the process, I recover simple pleasures like the scent of laundry the sun has loved all day long.

Could we find a guide as useful for whenever we plunge into any particular cycle of manifestation? After all, I don’t want to pour more energy into working the ground, if the time for planting is already here. Or plant, if it’s harvest-time and a frost looks imminent. More and more I’m starting to see where to focus. Which signals from the universe deserve my attention? What guides me to alertness about these cycles and my part in them, and what distracts and diverts and wastes my energy?

Ah, you know the feeling as well as I do. How did it happen last week that I squandered what looked like a crest of inspiration and passion, a peak where I knew I could do what I longed to do, and managed to throw myself into the depths of a trough instead? Was it noise rather than wisdom that tugged on my attention from the outside, and drew me aside from my goal? Some samples — the voices we all hear, that seduce us from our best interests: “You should W. Or X is so terrible that you must Y. Or you can’t Z”, and so on, and on. I wake up enough from time to time to ask myself, “Since when have strangers known better than my own inner guidance what’s in my best interests?!”

So I have a map for manifestation. Is that enough? Can I locate more guidance?

Well, how about my reasons, my motive, my intention? Whom does the Grail serve? one such teaching asks us. Druid koan, a question the universe is always asking. Who benefits? If we serve only the self, we’re cutting off half the flow that’s possible for us. As distributors, as channels, as manifesters of awen-inspiration and life and energy, we can always open to a greater flow. Isn’t that our deepest desire, to feel life pass through us on its way to a worthy purpose? To have participated fully in the marvel of existence? I don’t know about you, but that’s the richest and most thrilling experience I know.

What do I need in order to work with the entire cycle?

It’s for the good of the whole. That doesn’t mean cutting myself out of the cycle of manifestation, out of some misguided understanding that I must sacrifice my own happiness or well-being to realize what I desire. I’m also part of the cycle, which is incomplete without me. I am one of the means by which the universe achieves manifestation. Rather than the tired, old (and often untrue) “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link”, how about “Each of us is part of the Spiral, and also reflects the magical whole in our uniqueness and creativity”?

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Altar of the South, ECG ’17

And because we can peer across and around and occasionally beyond Time, and get glimpses of the Pattern or the Web, we can work from a larger vision of any goal, from full participation in the cycle. Do our best, and then release it, trusting the intelligence of the universe, as it manifests in our teachers and guides, in bird and beast, beech and bug, and the shapes and fortunes of our own lives, to help us tweak and revision and adapt as manifestation cycles through.

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I Invoke You for a Tongue, Part 2   Leave a comment

[Part One]

This post on creating a usable Celtic ritual language continues a number of previous posts on the subject.

Why do such a thing — create a new Celtic ritual language, rather than master an existing Celtic tongue, when all of them struggle to survive and need all the support they can get? Better yet, why not instead devote the same energy and time to creating rituals, songs, poems, prayers in the language of everyone who will take part? In a word, why be obscure?

Because language is — or can be — magical. Because sometimes we need the power of audible speech that means something only to us. Because a ritual language, a holy tongue, carries its own potency, apart from matters of practicality. Because a dedicated language, like anything else, accrues value and energy and strength precisely because it’s been set apart, treated with care and esteem, as a thing worthy of respect. Because if you go to the trouble of creating a ritual language, I assert that you honor the gods just as much as you do by learning an existing one. Because there’s a world of difference between theft and inspired imitation.* Because a vow, a dream, a burst of awen guided you to do so.

Here’s the prayer that opened the post linked to above:

For the gift of speech already, I thank you.
For the gift of a Celtic tongue I will make,
let my request be also my gift to you in return:

the sound of awen in another tongue, kindred
to those you once heard from ancestors
of spirit. Wisdom in words, wrought for ready use.

May your inspiration guide heart and hand,
mind and mouth, spirit and speech.

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So in the face of loud and rude reasons not to, you follow the urging to create a ritual language anyway. The Celtic world tugs at you, your practice draws on Celtic imagery, myth and folklore, and you opt for a Celtic language over a (re)constructed tongue native to the land where you live. (The possibilities of a Native American conlang deserve a separate post.)

Resources abound for such a project. After all, we have six surviving Celtic languages — Breton, Cornish, Irish, Manx, Scottish Gaelic and Welsh. We have reconstructed Proto-Celtic, we’ve got inscriptions in other extinct Celtic languages, and we have a couple of centuries of linguistic analysis that helps to clarify grammar, word derivations, pronunciation, etc. Beyond that are several Celtic conlangs of varying degrees of realism and fidelity to the historical Celtic languages (like Arvorec, Brithenig, Caledonag, Galathach, Proto-Brittonic, etc.).

In addition to language proper, we’ve got scripts, too, like Ogham and the Coelbren alphabet. An embarrassment of riches, truly.

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Coelbren alphabet

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So where to begin?

I’m partial to P-Celtic, or Brythonic (Breton-Cornish-Welsh), so that’s my starting point, rather than Q-Celtic or Goidelic (Irish-Manx-Scots Gaelic). But take your pick. It’s your flavor of awen, after all.

We can assemble a basic word-list of a few hundred items pretty quickly. In an hour, you’ll have enough for simple phrases even as you continue to tinker. For help, Omniglot has gathered some useful comparative lists to launch you, and so has this Wikipedia comparative table. (Mostly it’s the vowels that may need tweaking, but that can wait until later.) So we’ll start here with a small sample:

den: man [dehn]
dor: door [dohr]
gwreg: woman [roughly goo-REG]
plant: child [plahnt]
ti: house [tee]
ci: dog [kee]
mab: son [mahb]
tir: land [teer]
mam: mother [mahm]

mor: large [mohr]
neweth: new [NEH-weth]
bihan: small [BEE-hahn]
drug: bad [droog]

gweled: see [GWEH-led]
bod: be [bohd]

Every word above has clear cognates (“relatives”) in Welsh, Breton and Cornish, so we’re on very solid ground so far. Aim for a consistent pronunciation, write it down so you remember, devise a simple key as in the brackets above, and you’re on the way.

We know Brythonic, like Goidelic, had a definite article, for which we’ll choose an. So we can say “the man, the woman”, etc.: an den, an gwreg.

(We can address how we might want to handle those infamous Celtic sound changes later. To give just one a quick example, feminine nouns historically change their initial sound after the definite article, so we might include a rule that gives us gwreg, an wreg; mam, an vam, etc.)

We know that Celtic adjectives typically follow the noun they modify, as in the Romance languages:

an tir mor: the large land
ti neweth: new house
mab bihan: small son
ci drug: bad dog

We know that Brythonic, like the Celtic languages generally, makes phrases equivalent to English “the door of the house, the child of the land” by juxtaposing the words: dor an ti, mab an tir. (Again, we can work out any sound changes later.)

In addition, we know that Celtic often favors a verb-first sentence order (a simplification, but a useful starting point), as if in English we said “Sees the man the dog” instead of “The man sees the dog.”

So we can construct simple sentences:

Bod an gwreg an tir. The woman is the land.
Gweled an mab an ti mor. The son sees the large house.

Now this should serve to show the beginnings of what’s possible without earning a graduate degree in Celtic Studies. If you’re creating solely for yourself, you can follow the promptings of your guides, ancestors and awen. A dream, a book, a contemplation or a museum visit may inspire a particular project: a prayer, a chant or song, a rhyme or invocation, a simple story.

If you’re creating for or with a group, other factors may arise. How complex do you need the grammar? What kinds of things do you want or need to say? How regular and intuitive should the pronunciation be? Are others working directly with you in expanding the vocabulary, or are they asking you as their tribal bard for original and translated rituals and prayers in the language?

For instance, Celtic has an invariable relative pronoun, given here as “a”, which lets us make sentences like this:

Bod hi an gwreg a gweled an tir neweth. She is the woman who sees the new land.

Your choices as you create, after awen, the gods and common sense each have their say, operate in a cauldron that balances flexibility, regularity, variety and ease of use. Like any recipe, season to taste.

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Image: Coelbren alphabet;

*A note on cultural appropriation — as John Beckett suggests in his The Path of Paganism, “always credit your sources, never pretend to be something you’re not, and steal from the best”. To put it another way, all cultures borrow from each other, or die.

Living a Triad   Leave a comment

Here’s a triad I initially wrote about almost two years ago:

“Three reasons for supplicating the Mighty Ones: because it is a pleasure to you, because you wish to be a friend of the Wise, because your soul is immortal” — traditional.

Lovely reasons, all of them. Long-time readers of this blog know I like to take out truths and proverbs and see how they fit my experience. Not to either “prove” or “disprove” them, but to try them on for size, share something of the results, and possibly add to my spiritual toolkit.

Supplication as a source of pleasure: does this apply to my interactions with Thecu Stormbringer? [blogpost links 12, 3]

My first response is “up to a point”. When my fear of change kicks in, it’s less pleasurable to learn more. But what have I learned?

clouds

When I last wrote, I’d received nine runes of change. But instead of trying them out, I stashed them in an envelope, because I was living them. That was manifesting as a move to an out-of-state teaching job that included housing. And then a return move back home within the month, when the job proved a “poor fit” — an often wry educationese euphemism that, in the words of Shakespeare’s Juliet, meant the whole scenario turned out to be “too rash, too unadvised, too sudden”.

And Thecu alerted me well in advance of the whole thing.

We often think — or I do, anyway — that if we could only know the future, we’d be armed against it, as if change were the enemy.

But to choose just one element of the whole experience that I’m writing to my Ovate tutor about, it was in the month before my wife and I made the change and packed up for a year out of state that I’d finally found a solid link to the land here in southern Vermont.

So leaving it hurt. And returning felt like a reprieve, or a fresh start. At the heart of it lay the increasingly clear perception that where we live has at last become our spiritual home.

More change coming. That’s this morning’s word to me from the goddess. To anyone alive today, change shouldn’t come as a surprise, though of course it still does.

I draw one rune from the envelope, even as I make a new place on my shelf-altar for Thecu.

(Surprised I hadn’t already? That’s the human inertia we all work with, which helps ballast us against small daily changes that shouldn’t upset us, and yet paradoxically weakens us when the big changes come along, because we’ve resisted incremental adjustments that would have made the transition much smoother.)

American children in schools across the nation “pledge allegiance to the flag” — an inanimate representation of the U.S. Is it so strange to extend reverence for an energy or consciousness reaching out to alert me of change and storms to come?

The rune I draw is the sixth of nine, last of the second set of three. For storms, angular energy, and wind sheer. For changes, side factors that contribute significantly, but which I overlook. For responses and initiatives, avoid a frontal resistance, and seek out angles and directions that can use the momentum and energy of change to shift to a better state and condition. Scuttle sideways, crab-like. Crab totem coming …

“When in doubt, divine”, says a journal entry from just about a year ago. A fragment, a contemplation seed, a gift, waiting for me to accept and receive it.

As I note at the end of a previous post about Thecu and change:

We can of course take an a-gnostic approach to all of the above as well: I sense changes coming (no surprise at all, given the state of the world!) and my imagination/subconscious is throwing up images, ideas, tools, hints to help me deal with them. Useful, wholly apart from the nature of their origin, because they’re intended to be empirical: their value lies in what they can do, what I can do with them. Who says the imagination or subconscious has no practical value? In some ways, that’s the ONLY thing it has.

And likewise, a reasonable response to a gift is gratitude for what’s been given.

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Image: stormcloud — Pixabay “free for commercial use — no attribution required”.

 

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