Search This Blog

Monday, October 24, 2011

Book review - 21 Spells for Assured Sucess

 And now for something completely different.... 21 Spells for Assured Success by Boudica
   This book is written by a Facebook friend of mine and while it isn't my usual genre I found it to be both interesting and useful so I decided to put a review of it up here on my blog.
   I really enjoyed this book, being fond of spellwork that is pragmatic and intended to be useful. It is a thoroughly modern, Hoodoo style take on practical folk magic that is non-denominational and could be worked by anyone. I enjoyed the writing style which is personal and engaging, as if the author was sitting down to chat with the reader, and the little personal anecdotes that were mixed in were a nice touch. You definitely are given the impression that the author has experience with her subject and is looking to pass that experience on in the most helpful possible way. The spells themselves cover a good range of possibilities under the topic of "success", from job interviews to office blessings and winning in court to removing writer's block, and are all geared at real-world usefulness, which is nice. I also liked the section on magical symbols that can be used for sucess. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone interested in learning magic to be used, as opposed to just reading about theory, and for anyone trying to draw success to their lives. My only complaint about it would be that I wish it was longer, but that is really just the sign of a good book - I wish it didn't have to end!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Who were the Druids - part 2

 So in a previous blog I looked at evidence supporting the roles of the Druids as ritual leaders, judges, and seers, but this is only a small piece of who the Druids were. We also have evidence that within their societies they were sacred poets, teachers of wisdom, and the ones who understood the deeper mysteries of the natural world, and magic users, however discussing the bardic role of Druids alone is complicated enough to take a whole blog on it's own, so we will have to get to the other aspects later.
    The role of sacred poets, often called "Bards",  is one of the most often written about but at first glance, especially of the continental materiall, it can give the appearance that the Bards were a separate class from the Druids. In several of the Greek and Roman sources it is said that there were three types of men held in esteem, the Bards, Druids, and Seers, such as Strabo saying "Generally speaking, there are three uniquely honored groups among the Gauls: Bards, Vates, and Druids." (Freeman, 2002). Adding to the confusion about the Bards are several references that seem to place them in what we might see as a very low social position. Some examples of this:
 Diodorus Siculus "They have singing poets called bards who perform playing an instrument like a Greek lyre. These bards sing songs of praise and of satire."
 Athenaeus: "Posidonius of Apameia says...the Celts have with them in war and peace companions...[who] recite the praises of their patrons before gatherings and to all listening in turn. They are called bards - poets who sing praise."
  Ammianus Marcellinus "And the bards sang the great deeds of famous men in heroic verse, accompanied by the sweet tones of the lyre."  (all - Freeman, 2002).
  However, I think much like the false separation of the Seers from the Druids which I had previously discussed, the Bards were in fact Druids. If we look at the Irish material it is much more apparent that this was the case as we see the same interchangeability of the terms that we saw in the continental use of Druid and Vate. As Daithi O hOgain explains it in The Sacred Isle "In Irish they are all well attested as bard (a term for a minor poet or reciter), faidh (a prophet), and drui (a druid or magician). All three words are to a large extent interchangeable, although bard is not generally accorded equal status with the others. Instead the Irish sources have fili (later, file) as a member of the exalted triad, and it is most plausible to regard this as having been the situation among the Continiental Celts also." (O hOgain, 1999). This may also explain why when reading material in translation we can sometimes find discrepancies, such as in different versions of the Tain Bo Cuilange were Fedelm is alternately called a Prophetess, Bard, or fairy.
   I personally suspect that the account of continental Bards who served in the retinue of "patrons" represent Druidic Bards of lower rank. The later Irish material also supports that possibility, although it is only speculation, as the Uraicecht Na Riar discusses the different grades of poets and, as with all things, it is likely that the majority of people remained in the lower ranks with only a few achieving the highest levels. This would mean many Bards and fewer Fili.
   It is also worth noting that while contemporary groups often emphasize the Bard's role as poet or musician, in the ancient texts Bards - or more accurately Fili - were equally skilled with magic, prophecy, and judgment, once again supporting the interchangeability of the role with that of the Druid. In the Cath Maige Tuired the File Coirpre laid a satire on the Fomorian king Bres who was ruling over the Tuatha de Danann for his lack of hospitality.
   "'Without food on a dish,
    Without cow's milk on which a calf grows,
    Without a man's habitation after darkness remains,
    Without paying a company of storytellers - let that be Bres's condition,
    Bres's prosperity no longer exists,' he said, and that was true. There was only blight on him from that hour" (Gray, 1983). This demonstrates the poets ability to magically curse with his art just as he could bless. In a similar way when the forces draw together for battle in the Cath Maige Tuired and Coirpre is asked what he will contribute to the fight he responds by pledging to make a satire against the Fomorian army that will weaken their warriors so that they offer no resistance (Gray, 1983). 
   The Bard's skill with prophecy, something we have already seen is a Druidic art, is very often attested in the Irish material. In fact all of our surviving understanding of Druidic prophecy techniques - the dichetal do chennaibh, teinm laeda, and imbas forosnai -  are attributed to "poets", although we know that these were Druidic practices. Two of the three were outlawed in Ireland by the Church because they involved calling on pagan spirits or gods. Interestingly the practice of bardcraft, or sacred poetry, survived well into the Christian era, nearly to the modern era, carrying with it many of the older practices associated with Druidic prophecy. For example, from A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland circa 1695:
"I must not omit to relate their way of study, which is very singular: they shut their doors and windows for a day's time, and lie on their backs, with a stone upon their belly, and plaids about their heads, and their eyes being covered, they pump their brains for rhetorical encomium or panegyric; and indeed they furnish such a style from this dark cell, as is understood by very few; and if they purchase a couple of horses as the reward of their meditation, they think they have done a great matter." This is strikingly similar to the practice involved in the imbas forosnai, omitting only the initial eating of meat and adding the stone, but the elements of the practice seem to be related.
   It is also worth noting that Bards had a role as judges that also connects them to the Druids. Both were able to make judgments against kings and assess a fine, or in the case of Bards, possibly lay a satire. As O hOgain puts it "The functions of drui, file and faidh seem to have been interchangeable in archaic Irish with that for a judge (written brithem, later breitheamh) and...we can be sure that arbritration was also one of the functions of these wise men in Ireland." (O hOgain, 1999). Should a Poet, Druid, or Brithem make an unjust ruling their face would break out in blotches, a literal mark of shame (O hOgain, 1999).
  As we can see it is virtually impossible to truly seperate out the different functions of the Druids into completely different groups. Each subgroup overlaps with the others and often the term used to describe a person would vary based entirely upon circumstance so that she might be called a Druidess and then a Prophetess or Bard in the next line of the same source. Of all of the subgroups the Bards, or Fili, did seem to have the clearest distinctions in many cases, yet they still had the same blurring of function and interchangeablity of labeling as any of the other groups that fall under the auspices of being a Druid.

Freeman, P., (2002). War, Women, and Druids. University of Texas Press
Gray, E., (1983). Cath Maige Tuired. Irish Texts Society
O hOgain, D., (1999). The Sacred Isle. The Boydell Press

Monday, October 3, 2011

Book review - Freya, Lady, Vanadis

 For this Monday's book review I am going to look at the book Freya, Lady, Vanadis: an introduction to the goddess by Patricia Lafayllve.
  This book is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the Goddess Freya. This is an indepth, academic look at her which goes beyond the surface examinations found elsewhere. Each chapter deals with different aspects of the mythology and how they shape our understanding of this goddess in relation to sex, love, war, death, magic, wealth, other gods and more. What I particularly liked was that the author uses a wide array of traditional material to look at who the Goddess was in antiquity but also brings that information forward in a useful, viable way and includes a modern look at Freya, resulting in an academically and spiritually sound understanding of this goddess.
   The text itself is fairly short, only 91 pages, but is well researched and documented, including end notes for each chapter, four appendices, and a bibliography. The first 7 chapters look at the historical attributes of Freya as we understand them from mythology and secondary sources, and the final 8th chapter looks at different personal gnosis that people have had relating to Freya in a modern context. The appendices discuss the sources in lore, modern practice, offer an example of a blot to Freya, and a selection of modern poetry to her.
   I especially liked the final chapter which looks at modern interactions with the goddess as interpreted through a selection of different peoples' personal gnosis, something that is often lacking in books that are this scholarly in tone. Overall, while short, the book is an excellent resource for learning about the goddess Freya and really does encompass what is known about her as well as giving a view into modern ideas about her. This would be a good book to have on hand whether a person is interested in worshipping this goddess specifically, or is just seeking to better understand the goddesses of the Northern pantheon.