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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Believing in Santa – a Pagan’s perspective

Today I'm linking to my blog over on Hartford FAV's where I discuss Santa Claus in today's world. Personally I believe Santa plays a huge role this time of year - as he should - and deserves to be honored. Of course I also think if you squint really hard he resembles a certain Norse God...

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Nation Novel Writing Month

 I am doing Nation Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year for the first time. The past few years I have sat and watched many of my friends do it and felt rather envious of how much fun they seem to be having. All the talk of word counts and plots; even the wailing over blocks and rewrites seem like a great time. Me, I write non-fiction or on occasion poetry. I enjoy it, but its definitely more work than any kind of fun.
   This year I am going totally out of my own comfort zone and writing a novel. I haven't written fiction in almost 20 years and my own taste runs to an ultra niche genre that isn't likely to interest a huge audience. So I decided not to write it for anyone but myself; I'm doing it just for the pure joy of telling the story. I'm not worrying about how well or badly I'm doing it or whether other people will like it. I'm not planning to publish (although I think I will take it all the way through to a final draft) so I'm not writing it with an eye to marketing it or making it appealing to the public. After talking with a few friends I even stopped my own inner critic who automatically tries to write for what I think others want to read.
   So far I've found it to be an amazingly liberating experience. I'm remembering why I used to love writing, why I have so many notebooks from high school full of tediously handwritten stories. I'm telling a story I want to read, and its fun.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

CD Review: Kellianna Traditions

 I'm doing something a little bit different today and offering my first music review. Yesterday I bought a copy of Kellianna's new CD Traditions, and after listening to it I decided it would be the perfect CD to review here.
   This is Kellianna's 5th release and a departure from her previous albums in several ways. Firstly, half of the twelve songs were recorded as duets: 1 with Kenny Klein, 2 with Wendy Rule, and 3 with Jenna Greene. Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, every song on the album - as the CD title suggests - is a traditional song, including a range of Celtic and American folk songs and even a few Gospel songs. The tracks are: She Moved Through the Fair, Early One Morning, Scarborough Fair, Danny Boy, John Barleycorn, Oh Shanendoah, The Ash Grove, Amazing Grace, Greensleeves, Ave Maria, Oh Tannenbaum, The Parting Glass. 
    Fans of the previous albums who enjoy Kellianna's original pagan folk songs may be hesitant to try something so different from her but, believe me, its more than worth listening to. These folk songs are perfect choices and show off the beauty of her voice and range. The duets are well done and interesting; from the haunting rendition she and Jenna Greene sing of Scarborough Fair to the fun John Barleycorn she sings with Kenny Klein. My personal favorite is her acapella rendition of The Parting Glass, not only my favorite on the album but my favorite version of that song out of the dozens I've ever heard.
   I have enjoyed Kellianna's previous albums, but honestly I always preferred her chants to her songs; this album though is the perfect balance, showcasing her amazing voice with a range of songs that keep the listener engaged. Even the songs that I didn't expect to like, such as Greensleeves, were pleasant surprises. I believe that fans of Kellianna will enjoy this album just as much as fans of  folk music looking for something new, who are in for a delightful surprise when they give this album a try.

You can find the CD here:
And the digital music here:

Friday, August 30, 2013

Racism and Cultural Appropriation

   American paganism in many ways reflects the contemporary trends of American culture: in the 60's and 70's it was feminism and women's empowerment, in the 80's and 90's it was individual empowerment. In the last ten years, and more so now, I've seen an increase in the focus on the ideas of ethnicity, race, and cultural appropriation within paganism.
   Issues of culture and race are complex and this is no less true in paganism than it is in the wider culture. On the one hand people often seek, through spirituality, to reconnect to their own history and roots, to gain a sense of belonging, and this can sometimes lead to a focus on culture. Certainly this is the case with most reconstructionist faiths which often emphasize both specific culture and ancestral connections and veneration. Feeling connected to ancestry through religion teaches us to be proud - proud of our ancestors' trials, struggles, and successes. Generally this is a good thing; we should be proud of our ancestry and our cultural history. This can become a problem though when that pride and the desire to feel that sense of belonging becomes a sense of possession, as if that religion belongs exclusively to any one group or people. In Celtic paganism I see this when people are dismissed as not really Celtic, as if their opinions have no or less value if they don't live in a Celtic country, speak a Celtic language, or have recent Celtic ancestry. In Heathenry it can be less subtly expressed in outright racism* and exclusion of non-Europeans from groups. I've heard of it in other faiths as well, from Wicca to Hellenismios, when one person tells another that they have no right to that religion because it belongs to another culture. It's all rooted in the idea that these beliefs are ours and we must protect them by keeping out the unworthy or those who might threaten the quality of what is ours. It's not always expressed that way, but that's the core idea behind it; we have something special that belongs to us and we must keep it safe from anyone who isn't us.
   The big, obvious problem with this is: who gets to decide who owns the culture? Who can say what amount of heritage is enough? Oh people try, certainly, but it all comes down to personal opinion and assumption, no matter how prettily they attempt to dress it up as the will of the Gods. How far back does someone's ancestry have to go for it to be enough? Can skin color really be a measure of heritage when it tells you nothing practical about that person's ethnicity? My heritage, like many Americans, is complex, including both European and Native American, so what cultures am I entitled to? What cultures am I excluded from? There are Heathens who would say that I cannot be Heathen because I am Cherokee on my father's side; there are tribal members who say I cannot follow tribal ways because I'm too fair skinned, despite the fact that historically none of that mattered in either culture. Belonging to a culture, sharing its beliefs, was based on far more than skin color and birth. History tells us that the Vikings intermarried with the Irish, that our ancestors, as they moved into new lands, intermarried with the people already there. The Gods were your Gods because they were the ones you honored, the ones you prayed to and offered to, not because you passed some litmus test of color or ancestry. The culture was your culture because it was what you lived, valued, and passed on. This was true in the past so in a modern multicultural, multi-ethnic society what place could racism possible have?
   Or, to summarize, racism is stupid and has no place any where in any thing.
   On the other hand we have cultural appropriation, a very popular term right now that is often horribly misunderstood and misused. Taken from sociology, cultural appropriation - also called cultural borrowing - is a natural and normal cultural process wherein one culture adopts beliefs, practices, or items from another culture usually with modifications. The western idea of karma is a cultural appropriation from the east, for example. Cultural appropriation, in and of itself, is not inherently a bad thing, however it can be so when the culture being taken from is a minority culture and the one doing the taking is a dominant one. In such a case appropriation can often lead to the loss of the original culture's belief or practice as it is subsumed and eventually discarded in favor of the dominant culture's version. The fear of that happening is often cited in cultural forms of paganism, including Irish and Norse, as grounds to speak out against or reject concepts taken from a specific culture and redefined by more popular modern pagan traditions. For example a reiki practitioner took the Irish Ogham and created what they call Celtic reiki, something that is seen as appropriation by some Irish pagans and some traditional reiki practitioners. The taking of the four Celtic fire festivals for use in the neopagan wheel of the year is often viewed as appropriation. James Arthur Ray's appropriation and misuse of sweat lodges is another, more tragic, example. Cultural appropriation is a very complex subject though because it is a natural cultural process and can occur organically - the incorporation of food, for example - so that not all appropriation is necessarily bad. In academia cultural appropriation may be divided into different categories which can include exchange, dominance, exploitation, and transculturation (Rogers, 2006). Exchange and transculturation are positive while dominance and exploitation are negative. Culture itself is built on a process of interaction with and reciprocal appropriation of other cultures which over times creates cultural exchange (Rogers, 2006). Generally when Cultural appropriation is discussed in paganism what is actually meant is cultural exploitation, the taking of aspects of a minority culture by a dominant one for the advantage of the dominant culture. This is a touchy issue for me as someone who regularly sees both my Native ancestral culture and Irish culture exploited. But as modern pagans we cannot simply say that we will not ever use or include anything that isn't originally from our culture or that no one else has a right to what we consider ours, particularly since, as I already discussed, it can be very difficult to decide who has a right to what; certainly the ancient pagans freely incorporated material from others in what would be seen as cultural exchange. On the other hand we should be respectful of other cultures and do everything we can to avoid what amounts to cultural plagiarism. My personal rule of thumb is to look at the context of the original and then how it is being applied outside that context; if it seems to be respectfully done then I am okay with it, if it seems to be done superficially, without respect, or understanding then I am not okay with it. We can use Samhain as an example: in modern paganism some people have begun to incorporate genuinely Irish pagan practices including a food offering to the fairies. I would not have an issue with this when the person researchers it and understands why it was done and historically how, even if their version is different from mine - candy instead of caudle, perhaps - but if the person simply hears that it was a practice to offer to the fairies, doesn't bother to learn anything about it, and offers something that would traditionally be offensive - spoiled food or leftovers, perhaps - then I would see that as inappropriate.  When you come across genuine appropriation the best way to fight it may be to educate people about the real beliefs and practices and the history, the roots, from which they have come.
   We are all, ultimately, seeking the same thing. As human beings we all want to be happy; as religious practitioners we all want to find spiritual fulfillment. The differences between us are, literally, only skin deep, and yet culture can shape us in profound ways that go far beyond outward differences and do deserve to be honored. Be proud of who you are and where you've come from and respect the journey that's brought you this far, but always respect those who are walking along with you as well by honoring the things we have in common as well as our differences.
   Ní neart go cur le chéile

* racism is the belief that different races have different abilities and characteristics and race can also be used to describe ethnic groups, including the Irish, English, etc., While we might most often think of racism as the division of people by skin color, it applies equally to the division of people by ethnicity. The infamous "No Irish Need Apply" signs of 19th century America are examples of that type of racism. 

Rogers, R., (2006) From Cultural Exchange to Transculturation: A Review and Reconceptualization of Cultural Appropriation. Communication Theory, vol 16, issue 4

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Prayers to the Morrigan

  So for the last several weeks I have been engaged in an effort to learn more about and honor Morrigu. As part of this effort I have made a small shrine to her and have been making regular offerings; I have also been meditating regularly on her. The other day after I had spent some time in the morning reflecting on the Morrigan and how she, as a Goddess of battle, fits into my modern life I found myself inspired to write a series of prayers to her, which I would like to share here.

  Prayer to the Morrigan for Blessing
Morrigan, battle Queen,
Give me the gift of relentlessness
That I might turn and turn and return
Let my will be like
An eel, a wolf, a hornless heifer,
An old woman seeking blessing
To turn my enemies' blows to healing
May I be strong in serving my purpose
Sharp as a blade's edge
Wise as the crow who sees
The entire battlefield from above
Bless me, Queen of Phantoms,
With all these qualities
In your name and in your service

Invocation of Morrigu
I call to you,
Daughter of Ernmas,
Sister of battle and sovereignty,
I call to you
Goddess of war-craft,
victory, and death
I call to you Great Queen
Morrigu, Lady of Phantoms
Be with me now

Prayer to the Morrigan for Protection
Great Goddess, Morrigan
May your strong shield be between
myself and all harm and danger
May your sharp sword be between
myself and all who would attack me
May your magical skill be between
myself and all ill-will and ill-wishing
Morrigan, Great Goddess
May your protection be on me
  today, tomorrow, and forever
   today, tomorrow, and forever

Song to the Morrigan
Queen of Phantoms,
Blood soaked earth
and rushing river ford
are your domain
Your gifts are madness,
death, and battle-frenzy
You appear, dancing
from sword point
to shield rim,
I sing to you with
a crow's voice, shrieking
I sing to you with
strength and anger

Queen of Nightmares
The joining of rivers
and deep delving caves
are your domain
Your gifts are prophecy,
destruction, or victory
You appear, washing
the clothes of the doomed,
red with gore,
I sing to you with
a voice of blood, crimson
I sing to you with
pain and sorrow

Great Queen
The boiling whirlpool
and fertile field
are your domain
Your gifts are sovereignty,
success, and victory
You appear, offering
your blessing to those
willing to pay the price
I sing to you with
a wolf's voice, howling
I sing to you with
passion and purpose

Copyright Morgan Daimler, 2013

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Book Review: Thinking Wild

    I recently was offered the opportunity to review the book Thinking Wild, Its Gift of Insight: a way to make peace with my shadow for Red Wheel/Weiser.
   Thinking Wild is a fascinating look into the mind of the author as he explores the symbolism and metaphor of Nature as it relates to the human mind. Written in style reminiscent of the stream of consciousness writing of Sylvia Plath or Toni Morrison it tells the story of a man searching through his own life and experience to better understand the human heart and more, the human experience. In many places it reads more like poetry than prose, and like reading Dylan Thomas or James Joyce, the reader can't try to find meaning in each line, but rather has to step back and take each section as a whole and let it speak for itself.
   I found the book initially difficult to get into as the author packs a lot of deep introspection into each page and at times the sheer amount of it is overwhelming, so I finally broke it down and began reading a small section each day which worked better. The material really needs some time to be digested as it is read, rather than being rushed through. At times I found myself in full agreement with the author, at other points I could not have disagreed more, but I was always intrigued by what he was saying and how he was choosing to say it.
  The book has value, I think, in that it challenges us all to look at our own lives and values in a new context. We all live in poetry and in art, in savagery and in brutal truth, side by side and without contradiction, but rarely do we acknowledge it the way Thinking Wild does. It offers us all a chance to shift our viewpoint and open up to a new perspective.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Song Parody "24 Runes" ~ For Odin

  Inspiration is a funny thing, I can sit for hours trying to write and have nothing come to me, or I can be doing some mundane task and have a sudden burst of insight. This morning as I was putting my daughter on the bus for school a song parody went through my head as if it were writing itself. I decided to share it here. 
24 Runes - To the tune of Ernie Ford's "16 Tons"

 Some people say the world came from fire and ice
 and all the world's knowledge comes with a price
 Knowledge that costs and we all gotta pay
  some run towards it and some run away

You rist 24 runes and what do you get?
Another day wiser with every aett
Runatyr don't you call me cause I can't go
There's still too many things I don't know

Odin won the runes after nine long nights
  they rose up from the depths and into his sights
He snatched them all with a mighty yell
  for the Gods, elves, dwarves, and men as well


Runes for healing and runes for harm
  runes for warding and runes for charm
There's runes for anything you might need
  but if you work with runes be ready to bleed


You start learning runes and you'll be changed
   your whole world view gets rearranged
The more you learn the more you ask why
  and you keep on asking until the day that you die


Friday, May 3, 2013

Where the Hawthorn Grows

  I'm excited to announce the official release of my new book, "Where the Hawthorn Grows". It is based on this blog and includes an array of essays on my views and experiences as an Irish reconstructionist Druid. Right now it is available in paperback and will soon be out as an ebook as well.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Baby's First Bealtaine

  Bealtaine this year has been a wild and hectic affair, mostly done with my 3 month old son in my arms. Some people find children and babies a distraction in ritual but I love the energy and unexpectedness they bring. Children bring an unbridled enthusiasm, openness, and joy to ritual, along with a certain inherant chaos. Certainly carrying my son made it harder to get the May Bush set up and decorated on May Eve, but the girls enjoyed doing more of it themselves and the result was just as beautiful and definitely more unique. After decorating the May Bush we made a caudle for the Fairies and brought it out to leave at the base of our Hawthorn tree. As I was getting ready to say a small prayer to the Good Neighbors before offering it the baby started fussing so I sat down a little way off and told the girls stories about the fairies while nursing him. That seemed a wiser choice than holding a screaming hungry infant and rushing through the offering* and indeed after that was done and the caudle was poured out and the words said, as we walked away, a Robin - omen of peace, hope, and a happy home - landed in the tree's branches and began singing.
  The family ritual on Beltane itself was a low-key affair, dedicated to Macha and Nuada. I told the children the story of the Tuatha de Danann coming to Ireland and ended up talking about each of the four treasures they brought with them. We burnt juniper, rosemary, and vervain for cleansing and made offerings of cheese biscuits that we had cooked together. The weather was sunny and fair, although the spring has been so cold and dry our little Hawthorn has barely begun to leaf never mind have flowers yet; still I took the weather as a good omen for the coming summer. After the ritual I gave each of the children a small gift as a token for the holiday: a t-shirt for my oldest, a tin whistle for my 5 year old, and a placard with my son's name and its history and meaning printed on it for the baby. Later last night I did my own solitary ritual which included meditation and reflection on the winter that has passed and the summer that we are welcoming in.
  This morning, the third and final day of our Bealtaine celebrations, we walked around the yard and house burning an incense blend I make myself to bless the property. We gathered flowers and brought them in to decorate the breakfast table and planted some herb and flower seeds in our small garden, after mixing the ash from the earlier rituals into the soil.
  This Bealtaine has been hectic and in many cases things have been less about planning and more about enjoying the moment. It was amazing and beautiful, something shared with my children and full of joy. I felt that all the offerings were well received and all the omens were positive - more so than they have been in a long time. I am ready for summer and am already starting to plan the next holy day with an infant in mind...

 *The older I've gotten the more I've come to believe that it is the intent behind the action that matters the most, rather than the action alone. Actions devoid of heart are hollow no matter how well executed; actions done with heart have value. A sincere heart and genuine devotion are more powerful, I think, than the smoothest rehearsed ritual. There are many people who approach modern pagan ritual as theater, something to be preformed in awe and reverence; for them the precision and perfection of it is part of their honoring of the Gods. My rituals, while done with reverence and often inspiring awe, could never be described as perfect or precise. No, my approach to ritual is better described with words like "organic", "fluid", and "engaged" - and I suppose some people would add "casual" and probably "relaxed". For those who prefer the highly structured style I'm sure less kind adjectives would be used as well. Such is life. Maybe it's because I don't feel the Gods, don't connect to them, in highly structured rituals; I never have. It's in the spontaneous moments and the daily devotions that I feel that connection is strengthened. Give me a wild wood and a moonlit sky, or the edge of flood-swollen waters; give me a tea-light or milk poured out in sincere prayer and I am open to the Gods and they are speaking to me. Of course what works for me is probably useless to some others just as I know some other approaches do nothing for me. The ultimate point of ritual I think, is to create connection and open lines of reciprocity between us and the Powers and so for it to be effective it must create engagement both ways; we must be full participants and the Gods or other spirits must be responsive and present. Creating this in ritual is so difficult in groups precisely because what creates engagement in one person may do nothing for another. I use what works for me and what has nurtured a relationship with the Powers over the years; to each their own.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Liminal Gods

  I read a blog the other day about primal Gods that grabbed my attention and has had me thinking ever since. I don't think I've ever read anything else that simultaneously made me feel so in agreement and also wanting to argue counterpoints. Maybe that's how it should be, as we each connect to these older natural forces in our own ways. It's uncomfortable for me to talk about them, especially here, because they are so personal, representing an intimate connection to the liminal place between the living green world and the timeless Otherworld.
  I have talked in my blog before about the Irish and Norse Gods I honor, but I haven't talked about the other Gods, the nameless ones who don't belong to any pantheon. Perhaps they are not Gods at all but rather are very powerful spirits of place, although they feel larger than that; often the line between deity and spirit or daoine sidhe can be a thin one after all. I relate to them as Gods and I suppose that is all that matters in the end.
     Most of what I do in my daily life and personal practice is centered on the daoine sidhe and land spirits, shaped by the Fairy Faith through a pagan lens, so maybe it was inevitable that I would eventually encounter these liminal Gods who straddle the gray area between Otherworldly spirit and divine being. I have never asked their names and they have never offered them, so I call them by titles: the Lady of the Greenwood, the Lord of the Wildwood, the Hunter, the Queen of the Wind. Not creative titles, but descriptive ones. There is something utterly foreign and achingly familiar about them that I cannot put into words. They are primal. They are wild.  They are experiential. I have no frame of reference for them outside my own experience, no myths, no folk lore, no ancient texts to rely upon to understand them or how to honor them. Worshiping them is, perforce, an exercise in intuition and awareness; I must trust my own intuition and I must let myself be aware - of their presence, of their preferences, of their patterns. I must let myself abide in that primal place within where these qualities, intuition and awareness, are a language of their own.
    These Gods are not tame or domesticated. They aren't Gods of computers, or the safety of the hearth fire. They live in the wild places of the world, in the heartbeat of animals that have never known a human hand, in the shadows of city buildings, in the endless mist and relentless tide. They dwell on the paths to Faery, in the music of the sidhe that haunts those who hear it, in bliss and in agony. They live in the perpetual twilight and the first rays of dawn, in the flood and the storm as well as the gentle rain. You can find them in the vast wilderness and in the twisting city streets. They are forces of change; they are unchanging. They are heartlessly brutal and unimaginably kind. They are grotesque; they are beautiful. They are all these things simultaneously and in harmony.
    These are my liminal Gods, my primal Gods. This is the heart of my worship, the bridge between my Fairy Faith practices and my pagan religion, the forces that are greater Powers than the daoine sidhe and more immediate than the Gods from known pantheons. I do not have to seek them out; they are here. I speak to them beneath the moon and in the wind, amid the forest's song and the music of the rushing stream. I offer to them, pray to them, and hear their voices in synchronicity and dream.
   Theirs is not an easy path to follow because it means letting go of the civilized expectations we hold with other Gods. It is a path through the trackless forests and the untouched wilds both within and without. It puts aside logic and rational thought and embraces instinct and emotion. And once you are on their path you cannot help but be changed by it. And once you are on their path there is no turning back.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Book Review - Druidry and the Ancestors

  I recently read Nimue Brown's book Druidry and the Ancestors: finding our place in our own history. I was intrigued by the book's title but approached reading it with some trepidation as I have felt ambivalent about the work of other OBOD authors in the past. Generally my approach to Druidism is very different from OBODs and while I have great respect for the wisdom and vision of their organization the result is that books by their authors often leave me with strongly mixed feelings. I must admit I was quite pleasantly surprised by this book and found it thought provoking and more than worth reading.
  The author breaks the book down into a look at how we perceive history, the way that viewpoint shapes our ideas about ancestors, and a discussion of the ancestors themselves. She is refreshingly open about her own biases and viewpoints and uses anecdotes to illustrate her points to good effect creating a personal touch to the text. The author is also not afraid to tackle the more difficult or emotional issues of ancestry - including adoption, abuse, and invention - in a direct manner.
   After an initial chapter which defines who the ancestors were and are the second chapter delves into "history as story". I found this section to be profoundly thought provoking as it challenges the reader to look at what we know about history, how we know it, and how our view of it shapes our understanding at the most basic level. The book raises several points that I had never before considered but which will require some profound reflection long after I've put this book behind me.
  Next is a chapter on 'spotting the melons" which encourages critical thinking in reading and offers a list of basic guidelines to sort bad sources from good. The author feels, as do I, that paganism is plagued by bad source material and faulty or outdated facts and tries to educate readers about the pitfalls to be found. Although I felt that some of the examples used were a bit vague, overall the chapter was a great edition to the book. Particularly in Druidism sorting fact from fiction from fantasy is an endless process and discernment is essential.
  Moving on there is a chapter on the importance of ancestors and then several on individual types of ancestors, including ancestors of place and of tradition. I enjoyed the way that a variety of non-blood ancestors were included and that the author continues to challenge readers with new perspectives and ideas. The reality of ancestors whose stories we know well stand side by side with those who we have invented as part of our own narrative, and we are encouraged to value fact as well as myth in building practice. In this book knowing our ancestors is about knowing ourselves, and indeed one of the final chapters, "ancestors of the future", encourages us to look at ourselves as tomorrow's ancestors.
   This book is not a workbook or how-to of ancestor work; in its pages you won't find how to set up ancestor altars or what offerings to make to who. What you will find is an invaluable guide to connecting to your own past, healing broken connections, and how today's Druids are and will be the ancestors of tomorrows spiritual seekers. More than worth reading, more than once.