Friday, December 30, 2011

The Lorekeeper's Course

I just want to post this link in case it has been missed by those readers interested in Celtic polytheism and Paganism. Alexei Kondratiev (1949 - 2010, of hallowed memory) was one of the most important scholars and early leaders of the Celtic Reconstructionist scene His deep understanding of archeological, folkloric and linguistic aspects of Celtic cultures helped us articulate such things as the Triple Cosmos.
Alexei left behind a number of resources (His book on Celtic ritual needs a reprint.) and one very useful item is the Lorekeeper's Course, kept at There probably isn't a better hundred-page summary of what we can safely claim to know about ancient Celtic religion. When you do your own reading in the sources recommended, you might reach a different conclusion here and there, but this is solid, pre-digested and summarized stuff.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Rhythm of a Pagan Year

It is Christmas morning as I write, and I am pausing before getting up to help cook for the family dinner later in the day. This dinner is the last vestige of Christmas customs in my life, pretty much, except for whatever amount of participation we do in the gifting customs, though that’s as Pagan as any part of the season. The last couple of years have seen the passing away of the older generation of my family, and this year it will be my brother and I with our wives and kids. Fortunately there are several new babies – I find that kids provide more excuse for the seasonal goofiness. Excuses for goofiness are welcome.

I find the great to-do around the winter holidays annoying, really. I’ve lived in the Pagan calendar for the past 30 years, keeping the High Days (we used to call them ‘Sabbats’) with what has been an ever-growing community of Pagan and Pagan-friendly folk. At this point, for me, Lughnassadh is a much more important holy day than Yuletide, and actually requires at least as much effort when we hold our big Games and Rite. Bealtaine usually involves two or three parties, rites or sets of customs and of course we’ve just finished Samhain, often the biggest social holiday season of my Pagan year. I’m entirely aware that the Neopagan eightfold year is a modern construct, but I find it wholesome and holy, and it is too much a part of my custom to let mere scholasticism turn me from it at this late date.

So I turn through each year with a holy feast every six or seven weeks. I find the long observance of the Wheel to be one of the most effective bits of Theurgy available through Neopagan symbolism. Each time one works the full year one accomplishes a ‘magical retreat’ of eight rites spread across a year. The cycle brings a round of offerings to the Gods and to the other spirits, and to return with intention to Samhain and then to Yule each year is to complete a major magical work. Through it I feel blessed by all the Powers, standing firm in the wheel of sacred time.

Forgive my poetic turn… I know Yuletide’s important, and has hugely cross-cultural appeal. I do wish the Christians would reduce their insistence on doctrinal unity around the ‘Christ’ in the season, but that seems like too much to expect. Fortunately the natural power of the season shines through, and even the Christian symbol of the incarnate divine manifest in the humble circumstances of flesh speaks to the fresh spark of light and long growth of the Yuletide sun. So I try never to get too annoyed at the religious content of the cross-cultural season.

It just seems unbalanced to me, so much cultural weight given to one holy season out of eight. I suppose that when one is devout in a religion (Pagan Druidry, in my case) one finds reasons to prefer it. Still, I am pretty glad that Christmas is passing, and we can get on to the much more Pagan secular celebration of the Calends of the Year; then on to Imbolc, the feast of the Goddess of our house. See, there’s always a new blessing coming.

Still, to all Northern hemisphere dwellers, may the blessing of the newborn Light shine on us and grow in us, from spark to flame, from seed in the dark to shoot and bud and summer’s flower.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Coolest Thing(s) I've Seen This Week - Movie Edition

Nobody knows better than my marvelous wife what a Lovecraft fanboy I am, but long-time readers here will have noticed. One of my favorite sources for Mythos material is the HP Lovecraft Historical Society. They seem to have began as a LARPing crew, but a few years ago they graduated to real movie making with their silent film feature of the Call of Cthulhu, which has gotten wide distribution, right up to Netflix. They must have made a couple of bucks on it, bless 'em, because they've just made available their first talkie, a full-length feature making of The Whisperer in Darkness. In Call of Cthulhu they attempted to make a movie from 1927, the year the story was published. Whispere hit the pages of Weird Tales in 1931, and so we reach the sound era.

Fellow kids, this is the best depiction of a mythos story yet to be filmed. The team understands the feel of Lovecraft's work, the paranoia and claustrophobia, the combination of wonder and danger and fear that HPL's best work produces. Set in a rainy autumn in Vermont, a skeptical folklorist becomes drawn into strange doings in a backwoods cult, in a tale that moves from intimations of demons to interstellar conspiracy.

The original story is told nicely, with just enough expansion to make it more cinematic. These guys can build some props, and the spooky devices and manuscripts of questionable lore are excellent. None of this is exactly high-budget, but, like CoC, the film is in black-and-white, which forgives many sins. In general the film looks great. It also features the single best depiction of a Cthulhu Mythos ritual to date. Just buy it.

Making a movie is on my bucket list. If I made a movie, it would surely have to be some occult adventure or vignette, with ritual and FX. However, my old friend Taliesin Govannon aspires to be Kevin Smith, not Dennis Wheatley. Taliesin has succeeded in making a full-length feature film called Dark of Moon. (See trailers and lots more here) This is a Pagan movie but... it's a romantic comedy. It tells the story of a post-college Coven as the reality of adulthood meets the expectations of youth. The cast goes on a little tour of the alternative community, from Witches to Druids to ghost-hunters, providing some great material for Taliesin's observant wit. So, it's a realistic depiction of modern Paganism - no amped-up magic, no FX, just real people doing what we really do.

Incidentally, I'm in it, for a limited number of seconds, along with many others from our local Grove. We did a shoot in our little festival space, Tredara, and our barn and Nemeton look pretty good. Utterly worth a look!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Toward a Druidic Mysticism Part 4 final

The rest... I should probably redo the bibliography, but it still isn't bad. Thanks for reading...

Hints Toward Druidic Mysticism
So we have taken a quick look at some of the patterns of mysticism in the Indo-European world. Most of these were originally systems functioning inside a fully developed Pagan world-view, but by examining the scraps of IE Paleopagan lore we can hope to find some paths and markers for our journey.

A: Expanded Awareness
One place that we can begin is with a modern, definition of ‘expanded awareness’ or ‘mind expansion’, based on personal and psychological models. This leads us to start in a place that addresses a core problem of mysticism. We must address what the ‘common mind’ the ‘ego’ or the mask-self might be, and how we can address it in our efforts.

Common awareness, day to day mind, is limited by the habits and requirements of social existence. Our upbringing and inborn inclinations assemble a sort of random persona, which we deal with as we find it. We experience ourselves as ‘me’, a drifting point-of-perception which moves between states of mind, occasionally getting stuck in favorite or unavoidable ones. The processes of our minds and bodies often go unobserved, and we often dwell in a bubble of memory and imagination, with a less than clear awareness of our own perceptions.

One goal of mystical work could be seen as freeing this apparent ‘me’ from its unconscious rut. When we say we ‘center’ ourselves, we might mean that we take our seat in our own center, from which we can look out in all directions. We begin applying conscious will to our persona/ego, teaching it to do as we will in the way one teaches the body to dance or fight.

So when we say we ‘expand our awareness’, we might mean, at the simplest level, that we bring more of the content of our own mind and will into our conscious awareness, to become aware of the ‘higher’ and even lower portions of ourselves. We seek to know more about ourselves, and seek to manage it all more skillfully and from a better vantage point. There are many traditional and basic means by which to begin this process, including formal introspection, journaling, meditation and relaxation.

Many world systems that focus on this sort of self-awareness and self-control understand the psychological forces that are encountered to be spirits. This contains the possibility of various fun ‘angels’ of wisdom and insight and ‘demons’ of obstacles and ignorance, with which we might make mythic engagement, if we like that sort of thing…

B: Transpersonal Awareness
As we gain skill in the expansion of awareness, tradition suggests that at the outside edges of our own minds and spirits we may find an interface with that which isn’t exactly, ‘us’. Mystical and occult training has often involved the creation of and work with complex imagined inner landscapes and temples. A great deal of valuable work can be done within such a self-created structure alone. More interesting, perhaps is the notion at at the edges, across the boundaries of such landscapes may lie the greater, transpersonal mind of nature itself. Within that transpersonal mind are the individual fires of humans and spirits and gods and all, but all might be thought to subsist within this impersonal ‘soul of nature’.

Conversely, we may consider that our own minds are in fact mirrors – or holograms – of the whole spiritual cosmos. When we construct our inner systems, or even merely examine the contents of our own minds, our own spirits can become become mirrors, containing all the cosmos in ourselves. So we can, at least, approach the reflections of the Gods and spirits in ourselves, and perhaps invoke those beings to be consciously present in our inward reflections.

A universal characteristic of ‘enlightenment’ is the identification of the personal awareness with some greater or higher spiritual reality. This may be as simple as the greater awareness that we talked about, but is more commonly the awareness of some spiritual being or continuum. The dhyana (meditative union) of Raja Yoga is often applied to a deity – one can ‘make dhyana upon’ a deity, so that the subject-object distinction between you and the God dissolves. In this way the local and apparent self is left behind within the greater self of a deity.

We can observe the ‘bhakti’ practices of Hindu polytheism for examples of how that process might work, and those can be applied easily to European deities and spirits. However tradition also presents the idea that mystical union might be made not with a specific divine mind, but with the impersonal divine mind of the cosmos. Hinduism calls this the Brahman and classically it was called the anima mundi – the soul of the world. The Northern European languages don’t have much vocabulary for ‘cosmos’, or even for ‘nature’ as an abstract concept. Modern Gaelic reconstructions have sometimes used the term An Bith – That Which Is. One might conceive of making dhyana, or Samadhi, upon An Bith.

C: Power and Wisdom, Peril and Madness
These great trances, contacts with Higher Awareness, and trances are expected to produce understanding of real methods and means of real accomplishments. Most traditions make it clear that they also carry certain risks. Knowledge is power, and power offers opportunity and danger, and wisdom is the check upon power.

These experiences are often powerful, mind-changing events. They shine in the mind like a sun, draw attention and make more common experiences pale in comparison. This has led various sects to develop various doctrines based on the mystical experiences of their initiates. A mystic or group of mystics has a powerful inner realization, and decides that he must ‘proclaim the truth’. This is a natural process, but has lead to various conflicts inside of the monotheistic mysticisms. Perhaps a polytheistic mysticism can allow various seers to express their mystery without the rancor that comes from desiring a single comprehensive ‘Truth’. I hope we can avoid the tendency to cast experience into doctrine in favor of open experimentation for some years to come. We cannot, I think, settle questions of whether the Atman is real, or whether it can truly be equivalent to the Brahman, by discussing them, but only by years of practice, if at all.

Those who had undergone mystical initiation might be expected to have ‘magical’ ability, depending on the type of sect. Some of those might have served in towns and temples, but others became stranger than that. Often those who sought unusual status as mystics traded their normal lives for their status. They might become hermits, or attach themselves to a temple, or take to the road as beggar-teacher-priests. There is an authentic strain of world-denial and renunciation in Indo-European lore, and the most ‘powerful’ magicians are often well outside of the common social order. Plainly this is not a denial of the natural or material world, but of the human social world, in which the common persona must dwell. The implication in the lore is that the very nature of the spiritual states may drive an individual away from those who dwell in more ordinary awareness.

The insular Celts, especially, remember a poetic madness of inspiration which seems, perhaps, more a symptom than a goal. They saw some inspired poets being transformed by deep, powerful emotional experiences, leading to a transpersonal awareness that demolished their social personas. The experiences of terrible battles great loves, human tragedies or contact with the Otherworld was described as making people ‘mad’ in relation to the common patterns of culture. These victims of the poet’s muse sometimes returned to the company of humans, to live as ‘wizards’ or ‘seers’, never quite fitting the social patterns of common people.

D: The Holy Goal
In a polytheistic system we are faced with vast numbers of choices in symbols and powers of enlightenment. In ADF’s usual habit, we might look for a deity or type of symbol that occurs in multiple IE systems. Specific cultures offer specific mythic complexes that can be initiatory mysteries – Demeter and Persephone, for instance. However there don’t seem, to me, to be deity-complexes that reach across cultures. IE lore does offer several models of quests, adventures and exploits that may provide hints of Pagan mystical patterns. It might be valuable to seek mythic symbols of the soul’s interaction with the divine which are not, themselves, deities, but which express a goal of a core divine power and presence.

The Holy Grail and its Gaelic antecedents in the Magic Cauldron, the later Hermetic symbol of the Philosopher’s Stone, the archaic Hellenic Golden Fleece and the related symbol of the Apple Garden, the Vedic Soma; many Indo-European cultures offer us non-anthropomorphic, even non-biological symbols of a form of the divine that can be within the grasp of mortals if we are strong and wise. The tales surrounding these symbols are of quests, visions and journeys and seem to resonate with models of mystical growth when viewed in an allegorical way.

Your Humble Author’s favorite such symbol, for broad Indo-European purposes, is the Triple Cauldron. The Cauldron of Feasting in the Hall, the Cauldron of Inspiration in the Temple, the Cauldron of Rebirth that holds our ashes in the Mound – the symbol is so wrapped with mythic context that it is like the never-empty source for us to discover. The Cauldron can be seen as bearing the Mead of Inspiration in a Celto-Germanic context, the Soma of the Vedas, the Ambrosia of the Olympians – all symbols of the power and wisdom of the divine that can be shared by Gods and mortals alike.

Indo-European lore offers other hero-quest tales that might be employed as models. The Rhinegold, the Golden Fleece, and other hero tales might catch the imagination of some mystics. Still, the image of the Sacred Drink Which Brings Inspiration/Enlightenment seems reliably pan-Indo-European.

Gaelic lore offers us another vision of a Pagan mystical experience. The Taliesin material, and other ‘I Am’ poems of Gaelic tradition offer a window into a transpersonal awareness among Irish poets, mythically induced by drinking from the Cauldron of the Gods. The speaker transcends their common history to be a part of all the world.

VI: Conclusion
Most fully-grown religions contain multiple schools of practice seeking the sort of mystical goals that we have discussed. ADF has reached a stage in our development at which we can begin to create them, and choices we make now will influence the coherence and direction of our systems for the future. I hope we will approach the matter with curiosity and experimentation, and do our best to avoid the development of doctrine for as long as we can.

There are some obvious places for first steps. We could begin by thinking about the mystery and illuminative content of the High Days. Each seasonal rite allows us a moment in which the folk ‘drunk the waters of life’ in which we might seek to induce experience of the divine in the deities and symbols of the rite. The turning of the year presents a spectrum of flavors of experience that we might clarify and focus as part of our blessings.

From there we can think about creating special, non-seasonal rites, for festivals and intimate gatherings, in which we expose ourselves to powerful symbol sets in a condition of high focus and deep entrancement. The classic model for this are the rites at Eleusis, in which a long series of rites and actions build up entrancement and expectation for the final mysterious moment. Such rites could be run by a small group for an individual or group, or could perhaps be mutually performed.

We can also begin immediately to consider how we can find the mystical content in our basic ceremonies. What does it mean to our souls to approach the Center of the Worlds, to work the Open Gate? How can we use the presence of the Three Kindreds to expand the mind and exalt the spirit?

As we enter our next 25 years, we have new and exciting depths and heights before us…

Druidic Mysticism BibliographyDefining Mysticism and Enlightenment
• The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts by Marvin W. Meyer (Editor)
• Mysticism (Paperback) by Evelyn Underhill
• The Way of Mystery by Nema
A Digression into the Modern
The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell by Aldous Huxley
Prometheus Rising by Robert Anton Wilson
• Liber O Vel Manus et Sagittae sub figur VI – Aleister Crowley
Western Models
• Paganism in the Roman Empire – Ramsay MacMullen
• Greek Religion – Walter Burkert
• Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions by Richard Smoley and Jay Kinney.
• Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus by Gregory Shaw
• The Enneads: Abridged Edition (Penguin Classics) by Plotinus , John Dillon (Editor, Introduction), Stephen MacKenna (Translator)
The Book of Abramelin: A New Translation by Abraham Von Worms, Lon Milo Duquette, Georg Dehn, and Steven Guth
• Liber VIII – Aleister Crowley
• Secrets of the Magical Grimoires – Aaron Leitch
•Self-Initiation Into the Golden Dawn Tradition: A Complete Curriculum of Study for Both the Solitary Magician and the Working Magical Group - by Chic Cicero, Sandra Tabatha Cicero
Eastern Models
• The Four Yogas : a guide to the spiritual paths of action, devotion, meditation and knowledge / Swami Adiswarananda.
• Integral Yoga-The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Sri Swami Satchidananda
• The Yoga of Spiritual Devotion: a modern translation of the Narada bhakti sutras / Prem Prakash.
• Yoga of Truth; Jnana : The Ancient Path of Silent Knowledge by Peter Marchand,
A Druidic Evaluation of Some Classical Models
Teutonic Magic by Kveldulf Gundarsson
• Hermetic Magic by Stephen Flowers
• The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies / Robert Kirk; introduction by Marina Warner.
• The Artful Universe: an introduction to the Vedic religious imagination / William K. Mahony.
Hints toward a Druidic Mysticism
Magical Use of Thought Forms: A Proven System of Mental & Spiritual Empowerment by Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki and J. H. Brennan
• Advanced Magical Arts by R.J. Stewart
Taliesin: The Last Celtic Shaman by John Matthews, Caitlín Matthews, and Caitlin Matthews
Neopagan Rites: A Guide to Creating Public Rituals that Work by Isaac Bonewits
• Ploughing the Clouds : the search for Irish Soma / Peter Lamborn Wilson.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Toward A Druidic Mysticism Part 3

Looks like this will come quickly, instead of over a week or two. It will also help me get to forty-eight posts for the year : ). I hope my non-ADF readers will forgive the in-house slant of this paper. I think there are enough general observations to make it worthwhile for anyone interested in polytheistic mysticism.

A Druidic Pagan Evaluation of Some Classical Models
A: Progressive Advancement
I begin here because I think it would be hard to implement any such thing in our contexts. ADF has, so far resisted implementing any sort of ‘degree system’ that is thought of as ‘religious’ in nature, or as indicatory of spiritual growth, much less mystical attainment. It may be that the Initiate’s Work will be a small step in that direction, but even there the degree will be given only as recognition of specific demonstrated levels of skill and practice.

We find little indication of a ladder model of religious or magical evolution in Celto-Germanic lore. Northern Pagans lived at the center of their map, not at the bottom. Midgard, or the middle isle, could be the base for journeys in several directions. Those who like categorizing might find some use in wheel-shaped systems – three-fold, fourfold, eightfold, or whatever. Hellenic systems may be more comfortable with a classical ladder such as a seven planets progress. In any case, the real work of devising such a system will be in determining just what sorts of spiritual states are to be sought in each step or spoke. Myth and tradition, of course provides some direction. From there we must devise ways to seek to approach the Powers involved and then we will see what we see.

Several ancient systems bring us the motif of spirits trapped in matter and the effort to rise away from the common world. I find that notion to be rather contrary to the things I value in Neopagan thought, though I recognize that it exists in the old ways. Explicitly, northern models don’t seem to value the ‘higher’ spiritual functions over the life and strength of the living self.

The ‘ladder’ or ‘wheel-journey’ model fits well with the ‘quest’ theme, but we might wish to avoid a simple ‘climbing out of the darkness’ model. To me it feels Druidical to avoid a ladder-like approach in favor of a more spiraling path, an exploration of the world more than a departure from it.

B: Beatific Vision
The technique of opening the personal awareness to a vision of the whole span of cosmic existence seems easy to adapt in an Indo-European mythic setting. It would be an easy matter to create a series of trance and/or ritual attunements for the various segments of our mythic cosmos, the whole then coming together in a grand vision. These could become a sort of ‘novena’, or nine-day working, combining purifications and attunements, to be crowned in the Big Vision.

(Incidentally, I have formalized a detailed visualization and meditation working based on this model, which I call the Nineteen Working. It is available in my forthcoming Book of Visions and other places. Some of that is also available on the blog under the Druidic Meditation heading.)
Primary results of such methods include increased understanding of and connection to the mythic system in which it’s set, and the practice of techniques of multiple awareness and expansion of personal boundaries. The final goal, at a first level, is to experience awareness outside common boundaries of the personal, and perhaps to glimpse the experience of the unity of self and cosmos. We could mention an ancillary idea of uniting (or at least attuning) the personal will with the ongoing threads of wyrd and the patterns of the world.

C: Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel
The idea of a higher spiritual being that is attached to or even a part of the human individual presents very clear Indo-European parallels. The Greeks bring us the idea of the personal ‘daimon’, the being who is your intermediary between your personal mind and the divine world. Contact with the personal daimon is a documentable goal of Hellenic mysticism. Rev. Kirk in the 18th century describes the Gaelic coimimeadh - the ‘co-walker’, a ‘fairy’ being who shares life with a seer, and European folk-magic is full of helpful and messenger spirits used by magicians. Norse lore contains the fylgja – an animal or contra-gendered spirit who bears much of the personal luck and power. It would be a simple matter to construct rites to seek the knowledge of and conversation with the Fylgja or co-walker.

In modern western mysticism the Holy Guardian Angel is sometimes thought of as the ‘Higher Self’. This brings us immediately to those issues of ‘ladders’ of attainment, and of ‘higher = better’. I think we can look for a Pagan ‘Spirit-self’ – that may be more directly aware of the Otherworld, more of an actor among the spirits than our common-world self can be. One could certainly consider the Fylgja or the Daimon as a ‘greater’ portion of the self, in the sense of the portion of a multi-part soul model which is closer to the Gods and Spirits. In such a model, the Fylgja or Daimon would be the portion of the self that is, itself, divine, or has ‘access’ to the divine.

When we consider that each of us may become recognized as an honored ancestor, we see that each of us must have in us a seed of that which is worthy of worship. We can see this as the active presence of the divine in ourselves. In Irish we might call this An Da Fein – My Very Own God. Is this the same as the Holy Guardian Angel? Perhaps close enough to consider adapting some western forms of seeking the Angel to our own work.

D: Eastern Systems
In addressing eastern ideas we will find ourselves dealing head-on with the issue of doctrinaire monism. Modern Hindu mysticism is quite soaked in the notion that ‘maya’ means ‘illusion’, and that escape from the rounds of rebirth is key to enlightenment. In a more ancient Vedic context Maya means ‘power of making’ and is the very thing we worship in the Gods.

Raja Yoga is a core spiritual system that can be applied in almost any mythic system. It’s clear and relatively undoctrinal descriptions of mental states make a good vocabulary for discussion. We can benefit, in my opinion, from every borrowing we care to make from this classical approach.

Bhakti Yoga is, in many ways, the core of common tribal Paganism. Sacrifices and hymns, images and rites of welcome are all basics of bhakti whether in the village or at the hearth. There are a few basic instructions in the method that would benefit our understanding, and the trappings of common religion can also be turned into a more focused program of uniting the personal spirit with the divine through love and aspiration.

Jnana Yoga – Your Humble Author doesn’t care much for extreme non-dualism, nor for the rejection of external deity, ritual relationship, etc. yet such ideas grew out of traditional IE cultures…

E: Mystery and Symbol
The use of symbolism, altered states and invocation to create group opportunities for mystical trance provides perhaps our most direct way to begin in experimental ADF mysticism. We are fairly used to developing big ritual – I think we could handily turn our skills aware from an exclusive focus on reciprocal offering and blessing to more dramatic or more internal work focused on producing individual trance results in the attendees.

I think we can find complexes of cultural symbols that we could choose to render into effective ritual and trance experiences that could be worked for or by large, medium, small groups, and even individuals. Our ethnic inspirations would be the places to begin – what symbols in our Hearth Cultures express the personal soul and the exaltation or divinizing of the personal spirit?

Bakhti practices could be easily applied to specific deities. Can we build initiatory/illuminatory moments of contact –offer an illumination of Brigid, or of Apollo. Such deity-specific ‘mysteries’ should be relatively simple to put together.

While a great deal of ancient mystical work was done alone or in small groups there is also a tradition of large-group mysteries, such as at Eleusis. Neopagans have the opportunity to use the many festivals and gatherings as stging grounds for experiments in such things. Can we build specific ritual/trance experiences meant to transmit an experience in a festival context?

On to part 4 >

Thursday, December 1, 2011

An Outline Toward Druidic Mysticism, Part 2

Part 2: Historic World Mystical ModelsI: Western Models.While we have some traces of Pagan-era descriptions of states of illumination, we have much clearer depictions of method and result in the quasi-Christian mysticism of the Middle Ages and renaissance. I welcome efforts (including my own) to more clearly investigate classical Pagan sources like Iamblichus, classical neoplatonism, Pythagorus etc.

A: Mystery and Devotional Vision
In its Greek context ‘mystery’ is the experience of viewing the secret symbols and rituals of the tradition in which one is working. The word mystery is derives from the Greek mystes, meaning ‘initiate’. A mystery is in this sense something which is revealed only to initiates.

These ancient mystery rituals combined long preparation, effort, song, drama, wine and excitement to induce illumination experiences focused on the cult objects of the rite. The most famous of these experiences was at Eleusis, where thousands of mystoi were lead through days of pilgrimages, sacrifices, dances, and ritual drama to conclude in a final revelation that was said to guarantee the initiate meaning in this life and entry into a happy afterlife. Different initiatory sects offered different types of symbols, most of them unknown to us since their initiates have successfully concealed their nature to this day. We can imagine that the mystery symbols of the various sects might be a single deity represented in its traditional idol or physical symbol, a constellation of deities perhaps expressing some specific mythic narrative, or might include non-deity divine objects – ears of corn, cauldrons, etc.

Some of this is reflected on a personal level in cults of devotion - to the Gods and Spirits in ancient times, and well-preserved in the Christian cult of saints. These practices can lead to a kind of ‘mystery vision’ of the deity so sought. Medieval ‘mystery plays’ and the various church spectacles of the bigger systems, seem to preserve the feel of Pagan processions, displays of mystical symbols, etc. Even in public worship of the Gods we seek, perhaps, the Mystery of the Vision of each High Day, the constellation of symbols that expresses the season and the Gods of the feast.

B: The Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.
Much of medieval spiritual magic was an effort to gain the counsel and aid of a spiritual being which would transmit the divine power or lead in practice to higher illuminations. The classical Greeks sometimes described a personal ‘daimon’ or intermediary spirit between the individual and the gods. Some later magical systems draw on Christian versions of that image to seek contact with the angel set over each of us by ‘God’ in that system. In any case the work of seeking contact with the ‘Holy Guardian Angel’ intends to contact the magician’s personal messenger of the divine.

The most famous system of contacting the Holy Guardian Angel is the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage. This renaissance magician prescribed months-long retreats, involving ‘purifying’ and ‘exalting’ the soul through study, fasting and prayer. It reaches a yogic level of self-control. This purity and power of soul allows contact with the Guardian Angel who then reveals the secrets of contact with the divine, and of control of lesser spirits. One side-benefit of the process was the ability to command ‘demons’ – lesser spirits who could serve one’s will.

In its original form this method seems to have nearly shamanic implications – the Angel serving as a kind of ally or spirit guide. In later interpretations the Angel becomes more a symbol of the divine in the individual, of the ‘Higher Self’.

C: Progressive Advancement
Many systems propose a series of ‘levels’ or ‘layers’ through which the soul advances. One popular way of explaining the order of the worlds was to map a series of ‘emanations’ from the first cause, or layers in a ladder of progressive spiritual experiences. The model is visible from ancient mysteries all the way into modern fraternal organizations and occult orders with ‘degree work’ systems.

We might speculate on an origin in Egyptian or Mesopotamian afterlife or cosmological concepts. The Book of Coming Forth by Day describes a series of gates and guardians that must be passed on the way to the afterlife goal. The Babylonian seven-tired planetary heaven influenced later Neoplatonic image of levels, each with their own ‘guardian’, who must be passed by knowledge of the right rituals and passwords. These systems fed into the later Qabalistic systems that underlie many of the more modern occult ‘Lodge’ degrees. One major influence on later ‘initiatory’ mysticism is the structure of Mithraic Initiation. It was built in seven levels, considered by some to have corresponded to the planets. The notion of a ladder of planetary lights was widespread in the late Classical world Planetary Levels.

D: The Beatific Vision
In medieval mysticism, the Beatific Vision was the state in which the blessed souls of the dead were said to dwell. It was described as a vision of wonder containing all the Cosmos, the veritable presence of ‘God and his angels’ of all the worlds of the system’s mythology. As a mystical method one sought to achieve this vision while living, and perhaps to benefit from it in common life. This approached is not concerned with gaining a teaching spirit, or so much with possibly ‘magical’ goals, rather it is about subsuming the personal soul in the grandeur and wonder of the divine.

There was a distinct devotional component to this method. The Illumination it means to bring is based on exaltation resulting from nearness to deity. It works well in a polytheistic system, in which case it might resemble the mystery vision described above, coupled with the presence of a specific deity. It also employs the principle of microcosm and macrocosm – as the mystic perceives the divine worlds, she also perceives their reflection in herself.

II: Historical Models part 2 – Eastern or Indian Models
The word ‘yoga’ is from the Sanskrit and means ‘yoking’. The image used in all discussions of yoga is of the human body and mind as a team of animals that must be brought into unity of will and direction so that the human being can accomplish her will in the worlds.

A: Raja Yoga – The “royal yoga” is a system (or many systems) of disciplined training of the mind and body, leading to a progression of deeper experiences, intending to lead to the transpersonal. Most of the various sorts of Yoga we know in the west are variants or subsets of Raja Yoga. Raja Yoga leads the mind through a series of disciplines, seeking fairly specific results:
1. Asana – physical exercise and the ‘postures’ that are the most well-known image of Yoga. The “Yoga of the Body” – Hatha Yoga – is an entire system that is often seen as the foundation of Raja Yoga. The practice of asana builds strength and discipline in the body, brings poise and relaxation and the ability to remain still for meditation and ritual.
2. Pranayama and Pratyahara – control of the breath, and withdrawing from sense-awareness. These basic techniques bring awareness of and a degree of control over the autonomic physical systems, and free the mind from the body’s distractions.
3. Dharana – concentration, limiting awareness to a single object. This is the basic level of what Raja Yoga refers to as ‘meditation’. The student focuses on a single object, such as the breath, or a mantra, or a visual object. The thoughts and flows of the mind are ignored in favor of that concentration, and eventually the chatter of the mind slows and even ceases.
4. Dhyana – dissolution of subject/object distinction. Yogis teach that success in concentration, when the chatter ceases and the student is alone with the object of the concentration, the mind may lose the perception of a distinction between the observer and that which is observed. This a basic level of what the Yogis call ‘illumination’ – the realization that the self is not confined to the body/name complex. As an exercise such states are sometimes focused on a simple thing such as a flame or a tree, but in practice mystics often seek to make this state with a deity.
5. Samadhi – the personal soul dissolves in the all-mind – Atman makes dhyana on Brahman. The final goal of the Raja Yoga system is to realize the identity of the personal soul with the all-web of cosmic existence. Hindu philosophy speaks of the atman – the personal eternal divine spark – and holds that in Samadhi the atman realizes its identity with the brahman – the impersonal all-mind of the cosmos. In practice, Samadhi is also a term for the tomb of an enlightened man, but once again we find the idea of perhaps coming to know what the Blessed Dead know while still alive.

Through the whole Yogic system, there is a core doctrine of the identity of the personal soul with the all-soul of the cosmos. This all-soul isn’t conceived of as ‘God’ in any sense, it has no temples and no cult, but it is the goal of much mystical seeking.

B: Bhakti Yoga -
Bhakti means devotion, and Bakhti Yoga is the Yoga of Devotion. The student focuses awareness on the form and deeds of a specific deity or group of deities, through worship, contemplation and loving aspiration. Then goal is for the personal soul to approach the divine through love.

Some sects hold that the personal soul can become identical with the object of devotion, dissolving into the divine being. Others hold only with exaltation and ‘bliss’ for the personal soul by the close approach to the divine. Much of eastern ‘religion’ is the public expression of this sort of devotionalism.

C: Jnana Yoga
This system seeks mystical experience brought on by the understanding of truth – Jnana means ‘knowing’, from the same root as the Greek gnosis - and this is the yoga of ‘knowledge’.

Jnana Yoga arose in connection with the Advaita Vedanta sect of Hinduism in about 800 C.E.. The Smarta sects are advaitins, but they retain ritual worship of the pantheon of Gods and Spirits. Later Vedanta systems rejected much ritual and myth in favor of philosophical interpretation of the ancient symbols.

Jnana Yoga is usually based on the ‘non-dual’ (a-dvaita) concept – which holds that enlightenment lies in knowing that manifestation is not separate from unity. It focuses on the unified all-mind called the brahman, that is said to underlie all specific manifestation. It often contains a corollary idea that the manifest world is ‘untrue’ or ‘illusory’, making a doctrinal priority out of the experience of Samadhi.

Advaita and Jnana yoga arose out of the matrix of an IE Paganism. However it’s radical monism – which has often been exploited by monotheistic apologists, may make it less than fitting for our neopagan purposes. We shall see whether years of mystical experiment produce these ideas in our own systems.

D: The Problem of Monism.
The idea that at the deepest level all things are united in a single thing/process/existence – is a recurring presence in what we know of ancient spiritual philosophy. The Vedic Brahman, the Hellenic Anima Mundi, Norse Wyrd and Orlog all point to the idea of a ‘soul of all’ or ‘mind-material of all’ or ‘underlying unity’ that is within, and shared by, all things. If nature is One Nature, then in the same way the divine might be One Divine (though not One Person…). Monism is more prominent in the eastern systems, but occurs in various forms in western Pagan experience as well. With the rise of monotheism, monism was sometimes offered as evidence of ‘evolved’ thought by eastern thinkers. Monism has, in a few sects, sometimes rejected more folkloric polytheism, and many Pagans are skeptical of its value in our contexts, but it remains a menu-item in the list of IE models of mystical experience.

An Outline Toward Druidic Mysticism

In discussions on the in-house ADF lists the topic has turned to Druidic Mystcism, and the problem of the transcendant in Indo-European myth and religion. I ended up promising to post this essay. It has been available as the back third of my "Toward A Pagan Mysticism" monograph. However the rest of that material has ended up moved to another publication, and I'm more-or-less withdrawing it.
I'll be posting this in three or four parts over the next couple of weeks. Comments welcome, here, or, for members, on the ADF-discuss list.

I: Defining Mysticism and Enlightenment –The terms mysticism, enlightenment, and illumination are widely used in discussions of religion and spirituality, but are frequently only vaguely understood. ADF (and Paganism at large) might wish to build some discourse about what we mean from the vantage point of our spiritual understanding. We have spent our first 25 years developing our mythic and ritual structures, and we have drawn on some very old and very deep symbols to empower them. It is Your Humble Author’s opinion that we are ready to begin asking ourselves how our work can bring the personal soul into direct experience and awareness of divine and spiritual things.

Let us begin by reciting some dictionary definitions:
For ‘Mysticism’, we find:
“a doctrine of an immediate spiritual intuition of truths believed to transcend ordinary understanding, or of a direct, intimate union of the soul with God through contemplation or ecstasy.”For Enlightenment, the dictionary presents mainly doctrinal ideas from the east:
the beatitude that transcends the cycle of reincarnation; characterized by the extinction of desire and suffering and individual consciousness; pure and unqualified knowledge. Illumination, likewise, finds:knowledge, revelation, insight, wisdom; intellectual or spiritual enlightenment and understanding; a condition of spiritual awareness; divine illumination;

These stock definitions only lead us into more difficulty, as we ask ourselves what we mean by ‘spiritual’ or ‘ordinary understanding’. One thing we notice is that all the definitions refer to events that happen to individuals. They refer to states that affect the individual soul even if connected to group practice by doctrine or ritual. They all point toward a component of spiritual awareness, not based only on faith, but on experience.

In order to begin the discussion, I’ll propose a more technical, perhaps modern, definition of the terms ‘enlightenment’ or ‘illumination’. Let us say that these terms refer to specialized states or events of awareness that connect the personal mind with transpersonal awareness/experience. We’ll spend some time on the idea of transpersonal awareness as we go. More plainly, the terms refer to states of spiritual awareness, of deep connection with the divine and peace and wisdom in the self.

We will use ‘mysticism’ to refer to specific efforts made to reach these states. A ‘mystical’ system is a system that intends to induce illuminations, and ‘mysticism’ is the practice of those methods. The word derives from the Greek, of course, from ‘mystes’ – an initiate. A ‘mystery’ religion involved initiation – a formal moment in which the student was immersed in the spiritual symbols of the system. Just as these were systematic events, planned an executed for initiates, so we may use ‘mysticism’ broadly to mean the systematic pursuit of illuminative experience.

Every religion, every spiritual system makes choices as to which types of specialized state conform to the system’s models – that is, which become accepted and traditional. Within the large religious categories – such as ‘Hindu’ – we may find dozens of specific mystical programs, each run by a teacher or group, each serving those that are drawn to it. Even the monotheisms present multiple models of the personal search for contact with the divine.

Building Mystical Practice in ADF
To date, ADF has largely focused on public Paganism and what we might think of ‘village’ religion. We have organized groups to begin to restore our local relationships to the deities, a path of sacrifice and blessing, in which we seek the simple goods of health, wealth and wisdom for ourselves and our land and folk. In ancient Paganism I think even the mystics of the folk would have kept their connection with the sacred rites of their tribe and land – assuming they weren’t leading them! I think it could be time for Our Druidry to begin to develop personal and, possibly, group practices meant to build the individual’s relationship with the divine, to exalt and expand the mind, heart and soul. I think some of the symbols and meanings that we can use will be found in our existing ritual order and ides, but I think there are new directions available as well.

History and lore present us with a menu of cultural and technical methods of seeking illuminations. In order to decide which practices will become ADF practices, we must decide, to some degree, what we intend to mean by these traditional terms, and what sort of mental and spiritual states we wish to induce under the banner of Druidic mysticism. Indo-European Pagan models (especially northern European) have not left us any distinct understanding of what sorts of states were sought by ‘mystics’ among the Celts or Germans. We have hints and models, but very little context. We have some accounts and method remaining from the Hellenic and late Classical ages, but even there the soul of the work isn’t clear. We have far less context than we could use.

In order to begin a discussion on mystical strains and practices in ADF, we begin by making a few bald assertions of what Your Humble Author thinks might make a system or practice Druidic. It is worth our while, when we have the time, to discuss theology, and feel around for the edges of our systems. I also want to discuss what I feel are some useful ideas from postmodern thinkers, occultists and mystics. Some of this is by way of full disclosure, since those ideas have influenced my own, and those of other ADF members. (Long-time readers of el bloggo will have seen some of this before...) In our next section we will examine several traditional models of Indo-European and later European and Indian mysticism, and then compare them to our ethos and goals in ADF. That will be the first goal of this effort. From there we may proceed to some simple suggestions for methods drawing on models we like.

II: A Digression into the Modern
Postmodernists and Illuminists -

Many of us in ADF have been influenced by the ideas of some modern and postmodern thinkers, both ‘occult’ and philosophical. The core lesson of writers such as Wilson, Bey, Leary, etc is that our perceived reality is largely socially and psychologically constructed. Daily life for humans usually consists of a body of habitual programs and models that shape our common thought, decision and action. These habits are shaped by our history and reactions to events, by the pressures of our immediate physical and social environment and, occasionally, by our deliberate personal choices.

Humans have the ability to notice our own programs and habits and, to some degree, to step outside of them and manage them - even to reshape them. Our ability to watch our own thought, and apparent ability it actually initiate changes in our thought at least on some levels, offers us the ability to adapt and thrive. It also offers us the potential to expand our mind into states and events outside normal sensory life. In this sort of neurological mysticism, judgment tends to be reserved as to the ‘objective’ merit of some spiritual experiences, but there is little question that they can have value.

In this secular sense one of the basic ‘enlightenments’ or ‘illuminations’ is the experience of noticing that “you” are separate from your construct persona and have some degree of control over it. This understanding seems to occur naturally in a number of folks, less so in others, but it’s proposed that anyone can get better at noticing and managing the programs and habits of the common self, and even to learn to step outside of it into more unusual states.

Many Neopagans have begun with this rather rationalist approach to spirituality, to move toward traditional religion, magic, yoga, etc. These systems are ancient and long-practiced attempts to use the self-management ability to produce transpersonal spiritual events in the self. Modern Pagan religion, mysticism and occultism, can offer individuals a level of sovereignty over the self that has not always been present in most recent religions, with a depth of practice comparable to any world system – at least in time.

Occultists and Mystics -
Another set of modern influences on my own thought, and on that of many Pagans are the various modern schools of occultism and occult mysticism. The more mystical modern occult thinkers – Crowley, etc - have proposed that there is a spiritual reality that underlies the psychological mechanisms of the layers of the personality. While much of this sort of thought accepts the basic psychological models of modern mind science, it also accepts the idea of paranormal events and the value for growth and health of unusual spiritual states. Postmodern mystics might say that the objective reality of spiritual phenomena isn’t really an issue in effective use of magic or religion. Other modern mystics find reason to accept the objective existence of the spiritual worlds.

The Veil and the Path
I’m not entirely sure where to file this idea, so I’ll discuss it here… Both in this modernist perspective and in ancient ways, mystical illumination is often depicted as the discovery that common awareness, or reality itself, is a ‘veil of illusion’, that Things Are Not (only) As They Seem. The work of the mystic reveals the invisible sides of the worlds, reducing the common to just a section of existence.

Thus we find the Quest motif, the Great Work, the Fools Journey that inhabits much of the folklore tales of personal growth and mastery. From the Proto-Arthurian tales of the medieval Welsh to the symbolic forms of alchemy to the tales of great mystics such as Buddha or Merlin, the call to ‘come away’ is in many ways the core impulse of mysticism. We leave behind out metaphoric hearth and the Lands We Know to grow past our origins, to become more than we are.

This is an unusual position for our ADF ethos – we have worked to solidify our spirits in hearth and nemeton, to grow roots and networks where we are. From such a beginning the mystical quest might once again have meaning. To set forth on the Path, leaving behind the fields we know, is a powerful symbol that can’t be ignored.

III: 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.

ADF Customs and Models
these 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.
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 – ADF 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 been focused 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.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Thanksgiving Invocation

A simple prayer, to be accompanied by simple offerings – a candle or incense-stick lit would be sufficient. I believe I owe thanks to Jason Miller for the phrase in the above devotional art.

• On winter’s doorstep, I send my call to the Holy Ones.
As the land sinks into sleep, I give thanks for all that I have gained in the harvest.
For all the good of me and mine,of my kin and my friends, of my wealth and my store, of my heart and my mind I give thanks.
• To the Shining Gods and Goddesses I give thanks. You who uphold all the world, I am grateful for your many lights, that show me the ways of the wise. By your inspirations I seek wisdom, love and power, and for your inspiration, and your wonder and your challenges I give you my thanks with this gift.
• To the Noble Tribes I give thanks. You who indwell the world, spirits of beasts and birds, all who crawl or swim or walk or fly, I am grateful to share the world with you. You who serve the gods, daemons and courtiers, your grace allows my life. For your sharing and giving, for your beauty and strength I give you my thanks with this gift
• To the Beloved Dead I give thanks. You whose blood and flesh create my blood and flesh, you whose wisdom teaches my wisdom, I am grateful to you for all that you give. Kin of my blood and Kin of my heart, you are with me still in memory, so be with me in life. I give you my thanks, with this gift.
• I am a child of the earth, and the inheritor of the stars. By the Fire in me, and the Well in me, and the World Tree that grows in me, I give thanks to all beings for every blessing.
So be it, for so it is!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cranking Up a New Year

I live a life of conflicting calendrical systems. Of course I work and deal with most other folks by the good ol' American Gregorian calendar, which makes this the start of the Holiday Season, approaching the end of the common year. I actually like the Calends of January holiday, though it's a secular event for my Gaeloid self.

On the other hand I have kept a neo-Celtic calendrical cycle for some 30 years, in which Samhain is the end and beginning of the year. Of course that makes the year start with the quiet and death-current of Samhain, leading to the slow wax of the light at Yuletide. (Rev. Earrach has a good deal to say about all that...) So, this is a weird time, very neither-nor, as we make our way through toward Imbolc, however far-off through the Ohio winter that seems from here.

For me, though, the season of early winter following Samhain is always a good time for creative work, as I get the shovels and tarps put away and turn my attention to my brain. Above is a bit of art I did as a warm-up, I've written a new song and unearthed a couple of old, unheard originals. I *am* writing the novel, slowly.

The best news is that I'm almost done preparing the Book of Visions for sale. That book will contain the trance and meditation work from the Nine Moons training system along with new material. Along with the Book of Summoning this will complete the reworking of the Nine Moons material into general-purpose Druidic Pagan how-to-books, without a nine-lesson format. All of that happened in the last year incidentally - it's been a productive phase...

There's also occult work to do this winter. I have two large spirit-workings from this past season to integrate into my own work. I am preparing a publication based on the Court of Brigid workings, incidentally, but it may have to wait until more work is done. L and I completely missed one major intention this past summer - maybe winter will be better despite the difficulties of working outdoors.

So, on we go! Thanks for reading, as always, and welcome to the several new readers. Do mention what you'd like to see here. This actually marks the end of my third year of blogging! Whoda thunkit?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why Don't the Gods Ask for Turds?

I continue to hang around the Catholic Answers Forum occasionally, mainly to help field discussion such as this one, and because it lets me indulge in theology. In this round, someone was asserting that if the Gods were 'real' they might occasionally ask for repugnant things, rather than just things that mortals like. Here's a shot at an answer:

Originally Posted by PRmerger
Actually, the point that is being made is that one knows they are NOT true deities because they only want things that aren't repugnant for the worshipper to offer. It reminds me of the Chesterton saying, "That Jones shall worship the god within ultimately means that Jones shall worship Jones."The question I'm posing is meant to cause pagans to pause and think, ' I really worshipping a deity, or just a projection of myself?"

Sticking my schnoz back into this thread...There are a bunch of assumptions about the nature of man, the divine and religion that would need addressing to get anywhere with this.Let's start with religion. Pagan religions aren't 'revealed'. The Gods or their heralds don't generally descend and explain to mortals how to worship them, what offerings are proper, etc. Rather, Pagan religion is devised. Wise and inspired humans (called Rishis - Seers, in Hinduism, for example, and probably called 'prophets' in early biblical phases... i.e. "Saul is with the Prophets"...) discover the methods of communicating with the Gods, and aply them. Those that catch on with the people become tradition, and tradition defines the basics for future generations. At any time a new Seer or Wise One might appear, to offer new approaches, which may or may not become part of tradition. Each or any of these may produce 'scripture', or poetry or ritual text, and some of those writings may become hallowed by tradition.

This is possible because humans are understood to posses an indwelling spark of the divine. We are not different in kind from the Gods and Spirits, only in degree. Someone asked whether a human spirit could be greater than some gods. I'd say yes. There are some very small gods, and some very large heroes. In any case, our very human minds are reflections of the divine mind, and when we focus and clarify ourselves we can be inspired in many ways. Pagans don't see this so much as hearing the voice of a god, as realizing truth by our own divine discernment.

Of course it can happen in the more common way, in which a god or spirit sends a dream or vision. That's how a lot of temples and Shrines get built.

In Neopaganism, this process is just being restored. Our 50 or 60 years of invocation and seeking of the Gods is beginning to be answered in dreams, visions and inspirations. Very few of these have reached the level of tradition yet. When we get a few generations under us we'll see more of that.

In any case, this is not self-worship. Rather it is an active reaching out to the divine other. In an animistic polytheism, the divine is never restricted to one place, person, condition or name. The divine inheres in me, and in you; in trees and stones and art and music and turds and the flow of stars across the sky. To know the divine in fullness we must be open to the divine wherever it presents itself, and seek it where we might not otherwise seek. That's the mystic's work, but many people just want enough religion to get by. We see no problem in that, and the simple business of making an offering to a god and getting a blessing in return is enough for a lot of Pagans. No one is required to seek mystical understanding in order to get some good of religion.

Now as to why the gods don't ask for nasty stuff...First, understand that the practice of making offerings is based on the setting of a feast for a noble guest. A 'Sacrifice' (latin for sacred work, but RCs should know that...) is a banquet arranged for a god - incense to sweeten the air, wine poured in libation, cakes burned or buried, and a nice lamb or goat roasted, butchered and either shared between the god and the folk or given whole to the god.

Smaller offerings are essentially a scale-down of that approach. You give what you would give a friend. The gods don't so much demand or prescribe what's given, rather they graciously appreciate the small welcome most folks can give, and respond with noble gifts in turn. Of course different friends like different things, and you don't lay in reisling for your stout-drinking friend. That brings us back to inspiration, experiment and tradition, by which these customs arise.

For a spirit to ask a repugnant thing would be a strange deal. It isn't their custom to ask us to 'prove ourselves' to them (except a few folks who may have some sort of 'destiny' or something), or to require us to jump through hoops for them. Especially in these early stages of our revival, the gods are pleased to be receiving offerings again.

On yet another level, remember that the divine is infinitely multiple in form, and no one person can be in religious relationship with all of those forms. The beings that come to be part of human religion are beings that like humans, and may even be like humans, including our ancestors, and spirits of the lands we live in). They are beings that respond when we make offerings of wine and bread. Beings who want offerings of turds (divine as they may be) can mostly look somewhere besides my house for worshippers.

Can I sum up...? It's unusual to have a god ask for anything in particular. Rather, offerings are devised through inspiration, experiment and tradition. The goal is to please the deity with our gifts. Therefore, no turds.

Incidentally, that would be entirely different from asking a god or spirit to bless a turd for, say garden fertility...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Pagan Spirit Arte in Outline

I have been working to develop ritual methods of spirit-contact in a Gaelic or northern mythic system, using both lore from northern folkways and the outlines passed from classical Greece and Rome in the grimoires. The result, so far, is The Book of Summoning. I’m sure that it isn’t Gaelic enough for hard reconstructionists, but it is probably too Gaelic to be workable by folks focused on other mythic systems without changes. I’ve had a couple of requests for notes on how the system might be reworked for other cultural models, so here we go with some. I dunno how focused this will be, though it is getting more than one draft.

1: The Pagan magical approach centers on the interaction between humans and spirits. While ‘energy work’ models appear in some Pagan systems, it is much more common for magicians to accomplish our work by making alliances and arrangements with specific spirit beings.
A: Animism: The magician often works with very down-to-earth spirits, those indwelling plants and stones, streams and hills and trees.
B: The Dead: The spirits of the Ancestors and, more broadly, of the human Dead are central to classical (and probably Indo-European) magical methods.
C: The Gods: Classical magic is often (even usually) performed under the patronage or presidency of one or more spirits of the class called ‘deities’. These are conceived to be cosmic spirits of high power and wisdom, and specifically those who have been the friends and allies of mortals over the centuries. Some systems tend to put all magical work under a ‘God of Magic’, but special works under specific other gods are also common.

One of the primary tasks in approaching the spirit magic of a culture is to determine their categories of spirits, and understand the local and culturally unique ideas surrounding them. While those working an IE system can probably deal with the Druidic Three Kindreds of Gods, Dead and Wights I don’t know how well that transposes to a Semitic or Central Asian model. Also, the category of ‘Wights’ opens out into a vast mythological scape, from little plant dudes to mighty daemons of the stars.

In practice it can be quite difficult to discern the Landwights from the Dead. For much practical magic these categories become conflated as ‘the Spirits’. Again, specific cultures will parse this in different ways, and knowing those specifics will allow the mage to customize the poetry and words of calling.

2: Several basic principles underlie all spirit-arte:
A: Reciprocity:
The relationship between mortals and the spirits is one of give-and-take. The magician makes offerings and gains the aid of spirits, spirits aid mortals and gain the benefit of offerings. This applies from the smallest herb-imp to the gods themselves.
Here folkloric methods are very valuable. Approaching the Spirits in the ways of their ancestors will only make them more likely to answer.
B: Hierarchy: The spirits are arranged by type, and are each and all part of a moving, flowing pattern in which the greater drives the lesser and the lesser executes the will of the greater. Therefore the magician makes alliances with mighty powers, such as the gods, and by the gods meets the kings and queens of spirits, and by the sovereigns meets the knights and laborers of the Courts of Spirits.
C: Authority: The magician is able to deal safely with the Spirits by developing a degree of personal strength, and thus of personal authority. This is of two kinds – personal power, derived from the talents deeds and skills of the magician, and borrowed power, gained by alliance with mighty beings.

It is also true to say that some types of spirit-magic work with humility. The householder who needs to work a trick may be more likely to pray humbly, or cajole with gifts, than to command by authority. The system I've written, however is written for the Druid, a high-status priest with authority among the spirits. Your juju may vary.

3: There are several basic practices that seem nearly universal in Pagan spirit-arte:
A: Sacrifice:
The mystery of sacrifice is the giving of honor and offering to the spirits, and the receiving of aid and blessing in return. Every culture will have traditional methods of accomplishing this work. The magician must carefully create a model of personal sacrifice that she is fully competent at. It is proper to say that the spirit-arte mage must be able to function as a priest of his chosen system.
B: Entrancement: Whether deliberate or unstated, when the spirits speak, consciousness is, and has been, altered. It is good for the magician to be able to alter awareness at will, the better to allow the voice and form of the spirits to appear.
C: Alliance: The magician makes primary alliances with a short list of specific spirits, often beginning with a god, but including a variety of spirits. Cultural models will indicate what kinds of spirits commonly ally with magicians.

4: Several basic preparations precede formal work:
A: The Magician’s Shrine:
A temple, glade, room, corner, dresser-top etc. is set aside, according to the magician’s resources, to be used as the site of magical work. This is equipped with all the symbols and vessels needed to work a full sacrifice in its tradition.

Incidentally, please note that I’m describing a ‘high magic’ paradigm here. I’m aware that some folkloric spirit-arte manages without the trappings of temple and tools – mostly. However, folkloric systems usually rely on being able to snag bits from existing religious systems – holy water, candles, talismans, sneaking objects into saint’s-day masses, etc. As Pagans we have no such luck, and so, where the old instructions say ‘attend mass’ or ‘have a Mass of the Holy Ghost said’, we must be prepared to work our own sacrifice, and get our own blessing. Thus, we need a temple and the skills of a ritual priest.
B: Personal Tools of Power. In many European cultures these are especially a wand or scepter or, more recently, a sword or dagger. The notion here is a tool that represents the personal power – or indwelling divinity, if you like – of the mage. The form of these will be determined by the culture at hand.

C: Consecration and Activation Rites: All these things are properly blessed. Of course devising proper blessing and purification rites per culture-of-choice is an important preliminary work.

5: The magician develops personal power through preliminary rites.
A: Purifications and Empowerments:
A round of preliminary rites, including work to cleanse the magician of ill, and improve peace and luck.
B: Regular worship of the Gods & Spirits: a steady round of offerings, seeking basic blessing and empowerment. A round of seasonal or calendrical rites, attuning the magician to the land, (or stars, or saints, or whatever external cosmic power) is also worthwhile.
C: Creation of a Talisman of Protection: The most immediate of the direct protections.
D: Initial Convocation and Attunement Rites: In the system I'm writing for the spirits are called in general as the Dead and the Landwights. Various ethnicities will have various categories. In any case specific ‘Audience’ rites should be devised, to introduce the mage to the spirits en masse. These will take the form of a formal sacrifice to the category (i.e. the Dead or the Sidhe, or whatever cultural terms make sense), with the intention of inducing the vision and voice of the convoked collective of those spirits. The mage seeks an Audience, in which the spirits see him and he sees the spirits.

6: The Magician makes alliances with specific ally spirits. Here the choices should be closely matched to the system in which the mage works. For Northerners alliances with the Dead and the Landwights seem completely proper. However, those broad categories have so many subsets and specific types that I found myself spending a chapter parsing them in my book. Research into cultural specifics is mandatory here. The goal is to find spirits that are partial to human alliance, while being powerful enough to be of help.
A: Outline of a Conjuring Rite
• Establishment of Space; including preliminary purifications and protections
• Engagement with the Otherworld – or with personal power and authority as the system conceives it.
• Sacrifice to the God Proper to the Work. In initial alliance rites it is advisable to place the work under the presidency of a deity. In most cultures a God of Magicians will be the proper choice, or a psychopomp or perhaps the traditional ‘King’ of a class of spirits, such as Freyr for the Alfar.
• Calling to the Host of Spirits. The Spirits are convoked as in the Audience rites, and the mage proclaims willingness to make alliance. The Book of Summoning gives a method for ‘thinning the crowd’, asking those unwilling to depart. Offerings given, but also promised.
• Calling the Ally. The mage converses with the spirits (by rising in vision, in the book’s system) and an ally becomes available. If all goes well, the magician learns a name, a proper offering and a bit about the Ally’s nature.

• Binding and Charging the Ally. The binding is by oath, binding upon both the mage and the spirit. The charge details the conditions under which the mage will call the spirit and how the spirit will respond.

7: Working With the Spirits. With the alliance(s) made the mage takes up maintenance work, devising a regular offering that keeps him in conversation with the allies, and allows the development of further alliances, and one-shot spirit workings as well.

To summarize:
1: Know your system – the Gods and categories of Spirits, the nature of magical power and the ways of acquiring it, the forms of ritual worship and magic.
2: Gather your power – Purify the body and mind, focus your intention and gain the general blessing and goodwill of the Gods and Spirits.
3: Call the Spirits – make a place for them, offer them gifts and benefit, and deal with them in honor and trust.

I hope that is of some use to those who want to rework my Pagan Spirit Arte models for non-Celtic systems. May you be blessed in the work.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ten Magical Books Worth Remembering

From the Twentieth Century

Okay, thirteen books… plus… but…

I'm sure I'll have left out something obvious - feel free to comment. Also, this list applies to classical 'western magic', including Witchcraft and Wiccan forms, but doesn't apply to afro-carribean magic in the new world or other non-Euro cultural stuff. There may have been remarkable publishing going on there about which I know nothing...

First, three books from the beginning of the century, when post-Masonic, still-pretty-monotheist systems were still influential. While the ritual system understood by these writers has waned, the symbolic constructs have been quite persistent. These books contain the flower of esoteric Tarot as well.
1: Magick (Book IV) - Aleister Crowley (1912): the big one.
2: The Golden Dawn – Israel Regardie (1936)
3: The Mystical Qabalah – Dion Fortune (1935): reliable one-volume summary of post-Golden Dawn Hermetic Qabalah.

Four books from the middle of the century that reflect the swing away from the ‘lodge-work’ model of ritual and toward the circle-work’ model.
4: The Gardnerian Book of Shadows (c.1952) (by extension, I’d recommend the Farrar’s Eight Sabbats for Witches and The Witches Way as the best expansion of the original.)
5: Initiation Into Hermetics – Franz Bardon (1962): the most influential book on occult mental training and ‘energy work’ in the 20th century (I leave New Thought out of ‘occult’ here).
6: Magical Ritual Methods - William Gray (1969): Excellent mid-20th c. restatement of magical art, down-to-earth and unburdened by specific traditions.
7: Mastering Witchcraft – Paul Huson (1970): perhaps the best single grimoire of ‘operative witchcraft’ ever written.

The end of Masonic-style work and the rise of new systems are seen in the last three books, which represent three distinct schools of late twentieth century magic. Grant inherits from Crowley, but abandons western ritual style in favor of Indic forms. Starhawk cuts the circle-work style completely free of the Masonic tradition and redefines it on its own terms. Carroll goes back to first principles, while enjoying the mystique of ‘sorcery’ and ‘black magic’.
8: Aleister Crowley & the Hidden God – Kenneth Grant (1973): really the whole original Typhonian Trilogy, but it was this one that RAW quoted…
9: The Spiral Dance – Starhawk (1979): like her theology or not, SD taught a generation of witches how to raise power, invoke deity, and use the Wiccan spell-casting model.
10: Liber Null & Psychonaut – Peter J. Carroll (1987): Still core to the Chaos Magic models.

Limiting this list to ten is not really doable, of course. I just threw that number out as rhetoric. As runners-up, I’d mention:
11: Way of the Shaman – Michael Harner (1980) the book that taught magicians to do shamanic-style trance. Representing the Shamanic Magic movement.
12: Futhark; A Handbook of Rune Magic – Edred Thorsson (1984) The book that began introducing the Elder Futhark to western magic. Representing the Northern Reconstructionist movements.
13: The Underworld Initiation - R.J. Stewart (1990) British and Euro-folk symbolism applied with western magical technique. Representing the evolution of the Western Mysteries movement.

And just because I can’t stop, I’d runnerup-up the small list of practical grimoires published by ‘self-help’ publishers that have survived the century – such things as New Avatar Power and the Mystic Grimoire and Helping Yourself With White Witchcraft.

For a sense of history, Yronwode is 2002, Leitch on grimoires is 2005, Stratton-Kent is 2009. There’s been a whole lot o’ shakin’ in magic-land since the turn of the century…

Friday, October 28, 2011

Mastering Witchcraft Bandwagon

I just can't resist chiming in on the ongoing discussion, begun at The Used Key Is Always Bright on the classic manual of practical Pagan magic, Mastering Witchcraft.
MW became available in my hometown in 1971, in its hardback original release. I was sixteen years old, and the discussion with my parents about my growing interest in occultism occasionally reached high volumes. I used birthday money, bought the book, and quickly scrawled my name across the front leaf so that it couldn't be returned. Despite more loud discussion, I retained the book, and from it I began to learn ritual magic.

Huson claimed to reveal the true names of the witches' Goddess and God, a tidbit that seems hackneyed now, but was rather monumental in those days. Gardner, Valiente and all the first-wave public witches made rather a show of concealing what are now openly worshipped names. He taught a simple, elemental ritual system using the tools based on the grimoiric tool-set, plus other minor tools. All this was presented in classical magical style, everything properly consecrated and devoted to the art. No Kitchen-witchy, using your turnip-knife for spells for our Paul. I had already found "The Black Arts", and was pleased to find ritual witchcraft that conformed to the description of magic in the souces I was reading.

MW doesn't exactly teach 'worship' of the gods, but it does teach effective techniques for invocation. While Huson pays a little lip-service to duotheism his actual system is based on the aid of a specific group of deities, arranged in roughly elemental style. Thus Habondia for Water, the chalice and love-spells; Hermes-Mercury for Air, the wand and divination; Cernunnos for Fire, the dagger (he says athame) and cursing; And Nocticula-Saturnus for Earth and bindings. Protective magic is given to the Elemental Spirits, arranged in the usual way in the four-quartered circle. A thread that runs throughout his witchcraft mythology is that of the "Watchers" - the Nephelim, ancient spiritual beaings that are said to have taught mortals sorcery. It's far from clear whether the gods that are actually invoked are to be thought of as Watchers, or what. The fact is, folk myth doesn't care, and neither does Huson.
One of Huson's great skills is the ability to take snippets of medieval lore and reframe them in working rituals. Every so-often I run across another piece of stuff quoted as a fragment or remnant that i recognize from Huson's work. His approach to crafting spells is still a major guide for me. He's also had a huge influence on the Pagan and quasi-Pagan magical scene. I doubt there are many performances of the Dumb Supper that don't rely on MW for their basic form, and the conjuration of Vassago is one of the earliest modern rethinkings of grimoiric ritual. The set of magical goals is thoroughly urban and personal. There are no 'fertility' spells, nor workings to recognize or support seasonal changes.
The chapter on 'The Coven and How to Form One' has been one of the most influential pieces in Neopagan history. Huson skips theology, for the most part, to give solid advice on how to organize a small magical group. He does recommend keeping the eight 'Sabbats', but gives no seasonal scripts. The little checklist of organization items (coven name, symbols, etc) have remained a basic guide, and were vital to the way new covens formed in the 70s and 80s. Rather than outline a hierarchy huson provides a pile of lore and ideas, encouraging readers to make of them what they will. By the time that the festival movement brought together the North American covens and working groups of the 70s it was very difficult to find a bootstrap coven or tradition that had not either been organized directly from that chapter or been directly influenced by MW. Sometimes I refer to MW as the "'Spiral Dance' of the seventies" because it both synthesized the magical feel of the moment, and provided practical support that allowed new groups to grow.
There's some dispute as to whether Huson had a connection with non-Gardnerian 'Traditional Craft' in Britain. Huson claims that his occult training came from post Golden Dawn sources, along with a personal curiosity about folklore and historic witchcraft. I did ask him a specific question in a personal correspondence, and he again said that he had no connection with craft lineage. At this moment I'm inclined to believe him.

That makes him rather a genius. He created a synthesis of traditional medieval magic with practical energy-work and visualization, reinvented the material tools and taught a generation how to cast spells and summon the Old Gods. Oh, also, he can draw rather nicely. The book is illustrated by the author, and his images of Cernunnos and Aradia have remained in circulation in the Pagan community ever since.

If there are ten books on magic that should be remembered from the 20th century, this should be one of them.