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…