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Friday, November 23, 2012

An Dagda

  One of the most well known Gods of the Tuatha de Danann is the Dagda. He can be found under many variations of the name and under many by-names, such as Daghdae, Dagdai, Daghdo, Daghdou, Dagdae, Dagdhua, Dagdhae, Dagda Mor, Dagda Donn and Eochaid Ollathair, Ruad Rofessa, Aedh Alainn, Aodh Ruadh Ro-fessa; usually the definitive article "the" is added before Dagda (Gray, 1983; O hOgain, 2006). The name Dagda itself is an epithet which means "Good God", implying a God good at all things. This name is gained during the second battle of Maige Tuired when he promises to do as much as all the other Tuatha De have said they will do in the fight (Gray, 1983). His by-names tell us a great deal about him as well: Eochaid Ollathair "Horse-lord Ample Father", Ruad Rofessa "Red man of Knowledge (specifically Druidic or Occult), Aedh Alainn "Fiery Lustrous One" (O hOgain, 2006). People inclined to look at the Dagda as a more neopagan type Father God should bear in mind the actual connotations of "Good God" as well as the more restricted translation of Ollathair, as there is no direct evidence that he was previously seen as the literal father of the Gods, but rather as prolific. In fairness to that view, however, O hOgain does suggest that the Dagda can be connected to the "Dis Pater" father deity that Caesar claims the Gauls believed they descended from (O hOgain, 2006). Additionally the text of the Cath Maige Tuired provides a long list of names for the Dagda, after he is challenged to give a ride to a Fomorian princess and replies that he has a geas preventing him doing so unless she knows his full name. She asks him three times for his name and on the third request he replies: "Fer Benn Bruach Brogaill Broumide Cerbad Caic Rolaig Builc Labair Cerrce Di Brig Oldathair Boith Athgen mBethai Brightere Tri Carboid Roth Rimaire Riog Scotbe Obthe Olaithbe" (Gray, 1983). O hOgain suggests tha the name Dagda comes from the root Dago-Dewios, a cognate with other Indo-European sky gods such as Zeus, and also through this and  his imagery to the Gaulish Secullos (O hOgain, 2006).
    In some sources the Dagda is said to be the son of Elatha and married to the Morrigan, although he is also known to hve fathered at least one child with Boinn. His children vary by source but are usually  given as Angus mac Og, Cearmait, Aodh Caomh, Conan, Midir, Bodhbh Dearg, Ainge, and Brighid; in one later example Dian Cect is also said to be his son (O hOgain, 2006). His sons often die after trying to obtain a woman who is not available; only Angus successfully marries the literal woman of his dreams Caer Iobharmheith. This may connect the Dagda to the concept of passion or of sexual envy, as he himself fathered Angus on another man's wife. He is also sometimes said to be the brother of Nuada and Ogma (O hOgain, 2006).
   The Dagda is generally described as being a large man, sometimes comically so, with a tremendous appetite and immense capacity. It was said that to make his porridge he needed 80 gallons of milk as well as several whole sheep, pigs, and goats, and that he ate this meal with a ladle large enough to hold two people lying down (Berresford Ellis, 1987). Some modern sources describe him as red-haired, possibly relating to the name Ruad Rofessa, and describe his clothing as a short tunic, sometimes obscenely short. He is considered to be generous, wise, and bigger-than-life in his appetites (O hOgain, 2006). He is often described as immensely strong and able to complete great feats such building a fort single-handedly or clearing 12 plains in a single night.
   The Book of Lecan states that the Dagda ruled for 80 years as king of the Gods after the death of Lugh, but other sources state that he was killed fighting Ceithlinn at the second battle of Maige Turied (Smyth, 1988). This is later explained with a story saying that he took a wound in the battle that took 80 years to kill him, but that is clearly an attempt to unify the varying tales into a coherant whole (O hOgain, 2006).  He was said to be a master of Druidic magic and to possesses several magical objects. It was the Dagda who held the cauldron of abundance brought from Murias, one of the four treasures. He also owned a great club that was so large it had to be dragged on wheels behind him; it is said that one end of the club could kill 9 men with one blow, while the other could heal (Berresford Ellis, 1987; O hOgain, 2006). His horse was Acein (ocean) and the Dagda possessed a harp whose playing changed the seasons. This harp was stolen by the Fomorians and the Dagda along with Nuada and Ogma had to journey to recover it, possibly indicating its importance to maintaining the order of time and the seasons.
   The Dagda is associated with Brugh na Boynne and also with a site in Donegal called Grianan Ailigh as well as Leighead Lachtmhaighe in Clare, Cnoc Baine in Tyrone and O Chualann in Wicklow (Smyth, 1988; O hOgain, 2006). It is said that it was the Dagda who delegated each of the sidhe to the Tuatha de after their defeat by the Milesians, possibly at Manannan mac Lir's suggestion (O hOgain, 2006). The Dagda originally lived at Newgrange (Burgh na Boynne) but was tricked out of the site by his son Angus. He is also particularly associated with Samhain, when he was said to unite with the Morrigan; this is also the time that he united with the Fomorian princess, also gaining her assistance against her own people in the battle.
   In general the Dagda is associated with leadership, wisdom, strength, abundance, fertility, generosity, and Druidic magic. O hOgain posits that the descriptions of him as swift may indicate that he was believed to be a God who responded quickly to his followers, and he also relates him to the sun and solar imagery (O hOgain, 2006). In some modern groups he is associated with the Norse Gods Thor or Odin, with valid arguments for both connections, and as mentioned he may also be associated with Secullos or the Roman Dis Pater. When I honor him I prefer to offer dark beers or ales, and I have also recreated a version of the porridge described as his in the Cath Maige Tuired (although in much smaller quantity). Although I dislike the modern way that authors describe him as "the God of the Druids" I do tend to associate him with Druidic magic and, tentatively, see a symbolic connection between his club and the Druidic staff. I have also come to believe that his comic appearance is a balance for his immense wisdom and power, on some symbolic level.

 Gray, E., (1983). Cath Maige Tuired.
 O hOgain, D., (2006). The Lore of Ireland
 Smyth, D., (1988). A Guide to Irish Mythology
 Berresford Ellis, P., (1987). A Dictionary of Irish Mythology

Friday, November 16, 2012

Kids and Faith

There are certain questions that are commonly asked within the pagan community, and one that I see repeated at least once every few months is about raising children pagan. The exact phrasing of the question may change, but its always expressed in two core ways: should I raise my kids in my religion? and how do I teach my kids my beliefs?
   My answer to the first question is a simple yes. Of course you should raise your kids with your faith; if its important to you why wouldn't you want to share it with them? Now I'm obviously not talking about situations where there are legal reasons, such as a messy divorce, or extenuating circumstances, such as a pre-existing agreement with a non-pagan spouse, involved. But if you are actively practicing your religion and have children who you can include I really think you should, for several reasons. First of all it will create valuable family traditions around holidays that your children can cherish even if they grow up to believe something totally different. This will also create opportunities for family bonding and spending time together that, sadly, in our modern lives we often don't have much of. Secondly children generally like being included in things they know are important to you, at least in my experience. Thirdly it gives them a good understanding of your religion that will allow them later to make a decision about their own faith; related to that if you keep what you do and believe secret you may inadvertently teach them that your religion is something to be ashamed of or not good enough. Its entirely possible to raise your children in your religion without making it feel restrictive or forced, or teaching them that what you believe is the only option. I raise my daughters with my faith but they are free to go to other people's religious services or to study other options. I've never understood the idea that we should not raise our kids with our own religion because it will somehow take away their ability to choose for themselves. Finally, teaching your kids what you believe does, in theory, pass on the morals and guidelines for life that you have learned from your religion. Certainly this can be done in a secular way, but if you base your life on the 9 noble virtues, for example, why wouldn't you want your kids to have that same guideline to live with? Also if you love your religion enough to practice it, why wouldn't you want to share that with your children and give them that same opportunity to enjoy it?
    As to the second question, that one is easy - just include them in what you do and give direct answers to questions. My kindred is child-friendly and we have always had a policy that the kids are welcome to wander in and out of blot and participate if they want to. By myself I always give the girls the option of joining in with me if they want to. Rather than feeling forced or not wanting anything to do with it my kids would have me doing ritual every night if I let them talk me into it! They love hearing stories about the Gods and Goddesses as well as the other spirits and our ancestors. They enjoy celebrating our holidays. If anything I have trouble keeping up with their interest, which is bottomless. I have never gone out of my way to teach them about my faith, I just include them when I celebrate and I answer their questions. The closest I've ever come to intentionally teaching them anything religious is buying the children's books, like Kindertales, to read to them. I don't think as parents we need to try to teach it if we are giving them living examples to follow and learn from.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book Review: Mysteries of Druidry

  Since yesterday was a holiday I'm doing my weekly book review today instead. I decided to review one of my favorite books on modern Druidism, Brendan Myers' "the Mysteries of Druidry". This book came out in 2006 and presents an interesting blend of modern mysticism and solid research. I like to recommend it to anyone who is interested in Druidism, especially of the Irish variety.
  The book includes a forward by Isaac Bonewits, an introduction, 7 chapters, an epilogue, notes, index, and brief about the author page. The introduction begins with an imaginative envisioning of a meeting between the young Cu Chulainn and the Morrigan, and then segues into an introduction of the concept of Celtic mysticism and modern Druidism.The chapters look at different core concepts of modern Druidism including 9 concepts that the author identifies as key to Druidism, sacred space, magic, Druidic tools, and outlines of meditations. The epilogue offers a view of what Druidism could be as a viable spiritual path.
   What I like most about the book is the author's engaging writing style and way of discussing difficult or complex subjects in accessible ways. He tackles the often problematic concepts of mysticism within Druidism in ways that are easy to follow and provide food for thought for the reader. He also provides a selection of actual ritual ideas and suggested meditations which allow a reader to experience the ideas being discussed firsthand. One of my favorite parts of the book is a section in chapter 6 that lists and describes 12 qualities of a modern Druid, which I think are well thought out and good criteria for anyone to apply who is interested in this path. The book also includes some lovely artwork and a thorough index.
  One of the only criticisms that I have with this work is that it is formatted using two columns of text on each page rather than one, and I find this a bit distracting. Otherwise I feel like the author has done a very good job of accomplishing the apparent goal of the book, to discuss mysticism in modern Druidism and also supply useful guidelines for actual practice. Mysticism is a hard topic to successfully discuss and I feel that many authors either avoid it or fail to handle it well, so it is nice to have at least one solid resource on the topic.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Animism and Neopaganism

  I am an animist. This is not an uncommon statement in modern paganism (including reconstructionism) but like so many other things it is far more complex than it may appear. What I mean when I say animist, and how that worldview shapes my life, may be very different indeed from what others mean when they use the term, because in modern pagan usage it is a somewhat nebulous and often poorly implemented idea. Part of this, I think, is rooted in a poor understanding of the original term, and part in people trying to graft what can be a very foreign idea onto the worldview they were raised with.
   So what is animism? Well, to start the term itself originated in anthropology in the 19th century as a way to categorize the beliefs of indigenous peoples. It is based in the Latin word "anima" which means spirit or soul. In effect animism is the belief that animals (including people), plants, natural objects and phenomena, and sometimes man-made objects have a spirit. An animistic world view can be found in all cultures at varying points and psychologist Jean Paiget theorized that animism is the natural state of belief in children. Unlike pantheism, which sees all existence as having a unified spirit, animism sees each spirit as unique; my soul is not the same soul as yours, nor is one oak the same spirit as another oak. Another thing that makes animism different from some other viewpoints is that to an animist all spirits are generally equal in significance (not, however, in Power) so that a human spirit is no more or less important in the universe than a Maple, or a squirrel, or a river. Animism does not see humans as superior or inherently more worthy than anything else. This does not mean that to an individual human or group of humans that their lives mean less but rather that they do not interact with the world with the idea that they are privileged, rather the spirits around them must be treated with respect in order for the humans themselves to succeed.
    When I say I am an animist I mean that I perceive the world as being populated by spirits, in the sense described above. Material existence cannot be separated from spirit, because spirit is an integral part of all things and is manifest in the individual spirits that inhabit the world. My cats have spirits, just as I and my family do. The oaks, maples, aspen, and cedars in my yard have souls, as does the swamp behind my house. I also believe my car has a spirit as well, so I suppose I am a modern animist. Animism also shapes my belief that spirits are eternal, and so just because something has died doesn't mean it's spirit is destroyed (and Irish paganism shapes my belief in reincarnation, or "spirit recycling"). I believe it is important to live in right relation with the spirits we share the world with, just as much as we should live in right relation with our human neighbors and coworkers (and for much the same reason). This can be done by showing respect and gratitude, taking only what we need, and using everything we take. It also means that I look at the world around me as full of living spirits that are just as important as I am. I have a certain horror at the wanton, purposeless, destruction and death that is so common in a world that will clear an area of land to sell and then let it all sit and rot waiting for a non-existent buyer, or pollute and poison an area for expediency.
     Now to be a bit critical. When I hear other neopagans talking about being animists I tend to see some common flaws in the way it is being approached. Some people who use the term animist actually mean pantheist, that is they believe that there is one, unified, spirit in all things not individual spirits in all things. There is nothing wrong with pantheism, and in fact you can be both a pantheist and an animist, but confusing the two terms shows a basic lack of understanding of what animism is. Other people take animism to a personalized extreme, where instead of understanding that humans are no better or worse than other spirits they elevate all spirits to the privileged status humans tend to accord themselves in non-animist views. Not only is this perspective difficult to really apply to everything but it also makes life a guilt ridden experience, when you are seeing every rock, tree, and animal as having the right to life, liberty, and happiness that you see for yourself. Animism respects all spirits, but also contains the inherent understanding that all spirits have a place in the natural order which means some are used as firewood, building materials, or food - with appreciation for the use they offer to support other life. It is offensive to waste and to take for granted what others give for us to live, but the use itself is not offensive. Life is predicated on death, in a perpetual cycle; an animist understands and honors this, and our own place within it. In contrast others take what I might call a selective animism approach where they say they are animists but only credit certain things with spirits, generally based on their own fondness for the animal/plant/object in question or desire to avoid guilt about using others. And of course, as with all things, there are those who give the idea lip service and nothing more.
    I think neopaganism - indeed all religions - would benefit greatly from an animistic viewpoint. Animism in many ways gives us the best understanding of the true beauty and value of life - all life - and teaches us to honor what we need to live. It takes nothing for granted, but appreciates the cooperation needed between all things for life to continue. Animism avoids the dichotomous thinking that says a thing is either good or bad, or the view that all is good; it teaches us that there are good spirits and bad spirits, yes, but also that most spirits are simply spirits that will respond based on how they are treated. And most importantly animism disabuses us of the idea that we are privileged or special; whether we like it or not we are as valuable as everything else in the grand scheme of life.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Book review: Trance-portation

Trying to get back to my Monday book reviews, I've decided to review Diana Paxson's 2008 book Trance-portation: Learning to navigate the inner world. I was excited to read this book after it was released because I feel that there is a distinct need for this type of work. There are many books on the market that are intended to address guiding people through the beginner stages of trance and spiritual journey work, but I often feel that the subject is not handled well. Too many times the basics - grounding, centering, shielding, discernment, and such - are either over emphasized to the point that nothing else is addressed, or else the basics are glossed over in favor of more advanced material. In this work, however, there is a good balance between the essential basics and the necessary advanced steps that creates a very functional and useful manual for trance work.
    The book includes 13 sections: travel planning, crossing the threshold, getting started, trance-perception, there and back again, native guides, getting along in the culture, mapping the inner worlds, fellow travelers, destinations, your place or mine, going nowhere being everywhere, and road hazards. There are also three appendices: notes for the tour guides, guidance systems, and journeys to find allies. Each section follows logically from the previous one so that it works as an instruction manual or can be used as a reference by skipping to the section needed.
    This is an excellent book for those who wish to begin using trance and journey techniques and have no practical experience, but it is also useful for people who do have experience. The author does a thorough job of explaining the principles behind this type of spiritual work, but what makes this book such a good resource for practitioners of all levels is the practical advice. The book touches on common problems people face, includes cautions and protection ideas, as well as how to connect to Otherwordly spirits and deities, and what to expect. The tone of the book is very practical and full of anecdotal advice that illustrates the points in ways that are easier to understand than simple dry facts would be. I also really liked that while Diana's own approach is largely Norse the book is intentionally aimed at a general audience and can be applied to almost any spiritual path; a seidhr-worker should get as much out of this as someone coming from an Irish (or Celtic) view, or a modern neopagan.
   I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in beginning this type of work; this book will give the reader a firm foundation to work from. It includes suggestions for how to do trance work and also what to do trance work for, which was nice, as it includes ideas that might be new perspectives for some readers. Trance work is more than just wandering around the Otherworlds for personal enlightenment or seeking answers to questions and the book provides some good suggestions for other uses. I also very much liked the way the author encourages people to be safe and to use discernment both in the Journey and with anything gained form the Journey, as this can be an area that beginners fall into bad habits with.
    Overall I think this book is essential reading for anyone who does spiritual journey work, both as a great place to start and also as a good refresher for more experienced people. It is certainly the first book I recommend to those asking where to start and also one I re-read whenever I feel I need to. There isn't anything else on the market that is quite like this book.

Friday, November 2, 2012

the Third Day of Samhain - Life without electricity

  So hurricane Sandy has come and gone and my family is left without electricity. I spent the first day trying to take the romantic view and imagine that I was getting a feel for what life was like for my ancestors, but around the second day reality set in - my ancestors lived in homes designed without electricity, heated by fireplaces, with hearths to cook on. I do not. I am still trying to make the best of the situation, such as it is. As I have only random internet access when not at home I'm not in a position to put up any in depth blogs, but I will share how I have spent the first two days of Samhain and my plans for today.
  My town canceled trick or treating, as 90% of people have no power, and rescheduled it for next Monday. My children were very disappointed so I decided to make the best of it. We bought some candy and the girls trick or treated from room to room, which they enjoyed very much. Then we huddled around my laptop and watched It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown as a family, which was also more fun than anticipated. Finally we held a small but meaningful ritual for the first night of Samhain were we honored the wandering dead and the daoine sidhe. A small food offering was left out and the girls went to bed. I stayed up and held a second ritual to renew my oath as a Druid of the White Oak, a yearly practice since my initiation. This year I found myself reflecting more on everything that has come to pass in the past year, the things that have changed and the accomplishments and personal challenges that have filled my life.
   Last night, the second night of Samhain, we celebrated especially in honor of the Dagda and the Morrigan and their joining on Samhain before the second battle of Maige Tuired. I told the children stories about the Morrigan and the Dagda and talked about who each deity was and why we honor them. The girls shared that their "favorite" goddess is Brighid and we ended up talking about the Tuatha de Danann at some length, with me telling stories about different deities. My oldest daughter asked if there was a goddess associated with deer because she said she had dreamed about one, so I told her what I could about Flidias. We lit candles for the Gods and a special incense blend that I had made for the holiday as well and all in all had a very nice, if casual, ritual.
   Today is the third day of Samhain, the time when Irish folk belief tells us that our beloved dead come back to visit. Tonight we will set out an extra plate for any who visit and an extra chair. We will light the candles on the ancestor altar and I will tell my children stories about each of their family members who rest there, as many as I can remember for as long as they will listen. The dead never truly leave us until they are forgotten.