Archive for the ‘Druid Revival’ Category

“(Not) Your Grandmother’s Druids”   Leave a comment

1–Your grandmother’s Druids were most likely members of a fraternal order, similar to the Masons.

Many contemporary Druid orders seek to assist members in developing a spiritual foundation and fostering a training equal to the challenges humans face over the coming decades and centuries, where new understandings will help us adapt successfully to more limited resources, a hotter planet, rising oceans, pollution, species die-off, massive social unrest and population migration, and still other shifts and changes we do not yet foresee.

Even if the challenges remain exactly as they already stand today — even if all predictions, forecasts, and extrapolations from available evidence are hopelessly inaccurate — it’s clear we already need wiser approaches and clearer thinking to grapple with them. In this predicament, however, we do not confront anything new. The human experience over the history of our species is one of frequent and sometimes dire challenge and change. In any case, one of the benefits of Druidry is the gift [link to “Seven Gifts of Druidry”] of wisdom and foresight — always useful skills.

To explore a play on words, the difference between change and challenge is lle — the Welsh word for “place, room, accommodation”. As soon as we “make room” for actual reality, then, we can deal more effectively and creatively with change. It is only when we deny, balk, block, resist, fear or ignore a challenge that the initial change has no place to manifest, and so it pools, darkens, and accumulates into something much more difficult later, when it finally breaks through, whether it’s an individual illness, societal breakdown or planetary shift. Further, a major “secret” to dealing with challenge is respect for place, for the “room” or space we inhabit. Our ability to care for it, listen to it, learn from it and live in it more fully will help many thrive.

2–Your grandmother’s Druids generally sought and found inspiration and example in both the limited information surviving in classical sources, and in the Druid Revival beginning in the 17th century, which drew on practically every source that didn’t run away first, and on some that did.

As the growth and development of modern Druidry continued, and with contributions from Celtic Reconstructionists like ADF, who stressed historical authenticity and searched for the half-hidden remnants we still possess of older Druid traditions*, new teachings, practices, insights and shifts in emphasis emerged in many established Revival orders like AODA, OBOD and BDO. These “new” teachings are in fact often very old, reintroducing images, stories, understandings and quite specific herbal knowledge tribal peoples worldwide have long possessed. (As a single example, see the work of Druid and master herbalist Ellen Evert Hopman.)

3–Your grandmother’s Druids were generally, officially and at least nominally Christian. While other varieties no doubt existed, it was often both dangerous and illegal until surprisingly recently to be too open about believing and practicing anything other than some version of Christianity.

Today’s Druids span a much wider range of backgrounds, with atheist, pantheist, animist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu and other traditions influencing and being influenced by Druidic perspectives and practices. As with Alexandria and Rome in the centuries before and after Christ, a stir of Gnostic, Egyptian, Chaldean, Christian, Neo-Platonist and Pythagorean mystery teachings, practices, ideas and perspectives produced a potent ferment that still pervades much contemporary culture worldwide.

4–If your grandmother’s Druids were challenged with the oft-heard critique “You can’t be a real Druid because we know hardly anything about ancient Druidry,” they might readily concur and acknowledge that their Druidry is a fraternal order, inspired by the romantic image of the Druid as a learned leader and cultural arbiter and repository of tribal memory.

Today’s Druids still hear this increasingly ridiculous challenge, about as accurate as early challenges that “Christians practice cannibalism” because they ritually drank the blood of Christ in the Mass.

In fact, a surprising amount of information survives about older Druid practice and training, outside of the fragmentary Classical references, largely in Irish but also in Welsh sources.

Members of OBOD can trace the increasing influence of these sources in the revisions of the OBOD coursework, first in the transition from Chosen Chief Nuinn/Ross Nichols to Philip Carr-Gomm, and in the new Chosen Chief Eimear Burke, who has said that OBOD “isn’t broken so it doesn’t need fixing”, but that an increased focus on Irish material will be a natural outcome of her Irish identity and experience.

For a quick overview of the hundreds of sources available, of varying age, usefulness, completeness and provenance, check out this link at the Celtic Literature Collective. Here’s just a small fraction:

Colloquy of the Two Sages / Immacallam in da Thuarad. 12th century Book of Leinster.

Trioedd Ynys PrydeinTriads of the Island of Britain. Versions in 13th century White Book of RhydderchLlyfr Gwyn Rhydderch, the Red Book of Hergest / Llyfr Coch Hergest, and the Peniarth Manuscripts.

The Mabinogi(on) / Another link. One of the most famous of sources listed here. Welsh tales, legends, philosophy, magic, training, etc., from the medieval period.

Book of Ballymote / (Wikipedia link.) Leabhar Baile an Mhota. 1400s. Includes the “Instructions of King Cormac”, stories of Fionn Mac Cumhaill, and other tales.

Auraicept na n-Éces / Another linkAn ogham treatise dating from the 7th century, with later interpolations.

Dindsenchas / The Lore of Places. A “recounting the origins of place-names and traditions concerning events and characters associated with the places” (Wikipedia) and vital as a gateway to understanding much of Irish myth and legend. Many are found in the Book of Leinster.

Brehon law / Senchus Mor or “Gael Law” — numerous collections (see link at beginning of sentence), the earliest dating from the 700s — “possibly the oldest surviving codified legal system in Europe” (Wikipedia). Focusing on restorative rather than punitive justice, and on care of the land. See also Laurence Ginnell’s 1894 The Brehon Laws: A Legal Handbook, full text online here.

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“Doing the True”   2 comments

Truth’s subject to leakage at any time. Mostly, though, when that happens — when truth does manage, against the odds, to seep in — we strive vigorously to plug the hole any time more than a little discomfort spills out into our lives.

Praise then such discomforts, for what they can, even occasionally, reveal to us.

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A burst of activity from Canadian viewers has been showing up on the page stats — one of a few places more wintry than here. A shout-out to Canadians trying to feel spring in February. It’s there — just under the snow, and behind the patience that, with this most recent bout of storms, is wearing thin for all but the most ardent lovers of winter.

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“The world is a spiritual vessel. It cannot be improved,” says the Tao Te Ching, ch. 29. Of all the books based on wise and penetrating observation of the world and its dynamics, for me the “TTC” holds a singular position. So I’ve pondered this verse ever since I encountered it as a teen-ager.

To speak to this assertion (which, if you follow the above link, can be read many ways), and unpack and qualify it for myself and my readers, here are two of John Michael Greer’s responses to comments on his recent Feb. 1, 2017 blogpost “Perched on the Wheel of Time“:

The notion that one person can transform the world is very deeply rooted in our culture, and it’s not entirely untrue; like most damaging beliefs, it’s a half-truth. Each of us can change the world, but how we can change it is determined by our cultural and historical context — and of course it’s also true that in a world in which everyone can change the world, no one person gets to change everything! It can be a real struggle, though, to break through the binary between “you can change everything” and “no one can change anything,” and grasp the many ways in which we all, to use a New Age term, help co-create the future.

It can be a valuable Druid practice to break through binaries, finding at least a third position between two poles. And discovering and walking the line revealed by repeated blundering into a damaging belief/half-truth — there’s another name for life, for the modest wisdom a person can accrue over several decades. How much can I co-create? Where are my energies best spent in trying? Can I co-operate with even one other person around me  — like a friend or partner, for starters — to maximize our co-creative acts?

And if this world can’t be “improved”? Well, certainly local conditions improve and deteriorate all the time, shaped in considerable part by the actions of individuals. Any overall equilibrium, though? I must ruefully admit that does seem to remain the same. But that’s not a reason to disengage. Greer expands on his perspective in a later comment on the same post, which I find persuasive as well:

…the Druid teachings I follow hold that this world, the world of human beings experiencing greed and hunger and a distinct lack of the brotherhood of man, is a necessary stage or mode of consciousness through which every soul must pass in due time. When we outgrow it, we move to a different stage or mode of consciousness, and the world stays the way it is so that it can provide the same experience to those who need it. Thus there’s only so much change you can make in the world — though there’s some, and making such changes are an important part of grappling with this mode of being. The changes that matter are those you make to yourself.

If a succinct statement of my bias is possible, Greer captures it in his last sentence here. “The changes that matter (most) to me are those I make to myself.”

First, because in the grand scheme of things I find change difficult. I’m assuming you do, too.

Second, because the changes I actually pull off, ones I make to myself, usually affect my immediate environment, where they’re more visible than they would be elsewhere. That means I get more feedback from them on what I’ve done, and whether it’s what I actually wanted. You know: life as laboratory.

Third, because I continue to learn the hard way that my understanding is often so imperfect in so many domains that I’d rather improve it and share what I’ve learned than botch my immediate environment out of ignorance or stupidity — and more likely, both. Humility is a really useful tool in my kit. Almost always I’ve ignored it at my peril.

And as for matters of scale, I’ve also met wise individuals in my life. Not many, but a few, human and non-human. But very, very few wise local governments, and even fewer wise nations. And that gives me guidance for where my energies are best spent — at least for me, in this cycle.

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So when anyone — whether Jesus or Donald Trump — offers up a version of “I alone can save you”, I need a lot of proof and demonstration before I’m willing to divert my energies to them from working in my own life.

Whitman sings in Song of Myself 32:

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and
    self-contain'd,
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of
    owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of
    years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

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It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. — Henry David Thoreau/OBOD’s weekly “Inspiration for Life”.

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Images: snow on moss in Westminster, VT.

A Review of J. M. Greer’s The Gnostic Celtic Church   2 comments

Greer, John Michael. The Gnostic Celtic Church: A Manual and Book of Liturgy. Everett, WA: Starseed Publications (Kindle)/Lorian Press (paper), 2013. NOTE: All quotations from Kindle version.

Quick Take:

A valuable resource for those wishing to explore a coherent and profound Druid theology and to develop or expand a solitary practice. Greer offers pointers, reflections, principles — and a detailed set of rites, visualizations and images emerging from both AODA Druidry and Gnostic-flavored Celtic Christian magic practice.

Expansive Take:

John_Michael_Greer

John Michael Greer

John Michael Greer continues to advance ideas and books that provoke and advocate thoughtful, viable alternatives to dysfunctional contemporary lifestyles and perspectives. The Gnostic Celtic Church takes its place among a growing and diverse body of work. Author of over thirty books, blogger (of the influential weekly Archdruid Report, among others), practicing magician, head of AODA (Ancient Order of Druids in America), “Green Wizard,” master conserver and longtime organic gardener, Greer wears lightly a number of hats that place him squarely in the ranks of people to read, consider, and take seriously, even if you find yourself, like I do, disagreeing from time to time with him or his perspectives. In that case, he can still help you clarify your stance and your beliefs simply by how he articulates the issues. In person (I met him at the 2012 East Coast Gathering), he is witty, articulate, widely informed, and quick to dispose of shoddy thinking. (As you can ascertain from the picture to the right, he’s also has acquired over the decades a decidedly Druidic beard …)

What all Gnostic traditions share, Greer notes, is that

personal religious experience is the goal that is set before each aspirant and the sole basis on which questions of a religious nature can be answered — certain teachings have been embraced as the core values from which the Gnostic Celtic Church as an organization derives its broad approach to spiritual issues. Those core teachings may be summarized in the words ‘Gnostic, Universalist, and Pelagian’ which are described in this book.

GC Church Front cover.inddThe Gnostic Celtic Church (GCC) may appear to step away from direct engagement with contemporary issues that have been the focus of Greer’s blog and recent books: peak oil, the decline of the West and its imperial overreach, and ways to begin laying the foundations and shaping a new, more balanced and truly green post-oil civilization that can arise over the next few centuries.

Instead of avoiding what amounts to an activist engagement, however, the book comes at these issues indirectly, outlining a set of core practices and perspectives for what AODA intends as “an independent sacramental church of nature spirituality.” The “independent sacramental movement ranks among the most promising stars now rising above the horizon of contemporary spirituality,” Greer observes in his introduction. Its freedom from the bonds of creed and doctrine has helped carry it to fresh insights and creativity, and deep applicability to the seeking that characterizes our era of “spiritual but not religious.”

What, you may be asking, does this have to do with Druidry? A lot. Or why would a Druid group include a “church” in the middle of its affairs? Read on, faithful explorer.

To examine in turn each of the three terms that Greer puts forth, the GCC is “Gnostic” because it affirms that “personal experience, rather than dogmatic belief or membership in an organization, can form the heart of a spiritual path.” This sensibility accords well with most flavors of Druidry today.  While there is an admitted theme of ascetic dualism and world-hating in some currents of Gnostic thought, Greer provides useful context: “… this was only one aspect of a much more diverse and creative movement that also included visions of reality in which the oneness of the cosmos was a central theme, and in which the body and the material world were points of access to the divine rather than obstacles to its manifestation.”

flameThe GCC is also “Universalist.” Among other early Church leaders, the great mystic Origen (184-254 CE) taught that “communion with spiritual realities is open to every being without exception, and that all beings — again, without exception — will eventually enter into harmony with the Divine.” The Universalist strain in Christianity is perhaps most familiar to most people today in the guise of Unitarian Universalism, a relatively recent (1961) merger of two distinct movements in Christianity. A Universalist strain has been “central to the contemporary Druid movement since the early days of the Druid Revival” (ca. 1600s) and “may be found in many alternative spiritual traditions of the West.” Both Gnostic and Universalist links existed within AODA Druidry when Greer was installed as Archdruid in 2003. For another perspective, check out John Beckett’s blog Under the Ancient Oaks: Musings of a Pagan, Druid and Unitarian Universalist.

“Pelagian,” the third term, is perhaps the least familiar. This Christian heresy took its name from Pelagius (circa 354-420 CE), a Welsh mystic who earned the ire of the Church hierarchy because of his emphasis on free will and human agency. Pelagius taught, as Greer briskly characterizes it, that “the salvation of each individual is entirely the result of that individual’s own efforts, and can neither be gained through anyone else’s merits or denied on account of anyone else’s failings.” Of course this teaching put Pelagius at odds with an orthodoxy committed to doctrines of original sin, predestination, and the atonement of Christ’s death on the cross, and to policing deviations from such creeds. A Pelagian tendency remains part of Celtic Christianity today.

Greer draws on the history of Revival (as opposed to Reconstructionist) Druidry and notes that the former places at its center some powerful perspectives on individual identity and destiny.

Each soul, according to the Druid Revival, has its own unique Awen [link: an excellent (bilingual) meditation on Awen by Philip Carr-Gomm]. To put the same concept in terms that might be slightly more familiar to today’s readers, each soul has its own purpose in existence, which differs from that of every other soul, and it has the capacity — and ultimately the necessity — of coming to know, understand, and fulfill this unique purpose.

None of this is intended to deny the value of community — one of the great strengths of contemporary Druidry. But we each have work to do that no one else can do for us. In keeping with the Druid love of threes, what we do with the opportunities and challenges of a life determines where we find ourselves in the three levels of existence: Abred, Gwynfydd and Ceugant. These are a Druid reflection of an ancient and pan-cultural perception of the cosmos. Greer delivers profound Druid theology as a potential, a map rather than a dogma. “It is at the human level that the individual Awen may become for the first time an object of conscious awareness. Achieving this awareness, and living in accord with it, is according to these Druid teachings the great challenge of human existence.” Thus while the Awen pervades the world, and carries all life, and lives, in its melody and inspiration, with plants and animals manifesting it as instinct and in their own inherent natures, what distinguishes humans is our capacity to know it for the first time — and to respond to it with choice and intention.

Thus, Greer outlines the simplicity and depth of the GCC:

… the rule of life that the clergy of the Gnostic Celtic Church are asked to embrace may be defined simply by these words: find and follow your own Awen. Taken as seriously as it should be — for there is no greater challenge for any human being than that of seeking his or her purpose of existence, and then placing the fulfillment of that purpose above other concerns as a guide to action and life — this is as demanding a rule as the strictest of traditional monastic vows. Following it requires attention to the highest and deepest dimensions of the inner life, and a willingness to ignore all the pressures of the ego and the world when those come into conflict, as they will, with the ripening personal knowledge of the path that Awen reveals.

All well and good, you say. The basis for a mature Druidry, far removed from the fluff-bunny Pagan caricatures that Druids still sometimes encounter. But what about down-to-earth stuff? You know: rituals, visualizations, prompts, ways to manifest in my own life whatever realities may lie behind all this high-sounding language.

Greer delivers here, too.  Though membership and ordination in the GCC require a parallel membership in AODA, the practices, rites and visualizations are set forth for everyone in the remainder of the book. That’s as it should be: a spiritual path can take either or both of these forms — outward and organizational, inward and personal — without diminution. And those interested in ordination in other Gnostic organizations will probably already know of the variety of options available today. Greer notes,

Receiving holy orders in the GCC is not a conferral of authority over others in matters of faith or morals, or in any other context, but an acceptance of responsibility for oneself and one’s own life and work. The clergy of the GCC are encouraged to teach by example, and to offer advice or instruction in spiritual and other matters to those who may request such services, but it is no part of their duty to tell other people how to live their lives.

If, upon reflection, a candidate for holy orders comes to believe that it is essential to his or her Awen to claim religious or moral authority over others as part of the priestly role he or she seeks, he or she will be asked to seek ordination from some other source. If one who is already ordained or consecrated in the GCC comes to the same belief, in turn, it will be his or her duty — a duty that will if necessary be enforced by the Grand Grove [of AODA] — to leave the GCC and pursue another path.

The ceremonies, rituals and meditations include the Hermitage of the Heart, the Sphere of Protection, the Calling of the Elements, the Sphere of Light, a Solitary Grove Ceremony (all but the first derive from AODA practice), and a Communion Ceremony that ritualizes the “Doctrine of the One”:

I now invoke the mystery of communion, that common unity that unites all beings throughout the worlds. All beings spring from the One; by One are they sustained, and in One do they find their rest. One the hidden glory rising through the realms of Abred; One the manifest glory rejoicing in the realms of Gwynfydd; One the unsearchable glory beyond all created being in Ceugant; and these three are resumed in One. (Extend your hands over the altar in blessing. Say …)

Included also are seasonal celebrations of the four solar festivals, the two Equinoxes and Solstices, ordination ceremonies for priests, deacons and bishops, advice on personal altars, morning prayer, evening lection or reading, and visualizations that recall Golden Dawn visualizations of rays, colors and symbols.

At a little over 100 pages, this manual in its modest length belies the wealth of material it contains — plenty to provide a full Gnostic Celtic spiritual practice for the solitary, enough to help lead to a well-informed decision if ordination is the Call of your Awen, and material rich for inspiration and spiritual depth if you wish to adapt anything here to your own purposes.

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Images: John Michael Greer; GCC book cover; flame.

Stuart Piggott’s “Wessex Harvest”   2 comments

Stuartpiggott“Wessex Harvest” is a poem written in 1948 by distinguished British archaeologist Stuart Piggott (1910-1996). I quote it here because it evokes autumn and an autumnal mood. Also because some of Piggott’s uncharitable remarks about contemporary Druidry, especially in his 1985 book The Druids (Ancient Peoples and Places), haven’t earned him much applause in some Pagan quarters. He distinguishes, quite appropriately, between “Druids as known,” “Druids as inferred,” and “Druids as wished-for,” and drops contemporary Druidry squarely in the latter category. The Druid Revival also earns Piggott’s scorn at times.

But of course, as AODA archdruid J. M. Greer is fond of remarking, mere age is no indicator of quality in anything. If we actually could dig up a 10,000-year old Druidry, would that make it better? And “wished-for” happens to be a quality inherent in most of the great accomplishments of human culture. What “actually” exists as “known” first arrives imagined, wished-for, waiting — oddly enough — like a poem not yet written down.  No Druidry of any period simply appeared on the scene without prior human imagination and effort, to be buried like a dog’s bone and subsequently turn up in the archaeological record just for convenience.

Piggott’s poem shows a more intuitive and perceptive side of the man, which is helpful in seeing him more accurately and completely — more charitably. So here it is:

Wessex Harvest

Now the ancient Wessex hills
seize their lost splendour–
once, Stonehenge-building, their princes
proud with their Wicklow gold
strode in the sunshine;
now earth inherits
their dust, who are chalk-graved,
dry frail and brittle
pale bones under barrows–
poor fragments, those great ones.
But see, the austere lines
of downland are gladdened
splendid now, flaunting
armour of red-gold plate,
corn-stooks its studding;
new from old treasure
is this year’s miraculous
rebirth in the harvest.
And so in all years
is nothing forgotten,
always the far dead things
new life begetting.

In this poem, unlike in his other work, Piggott shows that he does perceive how things like Druidry might re-emerge, finding “rebirth in the harvest” where “far dead things” really can and do “beget new life.”

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Images: Stuart Piggott — Wikipedia.

DRL — A Druid Ritual Language, Part 2   3 comments

[Part 1 | Part 3]

I’ll be covering a fair bit of ground in this post, and supplying a larger than usual number of links (distractions?), since so many of you, my readers, come from such diverse perspectives and experiences. Thus it is that while some of what I say here will be sure to irritate, confuse or bore some of you, there’s a very fair chance the same sections won’t be the same irritants for everybody.  And with a liberal helping of what goes under the names of luck, awen, grace, and chance, some of it might actually be useful to you.

So what do you make of this video?!

Ritual and Ritual Language are Pan-human

One of my points in including the “Biker Blessing” — whatever you think of Pope Francis, the pontiff sure has his own style — is simply to illustrate two important points we keep forgetting:  all humans participate in and perform rituals, and they’re both utterly common and rather strange, when you actually begin to examine them more closely.

To give just one common example, if you intend to get hitched in a church, you’re not yet married until right after the presiding clergy says some equivalent of the words “I now pronounce you man and wife.” So what do those words do?! (For the nerds among us, this has been called the performative aspect of language, according to the theory of speech acts in a book with the fine title of How to Do Things with Words by Brit J. L. Austin.)

It’s because the West in particular often lacks (read “threw the baby out with the bathwater over the last century”) meaningful ritual that ritual has come to preoccupy many Druids and Pagans generally. But it bears repeating that ritual isn’t merely a Druid or even a Pagan concern: ritual and ritual languages cover the planet.

Here’s a remarkably respectful video from a 3-minute 2010 BBC broadcast.  (Title includes “OBOD” but no mention is made of it in the video itself, so don’t worry — I’m not proselytizing — really!):

“Ceremonies of Innocence”

Another common example. Depending on how you were raised, your parents taught you to say “thank you” and “excuse me.” In the process they likely also taught you that the forms themselves matter, as much as or often more than your heartfelt gratitude or apology. The discipline of saying the words themselves – often — was enough. (If you’re feeling cynical, you could argue that this is one of our first formal lessons in hypocrisy.) We may rail justifiably against “empty language,” but that’s not the fault of ritual. The emptiness of much empty talk issues from a lack of conviction or perspective behind it. As Yeats said in his poem “The Second Coming,” “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” So we get loudness and passion as the daily menu on far too many of our media of choice, while stillness and reflection flee for the hills. But (to mix metaphors) that’s where these two inexhaustible caves of treasures lie waiting. We can, if we desire to, recover the “ceremonies of innocence.”

A Side-note on Definitions

You may have noticed that I carefully sidestepped the issue of what “ritual” is and what a “language” is. If you want more information on these fascinating and often controversial topics than the quick-and-dirty Wikipedia links can give, and you don’t have a good town library handy, just search “magical use of ritual language” on Google Scholar. Earlier today (3/24/14) it returned 168,000 results. So even if upwards of 90% of these prove to be some combination of junk or dead links, you’ll find remarkable studies, academic and amateur and much in between. Enough in fact to launch you into a lifetime of fruitful reading and study on just this one topic, should you wish.  (See the end of this post for a detailed excerpt of  the Wikipedia entry for “magical language.”

All or Nothing

allnothingOf course, using ritual language doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” proposition. A few words and phrases can often be sufficient to signal important parts of a ritual, or to heighten the charge of ritual atmosphere. Any decent magical training curriculum will show you this. Like all conscious acts, those performed with intention carry power. (Anyone reading this knows, for instance, the difference between a casually tossed-off “I love you” and the same words said with full attention and feeling. If you don’t, don’t come back here until you do. That part of your life obviously deserves more atttention than this blog.)

As an example of this “ritual sprinkle” approach, here’s an excerpt of the ritual use of Welsh from the “Grand Sword” page of the Gorsedd of the Bards (Museum of Wales online):

One of the Gorsedd’s oldest rites is the ceremony of partly unsheathing the Grand Sword. The Archdruid asks the following questions and the audience replies ‘Heddwch’ (Peace) three times:

Y Gwir yn erbyn y Byd, A oes Heddwch? (The Truth against the World, Is there Peace?)
Calon wrth Galon, A oes Heddwch? (Heart to Heart, Is there Peace?)
Gwaedd uwch Adwaedd, A oes Heddwch? (Shout above responding Shout, Is there Peace?)’

Carrying a sword was one of the rites in Iolo Morganwg’s first Gorsedd in 1792. As a pacifist Iolo wanted to emphasise that the Bards met in peace and when a naked sword was placed on the Logan Stone they proceeded to sheath it as a symbol of peace in Gorsedd.

Bardic chair inscription: "the truth against the world"

Bardic chair inscription: “the truth against the world”

With no more than this much Welsh in a ritual, or even just Y gwir yn erbyn y Byd [approximately “uh GWEER uhn EHR-been uh BEED”] “the Truth against the World,” you can clearly set apart the language of your rite from ordinary language, and help evoke the heightened state of consciousness characteristic of much (not all) successful ritual.

Benefits of Ritual Language

If you want the John F. Kennedy version – “what ritual language can do for you” – here’s a start.

An FAQ of the Latin Liturgy Association site lists several “important benefits of using Latin” as a “sacral” language, including its close association with worship, as with the Arabic of the Qur’an, the Sanskrit of Hinduism and the Hebrew of Judaism. It also “helps us overcome limitations of time and place” and “participate in the universal reality of the Catholic Church, linking us with the generations” who preceded us. As the language of a sacred musical tradition, it also gives access to the plainsong and chant of the Church.

So Why Use a Distinct Ritual Language?

Huston Smith

Huston Smith

OK, you get that ritual and ritual language are powerful and widespread. But why not keep it to your own native tongue and skip the difficulty of learning another language besides? Who has the time for studying and mastering a dedicated language? Isn’t a dedicated practice more important? Aren’t ritual and worship and devotion in [insert your language here] better than none at all? This cry of the heart has a strong appeal. Its human roots are ancient. Huston Smith in his The World’s Religions (p. 34) cites a Hindu prayer, noting, “Even village priests will frequently open their temple ceremonies with the following beloved invocation:

O Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations:
Thou art everywhere, but I worship you here;
Thou art without form, but I worship you in these forms;
Thou needest no praise, yet I offer you these prayers and salutations,
Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations.

Surely this is justification, if indeed we need any? You may have seen this prayer incorporated into rituals as part of the reach toward the divine – I have. Of all human failings, surely what language we use in our quest must rank low on the scale of such things?

M. Isadora Forrest notes in her book Isis Magic, “Isis of the Ten Thousand Names provided Her ancient worshippers with a broad range of Divine aspects, functions and affinities” (pg. 8). So if we can approach spirit or divine realm using our own names for it, what’s the need for a separate ritual language? Can’t we reach and communicate with the Goddess [substitute your own preferred name here] using what is, after all, our “mother tongue,” the speech that is most intimate to us? Isn’t this language therefore among the most valid of tools we can use, if we wish to contact and plunge into the Otherworld, the divine realm? It reaches and extends from the heart.

Well, just like you generally appreciate home-baked over store-bought, deities show preferences. Among them are offerings, names and languages. That doesn’t mean that English or whatever your native language is won’t “work” as you lay the roses, pour the mead, light the cedar incense, offer the myrrh or dragonsblood or cinnamon, but it does mean that a more immediate connection is one benefit and advantage of using a ritual language. In part it’s a matter of dedication and devotion. Our efforts please the divine; as someone said – I’m quoting badly here – “the gods enjoy the taste of human sweat in their offerings.”

A tradition can have profound impact on our spiritual paths. Forrest observes (again, insert your preferred designation for “Goddess” and “Isis” as needed):

By examining the evidence this tradition has left us, modern devotees of the Goddess can be connected with and find inspiration in the ancient worship … We can discover the traditional ways Isis was worshipped and learn how her worshippers thought, talked and taught about her. In the stories they told, the religious purposes they agreed upon … we can follow the path of a very ancient religious tradition that can connnect us to our spiritual ancestors. By using the symbols they used and found meaningful– and by finding our own meaning in them – we are empowered by tradition. It can guide us, inpsire us, explain things to us. It provides potent archetypal symbols, sanctified by centuries of use, energized by the meaning invested in them. The devotion of thousands upon thousands of Isis worshippers before us can provide a path we can walk and a context for our own relationship

with the divine. Thus, “tradition can be an extremely valuable tool of connection with the Divine; yet it need not constrain us. Human religious history is a history of change” (9).

Ritual Language and Two Kinds of “Users”

The use of a special ritual language concerns two groups of ritualists in different ways. For writers or composers of rituals and liturgies, the language must be “composable in.” That is, it shouldn’t be so difficult to use that the creation of new rituals and liturgies is so challenging only a few can pull it off. This means that those who know the language can use it creatively. Need a new handfasting ritual, or a rite to plant potatoes? No problem! This also means that the first group can make the ritual accessible to the second and much larger group, the users or participants in rituals and liturgies. This latter groups includes not only the “usual suspects,” the regular participants in rituals, but also any visitors (assuming your rituals with a ritual language are open to them), and readers of any media like your group’s website that explains or presents rituals to a wider audience.

Which Ritual Language?

There are currently some 6000 human languages on the planet, though the number is decreasing dramatically. However, Celtic-inspired Druids need not sort through them; under a dozen ready and suitable options present themselves. (If you want to focus on Asatru and other similar northwestern European Heathen traditions, replace Celtic with Germanic tongues. Likewise, substitute some Slavic options, if you’re into Baltic Heathenism like Romuva, or Hellenismos if you’re a Greek Pagan.etc.).

Welsh, Irish Gaelic, Scots Gaelic, Breton, Cornish, Manx. Throw in Proto-Celtic if you wish. All but the latter have communities of speakers, grammars and dictionaries and various learning resources. (Proto-Celtic lets you try out an ancestral speech in a form that’s still being reconstructed as we speak. Enough exists to compose in it – barely.  See the next section for more possibilities.) Admittedly you’re most likely to encounter the modern forms of these, but dive into the modern form, and you can begin to make use of preserved older forms in manuscripts, chronicles, epics and legends, rich with symbolism and myth for rituals, prayers, chants, song lyrics, etc. as yet unborn, unwritten, unchanted, unsung.

Conlangs, Arise!

DanaeLang4

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones

Another option lies in the adaptation of a Celtic language to your purposes. Ritual language is already heightened, altered, shifted.  Well, a conlang or constructed language may fit your needs.  (For a detailed look at some possibilities, visit Mark Rosenfelder’s online Language Construction Kit.)  Conlangers have been modifying adapting, regularizing, extending and creating out of whole cloth an astonishing range of languages. A significant number of them exist in forms complete enough to use for ritual. And you can actually commission a language from the Language Creation Society. You too can do just as the producers of Game of Thrones have done with Dothraki, whose creator David Peterson has created other languages. Visit his website for a sampling.

Perplexed by the contradiction between authentic or historical and concocted or created ex nihilo? You’ve arrived at the classic a priori versus a posteriori nexus – a lively point of debate in the conlang community.

J M Greer

J M Greer

Ends and Beginnings

Had enough? Need a break? Or want to sample the sounds of some 30 European languages? Below is a Youtube clip featuring Celtic, Romance, Germanic and Slavic languages, along with Greek, Albanian and Hungarian to round out the linguistic variety of Europe (see the note below for a complete list of languages and approximate times). You may have visceral reactions to accents, pitches, sounds. I urge you to make note of them. See if you can get down in words what it is that appeals or doesn’t appeal to you in the sounds and overall sprachgefühl, a wonderful German word that literally means “speech-feeling” — the character of a language. This can be helpful as you consider the sound of any ritual language you might want to use. It may also prove useful if you’re wondering what languages you might want to study in the future (if you’re following the language learning advice of John Michael Greer in his talk “A Magical Education”). And there’s a chance it may spark a dream of a past life when you may have spoken a form of one of these languages yourself.

Here’s the 32-language video:

A Next Step

In DRL —  A Druid Ritual Language — Part 3, I’ll look specifically at Welsh and then at a couple of conlangs as candidates for ritual languages.

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Images: Huston SmithGame of Thrones; all/nothingDanaelect4;  J M Greer; bardic chair.

From the Wikipedia entry for “Magical Language“, accessed 3/23/14, which I cite below for its interest:

The performance of magic almost always involves the use of language. Whether spoken out loud or unspoken, words are frequently used to access or guide magical power. In “The Magical Power of Words” (1968) S. J. Tambiah argues that the connection between language and magic is due to a belief in the inherent ability of words to influence the universe. Bronisław Malinowski … suggests that this belief is an extension of man’s basic use of language to describe his surroundings, in which “the knowledge of the right words, appropriate phrases and the more highly developed forms of speech, gives man a power over and above his own limited field of personal action.”Magical speech is therefore a ritual act and is of equal or even greater importance to the performance of magic than non-verbal acts.

Not all speech is considered magical. Only certain words and phrases or words spoken in a specific context are considered to have magical power. Magical language … is distinct from scientific language because it is emotive and it converts words into symbols for emotions; whereas in scientific language words are tied to specific meanings and refer to an objective external reality. Magical language is therefore particularly adept at constructing metaphors that establish symbols and link magical rituals to the world.

Malinowski argues that “the language of magic is sacred, set and used for an entirely different purpose to that of ordinary life.” The two forms of language are differentiated through word choice, grammar, style, or by the use of specific phrases or forms: spellssongsblessings, or chants, for example. Sacred modes of language often employ archaic words and forms in an attempt to invoke the purity or “truth” of a religious or a cultural “golden age”. The use of Hebrew in Judaism is an example.

Another potential source of the power of words is their secrecy and exclusivity. Much sacred language is differentiated enough from common language that it is incomprehensible to the majority of the population and it can only be used and interpreted by specialized practitioners (magicianspriests, shamans, even mullahs). In this respect, Tambiah argues that magical languages violate the primary function of language: communication. Yet adherents of magic are still able to use and to value the magical function of words by believing in the inherent power of the words themselves and in the meaning that they must provide for those who do understand them. This leads Tambiah to conclude that “the remarkable disjunction between sacred and profane language which exists as a general fact is not necessarily linked to the need to embody sacred words in an exclusive language.”

Video roster of languages and times; “FSI + a number” refers to the U.S. Foreign Service Institute ranking of difficulty for an English speaker, 1 being easier, and higher numbers being comparatively more difficult/requiring more hours of study:

0:00 Serbian—FSI 3
0:21 British English
1:03 Albanian—FSI 4/FSI 2
1:18 Finnish—FSI 4
1:46 Slovakian—FSI 4
2:25 German– FSI 2
2:56 Macedonian—FSI 4
3:26 Portuguese—FSI 1
3:54 Ukrainian—FSI 4
4:19 Croatian—FSI 4
4:50 Moldovan—not listed
5:48 Swedish—FSI1
6:14 Russian—FSI 4
6:52 Italian—FSI 1
7:22 Slovenian—FSI 4
7:49 Danish—FSI 1
8:22 Polish—FSI 4
8:44 Romanian—FSI 1
9:13 French—FSI 1
10:00 Byelarussian—not listed
10:24 Bulgarian—FSI 4
10:54 Greek—FSI 4
11:22 Czech—FSI 4
11:52 Dutch—FSI 1
12:35 Bosnian—FSI 4
13:00 Spanish (Castilian) – FSI 1
13:30 Estonian—FSI 4
14:02 Norwegian—FSI 1
14:53 Lithuanian—FSI 4
15:20 Irish Gaelic—not listed
15:52 Latvian—FSI 4
16:26 Icelandic—FSI 4
16:52 Hungarian—FSI 4
17:30 Slovenian—FSI 4

Edited/updated 10 July 2014

Jesus and Druidry, Part 1   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2Part 3]

Midwinter greetings to you all!  It’s sunny and bitter cold here in southern VT.  The mourning doves and chickadees mobbing our feeder have fluffed themselves against the chill — the original down jackets — the indoor thermometer says 62, and my main task today, besides writing this post, is keeping our house warm and fussing over the woodstove like a brood hen sitting a nest of chicks.  Hope you’re bundled and warm — or if you live on the summer side of the globe, you’re making the most of the sun and heat while it lasts.

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gbshawThe long and complex associations between a dominant religion like Christianity and minority faiths and practices within the dominant religious culture, like Druidry, won’t be my primary focus in this post. I’m more interested in personalities and practices anyway. It’s from spiritual innovators that any transformation of consciousness spreads, and that includes people like Jesus. Or as George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) quipped in his play Man and Superman, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”  I’m asserting that in the best sense of the word, we can count Jesus among the “unreasonable” men and women we depend on for progress.

Mostly reasonable people like me don’t make waves.  Cop out?  Maybe.  If I chose to stand in the front lines of protests against practices like fracking, wrote blogs and letters decrying the bought votes and cronyism of specific members of Congress, targeted public figures with letter campaigns, founded and led a visible magical or spiritual group or movement, made headlines and provided a ready source of colorful sound-bites, I’d win my quarter-hour of fame, and probably an FBI or NSA file with my name on it.* Maybe it would make a difference.  Maybe not.  Material for an upcoming post.

Back to the main topic of Jesus and Druidry.  As Philip Carr-Gomm notes in his book Druid Mysteries,

Although Christianity ostensibly superseded Druidry, in reality it contributed to its survival, and ultimately to its revival after more than a millennium of obscurity.  It did this in at least four ways:  it continued to make use of certain old sacred sites, such as holy wells; it adopted the festivals and the associated folklore of the pagan calendar; it recorded the tales of the Bards, which encoded the oral teachings of the Druids; and it allowed some of the old gods to live in the memory of the people by co-opting them into the Church as saints.  That Christianity provided the vehicle for Druidry’s survival is ironic, since the Church quite clearly did not intend this to be the case (p. 31).

rookOne somewhat obscure but intriguing survival is the Scots poet Sir Richard Holland’s Buke of the Howlat(e) (Book of the Owlet), dating from the 1450s. OK, . Holland’s satirical poem is peopled with birds standing in for humans, and it stars an unhappy owl which has traveled to the Pope (a peacock) to petition for an improved appearance.

lainghowlatIn the process of considering the owl’s request, the Pope orders a banquet, and among the entertainments during the feast is a “Ruke” (a rook or raven) in the stanza below, which represents the traditional satirical and mocking bard (named in the poem as Irish, but actually Scots Gaelic), deploying the power of verse to entertain, assert his rights, and reprimand the powerful.  Thus, some two centuries before the start of the Druid Revival, Holland’s poem preserves memory of the old bardic tradition.  Bear with my adaptation here of stanza 62 of Holland’s long poem.  Here, the Rook gives a recitation in mock Gaelic, mixed with the Scots dialect** of the poem, demanding food and drink:

So comes the Rook with a cry, and a rough verse:
A bard out of Ireland with beannachaidh Dhe [God’s blessings (on the house)]
Said, “An cluinn thu guth, a dhuine dhroch, olaidh mise deoch.
Can’t you hear a word, evil man? I can take a drink.
Reach her+ a piece of the roast, or she+ shall tear thee.
[+the speaker’s soul — a feminine noun in Gaelic]
Mise mac Muire/Macmuire (plus indecipherable words)
I am the son of Mary/I am Macmuire.
Set her [it] down.  Give her drink.  What the devil ails you?
O’ Diarmaid, O’ Donnell, O’ Dougherty Black,
There are Ireland’s kings of the Irishry,
O’ Conallan (?), O’ Conachar, O’ Gregor Mac Craine.
The seanachaid [storyteller], the clarsach [harp],
The ben shean [old woman], the balach [young lad],
The crechaire [plunderer], the corach [champion],
She+ knows them every one.”
[+again, the soul of the speaker]

If you can for a moment overlook the explicit Protestant mockery of the Papacy (the Pope as a Peacock, after all), here, then, is an early Renaissance indication that the Bardic tradition was still recalled and recognized widely enough to work in a poem.  Holland’s poem is itself a satire, and in it, the bard demands food and drink as his right as a professional, shows off his knowledge of famous names, and generally makes himself at home, both satirizing and being satirized in Holland’s depiction of bardic arrogance.  (For in the following stanza, he’s kicked offstage by two court fools, who then spend another stanza quarreling between themselves.)

Thus, when the first Druid Revivalists began in the 1600s to search for the relics and survivals and outlying remains of Druidry to pair up with what they knew  Classical authors had said about the Druids, things like Holland’s poem were among the shards and fragments they worked with.  I’ve written (herehere and here) about the tales from the Mabinogion which, as Carr-Gomm points out above, preserve much Druid lore, passed down in story form and preserved by Christian monastics long after the oral teachings (and teachers) apparently passed from the scene. OK, .

More about Revival Druidry, the Revivalists, and Druidic survivals, coming soon.

[Part 2 here.]

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*It’s likely such a file already exists anyway: I lived and worked for a year in the People’s Republic of China, I had to be fingerprinted and cleared by the Dept. of State for a month-long teaching job in South Korea (a requirement of my S. Korea employer, not the U.S.) a couple of summers ago, and I practice not just one but two minority religions.  If you’re reading this, O Agents of Paranoia, give yourselves a coffee break — nothing much continues to happen here.

**Below is Holland’s original stanza 62 from his Buke of the Howlate.  With the help of a dated commentary on Google Books, and the online Dictionary of the Scots Language, I’ve worked on a rough translation/adaptation.  If you know the poem (or know Scots), corrections are welcome!

Sae come the Ruke with a rerd, and a rane roch,
A bard owt of Irland with ‘Banachadee!’,
Said, ‘Gluntow guk dynyd dach hala mischy doch,
Raike here a rug of the rost, or so sall ryive the.
Mich macmory ach mach mometir moch loch,
Set here doune! Gif here drink! Quhat Dele alis the?
O Deremyne, O Donnall, O Dochardy droch
Thir ar his Irland kingis of the Irischerye,
O Knewlyn, O Conochor, O Gregre Makgrane,
The Schenachy, the Clarschach,
The Ben schene, the Ballach,
The Crekery, the Corach,
Scho kennis thaim ilk ane.

Carr-Gomm, Philip.  Druid Mysteries: Ancient Wisdom for the 21st Century.  London: Rider, 2002.

Diebler, Arthur.  Holland’s Buke of the Houlate, published from the Bannatyne Ms, with Studies in the Plot, Age and Structure of the Poem.  Chemnitz, 1897.  Google Books edition, pp. 23-24.

Dictionary of the Scots Language.

Images: G B Shaw; rook; Laing edition of Buke of the Howlat cover.

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