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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Irene

  So I am sitting here preparing to head out to Connecticut's pagan pride day, a great event that I think it's important to support. This year I am teaching a couple workshops at PPD as well as helping out by making posters of four of the neopagan wheel of the year holidays and an intro to Druidism poster. And you can't even imagine how hard it is to try to describe what Druidism is in a single poster, especially in a fair and objective manner, but that can wait for another I'm sitting here getting ready to head out in the back of my mind I'm thinking about Irene, the hurricane that's headed my way.
  We haven't had a hurricane (that amounts to anything) hit here since 1992, I think, with Hurricane Bob. In a practical sense I have bought supplies - water, batteries, non-perishable food - and come up with a Plan. Actually, being me, I have several Plans in a real practical sense of what I can do to keep myself and my family safe. I have done everything magically that I know how to ward and protect my home and strengthen what I already had in place. But still, I keep looking up at the large White Oaks that tower around my house and thinking that it won't hurt to appeal to powers beyond myself to help out here.
  This may be one of the few instances were my spiritual worlds collide, because I am making offerings to both sides of the aisle, as it were. I am asking Odin, who I often see as the Storm Rider, and Thor, God of Thunder, to ward the area of my home. I am asking Manannan to let the ocean be gentle here. And, of course, I am asking Macha to ward my home and family because I tend to ask either her or Odin, as the two I am dedicated to, for aid any time things get very serious. This time I don't think it's going to hurt to ask everybody....and of course I am asking the spirits of the land here to work with me in protecting my home and I am calling on my ancestors. My father especially has been very much in my mind with all of this; my whole childhood he used to spend each hurricane season with a dry erase map plotting the courses of each storm...
   At this point I feel as prepared as I can be, mundanely and spiritually, for this storm. It makes me wonder though for my other esoteric friends out there in Irene's path - are you doing anything "extra" to preapre for the storm?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Book review - The 21 Lessons of Merlin

I've decided to dedicate Monday's blog to book reviews. These will be fairly short and to the point, and try to focus on books relating to CR Paganism, Druidism, and Heathenry.
  To start, here is a basic book review of the (notorious) 21 Lessons of Merlin  by Douglas Monroe:
   21 Lessons is allegedly based on the secret teachings of Merlin, as revealed through the Welsh Book of Pheryllt; however this is nothing but a ploy to draw the reader in - the Book of Pheryllt is a well known forgery and there aren't any existing "ancient" lessons of Merlin. Rather the author seems to use these claims to set up his own authenticity as a teacher of true ancient Druidry while actually inventing a system almost whole cloth. I say almost because the author does include at least one "ancient" chant stolen from the 1981 movie Excalibur; anyone familiar with the movie should recognize it right away.
   I found this book was not worth reading as well because it was poorly researched and is full of historical inaccuracies and anachronisms. There is little to no actual Celtic mythology or material in the book at all, which is clearly a problem. Monroe at various points asserts that the ancient Druids were vegetarians and that Easter was a Druidic festival to the Goddess Ishtar, neither of which is either true or even possible. He mentions pumpkins as if they were a native European plant when they aren't and also talks about using pumpkin flowers at Samhain, long after the plant has stopped flowering. Worse than all of that though is Monroe's deep-seated misogyny which is displayed throughout the book. For example in 21 Lessons the Druids are divided by gender based on the theory that men generate magical power but women can only gain it by taking it from a man, something that not only makes no sense but goes against basic Celtic cosmology which says that all beings have their own power and which tends to see women as specifically holding the keys to sovereignty and the power of the land.
   It may well have spiritual value for some people - as does The Mists of Avalon, another Arthurian novel - but it loses credibility with me for trying to pass itself off as nonfiction. The argument put forth by some supporters of the book that anyone who criticizes it is not enlightened enough to truly understand it is typical of books that can't back up what they claim - since there is no "ancient" document or tradition of Merlin's lessons, which are entirely the author's invention, the only possible defense is to denigrate the spirituality of the books detractors.  It might have been alright as an Arthurian novel except for the fact that by passing itself of as legitimate "ancient Druid" teachings I feel that it is actually hurting modern Druidry and Celtic spirituality by misleading people who are new to the spirituality. This book, in fact, has little to do with any actual ancient Druidry and even less to do with modern Druidry, and is worth reading only as a poorly written novel.
     If you like Arthurian fiction I'd recommend the The Mists of Avalon series and for studies on ancient Druidry try Hutton's the The Druids or his Blood and Mistletoe or Markale's  The Druids: Celtic Priests of Nature. For modern Druidry Brendan Meyers' Mysteries of Druidry, Bonewit's Bonewits's Essential Guide to Druidism or Carr-Gomm's Druid Mysteries: Ancient Wisdom for the 21st Century would be a good start.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Leaping off the edge...

   I'm taking a break from the more spiritual discussion topics and going personal today.
   I've always been a very self-sufficient person. I pretty much took care of myself from about age 12 on, and I knew that if I didn't no one else would, at least not consistently. I had what you might call a difficult childhood that way, but it made me a strong person. I moved out of my parents house when I was 18 and was married by 19, working 3 part time jobs and handling all the messy details of life like finances and groceries - because you know the old joke about drummers right? (What do you call a drummer that breaks up with his girlfriend? Homeless.) I started babysitting for pay at 12 and had my first "real" job at 16, and in my adult life I have rarely worked less than 2 jobs at once, even after having children. I've always been the one who did what needed to be done...
  Yesterday I quit my job, gave up my nice weekly paycheck, and I'm kind of terrified about that. I worry about what will happen, how we will manage. Although I will be picking up what I can doing tarot, rune, and assorted card readings, teaching esoteric classes, and helping out at my friend's store this is the first time since I was 16 I haven't had a set income. So, why did I do it?
  I took a leap of faith, with every logical ounce of my being screaming the whole way. I did it because my youngest daughter, who is 3 years old, has several chronic health problems and it has gotten to the point where doing what I need to for her and giving my job a 100% was impossible. And when it comes down to it no matter how scary this is for me, no matter how much I worry about what will come tomorrow, I promised myself when she was a baby that I would do whatever I could to make her life one that is defined by possibilities and not limitations. I made a choice to put what I feel is best for her in front of the security that has been the focus of much of my life so far, because I love my children more than I love my own desire for security. Did I do the right thing? I don't know. It will mean changes for the entire family and that certainly brings up the very Star Trek debate of whether the good of the one should outweigh the good of the many. But in my heart I feel I made the right choice and now I can only have faith that somehow it will all work out, even though it goes against my nature to step blindly over that precipice.
    I'm usually the one with the map, backpack full of supplies for every possible eventuality, compass, and 12 emergency back-up plans....but not anymore. Now I am leaping into the unknown. And we shall have to wait and see what happens.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Familiars and why I don't believe in them

This is from a response I wrote to a question on an email group.

     Do Wiccans and neopagan witches have familiars? It really depends on who you ask. There are plenty of people that will say that a familiar is an animal who is bonded in some way with the witch and that helps them with their magic. Familiars are often beloved pets, are said to choose the witch, and seem drawn to magical workings ( It seems like everyone has a familiar these days and people will talk about theirs with little reason to - and show pictures. New witches will wring their hands and worry about why they don't have one and how to get one, and be offered sage advice from those who do claim to have them. Familiars are a hot commodity.
    In all honesty I am in the other camp, which is the minority; I do not believe that familiars exist in the sense of pets we bond with. The idea of familiars is medieval, based on accusations that "witches" were assigned a demon to serve them and that this demon took the form of a common animal to blend in - the word familiar itself is shortened from familiar spirit, as in "she hath a familiar spirit". Obviously since Wiccans don't make pacts with the Christian Devil or work with demons they don't have familiar spirits, ergo no familiars. There is a secondary approach that views familiars as faeries that attach themselves in animal form to specific people, especially those who practice cunning craft or are closely allied with the Fey, but this concept is not as well known or widespread and would apply on in very specific cases. In either case the historic views of what a familiar was are not often understood in a modern context.
    The modern idea tends to focus on familiars as closely bonded pets who are sensitive to magic workings, but historically a familiar would actually be used for a variety of magical purposes such as carrying messages, enhancing magic, delivering spells to their targets etc.,, effectively making the animal a source of magical energy and an energetic servant. How many of us actually want to use our beloved pet as a magical battery? Others will argue that a familiar is an animal that is not a normal animal but has a special spirit, sometimes even the spirit of a person or guide within it. Do you really want to believe your cat is possessed or overshadowed by a secondary spirit? Because the alternative is to believe that the spirit has permanently bound itself into flesh for the lifetime of the animal which is very limiting to the spirit and would reduce its ability to effectively guide you.
    To me it seems like some people who are very very close to a particular pet choose to view that pet as a "familiar" because it sounds special and important, not because the pet is actually serving the traditional role of a familiar. I would not want my cats to "serve" me magically, or to be possessed, or to be anything but happy kitties living happy kitty lives; maybe that's my bias showing ; )  I do think there may be certain cases where an animal actually is a familiar or at the least is bonded to the person in a way that is genuinely unusual, but I think these cases are far less common than the ones that are just pets. And there's nothing wrong with that. I can love my pets as they are without needing them to be anything but pets.

Davies, O., (2003). Cunning-Folk: Popular Magic in English History. London: Hambledon Continuum.    
Thomas, K., (1973). Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century England. London: Penguin. 
Wilby, E., (2005). Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press. 
Massello, R., (1996). Raising Hell: A Concise History of the Black Arts and Those Who Dared to Practice Them. Perigee Trade

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Moon of Blessings

"When I see the new moon,
It becomes me to lift my eyes
It becomes me to bend my knee
It becomes me to bow mt head
Giving you praise, you moon of guidance,
That I have seen you again,
That I have seen the new moon,
The lovely leader of the way.

 Many a one has passed beyond
In the time between the two moons,
Though I am still enjoying earth,
You moon of moons and of blessings!"
- the Silver Bough

  There is no evidence that the Celts had a particular deity associated with the moon, as far as I have ever seen, but there are many little charms and prayers, like this one form McNeill's Silver Bough, volume 1, that praise the moon and it's blessings. It was traditional in several areas of Scotland and the outer Islands to make certain gestures towards the new moon when it was first seen in the sky each month, as Carmichael notes in volume one of his work,
    "When they first see the new moon they make obeisance to it as a great chief. The women curtsey gracefully and the men bow low, raising  their bonnets reverently. The bow of the men is peculiar, partaking somewhat of the curtsey of the women the left knee being bent and the right drawn forward towards the middle of the left leg in a curious but not inelegent manner.
     In Cornwall the people nod to the new moon and turn silver in their pockets. In Edinburgh cultured men and women turn the rings on their fingers and make their wishes. A young English lady told the writer that she had always been in the habit of bowing to the new moon, till she had been bribed out of it by her father, a clergyman, putting money in her pocket lest her lunar worship should compromise him with his Bishop. She naively confessed, however, that among the free mountains of Loch Etive she reverted to the good customs of her fathers, from which she derived great satisfaction!" (Carmichael, pp 123-124, 1900).

     Last night I spotted the first sliver of new moon, breifly as the clouds cleared and then closed in again. I felt my heart lift to see that shining silver crescent hanging there, promising another month of moonlight and I said the prayer from the Silver Bough. I found myself feeling a sort of kinship with my ancestors who must have seen that light each month with the same feeling of promise, felt even more strongly since, without elecrtic lights, they would have relied on the moon far more than we do today. So I prayed and spun my rings on my fingers and I thought about the power of these little things to make me feel connected to my spirituality and to my ancestors. Every month I find myself searching the sky for the new moon until I see it and when I do my heart always lifts at the sight and a little prayer falls from lips, almost of its own accord.
   When people think of bringing back or reconstructing the old pagan ways of different cultures many seem to go automatically to the big things, the seasonal rites, worshipping the Gods, rites of passage, but it is the little things, the daily things, that really matter the most because these are the backbone of living the faith, I think.

Carmichael, M., (1900). Carmina Gadelica. Retrieved from
McNeill, F., (1956). The Silver Bough, volume 1. Canongate Classics

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Community conundrums

   I've been thinking a lot lately of community. How do we define who belongs to our community? Is it as simple as who we like and want to see as our community? Is it anyone who follows tha same spirituality we do? Is it the larger pagan community? Or is it more subtle and complex than this? I don't actually have an answer yet, except that community is a nebulous thing that can include people where I live, people I choose to interact with, people online in groups I choose to belong to, and people with common interests to mine. Doesn't really clarify much, I know, but it's a work in progress.
   I started wondering about this a little while back after someone began trolling a facebook group I was part of. Another person extolled the troll to keep frith on the board and was promptly told that no frith was required on an imaginary group that didn't qualify for any rules of hospitality. Without digressing into a discussion of frith versus grith in situations like that, I thought the situation raised some interesting questions about how we define community and how behave based on our definitions. Both CR and Heathenry view hospitality - both being a good host and a good guest - as an important quality as do many other cultures. Does this only apply when we feel like it does? Can we pick and choose the circumstances were we must be polite, as the facebook troll said? Is it okay to be an obnoxious jerk outside our percieved community because hospitatlity somehow doesn't apply?
   Personally I don't think so. I think that in the world we live in today nothing is as cut and dried as it may have been a thousand or two thousand years ago and our community is a fluid, shifting thing. I have people in my community who hold antithetical religious views, political views, and social views but I still consider them a part of my community and I feel I owe them hospitatlity. I can't use my own religious views as an excuse to act like a jerk and then brush it off with "Oh, well, you aren't really part of my community so I don't owe you anything". Another key aspect of any recon. community, CR or Heathen, is a person's reputation and that is influenced by how someone treats other people inside and outside the community. Hospitality is one part of being an honorable person, in my opinion, and I don't think you can go into a situation with the attitude that it's okay to be dishonorable because the people you are dealing with aren't within your community. Maybe an odd sentiment for someone who is fulltrui with Odin, but that's where I'm at with it right now. The gods have a lot more leeway with some things than people do. Of course if someone else starts it first how you react to it is a different issue, but it's that initial approach, that first defining of what is appropriate based on who is and isn't part of the group that I'm thinking about. It's true that there is a structure to it, especially n Heathenry with it's clear ideas about innangard and utgard, but defining what falls where in a modern context can get very complicated...hence the conundrum....

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Beannachtai Lughnasa

Well another Lughnasa has come and gone...
 This year most of my plans for celebrating had to be cancelled due to illness, but I was able to have a nice quiet celebration yesterday with my family. We started off with a nice breakfast of oatmeal and raspberries we picked from our yard and then the girls and I spent the day together while my husband worked. We cleaned the ritual room and re-did the main altar while talking about what Lughnasa was to us. My 3 year old decided it was a time to honor the "Goddess in the earth", while my 7 year old described it as "a really fun harvest time, that's hot, when we get to eat yummy food." I told them stories from Irish mythology: the tale of Macha racing the kings horses, how Tailtiu cleared the plains, the story of when Lugh came to Tara...and we had our own sorts of athletic games, which were far more comical than athletic really, but were very fun nonetheless.
   After my husband arrived back home form work there was music, although his style is far from traditional, and some more general cleaning and re-arranging, before dinner. The main course was roast chicken, fresh veggies from the local farmer's market and oat bread (from the bakery down the street) with honey.  And after all that cooking and good food, the children's favorite part of the meal was the orange frosted sugar cookies we had for dessert. A plate was made up as an offering to the Gods and another for the daione sidhe and later on both were placed outside on the outdoor altar. The ritual itself was private and simple.
   I'm left today reflecting on my own harvest this year, on the things that have gone according to plan and the things that have decidedly not. I always find that Lughnasa ends up being a period of introspection for me, perhaps because I don't have much of a physical harvest in terms of planting and reaping. As I see the world around me ripening and offering up it's abundance to those able to recognize and collect it I can't help but look at the things in my own life that have changed since spring, good and bad, and about what I can harvest.
   Blessed Lughnasa to you all!