Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dresden Files

Welcome to the Jungle
Dresden Files graphic novel
Written by Jim Butcher, Illustrated by Adrian Syaf
One of my favorite total-pulp entertainment series of novels of the past few years has been the Harry Dresden books. Harry D is the only consulting wizard in the Chicago phonebook – mid-20s, recently ‘graduated’ as a wizard (with plenty of baggage) and sort of a cross between a goth-noir occult detective and another young Harry… In fact…
When you think of ‘Dresden’ what do you think of – I mean beside thinking of apocalyptic bombing? You think of those little figurines, the china, the, er, pottery… We can say that Harry Dresden is sort of Harry pottery. All that aside, they’re lovely fast, funny adult-ish adventure novels – guaranteed to pass a plane-flight happily.
Jim Butcher seems to be the sort of authentic weirdo that many of us would recognize - sword-swinging, con-going, gamer who really lives in the pulp culture he writes in. This is a good thing, imo. His observations on fan culture, even on Pagan culture is respectful but as funny as the rest of his writing.
The graphic novel in the pic is a great place to start, (or the free stuff on Butcher's website) if your dignity will allow you to read ‘comic books’. The story is by Butcher, and the art does a great job of capturing the characters, and the pace and occult weirdness of the series. It’s an expensive hardback right now, but I got mine from my local library – watch for a cheaper paperback, I suppose.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Druidic Mystical Practice- Open Meditation

In the course of devising this big outline for a nine-month program of Druidic magico-religious work, I am forced to revisit the basics of meditation training and trance yet again. Despite some efforts on my part, I consider the present ADF Dedicant training in trance and meditation to be barely adequate to get started - I feel a need to require remedial practice at the start of the next level.

I especially intend to require the work of 'silent' meditation, or Open Meditation as I am calling it this week. There has been plenty written about this technique, including by me, but I want to emphasize it in the opening steps of the work. So I've written this little homily and encouragement, and I'll append the basic method and a simple ritual setting for it.

Training the Mind for Druidry – part 1: Open Meditation
In the course of working with students I find a continuing resistance to the systematic practice of basic Open Meditation. By this term I mean the practice of concentrating attention on a single object, such as the breath, while allowing other thought and sensation to flow by the attention without attachment. This technique is basic to further trance and even to ritual work and should be a common part of any program of mental practice. Beginning students, however, do find reasons to balk.
Some seem to find the business of sitting motionless, pursuing nothing except mental activity, to be chafing. To this the only answer can be that any new skill has its basic methods, and most of them involve some inconvenience in early phases. Whether stretching the hands for the piano or lying face down for push-ups, discomfort is often part of learning. So we can only tell students that the results will justify the work of learning to sit motionless. Fortunately for these students a practicing Druid spends rather more time in the trances associated with ritual, than in motionless trance.
Some students mistake this practice for the attempt to ‘stop thinking’. In some of the world’s mystical systems this does seem to be a goal, with great value placed on finding and enhancing the silence between thoughts. Druidic lore doesn’t suggest that the finding of motionless silence is, in itself, a core goal. It seems to occur spontaneously in some students, but it isn’t central to the work.
Rather the point of this method for the system we’re building is the development of a detached observer in the self – a point of observation for all that passes, within or without. The student learns to maintain her equanimity – engage her passions at need and to step away when she must. The work of Pagan spiritual practice can arouse the passions, can stir up ones mental contents. The ability to stand in a place of neutrality and peace offers a special strength in the work of magic, whether it’s dealing with one’s emotions, or facing the Gods.
It is common to confuse basic trance with the work of Open Meditation. They are, in fact, closely related, but there is an important distinction. Basic trance is the primary mental preparation, induced by relaxing the body, focusing the attention and suspending critical observation (or ‘attachment’ as some say). We have taught this state through the Fire and Water induction, and the Bone, Breath and Blood exercise. Either of those exercises, among many other similar forms, produces the focused poise that leads to other trance states.
Open Meditation can be understood as an extension of that poise into a longer experience sustained by will. By directing the concentration upon a single focus – watching the breath being our most usual method – we locate the still point. As our thoughts and impressions flow around us, we keep returning our awareness to the focus as we sit in stillness. By sustaining the relaxation, concentration and detachment of basic trance we allow the mind and emotions to relax in turn, releasing the ‘knots and kinks’ of daily life.
Open meditation is an excellent accompaniment to the regular work of ritual purification. The Water and Fire clear away the spiritual cobwebs and parasites of daily spiritual life in the world. Open meditation deprives your personal inner imps and larvae of their food and weakens their grip.
So we begin the formal work of mental training by learning to abide calmly among our own thoughts and feelings. If no other good were gained from the work of Druidry, the ability to stand at peace amid the swirl of life’s impulses would pay for all. In order to work the system I’m presenting here the student will have to simply choose to set to it, and develop the basic skills that support all further work. We will refer often to the ‘Druid’s Peace” in this work – by this we mean that steady and unmoved center. In addition to this Peace, we will learn a set of active meditations, but the Peace is the basis of them all, because the Peace grants access to the management of the mind by will.
Open meditation is as basic to mental training as aerobic exercise is to training the body. Some students will take to it readily, others may find it more difficult. Its value and results speak for themselves and to neglect it in early training is to deprive yourself of future resources.

Working Open Meditation
First Stage:
• First find your seat, in a position that can be comfortably maintained with your spine straight.
• Begin patterned breathing. Work the Blood, Breath and Bone induction.
• If you wish to work a simple shrine opening, do so now. Practice maintaining basic trance as you speak and do the ritual gestures. Return to motionless basic trance following the work.
Second Stage:
• Choose a point of focus for your concentration. Initially you should continue to use the breath.
• With your attention focused simply sit and maintain that focus. You choose not to give attention to any specific thought that arises, whether about the object of concentration or any other thing. Each time that you notice a thought or specific impression holding your attention, return your attention to the focus. That is the entire basic technique. Like raising an arm or taking a step it is the act of will that brings the attention back to the focus.
• As you practice you will begin to notice more quickly when you have drifted, and be able to hold your concentration on the focus for longer without breaks. This is the first level of success in this practice.
• Always end the session of meditation formally, with the recitation of a closing charm and/or other formal gesture.

Stage 1: Simple Shrine Blessing and Open Meditation.This first section can always serve as a fall-back, or minimum practice. It can be done daily, even as you add additional work during retreats or more focused workings.
The Druid seats himself in her seat, facing east if possible. If there can be hallowed Fire and Water, so much the better. The body should be kept balanced and alert, while relaxed.
Begin your breathing pattern. Find your peace, perhaps using the Bone, Breath and Blood method.

Bless the Water and Fire, as you say:
The Fire, the Well, the Sacred Tree
Flow and Flame and Grow in me
In Land, Sea and Sky, Below and on High,
Let the Water be blessed and the Fire be hallowed.

When you are ready, dip your hand in the Water and sprinkle or lave yourself, then pass your hands through the incense or Fire and bring it onto yourself, as you say:

By the Might of the Waters and the Light of the Fire
Cleansed of ill and bane am I
By the Might of the Waters and the Light of the Fire
Blessed in Land and Sea and Sky

As you cleanse and bless yourself, feel the Water and Fire washing and searing away all that’s not in your true pattern of being.
Light an additional offering of incense, and open your heart in welcome to all the Holy Beings. Say:

Gods and Dead and Mighty Sidhe
Powers of Earth and Sky and Sea
By Fire and Well, by Sacred Tree
Welcome I do give to ye.

At this time you may wish to pause in open meditation for as long as you wish. In daily practice it can be enough to do the simple cleansing, followed by open meditation.
When your meditative practice is complete, take time to return your awareness fully and completely to your body and material senses. Even as you remember what you may have gained or learned in a working, allow your awareness to return to common life and breath. Before you rise from your seat pause for a mement and return to your center in peace. Cross your hands on your chest and say:

The blessings of the Holy Ones be on me and mine
My blessings on all beings, with peace on thee and thine
The Fire, the Well, the Sacred Tree
Flow and Flame and Grow in me
Thus do I remember the work of the Wise.

on to pt 2

Monday, December 22, 2008


What does the term ‘magic’ mean in context of modern Pagan spiritual endeavor? I find myself trying to answer this question over and over. I find the topic discussed over and over in Pagan writing. What makes this word so difficult, so confusing, so likely to produce conflicting definitions in different minds?

It seems to me that the word sits fairly comfortably on those working the various spiritual techniques developed in the renaissance and modern times. Grimoiric magic, Hermetic ritual magic and the various methods that are referred to as theurgy or thaumaturgy seem to be able to define themselves as ‘magic’ in a way that is almost, or overtly, in opposition to ‘religion’. In the context of Christian orthodoxy these techniques were plainly proscribed, or at best barely tolerated, and that required a vocabulary for the plain distinction between ‘religious’ ritual and spiritual techniques and ‘other’ ritual and spiritual techniques. Following the custom of Greek and Roman literature, Europe came to use the term ‘magic’ to refer to these other methods.

When we go outside of the Euro-Christian model, the whole matter becomes less dichotomous, and so less simple. In most pre-Christian systems (and many modern non-Christian ones) the techniques that we know as magic – self-empowerment and energy work, theurgic invocation, spirit-art, empowerment of talismans and images, leveraging events through hidden influence, divination, etc – are often entirely integrated into the category of ‘religion’. There might be specific vocabulary terms for each, but there is no need for an overarching term like ‘magic’ to distinguish them from regular practice.

This leaves the would-be Traditional Pagan in a funny place in relation to modern usages of the term ‘magic’. In many ways our religious practice is based on principles and practices that have been taught in the west as magic. Correspondence, consecration of images, trance and meditation are all core practices of a working Pagan spirituality. It is entirely reasonable to say that ancient religion was ‘based on magic’ as long as we recall that the ancients themselves would never have said such a thing. A statement like that is true only in a modern usage in which magic means ‘technical application of spiritual arts for the production of specific willed effects’.

The key words there, for me, are ‘technical application’ and ‘willed effects’. In my opinion magic is primarily a body of human skill, applied to the spiritual (and secondarily the material) realm in order to produce desired outcomes. This brings me to the reason I took up this topic.

I keep reading people saying things like ‘magic isn’t something you do, it’s something you are’. These folks tend to use ‘Magic’ to refer to some (to me) ambiguous ‘magicness’ in the universe, perhaps to the sense of wonder and spiritual awe that accompanies some spiritual effects. They seem to want to pomote magic to a station even higher than I would place it – to keep it in the realm of the ‘unknowable’ or of ‘mystery’. I guess I understand this – but for me the ‘unknowable’ only exists so that I can figure it out – I don’t really perceive value in the existence of that which cannot be understood. There’s lots of value in things which we *don’t* understand, and in things which any one of us may never understand in a lifetime, but not so much in the existence of things that are not meant to be understood, at least enough to put it to use.

(Now, I’ve often stated that I’m an agnostic of sorts, in that I don’t think the human senses and mind are capable of directly perceiving (especially spiritual) reality or of ever being certain that we know what’s “really” going on. Nevertheless our senses and comprehension are pretty good. They allow us to build material objects that last for thousands of years and construct spiritual methods that produce results over centuries. So I’m generally willing to accept the approximate Truth we can arrive at by our will and skill as Good Enough to Get Started.)

So I vastly prefer to use the term ‘magic’ to refer to a body of skills that humans use to shape and direct spiritual forces, rather than use it to refer to the forces themselves. That is I don’t think there’s ‘magic all around us’ in a literal sense. There are spirits, and powers, and relationships all around us, but ‘magic’ is the body of talents and skills – ritual, vision, knowledge of natural powers, etc – that allow us to speak with the spirits, experience the Otherworlds and build relationships with the Gods. So, we could say that there is “magic all around us”, as the old ritual song says, we might mean that we are surrounded by the wonders we have made, by the relationships we have built.

Sometimes I think people perceive the above approach as reductionism – it turns magic from a cosmic wonder into a tool-bag and a set of methods. I’m afraid that, to a certain extent, it may be so. But I think such a feeling also devalues our divine human powers of shaping and making. In my own Pagan world-view the divine lives in us, in the souls and talents and skills of humans. Our ability to shape wood or make music or bargain with spirits is of the same kind as the ability of Gods to shape mountains – just in smaller supply. This is certainly, in itself, a wonder. We might say that this approach to magic moves the object of wonder from the strange and hidden in the outside world to the skill and power of the divine in the self.

On another level I think I detect a sort of ‘faith not works’ feel to the idea of magic as a sort of ‘thing’ that exists of itself in the cosmos. There is a certain sort of spiritual model – both Christianity and Buddhism have versions of it – in which human effort doesn’t really count in the business of achieving gnosis, or wisdom, or whatever we might call ‘enlightenment’ or ‘adeptship’. In such systems all that a student can do is prepare themselves, and hope that the result occurs. It seems to me that in these models gnosis isn’t something you do, it’s something that happens to you. I suppose this has value for those who want to weaken the grip of the social mask-ego on the broader psyche. It reminds the student that the ‘them’ they usually perceive isn’t the do-er of the deeds, or even the primary target. But again I feel like this is throwing out the baby with the bath – discarding the reality of human spiritual power in favor of ‘surrender’ to a divinity, or a magic, outside of the perceived ‘self’.

Alright, that’s taken us down a road a bit from the starting point of the meaning of ‘magic’. I continue to like a definition such as ‘spiritual skills applied for personally willed goals’. I suppose that, for the sake of our modern understanding, we might contrast that with ‘religion’, by which I might mean ‘spiritual skills applied for customary or community goals’. Is this a distinction the ancients would have made? Hard to say.

Romans made a distinction between public rites and private rites, with the former well-regulated and the latter mainly left alone. For the Greeks and Romans ‘magic’ had the connotation of ‘foreign’, referring to the wandering Persian ritualists who claimed to be able to command the Gods and spirits by their rites. Nevertheless Hellenic religion was full of trance-oracles, bribing of Gods for gain, consecrated images and talismans and the things we might now call ‘magical’. It seems to me that among cultures with a more ‘professional’ priestly class, such as Vedic, Persian and Celtic, there is greater chance of a specialist discourse developing in which technical methods of invocation, trance, etc are discussed. Celtic sources leave little to judge from, but we do have classical descriptions of their devotion to religion, divination and sacrifice, with direct comparisons to the Magi. Persians and Bharati cultures had ‘magical’ practices integrated into their religion – astrology and planetary spirit-art, for instance, are gospel-orthodox in those traditions. We don’t see much of that in Roman religion – I know of no Roman instruction to sacrificers on how to properly involve the mind in sacrifice. We do see it plainly in post-Vedic material, and perhaps by inference in the hymns themselves. Vedic culture simply calls such things ‘knowledge’, though they have technical vocabulary for the various rituals and practices.

In some Paganisms we also see some or most of this knowledge preserved as esoteric – it is for the few, for those trained and accepted into the priestly work. This sense of esotericism contributes greatly, I think, to the later notion of ‘magic’. Once again we see this much more clearly in some cultures than others, and it seems to me that Celtic cultures falls on the side of esotericism, with it’s specialist priestly-poetic class.

As a modern practitioner of both public priestly ritual and more arcane skills such as divination and spellbinding I will probably continue to find a use for the English word ‘magic’ as distinct from other types of spiritual practice. I suppose I’ll continue to argue for its use to mean ‘body of human spiritual skill’ rather than ‘intrinsic wonder of the cosmos’. Of course one can simply use ethnic terms when we want to be specific – seid and galdr, briocht and pishog – and that’s probably a good plan, but doesn’t make modern theoretical thought about these things any easier. Using good English descriptive vocabulary is also a good plan – talk about invocation in a technical sense, develop (steal, co-opt, etc) terms for states of awareness and trance, have terms for various practical-magic goals, that allow us to talk technically about willed use of spiritual skills without referring too often to that broad and difficult category of ‘magic’.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Review: The Celtic Flame - Aed Rua

Celtic Flame; An Insider’s Guide to Irish Pagan Tradition
Aedh Rua 2008
iUniverse, Inc. ISBN: 978-0-595-52970

This is a welcome addition to the wave of Celtic Paganism books beginning to break in the last year. Author Aedh Rua is a long-time participant in the effort to build a modern Gaelic Paganism, and this small book is a good summary of the basics. I recommend it to those seeking an introduction to Gaelic lore and neo-Celtic practice.

Aedh Rua (a former member of ADF, incidentally) does a good job of presenting the basics of a Tuatha De Danann pantheon, with plenty of good lore for each of the deities. Beyond the primary list of the Highest and Wisest, he also describes a category of deity he calls Earlaimh – ‘Patrons’. These are lesser spirits, Landwights, even Ancestors who become the special patron of some local tribe or place or family. Rua’s device provides a nice category for those beings that become ‘promoted’ to functional deity-hood. His chapters on the Ancestors and the Daoine Sidhe, and on the Otherworld are brief but informative.

The book offers an interesting chapter on a virtue-based ethic and Gaelic metaphysical principles. This concept of Fhirrine – Truth, in the Druidic sense – extends from the personal to the social. There’s a lot of good summary of Gaelic concepts in this section. The author uses it as a chance to discuss Gaelic social organization as well, perhaps a little more than I might have liked. However it is a very nice summary of some basic principles of brehon law – something not normally found in Neopagan treatises.

The chapter on the Fhomoire gives me my only chance to actually disagree. Rua makes the Fomor entirely too ‘demonic’ or ‘anti-cosmic’ to fit my understanding of their place in the lore. He describes them as entirely opposed to ‘the Truth of the Gods’, while I would suspect that they have been subsumed in that order, even as their chaos continues to refresh the world. All of that aside he provides a good description of the beings of the Fomor, and some discussion of dealing with them.

The chapter on ritual draws on many of the sources common to ADF ritual, and is quite compatible with Neopagan Druid liturgy. Rua provides some nice charms and invocations in Gaelic and in English, and in fact offers his entire short basic ritual in Gaelic, in an appendix. He provides simple solo works for each of the Gaelic High Days, as well.

Gaelic kinsfolk will be very pleased with this book’s handling of Irish language. Almost every vocabulary term or name offered is accompanied by its phonetics. A pronouncing glossary is included at the end. The actual charms and invocations in gaeilge don’t come with phonetics, but they’re simple enough to make excellent exercises.

Celtic Flame makes a fine introduction to authentic Gaelic lore and practice. It should be useful to reconstructionists and to Neo-Druids, as well as anyone who wants a better understanding of Irish lore.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Dunwich Horror - new film!

I'm all a-flutter over discovering that Lovecraft's story "The Dunwich Horror" (one of my very faves) is being remade as a movie! This version stars long-time HPL interpreter Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator, From Beyond, so much more...) as Wilbur Whately, as he searches for the Necronomicon so that he can bring the Old Ones through and clear off the earth, bark-bark, woof-woof...

The first flick of the DH was done by Roger Corman for TV, back in the day, and was pretty good for what it was. As another blogger has said the whole movie was worth seeing Sandra Dee writhing half-naked as Dean Stockwell chants to Yog Sothoth over her. Also very cool naked cultists, especially for 1968 on TV. Stockwell gets a part in the new movie as well.

No telling what they'll fiddle in the story, at least not yet. The story pretty much demands a look at the Necronomicon and some amount of ritual magic, so it'll have that going for it.
Here's a link to the first trailer:

Monday, December 15, 2008

TV Wizards

So look, ‘serious minded’ has just never been a description of me. I love cheesy fantasy and horror, occult adventure, pulp culture, etc. So we’ll be having an occasional bowl of that here in the old bloggo.
It’s a pretty good season for fantasy and speculative TV, and there are some pretty cool wizards and quasi-wizards. I can’t say it’s a great year for occult TV, though – most of the wizards tend to be using ‘science’ rather than sorcery – but it’s making for some fairly cool storytelling

Dr Helen Magnus is the wizard of the new Sci-fi series ‘Sanctuary’. In this case we have science as magic – but the setting is a huge gothic facility, the creatures resemble werewolves and various demons, and we find Magnus the wizard investigating the hand-written books of lore left by weirdo scientists. I admit to finding the dalliance with occult motifs thinly veiled as science to be kind of frustrating. This show began as a series of short web-casts, I hear, and the first episodes – patched together from those webisodes - were pretty choppy as a result. It’s getting better, and having ‘Magnus the magician’ be a hot, smart, strong woman is a-ok by me. I’m not enchanted with this show, but I think it has potential.

Zeddicus Z’ul Zurander is your very typical fantasy wizard in "Legend of the Seeker" a syndicated series based on Terry Goodkind’s fantasy series ‘The Sword of Truth’. This is a Sam Raimi production, shot in new Zealand, with the folks from Hercules and Xena - however the tongue is out of the cheek in favor of more serious fantasy storytelling. Goodkind’s books are classic post-Tolkein, even post-Jordan fantasy – nicely realized worlds over many novels. The series has a big job working with a sprawling worldscape like that, but so far it’s at least entertaining. Of course this setting gives us a more directly ‘magical’ depiction of the wizard’s work, but it’s also pretty post-D&D – the Wizard has firebolts and other good fighter spells, as well as being mixed up with big prophecies and kingdom-level plots. There has been a little depiction of ritual magic, and I rather hope for more as time goes by. I give extra points for the hot magic-using warrior woman, too.

I should mention Supernatural here, but they don’t really play with the wizard archetype at all. The two young heroes have slowly worked themselves up to being competent occult warriors, dealing with demons and angels, but they’re short on a wizard – they could use one, presently. Maybe I’ll write separately about ‘occult’ TV – this show has had the coolest depictions of ritual magic available in a current series. Not saying much these last seasons, but they’re the leaders.

Dr Walter Bishop is the wizard of the Fox sci-fi conspiracy ‘Fringe’. They use the term ‘fringe science’ for the experiments that center the plots, and the man at the heart of the mystery is Bishop himself. Once a mad scientist working in academe, he gets brought out of the asylum to help ‘the agency’ fight his former colleague, who has become a Black Scientist. Bishop himself isn’t what you’d call either morally good, or strictly sane. It’s his skill in speaking with the dead, creating various homunculi and breaking the scientific spells of the bad guys that make him valuable. The look of this show is more universal Frankenstein than medieval gothic – rusted metal, dusty glass cabinets – odd specimens in jars, hidden stashes of old fringe science lore. Dr Bishop’s experiments – done in the early 1970s – included plenty of psychedelics, and we’ve seen obscure dietary supplements employed in some of the electro-shamanism. All in all Walter is probably my fave wiz in this line-up. He’s morally ambiguous, capable of cool marvels and probably actually nuts, but he’s obviously enjoying his work.

Maybe one of these days someone will give us a new, cool occult adventure – where’s Joss when ya need him…

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Druidic Magical Training

My current project...
So, we’ll just assume that soon (soooon) my first big book - Sacred Fire, Holy Well (SFHW)- will be formally published by ADF Publishing. That assumed, I have been poking around in my brain for what the next Big Project might be. I seem to have settled on devising a formal program of Druidic magical training based on two models.
First this new system will serve the Initiate’s training program as outlined in ADF’s Clergy training. The Initiate’s work is a set of ‘courses’ (as we call them) that focus on magico-religious skills in a Druidic context, with just enough scholastic support to keep it grounded. It requires basic theory and practicum in ritual, divination, trance skills and practical magic, and sets clear standards for achievement in those skills. What it entirely fails to do is to offer an actually systematic approach to learning and practicing these skills in an Indo-European, Celtic/Druidic context.
Modern Pagan writing is full of simple-to-complex instructions on all of those skills. Most of the ideas therein derive from western ceremonial magic, or from scraps of folklore. They often depend on mystical ideas based on Hermetic Qabalah (the G:. D:. sort, not the Jewish sort) or loosely lifted from Buddhism or Hinduism. So, one can learn a great deal about Tarot, or Runes, or herbal magick, poppet spells or shamanic vision. One can read methods of contacting the Holy Guardian Angel, of meeting a Power Animal, of entering trance through music or rhythm or sexual practice. Each and all of these could have some context in a Druidic occultism, but none of it is really constructed inside a Northern, much less a Celtic, world view.
In some ways it’s the Celtic perspective that has had the least attention. If one works a Hellenic system one can approach most of these skills through Graeco-Egyptian magic and the fairly well-documented remnants of Hellenic religion. Asatruar have several modern resources that merge classical magical goals with Norse myth and symbol. Of course eastern, post-Vedic systems have never completely lost their own intrinsic occultism, though those have often drifted fairly far from the kind of archaic models I’m considering.
In the last couple of years there has been a new round of publishing on the topic of Celtic Paganism. Books such as Aed Rua’s Celtic Flame, Robin Artisson’s The Flaming Circle, Erynn Laurie’s Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom (reviews forthcoming) and my own thing all seem to be nearing a rough consensus on some symbols and cosmology of a Celtic Pagan worldview. However I think that I’m still a bit ahead of the pack in turning these ideas to the uses of actual occultism and magic.
So the second model for the Next Project will be to create a system of occult training that is adequately Celtic, specifically Gaelic, in a modern context. There’s little doubt that in some cases what I’ll be doing is ‘Celticising’ some classical magical methods. In other cases I’ll be drawing on Gaelic folklore for rather more unique models. I’ll be drawing on a lot of the ideas and models from SFHW, but I’ll also be writing a lot of new material.
My model for the practice is a nine month focused program of work. That work is organized in a weekly ‘retreat day’ on which the Druid will work morning, mealtime and evening exercises and rites. Back when I worked in the traditional Craft we expected those working toward initiation to spend at least two to three nights per month attending ritual and practice meetings. It seems to me that at least that level of regular work should be expected of anyone hoping to move from a preliminary commitment (‘dedication’ as we might say) to the skilled use of occult methods. The practice I’m devising is based on lunar cycles, with retreat days set on the First Waxing, the Sixth Night, the Full Moon and the Waning. At least three of these involve a full personal ritual in the evening. The goal is to meet all the requirements of the ADF Initiate’s Program practicum in the nine month cycle. I worry a bit that this is too ambitious, but only a little – let those with less ambition use a different method.
So as time goes by I’ll be reporting on my progress here, and publishing excerpts from the writing. I have finished a meditative ritual technique that brings together several core elements of the Celtic Pagan consensus with the intention of seeking the various ‘mystical’ states characteristic of occult spirituality. (My article on ‘Druidic Mysticism’ is done and submitted to ADF’s magazine, Oak Leaves, incidentally. Maybe I’ll post excerpts here…) I’m currently working on the skeleton of rites and practices for the ‘retreat days’. I began intending to model the retreat work on the canonical hours (perhaps thinking of Kirk’s future ‘monastic’ dealy) but there are rather a lot of those, and I want the program to be doable on a weekday even for working people, so that the student can choose not to devote one weekend day per week to it unless they want to. So in the end I only recommend a morning work, a mid-day activity (divination), and evening meal work and a full ritual at night. I guess my question to the reader is whether this much work can be done once per week by a student of middling diligence, or should the load per month be reduced. The Dark Moon week, especially, could be limited to simple meditation and, perhaps, catching up the journal. To get us started, here’s the outline I’ll be working to fill in initially, over the next weeks:

The Initiate Student Retreat – worked weekly on the quarters of the moon.
The Work of the Retreat Day:
• Morning Work – to be done before beginning the day’s tasks. Rise, Bathe and go to the Shrine. Perform the Shrine Devotion, and the prescribed meditation.
• At Meals – make the food offerings to the Ancestors and local Wights – development of relationship with the local beings.
• The Oracle – At some time in the day a full reading is done with the preferred divination tool, and carefully recorded.
• The Hearth Rite: a full solo liturgy that includes honoring the Gods and Spirits of the student, divining the nature of the Blessing and working a good Blessing in turn. The rite may include a formal trance working, full invocatory work, and/or practical magic. The closing of this rite ends the weekly retreat.
The overall 9-month Work must accomplish:
• Increasing facility with the Druidic symbols and ritual outlines
• Possible increasing familiarity with a Celtic language (if yr hmbl author can increase his own before publishing…)
• Development of personal ‘hearth customs’ and relationships with the spirits.
• Achieve basic skill as diviner/reader
• Work several successful operations of practical magic
• Gain skill at trance – the work will contain at least three kinds of trance style or method – Grounding & Centering, Open Meditation and vision-journeying.
Specific magico-spiritual goals include:
• Develop skill in mystical trance – unity with the land and the Two Powers, awareness of the God In the Self.
• Develop an Inner Grove – a base of operations for the Inner World
• Develop initial alliances with specific beings of the Kindreds.
• Use divination to develop understanding of one’s path and goal.
• Develop invocation skills to work with the Deities.
• Use Hearth-customs and Welcomings to build power in the local land
• Use spellbinding to improve the conditions of common life

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Polytheism 2

Here's the article I wrote to answer the "Anti-Neo-Pagan Apologetics" article on the Catholic Answers web page. I'll be having a busy Thanksgiving - this long piece will give people with some free time something to chew on. I greatly encourage critique on this incidentally...
In Gratitude for Blessings, on this Feast
The Nature of the Gods
Some comments from neopaganism pages, answered. Original Author in italics:

Many neo-pagans advance the claim that there should not be a single world religion with a single deity or set of deities to be worshiped by all mankind, but rather each group should worship the gods of their ancestors or of their preference.

To be more specific, neopaganism asserts that there is plainly not a single deity or set of deities that is worshiped by all mankind. Simple observation of the human interaction with the divine shows that the divine always manifests as multiple persons, forms and beings. In the same way, the core and universal principles of physical nature always produce multiple physical entities. As always, neopagans look to the facts of nature as a model for what the facts of spiritual existence will be.

The plain fact of the multiplicity of divine manifestations has led monotheism into some pretty wild assertions. The notion that all forms of the divine except those described in whoever’s revealed scripture are either simply fantasy or demons has been the traditional resort of the argument. Again, observation fails to support this idea. Descriptions of human relationships with the many-armed, skull-wearing deities of India, or the Gods of Voudoun and West African religion, or the still-simmering Neopagan relationships with the Deities all make it clear that such beings bless and aid their worshippers as surely as the deities of the Bible or Quran ever have.

When we look at material nature, we see a nearly infinite variety of forms and local expressions. In the same way the spiritual world has a riot of gods, local spirits, flows of energy and sacred potentials, which are expressed locally.
This claim creates a problem for the neo-pagan understanding of the gods, and it is fair for the Catholic apologist to point it out. Consider the implications that arise, depending on how the gods were interpreted. There would seem to be four basic ways of making sense of the claim that different people should worship different pagan pantheons: 1. The gods of different peoples really aren’t different but should be identified with each other (e.g., Zeus = Jupiter = Odin). 2. There are a great many individual gods governing different peoples. 3. The gods are projections created in some sense by the peoples that worship them. 4. The gods are merely symbols or aspects of something else.

These questions were examined by the ancients as well. It’s worth pointing out that neopaganism, like its ancient models, does not depend on or require doctrinal unity for its cohesion. Pagan ways depend on ritual, vision and myth to produce experiences that are plainly true at the time. These experiences are not required to fit neatly into a doctrinal structure, and doctrine is more likely to be shaped by such experiences than the reverse. Paganism spends a great deal of time teaching how to achieve these experiences, and rather less time on apologetics and doctrine.

Devout Pagans are not all expected to believe the same things about the Gods, though we are expected to be willing to join together around the traditional forms and practices. So in any Pagan congregation (or party…) you will be likely to find folks with any of the above opinions, and lots of folks who haven’t decided on any one opinion about what the Gods are. There might be rather more agreement about what the Gods do – provide blessings of bounty, love and wisdom, open our hearts to the spirit, help us grow closer to the spirit of the world we live in, etc.
1. If the gods of different religions are to be identified with each other, then it would not seem that there are meant to be different religions among peoples but only different rites used to worship the same set of gods. This would be especially problematic for Asatruers, who often wish to view their gods as distinct from the gods of other people. A problem for all neo-pagans would be that it is highly implausible that the deities of many pantheons can be identified with each other.

The study of mythography and lore is pretty specialized in Paganism, as the province those few who really concern themselves with it. Most Pagans are concerned with their relationship with specific personal and local forms of the Gods. In ancient days even the deities with broad cultural presence were usually addressed in their specific and local forms, often involving attaching a place-name to the big name – Diana of Ephesus, a figure quite different from the ‘Diana’ one might read of in a primer of Greek myth, is an example.

There are some schools of reconstructionist Paganism that try to find in local deities specific and distinct individual deities in every case. There is little reason, in examining the scraps of thought we have from the ancient Pagans, to agree with this notion. The ancients clearly speculated on how many Gods there might be (‘one’ wasn’t on the list of options), and whether (for example) the Gods of Rome were the same persons as those of the Gauls or Germans. Since Paganism does not depend on having proven answers to such questions, no great attention was paid to reaching agreement on the answer.
For example, in Greek and Roman paganism, the kings of the gods (Zeus and Jupiter) are in control of thunder, but the thunder god in Germanic paganism is Thor, who is not the king of the gods (that would be Odin). Similarly, in Indo-European paganisms, the sky god tends to be masculine and the earth goddess feminine, but this is reversed in Egyptian mythology. It seems impossible to establish a universal paganism treating each individual pantheon as merely a different expression of the same set of independently real, non-symbolic beings.
Conveniently, the closer together peoples dwell, the more likely their Gods are to resemble one another, both individually and in organization. So, among the Hellenes and Latins, whose histories were entwined so tightly, we find the thunder-king; while in the north, among the Celts and Germans we find the power of magic and wisdom – in Wodan and Lugos – on the throne. It is these very differences that have lead Pagan thinkers to suspect that the Gods are very numerous indeed.

The desire for ‘universal’ religion is a monotheist thing. In Neopaganism, no deity is or can be universal – divinity’s manifestations are local. The Earth and the Sky are not the same around the world – one place moist, another dry, fertile or barren, safe or dangerous. There is no reason to think that divine manifestation would be any more homogenous.
2. If the gods of each paganism aren’t to be identified, then there would seem to be multiple deities for every aspect of nature.

There are multiple material manifestations of every aspect of nature. Why wouldn’t there be multiple spiritual ones as well?

Each people will have its own thunder god, its own vegetation god, et cetera. This leads to an implausible situation in many cases.

Implausible compared to what? It is only the rote assumption that ‘spiritual’ reality must transcend the local that brings up any problem.

If Thor controls the thunder in Scandinavia, why should neo-pagans of Norse descent in America pray to him? Why shouldn’t they pray to an American Indian thunder deity who controls the local thunder? Further, our solar system has only one sun. Just how many sun gods can there be?

All these questions have been asked by ancient Pagans as well. Again, observation shows that it is simply so – explaining it is an ongoing task.

One of the core principles of Pagan theology is that spiritual reality is symbolic reality, by definition. Truths about spiritual things are seldom, maybe never, literal truths. All spiritual manifestation is symbolic – it can vary at the will of the being involved, or vary depending on the ability or inclination of the human who perceives it. So, whether the deities are vastly many or fewer, they will appear in local fashion as proper to the time and place.

3. A theory advanced by some is that the gods are in some sense projections of or creations of their worshipers. If the gods were projections, then today of all days the gods would seem to have only tiny power because of tiny number of their followers. It would be difficult to imagine such beings as worthy of worship.

Any being that blesses us is worthy of worship. The conceit that worship is to be reserved for the highest and mightiest is one of the great failings of monotheism.

The time of the Gods does not seem to be the same as mortal time. The ancient Gods, and the land-spirits and ancestors, were worshipped for many millennia. A break of one millennium is hardly enough to make them unavailable to their modern worshippers.

It also should also be noted that no historic pagans seem to have held this view of their deities. It would seem to be a modern idea—some might even say an intellectually desperate, last-ditch idea—introduced to insulate polytheism from the intellectual problems that otherwise arise for it.

I agree that this is a modern idea. Many Neopagans are rejecting this, along with Jungian and archetypal definitions of deity, in favor of a more personal relationship with real spiritual beings. However one may be, in fact, a materialist and participate whole-heartedly in Pagan ways. If the Gods exist only in our minds, and religion is a structure of mind that helps us gain surprising results from our minds, then it’s worth doing.
4. Finally, some suppose that the gods do not have independent, objective reality but are just symbols. The question is: symbols of what?
It is a symptom of the disease of modernism to use the phrase ‘just symbols’. Symbols frequently have more objective, independent effect than trucks or stones. The Gods *are* symbols – they are persons who are symbols. Their symbolic nature is one of their great spiritual powers, and Pagans honor that, even as we work personally with the spirits. They are symbols of the highest aspects of ourselves, of the inner spiritual reality behind material life, of the inspiration from and aspiration toward the divine.
On the one hand, if they are symbols of nature and natural forces, then it is difficult to see why they should be worshiped. Electricity is part of nature, but if one does not worship it when it comes from a light socket, it is difficult to see why one should worship it when one imagines and names a symbolic thunder god to represent it.
Worship means ritualized respect. To learn to respect and honor the natural world that sustains and supports us seems only wise. The western idea of dead matter has lead only to ill, and neopagans hope to cure those ills with an organic spirituality that recognizes the animistic spiritual presence within matter itself.

Further, the empirical evidence seems to show that the universe itself does not have a mind or a personality. Only by looking beyond nature—to the God who designed nature—can one find transcendent value worthy of worship.
Polytheism would agree that the universe does not have a mind – it has many minds, all working together to make the great pattern that is existence. Ancient Pagan creation tales never describe one creator of all things. Even when there is a Prime Mover, that Mover is never the all-powerful owner-operator-creator of the Whole Deal. Different deities and spirits create different things, from animals to local land-features to cities and temples.

Again, the notion that only the transcendent is worthy of worship is unique to monotheism, and poisonous to a natural relationship with the spiritual world. Pagans learn to respect the spirit in all things, and the spirits of all things, and the Gods and Goddesses who are the mightiest of the spirits. It’s worship all the way down…

On the other hand, if the answer is given that the gods are symbols of a fundamental spiritual reality that transcends the physical world, then it would seem (since all independent status already has been denied to the gods by rejecting the three alternatives just considered) that one is left with a form of fundamental monotheism that is only cloaked with polytheistic symbols.
Nature transcends local manifestation in some ways, but in practice it is the local manifestation of nature that we deal with. Spiritual matters are likewise. Paganism has often speculated about the Oneness of all things. However this has never lead Pagan philosophers to propose that there is only One Person who is worthy of worship. If there is an all-one reality, it transcends personhood, or good and ill, or male and female, or being and nonbeing. Such an existence is not related in any way to the monotheist notion of ‘God’.
That being the case, why should one use the symbols? Why not worship the Creator directly and explore the question of whether he cares for and has spoken to man, as monotheism has historically claimed?

Mainly because the claims made for the ‘creator’ of the various monotheisms don’t hold water. Most notably, the various monotheisms do not, themselves, agree on the name, nature, deeds or desires of their alleged ‘one god’. Starting there, and with the plain failure of monotheism to describe religous experience as humans know it, there seems no reason to accept monotheism’s assertions.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Magic Words, Druid Magic, and a Spell.

Magic is what it is, but to me one of the main reasons for choosing the aesthetic of ‘magic’ or ‘sorcery’ over that of, say prayer and devotion or silent simplicity is the coolness of traditional magical forms. I’m entirely willing to admit that I am juiced by the ritual forms of traditional occult practice. Of course I intend to use that juice to power my workings, so why not just admit it, and enjoy it?

One of those cool tropes is the use of voces magicae – magical words. In the various cultures of the ancient world it was common to borrow powerful names and formulae from the area’s cultures, and employ them rather mechanically as sources of magical strength and authority. The eclectic 1st-century-bc mage would conjure by Osiris, Hecate and Adonai if it brought him the result he sought. Other sorts of magical verbal formulae were apparently constructed by using the letters of one’s sacred alphabet symbolically, to create long strings of vowels or compound words and names, anagrams, etc.

From the other end of the Indo-European range, the Vedic spiritual practice of mantram amounts to ‘magic words’ in those systems. Mantras are generally actual sentences in Sanskrit expressing some mythic symbol or simply listing the names or attributes of a deity. They are often brought into effect by multiple repetitions, often accompanied by offerings, hand or body positions, and other symbolism.

Even in northern heathenry we find the practice of galdor – the singing or intoning of sounds based in the Runes – to accomplish various magical goals. We also here of the vardhlokkur – the song sung to draw the spirits to the seer’s high seat in the seidh rite. It’s plain that northern tradition valued both abstract, non-word expressions of power as well as verse and meter in magical work.

So, as we approach a Druidic practical magic, how can we bring some of this juice into our work? There are a couple of hints of the use of ‘nonsense’ syllables in Gaelic folk-magic. The famous ‘Fith Fath’ spell uses such syllables, as do other Scots charms in Carmichael. These seem to me to participate in the syllable-set of mouth music, but if they ever had an esoteric or symbolic meaning that is lost today. Of course that doesn’t mean we couldn’t employ them in magic – meaninglessness doesn’t mean they are powerless.

We might also mention the notion of using the antique Celtic languages as a source of magic words. Of course many reconstructionists would point out that simply having the skill to speak one’s charms in the native tongue of a Celtic people should bring a good charge of might. For those of us with less skill we might still resort to books on Old Irish to find words that might be used in various ways in spells and works.

For the sake of experiment I have decided to take a different approach. We know how much the Celts valued poetry as a source of magical power. There’s no argument about the power of poets in Gaelic society to bring luck or ill, and otherwise display ‘magic’ powers. So I’ve been crafting some very simple charms that employ a spoken spells written either in tightly composed rhyme and meter, or using some of the motifs of repetition and patterning we see in translated Gaelic charms. Those of us who have spent a while re-Paganizing charms from the Carmina Gadelica have tended to arrive at a style influenced more by Carmichael’s translations than by the original Gaelic. The originals are almost all in rhyme and meter and, while this may go against the grain of the sort-of declamatory style that ‘Druids’ tend to seek, does express an essentially Celtic tradition. So I’ve decided that tightly woven rhyme and meter, or any well-composed poetry, has a degree of intrinsic magical influence. The will is turned into ‘magic words’ by being expressed in beauty, balance and order, so that it simply becomes true in the balance and order of the world.

Below is a spell composed in this way – I’m rather proud of its structure and internal rhyme.

To Banish Ill Spirits & Fear

When a cloud of fear or a troublesome spirit is upon you this simple charm can clear a way, at least for a moment. Prepare a simple means to light a fire by hand. A match is sufficient or even a common lighter. Prepare the fire in your hands so that it can be lit immediately. Bring the Underworld Power into you. Understand it as a whole and wholesome darkness that contains all potential. Know it to be very different from any darkness or ill that threatens. Recite the charm and, as it ends, call the Bright Power strongly into you as you spark your small fire.

The Charm:

Turn, turn, dark to dawn
Ill be gone, banish fear
Fire and Spear, Hand of Lugh,
Bright and true and clear.

Shine, shine, flame in dark
Kindle spark, growing bright
In my Sight, by my hand
Strong I stand in Light.

Fire, fire, kindled here
Mighty Spear, fly for me
Dark must flee, Shining Lugh
May it truly be!

Draw the Sky Power strongly into you as you strike your small fire. See the Spear of Lugh shining above you, turning in every direction. Hold you flame high and poceed, if you wish, or use it to light a candle for a longer-lasting banishing.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Are Occultists Lame?

I hang around a forum called the Catholic Answers Forum. This happened because I discovered an article there called 'Anti-Neo-Pagan Apologetics ( ).
I wrote an extended answer to the article (available in ADF list archives, maybe here if folks want to see it) and posted it in the 'Non-Catholic Religions' forum, sparking a long, interesting discussion. I have since hung around as a hopefully-rational voice for Neopaganism and the occult. Lately a thread arose called "A Warning Against Satanism, Neopaganism Occultism, etc..." one poster, 'Soterion', wrote a pretty good critique of the typical Christian anti-occult nonsense. However, when he described his notion of the 'real dangers' of the occult, I took exception to a couple of his assertions. here's what I just posted. It's an interesting topic - how does being a member of a marginal spiritual system that pushes us into unusual beliefs and practices affect our relationship with the common social world, jobs, family, etc? Why would we bother? Big questions - I'll start here:

Soterion in italic, about the biggest danger of occultism:
1) Escape into Fantasy:Now Atheists out there might say, "Well, Christians escape into fantasy also. They believe in fantastical figures like Yahweh, Saints, Jesus and angels". But, there is a HUGE difference. Christians do not actually believe that they ARE Yahweh, or Jesus, or reincarnated angels. Well, maybe some do, but it's very atypical of Christians as a group.
On the other hand, Christianity regularly produces men who believe they carry the consecrating power of Jesus Christ in their hands, are able to bind and loose sin by their word, and administer divine things to more 'ordinary' mortals. Occult systems offer no means of regular recognition of a spiritual vocation, and almost everyone who seriously pursues occultism is responding to a sense of calling. Perhaps it's the lack of institutional structure that allows some occultists (and they do exist) to arrive at truly unusual beliefs about themselves. Not that there's anything very 'normal' about what a Roman priest is taught to believe about himself...

On the other hand, with one exception, I have yet to meet a so-called 'occultist' who did believe himself to be a reincarnated god, demon, messiah, anti-messiah, mythological creature or "Adept" (occult version of a Saint, more or less).
This is outgareously false, and amounts to mere bigotry. Either the poster has never bothered to look very deeply into the occult community, or is simply exaggerating or fabricating for emphasis. I have been a working occultist for 30 years, and have worked in several circles of neopagan occultism, and have seldom encountered any beliefs about the self that seem more 'delusional' than, say, holding that one is protected by angels or saints. I have maintained a normal working life, owned homes, etc, married helped to raise children, etc. This has been the case with the vast majority of Pagans and occultists I have known, and is the case across the US with the Neopagan and occult movement.

The typical Christian, even if you believe him to be delusional, can still function in day to day society. The typical occultist, however, cannot.
Again, this is merely false. Any look at the numbers from surveys of neopagan and occult systems will prove it.
Now, I will say that the sense of vocation that many occultists feel may cause them to value their spiritual practice above their common labor. I suspect that if Catholic Christianity were counter-cultural, without well-established instituions that can provide a living for those who wish to devote themselves to spiritual practice, we'd see more folks holding marginal jobs that give them plenty of time for prayers and devotions at their home shrines. Instead, these folks can become monks and nuns, live in community, not worry about 'fitting' in modern commercial culture, and live a life of devotion. Nice for them.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

This Blogging Stuff 2

See, it’s relatively easy to post stuff from my files, articles, invocations etc, and I will, but I seem to think that I ought to be ‘journaling’ as well, or talking about the stream of my consciousness, such as it is. I have a couple three book reports coming up, good Celtic Paganism and Pagan Magic resources, but I have to actually write them. Shall it be Lovecraft? Spellcraft? Kraft Mac&Cheese? (I like them all). As I do various rites and works, I will talk about the parts I can talk about. In the meantime I have a couple of topics I’m sort of cooking. We’ll start with:

Daimons, the an-Deithe, and the Kindreds

In ADF’s Druidism, and in some other branches of Celtic Paganism, it has become customary to divide the world of spiritual beings into Three Kindreds of beings. These are conventionally the Gods, the Dead and the Sidhe. I enjoy using the Irish word for the third category, but it is also often referred to as the ‘Nature Spirits’ or, in a Germanic idiom, as the Landwights. This Third Kindred has remained a bit of an enigma in ADF’s understanding. Lately I think I’m making a little headway into comprehending it, based on cultural models from other Indo-European systems. I’m not sure I can make this coherent yet, but I’m going have a go at it.

The Hellenic concept of the ‘daimon’ has been fascinating me lately. Daimons are immaterial or semi-material beings of great power and wisdom. In archaic, Homeric Greek religion, the term daimon seems nearly interchangeable with the term ‘theos’ – a deity. Even the Olympians are referred to as daimons, and minor spirits of the local land may be referred to as theoi. In later Hellenistic Paganism ‘daimon’ comes to refer to spirits intermediate between mortals and the Gods – vastly wiser and more powerful than most mortals, but not of the highest divine family. These beings might receive sacrifices themselves, but also ‘carried the sacrifices’ between human ritual and the Gods themselves, and conveyed the Blessings of the Gods to mortals, in turn. These beings were considered various in their morality, integrity and power, though the formal hierarchies of later ‘angelic’ choirs didn’t really appear in Pagan times. The spirits of the dead, especially of heroes, were also said to become daimons.

OK, this makes ‘daimon’ a pretty broad category. In many ways the easiest English word to use for a translation is ‘spirit’. The Gods are spirits, the Dead are spirits, the Landspirits are… spirits. (We should bear in mind, however, that the ancients were entirely willing to suggest that these beings are semi-material – that they have bodies ‘of fine matter’ or ‘of the air’ that can interact in the material world.) So, how can we relate this Mediterranean idea to more Northern myths?

One little puzzle that we have run up against is the problem of the ambivalent position of the ‘Tuatha De Danann’ in Irish myth and Paganism. By the time we see these beings in literature, they have become the Folk Under the Mound – their war with the mortal Gaels (per the Book of Invasions) was over and they had gone under the earth. However it is plain that the First Family of the Tuatha De – the immediate children of Dana and their immediate offspring – are in effect the Gods. They plainly correspond in many cases to the Gods of continental Celtic peoples. Yet into the historical period those spirits act as local spirits in the land of Ireland.

When we remember that even the Olympians could be called daimons, and that even local stream and stone spirits could also be called daimons, we see a parallel that might point at a Pagan solution. I think this may be an example of pollution from our monotheist history to try to define ‘(a) god’ as something uniquely different from ‘lesser’ spirits and beings. It doesn’t seem to me that this was the case in ancient Indo-European polytheism. The Gods are the Eldest and Wisest, Mightiest and Loveliest, but they are not, at base, different in kind from the rest of the beings we might call ‘the Spirits’.

It seems to me that in the Irish monkish chronicles we find exactly the sort of demotion of the Gods into ‘mere’ spirits’ that we see in later classical and early Christian ideas in which the daimonic becomes first semi-corrupt ‘lower’ spirits and then the ‘demons’ of Christian lore. In Pagan tradition the Gods and the Spirits were always of the same sort, but in later models the demotion of the lesser beings from divine status took the Gods with them. It seems to me that as today’s Pagans we have the job of restoring both the Gods and the rest of the spirits to their rightful places.

The Gaels had a turn of phrase by which they referred to the spirits – De ocus an-De - the Gods and the Not Gods. Plainly the Gaels themselves sought to make a distinction between the Eldest and Mightiest and the rest of the family or nation – tuatha – of the spirits. Interestingly they do not plainly divide the ‘not-Gods’ into our two categories of Dead and Spirits – we’re getting to that.

Gaelic lore poses another problem in relation to our conventional Three Kindreds model. It is extremely difficult to tell the Folk Under the Mound from the Mighty Dead. Trooping Sidhe, sluagh hosts, Kings Beneath are all plainly recalled as of the Aes Sidhe (people of the mound), yet all have features that recall the Dead. When we recall that in Hellenic culture the Dead became daimons, it suggests that perhaps human spirits simply became the Shining Folk that we hear so much about, or at least some of them.
This still leaves that third category – Everyone Else. It seems pretty clear to me that this category was far from insignificant in the Hellenic world. Daimons were drawn to every sacrifice, by the light of the Fire and the smell of the sacrifices, as it were. Powerful spirits of stream and tree, storm and wave were proper objects of sacrifice – daimon was interchangeable with theos. In parallel we might say that all the spirits of Gaelic Paganism – at least all those who aren’t the Dead – are the Tuatha De Danann – the Nation of the Goddess, but there is a distinction between the Eldest and Wisest and the innumerable crowd of spirits who make up the spiritual worlds.

I think there is much to be gained by beginning to pay more attention to this third category of being. Our modern usage of Nature Spirits or Landwights has, perhaps, directed our attention toward spirits manifesting as animals, plants and natural features. Our modern ecological awareness has tended to focus us even on living beings, and we find folks offering to the spirits of their household pets, still living on the furniture. While I have no objection to reverencing living beings, I suspect this isn’t quite what the ancients had in mind. I suspect there are more exalted spiritual powers in these categories that we could be approaching.
As to what those might be, I may speculate in another post. This is enough for now…

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Ritual - the Core of Pagan Religion

This short article was originally written to answer a critique on a witchvox page, but never got sent, so, up it goes here... next some more immediate stuff...

Ritual – A Road to the Gods
Ian Corrigan

Fairly often, in our Neopagan revival, someone comes along who would like to try to wake us up to some perceived failing. They have a seen a fault, a lack or an overabundance, that they think could be fixed if People Would Just Act Right. One of the stranger complaints is that witchcraft has ‘become’ full of ritual and symbolism. Such iconoclastic preachments usually suggest that ritual is somehow false, pretend or empty, and that ‘all we have to do’ is some vaguely-defined internal process, and we can have all the things we think we want from ritual.

Personally, I think such attitudes are a huge mistake. Ritual, symbolism and lore are the heart of what makes religion function. To try to set them aside is to take most of the strength and depth out of spiritual practice. Our Pagan movement needs to become more involved with well-designed, well-performed ritual – not with half-baked spell-casting or self-healing fads, I think, but with rites that truly bring humans closer to the divine.

Ancient magic and religion relied utterly on ritual, symbolism and spiritual tools. The more traditional and close to the land and the spirits one goes, the more one sees cultures with detailed and formal ritual and spiritual objects – idols, wands, cups, drums, and all. The notion of abandoning the making of images and tools would simply never occur to a traditional practitioner – it would be like giving up the use of one’s voice.

I think that modern thinking on religion and ritual has been wounded by two big historical trends. The first is the Protestant reformation. A couple of the Big Ideas in that reworking of Christianity were the Priesthood of All Believers, and a (more or less) strict removal of ritual, images, sanctified objects, ritual prayers, etc. This rejection of ritual and magic has infected most of the English-speaking world. The second big trend is materialism and the reductionism that comes with modern thought. In our entertainment culture, we often mistake cynicism for wisdom, and in terms of ritual, we sometimes think that the similarity of ritual to theater speaks badly of ritual. Theater, drama and fiction all are reductions, dissections and taxidermies of powerful sacred tools.

The oldest and deepest of human spiritual traditions all acknowledge that in order for spirit to be made real in the world, it must be brought into matter. This is our special ability as humans – we are able to create symbols and images through which the immaterial power of the Gods can be brought more directly into the world of mortal life. This is, I think, the work of Pagan religion – to bring the divine into matter, to lead our common mind away from the mundane into the wild and high, even when we find it in objects made by our own hands (or purchased at a witch-store).

The human ability to shape matter is just one of the clear evidences that we are players in the spiritual cosmos. We can also speak – one of our greatest material and spiritual powers - and we can learn to perceive spiritual things. Through these abilities we make our spirituality happen, and it is in ritual that these abilities are best combined. Ritual is the crown of human creativity, in which music, poetry, shaping (as in images and tools), are combined with human will and the skills of trance and vision to reach out toward the divine. As a Pagan, I don’t believe in any omnipotent or omniscient being – only in the divine in its many persons. The Gods need human help to consistently give their blessing to our lives, and ritual is one of the main ways to help.

With the aid of ritual, all other spiritual goals become more reachable. Modern Pagans are using ritual to develop devotional relationships with the Gods and Goddesses. I think that old influences from ceremonial magic and ‘occultism’ did lead some Pagans to view the deities as ‘impersonal forces’ to be ‘used’. I think that model is becoming less popular, and being somewhat replaced by a model that deals with the Gods and Spirits as persons, in personal love and respect. That personal relationship is fostered and enabled by ritual.

I think it is true that the divine exists inside each of us. The divine is in all things, I think, and can be found in a stone, or a tree, or you or me. But since the divine exists in all things, it exists both within me, and outside of me. There is much to be seen that is not within me, at least not the ‘me’ that I live with daily. To seek the divine in a mountain, in the moon, in an idol or in the poetry of a ritual makes perfect sense, as long as I remember that the same ‘god shape’ probably also lives in me. In fact, I think that when we awaken a god in ourselves, it tends to attract the god-parts that are outside us, and when we invoke a deity from outside ourselves, it tends to awaken the god-shaped part in ourselves. So, by using images, poetry and theatrical ritual, we are better able to bring the Gods into our ken, and thus become more like them in our selves. That’s certainly what the ancient wise ones did, with workings like Eleusis.

When we bring the spiritual into the material, we make it real in our lives. It is easy to contemplate the divine as some immaterial abstract, but when the God is present before you, the business becomes rather more immediate. Without the boundaries of matter, the divine has little meaning or impact on the world as we know it – that’s why all ancient Pagan ways made limited locations and focus-points for the gods, where they could come through and humans could reach out.

The divine is not limited to the gods. Lesser spirits, including our own, partake of the divine, and so do small material things, like crystals. The work of human hands is a divine work, in which our own power of shaping and creating brings form out of potential, according to will. When we make a wand, or a shrine, or a robe, we make a form, a material reality, for a small piece of the divine. I don’t really even see this as metaphor – to the extent that the gods are literally real, so is our power to make magical material things.

I think that to attempt to do religion with mental skills alone, without ritual, objects and images, would be to have only half a thing, at best. To me, that seems like doing music only in one’s head. One can, of course, produce fine melodies and lyrics in the mind alone – but what a waste not to manifest them in matter!

When something has no boundaries, no limitation, it has no real existence. Everything that is real has its limitations, and so, I must think, do all the real manifestations of the divine. I think humans help the divine to be real, by offering it limited forms. If Pagan ways are going to continue to grow and thrive, as they are doing, I think we can only be more diligent in our efforts to manifest the divine in our material world.

For me, ritual is one of the most accessible methods we have for accomplishing the manifestation of the Gods and Spirits. It is the use of human art and skill to bring powerful symbols into meaningful patterns, leading the human mind into perception of the divine. Far from needing to ‘see beyond’ rituals and tools, I think we need to get down into them, to really learn to use their (and our) power to bring the divine into the mortal world.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Polytheism 1

Comment on
Polytheism, Pantheism, or Panentheism: Shedding Light on Pagan Theology
Author: Eldyohr Posted: June 8th. 2008 on

An interesting article on Pagan theology, which I think misses a couple of points. Please forgive my boldness in taking this on – Pagan theology is a hobby of mine. I don’t consider it as important to our movement as, say, ritual practice or meditation, but it makes a fun pass-time. I’ll begin by quoting:

Eldohyr says:
A modern scientific perspective will tend to reject polytheism because of its incompatibility with our understanding of nature. If there really were different, independent gods in charge of all the different aspects of reality, then we shouldn't necessarily have a set of natural laws that are common to all parts of reality. The laws of physics would not need to apply to chemistry and the laws of chemistry would not need to apply to biology, and so on. Scientific order would find no basis if multiple gods were working at potentially cross-purposes.

There are several reasons why traditional polytheisms (and I’ll be working from a perspective of Indo-European traditional Paganism – not much reference to Africa or China…) didn’t have this sort of problem in practice.
First, the universe is generally described as formed from some universal first principle – usually this is the ‘Body’ of the First being…Ymir among the Norse, Purusha among the Vedic peoples. This First Being’s nature is the all-nature of the created world, in which even the Gods exist. Divinity doesn’t transcend this nature – it arises in it.

Polytheistic deities are not, generally, omniscient or omnipotent. They are not capable of remaking (all of) reality at will, they are subject to fate and to the acts of other gods, even grateful for the worship of mortals and willing to make deals with us. The Gods work *through* the natural laws, not outside them (usually). So there’s no real danger of various gods making different ‘natures’ in different places – we’re all One Substance, held together by the Web of Fate (and even the Fates are triple).

There is also a self-defeating nature to the polytheistic denial of ultimate unity. Everything cannot be radically pluralistic. We live in a uni-verse not a multi-verse. Indeed, the polytheistic position is offered as a unified system of thought. But in presenting a unified thought about ultimate reality, they deny the very philosophy they are advocating.

Traditional polytheism always includes some variety of Monism – a category the author missed. Monism, as found in such systems as Vedanta, holds that all manifest existence is a part of One Great Whatsis. The nature of the Whatsis varies from culture to culture. Most often I think it’s fair to call it One Great Process, in which the sum of the actions of all beings creates reality as we all find it, the reality in which both gods and mortals live. This One Process isn’t willfull – it doesn’t have a plan, it isn’t a person – all such decisions must be made by the individuals who dance the Dance. Some radical monism has become near monotheism, especially under influence of invading monotheistic systems, but all ancient Indo-European Pagan systems have a monistic component.

If there are polytheistic Pagans that haven’t noticed this, I do think they need to have a look. However, even the above two principles – Original Unity and Non-omni – cover a lot of these objections.

This Blogging Stuff

Well, I'm going to give it a try.
Like I need one more thing to do on the computer.
However, I think I can make this rather fun for me, and perhaps useful for students of Druidic Paganism and magic.
So, that's the focus of this blog - the work of building a modern Celtic or Druidic spiritual practice, from the exoteric work of public sacrifices and other rites, to the work of spiritual practice and training for the individual, to more esoteric matters of sorcery, spirit-art and the like, all in a Celtic or Druidic context.
My own background includes a decade working in a Wiccan tradition with a strong ceremonial-magic element, experiments in Solomonic magic, years of ecstatic festival drum-and-dance ritual, and the last 15 years or so of working in the Pagan Druidic system of Ar nDraiocht Fein. For me this history has meant a transition from the Hermetic Qabalah of the GD, and the planetary magic it contains, through a Wiccan version of Celtic lore, to a fairly reconstructionist approach to Pagan religion, spirituality and magic.
My own theological orientation is a relatively hard polytheism, laced with mystical monism. My ritual orientation is fairly high-church - I enjoy ritual as an art-form as well as a means to an end. My mystical inclination is a kind of Pagan post-Thelema, seeing the personal soul as containing a true and real individual spark of the All, both unifed with and separate from the All-in-All.
You can find out all you need to know about the exoteric and religious part of my practice at, and read some of my own essays (now rather old) at, the site of our local Grove. With that group I have kept the cycles of the year for these past, oh, 17 years. You can see my published work at - the most important - at least most comprehensive - of that material is "Sacred Fire, Holy Well" my Big Book o' Druidism.
By the way, I'm also a fantasy, horror and, especially, Lovecraft/Cthulhu Mythos fan. You'll see reviews and some of that stuff here as well.
So... what to post first...