Month: February 2010

Iza in August — a memory

While working on an article, I came across notes from 1997:

Ice, Iza. A Norse principle of creation. Stiff. A slash. Icicles impending, sword-dangling from heights above the head. Icicles encasing roofs, garage rims. Ice encases human creation most readily. Creation as ice down the back, down between the breasts with its stinging tongue. Stagnation — ice stilling the blood’s forges, stiffening the fingers, toes, ears, extremities, siren-dulling the survival chant of the heart — I live I live I live — the soft killing blanket, the soft killing breast of the Mother who only seems to forgive.

Ice, Iza. What meaning does ice hold in southern August, can its song be heard here beneath the body paint, beneath strategic glitter and well-placed shouts? Ice — absence, cold is heat’s absence, loss of kinetic motion, loss of the iron dance of blood’s filaments. Half of Hel’s face — ice white, ice black, a cold place, an absence — no touch but one’s own bone —

Ice as bone, our bones as ice — unmelting, their steely dignity impelling us to a straight line. Idunna’s ice castle — the steely dignity freezing dew upon apple skin into cold hard tears, a tear without motion, a drill stilled, a gem set into a crown of ice, a tear that never falls, that releases nothing.

But winter offers gentle hands uncreased to the summer-sickened, those feasted upon desire dizzying, dizzying into vertigo. Deep slice, glacial azure bluer than cloudless skies — in cold, in absence, there is an empty peace, an empty peace — the still lake left by glacial teeth — the shallow seas and their fossils — the unwanted tree scepter-straight and undisturbed, a measure of stillness —

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The moon is always female but the sun

Another from my personal journal, written in December 2008. My apologies for not fixing the capitalization; when I’m just a-musing myself, I tend to go lower case. 😉

The moon is always female but the sun
is female only in lands where females
are let into the sun to run and climb.
— Marge Piercy

dawn. the pink and gold tint the sea of white at the trees’ feet, and shine through the prism encasing the branches. the day is limned with glass as the full moon bows her exit, giving way to the Maiden Sun.

i’ve finished Aedh Rua’s book, “Celtic Flame,” and i must say that i loved it. written by a former member of Keltria, the views of the Gods and Kindreds is aligned with mine. i was surprised that someone else associated Boann/Bebhionn with the moon as i did, and viewed the sun as Grian/Aine, rather than Lugh (as is typical among Pagans).

in short, in my Celtic work i view both sun and moon as female. perhaps this is a holdover from my Dianic days, but every indication i gathered (UPG or no) seems to indicate the Celtic sun deity is feminine. the moon deity, i suppose, could go either way — but i didn’t see any sign of intrinsic maleness, such as Mundalfari, Sin or Chandra. (or Allah, for that matter.)

and there is a Scottish folk tale i believe that describes the heavenly bodies as two sisters who didn’t like each other much! not a truly religious or mythological source, and i haven’t read it firsthand, mind you….

but why not? i admit my views on this matter have mildly offended some Wiccans — usually men — who feel that my cosmology leaves little room for male identity. but i say there are plenty of images, plenty of myths, to go around. don’t like my vision? find another.

and so. back to Aedh Rua.

i was fascinated with Firinne (to use a Hindu term, it would be akin to dharma — world order, including one’s role within it. it includes both the order of the world and honor). however, i don’t see the world as a giant good-versus-evil battle with the Fomhoire; that sounds too Christian to me. i do agree that the Fomhoire are figures akin to the Norse jotun or the Hindu asuras, but perhaps they are not significant enough to feature in my own philosophy.

in short, you act honorably and worship the Gods in accordance with rta/dharma/firinne because that is the holy path, not because there are bogeyman under the bed waiting to snatch you. are there spirits in the cosmos that mean us harm? undoubtedly — but they’re not really worth the focus or notice. in my experience, people with reasonable spiritual or psychological strength rarely fall victim to them.

i also was fascinated with the various divisions of Celtic society and the traditions thereof — but i don’t think these need to be reproduced in modern times. we are not a tribal society, and that is for the best. nor do we live in agricultural homesteads.

cities, in fact, may not be the worst arrangement because they allow for the existence of wild land outside the bounds of agriculture and settlement. farms and pastures aren’t nature. they disrupt the ecosystem in terrible — albeit necessary — ways.

the answer to society’s ills isn’t to revert to tribally-based agricultural societies — or hunting and gathering for that matter (and there are some who suggest that). cities needn’t be evil places. we need new answers, for new times and new circumstances.

i suppose one of the reasons i don’t call myself a Celtic Reconstructionist is that i don’t want to live in an ancient Celtic society plucked and transported to modern times. i may pick up some Gaelic here and there (along with Spanish and the various languages — German and Italian, mostly — that i sing in), but English is ultimately the language of my birth and thinking.

i don’t think this makes me inauthentic or an impostor. the Gods seem pleased with my efforts, at any rate.

Review: Toward a Pagan Mysticism

I was recently gifted with a copy of Ian Corrigan’s Toward a Pagan Mysticism, a slender booklet written by the author of ADF’s dedicant program.

In short, Corrigan’s system — which he terms “meditative theurgy” — involves a series of words, brief meditations and gestures to align the practitioner with the Druidic cosmos. Performed — preferably daily, at least in part — before the practitioner’s regular altar, it involves a purification with fire and water, drawing the “two powers” of Earth and Sky into the body, opening to the three realms of Land, Sea and Sky and the four winds and their qualities, and mystically identifying the body with the elements of the natural world. It ends with the worship of the God of the Self.

As a system, I think it works, although I’m a little loathe to worship the God of Self, being of a more devotional bent myself. You need a certain degree of humility before you can approach the inner-spark because, out of balance, it can too easy serve as the justification for desires, egotism or general bad behavior. Perhaps I err too much on the side of self-abnegation in this, but … well, the “God of my own soul” doesn’t call me to worship it. Honor it through right action and right living, yes. And, well, the concept seems much more related to ceremonial magic than I’m comfortable with.

I also have a problem with his language. I have, I admit, been out of the ADF loop for some years and wasn’t precisely familiar with all the terms used; they seem to have entered into ADF parlance after my departure. One particular issue: the constant use of the word “loins.” In that regard, the book could be used for a fine drinking game; every time you read the word “loins,” take a shot!

I’m not sure about anyone else, but “loins” usually conjures up two images. The first is pork medallions. I’ll leave the other to your imagination. Quite frankly, as a woman, I’m having a really hard time with loins-speak; it’s a pretty masculine word. (Interestingly enough, I also had an issue with the language in ADF’s dedicants program, which considers “fertility” one of the Nine Noble Virtues. Ack! No! get that kid away from me!)

He concludes with a lengthy essay on Druidic mysticism that’s interesting to read, exploring both Western and Eastern (yoga again!) models. I find it interesting, but at the heart, mysticism cannot be scripted or plotted in accordance with models or even cosmology. Mysticism by its very nature is organic, fluid. It arises out of spontaneous experience, vision, revelation. It’s profoundly individual and requires no religious organization or even structure for its fulfillment.

And maybe that’s what makes the book interesting reading. Druidry, whether you’re talking ADF or Keltria, is largely orthopraxic. (There is orthodoxy involved, I hate to say, in some manifestations, too.) Mysticism, by its nature, goes against ortho-anything. It’s transgressive wisdom.

Granted, doing personal work can foster mystical experiences, and in that I think Corrigan’s system is valuable. Do whatever deep work aligns you with the cosmos and the Kindreds. A ritual structure with words/song and action can be a help, particularly on those days when you want to connect but don’t feel particularly inspired.

So, it’s interesting. I’ll give it three and three-quarters loins.

of yoga and druidry

When connecting Druidry with yoga, you run across what I’ll call the external correlations. For example, there’s the same notion of priestly caste among the ancient Celts and Indians: Celtic Druid, Roman flamen and Indian brahmin are linked in texts that explore Dumezil’s system of the three societal functions (priest, warrior, producer). There is the image of crosslegged Cernunnos on the Gundestrup cauldron, similar to images of Rudra/Shiva.

But those are the externals. Whether or not there’s a link between Celtic polytheism and Indian religion — both, as it happens, Indo-European in language and culture — yoga does have a value to the modern Druidic practitioner.

Asanas, the postures of hatha yoga, may seem strange. Some bear the names of plants and animals: tree, eagle, cat/cow, lotus. During asana, the focus is on the process itself, not on the internal run of thoughts. Asanas can provide a brief, physical exploration of shapeshifting in some instances. While in tree, be the tree. While in cobra, feel your body rise sinuously from the earth as a serpent.

Breathwork — called pranayama — is also essential to yoga. It can energize, as in breath of fire, or balance out one’s body, as in alternate nostril breathing. As such, it can be a Druidic tool for exploring one’s energetic body or clearing the mind before ritual. Before I engage in ritual practice, I like to practice alternate nostril breathing or the three-part breath, which clears the mind of the usual rambling soliloquies and gets me in the mood for the sacred.

So too with meditation. Eastern meditation isn’t journeywork. If involves clearing the mind of all thought, usually by focusing on the breath, a candle flame, a mandala, an internal mantra. Quite frankly, this is a useful religious skill; it’s difficult to focus on feeling your place in the cosmos or connecting with the Kindreds if you’re going over an internal grocery list, fretting about the check engine light in your car, or wondering what you’ll make for dinner.

Clearing the mind is a precursor to devotional work, magical work, journeying and divination. In order to allow the divine to fill you, you must prepare a clean, empty vessel. You can’t pour tea into an already full cup without making a big ol’ mess.

The focii used in meditation practice can easily translate to Druidry. When I flame-gaze, I use the candles on my altar. Or, I focus on an internal image — usually the Awen, fire-in-water (which I consider a symbol of Brighid), the triskele, Brighid’s cross, an image of Brighid herself. An internal mantra (“holy well and sacred flame,” for example) can serve much the same purpose.

After a lengthy asana practice, I will often rest in corpse pose focusing on an internal image from my spiritual path. While focusing on the Awen may seem fundamentally different from Om, the practice works beautifully.

the Morrigan, the Great Marshmallow Mother and the Borg

some months ago, i read “The Guises of the Morrigan” by David Rankin and Sorita D’Este. A compilation of materials and myths concerning the fierce Goddess — it seemed appealing.

i’ve been rather sorely disappointed. i’m well-versed enough in mythology to know when they make errors (such as saying the Three Gods of Skill are her sons rather than Brighid’s), but i swallow that and plow onward with as much of an open mind as possible.

what gets me is the assumption that all Celtic goddesses are inherently the Morrigan. the only one the authors seem to exempt is Brighid, and frankly i’m surprised. with the type of logic they’ve been assuming throughout the work, i expected something along these lines: Well, the Cailleach is obviously the Morrigan. And since she turns into the maiden Bride during spring, then Bride is the Morrigan, too! Brighid, however, has a larger lobbying network than Danu or the Cailleach, so perhaps that’s why she wasn’t assimilated into the Borg cube.

Danu/Anu, Aine, Boann — all part of the Morrigan. any Goddess associated with faerie, cows, ravens, sex, rivers or the land — all the Morrigan. any warrior woman in myth, not a real woman but the Morrigan. any Goddess that appears in triplicate, changes shape, gets pissed off, or is called “Queen”…. well, you get the picture.

why must all Goddesses be part of a single super-Goddess entity? (in my caustic moments, i call this figure the Great Marshmallow Mother.) Are Lugh, Nuada, the Dagda and Aonghus Og all the same deity, following similar logic?

authors rarely make that last argument, though. it’s as if the the Divine Female(s) are inherently general and communal, and the Divine Male(s) are specific, individual. and i feel … slighted, as an individual woman and polytheist.

i tend to think that individual Goddesses were amalgamated by later writers (Christian, since Pagan Celts wouldn’t write about sacred things) into the Morrigan figure. personally, i believe Macha to be a different Goddess, more similar to Epona and Rhiannon. but deities are often elided into single figures or attributes change during the long reaches of time; a good example would be Artemis assuming roles previously attributed to Selene and Hecate, and Apollo assuming the sun-god mantle of Helios.

i think of the Morrigan more as Badb and Nemhain, the crow goddess of battle, the bringer of death and arbiter of fate (along with a good dose of sex for its own sake). she is the iron law that governs us all, the reality and inevitability of death, the lines of fate that lead to it. i do see certain philosophical similarities with Kali: the reminder of temporality, the role as destroyer — of illusions, of false truths. their type of destruction isn’t inherently evil or negative; it is a necessary part of the process, the order of the cosmos.

just as the crow is a part — the eater of carrion, scavenger of the dead, who returns elements to their raw usefulness and form. the lady of compost, in effect.

but such a figure isn’t appealing to mass worship, perhaps. we’ve lost the understanding and appreciation of darkness and rot in the West, being too enamoured of light.

mother of rivers

stream
the cold nibbles my hands as the birds sing their dusk-song and the yellow light dips over the hills.

the river travels, broad and mirrored, crowned with bright leaves as she dances down the banks.

all rivers are individual, tied to place and climate: Susquehanna, Chenango, Raritan. but they are also one river, the Mother of Rivers, who spilled across the land in search of knowledge — when the waters of the primal well rose up and followed her.

she gave her body and became the river. to attain knowledge, you risk the well rising up. you sacrifice yourself, become something different — losing your edges, becoming the rushing stream that feeds the trees as it flows down the hillside.

Indo-European speaking peoples often had some sort of Mother of Waters. Sarasvati, the sacred river of India who became the spiritual font of inspiration when her stream dried up in prehistoric times. Ganga, who flows down from Shiva’s hair. Yamuna, too — all the rivers in India are goddesses, sacred, part of the Mother of Waters.

poisoning water to heal the earth: ‘Medicine for the Earth’ musings, part 2

the culmination of Sandra Ingerman’s book was a thing of demented beauty. to recap: the premise of the book is that we have the power to heal (via vaguely shamanistic and mostly namby-pamby new age techniques) personal and environmental toxins. most of the book focuses on the personal toxin angle; the weapon of mass destruction is apparently thinking happy thoughts.

it’s in the epilogue that Ingerman waxes in her full glory to prove her thesis. she and several new age shamans decide to hold an intensive days-long ceremony to heal polluted water. (i agree with this overall goal; a very good thing to do indeed.) and, what’s more, they will scientifically test the results via a lab.

    and so … Ingerman starts by deliberately polluting the water. yes, she puts gasoline and ammonium hydroxide into potable water to prove that she and her group can transmute toxins. as always, when the thoughts whirl, i will make use of the bulleted list.

  • she did what? sorry, honey, if you want to piss off the nature spirits, you’ve found an opportune way. how the hell is pouring gasoline into water a spiritual act?
  • throughout the book, she discusses how you cannot do workings (she refuses to call them magick) with the ego as the driving force; the spirits will take your power if you do. but by poisoning water to prove your healing ability, aren’t you being driven by ego?
  • the “scientific” method she uses is laughable, with the exception of the guy at the water testing company. kinesthesiology isn’t a scientific technique. so-called muscle testing relies on fluctuations in one of your bodies weakest joints — the shoulder — being held straight out for long periods of time. it’s no more scientific than reading the bumps on one’s head. there was also no control water, polluted or otherwise.
  • the PH of the ammonium hydroxide water changes slightly after the working, but that could be a natural phenomena — something she poo-poos. she says the spirits send her a message that the PH of the gasoline water won’t change, but the water’s essence was changed anyway so as to be benign. how … convenient, those spirits.
  • if it’s so benign — if the transmutation into holy water was so wildly successful as claimed, then drink it, honey. that’s right — take a gulp. wait … you won’t do that? why?
  • other gems: claiming that she only works rain magick when there are cloudy skies so as to avoid the appearance of ego. no, honey, you do rain magick when there are clouds because it increases the chance of success. magick is a gentle tug, not a forcing of will; we, as small beings, cannot change the entire weather pattern of the earth. we can only nudge. refusing to admit this is, in fact, an expression of ego.
  • the very final exercise of the book involves imagining someone or something you love, and then saying that you hate it so as to differentiate right from wrong. perhaps i’m wimpy, but that seems, well, violent to me. there’s enough hate in the world; isn’t that part of the premise, the personal toxins bit?

so there you have it. i’d give it negative stars in anything other than amusement value.