Monday, July 23, 2012

Next Steps With the Courtiers of Brigid

This year's Summerland gathering looks to be a veritable Druid magic-palooza. Uberrod will be doing a Court of Sif working, intending to begin prospecting for ally spirits from that worthy Goddess' house. Here’s what L and I will be doing at this year’s event, one year after the original Court of Brigid working:

Druid Sorcery – Practical Magic with the Court of Brigid
In an experiment of Pagan magical art, participants in this working will create a small shrine-talisman with a personal targeting of one of three intentions – Prosperity, Healing, or Inspiration. We will work with spirits from the Court of Brigid – beings who have sworn to aid us in our work, especially with the Three Powers – the Cup, the Harp and the Hammer, but also with the Courtiers themselves.

The working will involve the creation of a triptych shrine-talisman made of card. The first half will be devoted to the careful devising of the personalized intention and the creation of the talisman involving simple handicraft methods. The second part will be a simple ritual working intended to set the spirits working for the magicians.

Participants need not have taken part in previous Court of Brigid rites to join in this work. All are invited to make the talisman and receive the ritual script and briefing. We hope that some will choose to work the actual summoning rite at the festival. To preserve the integrity of all participants those working the rite for practical goals will be asked to state their goal aloud, and to take the spiritual cost of the work upon themselves.

This will involve some fun handicrafts as well as the magical work. We’ll be testing materials for the triptychs, and I’ll try to post pics and notes as we go.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

New Temples 3 - Starwood Edition

It has been Nemeton summer. As of Starwood I have been directly involved with the renovation or creation of three worship spaces, one of them brand new. As I described in the New Thrones article our local Grove found ourselves with an embarrassment of idols in the early summer. Two different artisans had produced Earth Mother and Gatekeeper images, one in wood, one in cast cement. The cement images ended up in the temple that has the harder weather, and the wooden images were used to begin a new worship space at the Wisteria Campground in south-eastern Ohio.

The new Earth Mother and Gatekeeper idols in the Wisteria Nemeton

This was our third Starwood at Wisteria, and, as a Starwood organizer, I’d say that we’re rolling in a groove. The initial welcoming vibe has continued, and attendance continues to creep back up after the transplant. ADF has been pretty well ensconced at Brushwood after 20 years there, and it has taken a little while for a Druidic presence to redevelop at Starwood. This was a year of communities, with ADF and CAW both bringing a renewed presence to the event. I feel confident that Starwood will go from strength to strength in the new site.

The site chosen for the Wisteria Nemeton was a tifle challenging, being at the bottom of a fairly steep switch-back trail. The whole site is in the hills of southern Ohio, and flat spaces are at a premium, but the glade at the bottom of this trail had been sanded and used for ritual before, including by us two years previously. The Wisteria folks graciously allowed us to transform the glade, and provided, sand, stone and tools for the job. They also provided a freshly cut alder post from a section of woods that was already being cleared, to make a Bile some twenty-five feet tall!

We arranged the Three Hallows in the style that I prefer, with the Fire altar in the direct center, the Worls Tree slightly north of it and the Well slightly North of that. As we have done at both Brushwood and Tredara we dug a small shaft as the permanent part of the Well, setting the usual iron bowl for the ritual water. Wisteria had a nice supply of chopped limestone, and we made sure the fire altar had a thick sand top, to keep fire away from the limestone sides. We lined the Bile and shaft in the same white stone, and used it to decorate the bas of the two idols, making a nice unified look.

The Fire Altar, Offering shaft (capped, bottom
right) and the Bile pillar between them.
Note Bile ascending out of frame...
We placed the Earth Mother in the East, which in Gaelic lore is the direction of prosperity and bounty, and the Gatekeeper idol in the West, the direction of wisdom and poetry. The whole thing, this year, is just a first wave. The place needs benches, a work-table and eventually additional shrines. However it had a nice feel on completion, the tall trees creating a shady canopy some thirty feet overhead.

I’ve helped to consecrate or reconsecrate three sets of Earth Mother and Gatekeeper images this year, so doing the third set felt fairly easy. We had an A-1 team of ADF elders, along with skilled and willing newer folks, and we made good sacrifice, using no scripts. The blessing was first sprinkled on the assembled crowd (mostly ADF folks, but with about a dozen festival guests) and then poured at the four sides of the Fire Altar, invoking the blessings of the four ‘provinces’ of Gaelic lore. All in all I was pleased with how the Blessing turned out, ex tempore as it was. In general the rite was powerful and, I think effective. We will see how the new installation comes to fit into the Wisteria ‘temple district’ and spiritual culture.

Starwood Notes

Starwood had a good year this year, as we regrow in our new location. Attendance was up some 15% or so, with nearly six-hundred on site. Our management machine can easily handle those sorts of numbers, and systems ran smoothly.

ADF’s presence at Starwood is being reaffirmed. ADF has a long history with the festival, the annual meeting having been held there for the first few years. This year the consecration of a new Nemeton put a new seal on that history.

Other long-time Starwood communities are coming back together as well. We had a substantial CAW camp, and renewed GLTB organizing as well. One of the things that has always made Starwood special is the variety of groups and communities it welcomes.

In the same way the event is not strictly focused on Pagan or magical spirituality. This year saw plenty of content on science and scholarship; alternative energy, permaculture, byways of American history, and NLP were all well represented. Of course the Pagan and magical scene were well-represented.

I always say that Starwood is a menu-driven event. If you want a spiritual retreat you can follow tracks of Pagan, or new-age-para-hindu-meditation, ATR or whatever mix of other topics one chooses. If you want an arts and music event you can listen to, practice and learn a variety of styles and instruments. If you want an alternative science and politics event, then that’s readily available. All these communities get to meet, greet (and for that matter, excrete) in the same woodsy circumstances.

Frater Barrarbas has been writing concerning his doubts about the long-term viability and sustainability of outdoor, camping-style Pagan events. I think he’s right about many things, especially that festivals no longer play the almost exclusive role in community building that they did at their beginning. I still attend probably three to five camping-style events yearly, though some smaller events have cabin-style accommodations as well. Barrabas is right, I think – the regional festival may well become more of the norm. I know that in the ongoing development of ADF work regional festivals serve as both social events and occasions for spiritual development.

While I agree that fests no longer drive or direct the course of the Pagan and magical movement I think they provide an invaluable service that cannot be easily replaced. As I always say – this is fun that you can’t get in town, at any price. The experience – the social, educational, immersive experience – of Starwood (or PSG, or Heartland – any fest with several hundred people) is unavailable except when someone makes it happen. For that reason I doubt that fests will be vanishing any time soon.

One distinct pleasure is that the next generation is arriving at Starwood in numbers. The place was full of twenty-somethings, with lots of tots and even a half-dozen babies. Starwood’s solid child-care and kid’s programming crew keeps everyone feeling safe. This year the roads were full of grey-beards, aging boomers, gen-x types and twenty-somethings. A refreshing mix, and a commonality of culture across generations.

This year I described Starwood as a “giant machine carefully designed to produce peak experience”. A week of immersion in ideas and music, of a spirit of erotic liberty, of exposure to remarkable sights and sounds all culminates in a bonfire revel that brings a modern person closer to “the sabbat” or to a Dionysian or Eleusinian event than can be had anywhere else. This produces moments that bring ‘em back over and over, and attracts new folks as well.
Genuine Starwood – accept no substitutes.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

CoB Ruminations and Next Steps

As I pack for the Starwood Festival (If you're not planning to attend, you should) here's one more round of notes. Back after a week or two. Stay cool if you're hot, and stay hot if you're cool.

I’m very pleased with the progress of the Court of Brigid experiment in spirit arte. Thanks to the skill and willingness of the ADF participants I think we have been able to get somewhere further than I had even hoped we might go, in less time. We have a preliminary list of some 28 spirits, with several more in possible private alliances. I have been working to develop simpler methods of applying the basics of spirit arte, and to encourage those interested in the work to do rites and make contacts with individual spirits. I have a little agenda of follow-ups in mind:

• Simple Conjuring Rites: I have posted a simple conjuring rite meant to be usable by a solitary Druid at a home shrine to invite one of the courtiers to come for a specific purpose, or even just to make a more individual alliance. Anyone who has been present at either of the group conjuring rites has received the oath of these spirits and is entirely empowered (according to one’s skill) to call to them for personal needs. Those who haven’t attended one of the rites might try working the festival rite adapted for themselves, but might also wait for the three-part sequence soon to be published before calling individual courtiers. This might change, per:

• Development or Reception of Spells: I’m probably going to continue to use ‘spell’ to mean “A spiritual practice combining ritual, symbolism and the power of natural things intended to produce a specific result.” In tantra the usual term is sadhana, meaning ‘a specific form of practice’. Magical lore is full of such prescriptions. Some of them simply come down from who-knows-when, but others seem to be the result of magicians asking the spirits for methods by which the spirit can aid in the desired outcome. This leads to the folkloric sort of “Take a branch of whatever and wave it however while saying this verbal formula given by the spirit, and it will be done”. When we offer to the gods we rather expect them to answer as they will. When we ask these working spirits for aid we are rather expecting a how-to that produces a result. The use of natural things and material gestures links Otherworld to Middleworld in ways that lets the spirits do the job. If we ask, we can learn such methods from the spirits we have met.
Take a distaff under the proper moon and stars, and pluck
a sprig of the proper herb. Take the thread in hand and
say my name...

The good news is that the nature of the spirits we have met is plainly benign and helpful in the way we intended by beginning with Nurturing Brigid. We have met spirits of healing, both physical and emotional, spirits of inspiration of poets and artists, spirits of the shaping of metal and of hard-crafting, and a whole class of spirits who seem to be about ‘bringing joy and delight’. This last might seem airy-fluffy, but I see a solid practical use for such spirits for the working bard. There can be no better result for a bardic performance than an audience filled with relaxed pleasure, kisses on lips and hearts light. When a bard come backed by a band of pleasant daemons, even an off night can be fun for the hall.

So while we might not feel the monkish need to ‘Cause Three Women to Dance Naked Before Me’, as we see in the late medieval stuff, a charm to enchant a festival fire to produce pleasure and delight might be welcomed. On a more practical level at least one of the courtiers concerns himself with the management of wealth and money-survival – always a skill an artist needs. There are a number of ‘messenger’ spirits as well as those concerned with making material manifestation out of raw materials. Such powers can be directed in clever ways to a variety of intentions.

• Further Work with the Tri Cumhachtai: The work with the persons of the Three Powers of Brigid – the Harp, the Hammer and the Cup – has plenty of juice yet to be reached. I advise anyone who might undertake the work to pay attention to those Powers as persons, not just symbols. More on that to come.

• Publication: I’m still ruminating on how soon to publish a more formal grimoire and account of the work. I want the short rites tested a little more, even by me, and I may want to work the big rite in public once more to round out the spirit list. Soon, though, I’ll do a nice publication of the work, maybe even with a higher-quality hardback. I still have grimoire envy.

• More Gods: One direction for a next step is to simply choose another deity and begin work. I here that we expect to see another group of ADF mages work a similar rite for a Norse Goddess (I’ve heard Sunna and Sif) this summer. I’m working on an angle for the Manannan working as well. At this point progress on that is unlikely until winter because I still intend to work directly with the Genii Locus of our patch of land before snow flies.

• Shameless Plug: Those interested in all the details of my model, and especially interested in a progressive order of rituals intended to establish alliances with the spirits, should read The Book of Summoning.  ADF Dedicant graduates interested in a systematic round of Druidic magical training might take a shot at The Book of Nine Moons, though I still mean to re-organize the material. It works as presented if you work it. Those who are reading this blog without a background in Pagan Druidry might start with my core book Sacred Fire, Holy Well.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Court of Brigid In California

On Saturday, June 30, L and I worked the Court of Brigid festival rite at the Eight Winds Gathering, an ADF festival held in the hills north of Lake Tahoe in California. This was the second time the rite had been worked in a public festival setting. In general it was a success, with a number of new spirits contacted. (See the script for the working here and the journal of the first performance here.)

Eight Winds was the conclusion (and crown) of a two-week holiday in California. Beginning at L's family, we traveled through LA, up the coast through Santa Cruz and on to a friend's house in Reno. Along the way we stopped at The Green Man in Hollywood, and at The Serpent's Kiss in Santa Cruz. Between them we were able to obtain the various crystal, silver and other offerings, including forged iron nails. The 'grocery' offerings, bread, ale etc. were easy to obtain at camp.

The setting could hardly have been more different from the first performance. The first rite was worked in central Ohio, on a hot day in the moist green woods. The ritual area there was a large campground fire circle, with the first rows of benches some yards away from the fire. This time we were in high pine forest, on soil made of dessicated pine needles and dust, but with a lovely body of water visible behind. Still an arid setting that felt high in the air. We debated whether to leave the reference to ‘cloud’ in the script…
Just as pretty as they say...

We were able to travel to that first event by car, and to bring large props of our own, especially items for a substantial shrine to Brigid as the center of the work. This time we had flown in, bringing minimal gear. Of course the Groves that were running the event had a full ritual kit so fire-pit, offering bowls etc were no problem. The rite was held near my own camp, in a shadier and more quiet section than the public fire area, and my camp-mates had just the perfect setting for the rite's Well. The Brigid shrine was much simpler than previously. One of the attendees had a personal Brigid devotional image, made in a box that opened to reveal a collage of Brigid images. We elevated that on a log, and hung one of The Magical Druid's devotional plaques above it. Simple but, as things turned out, effective. The ritual area was small, so the group was seated shoulder to shoulder, creating an intimate atmosphere that made sense with the smaller shrine. The day was mountain-air cool, but the sun was mountain-high strong.

Thanks to Bert the Druid for this shot of the Hallows
of the rite. I utterly failed to take any pics.

The day previous to the rite I attended a talk on Ritual Theory given by Ceisiwr Serith. Among many good points, he mentioned the merit of not losing one's sense of fear when approaching ritual performance. I was right where that advice suggested that I should be. In Ohio I had done my workshops on Pagan spirit-arte over the previous years, so many folks had heard the theory in some detail. In Cali that was not the case. On a sillier level (but still real enough) I was pleased and scared to be working the rite with one of the founders of the Celtic Reconstructionist movement present. Erynn Rowan Laurie is one of our most learned Celtic Pagans. While she is in fact a part of what one might call the more 'liberal' end of CR, still here I was trotting out my obscuro grimoires-meet-Druidism routine for her. Fortunately Erynn is both gracious and skilled in trance-work, so I needn't have worried. I still did.

We completed the set-up and waited for people to arrive. The working was well attended, the glade filling to capacity. One little advantage of ADF ritual style is that we didn't need to stand in a single circle holding hands. Instead we hunkered together like primates. I think that actually added to the sense of community. It certainly made it easier to distribute the blessing and to hear and record the results.

I don't know whether I could make this work for festival crowds that weren’t trained in ADF ritual before-hand. The ease with which the group responded to the ordinary opening moved us quickly into the work. I was able to rely on the level of training present to simply instruct folks to enter their basic state of ritual awareness (trance) without a minutes-long 'induction'. The rite includes several steps of progressive trance-deepening, with the primary transition to Threshold awareness after the Gate Opening.

The rite uses a spoken charm, recited by the whole group, as a key to entering trance. In the first working I interpolated spoken entrancement guidance between the lines of the charm, which I found to be clumsy, though it was effective. This time we had the group recite the entire charm, then hear the guidance. I found it less clumsy in performance, and it seemed equally effective. Unfortunately there was only one attendee who had been present at the first working, but I am interested in any feedback on the use of that technique.

I think the patterned repetition of the offerings in the invocation of Brigid is a solid support for trance without relying on spoken induction. As each offering is made, the company sings the devotional charm to Brigid in Irish. The offering is born around the area or, in this case, displayed to the four directions as the charm is sung. Throughout the visualized image of the Goddess is maintained. Together I think that amounts to a reliable trance-inducer.

As always, the taking of the omen to determine whether the spirits are pleased and what sort of blessing is offered is a trepidacious moment. L drew three fews of the ogham. They were:

Fearn – the Alder, meaning protection and support
Idad – the Yew, meaning memory of ancient wisdom, and the Dead
Idho – honey, gooseberry, meaning sweetness and delight.

This could hardly have been better.

When I lead a group ritual like this I must say that I am not, myself, in a deep trance of seership. Of course I held the vision of the Goddess, and of the Three Powers, but the need to track the sequence of the work and fiddle with the various physical items means that I don’t seek deep trance. However, when the time came to hallow the Blessing Bowl I raised it above my head while L conjured. In that moment I felt and saw the spirits arrive, seeming to flock around the bowl. This perception was entirely unplanned and quite different from perceptions in the first rite. It certainly made me feel secure that the rite was working.

The blessing was given by distributing the waters into the hands of each person using a small ladle. Each person then applied the waters directly to their own eyes, with the intention of enabling and intensifying the vision of the spirits. The touch of the cool water is the final cue for trance deepening.

The big scary part of the rite, as the writer and operator, is that success depends on the attendees actually seeing and reporting their experience of the spirits. There's always the fear that the time will come and the group of willing subjects will just sit there silently. Thank the Goddess and the imbas that was not the case. We recited the binding and the oath, and after a time of silence and communion we called for the reports of the spirits. As previously we were looking for a name, a general sense of appearance or nature, a description of the powers, abilities or kinds of work proper to the spirit, and its proper offering.

The reports began slowly. When first called, perhaps three or four hands were raised. Once the reports began, it seemed that more people were heartened, and in the end we were told of twelve new spirits who had answered our call. As in the first working many of those who saw were ADF leaders or experienced members, but not all. In addition to the full reports of name, form, power and offering there were several partial or fragmentary reports of visions, giving only a glimpse of form or a taste of a personality. In the roll at the end I have included only full reports of spirits who came as part of the Court of Brigid. If further data comes to anyone about any of the work, do let me know.

I was pleased with the feedback following the rite. It was plain that the attendees were lit up – the general effect was a combination of bemusement and chatter, with a number of questions and comments. Several reported a lasting 'buzz', which makes me think I might have spent even more time on recentering, grounding and firmly ending the trance. However in a festival setting like that a little buzz is not a bad thing and none of the comments amounted to complaints.

The following day good comments continued to come in. Particularly gratifying was a comment from someone who described themselves as skeptical of the basic idea of working with spirits in this way, but whose experience was strong and true. They said that rather than finding themselves analyzing and critiquing the ritual script and performance they had been fully immersed in the work and the trance. In the end they became one of the seers. Another pleasant report after the rite was simply “Gods Dayum!”

So I feel I can chalk this up as a win. I'm pretty willing to move this work into the 'proven' column, at least in its ability to produce visions of the spirits. The next step will be to receive actual spells or methods from the spirits of accomplishing goals based on their powers. I can report that my own work with two of the spirits from the first working has begun to bear fruit, both in personal inspiration and in certain matters of emotional health and strength. Of course the Court of Brigid is heavily concerned with artistic inspiration and the work of poets, so the practical goals of these spirits may not include as much about ever-filled purses or world domination as some results-mages might like. Soon I must begin doing this sort of work with another deity or two, and see what kind of beings respond.

The Roll of Spirits
Eight Winds, 2012

• Willis – man with long auburn hair, mustache, green tunic. Master of the written word. Offerings of the written word.
• Mowd – good-looking man in a kilt of many colors, with red-blonde hair. Bears a silver harp. He is an inspirer of arts. Offering of music.
• Neomis – appears as a black bird with orange and yellow eyes. Delivers messages. Offerings of Feathers, Seeds & Dance.
• Ashan – small blond child, gives the gift of innocence, offering of play
• Jerith – male, tall, dark-haired, wearing a leather apron. Creates common things & clothing. Offering of hand-made things or things of leather.
• Sewul – appears as a knotwork heart – protector of messages as they travel; encoding & decoding – offer knotwork or woven words, given to the flame.
• Heal-Fetch – additional data – small girl with dark hair; wants cream rather than milk. She says first invoke Brigid, then this spirit will bear the cup to the patient.
• Shalae – feminine, formless. She is the space before sound, the pause before speaking. Gives blessing in good song, awareness of the space between notes. Offer something written but never spoken, offered only to her.
• Sira – female, bears a golden harp. ‘creator of the desire to create’. Offer new music.
• Tabados – appears as a warrior on a big black horse, long, flowing hair. Gives protection. Offering of Iron
• Aed Ruadh – appears as a living Red Flame, purification, offer wood to the fire.
• Mapanos - Youth – young, naked man, long blonde hair & green eyes, with ‘angelic’ bird’s wings; relieves loneliness and brings companionship. Offer flowers and tokens of beauty.
• Rown – male child with short, curly blonde hair and a bright, hot smile. Grants happiness and delight, brings the light of inspiration. Offer light and heat.