Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Meditation on the Microcosm and the Macrocosm

It is important to present what I, specifically, do to enact these principles of werewolfism that I am describing. To that end, I am going to present a visualization exercise that will help in developing an understanding of how the cosmos is structured, in an esoteric sense, as I understand it. The subconscious insights from this will help in understanding my method of approaching lycanthropy. I will continue to present exercises and discussions that will help other people approach spirituality in a similar manner to that which I use, or at least to gain some understanding of my approach. Some of these exercises, in fact, should be valuable to people who are not intending to attain a werewolf practice of spirituality, as they are drawn from a wider set of European, Celtic, or precisely Gaelic ideas.
An interesting aspect of this particular visualization exercise is that it isn't all that there is in my own practice of it. Some portions I have deliberately cut and only tell people in an oral fashion. This is in part because I want there to be some mystery left in the whole visualization, but also because I want you to study the sources (about which I'll be talking next week) and find aspects that speak to you to add to it. I want this to start from a basic outline and grow in different ways in different places.
Begin by sitting comfortably, preferably facing to the East. Close your eyes and relax. Time your breathing so that you inhale slowly for a three-count, hold for a three-count, exhale for a three-count, and hold for a one-count. This is called the “ breath of fire”. As you become more experienced with this meditation, you can switch to the “breath of introspection”, which is to inhale slowly for a three-count, hold for a three-count, exhale for a three-count, and hold for a five-count. These patterns of breathing are probably best treated as recommendations, and natural breathing is also useful.
When you are breathing rhythmically and automatically, begin by placing yourself in the universe. Envision yourself at the center of the world. Around you spreads the Central province, the worldly embodiment of Sovereignty, the goddess of the land in which you find yourself. Ahead of you lies the Eastern province, the worldly embodiment of Prosperity, the god with the overflowing cornucopia, the ever-full cauldron . To your left lies the Northern province, the worldly embodiment of Battle, the god of boundaries and protection. To your right lies the Southern province, the worldly embodiment of Music and all the arts, the goddess of the poets. At your back lies the Western province, the worldly embodiment of Wisdom, the goddess of inspiration. All five provinces together make up the Talamh Céadfach, the Land that can be perceived. The land extends around you in increasing circles, from the hearth fire of where you are specifically, to the place where you are immediately (your home), to the areas which support your daily existence and extended existence (the “fields” and “pastures” of your life), out to the wilderness, and finally to the surrounding sea out to the ninth wave. Above the land is the Neamh nGlas, the Blue-Gray Sky, the Celestial world. This is the ancestral home of the gods, before they sailed in their sky-ships to the world we know. Around the land, past the ninth wave, and beneath it lies the Muir Maisiúil, the Beautiful Sea. This is the unformed realm of the otherworld, where the waves are the horses of Manannán and the cattle of Tethra.
Envision and feel liquid fire welling up from the ground beneath you and flowing into a cauldron within your body, located around your liver and navel area. This is the Coire Gortha “ Cauldron (or Whirlpool) of Warming”, corresponding to the Galenic “ Natural Spirit”. It is the receptacle of health, heat, and life in your body. Feel and envision the liquid fire circulating and boiling in this cauldron within your body for nine cycles of breathing.
After nine breathing cycles, envision and feel the liquid fire flowing up into a cauldron within your body located around the area of your heart. This is the Coire Éirime “Cauldron (or Whirlpool) of Motion”, corresponding to the Galenic “Vital Spirit”. It distributes life through your body, and is the receptacle of your passions and emotions. Feel and envision the liquid fire circulating and boiling in this cauldron within your body for nine cycles of breathing.
After nine breathing cycles, envision and feel the liquid fire flowing up into a cauldron within your body located in your head, containing your brain. This is the Coire Sofheasa “ Cauldron (or Whirlpool) of Wisdom”. It corresponds to the Galenic “ Animal Spirit”, and is the receptacle of your thoughts, memories, and poetry. Feel and envision the liquid fire circulating and boiling in this cauldron within your body for nine cycles of breathing.
After nine breathing cycles, envision and feel the liquid fire erupting from your forehead, as it were a fountain, for nine cycles of breathing.
After nine breathing cycles, envision and feel the fiery water flowing through the sky in a torrential river of fiery, watery, cloud-like substance for nine cycles of breathing.
After nine breathing cycles, envision the clouds precipitating the fiery liquid as rain falling back into the sea. Envision this storm of fiery liquid over the sea, past the ninth wave, for nine cycles of breathing.
After nine breathing cycles, envision the fiery liquid flowing back toward the center of the sea, to the Well at the bottom of the Sea, for nine cycles of breathing.
After nine breathing cycles, envision the fiery liquid flowing up to well out of the ground beneath you, for nine cycles of breath.

Now, remember where you are, with the Land, the Talamh Céadfach, spreading around you in four directions surrounding the center, from the ninth wave in to your own hearth, the Sea, the Muir Maisiúl, surrounding and cradling it, the Sky, the Neamh nGlas, spreading above you, and you, here and now, breathing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What Did Werewolves Do?

There are a number of activities which were associated with werewolves. In Togail Bruidne Dá Derga we find that there is a group of young men whose activities are described as fáelad “werewolfing”. This is related to their activities as díberga, a term that is also associated with the fianna warrior-bands. These practices of werewolfing were enough to scare a swineherd, who was said never to have seen such a thing before.

In 17th century Guernsey, the young folk enjoyed engaging in practices that the Calvinist authorities (and perhaps others) called vouarouverie “werewolfery”. This included guising, carousing, singing, dancing, and engaging in somewhat erotic games (such as painting the faces of the young men black with soot, and then they would chase the young women around in an attempt to get some of the black on their faces; this may be related to a song recorded in the Child Ballads called “The Twa Magicians”, in which a blacksmith attempts to gain the maidenhead of a “lady fair” wearing “robes of red”, or in another version a “coal black smith” attempts to marry a maid who is “white as any milk” - in the traditional versions, the smith is successful in his aim, but there are more recent variations in which she escapes). There is quite a lot of information on these practices in the article “Night Revels and Werewolfery in Calvinist Guernsey”.

These boisterous nighttime vigils are, of course, very interesting, but we have another important source that describes what werewolves did in some detail. In a trial before the Inquisition at Jürgensburg, Livonia in 1692, a peasant named Thiess testified that he was a werewolf, and described the activities in which they engaged in considerable detail. Three times a year, he said, they put on wolf skins and went off to a cave he called Hell, which was “at the end of the sea” (later, presumably under the influence of the learned men questioning him, he changed his mind and placed Hell under the ground), to fight with sorcerers who were out to steal the harvest. Many of the details of his testimony are very fascinating and connect the practice to other known practices of the Ancient and early Modern worlds, such as the Maenad followers of Dionysos, the Benandanti of Friulia, the Táltos of Hungary, and many others. It is especially the connection to the Benandanti that is of interest to us here, as there were some elements of that practice which were connected to the ancestors, such as the procession of the dead and contact with the dead.

The procession of the dead is widespread throughout Europe, and is recently most well-attested as the Perchtenlauf (notice the figure of Death at about 1:55), in which guisers dress up in monstrous costumes and parade through the streets, dancing, making noise and music, and so forth. This is, of course, a ritual reenactment of the Wild Hunt, which is the true procession of the dead. The cognate in Wales is the pack of the cwn annwfn, led by Gwyn ap Nudd (who, despite his name's meaning of “fair”, was said to have a blackened face – which could easily have a connection to the games played on Guernsey in the 17th century). Gwyn's name is a perfect linguistic cognate of Fionn. Since Fionn's maternal grandfather was Nuada, even the surname finds its cognate.

According to Daniel Gershenson (in Apollo the Wolf-God), wolves are associated with the dead and the otherworld possibly due to the fact that they often lair in the mouths of underground streams where the streams come up to the surface, during the season in which the streams are dry. Since air blows out of these mouths, they were believed to be passages to the underworld, and the origin of wind – and wind is the breath of the world, making it the Spiritus Mundi. Regardless of the reason, however, the fact is that wolves were so associated. It is this connection, in fact, that makes the werewolves important to the harvest (pace Ginzburg, above), as it is from the dead that fertility springs. In Ireland, this is evident in the correlation between the ancestors and the fairies, who are closely tied to harvest activities, but it is also apparent in the fact that Pluto, the lord of the dead in Rome, was also the source of wealth (and so the source of the English word plutocracy “rule by the wealthy”).

That connection with the ancestors is manifested among the Benandanti as a sort of “spirit medium” ability to perceive and converse with the dead. This ability, necromancy proper, is of critical importance to the lycanthropic practitioner. It is by conversation with the ancestors that the werewolf can reinforce links between the present and the past, and so revitalize the world. How this is done specifically is a topic for another time.

Another important source we have for what werewolves did in the past comes from the Kalash people of northern Pakistan. These people are in danger from the wars in the region, surging fundamentalist Islam, and the normal economic and social pressures that move against traditional ways in the modern world. To quote from the article on Wikipedia:

[In] the Festival of the Budulak (buḍáḷak, the 'shepherd king')… a strong prepubescent boy is sent up into the mountains to live with the goats for the summer. He is supposed to get fat and strong from the goat milk. When the festival comes he is allowed for a 24-hour period only to have sexual intercourse with any woman he wants, including even the wife of another man, or a young virgin. Any child born of this 24-hour rampage is considered to be blessed. The Kalash claim to have abolished this practice in recent years due to negative worldwide publicity.

This ritual has many similarities to the lycanthropic bands of other Indo-European areas, such as the period of time (the Fianna were said to be active and out in the wilderness, separated from the community, from the beginning of summer to the beginning of the other half of the year), the association with dairy products (as at the Lupercalia), and the association with fertility. This shows, as with the vouarouverie of Guernsey, the association of sexuality, especially unrestrained or playful sexuality, with these lycanthropic youths. It also emphasizes the sacred nature of their activities.

So, to summarize, werewolves are a medium between the world of the living and that of the dead. They are essential to the harvest, and so to prosperity in general. They operate outside the bounds of society, but to its general benefit. They are supposed to be virile, sexual people, often young men (or women, as we shall see) in their sexual prime. They are frequently assumed to be active during the night time, and to associate with each other during that period. They are commonly involved in rituals which involve a procession of masked or otherwise costumed figures. That's a good beginning, but what does it mean for us, now, in the 21st century? In the coming weeks, I'll be giving a basic outline of how I approach these ideas.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What is a Werewolf?

Of course, there are many assumptions that people bring to subjects like this one, especially when one considers how much the original concepts have been corrupted and literalized in popular culture, going back hundreds of years. Therefore, here are some general descriptions of what I am talking about.

Lycanthropy: this is the central issue here, so I need to talk a bit about what it is and what it isn't. “Werewolf” is a word that means “man-wolf”. This doesn't mean, however, that there is a literal assumption that the person is a human-looking wolf.

Ceci ne pas une loup-garou.

Instead, werewolves were understood as a particular social institution. We'll be discussing that in detail as time goes on, but for now it is easiest to think of them as bands of youths, predominantly boys but also some girls, who lived for periods of time outside of the community. During this time, they would frequently learn particular secrets and mysteries associated with the ancestors, death, combat, fertility and sexuality, and a number of related matters. Due to their association with the ancestors and death, they are identified with wolves, as canines are understood (for a number of reasons) to be the guardians of the afterlife and channels of exchange between this world and the otherworld. In addition, their frequent association with combat and violence are similarly compared to a supposed ferocity characteristic of wolves, and their tendency to gather in small groups is seen as similar to the packs in which wolves organize themselves. Many of these groups self-consciously identify with wolves, adorning themselves with wolfskins, composing songs and battle cries that resemble the howling of wolves, giving themselves names that refer to wolves, styling hair in manners that recall wolves, acting in ways that are associated with wolves (deserved or not), and so on. However, not all of the lycanthropic groups do these things, and few do all of them. Some groups, indeed, do not seem to identify with wolves, though they fulfill all of the other functions of the werewolf groups.

What is most interesting is that the werewolf activities can be found over most of the world, even in places that do not seem to have had enough contact to transmit such a specific set of ideas and practices. Thus, we find aspects of werewolf practices in Europe and India, of course, but also in China and Japan, Central Asia, the Pacific Northwest and Northern Forests (among other places) of North America, Africa, and so on. Moreover, we find that certain specific motifs keep recurring in all of these far-flung areas, such as an association of mountains and mountain-spirits with magical or esoteric secrets of fighting or hunting.

I intend to concentrate on the European manifestations of lycanthropic practice, and will probably have a tendency toward the Gaelic areas, but I do hope to cover at least some aspects of the matter that come from other areas, such as the shugendō teachings of the ubasoku-yamabushi, the hamatsa, the Tonkawa wolf dance, the budulak, and so on. I'd also appreciate anyone with more information about such groups to let me know about them.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Werewolf Resources

I'll go ahead and post this one today, since it is not really a full bit of content on its own.

Every Reconstructionist, or nearly so, has a list of books to recommend. I am no different, and have a number which I believe are of special value to those pursuing a lycanthropic spirituality. I do have a bias toward doing so in a Gaelic context, and that is reflected in my choices here. You'll also find a mixture of scholarly and practical books, including a few books focused on what some materialist fundamentalists call “woo”, in those cases where I think they are appropriate. What you won't find too many of are books which are solely about werewolves, divorced from cultural context. This is deliberate, as most such books avoid engaging with the werewolf's perspective. However, there are still one or two of those in there, because reports of werewolf activities can sometimes be found in them. I do not include any books or resources which I have not been able to examine myself. Another time, I will list articles of value.

Bartlett, Thomas and Keith Jeffery (eds) – A Military History of Ireland
Bernhardt-House, Phillip A. – Werewolves, Magical Hounds, and Dog-Headed Men in Celtic Literature
Bruce, Robert – Astral Dynamics
Clark, Rosalind – The Great Queens: Irish Goddesses from the Morrígan to Cathleen ní Houlihan
Davidson, H.R. Ellis – Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe
Enright, Michael – Lady With a Mead Cup
Evans-Wentz, W.Y. – The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries
Gershenson, Daniel – Apollo the Wolf-God
Ginzburg, Carlo – Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath
Ginzburg, Carlo – The Night Battles
Kelly, Fergus – A Guide to Early Irish Law
Kershaw, Kris – The One-eyed God: Odin and the (Indo-) Germanic Männerbünde
Kirk, Rev. Robert – The Secret Commonwealth
Kondratiev, Alexei – The Apple Branch
Laurie, Erynn Rowan – Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom
Lecouteux, Claude – The Return of the Dead
Lecouteux, Claude – Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies
Lincoln, Brunce – Death, War, and Sacrifice
Matthews, Caitlín – The Celtic Book of the Dead
McCone, Kim R. – Pagan Past and Christian Present in Early Irish Literature
Nagy, Joseph Falaky – Conversing With Angels and Ancients
Nagy, Joseph Falaky – The Wisdom of the Outlaw
Otten, Charlotte F. – A Lycanthropy Reader: Werewolves in Western Culture
Paxson, Diana L. – Trance-Portation
Stewart, R.J. – Robert Kirk: Walker Between the Worlds
Thompson, Christopher Scott – Highland Martial Culture
Tolstoy, Nikolai – The Quest for Merlin
Walsh, Brian – The Secret Commonwealth and the Fairy Belief Complex

Introduction to Lycanthropic Spirituality and This Blog

There's a lot that has been written regarding werewolves and spirituality, but most of it seems to be from the modern perspective of werewolves as Otherkin or similar wolf-in-man's-clothing concepts. While such ideas are perfectly fine, and a wonderful way to experience the spiritual aspects of the world, they are also not taken from the pagan, polytheist traditions of the ancient peoples from whom many of us derive our concepts of spiritual truths.

For myself, I am drawn to the cultural expressions of northern European pagan polytheism, and especially the Celtic, and more specifically the Gaelic expressions thereof. Early on, I became interested in the traditions of spirituality inherent in the stories of a cultural institution which was closely identified with pagan ways, and which was connected with Druids and other undesirables in the legal texts of the medieval Irish, the Fianna of Ireland. As a result, I began researching just what it was that might have underlay the stories of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and his merry band * of warriors in the wilderness. This blog intends to be a record of what I've discovered, along with whatever insights I feel like adding to the discussion. Enjoy, or don't. Feel free to comment, ask questions, make suggestions for future articles, or tell me you think I'm wrong. I'm not, but feel free to tell me that you think I am. ;)

Some of the assumptions I make include: the value of tradition as a guide to the uncertainties of the world, though not necessarily an inerrant one; the relative validity of Indo-European studies to the understanding of fragmented traditions; a polytheist/animist perspective; that humans are not separate from the world or otherwise particularly special; that consciousness is a fundamental aspect of reality, not an epiphenomenon; probably other things that I am not thinking of right now. I bring these up now so that you can be ready for them if and when they show up in posts, and so that you can decide now if you would prefer to spend your time reading something else.

I do not know yet what the schedule of new posts will be, but I am shooting for at least one article per week. I do know that the first few posts will probably be of general Celtic matters, or matters of meditation. The details of werewolfery will come soon enough, though.

*A phrase chosen quite deliberately, considering the relation that the Robin Hood stories seem to show to the Fiannaíocht, or stories of the Fianna.