Month: March 2012

Ceirt: a Rag (as told by Suibhne)

Come, then, madman’s abode
under blooming arbors
that shelter the hind, the fawn
from the mad clash of war.

Where is honor, under
the apple branch? The bells
brazen sound and clear
the rags for a moment.

and then, a rush of wind
and pins and feathers, oh —
rapturing to the treetops,
forgetting feet, flesh, ground.

Where is honor, under
the apple branch? These rags —
A prayer? A king’s mantle?
Who was I once — before?

A congregation of mice
salute me. The deer steal
my name, hide it under
the leaf-fall, pink flowers.

The swords sing, the bells sound —
I run on air, feathered.
Where is honor, under
the apple branch? Who was I,
once?

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Nature religion in a time of climate change

Nature religion in a time of climate change.

I’m thinking about this now, in an uncharacteristic March marked by summery temperatures and intense blue skies. The forsythia are on fire, and the daffodils have proudly thrust up their heads early. The horseradish and some of the perennial herbs are peeking out from the freshly turned beds. And there are darker aspects, too: the mosquitoes and the ticks — which, around here, can carry the Lyme bacteria — have awoken from their slumber as well.

But it’s not so simple as the Great White North lacking the very substance that makes it white at its accustomed season. It’s snowed in the West, in Alaska, in the south of France. 

Yes, I believe climate change is real and that human activities have and continue to contribute to it. The question is: How do we respond spiritually, as people who follow a “nature religion”?

I think, sadly, that human beings as a whole have an obsession with the twin concepts of stability and purity. For example, we assume that the Gods of a culture are unchanging, set in their attributes, character and realms of influence. But are the Gods worshiped by modern Druids, for example, truly those of Pagan Ireland? Or, before the Gaels landed on the shores of Eire, that of their presumed European homeland? Are they the same as the Gods of the Welsh, who presumably are a branch of the same Celtic tree? Of the Tocharians, who steered their steeds toward sunrise rather than sunset? And are the Gods of the early Irish the same as those who were worshiped before the conversion?

People change. Cultures, languages, ecosystems change. Why shouldn’t the spirits, the Otherworld, the spiritual reality? 

In some ways, we operate under some kind of Neoplatonic template: This is how the world should be — the seasons, the climate, the species therein, the rules that seem to govern the operation of the system. It’s a reflection of some unchanging pattern, a reality set from on high, whether that reality is seen in a theistic/religious/spiritual context or a scientific/atheistic/mechanistic one. Predictably, the template is always the one we’re most familiar with.

Was the Earth during the Devonian period any less real than the one today? Once upon a time, the Great White North was located south of the equator, and the home of a tropical inland sea. Mountains rise from the cracks of the tectonic plates, and erode back to lowland during the press of time. Snow advances, forming glaciers that scour the land. The Earth warms and all the ice melts, turning the pole again into a brackish sea. Species rise, fail, fall and rise anew.

It’s the Great Wheel, ever turning. And so we grasp: the Wheel then is the one constant! Change always happens according to accustomed patterns and rules! And then an asteroid lands in the Gulf of Mexico, disrupting what we thought was the pattern and choking the thunder lizards.

Let’s face it: Change is the one constant of material existence, and we don’t know all the rules — or even if there are rules — that govern all of it. We’re small beings who are a part of the system, not gods-to-be on the outside looking in. And, in a spiritual context, why would Gods and spirits not be a part of that latter system of change? Why wouldn’t our own soul-parts?

I suppose this could be seen as a nihilistic view, one that embraces chaos. But I think it’s more of a realistic assessment of our own limitations. We can’t know the entirety of the system. The response, however, shouldn’t be a shrug of the shoulders and a hearty “Fuck it all.” Not knowing, we can still honor, respect, love — and treat with care. Not knowing, we can still stretch and explore, learning and expanding our horizons. We can accept that what we think we know, what we have come to expect, can and will change, and that there’s no unending, eternal state that we can accurately see or account for. At least that we know of.

Stability and purity are abstractions, and exist as abstractions. But what is stable? And what is pure? Is an Earth whose climate has changed dramatically over the course of human history any less sacred than one whose patterns we know? 

A lot of questions, and no ready answers. But that’s how I like things.

Suvetar

I’m still here, although I’ve been busy with spring cleaning, the annual turning of the garden bed, writing an article on river goddesses for the Henge of Keltria newsletter and more. I plan on celebrating Mean Erraigh this weekend with a seed-planting ritual.

In the meantime, though, I’ll share one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite artists. Gjallarhorn’s music is based on ancient Scandinavian and Finnish songs and traditions. Here, they’re invoking the Finnish goddess of spring, Suvetar, with a song of the same name.

Watch the video; it’s one of the most Pagan (and well-done) out there. And I’d definitely recommend picking up the CD with “Suvetar” on it, “Sjofn.” Granted, it looks like you might have to download it, since it’s 12 years old and only available used in physical CD format.

A hazy trip through the planets

Mars glares red on the horizon — and not alone. Two other bright wanderers — Jupiter? Venus? — hug the horizon, until the clouds veil them. The wind blows the veil, back and forth, back and forth, under the half-moon.

I know the Greek and Roman attributes of the planets, and a little of those from other cultures: Egypt, Sumer, India. But what the ancient Celts believed the wanderers to be — and who they believed them to be — is a blank slate. Embarrassing, since this is my chosen tradition. So much, so much, we have lost through the sheer press of time.

The Celts would have undoubtedly had names and concepts associated with the heavens; they were humans, and humans inevitably end up looking heavenward in wonder. The names of the planets that remain are Gaelicized versions of the Latin names, however; the exceptions are Grian, the sun; Gealach, the Moon; and An Domhan, the Earth. The last is believed to come from dubnos, meaning “the deep”; I find myself thinking of ADF’s concept of the Well.

Interestingly, the words for both sun and moon are feminine in Irish; the sun’s name is connected with the PIE root for “shining” and, if I’m not mistaken, the root of the moon’s name is “bright.” Modern Druidic traditions have no real agreement as to who the sun and moon deities are; many Pagans associate Lugh with the sun and nearly any female deity they care to name with the moon. On the other hand, the prayers in the Carmina Gadelica address both the sun and the moon as female at points, and occasionally the sun as male in allusion to Christ.

Aedh Rua, in Celtic Flame, pegs both the sun and the moon as female: Aine and Boann. In my own practice, I worship Aine as the sun and Midhir as the moon and the measurer of time, a practice I know is very UPG-based. But hey, it works for me.

For the planets, I have no real associations. Some random thoughts, based on their classical attributions:

* Mercury: Interestingly, Lugh was considered by the Romans to be the Celtic equivalent of Mercury. Another option for attribution could be Ogma, who is known as “Sun-face”; Mercury, as you may know, turns very slowly and keeps one face largely turned toward the sun. In astrology, the planet is known to inspire intelligence, eloquence and quick-wittedness, which would be appropriate for either god.

* Mars: The Celtic Mars would be equivalent to Nuada, if you go by Alexei Kondratiev’s explanation of Celtic deity-types. Other options would be the Morrigan, who appears as a red woman in some myths; Nemain’s consort Neit, the god of war; or even perhaps Bodb Dearg, a son of the Dagda whose name may mean “Red Crow.” In my own practice, I’m leaning toward Bodb Dearg.

* Venus: Aonghus Og is the god of love, springtime and beauty, so I’m sticking with him in this spot. Of course, Venus itself has a surface temperature of, oh, 900 degrees or so and its atmosphere is filled with toxic gases, so I’m not sure what that says about love.

* Jupiter: If we’re going with the King of the Gods in this spot, then it would be the Dagda. One of his names is Ruadh Rofhessa, the Red One of Knowledge, and Jupiter is a bit on the red side, too.

* Saturn: An interesting problem. In astrology, Saturn is dire and has a baleful influence. In myth, Kronos is the god who ate his children and had to be defeated. My thought: perhaps the Fomhoire king Balor, whose line gave birth to prominent members of the Tuatha and whose eye was known for its baleful influence. Other idea: the Morrigan, as Badb, raven goddess of battle and death. I’m liking the Balor idea, though.

That would be the extent of the wanderers known to the ancient world. But not letting that stop us:

* Neptune: I’d put the sea god Manannan here, for obvious reasons.

* Uranus: I consider this planet to be the locus of weirdness. After all, its axis is on its side and it’s the guiding planet of Aquarius. The Morrigan is capable of some mighty strange behavior, so I’ll put the Great Queen here. She does deserve a planet of her own, although she may in fact claim them all.

* Pluto: I don’t care what they say; Pluto is still a damn planet. But I’ll assign Donn the Dark One to this position. Just as Pluto is a planet and not, Donn is the Lord of the Death yet also, paradoxically, a mortal: He’s the first human to die. And it’s pretty damn dark out there in the boonies, so it fits the name.

That’s all my planetary rantings for the day! As you may have guessed, this is all Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG). But it’s my gnosis — so there.