Archive for the ‘goddess’ Category

Gods for the Ungodded — and Vice-versa

With the pervasive influence of belief-religions like Christianity, Islam and Judaism on many of the readers of this blog, we tend to think of the dividing line between “who’s in” and “who’s out” as something marked by beliefwhen there are numerous other options available. It’s not just “paper or plastic?” There’s canvas bags, and boxes, and carry-it-out-in-my-hands-without-any-container-needed-thank-you, to name a few. And if we look over some of the terms available to describe this range of approaches and objects of our attention and intention — terms like atheist — they often bring way too many non-useful associations with them. Often atheist really isn’t a particularly useful term for many who just don’t bother with deity, as deity has never bothered with them. Hence the term ungodded in the title of this post, an awkward attempt to get at this phenomenon.

After all, orthodox Hindus aren’t normally labelled a-carnists, non-meat-eaters, though most are vegetarian. It’s simply their default setting. If I’ve never paid any particular attention to deity at all, I’m not so much an atheist as an alter-cosmist — I live in a different cosmos, where the question doesn’t arise, or hasn’t done so recently. At least until the door-to-door folks come calling with their pocket sermons and their flyers and leaflets and their “either you’re in or you’re out”-trips. Binarists, every one of ’em, devotees of a binary black-white, either-or world that ignores an immense and uncharted middle ground. Worshipers of Binaria, goddess of absolute distinctions in a world of shaded and subtle continuum inherent in almost everything.

Marduk_and_pet

Marduk and his dragon Mushkhushshu — public domain/Wikipedia

Or to take another tack, I don’t believe in my ancestors so much as understand they exist(ed), from the evidence of my own existence right now, though many of their names and faces are lost in time. (The same happens to gods. Marduk, son of Enki, anyone? Does your non-belief make you an a-Mardukist?! Or can we concur that most of us check the box marked N.A. — “not applicable”?)

Some ancestors contribute to my genes and bloodline directly, while the others subside into the background, distant cousins, every one of them. Imagine — and I mean imagine — that god/desses fill some of those same spaces. Powers that made and are making a difference, even though I never meet them directly. Imagine the cosmos filled with nothing else than cousins. My counterpart in Azerbaijan gets along perfectly well without my knowledge or belief, and he’s a mortal man. What of god/desses? Can’t they do at least as much?

“Oh brave new world, that has such people [deities?] in it!” — Miranda, Shakespeare, The Tempest, 5.1.186-187.

Gravity existed long before anyone believed in it. We could call it a goddess, except that we (mostly) haven’t conceptualized that Power in such a way. And no, I’m not suggesting that we pray to Gravitas at her altars — although doing so would doubtless reveal some world-widening insights we haven’t yet reached. Any scientist worth her training knows that dedication to her field reveals secrets obtainable in no other way. What else is devotion, after all, but a means of contact, a chance to widen the world and make use of the divine gift of our imagination and creativity? What else, you might ask, are we for? (Try that out as a subject for meditation and practice for a month of days, in any way you like, and get back to us with what you discover.)

R. J. Stewart offers an “American Goddesses Meditation” as a way to explore deity that you might connect to quite naturally. (Why not use what’s nearby first?! If you’re not an inhabitant of the States, adapt to your locale — who’s a goddess in your area? There might be rivers, mountains, and so on that deserve attention, if only for experimental devotion. Who gets represented in statues, names, images — even and especially if they don’t at first come across as goddesses? And you can try the same with gods, if you’re so inclined. Many deities are partly or proximally incarnate — they have a physical form you can use to approach them, much as the Orthodox in some traditions have icons, statues, etc. Looked at one way, some of the most seemingly Protestant and Evangelical among Americans are polytheists, also worshiping a hard, metallic and martial war-god, carrying around his talismans and charms in the form of AK-47s, Glocks, etc.)

liberty

Liberty — Wikipedia/public domain

If, on the other hand, you do practice devotion or dedication to some form of deity, it behooves you to try out non-belief, for what it can offer you that nothing else can. By that I mean, among other things, rather than fearing doubt, to harness it as a tool for insight and exploration. One of my teachers exhausted doubt as a factor when he finally pursued it to its deepest ends — ran it to earth, so to speak — and realized that for him it no longer exerted power. Doubt became merely boring, not worth the time (like chewing gum you’ve worked on for hours). Doubt no longer offered an illicit thrill, or troubled his inner worlds. As far as doubt is concerned, then, he’s now an atheist.

Can I be an atheist towards fear, or anger, or some other Power that asks for my worship and energy and attention? Who and what else do I worship that doesn’t deserve it, or that I’ve outgrown? (And to turn the wheel another quarter turn, who and what might I be overlooking or ignoring that merits more attention than I grant today? Chances are great there’s something more I can discover about this endlessly amazing universe.)

[“Why, when God’s world is so big, did you fall asleep in a prison, of all places?” — Rumi.]

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3D: Divination, Discernment, Dreaming

[Part 1 | 2 | 3]

I wrote up a version of the following for my journal, a practice in itself, and now for this post.

John Beckett’s helpful article “A Pagan Framework for Discernment” suggests a three-part approach for anyone doing the hard work of sifting experience and belief for their weight and significance and value. “Religious and spiritual ideas”, he observes, “are notoriously resistant to proof, as our atheist friends like to remind us. But if we wait on absolute proof, we’ll end up abandoning beliefs and practices that are meaningful and helpful to us.”

Divination is a useful practice at such a juncture, for several reasons. First, it acknowledges a need for help. I’m never alone, though too often I face challenges as if I am. [As that Christian triad (Matthew 7) has it, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you”. No, really!]

Second, divination gives me “something to do” that often relaxes the inner channels sufficiently that I’ll receive guidance “before” I actually do the divination. There’s little support or comprehension in our culture for anyone who talks about “voices in the head” — that kind of talk is one step toward getting you committed. So be careful who you talk to, I hear. Maybe if you started out committed, I hear, you’d know better how to respond to “voices in the head”. Rather than ignoring them, freaking, or heeding them unthinkingly, we’d assume there’s a wider range of options from which to choose.

Third, divination offers suggestions and potential wisdom apart from the usual gossipy, opinionated mechanical self that pretends to conscious awareness most days. Wisdom received often has a qualitative difference from what I’d usually say to myself.

“A belief is true if it works”, Beckett continues, “if it conforms to known facts, and if it’s helpful. But some factors have no bearing on truth even though we might wish they did.”

With such things in my thought as I consider how Thecu initiated communication a couple years ago, and then again recently, I ask for guidance on divination, figuring I’ll draw a card or three from a deck to assess possible directions. To my surprise I’m told to make an impromptu “deck” of nine folded pieces of paper. “Let each be a doorway”, I hear. That’s not quite right; there are no audible words. But the sensation is the same; the words are in my mind.

IMG_1738After I prepare the papers and document the moment with a photograph, almost before I can ask for the next step, I’m given nine words or names to write on them: hampu, lutec, nef, abal, tahilte, renha, lam, tseme, umun. Then, as smoothly as the sense of guidance arrived, it falls away, and I’m left with no further sense of direction. Upheld, then let down.

While the linguist in me putters in the background, turning over the names for a clue to their origin and meanings, I light a small candle and some incense, as much to forestall disappointment as anything else. The incense is homemade, from a workshop some years ago. It needs intermittent relighting, but that’s OK. I send out a silent “thanks and query” with each relighting. It feels right to do so.

Perhaps half an hour later, I receive further instruction, as I’m making some notes about a job lead: “The nine words are associated with the numbers 1 to 9. They are not numbers themselves, but they belong with them. Write the numbers on the cards you made in the order the words came.”

The following day I light candle and incense again, and add a spoken element. As I listen, I try pairing Thecu’s name with each of the nine words, in an impromptu chant, each pair repeated twice, with some playful riffs: “hampu Thecu, hampu Thecu, lutec Thecu, tec, tec Thecu, etc.” In one way, it’s nonsense, but all sound has a quality and an effect, so the practice is not a waste of time in any sense, unless I stupidly insist it is. I will practice this and listen again several more times to test it.

“We are wise”, Beckett closes, repeating his opening assertion,

to focus our attention on our actions rather than on our beliefs. But our actions generate experiences, and in our attempt to interpret and understand our experiences we form beliefs. Our experiences may be so strong or so frequent we are certain our beliefs about them must be right, but if we are honest with ourselves, we can never be completely sure they are right.

But we can ask ourselves if our beliefs work, if they conform to known facts, and if they help us lead better lives. If we can answer yes to these three questions, we can be confident that they are as right as they can be.

How do I pray to you, goddess of storms?
Let this my prayer be a litany of questions.

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Prayer to Thecu Stormbringer

[Part 1 | 2 | 3]

How do I pray to you, goddess of storms?
Let this my prayer be a litany of questions.
How may I best honor you?

You gave me a glimpse, no more,
of landscape, cliffs lapped with green,
mist-hung and mournful,

with this foreign name to call you.
What is your service, what
may I do for you? Why

make yourself known to me?
Unlikely am I, no familiar of shrines,
a god’s service, formal prayer.

Then, too, I know so little of you.
Does naming you for others answer
your purposes? How do I answer you,

goddess of storms? Here are words,
intention, listening. Let this litany
of doubts and questions be first prayer.

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thracia-daciaIn the single experience (see recent post) I had of her, Thecu was particular about the sound of her name: TEH-koo, spelt with a c, not a k. Something bleeding through here of eastern Europe: Thracian, Dacian, Illyrian, Macedonian Greek, Etruscan?

The linguist in me still turns over these very scant details. This is one of those shadowy regions of Europe, where we know so little, mostly echoes from the written histories of neighbors, along with a few hundred words, a handful of inscriptions.

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Image: eastern Europe.

New Gods for Old?

[Part 1 | 2 | 3]

IMG_1703Listening for names. I spend a significant amount of time doing that, between my spiritual practice and my fiction. It’s a curious endeavor, hard to explain, but one a surprising number of people have experience with. What is it we’re hearing?!

Some two years ago in meditation I heard the name of a Storm Goddess, two syllables, beginning with the letter T. I don’t know about you, but the first time I encounter a deity, especially unsought, a being I don’t know, I can feel like I’ve just landed on an island no one’s visited before. No maps, no tourist description, no information to help the next person, because I’m the first one to arrive there. No other footprints on the beach. No electricity. When the sun goes down, I’m left only with this fire I choose to build, a new climate, night noises I don’t recognize, a night sky whose constellations have shifted, or wheel above me wholly new.

Subsequent listening brought me a little more information, a complete name I’m keeping back for now while I pursue additional ritual work and meditation. I do have a general location in eastern Europe where her worship originated. But not a lot more. I’m returning after this interval to pick up the thread, to think out loud here, to see if there’s more to discover. For me, writing about something often activates it in ways nothing else does, blowing hidden embers to flame. (A strong reason for keeping a journal, as I’ve learned. I confess I needed to track down the entry to recover her name. I only have it because I wrote it down.)

BlackSea

Black Sea and eastern Mediterranean

My title for this post isn’t meant to be serious — I have no sense of T “replacing” any other deity. She’s simply new to me, and as far as I can tell, her presence has left no written record. Barring a trip — beyond my resources at this point — to plant my feet on the ground and walk the region west of Black Sea where my meditation showed me her worship once flourished, I’m left with what I can discover from here.  No report of divine possession resulting from touching a barrow rising through the mist and contacting ancestors or land spirits. No blaze of insight, no recognizable historical scene unfolding in inner vision. No Hollywood or Bollywood or CGI to dramatize a blogpost. No Industrial Light and Magic courtesy of the Otherworld.

That doesn’t hamstring my search, but it does direct it inward, fitting for a deity whose worship has apparently withdrawn to inner realms.

Why did she make herself known two years ago? That itself forms part of my search. It’s the nature of UPG, unverified personal gnosis, that I can’t yet rule out being played by a spirit. That’s no different than how a phishing advertisement or a fake news article snags a portion of its readers who part with money, belief, a sliver of common sense and integrity. What distinguishes my experience is the approach, if you want to call it that, of T. Reserved, as if testing me. No requests. A trickle of information, a flash image of green and rocky landscape. Enough to hang a meditation session on, enough to ask for a return on the investment of energy involved in making contact with an incarnate being, me, with lots of other demands on his attention and time. Enough to provoke this post.

Now part of the experience is that the writer in me immediately, inevitably jumps aboard and starts playing. Imagine! he says. You were her devotee in a past life and she’s contacting you to revive her worship!  Decent premise for a story, right?! Or, or … it’s an inner warning of outer storms to come. Or this isn’t the goddess but a priestess of the goddess reaching out to you for a Dion-Fortuneque revivification of a spiritual energy whose time has now come again to wash over the earth. See what I mean? What to do with such a companion?!

Yes, my writer self is more than a bit of a quicksilver imp, a drama queen, a runaway dreamer who’d sooner spend an hour in reverie than getting words on paper or screen.

But for all that, he’s opened doors and given me words I don’t get any other way. He’s part of the package. I’m talking about all these things to give you a sense of my process. Yours, of course, is your own.

So, T, this post is for you. Your serve.

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Image: Black Sea.

“Creating a Goddess Book”: The Rest of the Workshop

Our bodies already know the Goddess – this is our oldest magic.

I relied on this insight in planning for the workshop at this year’s East Coast Gathering, whose theme was “Connecting with the Goddess.”

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Goals and plans I had for the workshop:

The heart of the workshop is a hands-on look at various ways to make a physical book/scroll/altar object that explores/invites/incorporates ritual, ogham/runes, art, prayer, poems, questions, magic and daydreaming into a concrete “link” to the Goddess as we experience Her — or desire to experience Her. Think “book” as “portable paginated/folding/roll-up ongoing altar-in-process.” I’ll talk about inspiration, nudges, hints and ways to listen, inviting and hoping for participant sharing and input! The seed for the workshop comes out of the fact that I’m a prime example of somebody who doesn’t have a consistent Goddess practice (though She’s seeing to it that’s shifting, too), but when She wants my attention, She gets it, like with this book, and workshop.

It’s probably a good thing we don’t always hear how ambitious we sound. Young or old, you eventually learn to deal with the inevitable gap between vision and manifestation. If you’ve managed to hold on to any of that original and wonderful idealism of youth, you also realize that the gap isn’t a reason to despair, or to dispense with vision, but rather a sign of just how important vision is.

The physical world, so important for manifestation, by its nature tends to lag behind the swiftness with which vision can appear. But that lag is precisely part of this world’s immense value: its inertia and density allow for greater permanency and resistance to change, so that we can experience the results of vision over time — and fine-tune it if we choose. Unlike in dream, where the subtle stuff of vision or imagination can wisp away so quickly, physical manifestation tries to linger.

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The Goddess is generous. Or alternatively, if you prefer the cynical version, I belong to the OCD Order of Druids. Creativity, as the saying goes, is messy. I over-planned for the workshop, ending up with far more material than any mortal could begin to do justice to in a mere hour, and this post is my penance, or confession. Or further indulgence. And maybe — in the way it often arrives when we’re not paying attention, even in spite of ourselves — a spark of awen.

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ogham“Creating A Goddess Book,” with focus on “book” in order to free it from the psychological shrine many Druids, and Pagans generally, tend to put books in. Instead of paper, a book of leather, or metal, or cloth — individual sheets, or a single longer scroll. A nudge to try out the qualities of other substances than paper, than the admittedly inviting blank books on sale in chain bookstores, or even Ye Friendlie Lokal Paygan Shoppe.

Each workshop participant received a packet to practice with, consisting of a rectangle  (approx. 3″ x 4″) of vegetable-cured leather and a similar-sized rectangle of .019″ aluminum, wrapped in a larger swath of canvas cut from a shop drop-cloth from Home Depot. A wood- and leather-burning tool, a few screwdrivers, some markers of various kinds, a few words about inspiration and the importance of working to manifest things on the physical plane as one powerful way to connect with the Goddess. Suggestions for inscribing/writing/ incising a short prayer, vow, magical name, etc. Reference tables of Ogham and runes for those who wanted to inscribe words with some privacy, as a personal meditation. I pointed out that you could cut all three materials with kitchen scissors. Besides the wood-burner, no fancy tools required. Then I shut up and let participants have at the materials. Done!

Hex Nottingham's leather and metal "pages" -- photo courtesy Hex Nottingham

Hex Nottingham’s leather and metal “pages” — photo courtesy Hex Nottingham

Except for the next flash of inspiration in the planning process, which would not let go: a “Nine-Fold Star of the Goddess” you can try out here at one of several websites that illustrate the steps.

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A sampling, with some commentary and additions, from the workshop handout:

“Spirit must express itself in the world of matter or it accomplishes nothing.  Insights of meditation and ceremony gain their full power and meaning when reflected in the details of everyday life.” — J. M. Greer, The Druidry Handbook, p. 138.

This world, here, is the realm of mystery. Spirit is simple — it’s this world that’s so surprising and complex in its changes and ripples, its folds and spirals and timings. Make something, I tell myself, labor with the body, and then I can often approach the Goddess more easily, dirt under my fingernails, sweat on my face. She likes bodies. I’m the one who keeps forgetting this, not her.

“Work with a Goddess long enough and you learn to hear Her call. You learn to pick her voice out above the noise of contemporary society, above the words of teachers and friends, and even above your own thoughts and feelings. Sometimes what you hear is not what you expect.” — John Beckett, “A Rite of Sacrifice,” Mar. 4, 2014.

“Shaper, you have made and shaped me. Honor and serenity are yours. I am your garment, you the indwelling spirit. Work with me in everything I do, that all may know you. Energizer, quicken me. Measurer, clear my path. Protector, guard me safely. Initiator, take my hand. Challenger, transform me. Savior, be my help. Weaver, make my pattern bright. Preserver, heal me. Empowerer, make me wise.” — adapted from Caitlin Matthews, Elements of the Goddess, p. 118.

Rilke’s fragment, a whole meditation in itself, or a daily morning prayer.

Oh, I who long to grow,
I look outside myself, and the tree
inside me grows.

— Rainer Maria Rilke

And Larkin’s poem “Water”:

Water

If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes;

My liturgy would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,

And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.

— Philip Larkin

After delighting in this poem, make an exercise of it. Choose one of the elements.  It can be water, as in the poem, or one of the others. Finish the sentence: “If I were called in to construct a _____, I should make use of [element].” Keep going: a series of statements, a meditation on the one you just wrote, a free association.  Whatever gets you putting words down.  You can try this over several days with all the elements, or at a different pace, if you’re working with the elements on your own.

The ECG schedule this year put the Goddess Book workshop immediately after Thursday’s Opening Ritual, so people arrived still bubbling from the ceremonial jump-start for the weekend.

“In every world, in every form, in every way, I am near you, I uphold you, I comfort you, I guide you, I deliver you from each limitation until my freedom is yours. Your body is my chalice, your heart my echo, your form my shadow, your pulse my footstep, your breath my passing.” — from my own Goddess book.

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pattern-star

1. Once you hold the Star of the Goddess in your hand, write the names of the four elements and Spirit, one near each of the points. Complete this step before reading further.

2. Which elements sit on either side of Spirit? Contemplate on their positions there.  Are they elements that help support your spiritual life?  Are they especially active?  Are these the elements that need extra attention and balance?

3. Consider a section in your Goddess book for vows: experiment with them, not as harsh, unyielding obligations, but as tools for studying resolve, testing experience, practicing manifestation of your intent, and so on. They need not be “public” – write them in ogham, runes, etc. Start small and easily achievable.

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Dedicating a Goddess Book: Blood, sweat, tears, spit, etc. can mark our books with our earthiness: a commitment to be honest with the Goddess about our path, its ups and downs, to remember her presence with us, and to acknowledge what we need, what we doubt, what we’re willing to work for – whatever feels right to include. Make a ritual of it. Do it quietly, simply, without fanfare, with silence making its own ritual. Or call out all the stops, bells and whistles. Then dance, feast and celebrate.

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Allow a Goddess book — it could be a single sheet or “page” specifically intended for this purpose — to return slowly to the elements on an outdoor altar. Or bury it in the Mother’s good earth. Thus is the vow fulfilled that the Mother takes into Herself, as She will take all things back in time, and return them again.

“All things are holy to you.  This book like all things lies among the faces you show to me; may I learn from you daily, drink deep from your well, and body you forth as your child.” — from my Goddess book.

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A small ritual. Take a few deep breaths. Sing the awen, or other name or word that grounds and focuses you. Holding your cupped hands in front of you, say: “I make this altar for the Goddess, a space where she may act in my life.”

Holding the Star, or your journal, or other ritual object meaningful to you, or nothing else at all, ask yourself: What specific space or doorway exists in my life for the Goddess to manifest or to act in? Pay attention to hints, images and answers as they come.

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And again: Our bodies already know the Goddess – this is our oldest magic.

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Images: ogham; star.

“Not responsible for spontaneous descent of Awen”

treesun-smNot responsible for spontaneous descent of Awen or manifestation of the Goddess. Unavailable for use by forces not acting in the best interests of life. Emboldened for battle against the succubi of self-doubt, the demons of despair, the phantoms of failure. Ripe for awakening to possibilities unforeseen, situations energizing and people empowering.

Catapulted into a kick-ass cosmos, marked for missions of soul-satisfying solutions, grown in gratitude, aimed towards awe, mellowed in the mead of marvels. Optimized for joy, upgraded to delight, enhanced for happiness.  Witness to the Sidhe shining, the gods gathering, the Old Ways widening to welcome.

logmoss-smPrimed for passionate engagement, armed for awe-spreading, synchronized for ceremonies of sky-kissed celebration. Weaned on wonder, nourished by the numinous, fashioned for fabulousness. Polished for Spirit’s purposes, dedicated to divine deliciousness, washed in the waters of the West, energized in Eastern airs, earthed in North’s left hand, fired in South’s right. Head in the heavens, heart with the holy, feet in flowers, gift of the Goddess, hands at work with humanity. Camped among the captives of love, stirred to wisdom in starlight, favored with a seat among the Fae, born for beauty, robed in the world’s rejoicing, a voice in the vastness of days.

leaflanesm

Knowing, seeing, sensing, being all this, you can never hear the same way again these two words together: “only human”!

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Images: three from a sequence taken yesterday, 3 Oct 14, on a blessed autumn day in southern Vermont two miles from my house.

 

East Coast Gathering 2014

Camp Netimus path -- photo courtesy of Carolyn Batz

Camp Netimus path — photo courtesy of Carolyn Batz

[Here are reviews of ECG 12 and ECG 13.]

East Coast Gathering (ECG) ’14 just celebrated its fifth Alban Elfed/ autumn equinox in the wooded hills of NE Pennsylvania. Along with this year’s theme of “Connecting to the Goddess,” 114 people reconnected to each other and the land, the lovely land. New participants and old remarked on the kindness of place, the welcoming spirit of Netimus, a flourishing girls’ camp founded in 1930 that now plays host off-season to other groups, too.

[For another perspective on this year’s Gathering, visit and read John Beckett’s excellent blog “Under the Ancient Oaks.”]

After a wet summer in the Northeast, the camp showed richly green — mosses, lichens, leaves and light all caressing the gaze wherever you looked. And keeping to our tradition of inviting guests from the U.K., we welcomed Kristoffer Hughes of the Anglesey Druid Order and returning guests Penny and Arthur Billington, this time accompanied by their daughter Ursula, a mean fiddler with Ushti Baba (Youtube link).

For me what distinguished this year’s Gathering, my fourth, was the pure joy in so many people’s faces. And it just grew over the weekend. Over and around travel fatigue, colds, tricky schedules and stresses and waiting commitments — everything — they didn’t matter: the tribe was together again. To you all (from an interfaith week I participated in): “Thank you for the blessings that you bring. Thank you for the blessings that you are.”

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Dana’s Goddess Shrine in a tent on our ritual field was also a wonderful addition and a focus for many of us.

Goddess Shrine -- photo courtesy of Nadia Chauvet

Goddess Shrine — photo courtesy of Nadia Chauvet

Natural offerings accumulated over the weekend — mosses, lichen-streaked stones, acorns, leaves, a small sun-bleached animal skull — were returned to Netimus, and the other items packed up for next time. A workshop I led, on making a Goddess Book, drew me back to the shrine several times for reflection and inspiration. (Here’s the link I mentioned at Camp to a video on making the “Nine-Fold Star of the Goddess” — seeing the steps in 3D should help make my hand-drawn images on the handout easier to read once you practice a few times. A series of divinations and meditations were to follow which I never got to in the workshop — though over-planning is usually better than under-planning. Material for a subsequent post!)

I continue to meditate on a surprising goddess experience during Penny’s workshop, which I may be able to write about in an upcoming post. One of the potencies of such gatherings of like-minded people is the spiritual crucible that can form and catalyze discoveries in ways not always easily accessible in solitary practice.

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Our fire-keepers outdid themselves this year, building enormous pyres (one with an awen worked in wood) to provide the centerpiece of each evening’s gathering after supper, workshops and initiations had concluded.

Awen bonfire ready -- photo courtesy Nadia Chauvet

Awen bonfire ready — photo courtesy Nadia Chauvet

evening bonfire -- photo courtesy John Beckett

evening bonfire — photo courtesy John Beckett

 

As always it’s people who carry the spirit of Druidry. Here as they tour New York City, just prior to the camp, are Kristoffer, Renu, Ursula, Penny and Arthur.

Renu with our UK guests in NY — photo courtesy Renu Aldritch

One Weird Trick Most Gods Don’t Want You to Know

(Scam, scam, scammity scam.  Oh, is this mic live?!)

“One Weird Trick Most Gods Don’t Want You to Know.” A bestselling strategy if there ever was one. Almost fail-proof. Get in on what THEY’VE been keeping from us, Honest Suffering Upright Citizens that we are.  Who doesn’t want IN? (Another 100 cable channels! Salvation by proxy! Acne-free in seven days!) Click here. Operators are standing by.  No credit? No problem! No money down! Just open a vein! (Can’t get no) satisfaction guaranteed!

(Can any truly worthwhile thing be bought?)

But YES! one god really does want you to know: introducing capital-L Loki, AKA the Trickster, the Wheeler Dealer, the Original Houdini of the Truth Trap, the Cosmic Con, Bad Penny, Black Sheep, the One in Every Family, Every Religion’s Got One Somewhere.  Him!  Well, who should know better than the Master, right?  (Deep down, that part of us all that’s a little loki-in-training.  Who whispers Alternatives, in spite of all the noises-against-the-voices we can dump into our ears.  Crank up the volume.  Maybe they’ll go away.) Figures that the only source for reliable info turns out to be a Trickster.

And he’ll tell you:  Religion’s all a scam, an empty fantasy, a fool’s errand, a wild goose chase. This god-or-not and belief- and worship- and daily-practice thing is, like you always suspected, just an endless maze of mind-tricks brought on like a nightmare, courtesy of an overactive cerebrum, that gift of Evolution that just keeps on giving, that two-hemisphere marvel and misfit that — in spite of all its tricks and traps and delusions and the stories it tells about itself and how wonderful it is — will still leave us all just as dead in a hasty handful of decades as if we’d devoted our lives entirely to pleasure. Just like the good old boys and girls over at Epicurean Central always told us we should.  Yes, go out and download the app for it.

lokiThanks, Loki.  Now a word from our sponsors.

Not.

Except …

Godding isn’t what it used to be.

(Even with a nose-and-chin like Tom Hiddleston‘s.)

Even the gods you used to be able to count on turn out to be … puny.

One weird trick most gods don’t want you to know is that their truth or falseness has little to do with what they can teach you, how interaction with them can change your life, and so on.

Just because they don’t exist has very little to do with anything at all. Existence isn’t an absolute.  It de-pends.

And like those pesky anatomical pend-ant or hanging things, the so-called “fact” of existence or non-existence can get us pretty confused about reality*, which is, after all, only another name for thing-ness. Anything that’s not a “thing” tends to get left off the List. Which is another weird trick most gods hope we’ll kinda ignore. For our own good, of course.  Lists. Everyone’s got one, gods included. (Gods especially.)

What to wear, say, think, do, attend to and let slide.  Everyone’s been be-godded, infected with at least one god, right down to our nail-beds and stomach linings: sex, wealth, image, status, art, pleasure, the “right views,” seniority, rationalism, salvation, comfort — even “just being left alone.”  Gods everywhere.  No place free of ’em. Hanging from the rafters, crawling around and inflaming our skin like some sort of divine psoriasis. No god-be-gone, available now while supplies last.  Annoying little (BIG!) suckers.

Even death won’t free us when-not-if — un-gods help us all! — we’re reborn into some vastly cooler, endlessly hip world where everyone is fashionably thin (or plump), calmly atheist and perfectly dressed, coiffed, housed, spoused, aroused and soused.  Tastefully conformist down to the designer toe-rings.  No gods here, nasty things — had mine removed eons ago, old chap.  Do yourself a huge favor, darling.

And so, illusion-free at last, eternity or oblivion (choose your mirror image) is ours!

Paradoxes to amuse children.

(Loki’s laughing all the way to Valhalla.)

And the Goddess? The Goddess is laughing at him.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Images: Loki and The Hulk from The Avengers.

*Reality, from Latin res, thing; realis; re-al or pertaining to things or their qualities, like the ability to slap you in the face, fall on your big toe, eat you for breakfast, if you don’t pay attention to them. Which gods like War still do, come to think of it.  Details at 6:00 (or 18:00) tonight!

DRL — A Druid Ritual Language, Part 3

[Part 1 | Part 2]

A Whole Ritual Language

So you still want not just a few phrases but a complete language dedicated to your rituals?! And you’re crazy enough not just to think about this but to actually plan to pull it off!  In spite of all the alternatives I mentioned in the previous post, like simply using a small number of individual words or phrases as ritual triggers, you’re still determined to acquire the complete ritual language package.  You want to be able to compose new rites in this language, not just insert a few fixed phrases here and there in your rituals.  And wrth gwrs (oorth goors) of course, your circle, grove, grotto, temple, fane, gathering or group is with entirely with you — 100%.  Or they will be, once you browbeat or bribe or trick them to try it out, once they’re enchanted and seduced by the undeniable power and majesty and beauty of your fully-equipped ritual tafod (TAH-vohd) tongue.  You know in your heart of hearts that soon enough they’ll be saying diolch (DEE-olkh) “thanks” to you for bringing them into the light (or the luminous darkness).

The First Candidate

Here’s the first ritual language candidate for your consideration, Welsh, along with some of the stronger arguments in its favor:

*It’s one of the six living Celtic languages, so you’ve got the authenticity thing covered.  No one can accuse you of wimping out on that point.

*Hey, you already can say a couple of things in it, like wrth gwrs (oorth goors) “of course” and tafod (TAH-vohd) “tongue” and diolch (DEE-olkh) “thanks.”

*It’s from the “easier” side of the Celtic family: Welsh, along with Cornish and Breton (the P-Celtic branch), are considered easier to learn and speak (for English speakers) than Irish, Scots Gaelic, or Manx (the Q-Celtic branch) for a number of reasons: pronunciation, grammar, and spelling.

*The writing system uses a version of the Roman alphabet.  True, because of the spelling of Welsh words like wrth gwrs and tafod and diolch, some have unkindly called written Welsh “alphabet vomit,” but Welsh offers a much better match between sound and symbol than does, say, English.  Different doesn’t have to mean worse, and it can sometimes even mean better. Think about such oft-cited English examples like the pronunciation of -ough in  through, rough, though, cough, and bough.  You’ll be glad to know there’s extremely little of that in Welsh.

*It has a solid and well-documented literary history — the Mabinogion, that medieval collection of marvelous tales, is one of its chief glories — one which several modern Druid orders have used as a set of Druid teaching texts.  Here for your delectation is the first line (in medieval Welsh) of Branwen, Daughter of Llyr:

Bendigeiduran uab Llyr, a oed urenhin coronawc ar yr ynys hon, ac ardyrchawc o goron Lundein.
“Bendigeidfran son of Llyr was the crowned king of this island, and exalted with the crown of London.”

[Bendigeidfran is pronounced roughly “ben-dee-GUIDE-vrahn”]

*There are numerous helpful learning aids available, including online materials like the Big Welsh Challenge.  That means there’s plenty of assistance for students of the language, in large part because enough Welsh people themselves want to learn Welsh.

*Welsh is arguably doing as good a job at surviving the onslaught of English as any of the other Celtic languages.  In other words, it’s not going away any time soon.

*Welsh makes a distinctive auditory impact on listeners — check out the short video below to hear several Welsh speakers:

Other Options — Proto-Indo-European

Or maybe Welsh still seems too much to tackle.  (Did you catch the last word of the video — diolch [DEE-olkh] “thanks”?) You still want your own language, but something different.  It doesn’t need to be a living language.  In fact, a more private one might even serve better.  You understand that ritual secrecy isn’t meant to exclude anyone but rather to focus and contain energies, like the Cauldron of the Goddess brewing those three drops of inspirational awen.  Yes, there are still other options.

For instance, you could investigate Proto-Indo-European (PIE) — the Big Kahuna itself, the “Grandmother Tongue” of the speakers of all the hundred or so Indo-European languages alive today, spoken by more than 2 billion people.  I’ve mentioned Ceisiwr Serith in a previous blog, whose fine book Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans offers much material for reflection, adaption and use.  Serith writes and practices from an ADF perspective, emphasizing historical scholarship.  You can also check out his website for more information and challenge.

Dictionaries and grammars of PIE are available online and through sellers like Amazon.  With some hours of initial study and effort, you can begin to create short sentences like this one:  yagnobi ognibi tum wikyo (YAHG-noh-bee OHG-nee-bee toom week-YOH) “I hallow you with sacred fire.”  Using such resources I’ve fashioned  these and other words and phrases for ritual.  While scholars and amateur Indo-Europeanists can and will quibble quite endlessly* about “correct” or well-founded pronunciation and grammar, you’ll be exploring a ritual essence you can incorporate into your rites to enrich and empower them.  Isn’t that the point?

(*It’s significant — and highly relevant for our purposes — that there’s much stronger consensus on PIE vocabulary than on grammar, details of pronunciation, or wider issues of culture, religious practice, original homeland, and so on.  That’s as it should be: we intuitively understand that it’s in the names of things that we reach closest to the heart of any language, especially ritual language.)

The Celtic Conlang

Or you could go the Celtic conlang route, selecting from the pool of shared vocabulary that Welsh, Cornish and Breton (or Irish, Scots Gaelic and Manx) have in common, and build your language piece by piece.  Books like D. B Gregor’s Celtic: A Comparative Study (Oleander Press, 1980) devote several chapters to — you guessed it — detailed comparisons of the six Celtic languages.  If you have some skill with languages (and you do, or you wouldn’t be considering this route, would you?), you can adapt and regularize to your heart’s content.  To give you some idea, with a couple of dictionaries and the running start of sites like Omniglot’s Celtic Connections page, you can devise your own language with as much Celtic flavor as you wish.

Three Existing and Well-developed Celtic Conlangs

There are other conlang options too, like Deiniol Jones’ detailed Arvorec, Andrew Smith’s Brithenig and Alex Middleton’s Kaledonag.  All three of these are sufficiently elaborated that you could create ritual materials in them.  And you’ve got living conlangers that you can consult — or hire — for help.

Commission Your Own Unique Language

If you or your grove have some cash on hand, there’s yet another option, if you want to commission a conlanger to make you a unique never-before-seen-or-spoken ritual conlang.  As I mentioned in the previous post, you can call on the Language Creation Society for help.  Here’s the relevant LCS page for requesting a conlanger to create a language to your specs.  Note the following minimum costs, as of today, 3/26/14: “We require a minimum of $150 for a language sketch, $300 for a full language, and $300 for an orthography.”  (Each term is explained further on the page.)  The commissoning person or group gets to set a wide range of criteria — worth investigating if this option appeals to you.  Self-disclosure:  Yes, I’m a member of the LCS, because they’re the best such group around.  Like the ADF motto says, “Why not excellence?”

(Almost) Last, Best, and Deepest …

It shouldn’t come (almost) last, but here it is.  If you’d like a deeper ritual challenge, ask your spirits, guides or gods for help. I’ve gotten valuable material this way, including large portions of blog posts (see here and here for examples), and I’m certainly far from unique.  Others have also received names, prayers, rituals and other spiritual material from contemplation, trance, and ritual itself.  If the God/desses want you to use a special or dedicated language in your rites, they’ll help.  Just ask.  What is inspiration, after all?!

Another illustration may help.  Several years ago, over the space of about six or seven weeks, an acquaintance of mine named Chris received an entire ritual conlang  — several thousand words, names, grammatical ideas, and — how else to say it? — cultural practices, like gestures, ritual apparel, symbols, etc. — through a series of visions and inner communications.  We talked about his method, his process. He’d record as much as he could recall from a given experience or vision, then ask for guidance in recovering whatever he’d missed or forgotten, trying out names and phrases, for example, to see if they were acceptable in prayers and rituals, if they sounded right to the gods and to his own growing sense of “fit,” based on what he’d been given so far.  For instance, the name Nezu came through, an inner guide he could call on.  Testing the name, modifying it from the initial version he’d received, until it “worked” and felt right, mattered to him, and the name grew in impact because he took the time (hours and hours!) and made the effort.  In short, he sacrificed for what he desired; he hallowed his own efforts through his dedication and attention and love, and the gods hallowed them for him in turn.  Rarely is it just one or the other, after all.

Now Chris was interested in conlangs and had some experience learning, or learning about, several different languages.  He knows some Elvish, Klingon and Na’vi, and he’s studied several different human languages in varying degrees of depth.  Such a background doesn’t hurt, of course.  The gods work with what we give them.  If you’re a musician, you may get inspiration for songs.  If you’re a visual artist, you may get images, and so on. Nurture and encourage the ritual skills and human talents of the people in your group, and you’ll be surprised at what they can achieve.

So you’ve got it down — your ritual books (unless you and your grove are really devoted, and all of you memorize your rites) are meant to make using the language as easy as possible, both for members and any visitors who drop in for your Evocation, Consecration, Tranformation, Prognostication, etc.  Just hold off on the big-screen Powerpoint version until you become a Mega-grove, along the lines of the Protestant Mall-Churches.

A Note on Compiling Ritual Booklets

You know you can get your grove members to pronounce almost anything unusual reasonably well, just like Catholics have been doing with pronunciation guides like the following example from Pray It in Latin (pg. 3) by Louis Pizzuti.  (My apologies if you have bad Church memories.)  If you haven’t been paying attention, I’ve given short examples of this strategy earlier in this blog with wrth gwrs and tafod and diolch.  Now you’ll remember these three, right?  You’ve seen them three times, that magic number of manifestation and long-term memory.

OK, now see how well you manage learning to pronounce some Ecclesiastical Latin:

HAIL MARY

Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.  Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.  Amen.

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum,
AH-vay Maria GRAHT-see-ah PLAY-nah DOH-mee-noos TAY-koom
Hail Mary filled with-grace Lord with-you

benedicta tu in mulieribus,
bay-nay-DEEK-tah too een moo-lee-AY-ree-boos
blessed you among women

et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus.
ayt bay-nay-DEEK-toos FROOK-toos VAYN-trees TOO-ee YAY-soos.
and blessed fruit womb yours Jesus

Sancta Maria Mater Dei
SAHNK-tah Maria MAH-tayr DAY-ee
Holy Mary Mother of-God

ora pro nobis peccatoribus
OHR-ah proh NOH-bees payk-ah-TOH-ree-boos
pray for us sinners

nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen
noonk ayt een HOR-ah MOHR-tees NOHS-tray AH-mayn
now and in hour of-death of-ours. Amen.

 

 /|\ /|\ /|\

DRL — A Druid Ritual Language, Part 2

[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

Bad Girls and Goddesses, Censorship, Good Press and the Dream World

donigerWendy Doniger’s gotten some extensive press lately. Not on the scale of Kim Kardashian, but still … Whether or not Doniger or anyone accepts the half-truth that “all press is good press,” recent books by this University of Chicago professor of Hinduism have aroused the ire of vocal Hindus variously called fundamentalists, conservatives and Hindutva-vadis, supporters of Hindutva or “Hindu-ness.”

Penguin Books in India recently recalled Doniger’s 2009 study, The Hindus: An Alternative History, because the Delhi-based group SBAS — Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti (“Save Education Movement”) — characterized the book as “malicious,” “derogatory and offending to Hinduism” and containing “faulty representation of Indian history and historical figures.”  SBAS advanced its case with a successful push for the withdrawal of a second book of Doniger’s as well, On Hinduism, published in 2013.

hindubkprotest1The legal footing that SBAS stands on appears in the Indian Penal Code.  SBAS spokeperson Dinanath Batra benefits from the code which states that “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs shall be punished with imprisonment or fine, or both.”*  We’ll sidestep for now the apparent dangers of granting such strong legal recourse to anyone whose sensibilities might be offended.  After all, outrage is the stance du jour of much of the political conversation in the States.

Of course, censors and free-speechers have been waging these and similar battles for a long time, with no likely end in sight.  When Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is still the fourth most frequently banned book in the U.S., as well as a “Great American Novel,” such controversy comes as no surprise. (A 2011 edition of the Twain classic removes the 200+ instances of the word “nigger” and replaces them with “slave.”)**

opmythsDoniger, now 73, is a respected scholar, having taught at Chicago for 36 years, and published dozens of books and hundreds of scholarly articles.  Even before publication in India, she worked with editors to soften potentially inflammatory wording.  But as Doniger remarks in a February ’14 New York Times article, her focus is on popular Hinduism.  She wanted “to tell a story of Hinduism that’s been suppressed and was increasingly hard to find in the media and textbooks … It’s not about philosophy, it’s not about meditation, it’s about stories, about animals and untouchables and women. It’s the way that Hinduism has dealt with pluralism.”  The Times article continues:  “Asked if she could sympathize at all with those offended by her work, Ms. Doniger said: ‘In general, I don’t like people saying nasty things about other people’s religion, but this is something else. This is fundamentalism, which says that parts of its own religion are bad. In a sense, I’m defending their religion, and they’re attacking it.’”

As Slate notes, “The Hindus, which is still available internationally, is currently the number 11 bestselling book on Amazon, which is not too shabby for a four-year old religious history book by a University of Chicago divinity professor. The worst enemy of censorship is always curiosity.”

Columnist Swati Sharma in the 20 Feb. ’14 Washington Post concludes,

There are some concerns when it comes to Doniger and Western media articles about the backlash against her work. While you can disagree with the book and still want it published, Doniger repeatedly blames any criticism of her work on the right wing, sweeping aside any real concerns about it. It’s almost too easy to frame those who are religious as religious fundamentalists — when some on the far right try to ban “On the Origin of Species” in the United States, it doesn’t mean all Christians support such drastic measures. In the same sense, there are many Hindus, scholars and academics who disagree with her writings but believe the book should be published. Those voices get trampled by an easily digestible battle between religious fundamentalists and secular liberals. But that’s what happens when a book is basically banned; the debate on the actual content is lost and is focused instead on free speech. That’s where Doniger is in the right.

That doesn’t mean the right-wing party isn’t pushing this debate — after all, elections are coming in May. That said, Penguin’s decision to not wait for a judgment and to settle is disappointing. It’s easy to publish books that are safe. It’s for the ones that challenge us that the concept of free speech exists.

Doniger doesn’t shy away from the provocative remark.  She gets off a few zingers, for instance, in her article in yesterday’s 5 March ’14) NY Times, “Banned in Bangalore“:

I must apologize for what may amount to false advertising on my behalf by Mr. Batra, who pronounced my book “filthy and dirty.” Readers who bought a copy in hope of finding such passages will be, I fear, disappointed. “The Hindus” isn’t about sex at all. It’s about religion, which is much hotter than sex.

“Hotter than Sex” would make a great book or blog title.  Yes, you’re welcome.

And in her  blog post “Respect For Women Yes, Worship of Goddesses No” Doniger observes:

But the goddess feminists are whistling in the dark when they argue, first, that everyone used to worship goddesses (some people did, but many did not) and, second, that this was a Good Thing for women, indeed for everyone, their assumption being that women are more compassionate than men.

In fact, when men as well as women do worship goddesses, as they have done for centuries in many parts of India, the religious texts and rituals clearly express the male fear of female powers, and the male authors of those texts therefore make even greater efforts to control women, as if to say, “god help us all if these naturally powerful women get political power as well.”

There is generally, therefore, an inverse ratio between the worship of goddesses and the granting of rights to human women. Nor are the goddesses by and large compassionate; they are generally a pretty bloodthirsty lot.

Goddesses are not, therefore, the solution. Equal respect for human men and women is the solution.

But if our deities mirror ourselves, as they seem to do, we can be grateful for changes in both.  We can be grateful that slavery is now illegal, that racism no longer gets such an easy pass, that women’s rights are a live issue, that the beginnings and ends of life are being examined critically, despite our weariness with the wars of political correctness and with conservative-liberal polarization.  Does morality evolve?  Just what absolutes are you looking for?

I like to let my subjects have the last words (even if I chose them to illustrate my own post rather than letting them make only their own points).  So here’s an excerpt from another of Doniger’s blog-posts, “The Mutual Dream,” which offers a polytheist perspective worth examining for its explanatory power:

A better idea, I think, is captured by several of India’s many philosophies of reality and illusion, which suggest that we do indeed create god (and therefore religion) in our imaginations, as we create all of our reality, but that at the same time god creates us in god’s imagination, that god is, like us, constantly dreaming into existence a reality that includes us imagining god. We are mutually dreaming, mutually existing.

A modified, slightly rationalized, version of this belief would be the assertion that, although we do not make god ex nihilo, nor does god make us ex nihilo, we are the ones who bring god fully to life, while god in turn is what brings us truly to life, makes us fully alive to the phenomenal world, dream world though it may be.

This is not an idea that is easy for people trained in Western philosophical ideas to swallow, and it all depends upon how you define god, but for me it is rich in meaning.

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*Times of India 2 March ’14 article and 11 Feb. ’14 article.

**Daily Mail, 5 Jan. ’11.

Image: Doniger; book protest; Other People’s Myths.

Updated 8 March 2014

Of Bridges and Leaders, Part 3

“For I too am Efnisien.”  The rite closes, each man of us — for this is a men-only event — repeating the words, hands lifting from between our feet the small black cauldrons, and cupping them.  They’re warm to the touch still, from when they sat in the central fire-pit.  Owning our rage, not looking away from it.  Seeing its destructiveness, children and women often its first victims, men themselves its last.  Acknowledging the difficult gift of anger, accepting what it might have to teach.  Allowing the possibility of transformation, gift of the Goddess whose symbol is the cauldron.  Echoes of another country, sun-kissed and prone to earthquakes.  Echoes of another story, the same story, permeated with male anger, opening with dark words: “Rage — Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles, murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses …”*

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jmasonart1The army of Bran is enormous, as if all of Wales has emptied itself and spilled onto the eastern shore of Ireland. The beaches lie dark with men’s shadows.  So great is the full extent of their coming that the heart runs out of the Irish, knowing they can never win in open battle.  It must be by trickery.  So they raise a great house to receive Bran and his men, and the outcome hangs in the balance. Perhaps we can avert war after all, run the rumors, at least among those who don’t know that in the towering new hall, a hundred bags hang from the rafters.  And each holds and conceals an Irish warrior.  The bulging sacks of coarse cloth supposedly contain merely flour, part of the provisioning for the enemies-turned-guests.  A great feast this night, promise the Irish.  We will mend this rancor between us.

More and still more of the Welsh forces pour into the camp.  Among the leaders one stays suspicious.  Efnisien, prince, brother of Bran and Branwen.  Never an easy man, this twin of gentle Nisien.  The muscles ripple beneath his shoulders, and his hands twitch.  Do nothing, brother, till I return, he finally mutters to Bran, and stalks off scowling to reconnoiter the hall.   The last of the Welsh have finally joined the main body of warriors when Efnisien returns.  His hands and torso drip now with blood, and a fierce grin splits his face.  Dead now, he says, exulting. Scores of them, waiting to fall on us at the feast.  He has crushed upwards of a hundred Irish skulls like walnuts. His eyes glow with it.

The second part of the Irish plan for the night, the feast, still proceeds on schedule.  In the center of the hall a great fire burns, the andirons orange in the heat. In the flickering glow, a hall full of warriors whose armbands and bracelets throw back the light, a glitter of silver, jewels and red gold. No more room indoors, men find a place outside. Under torchlight they mingle and stare at each other.  Amid the roasts and savories, the mead and forced cheer along the benches, the Irish plot is a whisper that will not die, that no one admits to hearing.  A call for everyone’s attention, and Gwern, the young prince and heir, child of Matholwch and Branwen, is presented.  Here is one path to peace, a child who unites the two nations in his own flesh.  Bran makes much of him.  Nephew, sister’s son, certain blood kin, a hallowed relationship since time out of mind. But Bran also gazes at his sister sitting beside his brother-in-law Matholwch, notes the painful thinness of her figure, the faint yellow of old bruises on her skin, a tightness around her mouth that does not go away.  Their eyes meet again and again, and they need no words to speak whole histories to each other.  Well, brother? says her look.  I have come, says his.

The feast does no good, even if either side wished it.  The Irish, their plot foiled, are touchy, all nerves, and warriors on both sides take every feasting jest  the worst way.  Tempers run high, spiked with strong drink, and a scuffle breaks out, unsurprisingly, around Efnisien.  It spreads, and in the reckless fighting, Gwern, the shining prince, gets thrown into the massive firepit.**  By Efnisien. His and Bran’s nephew, Branwen’s boy.

At this, both sides drop all pretense.  The fighting spreads, ferocious.  The Irish just keep coming, endlessly, until Efnisien spies the magic cauldron, the gift of Bran for the now accursed wedding between Welsh and Irish royals. Matholwch’s men have turned it to good purpose, deploying it to revive their fallen fighters.  What use, what hope is it to kill men who don’t stay dead?!

Efnisien shakes his head to clear away some of the battle lust.  Think! he commands himself.  The red fog that clouds his mind thins briefly.  And then he’s got it, a way forward.  He flings away his own sword, grabbing one of Irish make, and throws himself among the Irish corpses awaiting resurrection.   He lies still as he can, trying to slow his heavy breathing. The cauldron itself must go.  Soon enough, as he foresaw, the Irish don’t stop to pick and choose, but toss each Irish corpse into the cauldron, hurrying on to the next.  From the depths of the magic vessel comes a deep hum.  Steam rises from it, along with a roar of distant voices that shakes its sides.

Efnisien feels himself lifted, then dropped.  How long he seems to fall!  Then a sudden heat hugs him, burning along each nerve and vein.  Everywhere his skin seems to melt into agony.  The death-destroying power of the cauldron — but he is already alive! With a last surge of strength, he somehow finds his feet, shoving his arms out to both sides, the cauldron a scalding quicksilver fury against palms and soles.  He heaves hard, harder. The cauldron, and Efnisien too, shrieks, cracks and shatters.  Then blackness.

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Bran carrying the body of his nephew Gwern

Bran carrying the body of his nephew Gwern/Harlech Castle, Wales

How many others can be dead, and none matter but two?  Bran thinks.  Gwern lost, and his sister Branwen all but dead from grief.  On all sides, heap upon heap of bodies lies.  The Irish who had assembled against them?  All slain.  And the endless army of the Welsh? Of those lines and squads and battalions of men who crossed the Irish Sea with him, just seven survive.

Part Four recounts the return of the Seven to Wales.

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*Fagles, Robert.  The Iliad.  Penguin Classics, 1999.

**This act of Efnisien’s is explained by one source as “avoiding the geas against shedding kinsmen’s blood.”

Images: Courtney Davis/jmasonart; Brand and Gwern.

Edited and updated 21 Feb 2014

Goddess at The Turn of the Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stove12-13

Our soapstone stove, alight with Brigid’s blessing.

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A blessed solstice to all!

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

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

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

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

Servant of Isis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Images: Olivia Durdin-RobertsonHuntington Castle; labyrinth;

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

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

Of Orders and Freedoms, Part 2

[Part 1]

newgrangespiralIn the Celtic worldview (and also for anyone in the Northern Hemisphere it’s abundantly clear), we’ve entered the “dark” half of the year.  “Dark” drags in its wake many associations, many millennia old in primate consciousness, of fear, death, danger — all things we instinctively flee, unless we pause to examine cultural conditioning to see why this should be so.  If you’re still moved to flee after such a pause, at least you’ll be running with eyes open.  Watch out for the lemmings up ahead.

And here is another lesson about Orders and freedoms.  The planet we live on follows its own rhythms, regardless of our druthers, and as natives here, willy-nilly we move with the earth under our feet.  Earthquake, hurricane, flood, volcano; spring, summer, fall, winter.  We’re tenants, not landlords. As much as we try to banish winter cold and darkness, they abide just inches beyond our noses as we peer out our triple-glazed windows.  And that’s fitting, of course.  Among all its other wonders, the planet grew this wonderful fore-brain of ours that makes childbearing a challenge when it’s time to pass a large skull through a small birth canal, but that same large brain helps us live in temperate and even arctic climates, as well as virtually everywhere else there’s legroom.  A balance between order and freedom, limit and innovation, change and stasis.  We’re a part and apart, at the same time, courtesy of a species the planet’s still experimenting with, and probably always will be, till we die out or evolve, some of our descendants, into something else.

OK, you say.  Got it.  Had it before I came here.  Heard the lecture, took the tour.  Tell me something I don’t know.  And these are precisely the challenges to throw at all our ways of thinking, not just the privileged few that happen to irritate us because the horrid Others say them.  First assignment, due on your next day of reckoning, at your local time, or whenever is most inconvenient.  All our assumptions need a stir on the compost heap.  Political affiliations, marriages, jobs, habits, hobbies, what’s vulgar or profane (Miley Cyrus?  Death camps?  CEO incomes?  Ignorance?  Missed chances to use petroleum to prepare for a world without it?  Endless lolcats?  Taupe and mauve and puce?).  The once-over should include everything — especially whatever’s a wholly-owned subsidiary of your left hemisphere.  What don’t we know?  Got a hunch about that.  Isn’t our ignorance one more miserable discomfort, to join the ignoble quartet above — death, dark, fear, danger?  We don’t look because it’s hard.  It asks us to start over.  Not to reinvent ourselves, but to return to what we threw away because it seemed old, to pick it up, and see it again for the first time as utterly, endlessly new.  One thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother.  Look it up, or consult the nearest young thing growing.  The Goddess makes all things new.

No Order can “teach” us such “wild wisdom.”  All it can do is point the way back to our bones, blood and sinew that always held it, gift that doesn’t turn away from us merely because we turned from it.  Change, cycle, spiral.  We see it celebrated, repeated (doing what it’s being) in Celtic art.  We can feel it in the flow of Tai Chi, the circular movements of dance and swimming, the serve and volley and return of tennis, sex, night and day, birth and death.  What goes around comes around.  What you do comes back to you.  Is this not a great gift, that we see the results of our actions?  Nothing is lost, and all is stored like seed in the earth, and returned at the next springing forth.  Only a short-sighted people would fear the fallow time, forgetting the blossom time after.  Only blind people would act as if this is all there is.  “This” by definition is never all there is.  Reconnecting with the natural world “lengthens” the sight.  Vistas re-established.  Perspectives re-balanced. Cure at hand for too much left hemisphere, too little humility.  When was the last time we praised a world leader for that trait?  And why is that?  OK, call me Groucho.

At the recent East Coast Gathering, Damh the Bard told a version of the fine story of the Hare and the Moon.  The Moon had a choice piece of wisdom to impart to the people of earth, and asked the Hare to carry the message.  “Tell them this:  you are all going to die,” said the Moon, and like a shot the Hare was off, bearing the Moon’s message to the people of earth in great leaps and bounds.  Of course, Moon had been showing the lesson each month, passing through darkness to fullness, waning and waxing, shrinking and growing, endlessly, patiently teaching.  But the people had forgotten, and when they received Hare’s partial message, they wailed bitterly at their wretched fate.  “We’re all going to die!” But the Hare, impetuous fellow that he was, had not stayed to hear the second half of the message, which was delayed in reaching the Earth:  “… and you all will be reborn.”  For Hare’s over-haste and obliviousness, when he returned, the Moon split his lip, and to this day the harelip is a reminder to hold in the heart the whole message, to find wholeness in the many pairings that a true cycle treats as “One Thing, moving” — a Uni-verse.

winterbrookSo what are Druids to do who feel Orders may not be for them, or at least not right now?  The whole world beckons.  If, as Robert Frost says in “Carpe Diem,” which must by all signs be the true religion of America*, “The present / Is too much for the senses, / Too crowding, too confusing— / Too present to imagine,” a few years later, his splendid poem “Directive” urges:  “Drink.”  This too can be religion, can be spirituality, can be a saving and healing practice that does not split the two, if you will have it: “Drink, and be whole again beyond confusion.”

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*Carpe Diem:  (Latin) literally, “seize the day”; Nike’s Just Do It; YOLO — you only live once; “in heaven there is no beer; that’s why we drink it here.”

Images: spiral at Newgrange, Ireland; winter brook.

Updated 6 Nov. 2013

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