Friday, June 27, 2014

I Have A Book!

I know that I haven't been paying much attention to this blog. I want to get back to it, but I'm not sure what I want to say here anymore.

The point of this entry, though, is to announce that I have a small book available now, titled Teagasca: The Instructions of Cormac Mac Airt. It is a new translation, based on the 1908 translation of Kuno Meyer, of Tecosca Cormaic "The Instructions of Cormac", an Irish manual for how best to live one's life, said to have been composed by the last pagan Irish High King (some versions of his legendary life say that he converted on his deathbed, but since Christianity was not present in Ireland at the time he is said to have lived, I place no credence in that appropriation of an Irish pagan hero to Christian purposes). I've annotated it extensively, discussing my understanding of the text and my reasons for choosing particular translations of the text over others. At the moment, it can be purchased in a pocket paperback edition, as well as an e-book edition. In either edition, it is not very expensive, so I hope that you find it interesting enough to shell out the couple of bucks necessary. Also, keep in mind that there is almost always a coupon available on the front page of the Lulu.com site, so look there and see if you can get some percentage discount by entering a coupon code.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

[What I Do]My Own Gods, Part One - My "UPG", So Called

I am going to make a slight shift in emphasis on this blog. It is time to begin discussing what I, myself, do in a practical sense. I don't present this in a way that is intended as the One True Way to practice lycanthropic religion, but only as an illustration of one way to go about it among many. So, in this series, which will probably be occasional, I am going to discuss the exact gods that I devote myself to, with their names and epithets, and the specific ways in which I perform devotions to them. This is necessarily a bunch of what other people call "UPG", or "Unverified Personal Gnosis", and which I tend to think of as the product of iomas, to use an Irish word (the Old Irish spelling was imbas).

This is a fairly uncomfortable thing for me to do, actually. As I begin to write this, I have never discussed any of this with anyone else. I will probably talk about it with some people whose opinions I respect before I make it generally available (and as of this parenthetical edit, I have done so to some extent), but setting this down as I am writing it now is entirely without any discussion with others.

The first god that I will discuss will be the one who is most important to me. He is Lú (who may be more familiar in his older spelling, "Lugh"), and his epithet as I interact with him most is Ardáinmór, which means "Of The Great Height" or "Of The Great Platform/Stage". This is not an epithet that is attested in any literature of which I am aware, though it is the name of a mountain that is the subject of a short poem by Francis Ledwidge. You don't have to follow that link, though, because as it is short I am going to reproduce the poem here (the epithet is genitive, while the name of the mountain is the nominative form):

As I was climbing Ardan Mór
From the shore of Sheelin lake,
I met the herons coming down
Before the water’s wake.
And they were talking in their flight
Of dreamy ways the herons go
When all the hills are withered up
Nor any waters flow.

Now, Lú Ardáinmór is a particular theophany of Lú, whose mythology is very similar to that of the other theophanies of Lú that have been recorded in the extant lore, though as in all such things it is not identical. He is, for instance, more explicitly connected with wolves and other canines, and with lycanthropy. He partakes of elements of other "wind-wolf" gods, as well, in a somewhat syncretic fashion. Specifically, I know that parts of his stories resemble those of Oðinn, and some those of Apollo. I am not entirely sure of the provenance of other parts of his stories as he has seen fit to reveal them to me. I hope to present some of his specific stories here as time goes on. I know that the reference of his epithet is connected in some way with oracular practice, though he has not (yet?) seen fit to interact with me in that way, as such. I suspect, given the epithet, that such practice would resemble Seiðr in some manner.

I know that Ardáinmór is somewhat of a pun, as well. He has explained it to me as, "Ard-dán, the high poetry and high art and skill of the Three Gods of Skill, the Trí Déithe Dána. For it was through their poetry told on a platform that the Three Gods of Skill were able to tell what would happen in the coming days, to the end of the age."

When I say, "He has explained it to me," it is probably important that I explain what I mean by that. In this case, the discussion came to me in a dream I had, where Lú came to me and talked at length about matters of poetry. This short extract from that talk is the only part of it that I remember consciously, sadly. I think that he may have used the Irish word , which can mean either "moon" or "era", instead of the English word "age", but I'm not certain about that. Dream-language is occasionally difficult to render in natural language, I have found. That this description resembles the "high seat" oracular activities of Seiðr more than anything I have found in Irish story is something that I have found odd, but that may be part of Lú Ardáinmór's somewhat syncretic nature.

I should add here that, when I first was told the epithet and its meaning, I was not aware of the Irish word ardán, and thought that it had only to do with what I later came to understand was a pun, as described above. When I found that there was a word ardán, as well as the compound ard-dán, and that ardán was further referenced obliquely in the description given by Lú to me (with the talk of the high platform), I was naturally surprised. I have come to believe that it was a specific confirmation given that the experience was not of my own making. I was also unaware of the poem by Ledwidge, but I think that it is indicative of Lú Ardáinmór. The connection with herons, for instance, is well within my understanding of Lú Ardáinmór, as is the connection with a lake called Sheelin (sí linn "enchanted lake").

Next time, I will discuss what, exactly, I do in devotion to Lú Ardáinmór.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Definitions

Hi! I've been away from blogging on these subjects for a little while now, but yesterday's posting brought me back a little. To ease myself back in, I'll start with a few definitions.

Atheist - For the purposes of this blog, an atheist is a person who denies the gods of other people. This is a slightly different definition than the one used by many self-professed atheists. For one thing, it includes the sort of monotheists who have created so many problems in the world today by declaring that only their own god is worthy of worship (and therefore is the only god, as such). It does not include those people who think of themselves as "atheists" (or, more frequently, as "agnostics") who have no experience of the gods themselves, but remain open to the idea that such experiences might not necessarily be delusions.

God - An entity worthy of worship. This means that an entity who is a god to one person may not be so to another. See also Un-god.

Sacred - Something devoted to the benefit of the gods or un-gods rather than human society.

Sacrifice - To make something sacred.

Un-god - An entity whose interests are not naturally in line with humans', but who might be convinced to work on the behalf of humans.

Werewolf - The big definition. A werewolf is a participant in a "secret" society (it does not have to be secret in the mundane sense of the term; it only needs to be explicitly initiatory and exclusive of non-initiates) focused on the boundaries between life and death. These initiations can be formal or informal (one such ceremony recorded involved a werewolf breathing into a glass of beer, saying a few words, and the prospect drinking from the glass; at the other extreme, initiations can involve kidnapping and week-long ordeals), but are absolute. Not all such societies use the symbol of the wolf, but that is an extremely common symbol related to the societies in Europe (as well as parts of North America). Those werewolf societies that do use the symbol of the wolf, which again is the majority, will always identify with wolves in some sense, whether that is as literal wolves or as embodiments of the cultural image of the wolf (such as "outlawry" or "ravager"; more recently, this would include "in-group loyalty" and "subcultural outsider", rather than necessarily outlawry as such - the image of the "outlaw biker" is particularly powerful here!). They might express that identity through wolfish costume, hairstyle, or vocalizations such as battle cries that resemble wolfish howls. Even those societies that do not use the symbol of the wolf almost always identify with these same cultural associations. Most of the societies also make use of cannibalistic symbolism (and there is disputed evidence indicating that at times the symbols become literalized in some places). In many (but not all) cases, the societies also involve violent activities, whether as bandit-outlaws or as warriors of society - or, more frequently, as both!

Worship - Devotion and adoration. This is frequently expressed through sacred ritual and sacrificial giving, but tends to expand into other aspects of the worshiper's life.

Friday, May 24, 2013

My Gods Aren't Fictions

So, there's a conversation that is occurring out in the wider pagan/polytheist/occultist blogging world, about performing hero-cultus for or invoking fictional entities. I only have a little to say on the subject, but let me point out some of the posts on the subject first.

This round of the discussion began with a posting on Patheos Pagan's Agora blog, here.

Then Sannion made a metric shit-ton of posts about it. Uh, here's the first one, I think. Then here, here, here, here, herehere, here, here, here, here, and here. Somewhere in there, he found the time to announce that there will be an episode of Galina Krasskova's podcast dedicated to the subject, on May 29th. Along the way, he wrote a poem I really like, though it is not particularly connected to the discussion.

Speaking of Galina Krasskova, she had this to say on the subject.

A week after the whole thing got going, the Anomalous Thracian weighed in.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus had a few words to write on this. Oh, who are we kidding, the good doctor wrote a novel. ;) There are two follow-ups so far there.

Traci at A Sense Of Place on Patheos had something to add.

Dver at A Forest Door wrote three excellent posts on the topic, here, here, and here.

Approaching all of this from a very different direction, Jack Faust at Dionysian Atavism had a few things to say, as well: here, here, here, here, and here.

That's a lot of electrons spilled over this topic, and I haven't even come close to exhausting the posts that have hit the series of tubes over the last week or so. You should be able to find most of them through links found in the above, though. For myself, I have little to say on the topic, actually. Here's what I wrote in PSVL's Aedicula Antinoi blog:

The people who write or otherwise create these pop-cultural entities do not, typically, share the specific values of pagan/polytheist people. Even when they do, they still have their own agendas to pursue, involving matters of commerce and so on, that are imposed on them by the system in which they do their work. These issues distort those characters and stories in ways that are not always beneficial from a religious/spiritual perspective. I think that’s why R.J. Stewart recommends against participating in pop culture when exploring magical techniques, as those techniques can enhance those images in ways that make the various incorporated unhealthy agendas particularly problematic.

So, put me down in the category of those who are not very interested in practicing hero-cultus with fictional creations. It might be possible, it might not, but from my point of view it is seriously undesirable. Those creations contain traps laid by people whose intentions do not necessarily match my own. They might not be traps to people who share those agendas, but how do you know?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Not Dead Yet

I haven't been very prolific here lately (I see that my last post was in April!), but that doesn't mean that my spiritual life is quiet. Quite the opposite, actually. There does seem to be an inverse relationship between activity online and activity in the world, at least in my own life.

Anyway, I was reading an excellent post in Dver's excellent A Forest Door blog, and it occurred to me that I now have a good explanation for the strangely restless sleep of the last few days. I have not been sleeping soundly and have been having fairly unusual (for me) dreams. It turns out that, though I had failed to remember it, today was St Lucy's Day, a day that is very important to werewolves.

Go figure.

Friday, April 20, 2012

What Is Celtic Reconstructionism? Why Do We Do It?

This is something that I wrote the other day on a social networking site when some people were talking about how they would never be "CRs" because of this or that bad experience. It occurred to me that they were unaware of what the process of reconstructionism was intended to be.

First, CR is a process, not an identity. I know that a lot of people call themselves "CRs", but they're wrong to do so. If they insist on using the ugly term, then they should call themselves "CRPs", for "Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans/Polytheists". There are many, many problems that keep cropping up from using the term as an identity.

Now, that quibble aside, I'd like to discuss exactly what CR is, and what it is used for, and maybe provide some insight into why study is important (though I will preface this with the bald statement that all the study in the world is useless without practice).

As noted, we are left with a broken tradition. We, none of us, can learn polytheism in a Celtic cultural context from people who grew up raised in that framework. This is a terrible tragedy, and one we are stuck with. There is no way around it. What we *can* do, though, is discern what those ancestral polytheist Celts did, at least in outline, and we can learn as much as we can from those ancestors. This process, of examining the debris of the past to build a model of how that debris came to be is called "reconstruction". The term should be understood in a forensic sense, not an economic or architectural sense. We are reconstructing what occurred in the past, outside of our historical vision, in order to provide a model for how we should approach the spiritual today. We do this because we believe that our spiritual ancestors had valuable insights from which we can learn.

Most of us - I daresay all of us - did not grow up in a Celtic polytheist cultural framework. We, nearly all of us, learned English as our first language, and learned an English-language-based cultural framework (a few learned a different cultural-linguistic framework, but still there are few people living whose milk language is a Celtic one). Most of us, nearly all again, were trained in monotheist thinking (though I imagine that some were raised in the extension of monotheism called "atheism"). As a result, we have to learn all of that basic information. We have to learn the stories that someone raised in that framework would learn as a child. We have to learn the assumed behaviors. We have to learn how the world is thought to be put together. And so on, and so on. Most importantly, we have to learn the polytheist spiritual perspective (a very few people have the privilege of being raised in a polytheist frame of mind, but most are not then interested in a Celtic spirituality, having a polytheist cultural framework already available to them). If we do not do this, then in what way can we call our spirituality "Celtic Pagan/Polytheist"? If all we do is simply take our English (for most of us) cultural perspective and monotheist/atheist mindset and try to apply some names taken from Celtic fairy tales to the experiences we process through that mindset, then what is that?

And those were the questions we were wrestling with when we started doing the things that eventually came to be known as "CR". I could talk about how we needed, in those early days, to be fairly aggressive because there were a lot of people who were trying to impose alien intellectual frameworks to the material we were trying to approach on its own terms, and how that early aggressiveness became, unfortunately, one of the defining characteristics of those who came after, but that discussion is not really something that needs to happen in this particular thread (except as I've just done, as a sort of response to the people who are attacking "CR" based on what they've seen from some people who identify by that term).

Well, that was rambling. I hope that someone gets something out of it, though, perhaps more of an understanding of why some of us think that study is not merely desirable, but essential - though still subordinate to practice, of course.

Later, I also wrote the following in a related context.

[T]o me the use of reconstructionist methods in culturally-specific Celtic paganism/polytheism is a part of my ancestor reverence and devotion. It is through questioning the ancestors by methods of reconstruction that we can learn how best to honor their memories. That's why I get a little strict at times in judging whether something is appropriate or not. That said, "reverence" (or even "devotion") does not imply "slavish devotion", and I find that I am just as privileged to innovate (within reason) as any of my ancestors were in developing these traditions in the first place. It's a matter of balance and respect, as well as *ghostis (to use the PIE term) - which implies that the ancestors have a responsibility to us as much as we do to them.

While I'm at it, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, in his blog Queer I Stand on the Patheos Pagan Portal, is also wrestling with the process of polytheist reconstructionism.

Dver at A Forest Door has also been discussing the matter, by providing examples.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Language Study

First, I'm going to say that learning the language of another culture is really the only way toward understanding that culture. Without the language, it is possible to learn what that culture thinks about various issues, but not why they think it. It's not elitism to say that learning the language of the culture for any culturally-based religious expression is important, even critical.


With that short opinion aside (and I will perhaps return to this subject at another time), Caera, one of the group of people with whom I practice religious rites, is going to be teaching Irish (Gaeilge) language classes. To be clear, this is her voice, not mine, so any references to "I" are references to her:


I will be teaching Irish Language Classes for Beginners, on Wednesday evenings in 2012, beginning Wednesday, January 4th. Classes will run from 7pm to 8pm. Cost is $40 for the month of January paid in full (at the first class), or $15 per drop-in. I will be providing materials for at least the first few classes; you will want to bring a notebook and a pen, and if you'd like you may bring a recording device if it is nonintrusive. This class will go over reading and pronunciation, but will have a focus on speaking Gaeilge as a living language.

There are no prerequisites. If you have never tried to learn any Gaelic language ever, you are welcome to take this class. If you have tried a bit on your own but not gotten very far, you are welcome to take this class. If you had some a long time ago but would like a refresher, you are welcome to take this class. If you have Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig), but no Irish (Gaeilge), and would like to fix that, you are welcome to take this class. If you can already converse fluently as Gaeilge, please email me at caerasinger@gmail.com and we can talk about setting up a conversation group (and you are probably well beyond this class).

Classes will be held at Edge of the Circle (bookstore), on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Their full address is 701 East Pike St, Seattle, WA 98122, and phone number for the shop is (206)726-1999. Classes will be held in their meeting room downstairs.

If you have any questions about the classes themselves, please feel free to contact the teacher at caerasinger@gmail.com -- Thank you.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Some Links

In lieu of actually providing content myself, it might be worthwhile to point out some interesting articles and items that other people have published.

Over on the Tairis site, Seren has given us an excellent four-part article detailing the virtues of Gaelic tradition and culture. Of course, the rest of her site is also well worth reading.

Here's a site which gives a short overview of Proto-Indo-European religion.

On the NEOHEMAS blog, there's an article discussing how to train for Irish-style stickfighting without a partner.

Speaking of Irish stickfighting, here's a place that makes sticks appropriate for fightin'.

Black Dogs have a number of features in common with werewolves in Europe. Here's some more about them.

Here's an implementation of a lunisolar calendar derived from Celtic antecedents.

In the story of Tam Lin, the titular character is part of the fairy procession. That procession has some relation to the Wild Hunt connected to werewolves of European conception.

Some people are trying to revive the Gaulish language.

There's an interesting article discussing a feminist perspective on werewolves in pop culture. This is a useful perspective on an aspect of the werewolf concept as it is affected, and as it affects, the modern world.

Here's a look at how information about folklore subjects (in this case, werewolves) can get switched around and create a mistaken idea. A short note in O'Donnell's Werewolves (aka Werwolves) got changed around, a definite location added, and with some judicious mixing in books and then on the internet we end up with a fallacious "clan" of werewolves on the Isle of Lewis.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"Werewolf Spirits"

I don't normally deal with current events here, but I'm going to make an exception for two reasons. The first, and more important, is that I haven't put anything in this blog for far too long. I do hope to change that soon. The second, though, is because of the nature of the incident, as it is being reported by some reporters.


It seems that up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, there were a couple of roommates who decided to invite an internet friend over for some sexy times. One thing led to another and such, and to make a long story short the visiting guy ran to the police covered in blood and lacerations. Now, this would be just another stupid story of "kinky" sex getting out of hand, but it seems that one of the girls was allegedly interested in "The Occult". As evidence of this, the police have pointed out a book they called a "necromantic ritual book", though they did not supply the title, a folder of information titled "Intro to Sigilborne Spirits", and a tongue-in-cheek book titled The Werewolf’s Guide to Life: A Manual for the Newly Bitten, targeted at the Twilight crowd and similar. Yeah, there's a solid case there, alright (if by "solid" one means "entirely flimsy").


Anyway, it seems that this mildly sordid exercise in trying to make sex more interesting than, you know, sex already is has resulted in some odd speculation by reporters. I don't know where the reporter got her information, but she claims that, "According to various websites, Sigilborne spirits include female werewolf spirits who engage in sexual acts." I've written to her to find out which websites discuss this idea, but she hasn't yet gotten back to me. My suspicion is that it includes largely Christian websites dedicated to fighting against The Occult. I'll update that when she responds. Edit: She has written back, and apparently her "various websites" include only eBay, on which she found something like this entry. (That link probably won't be around in a month or so. It is an offering of a sigil purporting to be connected to a spirit named "Rakshana the Lycan Sorceress", who can allegedly provide a number of benefits related to sexuality. For reference, the matters I discuss here are not connected to such alleged "werewolf spirits".)


Anyway, my point is that this is a strange thing for a reporter to do. As another site mentioned, "My guess is that this reporter knows about as much about werewolf mythology and “sigilborne spirits” as she does about brain cancer. However, if she were writing about someone with brain cancer, she’d talk to a brain surgeon or oncologist, right? But when it comes to information about the occult — a complicated and varied subject poorly understood by the public — the Internet can provide you with all the information you need." There's a lot of information available that purports to be about The Occult. Most of it is nonsense, written by people who don't know anything about occult matters. It's because there isn't a widely known discipline of occult studies at colleges in the US, the fact that there are dozens, hundreds, of books on the subject written by people who may or may not know anything about it, and the fact that some people, who have not themselves studied it, have claimed that there is "nothing to" occult subjects makes it so that the public, including reporters, seem to think that they already know everything that they need to know about occult subjects. This is nonsense. In point of fact, most people don't even know what occult/esoteric matters exactly constitute.


Just had to rant about this.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Good News - Glen Lyon Safe

I don't often remark on temporal matters here in this blog, but this one seemed to be appropriate to mention. It seems that the Glen Lyon hydro scheme has been withdrawn. This is very good news, as Glen Lyon contains what may be one of the last native polytheist shrines in the British Isles continually in use from antiquity, Tigh nam Bodach.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The King and the Land



This discussion will mostly concern early Gaelic matters. However, the concepts are related to concepts from other societies in northern and western Europe, especially the Saxons and Norse, and even to other Indo-European societies such as the Greeks or Hindi. That said, there are differences between those societies and the Irish, but I would direct the reader to other sources and the reader's own research in order to more completely understand those other societies.

In the cosmological meditation I posted a while back, one of the images that was central was the flow of a fiery water which was representative of brí , the flow of energy of all kinds, whether in the physics sense or other senses (such as emotional energy, the creative impulse, wealth, or the like). This is a very important concept which can be seen as underlying many aspects of early Irish society. Importantly for ethical considerations, it underlies the assumptions behind the Breitheamh (“Brehon”) law. This was a legal system, similar to the English Common Law in some ways, but very different in others, that governed the daily activities of the Irish until well into the Christian era. It was finally overthrown by the English when they invaded and conquered Ireland, to be replaced by the English system of law.

Basically, the system of law set procedures and guidelines for describing the social responsibilities and ties, personal economic power, and theoretical community reputation of particular individuals and their relations. By describing social responsibilities, it therefore described a system of ethics and moral behavior.

The basic picture of society as prescribed (and described) by the Breitheamh law was one of hierarchical relationships based on social ties and property. The theory seems to have been that those who had more possessions and more people obligated to them had more interest in the success of the community, which is a reasonable assumption in an agrarian/transhumant, decentralized society since it was the community which guaranteed the security of wealth. Degrees of authority were, therefore, granted on the basis of what was owed to one, and so largely on what one could afford to, and did, lend.

We should not, on this basis, think of early Irish society as being similar to modern capitalist society, however, as the theory also included assumptions of responsibilities that those in authority had to the community, not just privileges granted to them on the basis of their social position. They were given a higher burden of community support than those below them in status, but then they also were granted social privileges unavailable to those who were of inferior state.

There are other complexities involved in the early Irish social structure, but this will serve for a basic overview. For more detail, I recommend Fergus Kelly's A Guide to Early Irish Law and Early Irish Farming , along with the two-part article by Neil McLeod, “Interpreting Early Irish Law: Status and Currency”, part one found in Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie vol. 41 (1986), pp. 46-65, and part two in ZCP vol. 42 (1987), pp. 41-115. These will not, largely, cover various exceptions, such as the status of religious functionaries like Draoithe or Christian monks, among others, but they give a nicely detailed look at the general structure of society (and, in the case of Kelly's Guide… , of the legal system).

After the social structure, the next aspect of Breitheamh law we will consider is the matter of Justice, and how society functions to maintain orderly life. There are few instances of punishment prescribed by the legal system, though there is much discussion of various criminal actions that can disrupt the calm functioning of the society. Murder, assault, and theft are all condemned by the system, just as they are in nearly every other society's social code of conduct. Punishment, though, is avoided in most cases in favor of various methods of redressing the social imbalance that occurs. For instance, if theft occurs, the object stolen, or its value, is returned to the victim. In addition, if the victim is of such a status that a theft would also indicate damage to his good name (“he is unable to take care of his own things, how can we trust him to take care of ours”), then that would also need to be redressed. This is done by means of the famous “honor price”, which is a value set on a person's good name and reputation. This value is largely determined by complex formulas laid out in the legal texts relating to how one fits into society's expectations and needs. This is defined by examining the property and clients of the person, or his or her relationship to someone who has property. “Property”, in the early Irish conception, would be what we would call Capital Goods and Real Property. That is, it was considered to be, for these purposes, land and those goods which have economic value related to the trade of the person in question. “Clients” are even more important in the early Irish system, though, as it is through patronage that one gains a following to back one up in petitions to the community as a whole.

This brings us to the metaphysical assumptions behind the Breitheamh law system. One of the most important is that wealth, fertility, authority, sovereignty, and so on comprise a real force flowing from the Otherworld. The Irish term that I use for this concept (and which I believe is the original use of the word) is brí , which is a word that means, roughly “strength, vigor, significance, meaning”. It is the root of briocht , which means “charm, spell, amulet”, and of the name of the goddess Bríd , or Brighid. It is, therefore, the undifferentiated matter, without form or substance, that underlays all existence that we perceive. It is the very material of the Otherworld itself. It is by transference of this material between the world we can perceive and the invisible Otherworld that the cosmos moves and functions. It manifests as intuition and creativity, iomas, energy, and as physical matter, depending on exactly how it is configured. The differences there are a discussion for another time, however.

Brí flows into this world along well-defined channels. We perceive these channels as bandéithe , “goddesses”, who are considered to be andéithe , “un-gods” or “chthonic gods”, and associate them with wells, rivers, and the land itself. On its own, this flow of brí is chaotic and wild, resulting in the wilderness and the meandering flow of rivers, among other things. However, some déithe (including both gods and goddesses) have learned, and subsequently taught us, their descendants, to form that flow into shapes and processes more conducive to cultural existence.

One of the most significant ways in which brí is made to serve society is through the institution of the (“king”) or Ríon (“queen”). This is a person chosen for his wide range of clients and wealth, and given, as a result, a position of some importance. He acts as a tribal chieftain, but also in the function of a particular sort of priest. He is required to marry the local bandia (“goddess”), and from this marriage the flow of brí passes through him to the community as a whole, passing to his clients, and to their clients, and to their neighbors. The measure of success of a Rí or Ríon is in the quality of life in the tuath (“territory”) under his control, including such aspects as weather, the harvest, trade, wealth, and so on. The mediation of brí from the Otherworld into this world is the measure of the societal value of a Rí, and the failure of that, made explicit by the failure of the kingship in various specific ways (including weather, the harvest, and so on), should result in the replacement of the Rí.

At various levels, this dynamic is indicative of the general Gaelic conception of the order of life. A poet mediates brí as iomas, the inspiration and intuition that underlies poetry. A warrior has a set of different ways of acting as a channel for martial energies (fearg “anger”, for instance, but also more esoteric concepts such as lon láith “blackbird ardor” or riastartha “contortions”). All of these are variations of the basic model of energy passing from the Otherworld, into a specially prepared person in this world, and so transforming into practical benefits for the community. (There is an additional step, involving returning this energy to the Otherworld, but we will leave that for the moment, noting only that it is the process of sacrificial giving that returns this energy, in a continuing cycle.)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Quick Note: Another Astral Projection Method

I'm still "recharging the batteries", as it were, but here's a link to an excerpt from Paul Devereux's Lucid Dreaming: Accessing Your Inner Virtual Realities discussing some methods of astral projection.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Quick Link

One of the biggest problems facing those who are learning to explore the world using "inner vision", "astral projection", or the like is the possibility of falling into a trap laid either by oneself or by mischievous or malevolent spirits. Some traditions respond to this possibility by advising a "no contact" policy with the spirit world, unless the contact corresponds exactly with particular dogmas laid down in the past. This is not, however, the way that I think spiritual exploration should be handled. It is to fall into the control of fear.

Fear is useful, but falling under its control is not. That does not alleviate the problem, though, of possible delusion. The mystic world is strewn with poor unfortunates who come to believe that they are special in a way that doesn't bear up to scrutiny. Patrick Dunn over at Postmodern Magic discusses the issue and provides a very useful series of questions that can help avoid the problems while allowing actual exploration.

Musing On Process

I haven't been posting here as regularly as I'd like. In part, this is because of temporary health issues (about which I'd previously summarized) that broke my stride, and I haven't been able to get back into it. However, more importantly, I think that I have entered one of the pendulum swings that I see in my process of doing things. I'll work hard, develop a strong body of work for a while, then have to take a break. Right now, I seem to have switched my main focus to a more entertainment-oriented, less demanding set of thoughts. In the past, this has been a period of letting an aspect of my thought lie fallow, as it were, to recover its fertility. I'll still try to post here on occasion, but for a few weeks, I expect that it will be lightly at best. Stick with me, though, as I am sure that I will be back in full swing soon.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Contra Fidem



People have a tendency to talk about their “beliefs”. When analyzed, what this means is that they are describing what they assume to be the inherent essence of things. Unfortunately, this is not the best way to describe the world. Essences are not, as near as we can tell, inherent to anything. As the philosophers say, existence precedes essence.

When an event happens, we experience it as a set of sense impressions. We can use those sense impressions to develop a model of the event that allows us to make predictions about similar events. For instance, we note that objects tend to be attracted to the ground. Over time, several models were proposed to explain this attraction, the most successful of which is the theory of gravity. We have had such success with gravity that some people accept that it is a true model of the events described by the theory. They begin to believe in gravity so strongly that they look for a mechanism of it. Now, there is no observation to date of anything that could serve as a mechanism of gravity, but the belief that there must be one is strong, so a lot of effort is spent on looking for it. Perhaps one day there will be found a way to observe a mechanism of gravity, or perhaps there is no “mechanism” in any observable sense. We don't know either way, and we can't know until such a mechanism might be observed.

Similarly, other observations become the subject of various beliefs. We might believe that because a particular book includes claims of divine authorship (or because someone has made such a claim based on spiritual insights they have experienced) that the book was then inspired by or even directly written by some divinity or another. We might believe that the only things that exist are the interactions of “particles” and “fields” through the exchange of a mysterious substance we call “energy”, even though we cannot observe these alleged “particles”, “fields”, or “energy” except indirectly. We might believe that fairy beings cavort in our gardens because we saw with our eyes what appeared to be a little man dancing in the moonlight by the foxglove one night. I could spend all day recounting various possible observations about which we can make beliefs and clothe those beliefs with an aura of factuality.

Beliefs are neat. They allow us to make predictions about future events, and so allow us to navigate our environment with more or less success through the application of our minds. We believe that things will tend to fall toward the ground if they are not supported above it, which allows us to keep from falling or dropping things by maneuvering our bodies in particular ways. If we're smart, we continue to modify our beliefs to reflect further observations. For instance, in the case of gravity, we might note that birds and flames do not tend to fall to the ground, which causes us to modify our sense of what gravity is, and to modify how it works in our belief-models. From that, we might figure out how to build a helicopter or hot air balloon, which then can be observed to allow us to further refine our beliefs about gravity. Similarly, we might do the same about spirits – we could either dismiss them because we can't repeat our observations about them on demand, or we could note that many people report observations of spiritual beings in various ways, correlate those observations with the ones we have had ourselves, and develop a model of those beings that might allow us to interact with spiritual beings.

Whatever model or system of models we are using, though, we need to remember that they are not the actual events themselves. Even though the models of materialism (the idea that the only things that exist are particles, fields, and energy, and that all things that can occur can be described as interactions of those three types of entity) have been relatively successful in certain ways, giving us computers and CD players and airplanes and rockets, they have been relatively unsuccessful in explaining what occurs in a haunting, remote viewing, telepathy, or artistic creation. To believe in those models in a naïve sense, then, would seem to be a mistake. At the very least, it would seem to be a case of clothing those models with an aura of factuality that can't be maintained through logical argument, but only through assertion.

Belief, then, is a failure to allow for future experiences in favor of experiences which have already occurred, combined with dismissing any experiences which don't match those beliefs. Not all experiences need to be firsthand ones. After all, I strongly doubt that any of my readers have been on the surface of the Moon. Yet, I would submit that most of us certainly believe the reported experiences of those who claim to have been there, and that it does exist as a real place to which we could, at least in theory, visit. That is not, of course, necessarily true, but it exists as a belief that we have based on a combination of the reports of others and our theories about the nature of the world around us. If we were to discover, though, that the Moon was an image projected in the sky by a machine in the center of the Earth, and that those who claimed to go there were lying (which latter is a claim made by some people, who are good at interpreting evidence to support their belief), then it would turn out that our long-held belief about the Moon being a real place that we could theoretically visit would have been wrong. This is, of course, unlikely in the extreme, but it is not impossible.

Applying this to polytheism, I note that a number of particular beliefs have shown up, which are held up as necessary to those who participate in our practices. For instance, some people say that we must believe that the gods are real, that they are not aspects of our own psyches. I don't know. I know that when I interact with entities that I call “gods” (or, more usually, “déithe 's andéithe”, in keeping with my Gaelic tendencies), I experience them in ways that are similar to the experiences that occur when I interact with other people. That is to say that their actions and reactions are only partly predictable by me in the same way that the reactions of people are only partly predictable by me. I interpret this as indicating that the déithe 's andéithe are independent of my psyche in some way. However, someone else might interpret the very same (or at least broadly similar) data as indicating that the entities are expressions of archetypal “forces” within his own mind. Me, I don't care either way, so long as the results of those beliefs are similar. If we both, the archetype-guy and I, participate in feasts at particular times of year, if we both engage in werewolf practices, give sacrificial offerings, and so on, it doesn't matter to me what he believes about the underlying “reality” of those practices and the events that inspire them. “Belief”, in fact, can prove to be an unnecessary wedge between us if it is used in that way.

Now, we might discuss our relative beliefs in the underlying mechanisms that we clothe with an aura of factuality, but so long as he doesn't deny me my right to choose an explanation that I feel is appropriate for whatever reason, and I don't deny him the same, then we can both participate in the same community. It is (at least in part) by denying to others the right to choose their own explanations for events that we fracture community. It is only by claiming for our beliefs an absolute authority which we deny to any other system of beliefs that we begin to oppress our neighbors and open the doors for persecution. For that matter, when we claim such an authority for our current beliefs, we deny to ourselves the ability to include future experiences in our explanations, staying stuck in a rut of what had happened up until the point we had formulated those beliefs.

So away with Belief! Let Belief be damned and cast aside in favor of our current best model. Let us no longer clothe beliefs with an aura of factuality that exceeds actual events. Let our cry go up, “CONTRA FIDEM!”