Friday, May 18, 2018

Tredara Spring 2018

"The" Tredara

On we go!
Here at our own small Pagan sanctuary and community hall, which we call Tredara after the big triple oak in one corner., we are cranking the place up for spring. It is really only fate that has led that to mean that we must be ready for our local Grove's Bealtaine just at the beginning of May, followed by hosting ADF's Annual Meeting at the Grove's Wellspring Gathering at the end of the month. That means that if it rains in april, we have a bit of catch-up to do.
This year we had a bit of catch-up to do. We are also a couple of key staff people short, due to unavoidable attrition.  Fortunately L. and I are retired, and have some time to do the work. We also have our community of friends and volunteers, who have helped in many ways. We'll be ready, bless it...
So, without a lot of typing while I could be mowing and trimming, I'll give you a little tour of some of the pretty, sacred things, including new Shrines.

We have had several styles of shrine to the Earth Mother over the years. Aiming for a once-and-for-all solution, we commissioned this fine piece from artist Sidney Bolam of Bohemian Hobbit Studios. 

She knew just what we wanted, and produced a lovely image, with the figure on both sides so that it can be seen both from the path, and through the windows of the barn's social room
Down the path and over the little stream one reaches the Lower Crossroad, where we have erected a Herm. A Herm is a traditional crossroad shrine to Hermes, Lord of Roads, and the Hellenes have wanted one for some while. We kept this simple, with a square pillar rising from the start of a cairn. Folks will now bring stones when they come to visit, and the cairn will grow in time. There's something just right to me about having a shrine to Hermes, Lord of Magic, down in dark, moist crossroad next to the running water. Sure we're Druids, but witchy is witchy...
Leaving the Barn, and the warm, Earth-Mother's hearth, and passing the Crossroad with due offering, one makes the way up into the Shrine precinct proper.
The dedication to the Landspirits is standing firm, even as we consider how best to gently garden the space around it.
The Ancestor Mound requires more gardening attention, and it gets a full shave every spring, save for the patches of herbs that are establishing themselves.
We are reaching the completion of the vague plan we began with for buildings, shrines and facilities here. The device is nearly built. Now we must spend some years (if fate blesses us) learning what it can do.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Gods and Spirits, Magic and Prayer

“Prayer is a form of magic.” “Magic is applied prayer.” One hears these saws often enough in current discourse about Pagan religion and practical magic. Neither assertion has ever rung the bell for me. I feel as if there is a significant difference between what is done when we pray, and what is done when we work a spell for a practical goal.

Refusing to resort to dictionaries, I assert: “Prayer is a verbal or internal address to a/the deity. Often it includes a request for specific aid, though it may be or include some other conversation. While traditional prayer was often scripted, traditional and uniform, prayer is also often performed ex tempore.” Beyond that description, prayer has the connotation of a request to a ‘higher power’, and the inevitable implication that the request might be refused. “All prayers are answered,” we hear from monotheist apologists, “but sometimes the answer is no.” 

Magic arts, on a different hand, intend to cause effects and not merely to ask for them to be caused. Magic is a body of technique that uses spiritual skills to work the individual will of the magician. This is accomplished, in tradition, by a combination of work with the living spirits, and with impersonal spiritual forces. Allies are gathered, patterns woven, and pressure-points targeted in the clever ways that are also used in engineering or even artistic composition. One expects that once one has built skill that doing the work correctly will produce the desired result, without being dependent directly on the will of any higher power. “Magic always works – if you do it right,” is the basic aphorism here.
To do a little context, magical manuals are full of prayers and instructions to pray, and how to pray. The preparation for high-end ritual magic commonly involves periods of fasting and prayer 

Philosophers have found reason to object to traditional magic because it implies an effort to coerce the gods. This is a reasonable objection – that mortal-level efforts cannot have the juice to coerce a large transpersonal power, any more than we can move a hurricane with fans. Yet traditional magical rites, and the spoken ‘prayers’ they preserve, are full of both invitations and direct commands to deities and to a variety of other spirits. Here we find the point I intend to make in this piece:
Traditional Magic does not depend on asking the gods to accomplish our goals.

I think this is the core reason I find magic and prayer to be separate.
If magic is not based on petitioning and requesting, what is its basis? As I said, it is a combination of relationship between the magician and the spirits, and the magician’s ability to employ impersonal spiritual forces. What can be missed by modern students, especially those who are inclined to apply generalized ‘religious’ principles to Paganism, is that the Gods are not the only focus of Pagan religion and sometimes not even the primary focus. I have a point to make about practical work with the gods, but first let me think about the big kindreds of non-deity spirits that play a part in magical work.

Magic of the Dead
Traditional sorcery is heavily, perhaps predominantly, powered by the Dead. The ‘hordes of spirits’ often summoned to carry out the conjuror’s will are composed of the restless dead – those spirits inadequately settled by rites or fate, whose hunger, lust and anger can be exploited by magic. In our modern lives we are lucky to be far freer from violence than our pre-Christian ancestors could have imagined. Likewise the culture of magical hexing and spellcraft for personal gain at another’s expense is greatly reduced. Many of us work to calm and cool the restless Dead, not to exploit them. 

Ancestor worship is a different matter, concerned with family, affection and reverence. One no more commands ones ancestors than one’s grandparents. Rather we maintain our relationship with the Beloved Dead and they become primary protections and instructors. Spirits from our family lineages may become familiar allies or important contacts, but often they remain background counselors and support.
Folk-magic customs may seek aid from a specific spirit. Customs surrounding graveyard dirt and such tokens may call on a specific spirit in a specific grave. In some places such graves have become shrines of a sort, regularly visited by those seeking aid. Magic has always had it’s ‘saints’, and even post-Christian magic seems likely to continue the tradition. 

That kind of individualizing and personifying can happen with the non-human spirits of nature as well.

Magic of the Land-Spirits
A variety of magical traditions draw on spirits present as plants and animals. To gather herbs for practical magic is to make a pact with the spirit of the herbs. Plants of special power and lore may be more individualized allies – the mandrake is an example of this kind of plant familiar.
More mobile spirits abide in wind and weather, and can be called to aid the magician, along with the shining beings of sun and moonlight. These spirits, along with the spirits of the green world and even the sea often appear in the forms of animals.

My own intuition is that such animal-formed Landwights were frequently the ‘familiar spirits’ of medieval folk-witches.

Lore is full of tales in which spirits appear as ‘chimaeras’. In Greek story the Chimaera was a Titan-spirit composed of lion, goat and serpent. Thus the ancients depicted mighty spirits in this composite way. The Satyrs and Centaurs of the Greeks, the Griffins of the east, even the Water-Horse or Nuckelavee of Celtic lore use animal forms to display the power of the Nature-Spirits.
Lacking a literate remnant of Northern Pre-Christian magic, we can find many examples of chimaera spirits in the grimoire tradition. The spirits called ‘demons’ in the medieval theological atmosphere of the grimoires can easily be understood as Landwights or ‘elementals’, appearing in animal-mixture forms proper to their natures. The medieval Christian cosmology relegated all such beings to demonic status, even the gentle ‘demons’ that teach poetry and herbcraft.

Daemons of the Gods.
It seems reasonable that even the most able mortal should not be able to ‘command’ great transpersonal spiritual forces. Ancient skeptics and modern have wondered why the planetary powers of wind or water should respond to our calls. I think a reasonable answer lies in the ancient understanding of the Daemons. 

In Hellenic Paganism the relations between mortals and the gods are managed through the uncountable number of spirit servants attendant on every deity. These spirits were called ‘daemons’ (or ‘daimons, same pronunciation…) a word derived from roots meaning ‘able to act’. The daemons attended the sacrifices as regents of the deities, receiving the offerings and ‘carrying’ them to the gods, then bearing in turn the gods’ blessings back to mortal rituals. In doing this they acted (as their name implies) as the active powers of the god, and would have appeared and acted as the deity, often bearing the symbols and tools of the god. So if a traveler were visited by an apparition of a fine naked young fellow with wings on his hat, he would likely assume it to be both a daemon of Hermes, and a visitation from the god, unconcerned about the distinction of person that might be involved. 
It is such daemons of the gods that magicians seek to employ in practical magic.(more here) The magic of the Greco-Egyptian Papyri often explicitly invokes gods, asks them to send a daemon (or some daemons) and then commands those agents of the god by the borrowed power of the god. In this way one is not, in fact, claiming to command the mighty power that rules the (whatever) of the cosmos, but only their agent, specially selected for and by your magic to be in tune with you and your desire.
So, I feel as if I might define ‘prayer’ as an attempt to invoke and speak directly to the cosmic principle or higher being of a deity, and to entreat it through supplication (i.e. by asking for something). Magic, in turn, is an effort to bring an active agent of the divine near to the mortal world, and arrange to have them aid your goals. In practice this can be the daemon of a God, or a Landspirit, or one or more of the Mighty Dead. Note that in basic magical theory it is spirits who are closer to the mortal world, to the world of forms, who have power to act in our realm – far more so than the Great Abstractions that might lie at the top of an imagined Platonic ladder.
Prayer can be used as a technique of magic. Often it is a preparatory technique intended to attune the magician to those Great Abstractions and thus make us more suited to speak with the related spirits. As a practical spiritual tech for getting results I can see it being useful perhaps with deities with whom one has developed a long sacrificial relationship. However I can’t see prayer as the equivalent of practical magic, or imagine that it could have magic’s (still imperfect) reliability or effectiveness.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Pagan Rites of Sacrifice

Ancient Hellenic bull-sacrifice
One cannot do any study of the actual ways of ancient European religion, i.e. Paganism in its original forms, without encountering the fact of animal sacrifice, and the rumor of the taking of human lives in ritual. It is undoubtedly true that human sacrifice occurred in most ancient European cultures at one stage or another. However it was never the central element of Pagan religious ritual.
               Let me begin with the word ‘sacrifice’. From the Latin, it means ‘Sacred Work’; and ‘sacred’ means ‘set apart for the work of the spirits’.  While it has come to have connotations of ‘giving up’ and even of loss, to reclaim its sacred power is to affirm sacrifice as a joyous work of connection with the divine. During the work of sacrifice, many offerings may be made, of many kinds. In common language these offerings are often referred to as ‘sacrifices'. This is, in a way, a mis-speaking. To say “the sacrifice” is not to refer to whatever object is the central offering of the ritual, but rather the whole ritual of offering and blessing is, itself, ‘the sacrifice’ – the sacred work. So I find myself enjoying referring to our public Pagan rites as ‘the sacrifices’… feels nice and archaic.
               Secondly, in preface, I mention that the Neopagan Druid system I work in has specifically disallowed live-animal offerings in our rites. We do make many offerings – ale and meal and bread and fruit and even meat, but we admit that we haven’t either the call or the skill to take the life of an animal and butcher it for cooking in ritual.

Classical Indian Fire-Sacrifice
• Animal Sacrifice-offerings 
The basic form of larger, community worship from Ireland to India was a feast, shared with the spirits and graced with poetry and song. The best way to serve meat is fresh, and the terrible truth of the human ability to bring death to other beings required ritualization. So animals were ritually honored then killed, and their meat cooked. In Hellenic rites (of which we have written records) the bones and fat were wrapped in the skin and that was burned on the altar for the spirits. The cuts of meat were cooked and shared with the attendees. In ancient Indian fire-sacrifice it was said that the rite was not properly concluded 'until the poor had been fed'.
Smaller or personal religious rites often made offering through ‘libation’ – the simple pouring of wine, grain or other offerings on the altar of a spirit, or by ‘dedications’ – the giving of gifts of images, inscriptions, altars, buildings, even gold and cash to a deity. This form of offering was, in fact, gaining in popularity in the classical period, and even internal and native philosophies in the ancient world found reason to argue against the ancient customs of animal sacrifice. Modern rites that replace animal-meat feasting with such offerings are only expressing a Pagan-era trend.
• Human Sacrifice-offerings:
Ritual killing of political and criminal prisoners is described among the Celts. Scandinavians are said to have offered human lives before their greatest idols. Greek and Roman myths speak of youths being ‘offered’ to this titan or that monster, and the Romans specifically outlawed human-life offerings (which means that there was something to outlaw) in the years around 100bce. Human sacrifice seems to have had two major kinds, though we have no literate remains of ritual for those that I know of. (Some rites may exist buried in Indian Tantric material). First was the killing of prisoners of war and criminals. This seems to have been done en masse when needed, and to have been somewhat casual and pragmatic. We read, also, that when armies faced one another, the opposing army would all have been dedicated to the gods, so that every life taken in battle was an offering.
Modern Druid Fire-Sacrifice
Personal human sacrifice (the 'virgin youth' sort) had to be voluntary. The lore suggests that an offering such as that would have been intended to 'remake the world' - to restore the essential elements of existence. Bone is given to make stone, flesh to make soil, breath to make the wind, etc. This is, I think, where the occasional claim comes from that the Druids said they had created the world.

To live in the Old Ways was, I think, to seek to live in harmony with the world as it really is. To do so, especially for those living and eating straight from the farm, would seem to require the sanctifying of the fact of death, and the ritualizing of the deed of killing. What is murder? Murder is killing done outside the laws, and without the blessing of sacrifice. So, killing for food, killing for law or religion, even killing for war - the ancients seem to have considered the power to kill to be so sacred that it had to be acknowledged and ritualized. As an exercise we might make an ethical comparison between such an attitude (and recalling that life was cheaper, in fact, in ancient days) and our own culture of sanitized, mechanized, and commoditized killing.
• The Takeaway: ‘Sacrifice” is the sacred work of offering to a god or spirit (the gods or spirits), often as offerings of food and gifts as if for a noble guest. Animal-life offering, while common in the ancient world, is not mandatory in modern work. Human sacrifice was already passing away in Pagan times, and need never be contemplated in ours.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Two New Books (Sort-of) part 2

Pagan Spells: Rites for Conjuring Spirits
I’ve been working, for some years, on devising an approach to spirit-arte that preserves the
inheritance of European sorcery and occult tradition, while being adapted for modern Neopagan, polytheist and animist perspectives. It is common in our Neopagan movement to look to the ideas and methods of surviving world spiritist traditions for clues in how to deepen and focus Pagan spiritual work. However the direct heritage of literate, post-European occult tradition contains a large body of spirit-contact tradition, in the form of the magic of the grimoires.
               The magical methods of the manuals called ‘grimoires’ are a direct inheritance from the late-classical world, a time when polytheism was giving way to fashionable monotheism, but the ancient traditions were also being preserved by hidden practitioners. This preservation would become the ‘western occult’ traditions, and would produce, much later, the ‘solomonic’ tradition of ritual spirit-contact. That tradition became, in later centuries, closely connected to both the Christian mythology and spiritology, and to an antagonistic approach to those spirits labeled ‘demons’. These elements have often turned modern Pagan occultists away from investigation of grimoire-magic.
               In the past decade, new research has revealed the direct heritage of classical Paganism in the grimoire rituals and theology. This has led me to look for ways to adapt the method of grimoire spirit-arte to a polytheistic and animist mythos, with reciprocity as the basis of the work. I published a fairly detailed synthesis of the results as “The Book of Summoning”.
               In spring of 2017 I cleaned out my notebooks and published a small spellbook. I soon realized that the material contained almost everything needed for a simple, sorcery-at-home version of spirit-conjuring and spellcraft with spirits. The voices in my head that serve as my self-publishing editors and consultants assigned me to redo it as a formal, step-by-step simple grimoire, adding a few charms and spells to the back-matter.
               The result is my most concise instruction to date in using a polytheist, offering-based ritual system (the sort presented in my other new book “A Guide to Pagan Worship”) for the occult work of making specific alliances with spirits. Like most of my work it by-passes the ‘Golden Dawn’ era of correspondences and lodge-based ritual work. Drawing on archaic, Triadic cosmology, and a broader system of conceiving the classes of spirits I hope it can be usable/adaptable by those working a variety of ancient pantheons and cultural modes.

               I apologize to those who might have bought the first edition of this (there were a number… and thanks). There is probably 20% of additional material in this new addition. I will note that almost all the text (in the original edition, and this one) is new writing, and not self-plagiarism.
               Those who are interested in non-Wiccan ritual styles, drawn from the Pagan tradition of offering and blessing, will enjoy the form of the work. Much of the outline and language could also be used by those working a Wiccan-style four-quartered circle. I hope that the work helps contribute to a livelier relationship with the Spirits among modern Pagans.

Order from this link.
Lulu commonly offers discount codes. As of this writing one can get 10% off the price, plus free shipping (actually a nice deal) with the checkout code BOOKSHIP18 (case sensitive).

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Two New Books (Sort-of) part 1

A Guide to Pagan Worship

People who watch me on FB have seen this, but I want to archive it here, as I play bloggo catch-up

The catalog blurb:
“A non-Wiccan traditional ritual style for modern Pagans! Pagan Ways - based in the reality of nature and the visions of ancient wisdom, offer a platform for many people to seek their own spiritual fulfillment and growth. If you seek a personal Pagan practice, the blessings of the Gods, the Ancestors and the Sacred Land, this small manual offers clear instructions and easy-to-begin methods. Arranged for modern living but rooted firmly in tradition and scholarship.

• Easy Prayers and Simple Offerings
• Simple methods for meditation and divination
• Making and Using a Pagan Home Shrine
• Building Your Own Pagan Practice
• Formal Invocations and Seasonal Rites
 For those seeking the ways of ancient cultures, this book offers a simple ritual format that is in accord with the basics of traditional Paganism. For anyone who wishes to grow closer to the spirit and spirits in the Holy World, it offers a door, and the first steps of a path.”

Weekly in internet chat and Pagan discussion we see newcomers asking the basic question - "how do I get started?" This small book is meant to directly answer that question.
Beginning with a short generic (i.e. non-ethnic-specific) discussion of the Gods and Spirits, and the mythic and symbolic cosmos as understood in traditional Euro-Paganisms, the book begins by guiding students through beginning simple prayers, offerings and exercises, doable even without a home altar. Such simple methods can be started with little more prep than the purchase of some incense, and can offer a practical approach even to those leading busy modern lives. The next step for many the establishment of a shrine in one’s home. I provide clear, adaptable instruction in to how to establish a home-shrine and begin basic simple rites of offering-and-blessing.

While this is not a book about meditation, I provide basic exercises for meditation and mental focus that can help enliven devotion. Likewise simple methods of divination are offered, to help students communicate with the gods and spirits.
Finally I discuss more full-scale ritual for invocation and communion with Gods and Spirits. One of the most common questions I hear is how to decide which of the multitude of Gods and Spirits to actually approach. I offer guidance in choosing beings and symbols for individual work. Another common question is “How do I begin a relationship with a deity?” Drawing on the traditions of theurgy and ritual magic the book offers an instruction in how to make the first formal invocation of a deity, and the follow-up of establishing home cult.  It also discusses the creation of home and family seasonal rites and customs, and the development of ‘magical’ rites and requests for specific boons.
The book is divided into a front section of theory and some of the very basic practice, and then a presentation of all the prayer and ritual work in a spellbook format for easy use. The style of ritual presented is non-wiccan, grown mainly in Neopagan Druidry. It is devotional and invocational, based on ancient models and traditions of fire-ritual and offering. It approaches the Gods and Spirits as living beings, and intends to help students to develop their own personal Pagan religion – i.e. their own relationships with those Powers. It is likely to be useful to anyone seeking to work with the gods and spirits of the peoples of pre-Christian Europe, and quite possibly to a much wider audience.

All of this is presented in 140 pages of concise teaching and practice, with a minimum of padding. The clear and practical instruction takes a student directly into real practice. More good news... I've kept the price at under $10. (Please take note – there are two paperback and one hardback edition in my catalog. The higher-priced paperback exists only to get the book into wider distribution channels – please by the lower-priced edition, as linked.) Presently one can get 10% off that price, plus free shipping (actually a nice deal) with the checkout code BOOKSHIP18 (case sensitive).

Thursday, March 29, 2018

What It’s Been Like

So, the biggest thing that happened over the past year, in my immediate life since I was last actively writing this blog, is that the wife and I are formally ‘retired’. That is, we’ve chosen voluntary unemployment, and relying on our pensions and savings. A little family money from my prudent parents has helped, and we’re doing OK. One might think that being ‘at leisure’ would have increased my output… but…
               The second-biggest thing is the birth of my first Grandchild! This won’t have much bearing on blog content, but it is already changing my schedule. On to a new phase of life.
               See, I moved this blog to the Patheos platform about 2 years ago. Something about that blocked me up bad, and I posted nearly nothing there in a year, then moved back to this platform… where I posted a few things, then nothing for nearly a year. Admittedly, Facebook is competition for this format, but I find I like being able to archive the micro-essays that have tended to vanish into the FB stream. Throughout I have used the articles here in FB discussion, and traffic here has never slowed to zero…
But why should you care about any of that…
               Any long-time readers left will know that I (we… Liafal and I) have been building out our small (17 acre) farm as a temple and facility for our Pagan Church. (Stone Creed Grove ADF – nearing its 30th year). Over the past year that project has reached its basic completion. We’ve built all the big roofs we mean to build, and now we’ll slowly improve off-grid power and water, etc, as we can spend a little budget. Little budget is the fact, now; big, capital-improvement budget is done spent.
A pretty good map
of the Whole Place
The Little House next door.

               The past year has mainly been focused on renovating the small house next-door. When the owner, L’s old friend, passed she left the house and tiny yard to us, along with some debt and a big project. Here on the flat wetlands on the Lake Erie shore, things are generically wet. Little cottages like this will simply sink into the soil if not tended, and that’s what was happening. We tore up 60% of the floors, poured concrete where needed, dug new drainage and put in pumps… one of those jobs where one task requires two others. We finished just as winter approached, and now have a snug small house, with numerous guest-beds and a real bath and kitchen, for small gatherings and hospitality. I do think that marks the final phase of our Tredara build-out, which we began as long as… 6 years ago with the new barn.
That said, we have plans for infrastructure, artistic and ritual improvements. Older ritual sites on our back corner need to be preserved and improved, including the relatively unknown Original Circle in the woods. We also have plans to add as many as three new shrines. We’ll install an earth Mother shrine immediately next to our barn’s common-room and indoor hearth; watch this space for news on that artistic commission; also we’ll install a Herm at the ‘Lower Crossroad’ in the middle of our bit of woods. With those in place we can fulfill my notion of ‘ritual by procession’ – starting at the social hearth with the Earth Mother, and making our way along the pathway, past the Gatekeeper, to our Kindred shrines and finally to the Fire of the Gods in the Nemeton. Everyone loves a parade!
               My occult work has been sluggish as well, in terms of anything creative. Breaking weather and a chance to get out to the shrines more should help that. I have completed a couple of publishing efforts that I’ll be touting here soon.
               So, on we go to a more colorful season, and more to report. For those who are former readers, thanks for reading again. To new readers, welcome – I’ll try to have to interesting stuff, and in the meantime there’s 8 years of nack-articles in the headings over on the right.
Spring Blessings!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Tá sé ar ais !

Yes, It’s back. After a hiatus of nearly a year between posts, I’m gonna reanimate this blog. I miss having an excuse to write short stuff, and am finding myself with this and that to say.
So, where the hell have I been. I dunno… check the tapes… I’ll do some updates as spring progresses.
Coming up fairly immediately, a publishing announcement…