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Monday, September 17, 2012

book review - the CR FAQ

   Today's book review will focus on the single most recommended book for Celtic recons, the CR FAQ. This really is one of those "must read" books for anyone interested in Celtic recon, and is the product of the collaborative efforts of some of the founding members of this approach to Celtic religion. It was published in 2007 in print and appears free online at
     One of the best things about this book is its flexibility. It can be read straight through or used as a reference with a very thorough table of contents and in depth index making looking up anything simple. The format itself is a typical question and answer FAQ style allowing for the reader to identify a printed question that is similar to what he or she is curious about and then read the answer. However, as I stated earlier, the book also lends itself well to cover-to-cover reading.
    The book begins by defining CR, Celtic, and reconstruction, giving someone new to the concepts a basis to understand the concepts. The next section looks at basic questions like whether Celtic ancestry is necessary, whether there is a particular "holy" text, solitary versus group practice, clergy and lay people, etc., This is followed by a section of intermediate questions, including a look at the place of UPG, and then sections on misconceptions, theology, ritual, ethics, druids and druidry, the difference between CR and other religions, how to get into CR, as well as a reading list and pronunciation guide. All of the topics touched on are common questions about CR and make reading the FAQ a good idea for beginners. Even after years of practice and community participation I still re-read it regularly just to re-connect with certain ideas within it.
   Generally I like the book and I like that it is willing to tackle difficult issues like cultural appropriation. If it has one drawback it is the nature of the book itself - it is a FAQ and not a definitive guide to practicing CR, but then again, there is no definitive guide (nor could there be with the diverse nature of CR itself). Also each answer is fairly short and concise; there are no in depth essays on CR beliefs or practices. A person looking for a detailed explanation of how to practice will be disappointed, but for anyone who is curious about what CR is, or  looking for a place to start creating an individual practice, or even someone new to the online or real world CR community that is just looking for an understanding of how it all works, this is the best place to start.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Miscellaneous Reflections

 This week has been one of those weeks, the kind that is simultaneously excellent and horrible, the kind that almost forces me into deep reflections on life that are both painful and freeing. Looking back over the last week I am left with some good insights but no surety about how to implement or integrate any of them.
Hawthorn in the rain

  I have been saying for awhile now that I need to pull back, do less, and remember how to relax; instead I scheduled this past week to the limit. The universe, with its epic sense of humor added in a comic series of car problems and computer issues to spice things up. In pushing myself to the extreme of commitments it really drove home to me that I have got to make some changes in my life. It's been so long since I relaxed and just had fun that I really can't even remember what those things are like, beyond a few minutes here and there. I value the concept of fun, yet I am a horrible example of embracing it. This past week of utter scheduling madness drove home to me that something has to give and I need to get the fun back. I realized that I have made doing things for everyone else a priority and I let every day go by telling myself that tomorrow I will do the things I want to do...except, that "tomorrow" rarely seems to arrive.
   This reflection is no doubt influenced by the news that someone I knew had died, losing a sudden fight with cancer. I had not even known he was sick, so the news that he was gone was truly shocking. He was the sort of person that made you smile and enjoyed making other people happy. The world is a poorer place without him in it.
  Thinking about his death did emphasize my own way of spending all my time on others and none on myself. I am horrible at making myself a priority and I am just as bad at relaxing and enjoying my time. It also made me realize that I should be more grateful for the good things I have in my life, when it is so easy to let the negative overwhelm everything else. To this end I have begun starting every day by acknowledging one specific thing in my life that I am thankful for. I spend at least a few minutes really thinking about what that means to me and for me and how I can make sure that I am honoring it in my life. This morning's focus was gratitude for a women's spirituality group I co-run with a friend and the insights that are gained by having a peer group to meet with and talk to. I am truly grateful to have the people in that group in my life and to have the group itself as a resource and support.
   That group met last night and discussed energy, energy work, how we manifest positive or negative in our own lives, and good and bad experiences we have had. In the course of talking about one of the worst experiences I have had I gained a profound insight into what drives me to want to know how to handle any situation or answer any question. When I was 16 I accidently got a friend possessed by an angry ghost during a very ill-advised late night attempt at a seance (my idea); at the time I had no idea how to fix it and was very, very lucky that it ended well when it could have gone very badly. People in my life now tend to see my knowledge and willingness to find answers to their questions as a positive, but I realize after last night that it is driven largely by fear of letting other people down or of failing them. I am still unsure how exactly this knowledge will play out in my life, but I think that it does contribute to the pressure I put on myself. I need to learn to relax, and perhaps part of that is also letting other people be responsible for themselves instead of playing out an 18 year old guilt driven by this feeling - this burden - of trying to make up for a long past mistake.
  In other good news my oldest daughter turned 9 and I had an absolute blast on the New Normal podcast. I saw several friends I have not seen in far too long. And I have, maybe, started to really understand where my priorities need to be in life and what actually matters.
    I encourage everyone to do some reflecting on your own lives and how your time is spent - what you find might surprise you.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Faeries - on the New Normal

I'm very excited to say that tonight I will be on the blog radio show the New Normal tonight discussing Faeries. I met Tchipikkan at the first Changing Times, Changing Worlds conference in 2010; she was one of the organizers and teachers, and I was teaching several classes, including one on Faeries and the Celtic Otherworld. Last year she and I were both at CWPN's  Harvest Gathering and she sat in on my Faeries class there. When she contacted me about speaking on the show Faeries seemed like a great choice of topic and I can't wait to discuss it with her and to hear from anyone who calls in.

Here is the announcement from the show:
"I do believe in Fairies!"
Join me, Tchipakkan, and my guest Morgan Daimler as we talk about the Fair Folk, Good Neighbors, the Fae, Sidhe, pixies, brownies, or by many other names. We'll be talking about their history, stories about them, as well as our interactions with them. ("Where are my keys?!") You can listen on your computer at and call into the show at 619-639-4606 with questions, or to share your own experiences with the fae. The show with Morgan will be live: Wednesday, Sept. 12, between 8 and 9 est. (or find podcasts of the New Normal on blogtalkradio/liveparanormal)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Artio, Germano-Celtic Bear Goddess

  Sometimes the deities we feel drawn to worship are fairly well known in mythology or can easily be read about in secondary sources material, but other times we are drawn to deities that are obscure. This is the case with one of the main deities I work with, a Germano-Celtic goddess named Artio; in practical terms it means that I have a scant few references to work with and must make up the difference with personal gnosis and experience. I have hesitated to write too much in the past about Her because I knew that it would mean talking about personal practices that were developed through inspiration more than research, but it seems only fair now to offer what I know and my own experiences. Perhaps it will help others who feel drawn to or called by this particular obscure deity to feel more connected to Her.
     Artio is also called Dea Artio and Andarta all names that relate to or directly mean "bear" (Monaghan, 2004). One of the best known pieces of evidence relating to Artio is an engraved statue found near Berne, Switzerland. The statue depicts a seated female figure, generally thought to be the goddess, holding a basket of fruit, facing a bear who is standing in front of a tree; an engraving on one side of the statue says: "to the goddess Artio" (Green, 1992). A second find with in inscription was found in Bollendorf, Germany, and other evidence was in France (Green, 1992; Monaghan, 2004). While the areas Artio has been found in could be considered Germanic, the name is Gallic, and She is generally described as either Germano-Celtic or Romano-Gaulish (I favor the former myself). Although the imagery of the statue is obscure and there is a lack of literary evidence, most agree that Artio was likely a goddess of fertility and plenty, and possibly a patroness of hunters as well as protector of bears (Green, 1992; Markale, 1986). Some also theorize that She was a more general goddess of the wilderness and wild things (Monaghan, 2004). Sources agree that She was also seen in the form of a bear, with Sjoestedt placing her in the category of zoomorphic goddesses alongside Epona (Sjoestedt, 1949). It seems likely that the bear goddess, Artio, was eventually replaced by a bear god, Artaios who was synchretized by the Romans to Mercury (Markale, 1986).
     My connection to Artio comes through my seidhr work. When I first seriously began to practice seidhr I decided I needed to find out who or what was willing to act as a guide and protector for me. I already had a close working relationship with my Fylgja and with certain plant and animal spirits, but I suspected that taking this sort of spiritual work in a new direction would involve new Powers, beyond Odin and Freya who were already involved. I undertook a spiritual Journey and encountered a bear who was also a woman, simultaneously. She told me that she would be with me for any seidhr or spae work that I did and that her name was Arto. I had never heard that name before, but I knew that Art meant bear so I didn't think much of it. I was also told that when I did oracular spae work I should wear a bear skin instead of a veil. I assumed she was some sort of powerful spirit, and was happy that I had someone willing to be with me in this work.

    By coincidence (or synchronicity) shortly after this experience I came across a fossilized cave bear tooth for sale and I bought it and made a necklace from it which I have since worn whenever doing any seidhr or spae. The bear fur was, suffice to say, much more difficult to find but did come to me in due time and I use it as I was told to.  I even recently had a dream where I "won" a bear skull and was instructed to feed it by blooding it; I'm waiting to see if such a skull finds its way to me in the real world or not. I later found out that Artio was an actual historic Goddess, although there is nothing in the scant records to indicate a definite connection to any type of oracular or magical work associated with Her. I don't know why I was surprised that I ended up contacting an obscure Germano-Celtic goddess, since, in retrospect, that makes perfect sense as the sort of deity for me with my dual-trad ways. I can comfortably honor her in either a Celtic or Norse (Germanic) context, which is nice. This connection has always worked for me and I feel very protected by Her in seidhrworking and also very connected to the bear. Although I will say that my personal experiences with Her show that She can be both tender and protective and also very intense. I have encountered Her in the Spiritworld and been dismembered, for example, but I have also been healed; I have had Her in bear form charge at me roaring so that I was literally too terrified to move or even think, but She has also been very gentle with me.
  I have a small shrine for Her with a collection of carved bear statues and the best image I could find of a goddess and bear. I also honor Her especially on the equinoxes. In the spring I celebrate the awakening of the bear on the spring equinox with a ritual for her that includes offerings of honey and bread. In September I celebrate the dreaming of the bear on the fall equinox with offerings of fresh fruit and vegetables. This is purely my own invention, although my kindred has adopted the practice along with me. We all practice seidhr together and have adopted Artio as a group, which seems to be working well.
   Honoring Artio has forced me to trust my own intuition more and to be willing to follow my gut as I find ways to connect to a deity where there is very little existing historic information to rely on. I have also learned a great deal about bears as I worked on learning about the animal most strongly connected to this deity. Bears are amazing animals, and I have found female bears particularly interesting; they are devoted mothers and excellent teachers, verstaile and intelligent. Bears have several biological quirks, not only do they hibernate, but a female bear can delay pregnancy after fertilization through a process that scientists are still trying to understand. I encourage anyone drawn to Artio to begin studying bears as well (I've focused mostly on black bears because they are native to my region).

Sjoestedt, M (1949). Celtic Gods and Heroes
Markale, J., (1986). Women of the Celts
Green, M., (1992). Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend
Monaghan, P., (2004). Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore