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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, August 29, 2013

Prayers to/for the Faeries

 Prayer to Honor House Fairies

"I offer this to the spirits of my home,
Spirits of place, I honor you
Spirits of peace, be welcome
May there be friendship between us"

Prayer to the Daoine Sidhe

"Ancient Ones of the Otherworld
Wise People of skill and power
I offer this to you as a sign of goodwill
Honey and cream, sweetness and life,
May there be peace and friendship 
always between myself and the daoine sidhe"

This next one is modified from Lacnunga CXXXIV-CXXXV and is meant to be used to cure elf shot, the sudden cramp, pain, or illness believed to be caused by an invisible fairy arrow.

For Elf-Shot, or any Sudden Stitch

Mix Feverfew,  nettle that grows into a house, and Plantain; boil in butter. Spread over the afflicted area and say:
"Loud were they, loud, loud, when they rode over the mound,
they were fierce when they rode over the land.
Shield yourself now that you may escape this evil.
Out, little spear, if you are here!
Stood under linden, under a light shield,
where the mighty women readied their power,
and screaming they sent spears.
I will send back to them another,
a flying dart against them in return.
Out, little spear, if you are here!
A smith sat,  he forged a knife,
little iron; strong wound.
Out, little spear, if you are here!
Six smiths sat,  they made war spears.
Out, spear, not in, spear!
If a bit of iron is here,
witch's work, it shall melt.
If you were shot in the skin, or were shot in flesh,
or were shot in the blood, or were shot in bone,
or were shot in a limb, may your life never be torn apart.
If it were dwarves' shot, or it were elves' shot,
or it were witchs shot, now I will help you.
This your remedy for dwarves' shot, this your remedy for elves' shot;
This your remedy for witch's shot; I will help you.
It fled there into the mountains. . . . no rest did it have.
Be whole now! Gods help you!"

This final one is modified from the Carmina Gadelica:

Bless, O gods 10

Bless, O generous gods,
Myself and everything near me,
Bless me in all my actions,
May I be safe for ever,
     May I be safe for ever.
From every brownie and bansidhe,
From every evil wish and sorrow,
From every nymph and water-wraith,
From every fairy
-mouse and grass-mouse,
     From every fairy-mouse and grass-mouse.

From every troll among the hills,
From every siren
 hard pressing me,
From every ghoul
 within the glens,
Oh! save me till the end of my days.
     Oh! save me till the end of my days.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Children's Prayers

Prayer During Storms

Thunder, thunder
In the sky
Thor's loud chariot
Pass us by

Meal Prayer

We give thanks
For this food
To the Gods
To the land spirits
And ancestors too

Sleep Prayers

A general version for all the pagan parents of little kids out there:
"Now I lay me down to rest
I pray that my home and kin be blessed;
ancestors guard me through the night
Gods watch over me by starlight
Guardian spirits are always near
and keep me safe, no need to fear
Loving spirits will dance and sing
Happy dreams they always bring
And when I wake to a new day
The shining sun will light my way"
An more Irish version:
"Now I lay me down to rest
I pray that my home and kin be blessed
ancestors guard me through the night
Gods watch over me by starlight
Guardian spirits are always near
and keep me safe, no need to fear
Goodly spirits will dance and sing
Happy dreams they always bring
And when I wake to a new day
Aine's bright sun will light my way"

And a more heathen one:
"Now I lay me down to rest
I pray that my home and kin be blessed
Disir guard me through the night
Aesir watch over me by starlight
Guardian spirits are always near
and keep me safe, no need to fear
Goodly wights will dance and sing
Happy dreams they always bring
And when I wake to a new day
 Sunna's bright sun will light my way"

Friday, August 23, 2013

Meal Prayers

Meal Blessing 

May this meal be blessed,
May those who eat it have 
health and happiness,
May we be grateful for this abundance,
In name of the Gods and spirits

This is a longer prayer from the Carmina Gadelica to be said over food. I would suggest saying it either while cooking or while serving the meal, as opposed to after serving it. Interestingly the prayer contains a line referencing asperging those about to eat after they sit at the table, especially the children. There is a reference as well to several herbs, which might be seen as bringing blessing or luck based on the context; it would be worth considering placing a tiny amount of each, or several, into water to use for sprinkling on the family and guests. I would not recommend drinking or otherwise consuming the water or herbs without carefully researching each for safety, but external application should be all right. Someone seeking to reconstruct a meal practice might work out a system, particularly for ritual meals or feasts, of saying this blessing over the food, serving the meal and then asperging the gathered people with blessed herbal water before the meal commences. Below is my own version based on the original.

Meal Blessing 78

Every meal beneath my roof,
They will all be mixed together,
In name of the Gods
     Who gave them growth.
Milk, and eggs, and butter,
The good produce of our own flock,
There shall be no untimely dearth in our land,
     Nor in our dwelling.
In name of the Gods of life,
Who bequeathed to us the power,
With the blessing of the land,
     And of the goddess of the land.
May we appreciate what we have,
And may You be a sanctuary around us,
Ward from us every spectre, sprite, oppression,
     And preserve us.
Consecrate the produce of our land,
Bestow prosperity and peace,
In name of Danu
 the Mother of the aos sidhe,
     And of the three gods
 of skill.
Dandelion, smooth garlic,
, woad, and butterwort,
The three carle-doddies,
     And marigold
Gray 'cailpeach' plucked,
The seven
-pronged seven times,
The mountain yew
, ruddy heath,
     And madder
I will put water on them all,
In the name of Lugh
 of the Long Arm,
In the name of Daghda
 the generous,
     And of Macha
, sovereign queen.
When we shall sit down
To take our food,
I will sprinkle in the name of the Gods

     On the children

Shorter Version -  Meal Blessing

Every meal beneath my roof,
They will all be mixed together,
In name of the Gods
     Who gave them growth.
Milk, and eggs, and butter,
The good produce of our own flock,
There shall be no untimely dearth in our land,
     Nor in our dwelling.
In name of the Gods of life,
Who bequeathed to us the power,
With the blessing of the land,
     And of the goddess of the land.
May we appreciate what we have

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Prayers to Odin

Prayer for Wisdom

Harbard, Wise Ferryman,
Help me learn patience
Help me learn to answer well
Help me  find my wisdom
Greybeard, May it be so

Prayer for Abundance

Oski, Wish-giver, Will-worker,
I seek security and safety
I want my income to be sound
I am open to your guidance and gifts
May I find the blessings I seek
May my hard work be worthwhile
May my effort be rewarded
With abundance and prosperity

Invocation to Wodan*

Wodan, Wanderer, Wise one,
I call to you
Hanged one, Hidden one, High one,
I call to you
Yule father, All father, Victory father
I call to you
Mighty God, I invoke you
Ancient One, I offer to you
Wand-bearer, I honor you

*all names used are heiti of Odin

Friday, August 16, 2013

Healing Prayers and Charms

 I do a great deal of healing work and as part of my month of prayers I want to include a variety of healing prayers and charms. I hope you all find these useful, or at least interesting.
This one's traditional but very useful as it is: 
 The second Merserburg Charm:
  "Phol and Wodan were riding to the woods,
and the foot of Balder's foal was sprained
So Sinthgunt, Sunna's sister, conjured it.
and Frija, Volla's sister, conjured it.
and Wodan conjured it, as well he could:
Like bone-sprain, so blood-sprain,
so joint-sprain:
Bone to bone, blood to blood,
joints to joints, so may they be glued" (Fortson, 2004)

These next two are modified from traditional Pennsylvania Dutch Pow-wow charms:
To Stop Bleeding

Hold a ritual knife over the bleeding area while repeating:
"Three ladies came from a southern land
each with a bloody knife in her hand
Stand blood stand, by the mighty Gods, stand.
Bloody wound, in the Gods name mend!"

Trace the shape of a Thor's Hammer over the wound after each repetition.  Repeat for a total of three times.

To Cure a Headache

Rub your thumbs downward from the hairline towards the sinuses three times and say:
"Tame the flesh and bone like
Wodan made the world, and he
will help you, this I tell you
[name] for your wyrd's sake"
 Wait three minutes and repeat, a total of 9 times so that the action is done 27 times and the words spoken 9 times all together.

The following charms are modified from the Carmina Gadelica:

Charm for Dental Issues

            This is a modified charm for a toothache. Originally the Carmina Gadelica version involves using water from a specific holy well with specific actions. I would  bless some water, then chant this over the water, hold up a cup of the water, repeat the chant, take a mouthful of water, swish and spit, then repeat the chant a third time.

Charm for a Toothache 126

The incantation put by Brighid
Before the Mother of the Gods
On sea
, on ocean, on coast.
For painful aching teeth.
The pain that tortured me,
In these teeth in my head,
Agony hard with my teeth,
This agony distressing me.
I put this pain far from me;
As long as I myself shall last
May my teeth last in my head.
(Daimler, 2010)

Charms for Sprains and Broken Bones

     These could be used for sprains, broken bones, or lacerations. In addition to any necessary medical care, hold your hands over the afflicted area and chant the healing charm. For slow healing injuries I would recommend repeating the charm on a daily basis until the injury is totally healed.

Charm of the Sprain 130

Brighid went out
Early in the morning,
With a pair of horses;
One sprained his leg,
With much suffering
And separation,
She put bone to bone,
She put flesh to flesh,
She put sinew to sinew,
She put vein to vein;
As she healed that
May I heal this.
(Daimler, 2010)

Charm for a Sprain 131

High King Nuada lost an arm,
Sprained is this limb before me;
Nuada became whole once more,
May this limb also be whole.

As that was made whole
May this become whole,
As I will it to be so now,
Through the sovereignty of Nuada,
And three healing gods
 of the Aos Sidhe.
By High King Nuada,
Dian Cecht
, Airmed and Miach
(Daimler, 2010)

Daimler, M., (2010) By Land, Sea, and Sky
Fortson, B., (2004).  Indo-European language and culture: an introduction

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Traveling Prayers

Prayer for Travel

Wodan, wandering God
May my way be clear before me
Donar, God of might and main
May your hammer ward my way
Zui, great God and guiding star,
May I travel timely along my way
Safely I go forth,
Saefly I shall return
By my will, it is so

Hiking Prayer

Spirits of the land
I will walk gently here
Spirits of the stones
I will step lightly here
Spirits of the plants
I will tread softly here
Spirits of the trees
I will be peaceful here
Spirit of the animals
I will speak softly here
Spirit of the earth
I will respect you here

Travel Protection Prayer

I am protected from sky to ground,
From sunrise to sunrise
Above, below, and all around,
As I travel out and return
Safe from all harm and ill will
Safe from all mischance and ill luck
From the moment I set out until
The moment I happily return
By sea, earth, and sky
It is so

Friday, August 9, 2013

Prayers for Patience

Prayer for Patience

Gods above, Gods below,
Give me patience
As I come and go
As I strive and work
As I rest and play
From morning to night
All through my day

Prayer for Patience at Work

Wayland, God of smiths,
Patient during adversity,
Masterful craftsman,
Help me to find my strength
To endure my own trials.
Help me to master
My own work over time.
Wayland, God of skill,
Help me learn patience.

Prayer to the Ancestors for Patience (A Parents Prayer)

Ancient mothers and fathers
Primal parents of many children
Who have patiently nurtured
Untold generations of the past
Be with me now as I seek
To nurture a new generation
Help me find the patience
To endure a parent's trials

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Prayers for Inspiration

I thought I'd move into my month of blog prayers by posting some prayers for inspiration.

The opening prayer uses the Old Irish word “Imbas” which means inspiration, specifically divine poetic inspiration, and is an important feature of the Druidic practice of filidecht. Filidecht is both sacred poetry and prophecy, and Imbas is something that anyone is able to connect to.

Imbas with me 2

Imbas with me lying down,
Imbas with me rising up,
Imbas with me in each ray of light,
I am a ray of joy with such inspiration,
    I am a ray of joy with such inspiration.
 Imbas with me sleeping,
 Imbas with me waking,
Imbas with me watching,
Every day and night,
     Each day and night.
Gods with me protecting,
Imbas with me directing,
Imbas with me strengthening,
Forever and for evermore,
     Ever and evermore

 - excerpt from By Land, Sea, and Sky

Prayer to Brighid

Blessed Brighid, Goddess of poets
who bears the flame of imbas
grant me your inspiration
that I may speak* with Truth
That I may speak* with clarity
that I may speak* with power
May you grant me vision
and the skill to manifest it
Blessed Brighid, may it be so

*or write, draw, etc., 

Prayer to Odin for Writing

Grant me, 
winner of Odrerir,
the poet's power
Let words be my weapons,
sharp, strong, and well aimed,
May my meaning be clear
May my message be persuasive,
May my methods be enchanting,
Odin, grant me inspiration

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Modern Lughnasa Prayer

 I feel very strongly about the importance of prayer in modern paganism. Because of this and after much thought I have decided to dedicate my entire August blog to modern pagan prayers. These will encompass all types from devotional prayers to deities to prayers for car travel or for kids going to school. I am also open to writing prayers on requested topics, if anyone would like to comment here with a specific one they would be interested in seeing.
   To start off, here is a modern Lughnasa prayer

Modern Lughnasa Prayer
Bless my harvest
Bless my home
Bless my work
Bless all I own
Gods above
Gods below
Gods of power
That I know
Bless my reaping
What I've sown
Bless the harvest
That I've grown