Month: April 2012

The full moon rite to Manannan

I finally got around to formulating a new Manannan rite. I’m not always diligent about observing my Manannan vigils on the full moon; heck, I’m never diligent about it, and I’m ashamed. I’ve wanted to come up with a new vigil format that would inspire me to said diligence.

Much of the language is co-opted and occasionally reformulated from Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica, that indispensable book of Scottish lore. I did use some from Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson’s compendium A Celtic Miscellany: Translations from Celtic Literature. If I marked it, it’s borrowed from elsewhere. The working/trance invocation — the one that mentions the crane bag — is my own. The salt-water and sage purifications aren’t all that different from other Pagan traditions, probably; feel free to substitute whatever form of purification you feel comfortable with.

You can use your own ritual order to complement it — such as those in the Henge of Keltria or ADF — or simply use it on its own. Feel free to share with whoever is interested; it’s for public use.

Invocation: (combination of 11th and 9th century Irish verse from “A Celtic Miscellany) The ocean is full, the sea is in flood, lovely is the home of the ships. The sandy wind has made eddies. The rudder is swift upon the wide sea…. Look before you at the glorious sea, home of creatures, dwelling of seals; wanton and splendid, it has taken of flood tide. Manannan, Lord of the Sea, of wave and of magic, of travel and journeys, of wisdom and truth, I honor you on this night.
Salt water blessing: I cleanse myself with the salt and the water, with the waters of the sea, the realm of Mac Lir. (anoint and sing, from the Carmina Gadelica):
A wavelet for thy form
A wavelet for thy voice
A wavelet for thy sweet speech
A wavelet for thy luck
A wavelet for thy good
A wavelet for thy health
A wavelet for thy throat
A wavelet for thy pluck
A wavelet for thy graciousness
Nine waves for thy graciousness.
May the spirit satisfy me with the water of grace.
Cleanse with smoke: I cleanse myself with the flame and the herb, so that all that is ill is washed from me. (waft and sing, from the Carmina Gadelica):
Ward from me every distress and danger
Encompass my course over the ocean of truth
I pray thee, place thy pure light before me
O Mananann on this very night
O Mananann on this very night
Be thyself the guiding star above me
May you light every reef and shoal
Pilot my boat on the crest of the wave
To the restful haven of the waveless sea
To the restful haven of the waveless sea
The working; use divination, scrying or trance. Sing:
May Manannan grant me
A glimpse of the crane bag
A glimpse of the mysteries
In the bag of secrets.
A glimpse of the Apple Isle
And its cup of truth
The isles of the Otherworld
And the swine at its feast.
Rattle the silver bough
To laugh, cry or sleep
To lead me on my journey
And to bring me home.
The divination/trance follows; use whatever you’re called to.
The return. Ground and sing (from the Carmina Gadelica):
Bless to me, O Manannan
The earth beneath my foot,
Bless to me, O Manannan
The path whereon I go;
Bless to me, O Manannan
The thing of my desire
Bless to me, O Manannan
Bless me to my rest.
Bless to me the thing
Whereon is set my mind
Bless to me the thing
Whereon is set my love
Bless to me the thing
Whereon is set my hope
O Thou Lord of the Wave
May I be blessed in your eye.

The ancestors, right food and right running

Something that amuses and annoys me at the same time: the use of our ancestors as the model of all we should be doing.

Now, this may sound strange coming from a Druid. After all, aren’t our ancestors the model of our ideals?

My answer: Not really, no. For one, I am not a “Druid by ancestry”; I don’t have a drop of Irish genetics, although I do have some Welsh. I likely worship some of the same gods, although I would understand and envision them in far different ways. While the ancestors may understand the concept behind some of my offerings, they’d likely shake their lime-laden locks and say, “Where’s the beef?” Animal sacrifice wasn’t some horrific demonic act; it made perfect sense in a culture where meat — and wealth — was kept on the hoof. And it’s not just past tense, either. From the Pagan Kalash in Pakistan to the modern practitioners of Vodoun and Santeria in the Western Hemisphere, animal sacrifice is still part of religious offering and practice. If you eat meat, you need to kill the animal. Why not facilitate that death in a sacred manner?

Which gets me to the core of my frustration: food. Whether you’re talking raw foodism, veganism, or the so-called Paleolithic diet, a lot of modern-day food discourse is based on two concepts. One, of course, is righteousness: “I’m enlightened and you’re not!” The second: “This is how our ancestors ate and how we are designed to eat.”

Interestingly, the same type of arguments are evidenced in the so-called barefoot running culture. (I run — albeit with shoes — so I do follow the debate.)

I don’t consider myself especially righteous in regard to ancestral wisdom, but I’ll solve the mystery for ya. What did our ancestors eat? Anything they could get their grubby paws on. Seriously, that’s the answer. Meat, fruit, Snickers bars, fried ants, escargot…. you name it. Think of pandas. As bears, they do not thrive on a traditional diet of bamboo — but they evolved to eat it simply because that was what was available. That’s how the more adaptable critters of nature work.

Our ancestors, it must be admitted, didn’t live to be centenarians. If warfare, bad harvests and childbirth didn’t get them, illness or injury would. Elders were revered simply because there weren’t very many of them. Nature doesn’t have a vested interest in keeping us alive much beyond the time it would have taken to raise our progeny to maturity. Maturity in this sense means the ability to procreate and care for their young, not the completion of an advanced degree or financial solvency.

This isn’t to say that the ancestors were primitive morons along the lines of “Og like meat, Og kill.” The ancestors were, in essence, the same people as today — with the same mix of brilliance and stupidity, adaptability and stubbornness. They invented all the arts, skills and sciences we practice today, from agriculture and cloth-making to home-building and animal husbandry. They did advanced calculations to record the passage of time and predict celestial phenomena. They also killed each other with weapons of stone, bronze and iron, and invented gunpowder and nuclear warheads.

Our ancestors were, like us, a mixed bag. And Nature herself isn’t some evil-minded, fickle hussy who doesn’t do enough to reward her top performers (i.e., us). She’s a brilliant, complex system in her own right — with interests that are different from ours. That’s hard to remember when you’re mauled by a bear or riddled with disease-causing microorganisms, true, but we’re designed to see things from our own limited perspective. It’s the aim of spirituality and mysticism to get us beyond that.

So, when it comes to “right food,” there is no easy answer, at least if you’re looking at the realm of the ancestors. (If you’re viewing things from an ethical, animal-rights perspective, there may indeed be an easy answer, even if it’s hard on your body.) Personally, I’m a fan of the Mediterranean diet for a number of different reasons, one of which is that stuffed grape leaves and feta cheese are just wonderful for the taste buds.

If you’re looking at “right running,” I’d still recommend shoes, since our ancestors were kind enough to invent asphalt, concrete, cobblestones and other hard road surfaces.

So there.

Aontacht interview

While I’m still plumbing the depths for a new White Cat Grove update/screed, in the meantime…. I’ve been interviewed in Aontacht, the magazine of Druidic Dawn! You can find out more about me and my practice in a lovely Q&A. Download it here or visit the site here for other viewing options.

The goddess of the rising light, and he is risen indeed

Aine dances through the piercing blue and the forsythia, abloom, pitch in the wind. It’s been a dry April so far, full of flowers, as if the calendar skipped a month and went directly to May.

Today happens to be Christendom’s Holy Day — and one of those times of year that some Pagans gripe over “stolen” traditions. Easter comes from the name of the Anglo-Saxon dawn goddess, Eostre; her name is related to the Greek Eos, Roman Aurora and Indian Ushas, all goddess of the rising light. She gave her name to the entire month in which her festival arose — the dawn of the day and the dawn of the growing season, dancing together in a waltz of gold.

References to Eostre, however, stem from a single eighth-century passage by the Venerable Bede, long after the Pagan holiday was replaced by the Christian one. What is undeniable: cavorting rabbits, eggs and flowers — the hallmark of the holiday — are all linked to spring, which is really what Easter celebrates, Christian veneer aside.

And what’s wrong with that? Whatever our faith path, we can share the joy of flowers, fine weather and our feathered friends singing, the rabbit running through the newly green grass, the sweetness of a Cadbury egg.

I’ve spoken with Baptists who eschewed the use of “Happy Easter” as a greeting, pointing to the goddess and its Pagan roots. Instead, they use: “He is risen,” with the reply, “He is risen indeed.” To which I — as a lifelong Pagan — start choking on my tongue. “He is risen” reminds one of another spring Pagan festival, which goes by the name of Beltane or May Day — a fertility festival. While Maypoles don’t stem from ancient times, in today’s rites they are viewed as phallic symbols, but in sacred sense. The spring is when life comes alive and mates, whether pollen-showering trees and plants, nest-building birds or critters with all four paws on the ground.

He is risen, indeed.

Like most modern Druids, I celebrate Mean Erraigh, or the Vernal Equinox as my “Eostre.” The ancient Celts didn’t seem to venerate the solstices or equinoxes; their four great festivals were on the cross-quarter days of Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain. And like other ancient cultures, they divided the seasons differently than we do; Beltane was the start of summer and Samhain the start of winter. Spring and fall weren’t part of the seasonal reckoning. This may seem odd to modern folks, but they were a largely pastoral people; the two seasons reflected their experiences.To wit, “Beltane: Cows go out to pasture. Samhain: Cows come home.”

That being said, I don’t live in ancient Eire and thus I honor the four seasons. Frankly, I love the modern Pagan Wheel of the Year because it spaces out holidays so evenly across the seasons. It’s an opportunity to pause and take note of the natural world around you, to see what it’s doing at different times of the year.

So, whatever your faith path, get out there and notice. And eat an egg while you’re at it.

Who, me? A romancer, a crank, an eccentric or a charlatan

I’ve finally finished Ronald Hutton hefty tome Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain. If you’re familiar with Hutton’s other work, the basic premise is the same: There’s no concrete evidence for actual Pagan survivals in Britain; very little is known about the native (in this case Druidic) religious systems and what little is known is tainted by bias and ambiguity; and finally, various factors and characters in modern times spurred the creation of new spiritual/religious systems that claim to be continuations of ancient ones.

Hung on those basic assumptions are reams and reams of historical facts, texts and research — and above all, characters. In the final paragraph of his conclusion, he remarks on the three major catalysts for the inclusion of Druids in cultural discourse: William Stukeley, Iolo Morganwg and George Watson Reid, noting: “Each was, depending on the person and the judgement of observers, either a romancer, a crank, an eccentric or a charlatan.” The heavily documented characterizations given throughout the book support such an interpretation.

And so, I’m left to wonder: “As a modern Druid, am I a crank, eccentric, romancer or charlatan?”

Avowed atheists — I’m looking at you, Dad — would be inclined to think so. So would proponents of traditional religion, in this case Christianity, which has always inhabited a special place seemingly free from criticism of this sort. (Good to be on top, I guess.) Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans would argue that they’re meticulously piecing together ancient religion, but I have my personal doubts. You can’t overcome what I’ll call “the Hutton problem”: the lack of definitive evidence. In short, that’s the fault of ancient Celtic cultures, in that most seemed to have taboos when it came to writing — unlike, say, Greek and Roman cultures. Oral tradition is lovely and amazing, but it can’t advocate for you throughout the ages.

My own answer: We may be inspired by the past, but what we’re creating is a religion of today, that responds to today’s spiritual needs. Veneration of the natural world is different in a culture where that natural world is omnipresent and can kill you any day, than in a culture such as ours in which human decisions can have a profound negative impact on ecosystems and entire species. Not that humans didn’t drive critters to extinction in the past, but it took longer and the tools were less efficient.

To me, “Druid” is just a term for a priest or priestess involved in Celtic-themed Paganism. Usually, I’ll just refer to myself as a priestess, since that reflects more of the ritual and religious role I adhere/aspire to; Druid, on the other hand, makes me sound like a character in a role-playing game good for X-number of magic spells. As a Druid, my goal is to live in accordance with the sacred round: the wheels of time, seasons, duties. I revere and honor the Celtic Gods, the nature spirits and spirits of place, and the ancestors.

I read a lot of ancient history and modern scholarship. While I can say I’m inspired by it, my own spiritual work is modern. I’m an initiate of the Henge of Keltria, which split off from ADF in the 1980s. ADF itself formed in the 1980s, after the New Reformed Druids of North America in the 1970s; ultimately, much American Druidic activity stems from the older Reformed Druids of North America, which began in the ripe old 1960s.

Now, revivalist Druid orders in Britain date back to the 1600s. Many of the early ones were fraternal organizations, which functioned as both insurance agencies for members and social groups. Others had national pride as a goal. Eventually, some orders formed that moved into the spiritual sphere, inspired by Stukeley, Iolo, Reid and others. These were not consciously Pagan and often had Christianity as a base, which is entirely in keeping with the times and culture.

Now, being a member of a way-minority faith path (although I’m pretty sure religious Pagans outnumber Quakers these days), I’m used to being considered an eccentric. Heck, even a crank; I expect that view from atheists and conventional Christians. I’m “out there.” A romancer? I have no real desire to live in ancient times and think that humans are humans, whatever the time period. However, if my veneration of a Celtic pantheon means I’m a romancer, then so be it.

A charlatan? No. I’m an honest sort. If I tell you I spoke to Brighid, it’s because I literally have had the experience of speaking to my matron goddess (and have had many times, as it happens). I don’t care whether people believe me or not. It’s my experience and real to me. I don’t use said experience to manipulate others, at least in any conscious way.

Does Druidry have its charlatans? Certainly, if you look at the history of the British orders. I can’t offhand think of any in my specific “lineage” (and I hate using that term; it makes me sound so hoity-toity) here in the U.S. Yeah, there are people who claim they had to rape or murder because they’re Druids or Wiccans; I’ve seen these folks in the news. But I don’t think of these people in any way representative of my “lineage” as Mormons do of the crazy guy who kidnapped Elizabeth Smart, or Catholics do of priests who molest children. You get nutjobs in all faith paths — or indeed, all walks of life.

Along that line, if Druids are charlatans, it’s because everyone else in the good green world is, too. And on that cheerful thought, I think I’ll go do some yoga.

(P.S. the book is really good and highly recommended.)