Friday, February 27, 2015

New FB Pagan Occultism Group, ConVocation 2015, Where-The-Hell-is-Spring Update

See, this is why I'm bitchin. Not just a little cold for the season,
this is, like, moons of Uranus cold. And when you go out for the
paper in your jammies on some of these mornings you know
just how cold the moons of Uranus can get.
Let's start with the obvious first - where the hell is spring? Oh I know, I can't bitch until March - It may already be March when you read this. I'm bitching now! The forecast is for a cold first half of March. I've got important shoveling to do, and a May 1 deadline for some projects. Yes, I know what part of the world I live in... I'm still bitching!

WE're waiting reeeal hard to be able to get rolling on our plans for Tredara this year. In the meantime the weather leaves little to do but write; however we did get some travel in.

Just back from the ConVocation gathering over in greater Detroit. Hotel gatherings are a nice thing, and we were especially thankful for spaceship Hilton in the Martian-summer temperatures of the latest arctic blast. How can I get housekeeping service for my camps in the summer?

I want to praise the con staff and planners broadly. They run a tight ship, with program beginning on schedule, registration no more screwed-up than can’t be helped (I work festival organizing myself), and support for guests and presenters well-arranged. A fully-stocked hospitality suite was especially appreciated, and can’t have been a small budget-item for an event of over 1,100 people. My coffee-cup thanks you, my forebrain thanks you.

With over 140 programs, fun public spaces and a hoppin' dealer room (and nearly no drama) I can heartily recommend this event.

Pagan and Polytheist Occultism FB Group
This week I opened a new discussion group, Pagan and Polytheist Occultism, hoping to focus my own fun conversations on ancient magic in practical application.

It's new, but we've had some good chat already. I mention it here because readers will know the kind of topics I hope to dig into. If you enjoy FB chat, give it a look.
From the rules document:
"This group is dedicated to the discussion of traditional polytheist, tribal and Pagan techniques of esoteric spiritual practice – that is, of Pagan occultism, magic or sorcery. We will understand this to include divination, invocation and evocation of deities or spirits, spellcraft, natural magic of stones and herbs etc., trance-vision and seership, and the induction of transcendent or mystical experience.

In general the topic will focus on polytheistic cultures and systems. This begins with the remnants of Indo-European polytheism, but can include indigenous and traditional polytheisms.  It certainly includes ‘witchcraft’ both as folk magic and as heretical cult, but especially when practiced in a polytheistic context. We use ‘polytheism’ colloquially, to refer to systems in which many spirits or beings have places of important honor, regardless of whether the system contains a chief god or unitary principle. This may extend even as far as respectful traditional Christian orthodoxy. It may include Asian, African and New World systems, so long as posts focus on actual technique and magical practice in those systems. In all cases the group will support reference to sources, and can be expected to ask posters and commentators to source their ideas, even if the source is “my own opinion”."

The Book is coming along nicely. I'm probably twenty-thousand words in as I work may way through the third chapter. I'll begin posting excerpts here soon. Working title is now something like "Pagan Occultism; Spiritual Techniques for Polytheists".

Come on spring... I'm tapping my toes and drumming my fingers... but I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

New Audio Meditation Releases

So, I've been digging in my files, and discovered that I had a couple of solid products I could release. 

The second "Training the Mind" album is less of a coherent 'workshop' than the first. It contains 11 exercises from the Nine Moons training program, but I left out the expository and set-up material that I included in the first suite. A slightly more advanced set of exercises assumes that the student knows their uses. 

The texts are explicitly from the Book of Nine Moons. Included:
• Blood, Breath & Bone; basic entrancement exercise
• Exercises for basic, or 'open' meditation and for contemplation meditation
• The full Daily Shrine Work, with meditation
• The Caher Draoí - Druid's Fortress - an energy-working with the Two Powers.

• A contemplation meditation on the Druidic Cosmos.
• An introduction to "Rising in Vision" - standing out of the body for vision-travel and work.
• Two files of vision and invocation to the Earth Mother and Gate Keeper. The first gives the vision, and then recites the full invocation. Students can follow either in text, or hands-free, repeating the ritual words. The second removes the ritual text-voice, for those who prefer to work without it.
• The final file also supports the 'Audience with the Earth Mother and Gatekeeper' from the Nine Moons work. It is to be used after the Blessing has been drunk, as a final contemplation and attunement.

This suite of exercises is aimed at students who are familiar with achieving basic trance and focused attention. Students just beginning meditation or trance practice should work the first collection first.

The second offering presents a full ADF-style simple Rite of Offering, with full trance-guidance in the "Inner Work" components of that rite. The trance-guidance takes the student from mental preparation in the opening prayers, through awareness of the Worlds and Hallows, to the Opening of the Gate.  Visions are suggested for the Kindreds Offerings, and a full guidance is given for receiving a good blessing.

The same script is presented twice, once with a second voice giving the actual ritual speech, and once with the ritual-speech sections left silent. The first allows students to work the rite 'hands-free' as they learn.

For students of Our Druidry this offers a level of explanation and deepening of the rite that  is hard to come by in printed instruction.

Both of these, as well as the first Training the Mind collection, are available at my Bandcamp shop, here.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Pontifices - A Note on Pagan Priesthood

Stored from a Facebook discussion

One of my favorite terms for "priest" comes from the Latin. "Pontifex" means 'bridge-builder'. In a time when Pagans work toward defining what priesthood consists of in our ways, I think this is a
valuable idea.

Neopagan culture often displays a gut objection to 'priesthood' based on the orthodox Christian default, in which the priest is the 'mediator between God and man'. In parts of Christian tradition this has allowed priests to develop social and spiritual authority that is often perceived to be misused. Pagans often reject the idea of formal priesthood, some in reaction directly to a Christian upbringing, and some from an upbringing in Reformed Christianity in which formal, ritual priesthood has been replaced by "ministry'. Even in such places, where formal hierarchy has been rejected, the 'Pastor' or "Preacher' still has considerable social authority. Many Pagans hope to avoid creating any such institutions in our time.

However I think there is a place - a job-description - for skilled spiritual and ritual operatives who can help untrained and unpracticed people remember their center, remake their connections with the spirits and gain the blessings that improve our lives. Just like any other craft this requires skill and practice and focus, to a degree that is difficult to achieve while working full-time at more common work. To me that is a primary argument for developing a way to allow some people to live as full-time Pagan priests. Let's leave aside the economic and organizing hurdles along that path for now, and focus on theology.

So the priest as pontifex; we build bridges, span the gap between common awareness and spiritual attention. We are not 'mediators' but 'facilitators'. Most notably the ‘power’ of connection between mortals and the spirits lies not in the priest herself, but in the lasting result of her work. Let me labor at the metaphor a moment.

Religion is the work of re-linking (re-ligio) the island of mortal existence with the mainland of the divine world. A 'mediator' builds himself a boat and ferries the goods and words of the divine world to the mortals, sometimes charging a fee. A facilitator - a Pontifex - builds a bridge, opening the way for all who can make the walk. We might imagine multiple 'private' bridges built by many builders.

The point, to me, is that there is work to be done and a skilled builder of spiritual bridges is a useful artisan.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Holy Magic - next book project prospectus...

I have been dithering for some while, but I think I have chosen the subject of my next book, and made a start. I just can't bring myself to begin doing 'journalistic' titles - choosing a subject, researching it and writing to the audience. However I do feel a need to attempt to 'popularize' some of the ideas and methods of my work. My focus on a Gaelic context has led me down some lightly-populated pathways, and I feel as if the work I have been doing could be of benefit to a larger section of the Neopagan scene.

So me plan is to compose yet another iteration of basic Pagan Spirit-arte skills. This outline will be more synthetic and direct than the lengthy method given in the Book of Summoning. It will be focused directly on training and empowering a magician, with less concern for Druidic theology. The Druidic (and ADF) context will be folded into a general Indo-European model that I intend to be usable by any modern Euro-Pagan practitioner.

If it sounds like I'm re-treading old material, there will be a degree of that. However I will be writing new instruction and perspectives for most of the material. I will be re-orienting the material to a more general IE Pagan, polytheist-and-animist perspective, less dependent on the specifics of ADF practice. Where the Nine Moons system, for instance might be more complete and well-mapped to ADF mythography, this model will be streamlined and direct, focusing even more directly on magical empowerment.

My presumption is that I can write a manual in core magical practice adaptable by and to much of the current 'reconstructionist' Pagan movement. We'll see; not, perhaps, an easy job. Of course being magic it doesn't have to be widely accepted to have influence...

I don't have a real working title yet... "Pagan Occultism; Esoteric Spiritual Skills for Polytheists" has all the ring of a tupperware bowl, though it gets the point across. I keep thinking about "Holy Magic" with that subtitle...
In any case, here's an excerpt from the draft of the Preface and Introduction.

Greetings, readers. By what blessing shall I greet you? By Wisdom, surely; may you grow in understanding. This small book is an effort to synthesize and schematize my understanding of a Pagan spirit-arte and its application in practical magic. Of course such a subject is vast and complex, ranging from stars to stones. It is not my plan to create a new compendium of today’s occult knowledge. Rather I mean to offer a simple and direct method by which a student may accomplish the basic work of self-initiation into the mystery and power of the art.

The arts on which I mean to draw for this method are ancient and noble. They began at the sacrificial fires of the ancient Magi and Brahmins and were carried on through the Wise Ones of pre-Christian Europe. The work of this book is especially influenced by the ways of the Celtic peoples of Gaul, Britain and Ireland, and by the lore that is thought of as Druidic. Secondarily Scandinavian and Germanic influence plays a role. On the edge of the world of the great traditions of classical magic, Celtic ways bring a wave of mist, Norse ways the depth of green forests, magic tongues and signs neither Latin nor Greek. They reveal a mythic cosmos separate from that of the Gnosis, or of Trismegistus.

In this manual we will address magic primarily as the art of dealing with spirits, though we will refer to neither demons nor angels. We will teach the basics of the invocation of a god, and the means to call to the Dead and the Spirits of the Land. We will take some time to teach the basics – Home-Shrine work, creating sacred space and basic invocation. We will teach simple exercises to help ritualists open the Inner Eye and experience the presence of the spirits. While any of this work could be accomplished in micro-groups of two or three, it is written for a solitary practitioner at a personal altar. Also, while your author cannot avoid a strong Celtic and Northern influence, my intention is to make the forms and symbols of the work easily accessible and adaptable by any Euro-ethnic Paganism.

The core of the work is the empowerment of the magician for and through the making of core personal alliances with the Gods, the Dead and the Landspirits. We will discuss what kind of personal cult is useful for the working sorcerer. We will give a method for procuring a primary personal ally-spirit from among the non-deity beings – a ‘familiar’. Basic patterns learned in that work can be applied for the conjuring of the Dead and the genii Loci of any region. The making and maintaining of such relationships is the basic skill of traditional magic.

This book is meant to be accessible to new students, but it is really an intermediate text. The well-prepared student will already have an established set of opening and closing rites, know the basics of meditation and trance, and be acquainted with the deities and spirits of their chosen Euro-Pagan pantheon. While there will be discussion of practical magic, the work is intended especially for those who seek a personal spiritual relationship with the gods and spirits. The sort that opens the spirits to a modern heart, and that helps shape the magician into being of wisdom, love and power.

The Cult of Sorcery – Magic and Pagan Religion

A Little History
The revival of the direct and conscious worship of the old gods of Europe and the Middle East has reached a minimum of seventy years of work. If we count even our most obvious history we can begin with Gerald Gardner’s first initiations circa 1950. By the mid-1970s, when your author began Pagan work, the idea of Pagan Witchcraft was firmly entrenched, and ten years later the developing Lord-and-Lady, quartered-circle ritual style of Gardner’s witchcraft had been made public in the “Eclectic Wicca” style of Pagan worship. Pagan festivals created a blending and ‘culturalization’ of Pagan chants, rhythms and ritual actions. This set of forms remains highly popular and influential at this writing.

            However there had always been counter-currents in the Pagan revival, as early as the mid-70s. The Gardnerian rites were a combination of material from Freemasonry and the western ‘grimoires’ – magical instruction-books – mixed with bits of folklore. Other groups had attempted to create ritual and mythic forms based more directly on what we know of ancient religion. Both Hellenic and Khemetic (Egyptian) efforts were well-known even in the early days of the revival.

            The impulse to reconstruct a more authentic style of ancient ritual worship manifested in the mid-80s in both Norse (or ‘Viking’) and Celtic forms. Asatru (veneration of the Scandinavian gods) had been recognized in Iceland in 1972 and was making inroads in the Neopagan community in the 1980s. Ar nDraíocht Féin (ADF) was founded as an Indo-European Pagan religious organization in 1983, and CelticReconstructionism becomes formally visible a few years later. Hellenic, Baltic and Slavic groups have also arisen.

            For simplicity we will quote the Hellenismos FAQ document preserved on “The Cauldron” internet Pagan forum:

“Reconstructionism, as used here, is a methodology for developing and practicing ancient religions in the modern world. Reconstructionists believe that the religious expressions of the ancients were valid and have remained so across time and space. We believe that it is both possible and desirable to practice ancient religions—albeit in modified form—in the modern world. “

Reconstructionist groups draw on the real scholarship of archaeology, anthropology and history for inspiration in crafting modern rituals and customs. They are far less likely to turn to the ‘occultism’ of the past hundred years for inspiration or technique than are post-Wiccan practitioners. In fact some streams of this return to traditional Paganism actively reject the religious validity of magic, as did some elements of ancient Pagan societies. Some cultures, and some segments of those cultures, found magic impious – a human effort to usurp rights and powers proper to the gods. This idea arose before Christianity by hundreds of years.

Magic For Pagan Religion
However no ancient polytheist society was without its magical component. When we look at the intentions of traditional magic art we find all the fears and delights of humankind. Love, hate, health, wealth, and luck can all be taken into the hands of the worshipper through skilled ritual interaction with the spirits, often  aided by a priestly or professional ‘magician’ – a ritual specialist. Those same specialists could support the personal spiritual work of a patron, becoming in effect a household teacher whose job included ritual work and technical spiritual support. 

In some cultures such specialists were one and the same with the ‘priesthood’ of the traditional polytheism. This is the case with Vedic Brahmins, it seems, and one whole volume of the Vedas is devoted to specific charms and spells. The pre-Zoroastrian Persian Magi seem to have had a similar custom, and many scholars suspect the same to be true of the mysterious Druids – the wizard-priests of the Celtic tribes. In such cultures rites intended to produce specific blessings for specific ‘clients’ were simply part of the job of religion in general and of the specialists in particular. In cultures that began to  make a distinction between legitimate religious devotionalism and civic cult, and the more technical practices magical specialists became non-clerical, or unorthodox clerics – i.e. sorcerers.

At no time in Euro-Pagan history can we see polytheist religion without a directly corollary occult practice. Whether performed and accepted by the elites or relegated to lower-class circles every age has seen magic available to the general public, both to learn and to purchase a la carte. Whether performed by accepted priesthood or market-square conjurers no ancient religion existed without a component of occult practice.

One hears occasional objections that the most ‘elevated’ or ‘refined’ of ancient philosophy rejected much of popular magic and was skeptical even of deliberately spiritual efforts such as theurgy. Magic is often considered part of “the irrational”, which many modern seekers of spiritual truth would like to exclude. Other modern critics repeat the ancient accusations of impiety and hubris. It is my opinion that neither of those concerns constitute a reason to avoid the cultivation of magic in our Paganism.

In my efforts to think my way into the mindset of a polytheist I have found it impossible to evaluate the meaning of religion without including the presence of magic. Whether or not it is approved of, I know that if I have the skill and courage I can go beyond the work of village and hearth devotion to the gods and ancestors. I can go to the crossroad, to the old battlefield, to the lone tree on the hill and make my own pacts with spirits. I can approach a god, and make myself an adopted child, gaining favor and power. I can employ that power as my will and wisdom inclines me, regardless of the opinions of philosophers.

This potential for personal empowerment is intrinsic in animist and polytheist religion, I think, and cannot be excised without cutting away the roots of ancient ways. Magic was part and parcel of traditional Paganism, whether integrated into ‘religion’ or not. The small spirits, daemons and ghosts of the goetic conjurer were every bit as much a part of ancient polytheism as the highest gods. For those of us who hope to restore the relations between mortals and the spirits, magic seems almost mandatory.

Religion for Sorcerers
Along with those who find magic improper for Pagan religion, there are those who find religion improper or unnecessary for magic. I find I must disagree with them as well. As I see it there is no significant traditional style or school of magic that is not based directly on and in a religious system. Magical practice is intimately bound-up with religious practice, often sharing symbols, gestures, liturgical language and implements with local temples. Of course the most likely people to practice technical spiritual arts are those with a special calling, and access to temples – the priesthood. Taken from the other direction we can say that any magician who develops the work fully will be a functional priest of his gods and spirits, whether or not he is of any recognized lineage.

The work in this system has been developed in and for modern Euro-traditional Neopaganism, especially in context of the Gaels. My own focus is strongly Celtic, but the basic principles of traditional magic can be applied across the spectrum of polytheist religion. In order to work within a traditional sphere there are a few traditional terms that I feel should be addressed.

We will speak of gods and spirits. By ‘god’ I in no way refer to any omnipotent, ruling creator of the worlds. No such being exists in the mythic systems we will address. A ‘god’ refers to one of the Great elder powers of the culture, and to a variety of other spirits who rise to that position. My own working definition of a god is “A being that has the power to answer worship with blessings”.

We will speak of worship between the magician and the gods and spirits. By ‘worship’ I do not refer to servant-master relationship, nor to any attitude of groveling or personal disempowerment. Worship means ‘acknowledgement of worth’, and ritual worship is the recognition of the might and wonder of the gods and spirits, the giving of offerings, the praise of poetry, which brings a response from those beings. On the simplest level the blessing of the spirits may amount to direct aid in our spells and works. More generally the blessings received in worship ritual bring the magician into harmony with the order of things, making magic more effective. Many systems suggest that contact with the gods can awaken power and nobility in mortal hearts, to the betterment of the world. In many magical systems that awakening is the very center of magical initiation.

We will speak of cult. In this I do not refer to the usages of modern journalism, with implications of authoritarianism, coercion and dysfunction. I mean to use the term as religious studies use it: “A complex of belief and practice around a particular mythic image or being”. We will speak of the cults of the gods, of the dead, of the sorcerer’s ‘private cult’. Again, the working magician functionally becomes the working priestess of her own private cult temple, in pursuit of magic’s wisdom and power.