Friday, December 19, 2014

Yuletide Blessings



From Ian, Liafal and Tredara, this blessing on my readers, and on the whole Northern Hemisphere in this season of renewal.

Have a great season... I'll probably do a year-end wrap post sometimes around the calends of January.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Pickman's Model

Regular readers will know that I'm an HP Lovecraft Hobbyist. Since my boyhood I have read the ongoing tales of the Necronomicon and the Great Old Ones, and the lesser-known monsters that began with the work of the Old Gent of Providence.

A couple of years ago I took a shot at narrating some of HPL's stories. This is my fave, based on one of my very favorite stories. I've set it up with thematic slides and some audio effects. It runs about 35 minutes. I hope you'll enjoy it.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Prayer After Ferguson



A bit late, but I wanted to store this here.
May justice prevail, and peace be the outcome.


***********************************
A Prayer for Ferguson and After

I call for nine blessings on the nations of America.
On the transplanted, on the remnant, on the deep-rooted,
on men and women and every child let there be nine blessings.

First a Blessing of the Well. Let the land and the nation give to each the fullness of sustenance. Let us remember that we are all one tribe, and that the Well must serve us all.
Second a blessing of the Fire. Let us all come together at one hearth in our hearts. Though we dwell apart, let there be a fire of welcome in our hearts for one another.
Third a blessing of the Tree. We are many families, many clans, many colors and tongues. Yet our roots drink from the same Well, our faces are warmed by the same Sun. Let us stand together in that joy and peace.
For it is only by living as one people that we can have peace.

But let there be Justice, and True Dealing, and Wise Reform.
Let force be leashed for the common good.
Let arrogance be quelled. Let prejudice be schooled. Let the bully’s heart be softened.
Let poverty and desperation be relieved.
Let ignorance be scorned. Let diligence be praised. Let generosity overcome judgment.
Let old ways be cast aside.
Let the Clubs of Old Boys be thrown open, the Codes of past centuries be discarded, let locked arms be opened. Let the people’s strength stand against that which harms the people.
For it is only by living as one people that we can have peace.

But let there be Kinship, and Forbearance, and a New Heart
Let us forgive the errors of the Dead.
Many were fools, racists, exploiters of their fellows.
Many killed for their gain, and allowed killing.
The wealth of our tribe is built on this slaying.
It is fit to speak truth in love.
Let us forgive the errors of the Dead;
Those who raged in violence;
Those who mistook vengeance for justice;
Those who taught hatred to their children.
Let rage and spite be the rot that feeds the tree of wisdom.

For we all live on One Earth, drinking from One Well, standing at One Fire.
So let it be kinship, my kin!
Let it be Euro and African, Asian and Islander, pale and red and ebony and every kind of beauty.
Let it be forbearance, that we remember and set aside, that we open our lives to one another.
Let it be a New Heart, and an end to old fear.
I call for nine blessings on the nations of America.
For it is only by living as one people that we can have peace.

So let it be peace.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Polytheism and Patronage

Some of this is my fault. I mean this emphasis in the Pagan community, and especially in ADF, on ‘Patron’ deities in personal worship. The topic remains important and somewhat controversial in Euro-Pagan reinvention, arising in regular waves in public discussion.

In my opinion the idea that individual practitioners have, or should have, ‘Patron’ deities enters Neopaganism from two or three directions. First, of course is the Euro-Christian custom of providing every believer with a Patron Saint upon baptism. This cannot be shown to have Pagan roots, but it has a firm grip on western imagination.


Secondly we have the Patronage practices of African Traditional Religions in the new world. Customs such as the Haitian Lave Tet and the Crowning of Santeria  present the worshiper as being naturally and intrinsically aligned with one of the Powers of that system. In the course of early spiritual work the initiate determines, through divination and ritual, who is the ‘God of the Head’ and ritually acknowledge the relationship. That spirit then becomes the personal ‘god’ (fine points of Ifa theology aside) of the initiate’s work, even though s/he may interact with many other spirits.
 
As I think back to the early 1990s, as we were working on devising our new, more formal polytheism this notion of personal Patronage loomed large. One of the core problems in translating scholastic study of old religions into working modern cult is determining which of the innumerable Holy Beings is to receive ones real attention.  We approach an ethnic pantheon, do our reading, and begin offerings. Fortunately, in ADF our ‘Druidic’ ritual order begins with general offerings to all beings in all classes, so one can get a foot in the temple door without a specific invitation.

The ancients must have had this problem as well, and we can ask how they solved it. Focus on specific deities seems to have come from several directions – perhaps especially from family and caste, from profession, and from locale. All of these can provide some guidance for modern choices, though we are disadvantaged by our non-Pagan surrounding culture. Most modern Pagans will not inherit our family’s gods, nor have local deities whose festivals are community norms. Not Pagan ones, anyway… We can still take some guidance from our career and artistic choices in life and many Pagans do so.

Back when we were starting out, I fixated pretty firmly on the idea of ‘Patronage’ – that worshipers would choose or be chosen by (as you like…) a specific god who would become the god of their Altar, their House, their work. I experimented with the methods locally with some success, devised scripts and guidance materials, and it was included as a goal in the first version of ADF’s Dedicant Work.

Fairly enthusiastically received, within a couple of years problems with the model became obvious.
First, it became obvious that the methods were too advanced for new students. Many ADF students arrive entirely new to Paganism, meditation or ritual. The goal of decisively arriving at a Patronage relationship was a stumbling block, likely to produce either a withdrawal from the work or a provisional decision that had little of the weight of the model found in traditional systems. As a side note, continuing research didn't turn up the idea of Patronage in literate pre-Christian Europe. The Orthodox Christian custom of affixing a saint’s name to believers does not appear to be inherited from Pagan times.

Some practitioners stuck with the model and, for a few, got the kind of results I might have imagined. They became real devotees of a particular deity. There’s been very little overt henotheism, I’m happy to say – little choice made to worship no other gods than the Patron. I would find that inconsistent with what I know of polytheistic religions generally. On a practical level the more common result was that individuals focused on specific deities sequentially, as their lives’ needs guided.

This seems typical of Neopaganism’s self-directed spiritualties. The big, big difference between us and the ATR systems I had been observing is the manner by which Patrons are chosen. In ATR systems it is done by an external authority – by the divinations of a priest. The decision is binding on the initiate regardless of how s/he “feels” about the outcome. I understand that changes and corrections are not unheard-of, but in general the fact of Patronage is bestowed, not chosen.

I know of no Neopagan system that is ready to administer such a thing. The ATR divination systems are all adapted for it – they generate indicators of the various gods and spirits as a matter of course. There simply is no such system in western occultism or Paganism. Even more centrally there is no accepted lineage or source of authority that would make people willing to accept the decision of another.

After maybe half-a-dozen years of working with the original model ADF formally changed the nature of the requirement. Instead of prescribing Patronage we began to talk of “developing the Hearth Cult”. This helped us to move the conception beyond deity – traditional Paganism seems as much focused on the Dead and on the Landwights as on the Gods and Goddesses. The recommended practices expanded to include the Three Kindreds broadly, and the requirement to have an acknowledged Patron was removed.
 
Our house's devotion to Brigid
has been constant for many years.
As I have observed, this history in ADF rather mirrors the development of the idea of Patronage in the wider Pagan community. At present the idea still exists, and there will always be people who are plainly drawn to one god or another. There is a real movement of Pagan devotionalism, and some folks become henotheists – worshiping only ‘their’ god or goddess to the exclusion of others. Currently, my opinion is that such exclusivity does not reflect the practices of most traditional polytheism.

Tradition seems, to me, to recommend a balance of intimacy and utilitarianism. One develops alliances and friendships among the spirits over long or focused work. One’s ‘Home Cult’ is a unique print of one’s spiritual history and expression. Many people maintain a central relationship with a very few gods and spirits for many years. However for new students there is often a period of transition, and a sense of being ‘handed off’ from god to god. No formal methods of securing Patronage have become generally accepted in modern polytheism, and no divinatory method or priestly authority has shown up, either.

Yet the subject of Patronage continues to percolate. New students, especially those looking to modern polytheism rather than post-Wicca, tend to bring the question “How shall I find my Patron?”, and some degree of confusion still exists. Of course many new students arrive out of religious systems with actual rules, and so they may stand staring at the notion that they’re free to do as they please. From there we hope to provide some guidance in sorting the spirits (and helping them sort us).

When I give advice to new students now, it goes something like this:
• Your path is your own, but progress is more easily made on paths with good signage. Choose a system and work it for a year at least, preferably three. It will adapt as you go, but start with an outline.
• Choose one or two ancient cultures on which to focus your reading and experimentation. Begin with the descriptions of the gods in mythic summaries, but make an effort to read about the ancient ways of life, hear the culture’s music, etc.
• Put up a shrine and begin worship. The spirits are unlikely to speak to you unless you speak to them first. There are many places to find instructions on how to begin. If one is unsure of who one is offering to, there are several models for general offerings, including Our Druidry’s Three Kindreds, and Jason Miller’s spirit-offering outlines.
• Open your heart. Some of the discernment exercises in places like our Dedicant’s book may be useful. Work on meditation skills and let the ideas of your reading and shrine-work percolate. Not everyone (but some) will naturally turn toward a specific god quickly. Place as many gods from the culture you’re working with on your shrine as you like, and work with them as you study.
• If you find yourself with an obvious inclination toward a god or spirit, go with it. Resist exclusivity but allow emphasis, and watch your heart and the omens. Use divination, or even consult a diviner.
• Don’t resist change, but don’t mistake momentary interest for a calling. Once you have established work with an ally, maintain it even if you take up something new, all according to your own understanding, of course.

• After a year or three of this kind of work it is likely that you’ll have a sense of what gods are at the center of your personal Constellation of Worship. After another nine years things may or may not be different. Don’t sweat it, our work changes shape like a stream-bank. You’ve watched a stream-bank, haven’t you?

It pleases me that practical polytheism is percolating in our (people… no! too much…) community. New students are seeking direct interaction with the deities, and even with the Not-Gods. Even more hopeful is that fact that Neopagan religions are trying on various approaches experimentally, and then changing and responding to the results of those experiments.
On we go, my kin! Raise up the idols!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Traveling Magic - A Druid's Crane Bag


Forgive my participation in seasonal retailing, but I'm still enjoying the ability to produce game components, card-decks, markers, etc, on demand. The folks at GameCrafter.com do a great job, and a fun service! Substantive article next/soon...

Last spring I launched a little ritual kit, that delighted my heart with its pocket-sized convenience. (See that launch here, if you care). However it lay like a flounder in my catalog - my blessings to the seven people who bought one. The problem, I b'lieve, was the price. On-demand game components are not cheap, and nice little printed boxes are especially not-cheap.

Time passes, and I do art. By careful reorganization of the contents, and by adding a number of new cards while removing clever-but-unsalable ideas, I have reissued the kit at a pleasantly reduced price.




The box is gone; it was a pretty box, but didn't add any actual utility. Everything fits nicely in the velour bag that ships with the kit. Being a game company their robot is confused if a product has no box, so you'll see a big bar telling you it "ships without packaging". Yes, you'll have to put the items in the bag yourself. Sorry.

In any case, the content of the new kit is both more complete and more concise. Carried over from the old kit are the four 'tiles' used as 'altars' for the Fire and Well, and the Blessing. The Blessing tiles are backed with a conjuring triangle for use in spirit-arte. I've rounded out the deity image cards to a full nine Gaelic gods, kept the general Three Kindreds images and Gate and Tree Cards. These are all jumbo cards in vibrant color.

My design-leap is to include a 'grimoire' deck - cards with attractively arranged ritual text. Actually there are twenty-seven faces - nine of the cards are two sided. This Breviary Deck includes the nine invocations for the gods pictured, a full simple druidic rite usable with the kit, and nine additional charms, prayers and small spells.

Regular readers will not be surprised that I wanted to make sure that the kit contains a practical magical element. The kit contains three talismanic spell-cards, for Healing, Prosperity and Vision. They are intended to allow a tea-light to be placed at their center, to focus and enchant the intention with the Irish words and sigils drawn upon Fionn's Window. I actually really dig the way the graphics turned out, so they'll work for me, at least...


The kit also includes a full mini-deck of the Ogham letters, presented with their Irish names and English translations, tree associations and divinatory keys. 

To me this serves to make the Traveling Magic kit a true Crane-bag, a pocket-sized Nemeton that should be useful to travellers, students, solitaries, and anyone who enjoys adding color and symbol to their altars.

The Travelling Magic kit is available now for $24.99 +sh here.
(This price won't last, I guarantee... Forgive GC's shipping costs - your items will arrive carefully hand-packed.)

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Big Book, and the Little Big Book; Last Minute Offer!


Attention shoppers! Regular readers here will know that I have assembled a great pile of my ritual, trance and teaching work into a single Great Book (Leabhar Mór). For the past couple of years I have offered several editions of the content. Rather than producing a ‘limited run’ and selling them from my home, I have simply limited the time of availability. Leaving aside the degree that such an item might ever by ‘collectible’, it at least makes it rare and unique.


The seasonal offer has ended on the full-sized, Wizard-Book edition, this one bound in plain black linen with gold-stamped title on the spine, and with a dust-jacket.

I am still offering a paperback edition, in novel-format size, at 700 pages. This edition preserves all the art and text of the larger edition, but is entirely more forgiving for airline or backpack travel. I wanted one myself, so you can have one too.


The offers will stay in place at their regular prices in my Lulu catalog at least until the turn of the secular year. After that the big hardback will disappear forever, I think.



Enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday in the US.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Spirits and Energies

Lately I find myself hearing folks who want to describe the gods and spirits as ‘energies’. More and more, this bothers me. Obviously, people will have what opinions they will. However I think there are real problems in an ‘energy’ model of magic and spirit from a Pagan perspective.

We all know what we mean. Ever since the mid-20th century, latest, occultism has attempted to reshape its metaphors to fit with modern science. Crystal broadcasting and receiving, telepathy-as-mental-radio, artificial spirits, ‘vortexes’; these are all metaphors of spirit that imitate material science as it has evolved in the 20th c. Previous technological metaphors in magic include magnetism, the prediction of astronomical events and, well, fire. It is normal for magical methods to imitate scientific advances.


The modern mechanistic wave of this began, perhaps, with Mesmer who proposed that ‘magnetic’ energies could be manipulated both using actual magnets and by ‘passes’ of the hands. His successful trance inductions helped pave the way for modern hypnosis, in which the ‘magnetism’ metaphor has been discarded with no loss of efficacy. However the idea of ‘subtle transfer of energy’ (subtle meaning undetectable by instruments) became ingrained in modern occultism.

By the time I was learning invocation it was entirely normative to envision the target deity ‘shining’ or even ‘transmitting’ their power into or onto the ritual. In the same way we envisioned ‘beams’ or ‘waves’ of our intent, ‘conditioned’ by our words, chants and symbols. The whole body of technique around ‘power-raising’ grows from this model.

However, this is almost certainly not what an ancient magician, one operating in the days of European polytheism, would have visualized himself doing. The descriptions found in the PGM, as well as folkloric magic, suggests rather that the magician saw herself directing crowds of spirits. In traditional conurations for love, business success, gambling wins, etc the Gods are specifically asked to ‘send their daemons’ forth to do the mage’s bidding. The vision might have been of a rushing stream of un-named servants of the God hauling-tails away to bring that whatsis or whatever.


In ancient days if one desired a cooling breeze on a hot day one had to find a servant to command. Whatever relationship and deal one had with the servant allowed you to require them to fan you. In our time we build a mechanical device and plug it into an impersonal and commercial source of power. We can then generate a breeze at will or, as we say, ‘like magic’.

Magic has imitated that technical reality for some decades. The part that starts to bother me is when folks start to describe the spirits as ‘energies’ but not persons! To paraphrase; “The gods and spirits are not people living in some spiritual landscape, they are energies that we tap into in order to work our will. We do not worship them so much as respectfully use them.”

The problem I see with that model is the loss of relationship. Simply put, impersonal forces are understood by modern people as slaves. They are used at will, without a please or thank-you, as we go about our business. Now, this is not to say that living people weren’t treated that way back when slavery was one of the kinds of “relationship” that got you that fan-worker. However for me slavery is not an ancient custom that we wish to revive, and certainly not with those beings who join with us in worship.

Rather, I think, a modern Pagan sensibility seeks relationship with spirit(s) as persons, as beings with wills of their own. The work is then to remain in friendly relationship with those powers, through the traditional round of rites and customs. Certainly we do not approach the gods as equals, any more than we approach a river as equals. Each brings their special power and character to the relationship; mortals participate on a mortal level, spirits on a spiritual level. The point, to me, is that humans must maintain our part of the bargain in order to expect the cooperation of the divine.

It seems to me that the danger in imitating technology by thinking of the spirits as ‘energies’ is that we will imitate those things in western culture that we dislike – mechanization, impersonalization and loss of story. It seems to me a capitulation both to reductionism and to rationalism. There are those who dislike anthropomorphism; I’m not one of them. The spirits who like to work with humans like to appear as humans – makes perfect sense to me. Who am I to ask them to appear in some imagined “true” form. How well did that work for Semele?

So I’m just unwilling to agree that the gods and spirits are “really” energies, any more than my wife is “really” just a pattern of electrons in motion. I am in relationship with the spirits as persons, not plugging in to some cosmic generator. 


Friday, November 14, 2014

How We Know What We Know About Druids:

Another micro-essay, stored from a FB post so I don't ever have to type it again ; )


1: Classical Commentators. Greeks traded wine for salt with central-European Celtic-language peoples (Gauls). Romans encountered Gauls as early as 400 bce. Several key accounts by early Greeks (i.e. 
Julius Caesar writes about the Gauls and Druids. Current scholarship considers him a reliable source on the topic, though he often merely quotes older sources.,(Poseidonius) become references for many later Greek and Roman writers.


Typical Victorian Druid-depiction.
2: Insular Literature (insular means 'from the islands'). The arrival of literacy in Pagan Ireland led to the writing-down of various bits of lore. Famous works include the Book of Invasions (story of the coming of the gods and men to Ireland); The Tain Bo Cuailgne (Cattle Raid of Cooley - the story of the hero Cuchulain); The Dinnsenchas ('place-stories' - the stories of how places in Ireland got their mythic names; and the tales of the hero Fionn MacCumhal (Finn MacCool). Later, medieval authors wrote literary versions of British ("Welsh") stories. These are contained in the "Mabinogion" (Childrens' stories) and include the earliest tales of King Arthur.


These sources preserve a wealth of lore, but should all be examined for Christian, Biblical and Classical influences. While they contain bits of "Celtic mythology", the stories in them are certainly edited by monks. Note that in this I am, as always, making the word Druid mean primarily "Celtic Pagan priest".

3: Archaeology. The effort to establish the facts of material life in the Celtic Iron Age has provided confirmation and support of a great deal of the first two categories, while casting doubt on other portions (there never seems to have been chariot warfare in ireland, for instance...)

Corn-dollies. Like Shinto paper-folds, we
haven't the slightest idea what these mean.
Sure feels Pagany, though.
4: Early-modern folklore. Gaelic, British and even Franco-German countryside custom in the 18th and 19th centuries contained ritual, song and story that preserved ancient elements. Versions of the Cuchulain and Fionn stories remained in oral tradition into this period. 

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries it was fashionable to believe that folk customs preserved truly archaic elements down through many centuries, so these customs were looked to as sources for old ways. Current scholastic fashion is less confident of the memory of folk tradition, noting frequent innovation and re-strats. Still, when folk custom matches the previous two sources, one is on to something.

5: Comparative cultural parallels. Celtic peoples were part of the spectrum of languages, cultures and religions that are called 'Indo-European'. They shared cultural structures, vocabulary ('bo' is 'cow' in irish or latin...), artistic forms and, almost certainly, religious and ritual forms as well. Again, when something from the first three sources echoes a motif present in neighboring cultures one can be confident of a 'hit'.
Ritual in the Baltic cultural style. If these folks don't look
like Druids, I dunno what does.

That's the deal. Everyone from Elias Ashmole onward has been drawing on these same sources mixed with whatever bit of esoteric or Masonic fashion influenced them. Academic scholarship on all four topics has improved dramatically since the 18th century - modern readers can know so much more than those of former centuries. Likewise we have been freed from established religion - we are free to worship as we will, without hiding under the cloak of 'fraternalism' or 'philosophy'. Unless we like those, of course...

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Pagan Ethics Notes

In the past weeks I have been finishing the three 'courses' required of an ADF Senior Priest to keep our priestly status. While I find the rote work annoying there has been actual learning involved, as well as some writing. never one to waste the effort, I've edited together an article on my Ethics ideas, including my own self-invented ethical standard, as required for the course. Hope it is of some value to you.



1:Defining “Morals and Values”


Morals, and morality, are the societal and personal systems of behavior-control and self-management in an individual’s mind. While it is possible for individuals to develop personal moralities the term most often refers to social norms, which are taught to children as moral facts, and often become effective guides to and restrictions on behavior. Moral tenets become the basis for personal judgments, both of one’s own deeds and of the deeds of others. The young woman refraining from pre-marital sex, the teenager refraining from shoplifting, the antiwar protestor and the young soldier returning an enemy’s fire are all responding to ‘moral’ judgments.
In order to make personal choices in life we must have a sense of the cost and worth of things. As with morality, we learn many of our “values” from society. In our age the concept is often bound up directly with wealth and worth – we learn the value of a dollar, the value of a hard day’s work. The greater culture extolls the value (i.e. the worth and worthiness) of the soldier, the businessman and the entrepreneur, wildly rewards those with exceptional athletic or artistic talent (or luck), and preaches the moral value (worthiness) of daily trudging labor to those who are less-than-well rewarded.
            Perhaps values are more responsive to personality and personal history than are ‘morals’. Both inherent inclinations and life’s events may lead one to value art over money, to seek security over adventure. In large part these are not matters of morality, but still strongly influence our choices and directions.

How is Morality Related to Bias or Prejudice?
The combination of moral and values enforcement often produces a personal sense of certainty and righteousness that is sometimes allowed to substitute for clear-eyed judgment. My own inclination is to refer to this process as ‘programming’ – the human cybernetic system organically develops its own software through a lifetime of experience and societal reinforcement. Once an individual is fully adapted to a set of programs it can be difficult for them to act or decide in other than programmed ways.
While we often think of bias in terms of legal or human-rights issues, it applies equally in scholarship and the construction of ideas. One makes over-arching prejudgments on issues such as ancient matriarchy or Indo-European society and those judgments (pre-judgments; prejudices; biases) influence what books we read and what opinions we develop on what we choose to read.
I think that when we start using simple, broad terms like ‘right and wrong’ we enter fully into the social-consensus, programmed realm. These terms have a literal and objective meaning. There is a ‘right’ (correct) way to assemble an appliance, or to mix volatile chemicals. There is a far less clear ‘right’ way to have a marriage, or to wage a war, or to conduct competition in business. There is a ‘wrong’ way to wire a television set, but much less clearly a wrong way to raise a child.  In those cases the morals and values of the society become treated like the rules and methods of physics or engineering. Historically they have sometimes been turned into ‘instruction manuals’ for living which, perhaps too often, replace independent thinking and personal judgement. It is a short step from there to accepting the moral authority of social leaders as equivalent to their authority as skilled carpenters or plumbers. However ‘right and wrong’, in the moral sense, are simply not subject to even as firm a set of ‘laws’ as are found in the sciences.

2: My Personal Values
My personal values center on individual liberty, kindness and growth. I have spent a lifetime carefully setting aside commitment to the common values of our society, consciously retaining those bits that I find acceptable or advisable. I reject the values of authority and obedience, choosing instead to do as I please. This liberty I seek to temper with the corresponding values of kindness and growth. My goal in any interaction is to have all parties emerge emotionally peaceful (if not gratified) and a little better than when they went in. Kindness requires me to minimize pain or harm to others, as circumstances allow. In keeping with modern values I extend the concept of ‘harm’ to include violations of autonomy or privacy – personal liberty demands the right to manage one’s personal space, and what I take for myself I surely grant to others. The goals of personal and mutual growth demand the nurture and tending of both the self and of those with whom one comes into relationship.

As a colleague this makes me a cooperative team-member, but perhaps hard to ‘manage’. As a working priest I hope it has made me approachable, helpful and, well, kind. While I can be direct in my efforts to police bad data I do my best to refrain from ad hominem, and to leave folks (members) feeling like their understanding has been advanced.




3: How do we ‘learn right from wrong’ and ‘choose to do the right thing’?

A: Instruction during upbringing. The infant/toddler learns what is acceptable to its family and immediate adult surroundings. The infant’s perception of the authority of the parent as absolute is reinforced by the basic warnings of life – “That’s hot” turns out to be true, so “Don’t touch yourself there” must be equally true. This is the primary “right-v-wrong” programming that each of us carries through life. It is entirely subject to the wisdom and programming of our parents and culture.

B: Personal Inclination and experience. It is my opinion that we are born with (or programmed with at a very early age) specific ‘settings’ in terms of such things as reaction to pleasure and pain, cooperation-vs-competition, and risk-aversion. These personal inclinations combine with the experiences of our lives and our reactions to them to provide incentive for individuals to examine their upbringing and make conscious choices about their beliefs.
            In my opinion it is in the tension between these two programming factors that a great deal of individual indecision, moral tension and cognitive dissonance are found.
Choosing…
A: To satisfy the demands of a social authority that has the power to reward or punish. This is the outer, cops-n-robbers level of morality.

B: Right action produces good results, and good results mean more health, wealth and wisdom for everyone. This is ‘enlightened self-interest’. What is good for me can be good for all, if I avoid errors of greed or cruelty.

C: When the heart is full of simple kindness it is difficult to do wrong intentionally. From there only Wisdom can prevent foolish error. We might offer this as the ‘spiritual’ approach, and some might consider it more ‘pure’, or a ‘higher’ motivation than the previous. While I seek to cultivate kindness, I value results above motivations. Let those who do good deeds for simple reasons be praised.

4: Discuss ethics in the clergy-lay relationship.
            Philosophically I am a situationalist. I believe that the application of wisdom and values to specific individual cases produces better outcomes than the establishment of and obedience to codes of behavior. The tailoring of individual cases to a pre-existing set of standards is unlikely to produce results equal to wisdom and virtue applied individually. That said, I understand the value to an organization of the ability to predict behavior and generate accountability in a diverse group of practitioners. It is especially useful to a client to be able to refer to a set of guidelines against which to measure the work of their local priests.
            Obviously we all have ethical and moral obligations to one another. It is a common understanding that any special circumstance in human relationships produces special moral imperatives. Teachers, lovers, team-mates all are surrounded by ethical customs and, often, rules. The special relationships generated between a working priest and the folk being served can require no less.
            In our religious system the priesthood is granted little to no specific ‘spiritual authority’. The folk are not subject to or lesser than the priesthood in any hierarchy; they do not need the priesthood in order to operate the religion. Local priests are not in charge of the training, evaluation or advancement of students in our study programs. At no point are we ‘spiritual parents’ or ‘gurus’ to our students.
            As a result our interactions may be less fraught with emotional hazards than some other models of clergy. We are unlikely to be forced to deal with “power-over” issues, and abuse of authority can only happen if the priest assumes an unauthorized and presumptuous position with their folk. This happens especially when a leader plays on the unspoken social assumptions about the meaning and authority of ‘priests’ or ‘ministers’. Perhaps that deserves to be in an ethical statement…
            It might be that the primary ethical responsibility of a priest of our order is to keep our skills sharp and ready. Isaac used to say that an ADF priest should be able to “demonstrate claimed skills on demand”. We hold our offices by virtue of the study and practice we have done – using those skills actively in service to the folk, the land and the gods seems top of the list. A priest should be ready to step in and step up, should be a walking bibliography, a go-to voice when the question is “What’s the real story”. In turn the priest must have the personal understanding and clarity to be able to parse their answers from “I think so” through “This is how it is” while keeping their own biases in check.
Confidential privilege is a legal term that describes the placing of certain communications between a citizen and a professional under legal protections. The professional cannot be forced to divulge such communications in matters of law. The pertinent section of the Ohio legal code is 1317.02c. To summarize, it grants legal privilege to communications shared under a “sacred trust”, unless the cleric is specifically released by the communicant. If we cared to split hairs we might discuss whether the idea of communication under a “sacred trust” exists in Our Druidry. Without specific doctrinal positions on the matter our legal coverage is weak.
From an ethical perspective we must begin with the general merit of a closed mouth and a rejection of gossip. As Druids we must know the value of speech, and the power of an ill word to produce ill outcomes. Wisdom and kindness therefore teach that when we learn a friend’s secrets or private matters we should keep them confidential. From the perspective of organizational professional boundaries, it makes sense to me first to enjoin our clergy not to involve themselves in gossip. No tale or rumor or accusation should be spread or shared, unless the priest has been specifically employed as a mediator or advocate for a member or members.

5: Utilizing the ADF nine virtues, develop a Code of Ethics for your use as ADF Clergy. Describe how you derived this code from the Nine Virtues and how you would apply this Code.

Five Principles of a Druidic Priestly Ethics:
1: Seek always the good. See that by your work the world is made better – more beautiful, wiser, more learned, more loving, stronger.
2: Be true. Say only what you mean (barring jest) and mean and do as you say. This means keeping promises and contracts, as well as fair judgment and the eschewing of gossip.
3: Be strong. Keep your body, mind and skills strong and sharp. Tend to your talents and practice your skills, so that when need arises it is met.
4: Be kind. A warm heart brings a happy life. Compassion, empathy and gentleness are the most reliable ways to bring good to relationships with others.
5: Keep the Rule
            A: Do not harm the work by entangling your personal life with your duties as a priest
            B: Practice transparency and impeccability with all monies connected to the work
            C: Keep confidences between the priest and any member or client, and eschew gossip.
            D: Maintain study and practice, keeping knowledge and skills sharp for the work.
E: In all things consider that the reputation of the work, the org and the priest depend on good work and good name.

It is not hard to analyse these according to our virtues. Of course from the first we say that virtues are those qualities that produce good outcomes and good lives. The first Principle simply states that as the goal of the work.

Often I parse each virtue into a triad. For wisdom, I sometimes think of Reason, Discernment and Compassion as central sub-ideas. These apply certainly to the fourth Principle, and to many of the Elements of the Rule. It is Reason and Discernment that allow us to determine when and if our social entanglements interfere with the work, for instance. Discernment also applies to speech, to knowing the difference between cleverness and counsel, judgment and support. Vision supports the third Principle as well as the second, in that we can only be sure that we speak true when we can see clearly. Piety is the point of the exercise, of course; it is piety itself to remember such a code and to live by it. 
            Some might think of courage as the Warrior’s work rather than the Druid’s but it takes courage to speak truth, or to respond with commitment to past words when conditions change. Integrity is, again, the center of the work. Let our deeds be integrated with our ideas, our minds, hearts and bodies serving one
goal. Perseverance is equally important, especially to the third Principle. It is easy to begin, easy to plan, perhaps less easy to stay with the work consistently.

Hospitality applies to the second and fourth Principles. In many ways a good hospitality is the outcome of living by the Principles, the provision of good counsel and good support to the community.


I’m not much of a fan of ‘moderation’ as a ‘virtue’ – it seems more like advice than like an innate quality, which is what I see virtues as being. Still it surely applies to several points. Moderation in speech and promises is wise, moderation in food and drink is good for the third principle, and everything in the Rule is supported by it. The virtue sometimes called ‘fertility’ I refer to as ‘sensuality’ or ‘grandeur’. It refers to the value of using wealth for pleasure, deriving abundance from the use of good things, etc. In my opinion this supports truth, strength and kindness alike.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Are We God(s)?

Reviewing my files, I found this item - unpublished, I think. If I'm wrong and you find it on here somewhere, tell me and you get a no-prize.

Here in our modern esotericism we are seldom very far from the whole issue of whether and how humans have the divine power to create our own world and shape our own fate. This is a topic that has been present in Neopagan discussion for as long as I remember. I see it as one of the recurring intrusions from ‘New Age’ thinking into traditional western magical and polytheistic religious ways. In general I view it as pernicious.


In the early 80s it was common to hear newer Pagan teachers suggest that we all choose and shape our own incarnations, and that some ‘higher self’ chooses our life-path for us, usually with the excuse of ‘teaching us lessons’. ‘Rebirthing’ was one New Age system that spread the notion widely, along with the Course In Miracles. The discussion and dissent around it happened largely inside the feminist community, where the issue of rape, victimhood and the responsibility of the parties involved pulled New Age thought up short against perceived reality.

Shall our spiritual path teach us that we choose suffering, and must only forgive our tormentors, because they only serve our greater good?
Sit down, Dr. Pangloss…

Years ago I rejected the idea that some divine source within human beings creates our own universe and controls our own destiny. I always try to reject doctrinal teachings in favor of direct description of reality, and I simply don’t see any way to reconcile my observation of either my own life or those of my fellows with the idea that we’re all making the life we… need… deserve… whatever. The paragraphs of special pleading required to imagine a mechanism by which the events of various tragedies can be reconciled with the New Age model just can’t stand up to “Shit happens, and nobody is in charge.”

My philosophical path in this is made easier by my polytheism. I hold to the theorem that there is no supreme person of divinity, no single will that guides the cosmos. I don’t think that absolute omnipotence or omniscience exist in any personal being, or *can* exist in any personal being; neither in macrocosmos, nor in microcosmos. Thus I have no reason to expect the divine portion of myself to be able to perfectly guide my evolution through the shaping of events.

I do think there is a portion of myself (and everyone’s) that participates in the same power and awareness as a god. I think that the quest of mysticism is to bring the conscious personal self into proper relationship, even identity, with that personal divine self. I don’t think the result of that work will be complete control of apparent reality, or the freedom to act without consequences. I don’t think the gods have those things now.

So we’re all just stepping on through the Great Dance, hoping not to trip or stumble. It’s good to be a god, if that is one’s fate, but it doesn’t guarantee an end of trouble or strife. I think that’s why the Buddhist impulse arose – can’t we just go somewhere quiet?
None of that for me… I like the nightlife, baby.

So, I’m all for abandoning the teaching that individuals choose our births and our fates. Nature just doesn’t seem to be that way, and imagining that it is seems puzzling, and more likely to allow various smugness and guilt; that just doesn’t seem wise. We all dance along. Those with a plan try to work their plan. Some of those may be Gods, and some big plans may be happening; if the mortal actors play along. Things bump into each other, conflict brings strife and pain. Strife and pain aren’t *for* anything, they’re symptoms *of* something. They teach the wise.


Inside all that we are tiny beings with a spark of the power of a god in us. Discovering that power certainly produces euphoria, and so it should. However there’s always training to do, to stay as wise as we are strong, etc. There’s no harm in reveling in one’s divinitude, as long as it isn’t taken too seriously… it’s only god… It won’t plow the field unless you can get the oxen to work.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Antlered God




A little something for the season. This is my attempt to write a Cernunnos invocation that makes no assumptions and uses only direct references...

Friday, October 24, 2014

A New God

Formatting is bugging me... posting anyway...

One of the biggest dangers of error in designing one's own religion is that one will simply make symbols of the parts of oneself one likes best, and then worship them. Without the guidance of an experienced ancient Celtic polytheist it is difficult to judge which of the great gods should be given attention. Pagans attempt to deal with the problem through 'Patronage', often modeled vaguely on West African models. What is usually missing is that in those models there is no sense that one chooses what god will become one's patron. Patronage is determined by divination, and the results can be surprising.

In modern Paganism it is more common for folks to focus on gods and spirits that resonate with the obvious and positive parts of our personalities and preferences. That can be fine, but it tends to create blind-spots in one's mythography. It seems that I'm not more immune to that than anyone else.

I'm creating another deck of cards. I've authored a full divination system, and fooled with an effort to pack ritual resources into a nice, pocket-sized box - you can see those here. Now I'm trying to expand the 'Temple Deck' in the Traveling Magic kit. I've added new cards for the deities, bringing the full deity-eidolon set to nine gods of Gaelic and/or Tuatha De Danann provenance. In an effort to amuse myself the set will also contain a 'grimoire deck' with ritual text artfully arranged on cards for, I hope, convenient transport and ritual use. There are invocations for each of those nine gods. More about all that down the road. Here's the point:

I reached a point of trying to decide who the ninth god would be, and asked myself (and some friends) what I was missing. Referencing the obvious Book of Invasions list of Gaelic gods it became clear that I needed a Nuada image and invocation to have the set be even vaguely complete. I'm familiar with the famous tale of Nuada of the Silver Arm, of course, who is King of the Tuatha Dé when they arrive, and is eventually dethroned and restored, before passing away and giving his throne to the next generation of gods. I also knew of his association (linguistic, at least) with the North British god Nodens, who was a healer of war-wounds, associated with the ford of a river, where warriors traditionally met. From those bits I felt confident devising this image:
As I turned to the next step, the writing of an invocation, I realized that I had simply never written an invocation to this important Irish god in all my years! Perhaps it is because he rather vanishes in the stories, and is supplanted by kings whose folkloric persistence has been greater. In any case he had simply never been a part of my work. I did what any good modern Druid does, and turned to my library of books.

I'll spare you the details in favor of summarizing my results. Nuada seems to me to be the Indo-European Law/Warrior king to balance the Dagda's Magic/Poetry king. Nuada is the god of the Well of Wisdom, balancing Dagda's presence as the Sacred Fire. He is the husband of the White Cow Queen - Boann - who is tricked by the Dagda into birthing the Wonder Child. He is the ancestor or father of Fionn, and shares with that figure the traits of hunter, leader of the war-band and keeper of inspiration - his name probably means "he who catches". He holds both the Sword of Victory and the Stone of Sovereignty and is, himself, the Once and Future King, as his arm is stricken from him and restored. In my reading I discovered several titles that seemed to lend themselves to invocation.


I'm satisfied with the effort, though I need to look into what might be proper offerings for such a god. I suppose I'll have to actually invoke him, soon enough.

So again, I suppose the lesson here is to be aware of one's blind spots, to note what one has not noted, to know what one doesn't know. May we all grow in wisdom.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

ADF Clergy Retreat 2014

    This past weekend Tredara hosted the ninth annual retreat for ADF’s clergy. I’ve written some about these before (here, and here) and these weekends remain some of my favorite moments of our busy year. The growing cadre of ordained ADF Druids (whatever) is the most skilled and focused group of ritualists I get to work with any given year, and we’ve been involved in a long-term project that is coming to a fuller completion.
         
Many readers will know that our Druidic system addresses the spirits in three large categories (Kindreds, we say) – the Gods, the Dead and the Sidhe. This last category becomes de-ethnicized to the ‘nature spirits’, though that presents problems. In fact this Third Kindred remains a confused catch-all for a variety of animist and folkloric categories of spirit. Thereby hangs the tale of the work this past weekend.

Our Order of Ritual always involves calls to two specific deities – the Earth Mother, or All-Mother, and the Gatekeeper, or Lord of Wisdom. These two have become the patrons of our Clergy Council in the category of the gods. While we may address them at home in specific local and cultural names, when we work together we satisfy ourselves with broader category-titles. Nevertheless the offerings are made, and the work gets done.

Some years ago we began working with a category of the Dead that we call the Ancient Wise. In this we hope to make contact with those from old times who can teach us more directly than we can learn from books. Using a vision-locale that we have developed over many years, we regularly commune with allies that we have made among the Wise.


So we found ourselves looking for an angle on formal alliances with, and within, the Third Kindred. Of course each of us, working on our own, has personal alliances. There is no requirement that our priests have formal spirit-alliances, but the training offers lots of opportunities, and I think most do. Collectively we are multi-ethnic, though united in our work at the Fire of Sacrifice and our service, as we say, to the Gods, the Land and the Folk. The diversity of personal mythic model among us makes the matter more complicated.

Having made alliance with two categories, we have been discussing and experimenting with the third. The problem, in my mind at least, has been that I wanted to be able to narrow the focus of a working from the countless kinds of the wights. My studies into the spirit-tech of the grimoires led me to want to evoke and pact with a specific list of ‘herald’ spirits that could act as intermediaries between mortals and the Many Kins.

My problem was that I couldn’t generate any enthusiasm in the members for the idea. We attempted a version of it three years ago, in the Silver Court work described at the link above. I was fairly pleased with the results, but several in the group weren’t, even those who had strong visions. The results didn’t ‘stick’ very well or get taken into cult in the priesthood, as the Ancient Wise had done so smoothly. After a lively discussion both on-line and on our Friday discussions at the Retreat, we ditched the ‘specific heralds’ idea.

I can surely understand resistance to the concept of selecting any single being or small group of beings to represent the innumerable kinds of spirits in their nearly infinite places. Part of my goal was to choose from a category of ‘nature spirit’ that was easily available in whatever ecosystem one might work. The members of the Council brought a variety of familiars and allies to the work. Trying to decide on a single one – or even a single class, just wasn’t going to happen. The inclination was to do a general ‘convocation’ call, and see who showed up.

The Council has developed/discovered a specific Inner vision locale in which we meet the Ancient Wise. We have toyed for some while with the idea of using another section of that landscape for Landwights work. We began our Saturday working by journeying to that locale in our usual way, together at a lightly-consecrated fire. By speaking with our existing allies we got confirmation on our basic notion, and various other omens that shaped the later work. We also drew a runic omen (because we had runes with us…) that we felt gave us the OK to proceed.

We decided to work in the late afternoon, then retire to dinner and music. Weather conditions were chancy so we resorted to the fire-room in our barn, a mostly-closed room where we can still have open fire. Not the most romantic or evocative setting, but it’s good to have choices. We were comfortable for trance, which is a fair trade.

Framing the work in a full liturgy of sacrifice, we offered to the Mother and the Gatekeeper, the Ancient Wise, and then I made a call to the Many Clans, supported by others as their voices were inspired. Unlike the earlier rounds of work, which included fully-guided trances, I simply led the crew to the edge and sent them on, telling them to ‘arrive in our place by the ways you know’. This is the blessing of work with an experienced group.

We worked in silence for some while, then returned. We had also set ourselves to do a simple sending of healing to several members and kin who were in need, so we did that work and then retired. The evening that followed was a delight (for me) of making music and beery fellowship.

The next morning we discussed our visions. I’m going to keep the majority of the content of that private at this time. In the 18+ of us who reported significant vision (we had one person ill with an allergy attack who missed the rite) there were two or three obvious repeating motifs and commonalities. These reflect several mythic patterns associated with Druids, such as wind and winged messengers. While the whole business wasn’t the specific spirit-mining I had envisioned the company had strong visions, and seeds are planted that are likely to grow.

Nine years after beginning these Retreats the ADF priestly training program is in full operation. In that time the Clergy Council (as we clumsily call it) has also slowly developed an esoteric pattern that we share with new members as they arrive. In this we don’t intend to be secret as much as discrete, to keep the keys and operative symbols limited to those of us who share an oath.
The oath of our priesthood is neither secret nor complex. We say:
I swear to Honor the Gods, to love the Land and to serve the Folk, and to this honor, love and service I dedicate my hands, my heart and my head.

Even as we build the national Pagan religious organization that helps make those goals real in the common world, so we build the relationships with the Shining Ones, the Middle-World co-dwellers, and the Mighty Dead. May what we work on the Inner become true in the mortal world, and the old ways be renewed!