Monday, September 17, 2012


The title of the rather edifying blog No Unsacred Place keeps bugging me. The phrase brings to my mind the little discussion that sometimes occurs inside Neopagan ritualism in which the idea of casting the circle or creating sacred space is questioned. The argument is that in a ‘nature religion’ all of existence must be the manifestation of the divine, and therefore human efforts to designate any particular space as sacred are at best redundant and at worst irreverent and presumptuous.

To me this notion contains misunderstandings both theological and linguistic. Let’s do the linguistic first.

“Sacred” is derived from Latinate roots that mean ‘to separate’ or ‘to cut off’. It refers especially to places or things that are made separate from common life and work, in order to be especially dedicated to the work of religion or magic or spirituality (as you like). The thing is, the essential point of ‘sacredness’ is its separation from the common. To use ‘sacred’ as a reference to unity is rather a contradiction in terms. To say that there is ‘No Unsacred Place’ – that everything is equally dedicated to the special work of religion, is essentially to say that nothing is, in fact, special. If nothing is unsacred, then nothing is sacred.

The complement to this is found in the word ‘holy’. Holy is from the same Germanic roots that give us our English ‘whole’, ‘heal’ ‘health’ etc. It is perfectly reasonable to say that the entire cosmos is holy – wholly whole, and wholly holy, as somebody famous once said. “No unholy place’ makes plenty of sense, if you like.

On another level, sacredness isn’t an intrinsic quality, it is an imparted one. In order for a thing or place to be sacred it has to be declared so, either by a spirit or by a human. My ritual robe is sacred not because of its cloth or its color, but because I have set it aside for the special work of spirituality Sometimes a god makes a mountain or river sacred, sometimes it is done by humans. In every case sacredness happens because some specific intelligence makes it so.

To me this isn’t really a theological matter so much as a technical one. Religious methods are intended to induce spiritual experience in the participants. The technique of designating a specific space as the sacred space – the space where we can expect the gods and spirits to manifest – is basic and undeniable. As always, I assume that spirituality works by most of the same rules as material nature. If you diffuse your work thinly over a vast area you’re unlikely to get a useful result. Concentrating effort in a specific zone is the way to have real impact. So when I want a god to be present I make an image of the god and bring the god to be present specifically in the image. Note I don’t try to ‘have the divine be present’. The divine *is* always present, but unless it is concentrated in some specific form and place it is mainly irrelevant.

Sacredness is about separateness, and without separateness there can be no sacredness.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Earth Warriors Festival

And A Fall Update
Yes, things have slowed down just a trifle this month. It won’t last. We’re coming into a month-long run of weekend blitz. Fortunately much of it includes some good Pagan or esoteric work. We’ll be keeping Equinox with the Grove here at Tredara, getting my occasional shot of Norse blessing as we keep our Vanir cult. In October we will host the ADF Clergy Retreat here, always one of my favorite occasions of the year, often including some juicy magical work. At the end of the month we’re off to Earth Warriors. Earth Warriors fest is organized by an old friend from SW Ohio. We’re pleased to be making the time to get there this year.

Earth Warriors Festival is “an earth centered multi-path pagan festival, honoring the many paths of pagan warriors and guardians, coming together to celebrate our similarities and learn from our differences.” I’m very pleased to be joining the line-up with Alaric Albertsson, M.R. Sellers, Kellianna and many other local and regional speakers. The music looks great, they have singing pirates (I am, on occasion, a singing pirate) and I’m going to do something new.

L and I will be doing a two-part workshop and ritual honoring the Dagda, the Excellent God of Bounty, Victory and Wisdom. The rite will be an ‘audience’ rite of the sort I have been developing, with effective trance, powerful symbolism and a solid blessing. I look forward to bring the deep and powerful energies of this male deity into the public Pagan scene. Dagda is a fascinating interface of the warrior function with powers of wisdom and the farmer’s fertility, so there’s plenty to work with. My hour-and-a-half lecture will include discussions of the model of a real Celtic pantheon and some discussion of our econstruction of Druidic sacrifice rites. I have nicely organized notes, and there’ll be no danger of not filling the time. I’m prepping some nice tools and images for the rite the next day, and hope to make it a real darshan of the Red Lord.

The Court of Brigid Grimoire is browning nicely, and will be done soon. It will still roll out sometime around Fall Equinox, and I have a surprise coming for those who like surprises.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Follow-up. The Summerland Practical Magic Working


Shrine with ritual script &Blessing Candle
The working was performed as planned, in the middle of a calm afternoon. It was a very interesting, and quite possibly unique occasion. As of this writing I still await news of any outcomes from the rite, so no one was so godstruck that they had to write. That doesn’t mean that things haven’t precolated, and I hope to get further news of results.

The event allowed us one long block of time - some three hours with a break. Since we needed both handicraft time, instruction time and time to prep for the ritual working itself this was actually a good thing. In the end we concluded well under the allotted time.

Since this working involved crafting paper shrine-talismans we chose a covered space in which to work. We assembled a square of rustic tables, and everyone received one of the talisman cards, a ritual handout and a small candle in glass. Everyone likes ‘take-aways’, and putting some objects into people’s hands drew them immediately into the participation mystique required to make a real magical rite work in a festival setting.

The simple Hallows of the rite.
I spent a good deal of time discussing personal intentions. Within the three main intentions of the rite - proesperity, Healing or Inspiration - each participant was to devise a personal and specific goal. I didn’t give a sub-workshop on sigilization. The shrine-forms had a box for the intention, and I suggested that if they couldn’t devise a bind-rune or reduction-sigil they might use the old hoodoo trick of writing the intention statement from each of the four sides. Every one of those methods was used by someone in the group.

The assembled folk were of many levels of skill, from very new ADF members with outside metaphysical backgrounds, to experienced ADF seers, to one of our small ADF/OTO crossovers, and another lodge member come to have a look. However people prepared their shrines, and we were ready in good time for the second portion of the work.

I remember Isaac Bonewits speculating about ‘thinking outside the circle’, using other ritual shapes for group work. Yes, I know that Masonic rites have been worked in squares for centuries, but Isaac was as much a neopagan as me, and our millieu was the circular group ritual. We’ve certainly moved past that in ADF. Many of our group rites are worked in horshoes and rectangles. Here was a practical magic rite worked at a square of camp tables. Allow me to hope that Isaac would have been pleased.

The performance of the rite went well, in my opinion. The short opening and closing was acceptable because most participants were familiar with the larger forms of ADF ritual. The invocations were normal, with nice loose incense offerings onto charcoal instead of less-impressive stick-incense offerings.

The one-lot ogam omen for the rite was Tinne - the ingot, the bar of iron, given to the holly tree, and sometimes glossed ‘mastery’.

The most challenging moment involved the chanting of the ‘conjuring words’. Each of the three intentions were given sets of irish words as the ‘barbarous names’, or ‘old speech’ of the spell. As the people were receiving the Blessing, in the form of having their candle lit by L or I, we began an intonation, setting up a chord. Within that chord each intoned their conjuring words. As I passed behind each seat, carrying the candle with the blessing-fire, I focused on the shrine, and chanted the specific words for each seat along with the sitter.

When I described this process in the pre-ritual briefing I was met with scepticism by the experienced ritualists. Like “you think this will be what?” In performance, it rocked. It was a fairly bardic crowd, so a harmonic, trancey chord came easily. There were three sets of words, so everyone could hear someone else chanting their three. The firelighters helped each in turn find their Irish pronunciations, and a really nice buzz was set up.

With all the candles lit, we called the six spirits of the charms. This went well, and I had a satisfactory feeling of getting the presence and attention of the Courtiers. My greatest confusion about this spell-model remains to what degree it is a rite of summoning, and to what degree it is a rite that more simply puts in a call to spirits already prepared to give aid. Nevertheless they came and received their small offerings, with offerings of greater to come.

The group left with a suitable level of buzz and a range from excitment to introspection. However I await news on specific goals and results.

The most important change I’ve made in the form has been to discard the upright ‘shrine’ object in favor of a conjuring circle that lays flat. Not only does this resonate better with tradition forms, but it doesn’t blow over in slight breezes. Note the bits of post-it used to secure the shrines to the tables in the photos... why didn’t they put them on the back?

May Brigid bless you and the spirits aid you in all your works.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Worshipping the Not-God

This is to some degree a response to Drew Jacob's blog article here. It isn't really a systematic answer, but just some thoughts that spun off. Here it is anyway, by way of something that isn't about the Court of Brigid (much).

Worshipping the Not-Gods
Polytheism is a puzzle. One of the real advantages to monotheism, in terms of ready applicability and easy understanding, is that there’s only one being to worry about. Do you want rain? Ask God. Do you want sun? Ask God. Human fertility, death of enemies, justice for the wicked, salvation for the hopeless – all the same fellow. That certainly makes it easy to focus one’s devotion and aspiration. The bad news (forgive, me...) is that there’s no such fellow. In my theological opinion everything that is accomplished by prayers to ‘God’ is accomplished by some spirit, just as all our requests, etc must be. The whole premise of magic (as spirit-arte) and magical religions is that actually knowing who one is praying to, making the right offerings, addressing them properly, etc will bring better results. If I didn’t think that was the case I wouldn’t be a polytheist.

I think that polytheists sometimes get trapped in the monotheistic notion that a ‘god’ is some big special category that is worthy of big special attention. Often people refer to ‘worshipping’ the Gods, while they ‘honor’ their Ancestors, Landwights, etc. As far as I can see this is a direct carry-over from Roman Christian theology. That system teaches that only their God is due ‘true’ worship, conceived as awe-filled surrender and open-ended fealty. This they call ‘latria’, from the same root found in idolatry. Against this they contrast the mere ‘honor and reverence’ paid to Mary, the Saints, etc, which they call ‘dulia’. By this dodge they explain why it is acceptable to burn incense, recite prayers and hymns, etc before images of beings other than their God. Of course the Christian Reform found it all unacceptable, and simply disallowed the ‘dulia’ forms, producing the trimmed-thin mythologies of modern Protestantism.

To me it is also all nonsense. There is no theological reason to make a distinction of kind between the honor we pay to the Gods that that we pay to the Landwights or the Dead. In fact there is no clear boundary between those poetic categories. One tribe’s ancestor may be another’s more distant god, etc.

I think there’s a tendency to try to build Pagan ways around the Gods alone. The impulse to think of ‘religion’ as being about ‘god(s)’ has a strong current behind it. I think that if we’re to actually resemble what the old ways were like we must widen our field of worship, as well as narrow it.

For any local expression of European Paganism (I’m less qualified to talk about other kinds) the Dead and the Landspirits are often as important as the gods. As I look at Euro-folk customs with animist eyes I am starting to see this more often. What is the corn-dolly, dressed in her gown, but an expression of the Spirit in the Corn? Not some deity from poets’ tales, with a shrine in the Grove, but a spirit present in and as the corn, to who worship is due. If there is healing at a spring or stone, it might be because of the power of one of the goddesses, or it might be directly from a pool-nymph or stone-wight, some Noble being who has taken kindly to people for a while. The model of the daemonic in Paganism would reconcile all this with deistic polytheism nicely, with some local daemon of a goddess tending the manifest locale.

So I don’t think there ever need to be any ‘missing gods’, if one includes the non-Gods (as the Gaels said it) in one’s spiritual cosmos. By making it part of the work to know the local Dead and the local rulers of the ‘Sidhe’ (or as you like) you will never want for an agent to aid in whatever work may come to your hand.