Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Review: Thorn Magazine

Thorn Magazine - Paganism in the Silicon Age
Issue 1, December 2008
Thorn is a professionally produced Pagan magazine from the East Coast of the US. The Editor, Chip O’Brien, and his co-conspirators don’t make themselves personalities, but they’ve done a nice job. The first issue brings what seems to me to be a sort of hip, urban aesthetic sense combined with an interest in substantive content.

I pre-ordered the first issue, and it came promptly as scheduled – a good sign. My first impression of the magazine was a bit of puzzlement. The nicely-done cover art seems to have only a little to do with Paganism. After long staring, it might represent an Urban Pagan ritual, but it didn’t scream ‘read me’ to me. Likewise some of the interior art (and fashion features) has an urban, maybe east coast feel that left me cold. Personally I prefer to leave matters of style and fashion out of discussions of Paganism, whether it’s goth, tie-die or NYC hipster. All nicely done and well-presented, though.

The content is first-rate. From an atheist’s ability to find meaning in a Wiccan rite to a translation of ancient Irish lore to a discussion of the current scholarship on the Old European Goddess theory, there’s plenty of meat in the articles and features. Readers here will enjoy the discussion of ‘initiation’ presented from three reconstructionist viewpoints: Kemetic, Hellenic and Saxon. The magazine is just getting started with its lighter fare – columns on Pagan news (nicely digested from The Wild Hunt Blog), myth and an advice column were all interesting.

I’ve become too cynical to subscribe to any magazine after its first issue, but I will be picking up the next issues as they appear (there’s also a planned monthly edition, apparently). The community could use a new professionally done mag, and these folks can obviously handle it, if they can keep their submissions up to the high standards of the first issue. I wish them the best of luck.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Elder Wise

As I wander through the many aspects of Pagan and magical publishing and web-sites I find a trend emerging that I entirely approve of. Many groups and individuals seem to be making a particular effort to develop contacts with those members of the Ancestors who are especially concerned with magical and religious affairs. That is, in order to begin to really learn and practice the core of ancient religion we’re working to make contact with the Wise Dead or, as we are sometimes calling them in Our Druidry, the Elder Wise.

I swear we thought of it ourselves – at ADF’s first or second Clergy Retreat, when we try to get our e-mailing cohort of formal clergy into one real-life locale to do actual discussion and ritual. After years of dithering over a Clergy Training Program, we now have a growing body of actually trained folks, and so we’re thinking about what a ‘clergy order’ might consist of in a group like ours. Since we’re not limited to one Pagan culture, nor to one pantheon of Gods the question of the spiritual ‘presidency’ of such an order puzzled us for a while. What made sense was to place the order under the Ancestors, and begin a special effort to make alliances with those of the Wise Dead who might be interested in our work. There will be more about all that here over time, perhaps, though we’re keeping some of it limited to the clergy.

But now that we have that work cooking a little, I’m starting to notice variants of it around the Pagan/magical scene. For instance Cherry Hill Seminary has taken up the ancient scholar and priestess Hypatia. There’s some small chance I had this in my head in the above discussion, as I had met Macha Nightmare and heard about Hypatia from her that previous summer.

I’m presently working my way through an interesting book on magic called Magic That Works, by Harrison and Shadrach. It’s off-topic for this blog as a whole, since it’s based heavily on (interesting) traditions of Arabic and Hebraic magic that seldom get attention in western publications, but it’s very traditional and very detailed in its system. It includes an invocation to beings it calls the ‘Masters of Magic’. On one level these seem rather like ‘Ascended Masters’ or the like, but they are also described as human spirits, though rather mythologized.

Altogether I suppose there’s a family resemblance between the idea of spiritual teachers among the Spirits and the Ascended Masters or Great White Brotherhood. The difference, at least in my mind, is that we aren’t seeking contact with superbeings, people who have ‘attained enlightenment’ or gained personal immortality. Rather we’re looking for more regular members of the Beloved Dead who just happened to be working priestesses, magicians, etc, and who will be willing to teach and guide our work.

I think the growing awareness of the power of those spirits that the Celts called the ‘not-Gods’ – the Dead and the many kinds of Landwights – is manifesting. As we move toward a deeper understanding of polytheism we move past not just ‘God’ but even ‘the Gods’ to the presence of the divine in the multitude of beings. This understanding seems, to me, to be standard in the unbroken polytheist traditions – African and Asian ways, for instance. In European traditions it is obscured by the Christian distaste for contact with the Dead, but shows remnants in several Euro-Pagan systems.

This approach to the Wise Dead is one of the first formal bits of Cult of the Dead that Our Druidry has undertaken. We’re beginning with our clergy membership, but I already forsee it moving into the work of clergy and initiatory students. Here’s a short charm that I intend to work into a spirit-awareness rite for my Initiate’s Book project.

A Call to the Elder Wise
To the Wise Dead I call.
Priests and Priestesses,
Seers and Oracles,
Singers and Magicians and Sacrificers,
hear me as I call to you.
I have come to the Well and Lit the Sacred Fire;
Let us meet at the Crossroad, at the Tree of Worlds.
To you who hear me, I offer this offering.

(offering of ale)
To you who would teach and aid, I offer this offering,

(offering of bread)
To all you who come without harm, I offer this offering

(offering of salt)
Whisper to me, Wise Ones, teach the Old Ways for New Days.
Bless my work and aid me to gain from my seeking.
Let the voice of the Wise be heard in the World.
Elder Wise, accept my sacrifice!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Druidic Mystical Practice Pt3: The Three Cauldrons

The first two phases of this sequence, presented below, are so basic to Neopagan meditation and trance that I have had trouble distinguishing 'basic mental training' from 'seeking mystical experience'. The basic methods of the first two phases of this sequence - Open Meditation, Two Powers Attunement and Middle-realm Centering- are preperatory work for almost any ritual or meditative activity. In the next steps we begin to add material that is specifically Celtic or Druidic in origin. Since the real intention of the whole sequence is a mystical one - we mean to link the personal awareness with transpersonal existence - I'm calling the whole sequence by the above new title.

Part 3: Using the Three Cauldrons
In the very small list of remnants of Celtic culture that suggest actual Pagan mysticism or spiritual symbolism the complex of the Three Cauldrons stands out plainly. Based on the medieval Irish poem the
Cauldron of Poesy, we describe three Cauldrons or “boiling places” in the human system, into which the Power of Inspiration can flow and be held. The Cauldrons in each individual may be either empty, half-full or full, and by this is determined how much poetic or spiritual power the individual possesses.
The Three Cauldrons are described as:
1: The Cauldron of Warming, conceived of as located in the belly, is the source of physical and constitutional health and strength. It is born upright in all people, with the potential to be fully filled.
2: The Cauldron of Motion or ‘Vocation’, is conceived of as in the heart. It is the core of the poet’s vision and work, the place where he receives his actual skill and inspiration. It is born in most tipped on its side, able to hold only a portion of the flow.
“The cauldron of motion then, in all artless people is on its lips. It is side-slanting in people of bardcraft and small poetic talent. It is upright in the greatest of poets, who are great streams of wisdom. Not every poet has it on its back, for the cauldron of motion must be turned by sorrow or joy.”
3: The Cauldron of Wisdom is conceived of as in the head. It is the container of the highest spiritual and artistic inspirations. It grants not just poetry but ‘every art’.
The central metaphor for spiritual power or wisdom in the Cauldron of Poesy is Poetic Inspiration. The poet’s ability to produce inspired verse is also his ability to make magic. Throughout this work we will use the metaphor of poetic skill and inspiration as the equivalent of spiritual and magical power, and we will work toward the use of poetry as a core element of ritual and spellbinding.
The majority of the text of the Cauldron of Poesy focuses on the Cauldron of Motion as the vessel that truly holds the poets power. It is born half-tipped, and it is by the deeds and events of human life that it becomes fully upright, able to obtain a full measure of the Mead of Wisdom. In the same way the Cauldron of Wisdom is born tipped on its lip, empty of power, and must be turned. This is described as happening due to powerful emotional events - sorrows and joys - during the course of life.
The Four Sorrows: longing, grief, jealousy and hard travel.
The Joys are said to be twofold: divine joy and human joy. Human joy is fourfold: Sexual delight, physical health, the joy of prosperity from one’s vocation, the joy of success in one’s efforts. Divine joys are the delight of the Blessings of the Gods, and the joy of eating of the Hazels of the Well of Wisdom, as it is said.
These joys and sorrows come from the events of our lives – they are not just from within, but rather they must grow from real experience and relationship with the other. In a modern life, if we have any adventure in us at all, any of that which might make a poet or magician, we will have many of the joys and sorrows described. If we can take them in, process them, boil them up, they become the raw material for our understanding and wisdom.
So in this exercise we use the Cauldrons as anchoring symbols for a wide range of contemplations, focused on our own bodies, lives and spiritual growth. In order to comprehend and digest the joys and sorrows of our lives we contemplate them in formal meditation. By bringing the memory of the events before the mind’s vision, while maintaining the detached perspective of Open Meditation we can process them effectively. So we contemplate in turn the body, the network of our ‘professional’ life, and our spiritual condition.
There’s a word to be said about the presentation of the Cauldron of Motion. In the original poem the heart cauldron is plainly related to the poets life and livelihood, on the deeds that bring inspiration and the rewards of poetic success. For those of us who approach the work intending to be a poet-seer in the old ways, we can simply proceed. For those of us who may have different path in life, whether the warrior or the merchant or another profession, there’s no reason why wisdom and inspiration won’t serve equally well. So we have tweaked the work of the Cauldron of Motion to be more broadly applicable to the ‘vocation’ of whoever might undertake the work.
Fó topar tomseo,
fó atrab n-insce,
fó comair coimseo
con-utaing firse. good is the dwelling of speech,

Good is the well of poetry,

good is the union of power and mastery
which establishes strength.

The Three Cauldrons Attunement
The first two phases of the sequence are performed, the Two Powers are settled into a clear flow in the self, and she establishes herself in her Center. With the Two Powers established in your body, establish thebeginning with your loins.
Envision the Cauldron of Warming low in your Three Cauldrons, belly, see it made of iron, or stone heated by the fire below. intone the name:

Goriath (goh ree ah)
Envision the combined Light and Shadow flowing into your Cauldron of Warming. As it does, open your awareness to your body. Become aware of your flesh and bone, blood and belly and brain, seeking an awareness of your health and wholeness, and, by will, seeing yourself as hale and well in every part.
Envision the Cauldron of Vocation in the heart. See it made of silver and gold, heated be the fire in your heart. Intone the name:
Ernmas (air‘n mahs)
Let the Powers flow into the Cauldron of Movement, and feel your awareness open to your daily life and work, to the deeds and events of your life. Become aware of your place in the world, among kin and folk and the wide world. From the center that is the Cauldron see the webs of relationship and mutuality that hold your life together. See them made strong, whole and helpful.
Envision the Cauldron of Wisdom in your head. See it made of crystal and amber, lit and warmed by the fire above. Intone the name:
Sofhis (so wish)
Let the Two Powers flow into the Cauldron of Wisdom, and open your spirit to your spiritual way and work. As the Fire and Water fill the Cauldron open your mind to the sources of divine awareness in your life. Feel your Allies draw close, and the Divine In You shine and flow, filling you with the Mead of Inspiration.
As you wish, and as you are able, let your mind rest in balance between these three Cauldrons. Broaden your attention to allow the three sets of images to flow and intertwine. In this weaving there may be things to be learned. Understand that these Cauldrons are always in you, always turned or turning, just as the Two Powers always flow in you. Rest and work in this state as long as you like. Conclude with a prayer or gesture of thanks and closure.

on to pt 4

Friday, January 16, 2009

Book Review: Protection and Reversal Magic - Jason Miller

My first statement below might need some qualification. I actually looove spellbooks, grimoires and old-fashioned books of magic. I mean the sort of book that 300 years ago would have allowed you to set yourself up in business as a cunning-person, with enough know-how to impress the locals, and even to get results if you had talent. You probably will see me reviewing modern efforts at grimoires and spellbooks, if they meet my standards. As I say below, there are so many that don't in today's popular publishing

Protection & Reversal Magick: A Witch’s Defense Manual
Jason Miller (Inominandum)

New Page Books, 2006 isbn:1-56414-879-3

You won’t see me reviewing a lot of ‘spellbooks’ here. The Pagan publishing market is choked with shallow material, unchallenging to the spirit, without well-constructed metaphysics and unlikely to result in much. Such items tend to be packed with overly moralistic warnings, and often reduce magical art to ‘self help’, and positive thinking. I don’t generally bother with such things.

Inominandum’s first book is another kettle of brew. While it does give a selection of ready-to-work rituals (that is, spells) they are presented in a matrix of solid theory and practical advice. The author describes himself as a working “cunningman and root doctor”. That grounding in real results is what elevates this book above most writing on the topic.

The book begins with a discussion of when and whether one should consider oneself to be ‘under magical attack’. However it doesn’t start with discussions of ‘black magick’ or of evil magicians. Rather it begins by examining ways that the student might have screwed up and pissed something off. These include offending a spirit, misaligning with a place of power or breaking vows. The discussion of these possibilities requires the student to actually pay attention to their own life and deeds, before any magical action is undertaken. Only then do we come to attacks by other practitioners.

Chapters on personal and home protection give all the basics such as purifications, baths, the making of talismans, and some more advanced methods such as invisibility (more like ‘unlikely-to-be-noticed-ibility’) and interesting stuff on the making of spirit traps. The chapter on reversal and countermagic begins with the good ol’ mirror spell and offers plenty of traditional lore and a few more aggressive measures, with sensible advice about their use. The book doesn’t offer much in the way of a basic ritual matrix – it assumes the student will have one. It presents charms and lore that can be worked into any ritual opening and closing, and each chapter includes one or two full rites, constructed and used by the author.

But before all that is a marvelous chapter called ‘Daily Practices’. In a topic so fraught with udji-boodgi potential, this chapter focuses on spiritual practice; the student is directed to become calm, clean and respectful. Miller gives instructions for three basic daily (or at least regular) practices. The first two are pretty well-known to Neopagans – banishing and meditation. The third practice recommended is the making of offerings, and here we see the author’s understanding of real work with the spirits, so long neglected in modern magic. Those working in a Druidic Pagan model will be pleased with the advice and suggestions given, and the ‘Feast of the Spirits’ rite is entirely in tune with our efforts.

The attitude toward the Gods and Spirits in the book is in tune with a heathen or reconstructionist system. The author spends some time on the psychological model of spirit art – that the ‘spirits’ are ‘aspects of ourselves’ – he’s agin’ it. He presents the spirits as mythically true, and functionally real independent beings.

The Gods are mentioned mainly as allies and sources of power for the magician. The daily practice includes offering to the Gods, and the reader is assumed to know which deities she wishes to work with. Because the book is about defense we have a chapter on exorcism, with very good ideas on the sources of the magician’s authority, and a chapter on spirit guardians and servitors that provides the basics of ‘summoning’ spirits in a respectful Pagan context.

The author combines Hoodoo and rootwork, Grimoire magic, Graeco-Egyptian magic, Golden Dawn and Western Hermetics, and Tibetan Buddhist ritual and custom. In addition the author describes a personal involvement with Hekate, and credits Her with several of the spells he teaches. This is an eclectic mix, but one focused on the relationship of the magician with the beings around him. That makes this a book of practical magic nicely in tune with the kind of Paganism I like doing.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Basic Druidic Pagan Theology

The following is an excerpt from an essay I'm working on concerning patterns of mystical practice and how they might apply to a Neopagan mystical system. In the course of doing that I find it neccesary to ask "what makes it Pagan?"

What Makes It Druidic?In which I stick my neck out to suggest what the boundaries of our modern Druidic spirituality might be. Please, Dear Reader, understand that I only mean to present my part in our discourse, and never to suggest any of this as fixed doctrine or creed for Our Way. I hope that this paper and these ideas will provoke discussion and adaptation of these ideas.
Druidic Spiritual Metavalues
1. Nature Centered – I feel I am safe in proposing that a Druidic spirituality is one that takes nature as a divine revelation, perhaps as the very presence of the divine. We view nature as a true and good image of spiritual reality – it is unfallen and holy as we find it. This includes the rejection of the idea that nature or spirit is divided into ‘good and ‘evil’ – we are not moral dualists, imagining that nature or spirit chooses sides between the light and the dark.
2. Life Affirming – Just as we value the material world as holy, so physical life is also holy and good, and death is a natural and holy part of life. We know that sorrow and suffering will probably be unavoidable, but we have confidence in our own virtue and strength to reduce and mitigate it.
3. Human Affirming – Just as physical nature is holy and good, so human personal and social nature is a true and holy part of nature. We are as much an expression of the divine as an oak or an eagle.
4. Polyvalent – We observe that in nature every kind of thing exists in multiple examples, similar but each unique. To us this demonstrates that the divine must also manifest as many beings, and that there must be multiple paths and methods to accomplish almost any goal. Thus, we are polytheistic, and understand the divine will to exist in and as many individual wills.

Druidic Customs and Models – These are core assumptions of the sort of Druidic Paganism that I enjoy, specifically the work of my local Grove and of ADF as a whole. These assumptions and directions will tend to have immediate influence on which models we choose.
1. Ritualistic – We are not, generally, quietists, seeking to simply be still and know whatever. We favor expression of ideas in formal speech and symbolism, and use ritual to solidify spiritual powers into the manifest world. We are slowly developing a body of meditation practice that supports and reflects our ritual ideas, but we have not very far developed our own Druidic meditation models for seeking mystical states. (See the other major section of this chapbook for Your Author’s efforts.)
2. Reciprocal – Our work joins our personal spiritual reality with that of the greater divine and spiritual world. We intend to build relationships between the divine and the personal, the core idea of our practice is, in many ways, reciprocity. We can ask ourselves how that will apply to a more immediate union between the divine and the personal.
3. Mythic – Our Druidry has tended to reject an ‘archetypal’ or purely psychosocial understanding of the Gods and Spirits in favor of a more directly mythic description. We enjoy working in the mythic models of the ancients – how will we use those tales in efforts to induce spiritual experiences, and in what directions will they send us?
4. Social and Tribal – Our Druidry has tended to focus on the social group, from the Hearth to the fully developed Grove. Mysticism is commonly done alone or in small focused groups – how will we adapt our direction for that?
Beginning with these basic ideas, we’ll go on, in the next part of our series, to examine various models of mystical practice in IE and post-IE Europe and India. In the final part I will discuss my thoughts on where we might begin in developing specific mystical practices inside our existing systems.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Druidic Mystical Practice Pt 2

So, I know that "Grounding and Centering" is a pretty New Agey sort of term. Nevertheless it seems to me a useful one. Almost all systems of ritual meditation use some form that places the meditator at the center of a balnced flow of energies and/or symbols. Hermetics is full of such things, from the Middle Pillar (one of the primary sources for Neopagan exercises) to the famous LBRP. Both Hindu and Buddhist systems employ four-directions centerings.

I feel like I witnessed quite a large segment of the evolution of 'Grounding and Centering' as a part of Neopagan ritual. When I began working Pagan and magical rites we really had no such practice, and Wiccan groups before, say, 1980 seldom had any formal moment of 'induction' of energy flows (or trance) as part of their ritual outline. Of course the classic Circle Casting is itself a detailed centering rite - if approached with any heightened awareness at all it is a solid spiritual ritual. The problem was that the system had no guaranteed way of producing that heightened awareness. That began to change as Pagans adapted techniques from western and eastern systems.

By the middle of the 1980s some form of formal trance induction, usually involving personal empowerment and/or attunement to 'spiritual energies' was standard in neopagan rites. Regardie's Middle Pillar exercise, in which the light from the spiritual 'heavens' is brought down literally into the body through a series of energy-points along a center line from head to heart to loins to feet. The Hermetic Qabalah provides a convenient 3-tiered (or 3+1) model that has been taken up by many systems. The other core method of 'grounding' is the Tree Meditation (which I first used out of Starhawk's work) which involves envisioning 'earth energy' rising into the body through roots, and flowing out like leaves to circulate into the earth. In my neck o' the woods Selena Fox played a large role in introducing 'energy work' meditation as part of ritual, especially public rites. I began my own practice with Regardie, well before my formal Wiccan work, but really got a charge out of the Tree when I started using it. however it lacked a connection with the bright energy of the Sky, and the tree metaphor just made me want sun on my leaves.

ADF's "Two Powers" model grows from these sources, on a practical level. It combines the Waters and the Fire into one seething juice that connects the self deep and high with the cosmos. Fortunately for us, this model conforms well enough to the symbolic complexes of Indo-European Paganism, which often begins with a primal duality. We use the Two Powers mostly as a technique of ritual trance induction, preparing the minds of our often diverse public congregations for the work. However the technique has more personal applications in practical magic and as a spiritual exercise. The exercises presented below begin with the Two Powers and then add a simple four-directions centering. After years of avoiding quartered symbolism as 'too Wiccan' (sigh) it just seems time to admit that it's an Indo-European universal with plenty of Celtic context.
Here are some excerpts from the chapter on Grounding and Centering from the new project. Incidentally, it presently looks like the first wave of the new project will be a chapbook on the big spiritual exercise of which this is stage 2, combined with an article examining various mystical techniques as they might be applicable to a Druidic Pagan system. I expect to have that out by summer, and to post material from each stage here.

Training ­­­the Mind for Druidry - Pt 2
Grounding & Centering, and Contemplation Meditation

The second stage of training the mind begins with the work called ‘grounding and centering”. In that technique we make ourselves aware of a flow of “spiritual energies” in the cosmos, and balance those energies in our own bodies and spirits. We ‘ground’ ourselves by connecting personal reality with a much larger system that can both empower and backup our own work and we ‘center’ ourselves by organizing the flow of energies in ourselves in a symmetrical and balanced way.

There is a serious discussion to be had about how the ancients might have viewed this concept of ‘spiritual energy’, and whether it occurred at all among the Celts. We see a clear model of it in yogic systems from India, and techniques from that cultural range had a wide distribution among the Wise. There are traces in Irish vocabulary that are suggestive, but we must plainly say that we are adapting a modern magical technique to our Druidic cosmology when we use the Two Powers as ‘energies in the body’.

In the work of ADF’s Dedicant Path (and in many other Pagan basic training systems) we address these energies as the Light of the Heavens and the Waters of the Underworld. The Underworld Power is envisioned as the Waters Under the Earth, in which all the wisdom of the past is dissolved. The Power of the heavens is seen as the Light of the Turning Sky, which brings order, pattern and growth. This duality corresponds to cosmic principles, poles of cosmic structure between which the manifest world appears. They reflect a core Celtic cosmological division of the cosmos into two – Fire and Water, Summer and Winter, Day and Night. Of course such a duality is not a moral opposition – summer and winter are lovers as well as warring knights. This work, like all of the work that follows, is in one way a contemplation of the powers and components of our cosmology. By making the macrocosm of the Sacred Cosmos real in our own spirits we hope to gain in personal understanding, and in the spiritual authority that allows us to interact with the Gods as beings of worth.

Working with the Fire and Water is a core technique of Druidic practical magic, but it also serves as a method of spiritual development. Contemplation of the Two Powers begins the process of expanding the personal mind into transpersonal mythic spaces. The Fire and Water are the primal powers of creation. When we take conscious control of the Two Powers, through imagination and will, we are doing in the microcosm what the Gods and Spirits do in the greater cosmos.

The pattern of symbolic meditation based on the Two Powers begins the recapitulation of the mythic cosmos. In the work of Open Meditation we begin with the Unformed, the Chaos from which order arises. With the Two Powers energy-work we begin the process of manifestation, with the appearance of the core Indo-European duality of Fire and Water.

The practical goal of this stage of energy-work (which was begun, we hope, in the Dedicant’s work) is to learn to bring (awareness of) the Two Powers into the self quickly and surely. In our Dedicant training we provided a detailed text induction. In this phase we learn to establish the flow of the Powers with a will and a few breaths. The goal is to create a state in which the Light and the Shadow are flowing and shining in and through the body in a balanced but free-flowing way. From that base any number of specialized forms and applications of the energies can be devised.

In order to be able to spend working time on actual goals, rather than on inductions, the student must learn to find the balanced poise of the Two Powers in a swift and easy way. If you have worked with the Nine Breaths technique, you will be prepared to move to the Three Breaths method. The Kindling Charm is meant to train the body/mind to bring the Powers into balance with the simple recitation of a charm, accompanied by gesture. As you learn the method you may choose to speak the charm slowly, to the rhythm of three breaths. As you gain experience you will be able to bring the desired balanced energy-state with even a quick recitation of the charm, or with an act of will alone.

Three Worlds and Four Quarters
The next phase of the exercise – expressed very simply in a short charm – is the establishment in the mind of the pattern of the manifest world – the Three Worlds and Four Directions. The Two Powers are the ‘vertical axis’ – rooted deep and crowned high. Around this spindle of light and shadow the Wheel of the World turns.
In our Celtic system we see the ‘horizontal axis’ – the plane of the Middle World – as divided both three-fold and four-fold. First we see the manifest world divided into Land, Sea and Sky. These are the primal Celtic (and IndoEuropean) division of the manifest world. In this pattern the land is the world-island on which our lives are grounded. Surrounding the Land is the Ocean-Sea, the all-encompasing saltwaters, and over all the dome of the Sky holds the turning lights.

In this vision you stand in the center of this mythic triad, in the center of the Land in the Center of the Worlds, as it were. The Land itself is further divided with the cross of the Four Directions. While many systems use a quartered circle, ours does not employ the hermetic ‘elements’ of fire, water, air and earth. In this work we use the symbolism of the four Irish provinces, the various paths and stations of human life, distilled into simple terms in the charm.

The ritual text presented below conjures the vision of the vertical axis in just a few words. We also provide some more detailed exercises . If possible it is best to get out under the sky, to stand or sit perhaps upon a hilltop or a rise and work the exercises in a place where the real horizon and forms of the Land can be seen. The impressions and memories from those exercises will bring depth when you work the quick version of the charm.

Contemplation Meditation
In parallel with Two Powers energy-work we begin the next stage of training and focusing the attention and will. In Open Meditation we focus on an essentially empty symbol, such as the breath, and allow thought to flow by without attachment. In Contemplation Meditation you choose a specific pattern or symbol as the focus of your attention. In many cases the symbol – such as the Hallows, or the image of a God – may be physically present. It is also common to contemplate a mental construct image. You visualize, imagine or conceive the symbol in your mind, and observe it as if it were in front of you.

In this exercise the goal is similar to Open Meditation. You intend to keep the symbol always the entire focus of your attention. You may find your mind ‘thinking about’ the symbol – your task is to return attention directly to the object of Contemplation, without attachment to the flow of consideration about it. In this way we hope to allow the reality of the symbol to enter our awareness directly, and deeply. There is always time to think about these matters – meditation is a time set aside for other mental goals.

The technique of Contemplation is core to most of the higher-end of ritual and magical trance. As you work your way through ritual the ability to address each action with a whole and focused mind, to experience each thing for its unique power, is key to effective results. You learn to be in the presence of the Gods themselves, while maintaining the Peace and Power of your own Center. However, we can begin with much more modest goals

Stage 2 Practice: The Shrine, Meditation & the Two
The Druid seats himself in her seat, facing east if possible. If there can be hallowed Fire and Water, so much the better. 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.
Resume your center and bring the Two Powers into yourself, swiftly allowing the Waters to rise, followed by the descent of the Light, as you do the Kindling Charm:
Cross your hands on your chest and say:

Powers of the Earth and Sky
Rooted deep and crowned high

Place fingers on forehead, chest and loins in turn, bringing the Two Powers smoothly into each, saying:

Flow and kindle in my head
Flow and kindle in my heart
Flow and kindle in my loins

Cross your hands on your chest, feeling the balanced flow of the Two, and say:

Flow and shine in every part.

Remain with hands crossed on the chest or, if you prefer, extend your arms straight from your shoulders. With the Two rising and falling in you, open yourself to the horizontal plane, to the Three Realms of the world, to the Four Provinces of human power. See the Isle of the land on which you stand, the misty Sea that surrounds on all sides, the dome of the Sky overhead. See the signs of the Four Quarters, if you like – the Wand in the West, the Sword in the North, the Plow in the East, the Harp in the South. Hold this contemplation as you say:

The Land upholds me, the Sea surrounds me, the Sky above me.
Before me bounty, behind me wisdom
On my right hand magic, on my left hand strength
Cross hands again on the chest
For the Cauldron is in me.
And I am seated in the Center of Worlds.

At this time you may wish to pause in a Contemplation Meditation in which you compose yourself seating in the center of the Worlds and Realms, with all the Powers at your hand. This meditation can be maintained as long as you wish, simply experiencing the feel of the Pattern of the Worlds around you, with the Fire and Water in you. When you have finished your meditation practice you should make a simple offering to the Spirits. 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
Offering I give to ye.

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, allow your awareness to return to common life and breath. Before you rise from your seat, pause for a moment 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 3

The Druid’s Honey Jar

This charm is derived from a famous spell of the hoodoos. In its original it is a love-charm, and so is this example, but in broader terms it uses the technique of creating a jar-fetish. This sort of spell, in which a vessel is filled and sealed for a specific magical purpose, is common to African magic. (Does that bother me as a Neo-Celtic sorcerer? Not much…) By combining all the symbols and items of the charm’s several layers a complex store of Bua (the gaeilge term for the sort of magical power which is accumulated, rather than the inate Bri) is established, which is treated as being functionally awake as a ‘spirit’ of some sort. As animists we need not concern ourselves overmuch with how that happens – whether a store of power of that sort gains a new ‘personal’ awareness, or whether sympathetic spirits are simply attracted to the ‘flavor’ of the symbols and of the offerings. The object itself, and its spirits, are then the object of offerings that focus and prolong the influence of the spell.
Starting with the Hoodoo original, I reworked the forms with more iron-age ingredients, to please our Celtic sensibilities. In the same vein it uses no written components at all – this simplifies some of the work compared to the traditional spells. I mean to replace this, to some extent, with mantra-like repetition of the gaeilge ‘voces magicae’.
It’s still a love-spell, but mainly focused to increase the attraction and success of the magician. It could be varied for a specific target, but wisdom questions the idea. It can also, of course, be varied for other results, by varying the stones, herbs and magic words.

- a small pottery jar or bowl, with a lid that can be waxed shut
- honey in a bowl with a spoon.
- a birch leaf (leaf of tree proper to the work)
- red thread
- three red stones
- hawthorn flowers, vervain & periwinkle (herbs proper to the work)
- a beeswax candle
- offering oil made of floral oils in olive or hazel oil (scented oils proper etc…)

On a Monday at sunset, at the Moon’s first quarter, set your Hallows, and lay the birch leaf before the Fire.
Place a bit of the herbs on the leaf, and then the three stones. As you place each stone, say, in turn:

Milis (milish)
Bind (short ‘i’)
Caraid ( kahrad)

Then fold the birch leaf around the stones and herbs, into a packet, always folding toward yourself. Take up the read thread and wind it around the packet. As you wind the thread, tying the packet tightly, chant, 27 times:

Milis; Bind; Caraid

Take up the honey and taste a little, then offer a little into the Fire, (or an offering bowl) saying:

As this honey is sweet to me, so may I be sweet to my love.

Spoon some of the honey into the jar, and place the leaf-packet into the jar as well.
Offer a bit of the oil into the fire, and pour a little into the jar, (keep plenty for later) saying:

As this oil brightens the Fire, so may I feed my love’s love.

Offer the rest of the herbs into the Fire, saying

As this smoke is sweet, let me be sweet to my love

Put the lid on the jar, and light the beeswax candle. Use the wax to seal the lid firmly to the jar. Use plenty of wax. As you bind the jar, envision your goals, and, if you wish, speak to the spirits in your own words about your goals. Of course if this speech can be expressed in poetry, it is that much the stronger. Set the jar above the Fire, and make an offering of the oil into the fire, saying, nine times:

Now bound is bound and wound is wound
Below, between, above
Sweet as honey I shall be
Harmony, sweetness and love.

Every two or three days following, until the Full Moon, light a fire and offer oil, or burn incense before the jar, and recite the charm, if you have no result by Full Moon, resume the offerings after the first crescent, until you’re sure it has worked.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Book Review: Trance-Portations by Diana Paxson

Trance-Portation; Learning to Navigate the Inner World
Diana L. Paxson, 2008
Weiser Books ISBN: 978-1-57863-405-7
Reviewed by Ian Corrigan

Diana Paxson seems to be working her way from being a writer of enjoyable historic and mythic fantasy to being a teacher of core skills in Pagan magic and spirituality. Her “Taking Up the Runes” is a new classic on that subject, and now her book on trance, meditative and vision skills immediately becomes a standard Pagan text on those subjects. Paxson has been an active player in the modern development of trance-based magic, through her work with the development of Asatru seidh practice, and the influential seidh-magic group Hrafnar. However, this book is not about seidh.

Trance-Portations is a textbook for personal or group training in meditation, trance and vision. The exercises and sequence were developed by Paxson over some years of teaching, and this practical background shows clearly in the book. The methods given are only barely related to any specific spiritual path, but rather could be applied by nearly anyone. The book starts at the beginning, assuming the student does too, and explains concepts right alongside of immediate exercises and basic practices, moving from there toward the highest and strangest of trance experiences. She regularly nods to the various faiths her students might bring, but whenever Paxson gives specific examples, she draws on the Pagan, Heathen and magical community. Her own cosmology and mythic context is plainly the polytheism of modern Heathenry; this makes her book very comfortable for a variety of reconstructionist and Traditional Pagan systems.

The book begins with a fine effort at defining trance and altered states, which succeeds in avoiding the scientism of ‘brain-wave-states’ to focus on the actual feeling and effect of trance. Her explanation leads a western rational mind smoothly toward accepting the value of working with managed mental states. In the first practical chapter she gives simple exercises that will be familiar to anyone with modern Pagan trance training – they are presented clearly and concisely, and used consistently as a basis throughout the book. She then presents material on deepening and detailing trance experience through memory, sense perception and visualization. This is very good stuff, often skipped in a fast introduction.

Paxson then presents a series of classic uses for trance, supported by exercises. The Inner ‘base camp’, allies, meeting the Gods and spirits, maps and models of the Inner worlds, and group work are all covered. Chapters cover healing and sleep, self-monitoring and trouble shooting, and ‘past life’ memory. The chapter on meeting and dealing with the Gods is clearly based on the building of relationship, and devotion and offering are discussed alongside trance and vision. This bit quietly includes some lovely polytheistic theology, presented oh-so-gently. I enjoyed that. The book concludes with a suggestive chapter on mysticism, a discussion of hazards and solutions in trancework and useful appendices of notes for using the book in classes, scripts and resources.

Trance-Portations is an introduction, and most of these topics get a fairly quick survey discussion, though all with solid base and depth. Plainly Paxson has chosen to focus on the practical, and the exercises given are well-designed and well-scripted. A student who actually worked their way through its program would be very well-equipped for further trance-magic and spiritual work in almost any Pagan system. Very well done!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year Again

There are a lot of New Year days. Us Celto-Pagans just finished our season that began at Samhain. Imbolc is before us, the rising light, but just before that (1/26/09) we’ll have the Chinese Year of the Ox crankin’ up. Persians celebrate new year’s day on Spring Equinox, as did the Pagan Romans, until calendrical fashions – and Divine Julius – changed the turnover date to 1 January.
So here’s a health to all on the calends of January. May the God of Doors, Double-Faced Warder, Janus of the Gates, guide our step on the lintel of the season, and health, wealth and wisdom be ours in every year.