Friday, August 23, 2013

To Limit the Divine

An excellent shrine from Pagan artist Marcel Gomes
OK, am I little cranky this morning? Perhaps. This is one of those general statements of things-I-think, whorth exactly what its worth...

I tend to doubt cliché wisdom. Much of what passes for common-or-garden, bar-stool spirituality isn’t worth a crap, really. “All is One” So fucking what – hammer that nail with this cheese. “The Universe is mental – my mind makes reality”. Look out for that bus... One oft-recited nostrum is that one cannot or must not “limit the divine”. Allow me to dissect…

My first assertion is that limitation is absolutely required for real existence. Limitation is identical with definition. It is the edges that define – the limits. That might be band-width limits, conceptual limits or material limits, but all things, material or ideational are describable and definable because they are limited. If there could be things not describable or definable, we don’t (couldn’t) know of them.

My second assertion is that the divine, or spirit-world, is a part of the natural system, a segment of the whole cosmos. I expect the spiritual to reflect the material, and vice versa – as above, so below, etc. Thus I expect real divine things to have limitation, boundary and definition. Since I dismiss the notion of ‘one God’ I can dismiss several philosophical quandaries that come with it. As a polytheist it makes sense to me that the divine part of nature contains many persons, many beings, each defined by their limitation (or limited by their definition, as ya like). Odin isn’t Aphrodite isn’t Orpheus – the gods are the gods.

Let’s look at limitation in another way. One of the most reliable means of increasing power is through limitation. If you want that water to turn a wheel you must limit it to a channel cut in the earth. If you want those electrons to flip a switch you must limit them in a properly-connected wire. Even were one to posit some oceanic all-consciousness-style godhead, it would have to take more limited form in order to be at all present in the world. Even in monistic religions (not in monotheistic ones) the divine manifests as the many persons of the gods. 

So, when a modern Pagan undertakes to make real contact with the divine in the person of one of the gods it is reasonable for us to approach the god in a clearly delimited and focused way. This is the merit of using a formal shrine, of making a throne, a specific locale in which you ask and expect the power of the god to manifest. This is why it is valuable to make sacred space – to say “this space is different, separate, and specific”. The essential mechanism of formal theurgy is the manifestation of divine power in the idols and tools of the magician’s shrine. This is made possible by the creation of a narrow channel – by the skillful application of limitation. The proper image, properly-colored gear, proper offerings and incense, all create a narrow symbolic channel through which the divine power enters the material world.

So I would say that the work of limiting the divine is central to really knowing the divine. Like any real knowledge, some knowledge of the spiritual world must be acquired a piece at a time, one being at a time. To know the forest is to know each of the trees. We set ourselves to meet the god and spirits through our efforts, counting on their good will and our good method to allow the meeting. By providing a limited channel for the divine, we make it real in the real world, and greatly increase our chances of generating real blessing.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

In Praise of the Court of Brigid.

I just received word from one of our ADF students, Davin Mac Lugh, about results he obtained
working with one of the Court of Brigid spirits. It’s going slowly, but a few more magicians each season are taking up the work.

Do head over to his blog, The Druid of Fisher Street, for the whole story. I liked his closing:

As in this experience, my hard science mind told me that he would most likely not survive, and yet he did! So something must have intervened, and that something was most likely the spirit I called upon.  So long as the hard sciences cannot in some way measure magic they will not accept it.  Honestly, I am ok with that.  I hope they never can measure it.  I hope there will always be forces in this world that can’t be understood with measurement; forces that must be felt and experienced and always leaving us a bit lost as to how it worked.  This is the re-enchanting of the world.  This is how it is done; one magical working at a time.  

May the Blessings of the Goddess Brigid continue to flow into the world through her Courtiers!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Summer Journal

Yes! I walk by day… at least some days… days when I haven’t walked with whiskey until some unwholesome and unholy hour with equally whiskey-soaked Druids and Pagans. Then I only walked by afternoon.
Yes, fellow kids, it’s been such a looong exposition. I did finally get my new little book out, and have a next project in the pipe, but for now I think I shall just rant on a while.

Summer Travel
• Starwood - Our round of non-stop action began with Starwood, the 33rd year of the fest I helped to found and organize. It was a good year, a little under-attended but very juicy for me. We upped our game at the midnight ADF ritual by making and burning a shrine-house just for the occasion. The OTO was back at Starwood for the first time in decades, with a performance of the Gnostic Mass. The team busted their hump to bring in a full temple and team, and it was an excellent performance. L. and I worked the Dagda Audience, and did two concert performances. We were especially honored to be part of the opening act for the Thursday night Celtic Band, Dulahan. Starwood rocks on – be there next year!

Making the sacrifices in the Trout Lake Nemeton
• Portland, & Eight Winds – We decided to make gathering of ADF’s western Region, the Eight Winds Festival. This year it was held at the home of our Archdruid, Kirk Thomas, at Trout Lake Abbey. The Abbey is the shared premises of both Kirk’s Druid Sanctuary and of his partner’s Buddhist monastery and temple, so it’s a very cool vibe, set near the Columbia river gorge in southern Washington state. The event was delightful – intimate, focused and renewing.

We also arrived in the region a couple of days early, on Monday evening, to do some tourism in Portland/Seattle. Arriving on Monday probably wasn’t the smartest choice, since we wouldn’t be in the region for either weekend, and there just isn’t much to do on Tuesday night, even in Seattle. We did manage a whirlwind bookstore tour of Seattle, being especially impressed with Edge of the Circle Books
. I was sorry to miss meeting the boss – bad scheduling again.

In Portland we did manage to get to the Lovecraft Bar, just in time for the dance lights to go on so that I couldn’t really scope or snap the décor. Cool joint though – giant arra-agga-bandar on the ceiling, skull-totems, and walls covered with classic movie stills and pulp illos. Once again, I missed the boss, though even the barman was a fan. 

Next day we went to Powell’s Books, called “The World’s Largest Booksore”. I believe it. Three stories of a full city block, with a satellite building. The ‘occult’ section was better than most modern Pagan boutiques (who can’t really make a buck on books anyway). Only the airline luggage limitations preserved my self-control.

Fortunately one touristy thing did start on Wednesday afternoon – the Oregon Brewers’ Festival. Eighty one, yes 81 taps, each representing a local or national microbrew (one from Ohio). Live music, summer heat and a copacetic crowd – my idea of summer fun.

• Lughnassadh - While we didn’t actually travel beyond our back-yard for this, it came so soon after the last travel, and we spent so little time at the house that it felt like another event. We host a weekend of light-weight games, music, crafts etc. This year was a bit underattended in the Saturday phase, but we had a nice crowd for the rite on Sunday afternoon.

Working Our Burros Off.
Recent readers will know that we have acquired new acreage here at Tredara. Despite our travels, we wanted to get a few things done for our Lughnassadh Gathering. Especially, we wanted to finish a road from behind our barn, through the swampy part of the woods, and up into the new areas.

It’s been a wet summer here, though cooler than the last couple, but we began the work on the road in nearly 90 degrees, the day after a punishing rain. The woods were quite flooded, which did have the advantage of telling us just how high we had the build the road. In a couple of sessions with friends, and some other days of humping it along with just L and I, we moved some eighteen tones of gravel and built maybe eighty feet of hard road. All in-between the above travels; I’m not so much bragging as whining…

On the morning of Lughnassadh weekend our local mechanic (who seems likely to be a treasure) got our new ancient tractor started, and we were able to begin serious mowing. The brush-hog does it all, and AJs mower-mania meant that a lot got done fast. We were ready to camp folks at ‘the top’ (the new patch is significantly higher and dryer…) by Friday evening, which had been our goal.

Likewise, the shower on the back of the barn is done! A few sturdy folks used the shower over the weekend though, so it’s tried and proven. Now for the on-demand hot water.

We don’t quite know what it’ll all be yet, but we’re building it! 
Coming Up
• Summerland Gathering Down in the lovely Yellow Springs area of Ohio. One of our Fave events; we’ll be working the Audience With the Dagda for the third time. I think a Court working for the Big Fella is going to be in order.

• Midnight FlameFestival way up in the tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula. This will be our first trip to see the mead-hall of Grove of the Midnight Sun. I’ll probably be teaching, but don’t know what yet.

• Genius LocusWork: L. and I will be working the next phase of the work during this waxing cycle. I’ll try to write something up.

Things should liven up here on the old bloggo as we move into fall. One more general Cthulhu background article, then reviews. More occult journaling. Thanks for reading!
On we go!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Spirit Talk - Reflections on Pagan Theologies

I've finally completed the collection of theology articles from this blog. For regular readers I must warn that it is precisely collected articles from here - nothing you haven't seen. It might still be useful as something for Mom to read, or to sit in waiting rooms ; ). If you want a hard copy, you can get it here.
In any case, here's the introductory essay:
Talking About Spirits
The Seedlings of Pagan Theologies
 I am primarily an occult weirdo. My approach to spirituality and religion is shaped first by the practices and models of the English-speaking magical and occult movements of the last 200 years. My personal work is informed by my understanding of the ways of the Iron Age Celts, especially the Gaels, and I frame my practice in those symbols and terms. In addition I have worked to understand the practices and models of traditional contemporary polytheist and animist peoples, both in the European and post-European context and outside of it. From these elements I have attempted to build a meaningful and productive spiritual practice, and contribute to the development of public Pagan religion.
The notable thing about the above self-description is that I find it a satisfactory description of my work with no mention of what I believe, in the conventional religious sense. That’s because, like many modern Pagans, my religion is centered not in my beliefs or thoughts, but in my practices. My work is to design a set of practices that will allow me to experience the presence of the Gods and Spirits (warning, I capitalize randomly, or like a drunken German). It is not an effort to convince myself that I ‘know the truth’ about reality, material or spiritual, but rather an effort to live my life more fully and truly, with greater depth of insight and experience.
Modern Paganisms are religions of method, rather than of philosophy. Induction of trance is reckoned more valuable than deduction about the nature of the Gods. A rite well-performed is more characteristic than a member well-informed. It is not particularly required to believe anything specific at all in order to practice Paganism, though it may be customary to act as if certain beliefs were true. For instance in my ways it is customary to address Gods and Spirits as specific, individual people. We do not address an abstract ‘unity’, but rather approach the divine as many distinct persons. However this is a ritual convention – it governs style of language, choices in images and offerings. The system in no way demands that the ritualist have any specific opinion about just what the Gods and Spirits “really” are. Opinions among practitioners range from views of the Gods as metaphors to active personal involvement with them as persons. In ritual they are approached as individual entities, because that’s what custom requires, regardless of personal opinion.
Perhaps this helps us to understand why theological thought hasn’t become a common part of the Pagan revival. Since correct opinion or belief is not a defining characteristic of participation or of self-identification, it simply hasn’t generated much output. In many ways this reflects ancient Paganisms, which left behind only a small number of texts that might be considered ‘theological’ by later standards. Ancient Paganism didn’t really self-define theologically until multiple ethnic and tribal religions began to meet in the first cosmopolitan cities. It achieved its clearest delineation in contrast to (and under the influence of) early Christianity.
The modern situation seems similar. In the first decades of the Neopagan revival – the middle of the Twentieth Century - writers focused almost exclusively on ritual, producing dozens of versions of seasonal celebrations, initiation rites and common-meeting rites.  Theological discussion was usually limited to reciting the traditional (and neotraditional) tales of the gods. If higher-order discussions occurred they were usually framed in the doctrines of modern occult Hermeticism.  
By the beginning of the twenty-first century that was changing. Both study and the results of practice were leading Pagans to view the Gods and spirits (though initially mainly the Gods) as individual and specific beings, rather than as cultural markers for universal principles.  In my opinion the scholarship behind this trend is a combination of the study of what we know of the old religions of Europe, and   especially the study of modern polytheisms and spiritisms in practice, such as the African Diaspora traditions, authentic Tantra and the shamanic work of northern Asia. An anthropological look at those paths will not find post-Golden-Dawn duotheism.
From a more spiritual perspective, I think it is likely that Neopagans of the English-speaking world (the only milieu about which I am competent to speak) are succeeding in our decades-long preliminary invocations of the Gods and Spirits. In my own case, I began calling out to the Gods under Hellenic names as a young occultist. I used their names as little more than ‘words of power’ alongside names of the Hebrew and other gods and spirits. Youthful practical magical work (‘spellcasting’) involved more specific invocations of some of the deities, and my first sense of personal involvement with a god was with the Greco-Roman Hermes-Mercurius.  Later I completed ritual evocations of the elemental and planetary powers that helped me understand them as more than flavors of energy.  
Shamanic practice may have played a part in the change, as well. While the trend for ceremonial calling of spirits would not arrive for decades, ‘core shamanism’ (techniques borrowed from Asian and South American sources, stripped down to culture-free basics) introduced many western Pagans to the experience of direct individual contact with spirits. While initial efforts tended to focus on cultureless ‘power animal’ beings, the mythological impulses of Neopaganism in the 1980s soon applied the same methods to the gods and spirits of pre-Christian Europe, producing more direct conversations with persons of the gods than previous methods commonly produced.
Scholastically, the trend in the late 20th century was the study of the available remnants of pre-Christian religion. Moving away from occult literature into history, archeology and anthropology, Neopagans learned the details of ancient cult, and noted that the Unitarian and monist elements of modern Hermeticism were merely a concession to societally-enforced monotheism, whether in Edwardian England or in the fifth century c.e. In the early 90s a more energetic polytheism arose driven largely by the rise of ethnic revival Paganisms.
Pagan study turned, in the last decade of the twentieth century, toward the real religions of the ancient world. We read the myths, but also the work of archeologists and anthropologists as they began to piece together a more realistic picture of what ancient religion was like. The ritual forms of revival witchcraft – a combination of early-modern ritual magic with Masonic elements – began to be replaced with forms recovered from scholarship. The Scandinavian Pagans (‘Heathens’) were early adopters of the pouring of physical offerings in their rituals. Ar nDraiocht Fein, the Druidic group with which I work, took up the making of offerings into the fire or pit, and the presence of dozens of ADF congregations around North America has helped to spread the practice. Hellenic, Baltic and Latin Pagan groups also formed, discovering similarities and common ideas.
This is a personal document, and these essays are my personal notions and opinions. As a result they reflect my own preoccupations and interests. Thus, I have simply not addressed the portions of the Neopagan community that have trended in more monistic directions, referring to a single principle as ‘Spirit’, or even a God/Goddess or the like. Likewise I haven’t interacted in these essays with Goddess monotheism, or with feminist theology either Christian or Pagan. Some of those themes are addressed in some of these essays, but not systematically. I have no interest in ‘disproving’ other polytheistic models. While such modern constructions may disagree with my own perceptions of the nature of the Gods, that doesn’t preclude me from solidarity with those who hold those ideas. I have never been to a Pagan circle where they were concerned with my opinion of the nature of their Aphrodite, or whomever, as long as I would sing along respectfully.
My history leads me to a position similar but not identical to what is called, in this decade, hard polytheism. I think that most gods are individual persons, separate from one another to the degree that all apparent things are separate. I approach the gods and spirits as a crew of individuals, sometimes addressed collectively, but never as ‘aspects of a unity’. My meditative practice may vary somewhat from that position, but my ritual practice does not. However I feel that some hard polytheists take this rather too far, asserting that every variant name of a deity must represent a distinct person. In my opinion this is supported neither by what we know of ancient practices, nor by modern experience. However this point is perhaps too technical for this introduction.
Instead let me offer these short essays and snippets as food for thought. Perhaps my own history mirrors that of the movement, at least of some branches of it, and my conclusions have been well-received by some readers of my blog. Even should you disagree entirely I think there is merit in the questions being raised, and good to be gained by formulating your own opinions on these topics.