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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Modern Omens

  This is one of those blogs that's going to seem completely obvious to some of you, but I have found that for many pagans and polytheists we get so caught up in our idea of our spirituality being a certain way - read: primitive - that we can be a bit blind to some things. Like the way that modern life and technology intersect with ancient Gods and spirits, for example. Recently a friend of mine had posted a blog "All the Small Things" where he mentions what he calls Pandora-jacking, or a deity using the Pandora music system to convey messages. This got me thinking of how we often focus so much on ideas of spirit communication that are based on older methods - dreams, oracles, card decks, natural omens - that we may ignore other methods just because we are biased against anything more high tech. So I thought I'd compile a list of things that are modern means of communicating with deities and spirits that I use or am familiar with that other people might consider or find useful:

  1. Music - Daniel mentions 'Pandora jacking' in his blog but I've seen this happen through multiple means, including the radio and my MP3 player. The idea is that the songs and song lyrics which play seemingly at random actually provide insight or messages. For example, when I am asking Macha for an omen and Sara Bareilles's song Brave comes on simultaneously (this has happened so often I actually think of it as Macha's song now). 
  2. The Television as Oracle - basically the same idea as music except with the television. 
  3. Omens and portents, oh my - most pagans will tell you to keep your eye out for natural omens like animals or weather phenomena, but I have found that omens can come in a variety of forms, some of them quite unexpected. I'll never forget driving on the highway one day, worrying about how to handle a problem relating to a Norse spirituality issue, when a truck passed me with the words written large on the side 'Need a hand? Call Odin today!' (it was a moving service named Odin, I kid you not). 
  4. Synchronicity - This is one of my personal big ones and I especially pay attention to it on social media. Repeated messages with the same theme, recurrences of the same animal, deity, or concepts, or seeing a message relating to something I had just been talking or thinking about can all be significant. 
  5. Numbers - numerology isn't my thing, but I have many friends who swear by the significance of seeing the same numbers repeated. For instance if its always a certain pattern of numbers when you look at the clock. 
  6. High tech bibliomancy - with this method instead of flipping to a random page in a book for insight you would do the same thing on a kindle or other e-reader. It works the same way, but using modern technology. 
  7. Tech glitches that aren't - when our technology, be it phone, pc, or anything else seems to malfunction but in such a way that it provides a repeated message. For example a phone ringtone resetting itself to something that has a specific meaning to you
Do any of you have other examples of modern omens?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Why I don't think Danu is Anu

  So something that comes up fairly regularly is the question of whether Danu and Anu are the same goddess or two distinct individuals*.
  I want to say up front that this is one of those fun things that scholars disagree about so what follows is not meant to be conclusive but merely reflect my opinion and the evidence I base that opinion on.
  I tend to believe that Anu and Danu are different goddesses and this is why:
1. The names have different meanings. Danu is related to the word for flow while Anu has a meaning related to wealth or abundance. We also see cognates to each as distinct individuals in other Celtic cultures like the Welsh Don and Anna (although in fairness Don and Anna are also sometimes conflated)
2. Although many people try to argue that Danu is actually a confusion of Dea Anu* or De Anu there are several problems to my mind with this. Firstly it assumes that the pagan Irish and the monks writing down the stories were unfamiliar enough with their own language that they would have conflated de Anand into Danand (and then not realized this was a new deity), which I'm very doubtful about. Old Irish is not pronounced exactly as modern Irish is, for one thing, but even if it was I find it hard to believe that native speakers would have confused JAY AHN-ahn for DAHN-ahn as it requires not only dropping a vowel but also shifting and dropping a stressed syllable and changing how the initial 'd' is pronounced entirely.
3. One main example given to support the above theory is that both Danu and Anu have sites named after their paps (no really) and that this somehow suggests they were the same Goddess and the sites had the same name which over time was corrupted into two different versions. However as with the above example the problem is that in Older forms of Irish the two place names are not sufficiently similar in my opinion. Keating in his Foras Feasa ar Eirinn refers to the site attributed to Danu as "Dá Chích Dhanann" and the Onomasticon Goedelicum locorum et tribuum Hiberniae et Scotiae calls it "Dá Chich Danainne" while the Sanas Cormac refers to Anu's site as "Dā Chīch nAnund". However even if we accept that the name of this single location was incorrectly attributed to both goddesses instead of one, that doesn't prove they themselves are a single deity. Effectively the argument is that the eclpising of Danann to nDanann and of Anann to nAnann render the names identical; however this occurs only in situations where the names are eclpised, generally in the possessive. This also presupposes a sort of chicken-and-egg argument where the name of the location would have to have somehow overshadowed or obscured the deity it was named for to a degree that the local populace forgot whether it was Anu's breasts or Danu's. I find that idea highly suspect.
4. Which leads me to the main reason I disagree with the conflation of these two deities - we do have examples of each name occurring separately uneclipsed. In the Lebor Gabala Erenn we are told that Anand is the personal name of the Morrigan but the Morrigan and Danand appear together, for example, in the same redaction of that text, only a dozen verses apart:
"Ernmas had other three daughters, Badb and Macha and Morrigu, whose name was Anand"
then, shortly after in a list of women of the Tuatha de Danann:
"Danann, mother of the gods. Badb and Macha, greatness of wealth, Morrigu"
Although I know that people question the veracity of the LGE, particularly between redactions, I find it hard to credit that the authors would identify the two goddesses as different in the same version of the same text if it was understood in oral tradition that they were one being. While we can certainly criticize the written texts on several levels to give validity to the argument that Anu and Danu are the same goddess conflated in written texts we must first believe that the examples of them as individual goddess given in uneclipsed versions of their names are not reflecting genuine oral tradition, and I am just too skeptical of that to believe it. We would have to believe that people recording stories they had heard all their lives were making these mistakes, and I just can't credit that, personally. It smacks too much of the hubris of modern times saying that our ancestors were more foolish and stupid than we and unable to realize what we find obvious relating to things in their native language and with their own native culture.

I cannot say that I am right and those who believe differently are wrong, but that is what I believe and why I believe it.

* Dea Anu or De Anu meaning 'goddess Anu'. This is also problematic as goddess is usually given in Old Irish as bande not de
* The names appear in the texts as Danand and Anand and later as Danann and Anann. These are both the genetive forms, however the assumed nominatives would be Danu and Anu which are the way they often appear in modern paganism.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Bullets, the Morrigan, and My Perspective

So another Pantheacon has come and gone and the Morrigan community is currently abuzz with our very own controversy. People are blogging about it and there is quite a bit of hyperbole winging around on both sides. I'm not going to link to any of the other blogs, just google 'bullets for the Morrigan' and you can start wading through the results.

I really debated weighing in on this one or not myself, but it seems like - from what I'm seeing - the argument is really less about what its okay to offer the Morrigan and more about people's own personal politics and sensibilities. And it seems wrong to me to shift things away from the goddess being offered to, what she would want, and why, and instead making it about what I as a human being am personally comfortable or uncomfortable with and agendas that I have. I already see this too often with people trying to minimize the Morrigan's war and incitement aspects because they make those people uncomfortable. We can't just declaw our Gods when they seem too scary without losing a vital aspect of who and what those gods are.

Certainly I do think there are some things that a specific deity wants and doesn't want. The Gods have preferences and dislikes in my experience, and I do think it behooves those of us who honor them to at least try to learn what they like. I also think that sometimes an individual has their own pattern of what to offer or not offer to a specific deity that is just that - personal. I've found Nuada likes a nice offering of Gentleman Jack for example and I have friends who like to offer the Morrigan Devil's Cut - and I also know people that are adamant about not offering the Gods or spirits alcohol. When it comes to offerings many times it really comes down to personal choice, but we need to be really careful not to think that our own choices are by necessity the will of the Gods - or to ignore what is historic precedent and clearly has been considered the will of the Gods in the past. Its a fine balancing act.

Lets be blunt here - gun control is a huge issue in the United States, and bullets to many people represent gun violence. Its pretty obvious that some people hear the idea of offering bullets to the Morrigan and immediately relate those bullets to the worst that a gun can do. And its equally obvious that to other people those same bullets symbolize something entirely different: freedom, food, and security. Because to some people bullets don't represent violence but rather a person's ability to defend themselves and their family or to hunt for their own food. And you know what? Neither side is right or wrong because bullets are all of those things. This is not an issue that is black or white and not an issue that can be easily boiled down to one or the other. Guns can be good and guns can be bad, just as any weapon can be good or bad.

And also to be clear, I am neither pro or anti gun. I do think America needs stricter gun control, because I don't think guns should be easier to get and keep than a driver's license or narcotics. Yes there will always be criminals doing criminal things with guns and no law will stop that but the same can be said for all criminal behavior and that doesn't mean we should chuck the whole idea of laws. Guns require training to use safely, and some people shouldn't have them. But I also think that guns are necessary and helpful and should be available. People do still hunt for food, people do use them for self defense, and plenty of people use them responsibly and safely. I don't personally own a gun nor have I ever even held one so my opinion isn't based on personal bias.

Now as to the actual concept of offering bullets to the Morrigan....
I think that the context of why its being done is the real sticking point. What does that bullet represent to you? Why are you offering it? Is it a symbol of personal sovereignty? Of being a warrior*? Of supporting your family? Are you being deployed and you want to offer it in a ritual asking that She protect you during your service? Did you just return and you're offering it in thanksgiving? Are you heading out to hunt and you're offering it for success? Has a war or battle ended and you are offering it in thanks for peace?
All of these would seem legitimate to me, based on historic precedent of sword offerings and votive offerings, and on my own modern understanding of offerings. If it really is just being done out of machismo - well good luck with that. The Morrigan isn't known to be a huge fan of excessive egos. I might not see offering bullets as something to be done on a regular basis, but perhaps, like offering a sword, it could be something done for exceptional circumstances.

Bullets today have a complex and dichotomous symbolism in our society. To many people they are positive symbols of freedom and sustenance. To many other people they are simply items that represent death and suffering. But I would point out that while we today fetishize and Romanticize swords a thousand years ago a sword was a weapon whose only purpose was to kill - ideally when necessary but in the wrong hands it could be used to kill indiscriminately. Swords, unlike guns or bows, cannot be used to hunt for food. Swords have no other purpose except as weapons against people, and an unarmed person stand little chance against a trained person with a sword. Yet swords have a long long history of being given as offerings and swords are given places of honor on many pagan altars today. We see swords as powerful and honorable weapons, even though their history is  blood soaked.

Stop and really think about who the Morrigan was and is, and why we give swords to Her, and I think you'll better understand why some people give bullets.

*If you are active duty military then I think that seeing a bullet as a symbol of being a warrior has a lot of merit.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Nuances of the words "Witchcraft" and "Witch" in Old Irish

 How's that for a boring blog title?
 Seriously though, one of the reasons that I tend to be such  strong advocate for an omniglot approach or at least attempting to have a basic understanding of terms in other languages that relate to our practices is that often there are nuances within those terms that are - quite literally - lost in translation. And we shape our understanding, our conceptualization, of things based on our own reference language. In psychology this is called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and it says that language shapes our thoughts and behaviors in line with the culture of that language.
   To give you an example, in English when we think about colors we think of shades on a spectrum of light, so that 'red' is certain frequency usually appearing as a fairly standard red which we then modify with words like 'light' or 'dark' (I'm speaking generally here of course). In Irish on the other hand color is not an abstract concept but a concrete one referring to actual physical colors and this gives us multiple words translated as the same color which aren't actually the same. Uaine is green but its a vivid, bright green, while glas is also green but can be a grey-green or sea green. Dearg is red, but so is rua; dearg being bright rua being more a natural hue. And in old Irish there are an array of words for red that all refer to different shades of blood or states of blood. My point here is that the languages themselves have different ways of understanding something as basic as the concept of colors.
   In English we have the word witch and it gets a lot of play in modern paganism. And I do mean a lot. When you read translations of Irish myths and texts you'll run across witches and references to witchcraft but here's where the language issue comes in because what is being translated as 'witchcraft' in English may have been one of at least 8 different words in Sengoidelc: ammaitecht, diabultacht, dolbud, gliccus, pisoca, sidaigecht, tuaichlecht, tuaithe. Each of these has distinct nuances and undertones that are important in context. I'm going to take a look at each term one by one so you can see what I mean. I'm also going to offer some modern equivalents, or at least my opinion on what modern equivalents might be, to help clarify.
  ~ Ammaitecht - defined by the eDIL as "a. profession or activity of an ammait, witchcraft, evil influence; b. foolishness". An ammait is defined as "a woman with supernatural powers, a witch, hag, spectre; a Fury" and also "a foolish woman". Interestingly however an ammait is also equated with a bandrui or female druid, meaning the two terms were seen as the same. This might explain why ammait and ammaitecht are also connected to foolishness as after the conversion period the Druids lost much status and were reduced in the law texts to the equals of fools*. So ammait and ammaitecht are associated with female Druids, and ammaitecht is seen as a profession.
 ~  Diabultacht - defined as "witchcraft, enchantment" this is pretty obviously based off the Latin loan word Diabul (Latin - diabolus) meaning the Devil. Indeed in the eDIL this type of magic is described as 'melancholia' or deep sadness. This is the sort of witchcraft that is classically associated with witches in a Christian framework, who sell their souls to the Devil and cause misery in other people. A more accurate definition from a pagan perspective might be diabolism,
  ~ Dolbud - defined as witchcraft or sorcery, the word also means "invention, formation, the act of forming". The example sentences used in the eDIL come from the Gaelic Journal: Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge and associate this type of witchcraft with the magic of forming geasa, or ritual taboos. This type of witchcraft then is focused on manifestation. 
  ~ Gliccus - defined as witchcraft or sorcery, gliccus also means cleverness, skill, and ingenuity. 
  ~ Pisoca - also piseoga, defined as witchcraft, sorcery, or magic, specifically the use of charms and spells. Bean phiseogach is translated as witch in English but clearly has the implication of a woman who uses charms and spells in particular. Probably closest to what modern pagans understand a witch to be. 
~ Sidaigecht - defined as witchcraft or magic. However this one is clearly more complex than just that definition. The base word "sidaig" refers to a dweller in a fairy hill, or in other words a fairy so this is rather particularly the magic of the sidhe. One might refer to this as fairy magic for better accuracy rather than witchcraft as we understand it.
 ~ Tuaichlecht - defined as "cunning, witchcraft" tuaichlecht is derived from the word for cunning 'tuaichles' and we see it in examples like "le draidhecht ocus tuaichlecht" (of magic and witchcraft). A better translation for this one based on a modern pagan understanding might be "cunningcraft" in the sense of the art of the cunningman or woman.
 ~ Tuaithe - defined as witchcraft or sorcery and related to the word tuath, meaning "northward, turning nothward, perverse, wicked". Tuaithe is a complex word that is associated with both the Good Folk (tuath-geinte) as well as witches (tuaithech or bantuaithech), and to make things more complex although the word tuath has strong negative associations bantuaithech is also defined as 'wise woman' and tuaithech by itself only means "a person with magic powers". We might tentatively conclude then that this particular type of witchcraft is associated with the Otherworld and can be sinister in nature or benevolent, rather like the sidhe themselves*.

    Looking at words for witch we have:
    ammait or benammait - both are feminine and as discussed above besides meaning witch are also  equated to a female Druid.
    badb - female only, originally the name of a War Goddess, later used for spectres, and eventually for human witches.
     ban-cumachtach - female, literally 'woman with magical powers'
     ban-cumachtach sithe - female - 'fairy witch'
     bean phiseogach - female, witch
     cailleach - female, hag, witch, crone
     cumachtach sithe - male, fairy witch
    doilbhtheach - male, "person with magical powers", practitioner of dolbud, witchcraft of manifestation (usually translated as sorcerer*)
    lucht piseog - 'sorcerers' but more literally 'people of witchcraft'
    tuathaid/tuaithech - male, person with supernatural power, witch ~ bantuathaid/bantuaithech - female, same as tuaithech, also defined as 'wise woman'

*We see a similar pattern of reducing the power of a term and its associated being with the word "Badb" which was the name of a Goddess and later became a word for a human witch. See Fergus Kelly's Guide To Early Irish Law for a more detailed discussion of the legal position of Druids in the law texts and of women who practiced magic.
*Tuaithe is the witchcraft that I practice so I may be a bit biased in how I perceive its definition.
 * in several cases the exact same thing being practiced by a woman will have her being called a witch in translation, but a man will be called a sorcerer, as we see with bean phiseogach and lucht piseogach. The only change between the terms is the gender of the practitioner(s).

copyright Morgan Daimler