Thursday, April 12, 2018

Pagan Rites of Sacrifice

Ancient Hellenic bull-sacrifice
One cannot do any study of the actual ways of ancient European religion, i.e. Paganism in its original forms, without encountering the fact of animal sacrifice, and the rumor of the taking of human lives in ritual. It is undoubtedly true that human sacrifice occurred in most ancient European cultures at one stage or another. However it was never the central element of Pagan religious ritual.
               Let me begin with the word ‘sacrifice’. From the Latin, it means ‘Sacred Work’; and ‘sacred’ means ‘set apart for the work of the spirits’.  While it has come to have connotations of ‘giving up’ and even of loss, to reclaim its sacred power is to affirm sacrifice as a joyous work of connection with the divine. During the work of sacrifice, many offerings may be made, of many kinds. In common language these offerings are often referred to as ‘sacrifices'. This is, in a way, a mis-speaking. To say “the sacrifice” is not to refer to whatever object is the central offering of the ritual, but rather the whole ritual of offering and blessing is, itself, ‘the sacrifice’ – the sacred work. So I find myself enjoying referring to our public Pagan rites as ‘the sacrifices’… feels nice and archaic.
               Secondly, in preface, I mention that the Neopagan Druid system I work in has specifically disallowed live-animal offerings in our rites. We do make many offerings – ale and meal and bread and fruit and even meat, but we admit that we haven’t either the call or the skill to take the life of an animal and butcher it for cooking in ritual.

Classical Indian Fire-Sacrifice
• Animal Sacrifice-offerings 
The basic form of larger, community worship from Ireland to India was a feast, shared with the spirits and graced with poetry and song. The best way to serve meat is fresh, and the terrible truth of the human ability to bring death to other beings required ritualization. So animals were ritually honored then killed, and their meat cooked. In Hellenic rites (of which we have written records) the bones and fat were wrapped in the skin and that was burned on the altar for the spirits. The cuts of meat were cooked and shared with the attendees. In ancient Indian fire-sacrifice it was said that the rite was not properly concluded 'until the poor had been fed'.
Smaller or personal religious rites often made offering through ‘libation’ – the simple pouring of wine, grain or other offerings on the altar of a spirit, or by ‘dedications’ – the giving of gifts of images, inscriptions, altars, buildings, even gold and cash to a deity. This form of offering was, in fact, gaining in popularity in the classical period, and even internal and native philosophies in the ancient world found reason to argue against the ancient customs of animal sacrifice. Modern rites that replace animal-meat feasting with such offerings are only expressing a Pagan-era trend.
• Human Sacrifice-offerings:
Ritual killing of political and criminal prisoners is described among the Celts. Scandinavians are said to have offered human lives before their greatest idols. Greek and Roman myths speak of youths being ‘offered’ to this titan or that monster, and the Romans specifically outlawed human-life offerings (which means that there was something to outlaw) in the years around 100bce. Human sacrifice seems to have had two major kinds, though we have no literate remains of ritual for those that I know of. (Some rites may exist buried in Indian Tantric material). First was the killing of prisoners of war and criminals. This seems to have been done en masse when needed, and to have been somewhat casual and pragmatic. We read, also, that when armies faced one another, the opposing army would all have been dedicated to the gods, so that every life taken in battle was an offering.
Modern Druid Fire-Sacrifice
Personal human sacrifice (the 'virgin youth' sort) had to be voluntary. The lore suggests that an offering such as that would have been intended to 'remake the world' - to restore the essential elements of existence. Bone is given to make stone, flesh to make soil, breath to make the wind, etc. This is, I think, where the occasional claim comes from that the Druids said they had created the world.

To live in the Old Ways was, I think, to seek to live in harmony with the world as it really is. To do so, especially for those living and eating straight from the farm, would seem to require the sanctifying of the fact of death, and the ritualizing of the deed of killing. What is murder? Murder is killing done outside the laws, and without the blessing of sacrifice. So, killing for food, killing for law or religion, even killing for war - the ancients seem to have considered the power to kill to be so sacred that it had to be acknowledged and ritualized. As an exercise we might make an ethical comparison between such an attitude (and recalling that life was cheaper, in fact, in ancient days) and our own culture of sanitized, mechanized, and commoditized killing.
• The Takeaway: ‘Sacrifice” is the sacred work of offering to a god or spirit (the gods or spirits), often as offerings of food and gifts as if for a noble guest. Animal-life offering, while common in the ancient world, is not mandatory in modern work. Human sacrifice was already passing away in Pagan times, and need never be contemplated in ours.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Two New Books (Sort-of) part 2

Pagan Spells: Rites for Conjuring Spirits
I’ve been working, for some years, on devising an approach to spirit-arte that preserves the
inheritance of European sorcery and occult tradition, while being adapted for modern Neopagan, polytheist and animist perspectives. It is common in our Neopagan movement to look to the ideas and methods of surviving world spiritist traditions for clues in how to deepen and focus Pagan spiritual work. However the direct heritage of literate, post-European occult tradition contains a large body of spirit-contact tradition, in the form of the magic of the grimoires.
               The magical methods of the manuals called ‘grimoires’ are a direct inheritance from the late-classical world, a time when polytheism was giving way to fashionable monotheism, but the ancient traditions were also being preserved by hidden practitioners. This preservation would become the ‘western occult’ traditions, and would produce, much later, the ‘solomonic’ tradition of ritual spirit-contact. That tradition became, in later centuries, closely connected to both the Christian mythology and spiritology, and to an antagonistic approach to those spirits labeled ‘demons’. These elements have often turned modern Pagan occultists away from investigation of grimoire-magic.
               In the past decade, new research has revealed the direct heritage of classical Paganism in the grimoire rituals and theology. This has led me to look for ways to adapt the method of grimoire spirit-arte to a polytheistic and animist mythos, with reciprocity as the basis of the work. I published a fairly detailed synthesis of the results as “The Book of Summoning”.
               In spring of 2017 I cleaned out my notebooks and published a small spellbook. I soon realized that the material contained almost everything needed for a simple, sorcery-at-home version of spirit-conjuring and spellcraft with spirits. The voices in my head that serve as my self-publishing editors and consultants assigned me to redo it as a formal, step-by-step simple grimoire, adding a few charms and spells to the back-matter.
               The result is my most concise instruction to date in using a polytheist, offering-based ritual system (the sort presented in my other new book “A Guide to Pagan Worship”) for the occult work of making specific alliances with spirits. Like most of my work it by-passes the ‘Golden Dawn’ era of correspondences and lodge-based ritual work. Drawing on archaic, Triadic cosmology, and a broader system of conceiving the classes of spirits I hope it can be usable/adaptable by those working a variety of ancient pantheons and cultural modes.

               I apologize to those who might have bought the first edition of this (there were a number… and thanks). There is probably 20% of additional material in this new addition. I will note that almost all the text (in the original edition, and this one) is new writing, and not self-plagiarism.
               Those who are interested in non-Wiccan ritual styles, drawn from the Pagan tradition of offering and blessing, will enjoy the form of the work. Much of the outline and language could also be used by those working a Wiccan-style four-quartered circle. I hope that the work helps contribute to a livelier relationship with the Spirits among modern Pagans.

Order from this link.
Lulu commonly offers discount codes. As of this writing one can get 10% off the price, plus free shipping (actually a nice deal) with the checkout code BOOKSHIP18 (case sensitive).

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Two New Books (Sort-of) part 1

A Guide to Pagan Worship

People who watch me on FB have seen this, but I want to archive it here, as I play bloggo catch-up

The catalog blurb:
“A non-Wiccan traditional ritual style for modern Pagans! Pagan Ways - based in the reality of nature and the visions of ancient wisdom, offer a platform for many people to seek their own spiritual fulfillment and growth. If you seek a personal Pagan practice, the blessings of the Gods, the Ancestors and the Sacred Land, this small manual offers clear instructions and easy-to-begin methods. Arranged for modern living but rooted firmly in tradition and scholarship.

• Easy Prayers and Simple Offerings
• Simple methods for meditation and divination
• Making and Using a Pagan Home Shrine
• Building Your Own Pagan Practice
• Formal Invocations and Seasonal Rites
 For those seeking the ways of ancient cultures, this book offers a simple ritual format that is in accord with the basics of traditional Paganism. For anyone who wishes to grow closer to the spirit and spirits in the Holy World, it offers a door, and the first steps of a path.”

Weekly in internet chat and Pagan discussion we see newcomers asking the basic question - "how do I get started?" This small book is meant to directly answer that question.
Beginning with a short generic (i.e. non-ethnic-specific) discussion of the Gods and Spirits, and the mythic and symbolic cosmos as understood in traditional Euro-Paganisms, the book begins by guiding students through beginning simple prayers, offerings and exercises, doable even without a home altar. Such simple methods can be started with little more prep than the purchase of some incense, and can offer a practical approach even to those leading busy modern lives. The next step for many the establishment of a shrine in one’s home. I provide clear, adaptable instruction in to how to establish a home-shrine and begin basic simple rites of offering-and-blessing.

While this is not a book about meditation, I provide basic exercises for meditation and mental focus that can help enliven devotion. Likewise simple methods of divination are offered, to help students communicate with the gods and spirits.
Finally I discuss more full-scale ritual for invocation and communion with Gods and Spirits. One of the most common questions I hear is how to decide which of the multitude of Gods and Spirits to actually approach. I offer guidance in choosing beings and symbols for individual work. Another common question is “How do I begin a relationship with a deity?” Drawing on the traditions of theurgy and ritual magic the book offers an instruction in how to make the first formal invocation of a deity, and the follow-up of establishing home cult.  It also discusses the creation of home and family seasonal rites and customs, and the development of ‘magical’ rites and requests for specific boons.
The book is divided into a front section of theory and some of the very basic practice, and then a presentation of all the prayer and ritual work in a spellbook format for easy use. The style of ritual presented is non-wiccan, grown mainly in Neopagan Druidry. It is devotional and invocational, based on ancient models and traditions of fire-ritual and offering. It approaches the Gods and Spirits as living beings, and intends to help students to develop their own personal Pagan religion – i.e. their own relationships with those Powers. It is likely to be useful to anyone seeking to work with the gods and spirits of the peoples of pre-Christian Europe, and quite possibly to a much wider audience.

All of this is presented in 140 pages of concise teaching and practice, with a minimum of padding. The clear and practical instruction takes a student directly into real practice. More good news... I've kept the price at under $10. (Please take note – there are two paperback and one hardback edition in my catalog. The higher-priced paperback exists only to get the book into wider distribution channels – please by the lower-priced edition, as linked.) Presently one can get 10% off that price, plus free shipping (actually a nice deal) with the checkout code BOOKSHIP18 (case sensitive).

Thursday, March 29, 2018

What It’s Been Like

So, the biggest thing that happened over the past year, in my immediate life since I was last actively writing this blog, is that the wife and I are formally ‘retired’. That is, we’ve chosen voluntary unemployment, and relying on our pensions and savings. A little family money from my prudent parents has helped, and we’re doing OK. One might think that being ‘at leisure’ would have increased my output… but…
               The second-biggest thing is the birth of my first Grandchild! This won’t have much bearing on blog content, but it is already changing my schedule. On to a new phase of life.
               See, I moved this blog to the Patheos platform about 2 years ago. Something about that blocked me up bad, and I posted nearly nothing there in a year, then moved back to this platform… where I posted a few things, then nothing for nearly a year. Admittedly, Facebook is competition for this format, but I find I like being able to archive the micro-essays that have tended to vanish into the FB stream. Throughout I have used the articles here in FB discussion, and traffic here has never slowed to zero…
But why should you care about any of that…
               Any long-time readers left will know that I (we… Liafal and I) have been building out our small (17 acre) farm as a temple and facility for our Pagan Church. (Stone Creed Grove ADF – nearing its 30th year). Over the past year that project has reached its basic completion. We’ve built all the big roofs we mean to build, and now we’ll slowly improve off-grid power and water, etc, as we can spend a little budget. Little budget is the fact, now; big, capital-improvement budget is done spent.
A pretty good map
of the Whole Place
The Little House next door.

               The past year has mainly been focused on renovating the small house next-door. When the owner, L’s old friend, passed she left the house and tiny yard to us, along with some debt and a big project. Here on the flat wetlands on the Lake Erie shore, things are generically wet. Little cottages like this will simply sink into the soil if not tended, and that’s what was happening. We tore up 60% of the floors, poured concrete where needed, dug new drainage and put in pumps… one of those jobs where one task requires two others. We finished just as winter approached, and now have a snug small house, with numerous guest-beds and a real bath and kitchen, for small gatherings and hospitality. I do think that marks the final phase of our Tredara build-out, which we began as long as… 6 years ago with the new barn.
That said, we have plans for infrastructure, artistic and ritual improvements. Older ritual sites on our back corner need to be preserved and improved, including the relatively unknown Original Circle in the woods. We also have plans to add as many as three new shrines. We’ll install an earth Mother shrine immediately next to our barn’s common-room and indoor hearth; watch this space for news on that artistic commission; also we’ll install a Herm at the ‘Lower Crossroad’ in the middle of our bit of woods. With those in place we can fulfill my notion of ‘ritual by procession’ – starting at the social hearth with the Earth Mother, and making our way along the pathway, past the Gatekeeper, to our Kindred shrines and finally to the Fire of the Gods in the Nemeton. Everyone loves a parade!
               My occult work has been sluggish as well, in terms of anything creative. Breaking weather and a chance to get out to the shrines more should help that. I have completed a couple of publishing efforts that I’ll be touting here soon.
               So, on we go to a more colorful season, and more to report. For those who are former readers, thanks for reading again. To new readers, welcome – I’ll try to have to interesting stuff, and in the meantime there’s 8 years of nack-articles in the headings over on the right.
Spring Blessings!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Tá sé ar ais !

Yes, It’s back. After a hiatus of nearly a year between posts, I’m gonna reanimate this blog. I miss having an excuse to write short stuff, and am finding myself with this and that to say.
So, where the hell have I been. I dunno… check the tapes… I’ll do some updates as spring progresses.
Coming up fairly immediately, a publishing announcement…

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Shrine for the Landspirits

 At Tredara, our 17-acre stead in NE Ohio, we have been working to build a sacred complex of shrines and worship areas for our polytheist and animist ways. Last year we arranged the construction of a Mound-Shrine for the Ancestors. To balance that we are building/gardening a glade for the many Spirits of the Land. In Our Druidry we use a conventional division of the many spirits into a triad of Gods, Dead and landspirits. BY completing this shrine we will honor the gods at our primary Nemeton fire, and have special places for the other two Kindreds.
The image in storage

A photoshop mockup of the basic layout
in last winter's picture.
To create the anchoring monument I sought out a local chainsaw Carver, Bob Anderson of Rock Creek Ohio. My original notion was a green-man tricephalus, but that was vetoed as 'too boring'. We decided on a tricephalus of green man, owl and bear, those being important guardian spirits around here Bob did a fine job on the piece.

A few years ago we were fortunate to be able to enlarge our property, allowing us the space for this build. The fact is that we have since had occasion to kill many plants, disturb habitat and otherwise generate for ourselves a need for frequent special offerings. The glade chosen for the shrine was an abject wreck when we arrived, filled with tires, holes and unmanaged brush. While we have been somewhat severe in our pruning and prepping, I hope that our offering of beautification and the reverence that comes with it will be well received.

I think the best thing is to show you some photos, with captions, of our work over the last couple of weekends. With the coming Beltaine season we will be doing a special rite of consecration for the shrine - I'll try to show you that as well.
...Built a pedestal another 2' or so tall.
I wanted the main monument to be big.
The carving is 6.5', and we ...
Machine assist got the rather large
idol up the hill safe

And discussion ensued about getting it
upon the pedestal

But, up it went, safe and sound.

Cleverly disguising the brick pedestal...
Finished with a ring of brick to prevent mud around the image.

With the monument complete we are working on a small path down to the small, pretty pond. Gardening with local perennial plants will follow. 

We plan a consecration ritual for the Saturday of our Beltaine weekend. Human relations with the non-human world is always full of irony... we hope to get all our pruning and killing done in the glade before the big sacred apology ceremony...

On we go - let us raise up shrines and idols to the Gods and Spirits, that the land may once more be known as their home.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Meditation, Trance, and Vision

 An Introduction
(By Holy Wisdom's comfort, I hope I don't have to write one of these again...)
In the wisdom traditions of world Paganism and polytheism the work of ritual worship and devotion is almost always accompanied by the practice of mental training and meditation. Practices of ritual invocation and devotion are perhaps more common in the religious life of regular people. The work of training the mind, and using it in a focused way to support spiritual practice is more often the work of priests, monks and those with a formal dedication to their path. In modern practice it is my advice that all those who seek the blessings of the Old Ways will practice at least a measure of these traditional mental and spiritual skills.

There are many benefits to be gained from meditation and mental training practices. Leaving aside the mythic and ritual considerations that are the focus of this work, we can mention the psychological and emotional benefits that modern science clearly says can be gained from meditation. Relaxation, stress reduction and relief, and improved cognitive function are all results well-supported by research. In the whole realm of religion, magic and spiritual practice if you do nothing than to learn and practice meditation regularly and skillfully you will have done yourself a great service.

In the practice of ritual worship and the building of relationship with the Powers the ability to calm the emotions, focus attention and clearly visualize is vital to the generation of personal spiritual experience. It is common in modern thinking to dismiss religious ritual as ‘empty gesture’. This, I think, is largely due to the loss of these mental skills in western religious training. Literalist thinking is no more valuable to ritual than it is to scripture, and the expectation that spiritual ritual will simply “work like magic” can only result in disillusionment. Powerful, well-spoken words and meaningful, well-performed actions must be accompanied by focused, well-structured mental work for a ritual to be whole.

To be more metaphysical, it is the internal mental structures of ritual – the visualized energies and presences that form the bridge between the material symbols of the spiritual world that we use in ritual, and the Inner realities of spiritual persons and powers.  Through our well-structured mental participation the gods and spirits can step through, closer to our common lives. In the same way with our Inner Vision we can perceive and direct the ‘energies’ of Land and Sky, both in ourselves and in the outer world. Here we approach what might be called the ‘magical’ or ‘occult’ (i.e. hidden) aspect of spiritual practice. Even without such considerations the value of trance and meditative work is undeniable, and vital to ritual practice.

Spiritual teaching is full of discussion of the ‘real’ meaning of meditation and the place of ‘altered states’ or ‘trance’ in spiritual work. Sects have divided and many a scholastic duel been fought over the angels-on-pinhead minutia of these topics. I will present simple descriptions or definitions of several core terms, before we move on to practical method.

• Trance (or ‘altered states of awareness’) is the most general term. It refers to any deliberate effort to focus the mind away from the common stream of perception and mental chatter. It is characterized by the withdrawal of attention from immediate sensory environment, relaxation of the body, a strongly focused attention, and a sense of full and immediate involvement that quiets self-criticism. That is, basic trance is relaxation + concentration + non-judgement. It is possible to practice this state as a goal in itself, but basic trance is almost always the set-up for some further deliberate act of will.
• Meditation is the deliberate and maintained withdrawal of attention from the stream of chatter-thought. Meditation often employs basic trance by making that calm, mentally-motionless state the focus of concentration. Meditation of this type teaches us that our self-talk is separate from our essential self-awareness, and contributes to discernment and perspective. It helps us learn to step back from our immediate ‘programmed’ mental and emotional responses, a skill which can be valuable in dealing with the Powers. Many mystical systems have made variations of this kind of meditation one of their central practices or sacraments. To me it is one useful technique among many, but an important basis for further spiritual skills.
• Vision Pagan religion, mysticism and magic has almost always employed deliberately-constructed visualizations – the use of ‘imagination’  - to give access to deeper spiritual realities. This often involves a deeper or tighter level of focus – a ‘deeper trance’ in which envisioned scenes, images and forces mingle with sense perception. In full visionary ‘journeying’ the body may be still while the mind travels in vision. Such deeper trances are seldom part of ritual worship. However the use of conscious vision to enhance invocation, energy-work and ritual is an important part of effective practice.
• Energy-Work Modern Paganism has developed the “energy model” of magic to a fairly high degree. To a degree this is a special adaptation of Vision work, in that one is generating the sensory experiences of flowing energies, including visual models. In this notion the spiritual Powers are understood as impersonal ‘forces’ or ‘energies’ that can be manipulated by will and imagination. Many modern Pagans might describe their whole practice as about the ‘magical energies’ of the cosmos, even describing the gods as energies. While these ideas were never part of traditional ways there are several basic techniques that fit well with traditional symbols and forms. Especially ‘Grounding and Centering’, in which ‘spiritual energies’ are contacted and organized in the self, has value both as a follow-up to basic trance and as a self-healing technique.

It is sometimes argued that, in old times, community and home ritual did not include the deliberate induction of altered states of awareness. This true, and the use of scripted trance-induction in modern ritual is certainly an innovation. I argue that it is an extremely valuable one, which replaces a vital element that would otherwise be missing.

In a traditional society the rites, customs, sacred places and symbols are a part of the cultural fabric of life. With an implicit acceptance of the reality of spirit forces and human ritual the sacred things become invested with an automatic ability to produce changes in consciousness. Simply to come into the Ring of Stones, or before the Ancient Fire, or, later, into the Grand Cathedral would have been to enter a new mental space, where gods and spirits might find entry.

Moderns have no such mechanism available for our efforts to make religion in our back-yards and living-rooms. We must, I think, replace that cultural entrancement with deliberate efforts to alter awareness. The addition of deliberate entrancement and mental focus exercises to ritual works can only provide a deeper and more complete spiritual experience.