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Review of “Paganism in Depth: A Polytheist Approach”   Leave a comment

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Amazon.com pic

Beckett, John. Paganism in Depth: A Polytheist Approach. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2019.

If you’re “new-ish” to Druidry, Paganism, etc., and you’re looking for a pocket definition of what all this stuff is, what it entails, what at heart it’s doing on the scene, here’s another Pagan and Druid writer, J. M. Greer, with a definition that works for many:

Above all else, Druidry means following a spiritual path rooted in the green Earth … It means embracing an experiential approach to religious questions, one that abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit (Druidry – A Green Way of Wisdom).

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Like his first book, The Path of Paganism: An Experience-Based Guide to Modern Pagan Practice (Llewellyn, 2017), this second book by John Beckett delivers on its title. I’m repeating here my preface to that review:

John is a fellow OBOD Druid. We’ve met at several OBOD Gatherings, and I’ve gratefully used and credited his excellent photos in several previous posts here. We’ve talked on occasion, but I don’t know him well, except as a reader of his excellent blog. I participated in his moving Cernunnos rite at East Coast Gathering several years ago.

Usually I only review books I feel I can discuss insightfully and enthusiastically: The Path of Paganism certainly qualifies. I’m adding this personal note as brief background and for completeness.

John’s Dedication page to this new book makes subtle and far-reaching points:

For those who serve their gods and communities when it’s easy and when it’s hard, who take their Paganism ever deeper even when there’s no map, and who trust their own senses when encountering things that some say cannot be: you are building something sacred and beautiful. This book is dedicated to you.

I don’t “do Druidry” primarily as a polytheist — in spite of what you might conclude, at least on the basis of my previous post about Thecu, and intermittent posts over time about Brighid, whom I listen to most closely, as triple goddess of healing, smithcraft and poetry. But I find much of value in this book, just as I did in John’s previous one. As John remarks about the “big tent” of Paganism, there’s room for a wide range of belief, because it’s practice that binds us together, and a well of common experiences.

dragonstone

“dragon-stone”, Mt. Ascutney, August ’19

Go deeper, “where there are no maps”, and you learn even more deeply to trust what’s true — that is, what bears out that initial quality in your subsequent lived experience. Inner guidance proves valid, insights bear fruit, spiritual help clears the way to good things. There’s “troth” there — all those lovely older English words are clearly linked (and likely sprung from the same root as Druid, the initial d- regularly softened to t- in Germanic languages like English*) — something we can trust, solid as a tree, because of its inherent truth, so that we can form abiding relationships — multiple troths (as in betrothed) — with other beings and places where it manifests. These things quite literally “come true” — they arrive with a particular quality or atmosphere we learn to greet with joy, and to cherish, out of previous experiences with them.

As John perceptively notes:

Our mainstream culture talks about “having faith” that everything will work out OK even if we have no reason to expect it will. Pagans aren’t big on that kind of faith … There is a very utilitarian ethic to spiritual practice: do the work and you get the benefits. Don’t do the work and you won’t. Oftentimes the gods are gracious and give us things we have not earned. Their generosity is a virtue we would do well to emulate. But some things cannot be given, only obtained through sustained effort. No one could give me the experience of running a marathon or the wisdom I gained in doing it. I cannot command the presence of the gods in my life, but without years of devotional practice I would rarely hear them, much less understand what they’re telling me. Whether you want to be a marathon runner or a magician, a concert pianist or a priest, there is a high cost to being the best you can be. The down payment is due in advance and the ongoing payments never end. I’ve found them to be the best investments I’ve ever made (pgs. 206-207).

These comments come late in John’s book. If they showed up in the first paragraph, they might well bewilder or scare off many readers, and perhaps rightly so. His Introduction puts the book’s sections in helpful context. Here I’ll cite one in particular:

The Interlude of this book is titled “I like It Here — Why Do I Have To Leave?” Sometimes we find a certain level of skill and commitment and think we’ve found where we need to be for the rest of our lives. But in a year or two or ten, we start hearing a call to move on again. This section explores what that call looks, sounds, and feels like, why we might want to leave a place where we’re comfortable, and how we can begin the journey (pg. 4).

Finding our own pace, and place, is a lifetime’s quest that no one else can do for us (in spite of holy hucksters and Gucci gurus to the contrary). Nor does John claim “his” Paganism is for everyone. He writes, as he makes clear, as an “Ancestral, Devotional, Ecstatic, Oracular, Magical, Public, Pagan Polytheist” — and after he explains each adjective, he observes:

This is the religion I practice. Your journey will likely take you somewhere different — perhaps somewhat different, perhaps very different. But the methods and practices presented in this book will help you find your way regardless of the direction you take and what your deep Paganism does or doesn’t include (pg. 6).

What strikes me as a practitioner of two different spiritual paths is how much and how well the guidance in this book applies to any path. Of course its explicit polytheist and Pagan assumptions will not serve everyone, but the sections on examining our foundational assumptions, on regular spiritual practice, devotion, study, inclusion, ecstasy, communication with deity, community building, the risks and costs of deep dedication all bear the marks of thoroughly lived spirituality that anyone who has done similar work can attest to and recommend to others. The counsel can seem at times deceptively simple, because 99% of any glitter, hype and buzz has been scoured away by the inward work required.

And not everyone needs to do such work:

In the hyper-individualistic twenty-first century … everyone expects a church to cater to them. And many churches do … They’re struggling to “remain relevant” and they’re desperate to attract members no matter what it takes. My Facebook feed includes some Christians searching for “what meets my needs” and other Christians complaining about entertainment replacing worship. Given these two cultural forces, it’s no surprise many people in our wider society  (from which Paganism and polytheism largely draw their members) don’t know what to make of religions that 1) don’t claim to be for everyone, and 2) don’t attempt to cater to everyone …

So what are you going to do when you go looking for a group to practice with and a community to be a part of? You don’t want to change your identity to satisfy them, and they aren’t going to change their identity to satisfy you. Is there really no room for you in any religion? That can’t be right, or we wouldn’t have covens and orders and churches and such. You can’t get 100 percent of what you want in a group or a tradition. But you can probably get 70 percent, or 80 or maybe even 98 (pgs. 65-67).

John then discusses his involvement with several distinct traditions and organizations, including ADF, Unitarian Universalists, and OBOD, concluding:

There is room for me in all these organizations even though none are an exact match with my own beliefs and practices — that is, with my own religious identity … When I’m in one of their services or rituals I respect their boundaries and priorities and participate with them. When I hear UUs speak of “God” in monotheistic or even non-theistic language, I remember that in this context, the singular “God” is not what’s most important. What’s most important is a group of people coming together to form an open, caring, active religious community (pg. 68).

I’ll end with another excerpt from John’s most recent blogpost (link above), because in it he focuses specifically on polytheist practice and experience relevant to this review and how we might read his book:

A calling from a God doesn’t make you special and it certainly doesn’t give you any authority over others. Mainly it gives you more work to do. A fully-formed religion has room for both dedicated religious specialists and for those who simply want to honor the Gods and live ordinary lives.

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*initial d- softened to t- in Germanic languages like English: this is a regular historic sound change in the Germanic languages (but not their “cousins” — see below) as they evolved from Proto-Indo-European. The same change regularly shows up elsewhere, for example:

Latin decem “ten”, Greek deka, Sanskrit dasa, Welsh deg, English ten;

Latin ducere “lead”, English tug (and Old English heretoga “army leader”);

Latin deus “God, god”, Sanskrit dyaus, Old English Tiw (as in Tue’s day);

Latin duo “two”; Sanskrit dva(u), Greek duo, Welsh dau, English two;

Latin dens, dentis “tooth”; Sanskrit dan, dantah, Greek odon, odontos, Welsh dant, English tooth.

 

 

A Druid Way’s Guide to Guides   Leave a comment

One of my best teachers is in fact a high school teacher and an administrator, and — out of long personal experience — no fan of committees and their guidelines. “Is it a guideline, or a line to my guide?” he likes to ask. Does it get born and die on the page, like most administrator-ese, or is it a living thing, helping me connect to what matters?

at-ease

A case in point is the funny little post “Pillbug“, about — among other things — the experience of connecting with an animal guide. I first wrote it in March 2017, and it went the way of many of my posts, with a brief flurry of interest when I posted it, and then the usual precipitous disappearance into the group anonymity of most other posts here. But a few of you must be reading backwards, or telling each other about that particular post, or both. Because around 5 months ago, Pillbug started enjoying a second life, with several hundred views, more than after it was first published here. Why? (Take a look at it, if you haven’t already.)

I know the subject of guides and other non-human — or often non-physical — helpers keeps on rising into our group awareness. A blogpost, a forum question, and we’re off again.

The topic’s a perennial favorite, and in our skeptical age we often psych ourselves either into complete rejection of such things, or else we run whole hog in the opposite direction, with uncritical acceptance of our more interesting experiences. No halfway for us!

John Beckett’s current post, “Run Rabbit Run — An Augury For One” takes up the subject as well. He approaches many of the same issues I have [see here, here, and here, among others] — no surprise, because we’re all walking a path, and our paths constantly intersect — an opportunity for rich exploration, if we only see and take it, rather than being affronted by difference, challenge, change, otherness. You might find his perceptions a useful counterpoint to other things on the subject you’ve encountered. If so, tell him! Leave a comment on his blog. Help him keep writing his useful guide, based on his experiences.

As I wrote elsewhere, paraphrasing Mara Freeman:

Every thing that exists expresses itself. How else do we know it except through its expressions? If I arbitrarily rule out any non-physical expression from my interest or attention — and here we can include emotion, hunch, imagination, intuition, gut feeling, creative impulse, dream, memory, love — I merely impoverish myself. Why on the deep earth or in the starry heavens would I want to do that?!

So much of our training — maybe all of it — is training in listening, in paying attention. Often we’ve learned the lesson by school age, where teachers call us back from daydream to “pay attention” — and we are, just not to them!

I wrote in “Hunter, Hunted: Animal Guides, Denial, Persistence“:

As I look over these notes, several points stand out.  (I’ll put them in first person and speak only for myself, not to presume too much about who you are, or what your experience may be.)  First, to my mind, is the desire (I don’t know how else to put it) of the Other — Spirit or spirits, guides, deities, totems — to connect with me.  Second I must concede my own obliviousness.  I ask for help, or a “sign,” but even when it lies down in front of me and trips me up, I STILL manage to ignore it.

Next is the likelihood that once I start looking, coincidences begin stacking up until it’s clear there’s more than coincidence going on.  Common themes emerge.  The animal I seek is also seeking me — in dreams, “accidents,” images, unaccountable emotional reactions to seemingly “unimportant” things -– in all the different ways it can reach me, in case one or more channels of communication are blocked (usually on my end).

Animal images in poems also cry and echo for the nerd-Bard that I am.  We repress the animal guides in and around us, so that like other repressed things, they eventually spring, animal-like, into our psyches elsewhere, in sometimes strange and nightmarish images, in art, dream, eventually, even, in national obsessions and pathologies.  If they pool and accumulate enough cultural energy, they manifest in personal and societal outward circumstances, in political and cultural movements, in wars and other conflicts.  Think of W. B. Yeats’ apocalyptic poem “The Second Coming,” which famously ends “what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

Or consider Philip Levine’s “Animals are Passing from Our Lives” in the voice of a pig approaching its slaughter.  Apocalyptic and angry poems like these, like most art, aren’t “about” only one thing.  Run them to earth and they keep meaning something more.  We use animals (animals use us!) to communicate what we sometimes cannot say directly. Among all the other things they do, animals help us express that deep love, that bitter grief, anger and darkness, comfort and healing, that simply may not be able to manifest in any other way.

There’s a fine Old English proverb (from the collection of 46 Durham Proverbs, if you’d like to know) that I keep encountering: Ciggendra gehwilc wile þæt hine man gehere. “Everyone that cries out wants to be heard”, as I render it here. Literally, “Of-the-criers, each wishes that him someone hears”. I know that I want to be heard. Who doesn’t, after all?

Or to take a somewhat different context, “Only connect,” says a character in E. M. Forster’s Howard’s End. “Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer”. The prose of our daily lives, the passion of those moments when we’re lifted out of ourselves and we say this! This is what I’ve wanted!

camellia

“And the fire and the rose (or camellia) are one” — T. S. Eliot

Yes, we live in fragments. The commonest complaint in the West is often, ultimately, loneliness — loss of connection, fragmenting of our bonds with the cosmos, to the point where we sometimes feel like an abandoned “bag of skin”. But when I think how the whole rest of the universe is talking, that’s a lot of hearing that things ask of us. Am I myself talking too much to hear them? Can I pare back my chatter, save my speech even a little more for what matters, fast a little from running at the mouth, and begin to attend to all the other things that are talking too?

And rather than waiting on someone else to connect with me, can I be the connector? Isn’t that one thing that Druidry calls us to do? It gives us tools to help us do what we’re made to do — and it launches us into a talking world to listen at least as much as to talk.

The prayer of St. Francis might just have something to say to this:

O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

If I want to experience eternal life in this moment (the only place in this busy, brief, uncertain and intense mortality where I can), I’ve got a guide here. This isn’t just “Christian” morality, as though there can be different kinds of morality. The uni-verse is a “one-turning” and it is what it does, it does what it is. St. Francis’s words aren’t something to believe, but to try out. Quite simply, do they work? Is he offering a powerful spiritual tool here, equivalent to burning cedar, invoking the Elements, divining for job opportunities, working magic to heal? (The modern neo-Pagan movement has delved and mined and workshopped and practiced every spiritual tradition on the planet except the one the West has known for two thousand years. How have I been depriving myself of wisdom in my backyard, along with the moles and bull hornets, the woodchucks and clover and hemlocks?)

In this post so far I’ve come at the matter of guides obliquely, which I find is my default way of feeling my path into understanding. I’ve left clues and approaches, words and feelings, tangents and directions to explore.

I could chart it and number it and lay it out — and ask if you’d like me to do so in a subsequent post, and I will — but then, without great care on my part, it can slide perilously close to the administrator-ese my teacher so dislikes. Read the posts, including John’s, ask your own questions as clearly as you can, and see if I or John or the grass and rain and birds out your window have something to say to you that you might want to listen to. And listen to yourself most of all, that deep self, not the selfie-Facebook-chatty self, but the one who’s been deep within you since you arrived here, however many years ago that was, the one that whispers in dream and awake, that knows where you’re going before you arrive, and has something worthwhile to say on the way to every destination.

And may you know the blessings scattered all along your path, the one you are walking right now, and recognize them and share them and find in that sharing the solace and heart’s healing we all seek.

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Death and Joy   1 comment

[Edited 5 June 2019]

This post is a step away for an interval from the ongoing Major Arcana series. As I let the energies of that series percolate a little before moving on with it, I wanted to acknowledge two things.

RavenGrimassi

Raven Grimassi, 1951-2019

First, a death. Pagan scholar and author Raven Grimassi passed on March 10 at 67. With some 20 books to his credit, Grimassi’s influence spread through his writings, but also through his many animated workshops. An enlivened teacher, he held on to a love of learning and growing throughout his life, as I witnessed firsthand while attending one of his workshops (shortly after publication of his Cauldron of Memory: Retrieving Ancestral Knowledge and Wisdom) which continues to contribute to my own path.

In particular, his work with sound as an “access technique” to other realms inspired me and many others. My own experiences with the potency of what I’ve called the “Cauldron Sound” feature in my workshops at MAGUS and in blogposts here.

Raven, may the next spiral of the Long Journey bring you joy, wonder and more growth.

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Second is John Beckett’s post earlier today on joy.

In this era of unsettling change, raw emotion, and anxious uncertainty, we deeply need reminders to return again and again to what sustains and feeds us, and helps us live more richly and fully. Future historians might call our time an “Age of Distraction”, so susceptible are we to the incessant clamor all around for our attention, time and energy. The whole world is now Spinal Tap — turned up to 11 all the time.

Because such voices no longer cease of their own accord, even for brief intervals, in our endlessly wired-and-tired day, it’s on us to choose to turn them off from time to time, if we value our own spiritual integrity or wholeness. For we don’t get the “whole story” if we listen to the loudest voices, though it’s natural to pick them out first from all the shouting. Long ago the Wise alerted us to the “still small voice” that greets us at the borders of our own inner spaces, and points us toward things of much greater value and benefit to us than most of the outer rumor, that old word that once meant “noise”, but has become an unsubstantiated report or story.

The older meaning of “noise”, however, still fits — fits more than ever. Any practice that carves out quiet for us, that encourages reflection, that lets the small inward voice reach us to warm and heal and advise us, is one to hold on to and cherish. Indeed, if we don’t assert our own reality, to turn a phrase only a little, then “rumor has it”. We abdicate when we listen unprepared, unequipped. We start to doubt ourselves, an often much worse doubt than suspicion of anything or anyone else. We no longer trust what we know to be valid and true and constructive. We close our eyes to the dawn, then stumble in the dark.

Instead, in the words of OBOD ritual (insert your own to taste):

Let the four directions be honored, and let the gateways of the Quarters be opened, that power and radiance might enter our circle for the good of all beings.

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Image: Wikipedia — fair use.

Posted 12 March 2019 by adruidway in Druidry, John Beckett, joy, Raven Grimassi

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Looking for a Title   3 comments

Now that I’ve chased away, as I usually manage to do every few weeks, a few incautious new readers who thought they’d follow my blog — until I said something indigestible to them — you and I remain to take stock. It’s part of my job description, in fact: blogger must intermittently provoke, offend or banish a portion of readership, if only to establish and maintain some semblance of integrity. That’s one route, anyway, to blogger bona fides.

Otherwise I’m just a spiritual politician, telling people mostly what they want to hear, scrambling for votes or likes. Please don’t merely “like” me. We’re not in primary school, right? Life isn’t, despite what the weak magic of  social media enchants us to believe, a popularity contest. We’re not even in secondary school any longer. Read and ponder what I’ve said, and test it — not just with your opinions, but with your life. As I try to do, in spite of that annoying and near-universal tug toward hypocrisy.

So there really aren’t any rules? my inner teenager asks. The previous post was a feel-good piece. Love is all you need. All paths lead to the same destination. We’re all in this together.

And we are. Except.

Anyone who practices an art or craft knows that rules, especially rules-of-thumb gained over long experience, can be really useful. Gardening? Plant marigolds with tomatoes. Tuning your guitar? Start with your sixth string, the Youtube video instructs, held down on the fifth fret. Guidelines for what to do, how to tackle challenges and complexities. Received wisdom. Even, if I can use the word, a tradition. We rarely need to start from scratch.

When we’re young, we’re told to color inside the lines. What happens if you color outside the lines? Nothing. You’ve colored outside the lines. What you do is what you get. Maybe a well-meaning adult scolds you, or not. A little later, perhaps a reward or penalty. We know how early such patterns and personality traits get set. Some kids without prompting will color up to the lines so neatly an adult couldn’t better it. And they’ll get praise for neatness and attention and whatever other labels get put on noticing boundaries and respecting what they have to teach.  Because they do have much to teach. Just not everything.

All right, teenaged self. What do you want rules for, anway? To push against, so you can declare yourself an original? To piss off a special adult, or adults in general? To run roughshod over, ’cause you’re such a rebel? Win the attention of possible partners, producers or profit-sharers? Welcome to inverse conformity: you’ve still let the rules define you. Can you make your own liveable set?

Robert Frost said writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net. He meant it disparagingly, but it’s actually just another game. Handball. Without a single thing labeled “net”, nearly every surface becomes playable. Players don’t stand opposite each other, but — often — side by side. The rules: changed, but still present. Because that’s what a game is. It’s hard to make “whatever” into a game very many folks want to play.

Yesterday John Beckett posted “Get Over Your Fear of Religion!” tackling the frequent superficiality of much contemporary spirituality. On at least one online forum I visit, his post predictably sent some into a tailspin. Beckett notes, “Some of this [the “spiritual but not religious” movement]  is an understandable reaction against negative religion, but much is an avoidance of the work required to build any real spiritual or religious depth”.  Some scolding is good for me.

Of course, our reaction against stifling religiosity also has ancient roots in human experience. It will never go away as long as we face complacency and laziness in our cultural institutions and practices. As a certain rabbi once observed a score of centuries ago, “The letter kills, but the spirit gives life”.

But beyond the pleasurable intoxication of a numinous moon or molten sunset or gold-drenched sunny afternoon, there’s more. “If you want a deep spiritual practice”, John continues, “that will help you handle life’s challenges, build deep and meaningful relationships, and change yourself and the world, you’re going to need religion”.

The first part sounds like what many people say they want. The last clause, though, tosses a dead mouse into the punch bowl.

Whatever else needs to happen as a consequence of mouse or punchbowl or tossing, reactions to the incident will reveal something to me in my own thinking and practice that I need to work on. Maybe you or I will take the bowl to the kitchen and bring out a fresh one. Maybe we’ll just cringe a little, and wait for somebody else to fix things. Maybe we’ll fish out the mouse, or shame the tosser, or ask for better punch-bowl covers, or mouse-traps. Or we’ll take to raising larger mice. Whatever our roles, the incident jolts us. Your outrage is yours. I do mine just fine, without help. But I don’t want to stop there, but start.

Over the decades, I’ve noticed life becomes custom-fitted to teach each of us what we need to learn. It gets to know us, scouts us right up to our weaknesses. I’m not always talking “fair” or “easy” or “blessed”, either. What I hold on to most tightly I’ll probably be compelled to relinquish. Rigid things tend to break. The gods prodding humans to grow. Or evolution fine-tuning a whole complex of eco-systems, sharpening the ability of each species to thrive by choosing the most adaptable individuals and going forward with them because — quite simply — they can change. A hundred thousand lemmings die, but one, slightly different, flourishes and becomes the progenitor of a new species. Ancestral lemming, I salute you.

If we’re changing, how could all the old rules possibly serve? Because rules can change, too, and most of the ones that trouble us and dog our heels are ones we’ve made for ourselves that haven’t changed with us. A few other parameters we encounter, like this pesky aging-and-mortality thing, and finite planetary resources, and cause and effect, we’re still learning to work with. It’s just that from time to time we confuse human rules with spiritual law. Confuse them so successfully we think they’re the same thing, until we find they’re not.

Imagine your ideal set of rules for how you’d play the game. Or laws, if you’re going for large-scale. Work to get down in writing at least three or four of them — you may uncover more — then try them out on your life, checking for fit, and then try them on the lives of a few other beings. Revise as needed.

Next post I’ll post mine.

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

[Part One]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

coelbren

Coelbren alphabet

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So where to begin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So we can construct simple sentences:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Image: Coelbren alphabet;

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

Our -cosms, Prayer, and Fasting   Leave a comment

You’ve probably heard some version of it before.  It crops up like an overnight mushroom, whenever an event like Charlottesville or Brexit or Charlie Hebdo or Syria or Iraq or Rwanda or 9/11 or-or-or shakes us loose from our torpor and shrieks for attention, for a reaction. You can fill in your choice of event, from a whole ungainly series of them over the last year, decade, or lifetime.

We could quite accurately call the reaction the “20-40 rule”, courtesy of one of its literary expressions from some 80 years ago, in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon. The two speakers here are Chang, an inhabitant of the famed valley of Shangri-La, and Conway, the main character:

“We keep ourselves fairly up to date, you see”, he [Chang] commented.

“There are people who would hardly agree with you”, said Conway with a smile. “Quite a lot of things have happened in the world since last year, you know”.

“Nothing of importance, my dear sir, that could not have been foreseen in 1920, or that will not be better understood in 1940”.

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Now the argument here, a philosophical version of wait-and-see, has its obvious appeal as well as its downsides. In considerably less than a year, the political (or ecological or spiritual) landscape can shift dramatically. Irreversible change may swallow up — or end — lives. Wait for expanded understanding, however rich or apt, and it may simply arrive too late. Look solely at the long game, and I miss the immediate stakes.

But even knowing this, if you’re like many, you may start to experience “apocalypse fatigue”. You have little adrenalin or passion or initiative left in the tank. You’ve felt and you’ve empathized and you’ve resolved, and maybe you’ve also marched or written or witnessed or organized or simplified. Maybe you still do. Or maybe now you keep your head down and try to live your own life as best you can, because that’s all you feel you can do, as the world unquietly keeps crashing and burning. You brush off the ash and pick through the rubble — you stand up and do it again tomorrow. You endure.

For a thoughtful and balanced set of responses to crisis — not just one, and with Charlottesville simply the current face it wears — I suggest you read John Beckett’s 10 August ’17 post here. While we don’t always see things the same way, I value his hard-earned perspectives.

And when he observes, “My political posts weren’t well read, I didn’t particularly enjoy writing them, and every political post I wrote meant there was a religious, spiritual, or magical post that didn’t get written”, my experience echoes his. Long-time readers of this blog don’t come here for politics anyway.

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But here I want to look at an approach that I’ve found addresses the -cosms of the title, the keen needs of the moment as well as the more subtle draw of the long view, an approach that can serve the politically engaged and the quietly witnessing and the spiritually armed and ready, as well as the hermit sage. In a word, stamina. Fortitude, courage — though not quite the same thing. Staying power.

The approach sources, among other wells and fountains, the wisdom of the Galilean Master, who counseled prayer and fasting. And to make it a Druidic triad, we’ll add listening, because listening is another face it wears. Listening, prayer and fasting. LPF.

And that means listening to all of our -cosms, macro- and micro- and meso-, too — all our worlds, and the world “in between”, this middle earth where we spend so many of our daily hours. I’ve found if something’s shaking in one world, the others vibrate with it, too.

I’ll go personal from here forward, because that’s often how I think and talk best. If it’s true for me, it may — or may not — also work for you. But you’ll see it tried out with me first.

If I don’t fast from frequent tugs towards anger or fear, if I don’t re-connect with the innermost truths I know, I can’t pray (or act) effectively. I drag along the trash and flotsam and jetsam from others’ anger and fear. Don’t need ’em. Got enough of my own to let go of. This happened most recently in a job situation I won’t go into, because I’m still praying and fasting about it. Work-in-progress. Material for an upcoming post.

The danger of another’s anger and fear is I may not recognize them until I make them my own. I may confuse them with almost anything but a limitation. Unless I fast from their effects, listen to their seed-causes, and pray, I open the door to them. Now in addition to my own, I’ve invited in another’s fear and anger.

So if I’m not praying, I can’t fast or act with justice to myself or anyone else. And without praying, I can’t listen. Some of my prayer will be silence, a space where counsel from wise guides and teachers and ancestors and spirits has room to reach me.

Without this practice, whether I launch myself into a protest march at the statehouse in Montpelier, Vermont’s capital, or weed my garden and share with my neighbor a bundle of chard or a basket of carrots or — soon — potatoes, I’m missing my best path.

Because whether I link arms with another protester or cross my yard to my neighbor’s and listen to his life over the past few weeks, I’ll miss what I most need, and miss what I most have to give. The opportunity, the exchange, is often a seeming small one. But that’s why I need to listen or I miss it.

This has happened so many times to me, both the listening and also the missing-the-moment, that I’m actually beginning to learn it. (Like I’ve often said here, I can be really thick and slow about these things.)

The test, always, for me, is the quality of the encounter, the sense of rightness. This sense doesn’t exclude physical difficulty. Whether I’m about to go into surgery, or face an angry person waving a sign on the street corner, or talk with a friend, the words, the tone, the energy exchanged between us is my guide. How does it manifest? Can I watch the exchange without deep attachment to its outcome? Can I watch the — for lack of a better word — the ecology of the moment work its own energy?

I’ve acted, prepared, prayed and fasted and listened. Now comes the wonder, when I’ve gotten out of the way of Spirit manifesting in the situation. Or not.

For me, the listening IS the prayer and fasting. The fasting IS the prayer, and the prayer IS the fasting. One of the best Druid triads I know.

Pray and fast, and things go smoother for everyone, not just me, whatever I do. Miss the optimum alignment, and I discover that, too. This is my love laboratory, this world where we all are trying out our truths, where the test, in the end, is this: Does it build? Does it open? Does it give? Does it connect? Have I served?

And what forms of prayer might work? Material for the next post.

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3D: Divination, Discernment, Dreaming   2 comments

[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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