Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Admin: Contemplating migration

I discovered recently that my domain server provides me access to WordPress for no extra charge. Blogger's not a bad site, but I find it a little restrictive. I also dislike how people can report blogs here as offensive and, with enough votes, get them dropped from Blogger's promotional areas for no reason other than personal sentiment. So I'm curious if anyone reading this has performed the migration and whether they have any suggestions for how I can do it in a relatively painless fashion. I'd like, ideally, to transfer the posts. I know I'll need to get my LiveJournal RSS feed redone, as it'll be a new URL, but that will be the easy part.

Also, any pros and cons of WordPress would be useful for me to hear if you'd be willing to share. Thanks.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A bit of history for your Solstice

The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind points out in his unique style how the timing of the celebration of Jesus' birth came about. It also supports my belief that Emperor Constantine did far more to reduce the influence of pagan beliefs in Europe than St. Patrick. But I guess it's easier to pick on an itinerant bishop in the same way that some animal rights groups bellow more about socialites in fur coats than bikers in leather.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Seasonal fare

Isaac Bonewits' latest project on his blog reminded me that my husband produced a T-shirt design to point out a truth about any shift in the seasons.

Axial tilt is the reason for the season

To keep within the theme of this blog, his pagan-specific designs can be found under Woo Beach Designs. He's done some interesting work with bindogam.

Carnival time

The latest Pagan Carnival is up.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The failing which market, now?

There was a lot of chatter in the pagan blogosphere about Phyllis Curott's claims that the big-name booksellers were abandoning pagan books in the face of pressure from the Moral Mafia (to resurrect Playboy's term for them). I found her claims to be somewhat unlikely, but I wasn't entirely sure why. It was more of an instinct than something I could throw facts at.

Until this week, at any rate. I received an early Christmas present. Sitting amongst the gift book section at Barnes and Noble, I spotted The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells by Judika Illes. Not just one, but a stack, sharing space with the coffee table books on ancient Rome and Monty Python. My traveling companion bought it for me when he saw how intrigued I was by it. And the word on the street is that Illes did a fair bit of good homework in putting it together.

If Barnes and Noble is too scared to sell pagan books, they have a funny way of showing it.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

My first fisking

I had the idea at the start of this blog that I'd do “I Read This So You Don’t Have To” reviews of bad Celtic books. This is related to that idea, but it’s a website instead. I’m usually mellow and balanced, but false claims are not the same as differing opinions. That said, I present a personally annotated history of the Celts and Druidry as presented by the Druidic Craft of the Wise.
The Cwmry, or Celts, are a collection of tribes that descended from a fair-skinned People who survived the Great Flood on the western slopes of the Himalayan Mountains.
The book of Genesis says that the waters completely covered the planet. Ararat only emerged long after the rains stopped. Or are Celts really merpeople? Can't be that. He didn't mention Atlantis.

As for the name of the people, I would love to cut them a little slack, but I can't seem to find enough rope. I know Welsh is a language that divorced itself from Hawaiian and lost the custody battle over the vowels, but it does have rules. And amongst them is that “Cwmry” anglicizes to Cumbria.

And trust me on this one, even if I am merely an amateur anthropology geek. “Pale-skinned” and “Himalayans” match as well as “Swedish Bikini Team look-alikes” and “Bantu tribesmen.”
When asked who they were, the teachers replied, "We are Pan," meaning "We are all of one mind," for this is the meaning of the name. These bearers of ancient Wisdom are commemorated with the head of a goat and the pipes of music to remind us of the age when the Old Wisdom Religion was first introduced to the Celtic people.
This would then mean that Wikipedia got it wrong when it says:
His nature and name is alluring, particularly since often his name is mistakenly thought to be identical to the Greek word pan, meaning "all", when in fact the name of the god is derived from the word pa-on, which means "herdsman" and shares its prefix with the modern English word "pasture".
The Encyclopedia Britannica would probably love to know that, too.

After about 2,150 years, the Sun moved into alignment with the stars of Sagittarius and the Celts befriended the horses who had multiplied and flourished in the mountains.
Wikipedia freely grants that the domestication question is up for considerable debate. But even if you take the Ukrainian evidence that page mention as proof of riding, it still places DCoW’s claims in the wrong millennium and about a thousand miles too far to the west, as you will see in a moment.

For the record, I’m polevaulting over a couple of paragraphs to spare you more than a passing mention of how Aescalapius (sic), the “man-teaching serpent,” was a Celt. It proves I care.
By the Age of Gemini, about 8,500 years ago, the Celts had migrated across the European continent.
Doing the math, this places our stalwart Celts as a flourishing culture about 6500 BCE. The early Greeks had only just started domesticating animals. There’s no sign of this activity in central or western Europe for another millennium or so. Our friends here claim the Celts civilized the Greeks at least 1,000 years prior. The archaeologists must be doing their math wrong.
At that time a new priesthood of Wisdom arose to lead the tribes of Cwmry (the traditional name for the Celtic people). With their guidance they entered into a time of peace and prosperity that lasted for nearly 6,000 years.
Why, of course the original Celts spoke Welsh. Never mind the Gaulish inscriptions behind the curtain! The great and powerful Father Eli has spoken.

And do I have to mention that the Celts didn’t emerge as a unique cultural group until sometime between 1200 and 600 BCE? No? Didn’t think so.
The Druids were the teachers, historians, physicians, counselors, musicians, seers, artisans and warrior chiefs of their tribes and villages.
Oh, damn. They almost got one right. I was so hoping.
In 432 A.D., the Grand Council of Druids met for the last time at Stonehenge.
I think he means the first time.
The Archdruid, Agricola, had received a vision that the Old Wisdom Religion preserved by the Druids throughout the past three ages, must yield to the revelations and traditions which were to become prevalent in the coming Age of Pisces.
Any relation to Cnaeus Julius Agricola? Georg Agricola? Coca-Cola? Hey, I know! It's Agri-Cola, the pause that refreshes your awen and awakens the fires of imbas forosnai!

More seriously, tell me how any druids at the time were only discussing Christianity in 432 when there were priests of that faith in Ireland before Patrick showed up. And he wasn’t even the first bishop the Pope sent. That honor goes to Palladius, who showed up the year before and worked an entirely different section of the country. And yes, sending a bishop to a country means you already have priests there. Do you really think the Church would send an officer to do an enlisted man’s job?
A vast majority of the Druidic Council shared Agricola's vision, and disbanded the Council to re-form as the Orthodox Celtic Church. (original link theirs - ed.)
Wow. So the Eastern Orthodox Churches are really Irish? Oh, right. The Greeks are really Celts, so the rest of them have to be. I forgot.
A young Druidic priest named Patrick was sent to Ireland, and a descendant of his mission has survived as The Church of the Culdees.
The particular church they link to seems to actually be descended from Polish Old Catholicism. As for the real Culdees, I think those anchorites from France would’ve been surprised to hear they were Druids.
In later centuries, when the Roman Inquisition found the clergy of the Celtic Church guilty of heresy for their differing philosophical beliefs, the teachings of Druidic wisdom were preserved with the rites of secret societies such as the Freemasons, and "The Knights of the Star and Garter."
An inquisition started in 1542 to combat Protestantism was really aimed at Catholic churches that were too Druidic, so an organization that existed in some form over 400 years earlier was created in retaliation to protect their teachings.

Pull the other one. It has mistletoe on it.
After 432 AD, the Old Wisdom Religion no longer had the Druids to guide them, but many families and clans preserved the ancient teachings in what has come to be called the Old Religion, the "Wiccan" or "Wisdom" religion, also known as the Craft of the Wise, or "Witchcraft."
And lo, the Celts of antiquity, who spoke bastardized Welsh since the waters of the Great Flood receded, switched to Anglo-Saxon.
In the Golden Age of Knowledge, the spirit of Chiro, the Lord of Time...
And the patron of bonesetters.

OK, OK, I just swiped at a typo. It was a straight line the width of a freeway.
The Age of Knowledge dawned over the center of the American continent at the Winter Solstice of 1971, as Jupiter, Mars and Venus moved into a conjunction in the sign of Scorpio, forming a brilliant star in the heavens during the early morning hours that Christmas Day. Three months later, astrologers watched in the dawning hours of the Equinox as the rising sun's rays touched the first stars of Aquarius. ... Perhaps the perspective of where we have been might provide a light for what path we should take in this New Age, as the Christian Era of Belief yields to the new Era of Knowledge in the Age of Aquarius.
The Age of Aquarius actually started in 1997. No, 2000. Um, wait, maybe it’s coming in 2150. Or is it 2638? Oh, if only I had the wisdom of Chiro to show me the way!

Well, I could, according to that site. For a small fee. But I think I’d be better off going to a chiropractic college and learning something that’d earn me an honest living. And no hating on chiropractors. Mine’s a peach and hasn’t pushed any snake oil on me the entire time I’ve been seeing him. Unless there’s some in the massage lotion he uses on my neck.

And thus concludes my first foray into “I Visit Websites So You Don’t Have To.” Any bets on how long it’ll take for a member of that organization to email me or leave a comment about how I just don’t get it?

Thursday, November 24, 2005

A nod to the day

I hope all of my American readers have a good Thanksgiving, no matter what your politics are about the day.

For my non-American readers, I hope you're having a good Thursday.

I'm taking time today for friends, cheesy oversized balloons, and Arlo Guthrie.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The memories linger on

A housing project in St. Fillans, Perthshire, UK had to be redesigned when the locals pointed out the large rock they wanted to move had fairies living under it.
He said: “A neighbour came over shouting, ‘Don’t move that rock. You’ll kill the fairies’.” The rock protruded from the centre of a gently shelving field, edged by the steep slopes of Dundurn mountain, where in the sixth century the Celtic missionary St Fillan set up camp and attempted to convert the Picts from the pagan darkness of superstition.
In a fit of wisdom not always seen, the laws in the UK dictate that local customs need to be honored in such matters, so they have to redesign the project to go around the rock. I find myself hoping the owners remember to set out some cream at least once in a while.

It also seems to me that the aforementioned saint didn't completely succeed in his quest. But most of the Celtic saints were just about that effective, no matter what they tell you about St. Patrick. Elsewise, the Rev. Robert Kirk and W. Y. Evans-Wentz would have had nothing to write about.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A welcome rebuild

Jason Pitzl-Waters reports that a pagan well is being rebuilt near a church in Llanllyfni, Wales. The reaction from the locals is best summed up in this quote:
Resident Julie Williams, 33, whose Glanaber Terrace home is close to the village church, said: "I think it's a lovely idea to create a footpath and refurbish the well.

"It's especially interesting for the children in the village to know more about the history of the place."

If each side in the Christian-pagan tensions within the USA adopted this sort of attitude, we'd all be far better off. But I fear the fundamentalists on both extremes will always be with us.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Eclectic, multi-path, or who cares?

Terri of Lilypily Daze asked me some very good questions off of my most recent post. During the process, the question of whether I'm an eclectic pagan came up. I wanted to give that a better amount of consideration than the comments section would provide.

I describe myself as a Celtic reconstructionist pagan. I also do work within the Asatrú and Umbanda traditions. I consider the latter two to be supplemental practices that enhance my home tradition. It is an extremely rare day when I will call upon orixa and gods in the same ritual. I think I've done it once outside of an Umbanda house gathering, and that was because I'm a huge believer in asking as many possible sources for help that I can find when keeping a roof over my head is the goal. Umbanda can't help but be eclectic; that tradition raises the concept to an art form.

The pivot point, I suppose, is where one draws the line and declares a person's practices to be eclectic. If that word means "works with more than one set of gods, regardless of how clearly the lines are drawn amongst them," then I'd be eclectic. The fact I don't merge deities from different traditions into one and claim it to be all the same path to the same divine may cause others to not see me as eclectic.

What I consider myself to be is a student. My home "university" is the realm of the Tuatha de Dannan and other gods and spirits of the Celts. I am doing "semesters abroad" with the other traditions to learn what I can from them. Those teachings enhance what I do for the Celtic gods. The supplemental teachers do not change my principal affiliation. Therefore, I don't see myself as a full-scale eclectic. But I'll freely admit to not being single-minded about my sources. When you're dealing with a tradition like Celtic paganism, where we have lots of supposition and a relative paucity of hard facts, it's almost mandatory to do that. So long as I footnote my sources, I'm at least avoiding being a fluffy bunny.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Lost bit of mindset?

Within Celtic reconstructionist tradition, there is discussion of achieving the appropriate mindset. A lot is made of gaining a certain familiarity with the language and culture. There are certain details that, no matter what we may try, we are most unlikely to regain. One of them struck me today.

All cultures have a concept of blasphemy or tabu. There are places you don't go. Actions you don't perform. Words you don't say. Even if they don't use those precise terms, there are danger zones into which a member of the group cannot move without suffering certain consequences. Not every member of the group may agree on them, but there are always limits. Modern paganism is not immune to this. Many treat Christianity as the tabu zone despite claiming respect for all faiths. Other terms mark the boundaries past which offense to the speaker's concept of orthodoxy or orthopraxy has occurred. Eclectic. Fluffy bunny. Folkish. It may not be called blasphemy, but "please don't do that where I can see it" is only a polite version of "get thee behind me."

I'm not saying those limits shouldn't exist. I firmly believe that limits are necessary in many areas. I've used all three of those terms to mark the place past which I will not go myself. What I'm coming to realize is that in all of the details we wish to reconstruct in Celtic paganism, one thing we lack and may never get back with any surety is what our ancestors felt to be blasphemous speech. We have a lot about what the Christian Celts thought qualified, but what came before is one of those areas of research I haven't seen touched on. I'd love to be wrong.

And I refuse to assume they had no such concept. I can't think of a single culture that lacks a forbidden zone. Even in modern American society, we see boundaries and discuss the concept of "dirty words." Certainly, it's easier to find entertainment that uses such things than it used to be (thank you, Lenny Bruce). But we all know we're working with material that polite society isn't supposed to be so free with. I myself was considering tidying up my speech when I realized I would be doing it to American standards instead of Celtic.

Am I blaspheming by muttering, "Mother of the gods" when I feel annoyed? Or am I entering the wrong territory for pagan Celts if I speak of bodily functions with four-letter words in the same context? Or is it both? I wish I knew. It would enhance my understanding of how they thought immensely.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Stopping to remember on this day

On this day, I honor the ancestors of blood and spirit who gave of themselves in military duty and lived to tell how it was and reap the benefits alongside those of us who stayed home.

I am able to worship as a pagan because of them.

I am able to speak my mind in a public forum without fear of reprisal because of them.

I have friends and lovers who would not be here otherwise because of them.

My own family lines would not have arrived on this continent were it not for service in the military. And I rather like it here.

All honor to those who served with honor and integrity. May those who malingered and deserted find the fate they deserve. May those who seek to deny the veterans their fair due also find their proper fate. And may the Morrigan continue to watch over her warriors and help the ones fated to die in service to find their proper rest.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Not your average Lutherans

While out and about in San Francisco today, I passed by Ebenezer Lutheran Church. It's an otherwise unassuming building, rather normal as churches go. But the banner hanging from it caught my eye. It was announcing a "Goddess Rosary" prayer session.

I noticed the URL for the church's website on a different banner and checked it out when I got home. I may have to remember them the next time I see pagans insist all Christians believe in a heartless, patriarchal god. The folks at Ebenezer Lutheran are not the majority in their sect or faith, but they're part of a trend within Christianity that deserves some respect from those of us who stand outside of it and also respect the divine feminine in one form or another. The rewrite of the Lord's Prayer they placed on the front page of the site would fit in admirably at some Wiccan rituals I've attended.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

A moment of the personal

I was given three days' notice of termination from my job on Thursday. The stated reason is budget cuts, which doesn't surprise me. Changes were in the wind, and the only small surprise to me was how swiftly they affected me so directly.

The fact that I am being removed from the place I've been the last five years during Samhain isn't lost on me. I'd begun stagnating. I'm also someone who has to be pushed into change sometimes. There have been hints and clues that I'm going to do just fine, though. My husband's been out of work for three years and his resume's finally getting more notice. I have one resume in a friend's hands and will be distributing it more widely next week.

In other news, I've been working toward dedicating myself more specifically to Manannán mac Lir. I'm not becoming a henotheist by any stretch of the imagination. I realized I needed a more specific relationship with one of the Celtic gods in order to improve my focus on all of them. The evidence pointed to him as the one to turn to.

I'm also putting myself out in more public rituals. Tomorrow, I'm the Maiden in a Wiccan ceremony dedicated to the Morrigan. In February, I will be assisting with an Umbanda ritual for Pomba Gira (it's public, so it's strictly PG-rated, gang ;>) and a Brighid ritual that I expect to be something of a Wiccan-Celtic fusion. Both of those will be at Pantheacon, an event I look forward to more and more every year. I'm in a phase where I'm checking out multiple approaches to ritual so I can learn more about what I do and don't want to have in my own creations.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Honoring a fallen warrior

Thanks and praise to you, Rosa Parks. Your choices that day in 1955, whatever the motivation, brought about very needed change. May you go to your god and rest well in his presence.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Oppression should not stand

The Free Copts الأقباط الأحرار is blogging the anti-Christian activities of Muslims in Egypt. Any pagans who think we're oppressed in the USA may wish to gain some perspective by contemplating the difference between a Pagan Pride Day rally and some of the events listed here. Say what you will about fundamentalist Christians, but they don't lay siege to our places of worship and attack our clergy en masse.

I don't know if they'd accept our prayers as pagans, but I think it only right we take a moment and reflect on their situation. It must not happen here. It should not happen anywhere.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Stop being on my side

Ah, Halloween. The time of year when we the pagan metacommunity get to be paraded in front of the rest of America so they can see whether we're still wearing the same old bling. Time to count how often Satanism is brought up. And, maybe, just maybe, an opportunity to enlighten a few people about what we are as opposed to what we aren't.

The people who get contacted for interviews are getting better and better at it, as you can see in this cross-section. Overall, it looks good, even if I keep seeing such people make blanket statements about Christianity that fall apart on contact with reality. For one, I defy anyone to tell me that ecstatic Christians don't get hands-on with their god. The biggest difference between being touched by the Holy Spirit at a revival meeting and drawing down the moon is force of numbers and who qualifies to do it. Speaking from ignorance of the primary mainstream faith doesn't help our cause too much. But I admit it could be worse. We could be watching the media talk to the sort of pagan who thinks it's possible to redirect a hurricane with candles and good thoughts.

Christianity isn't immune to that sort of belief. Pat Robertson claimed to have rerouted a hurricane through prayer. And most people thought he was nuts. Including some pagans. But I highly doubt there is no overlap between the people who gainsaid Robertson but think asking the universe to dissipate Hurricane Wilma is a keen idea. And from where I sit, the rank-and-file don't see a difference between them. They're both claiming enough hubris to be able to exert long-distance control over a force of nature just becaues they're on the side of the righteous. Said force of nature was set in place by the gods and forces they're calling upon. So this means they're both trying to tell the gun to not send the bullet out of the chamber when the trigger is pulled. And anyone with a passing understanding of the laws of cause and effect knows a bad argument when they see one.

I am not saying magic or prayer don't work. The plural of anecdote may not be data, but I've seen too many events that beggar coincidence. And those events are far more localized from what I've seen. If you know someone in the path of a hurricane, focusing on asking that their house be spared is more likely to work. If you must play with the weather, the "Rain, rain, go away" chant actually has sense in its childishness. "Not now, but later" is safer than "stop it and don't come back" when you work with elemental forces. May as well try to get a tractor-trailer to jump a ravine.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Why matters

One of the reasons I protest the notion that religion automatically leads to societal problems, as posited in the Times of London a few days ago, is that I have seen spiritual practices work on the individual level to spare people from a great deal of personal dysfunction. By my logic, a group of healthy thinkers organized in a society will not have as many problems as one composed of people with more pathological mindsets. And if religion can help people be more sane, its presence in a society will not automatically lead to problems the same way burning coal leads to air pollution. I’m obviously not the first person to feel this way. And an article in the Guardian points out that how one approaches religion may be the big difference between healthy and unhealthy practices.

The article discusses Robert Winston’s latest book, The Story of God. Within it, he discusses the genetic tendency toward faith and morality (noting that the two are not intrinsically linked) and how people have approached those questions over time. The commentary on Gordon Allport’s research back in the 1950s within it gets to the core of my beliefs on this issue. Allport saw two sorts of religiosity in standard practice: intrinsic and extrinsic. The intrinsically religious see their faith as an end in itself. Practicing their beliefs is a central and personal experience that informs how they conduct their lives. The extrinsically religious, however, see religion as a means to an end. They practice because they think it is the right thing to do in order to fit in or advance socially. Allport’s research found that the intrinsically religious were more prone to be well-adjusted. The extrinsically religious were more prejudiced and in a higher state of emotional stress overall.

Follow that with the study performed by the University of Michigan some years ago on ecstatic Christians (old-school fundamentalists and snake-handlers) vs. mainstream Protestants. I turn to the article’s wording to explain it further:
After further analysis, however, there appeared a tendency to what can only be described as mental instability in one particular group. The study was blinded, so that most of the research team involved with questionnaires did not have access to the final data. When they were asked which group they thought would show the most disturbed psychopathology, the whole team identified the snake-handlers. But when the data were revealed, the reverse was true: there was more mental illness among the conventional Protestant churchgoers - the "extrinsically" religious - than among the fervently committed.
It seems clear to me that the extrinsically religious are setting the tone of the dialogue for spiritual expression in public these days. The intrinsically religious would be, I think, far less prone to insist on adding their god’s name to a patriotic pledge and insisting it be recited by people who worship elsewise. They certainly wouldn’t want their central tenets carved into marble and placed in a secular building. That would make it too impersonal as well as imposing on the personal beliefs of others.

That leaves me with two thoughts. First, people shouldn’t blame religion when it’s the motivations behind its practice that make the difference. Second, attempts to appeal to the extrinsically religious from an intrinsic position may need to consider how they are motivated by social pressure. Is it possible for us to encourage a society that looks down on enforced conformity without turning that into the new oppression? I can’t answer that myself. But it needs to be asked, I think, in many places.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Fallibility

I've seen one too many rants about various habits of modern reconstructionist pagans (pick one, there are dozens to choose from) that boil down to, "If it's not attested in the lore, you're a bad pagan for doing it." Maybe it's because I'm working in a tradition where I know we didn't get all of our details written down and had much of what was transcribed hopelessly altered, but that argument annoys the living daylights out of me. Why? Simply put, the lore is fallible.

Those of us on reconstructionist paths are participants in interrupted or modified traditions transcribed by imperfect beings with their own agendas. None of us approach them as tabulae rasa, either. Also, it's the rare modern pagan who's a participant in the descendant of the culture in which the lore arose. Those themselves have changed despite all attempts within the culture to the contrary. And during the life of that culture before whatever break occurred, the lore itself changed. If it didn't, we'd all still be consulting tribal shamans to figure out which spirit to appease to cure our migraines.

The fact our ancestors of blood and spirit changed with their times, however willingly, tells me that if we don't admit the lore isn't the end-all and be-all of what we do, we're failing as inheritors. It's not right to declare our modern inspiration or language usage to be identical to what they did. But it's also not right to insist we restrict ourselves to some fantastic concept of static, unchanging belief they themselves didn't follow. Within Celtic tradition, there is lingering evidence of gods rising and falling in popularity. We know the Germanic pagans altered their approach to Wodan when exposed to the Danubian Celts' worship of Lugus. And how much more so would the gods and traditions of our ancestors shift and change with the technological and theological innovations in the intervening centuries? We can't even begin to guess. But change they would.

I fail to understand why some pagans want to treat their written lore as being the perfect transmission while laughing at the Christians who think their lore is equally inviolate. It's just as ridiculous to claim Snorri transcribed a perfect record of how all Norsemen practiced their beliefs as it is for Christians to claim the Earth was created in six days. The lore is a base, not a stopping point. Using it as a means of bashing people who speak in a way you find inappropriate is fundamentalist thinking. If someone else's modern approach is labeled as such, as my late grandmother would say, kwitcherbitchin'. Nobody's forcing you to join in on it.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Toward Better Pagan Books

Jason Pitzl-Waters has been contemplating the state of the pagan book market in the wake of commentary by Phyllis Curott. She attempts to blame the right-wing fundamentalist insurgency for slacking sales. Others blame the economy, Curott's own writing skills, and a tendency by many publishers to sell bad or simply grossly mislabeled books. I fall into that last category.

Let me explain the labeling accusation before moving on. As a Celtic pagan, I find that a majority of the books on the shelves claiming to be Celtic spirituality just plain aren't, at least not as I understand it. I'm told by these booksellers that Wicca, Feri, Arthurian fantasy, and offshoots of 18th-century mystical orders are Celtic paths. From where I sit, none of these demonstrate more than a passing familiarity with what we know of Celtic beliefs and traditions. On the rare occasion that someone has approached Celtic reconstructionism in a book, it's either wound up on a very small imprint or we get insulted in its pages. So for me, it's not so much a matter of whether I can buy the books as whether books about my faith even exist. I've become intimately familiar with ABEBooks and have gotten back in touch with my higher vocabulary skills as I plow through scholarly texts and write my own book in my head.

So, what do I want out of pagan publishers? Let's start at the beginning, with editorial integrity. If the author can't document it, publishers shouldn't let them claim it's something it's not. There should be no shame in admitting something is a synthesis of research and inspiration. It should be OK for the author to admit they thought up something while looking at the stars one night and found it worked. All traditions start somewhere. And age has nothing to do with acceptability in the eyes of the US government, if certification as a religious organization is a concern (as someone commented it would be to me once a while back). They're hard on anyone who starts a non-profit, especially one claiming a religious exemption. The number of frauds who've come along over time under that umbrella have burned them badly.

I agree with Pitzl-Waters' beliefs about what would be good to see coming out under pagan imprints, such as history, theology and issue-based writing. While I don't believe that all pagans should hold to identical politics, getting a pagan perspective on various issues would be a refreshing change from "become a Celtic shaman" books. More books that admit Wicca isn't the be-all and end-all of paganism would be a good idea. And alongside biographies of our bigger names, critiques of their work appearing on bookstore shelves might also be worthy endeavors. Nobody is or should be treated as untouchable. It's the sign of a mature tradition if it can look at its founders and admit their failings. It would demonstrate to newcomers that we're not all of one mind about someone.

I don't feel as if I pay enough attention to the pagan section of the bookstores to say much more than this. As previously noted, my book-buying focuses more on scholarly treatises with enough footnotes to choke a dissertation board. But I'd buy more from the "New Age" range if it touched on what I do. There's only so much I can do with Mara Freeman's texts before I retreat to Barry Raftery for a sense of realism.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Reality vs. The Times of London

Jason Pitzl-Waters chased down the actual conclusions of the study I wrote about yesterday. The Times of London appears to have played fast and loose with the facts. All the researcher wanted was to spur more investigation. He didn't claim that theism leads to social problems.

The opportunity to claim the Times was indulging in America-bashing is almost too obvious. But I've also been hearing about the hurricane coverage in some of the more salacious tabloids over there. The Sun claimed American soldiers were killing Katrina survivors from gunboats. I realize that the Sun is not the Times, but what the former does blatantly, the latter has been known to hint at. And jumping from "we need to investigate whether theism is a related cause" to "America stinks because it's too damned religious" is a very easy way to drop such ideas into what looks on the surface to be a respectable article.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Religion, government, and binary thinking

Wow. I ask the universe for source material, and I get this article popping up on my reading list. Thank you, universe. Have a cookie.

The Times of London has reported a study that claims a direct relationship exists between religious belief and social problems. The author attempts to prove this by showing that the United States, the only industrialized nation where the majority of its citizens believe a lone deity created the universe, is also near or at the bottom on such metrics as teen pregnancy, homicide, and STI rates.

The fact the United States has a piss-poor performance level on those matters is hard to refute, especially ones dealing with the aftereffects of poorly handled sexual behavior. But this study appears to suffer from one of the logical fallacies so many of these do: correlation implies causation. I'd need to look at it more deeply to be sure, as I don't trust newspaper summaries of case studies. But I also have a hard time believing simple comparisons of statistics. The bias of the author is always a risk factor in such situations.

I will note that many people have deluded beliefs about what Christianity as a professed faith does and doesn't mean. It doesn't take away the raging hormones of youth. It doesn't cure insanity. It certainly has only a palliative effect on poverty if taken purely as a belief instead of put into action in the form of charitable work. And regardless of what the voting patterns of the faith's most vocal adherents may demonstrate, it does at least hint at the need for fair taxation and attention paid to the downtrodden. But all faiths share the lack of a magic wand against all ills. I'm hardly faulting the majority in comparison to the rest of us.

The article itself has a very large flaw aside from taking this study at face value. It falls right into the trap of assuming the options are sloppy monotheism or nothing. It pays no attention to whether a nation that truly lived by Christian values, which this country categorically does not, might or might not do better than one that only pays lip service to the notion. And I realize it wasn't in the purview of the study to look at subsets of the American population to see if those who practice non-JudeoChristian belief systems were just as prone to those ills. But the insistence it's one or the other shows a short-sightedness about religion that I recognize all too well from sexual orientation studies that ignore bisexuality. Once again, binary thinking leaves the picture incomplete.

I'm the last person to say that religion is mandatory for a good system of ethics. I must note, however, that ethics are nothing without action. I can believe in the gods of the Celts, but if I do not act on those by living an honorable life and remembering the gods and ancestors in ritual, I may as well drape myself in plastic shamrocks and get drunk on green beer. There are many professed Christians in this country, but far too few actually understand what that means and how to live within its strictures. I don't mean taking the right-wing approach of "go ye into all the world and force the gospel down the throat of every creature." I mean noting where it suggests approaching life with respect. Treating oneself with respect. And any government that claims Christian inspiration needs must remember that "God helps those who help themselves" was said by a Deist, not an apostle.

There are those who will note any government that pays too much attention to religion is a problem. The Taliban is an extreme case, but history is rife with only marginally less toxic examples. I don't know if we have a record of a government that used what many 21st century people would call higher ethics, claiming their religion as the source, and how it went for them. Lack of evidence in this case is not proof it's impossible. Human nature is too diverse. I also know we have clear and recent records of how fanaticism needs no deity to wreak havoc. Neither Stalin nor Saddam Hussein were particularly religious. Religion is a tool. How we use it makes the difference.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Writer's block runaround attempt

I'm wanting to write more for this site, but I find myself hitting a mental roadblock. Topics rise up, start to gel, and then dissolve. So, I ask you, my friendly readership. Are there topics you'd like to see me write about? I may not do all of them, especially if I think I'm underinformed on it and can't get to it, but I'm sure I can think of something based on what's said.

I feel a bit like a cheater for doing it this way, but I have no idea when I'd be inspired if I didn't get myself some kind of kick in the rear. Of course, I could just grab my book on Celtic sex magic when I get home and use it for the Books I've Read So You Don't Have To idea I had when I started this but haven't done anything with. Still, I'd appreciate the feedback if any of you have suggestions.

Friday, September 16, 2005

In honor of the day

As today is a national day of prayer and remembrance for the victims and survivors of Hurricane Katrina, I wanted to contribute mine. I wouldn't call it brilliant, but I mean every word.

Hail to all the gods, ancestors and spirits. May you help us here in this world to bring relief to the suffering and affliction to those who would profit from exploiting this tragedy to selfish and profane ends.

Hail to you, the honored dead, victims of the hurricane. May you be safe and secure in the Otherworld with your ancestors and gods. Please watch over your descendants and help them toward better lives.

Hail to you, Lugh, bringer of storms. Your terrible might and majesty revealed to the world the truth about the hidden corners of America. May the good such a sight can lead to far outweigh the tragedy that led to the revelation.

Hail to you, Dian Cecht, first of all physicians. May your skillful hand guide the hands of those who work to heal the wounds inflicted by this cataclysm, both physical and mental.

Hail to you, Brighid, guardian of fair judgements. May there be an accounting on all levels for the failures and poor decision-making that preceded and followed landfall. May the guilty face their just retribution.

Hail to you, Nuada, fair and honest king. May you keep our leaders honest and forthright. Let their promises of today be their actions of tomorrow.

And may those who have opened their homes and hearts to the refugees receive three times the blessings they give, in this life and the next.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

When Two Tribes Go to Four

In my blog wanderings the other day, I came across William White's Eject! Eject! Eject! discussing the concept of two tribes of people. He dubs the emotion-led tribe Pinks and the logic-led one Grays. This springs from what he sees as conflicting reactions to such events as Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks.

Setting aside the pop culture significance of those terms, it's the binary thinking it shows that I find to be a larger problem in this society. The idea that everything should conform to perfect ratios and either-or arrangements did humanity no favors, even if the Greeks came out of it with some damn fine architecture. It has its place; it's misapplied outside of it.

I'm not denying such people exist, mind. I've seen examples of both in my daily life, and depending on the day in question, I could be seen to swap allegiances. This is where I start having issues with the whole notion of two tribes that are dedicatedly opposed to each other in approach. It's possible to see when it's time to play it gentle vs. knuckle down and work. If it's not possible to cross the line, there's a problem.

This leads me to Maggie Macary at Myth and Culture speaking of the need to restore imagination to a higher priority in Western culture. It is primarily considered the bailiwick of creative artists these days. In disaster planning, however, a lack of imagination gets us results such as the debacle in New Orleans. It contributed a great deal to the intelligence failures surrounding 9/11 as well. The commission report on those events made that blisteringly clear.

This led to my concept of a third tribe, one led by imagination. Drawing from logic and emotion to build a synthesis of the two, seeing where beauty and joy can lead as well as pragmatic simplicity. Making sure facts are the basis instead of mere dreams, but not letting binary logic control how they see either what-is or what-if. I can only dub this tribe Fluorescents. That might open a different can of worms, but it's the best word I can think of right now.

As I'm sure we've all seen, there seems to be a fourth sort in the human condition. They have emotionally driven behaviors springing from misapplied logic and a fantasy life that shows imagination, but not one based on facts. I think, to contrast with the third tribe, they could be called Burntouts. It sounds sadly final, but when their opposite is a longlife bulb, I'm not sure what else to use.

Analogies to Dumezil's four functions don't quite work past a certain point. Unless you want to talk about the benefits and risks of each sort of tribe member being in a first function job, anyway.

Pissing in Other People's Beer

While Celtic reconstructionst paganism/Senistrognata tries to get a self-definition that focuses more on what we are and do over what we aren't, we have growing pains. One of them is when people get fixed on what we are not to the point of insulting other traditions. It leads to the trait I titled this post with. "You're doing something I disagree with, so you're stupid and wrong and believe in a lie," in any of three dozen configurations, gets uttered far too often. I've likely been guilty of it myself as I've matured in my faith. But I have worked on letting go of it. After all, I've been the recipient of such accusations as a Senistrognatan from people who claimed to have a lock on the One True Celtic Way(tm).

Does it matter that Wicca, while having borrowed elements of Celtic tradition, is not in and of itself an ancient Celtic system of belief? Only if you want a genuinely Celtic tradition and think Wicca is it. But if you like Wicca for what it really is, I don't think it's appropriate for people to accuse you of buying into a lie. And I will act accordingly if someone tries to force that sort of opinion in a space where it isn't welcome. Like, say, any mailing list I happen to run. I may be a bit pushy about how I enforce it where I have control. But if there's one thing I want clear, it's that the spaces I run are bigoted against one thing: bigotry. If that means my butt cheeks can break coal, so be it.

I know it may be somewhat tacky to take the mailing list laundry to this forum, but I also know how rumors spread. I think this is sufficiently important for me to make it public off-list. I've been misquoted enough in the kerfuffle as it stands. But being accused of claiming Senistrognata arose from Asatrú gave me a laugh, at least.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The barker's calling

Jason Pitzl-Waters has brought us round two of the Pagan Carnival.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Noted with hopes I'll really do it

Before March 17 of next year, I really want to set down an essay detailing where people have been getting the legend of St. Patrick and the conversion of Ireland wrong. The more I look at it, the more I realize that pagans have been buying into church-generated propaganda in their quest for a whipping boy. I have no love for evangelism per se. I also have no love for swallowing a fraud as if it were valid history. I'm a big fan of disliking what someone really did, not what people have been misled into believing happened.

My sources look to include Barry Raftery, modern writings on the history of Celtic Christianity, and a fascinating set of penitentials written by Irish monks in the 6th-8th centuries. I may pull in bits about Christian conversion efforts that make his look like leaving a Chick tract behind in a public restroom, just for the sake of perspective.

And just for the record, I was inspired by a History Channel attempt at discussing Celtic history that swallowed the same propaganda without the bloodshed that gets assigned to him. I also freely admit that the hatred spewed every March 17 in pagan circles has been getting to me more and more every year. It sometimes has hints of anti-Irish bigotry attached, only making matters worse from where I sit.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Quick check-in

I'm still around, but this is production week for Equus and thus a lot of my time and brain cells are otherwise occupied.

I do want to note we got a rather lovely review. And you can just spot me in the background of one of the pictures.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Carnival has put up its tents

Jason Pitzl-Waters has initiated a Pagan Carnival on his blog, The Wild Hunt. My thanks to Chas Clifton for submitting an article of mine when I was too horsed out from Equus to think straight about sending one in myself.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Legal contemplations

First, I want to note for the record that I am a complete sap for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. I always make sure I know where my Kleenex are when it comes on, as I'm almost guaranteed to lose it before it's over. I've been known to need one during the introductory segment. And Ty Pennington is second only to Queer Eye for the Straight Guy's Thom Filicia in my mental list of interior designers I would hire if price were no object.

This lawsuit that has been brought against ABC TV and EM:HE has got me thinking on a few levels, not all of which have to do with whether or not I should worry about EM:HE's integrity. I'm handing them a large chunk of benefit of the doubt right now. They get told a story, they check it out, and move forward on the belief it's legitimate. If they were lied to, which is essential to the argument the Higginses are making in their suit against the Leomitis, they're victims as much as anyone else. They're the ones who paid to turn a three-bed one-bath into a nine-bed six-bath. I wouldn't be surprised to see a parallel suit for fraud.

Now let's assume that the Higginses aren't lying. Under American law, they'll get a cash settlement that they may never see, as the Leomitis could turn around and file for bankruptcy even with the changes Bush signed into law. If ABC is held liable, they may use it as a PR opportunity or lock it up in appeals for years. The losers might sell the house to pay it off instead, leaving neither with the fruits of the makeover crew's labors. I am left wondering how a brehon would have judged the case.

Irish law before the imposition of Anglo-Norman jurisprudence was based on compensation for injustices rendered. There was a complex system based on the gender and social standing of the offender, the offended, and the nature of the crime. And you had to pony up. This is why the penalties were based on your rank. It's hardly fair to force an apprentice blacksmith to pay a landowner's penalty.

In this case, a lower-class person offered the hospitality of a middle-class landowner was used by the latter to obtain a false elevation in rank, then ejected when the cameras went away. Under hospitality law, the landowner went above and beyond the minimums required. But at the same time, they presented themselves publicly as a united household, not merely making the other family honored guests. This could be seen as linking their ranks and elevating the poorer family accordingly.

I should note that under brehon law, all of the orphans are legal adults (age of majority in pre-Anglo Ireland was 14 for women, 17 for men, and the youngest of the five is 14). This turns the suit into adult vs. adult, making each of the orphans eligible for compensation according to their genders.

Returning to the presumption of liability (the case isn't settled, so I'm not saying the Leomitis did anything wrong), there's also the matter of ABC being defrauded. There were no corporations in brehon times, so the closest parallel I can see is they yanked the chain of the local nobility. Who would be within their rights to press for compensatory justice.

So, you have a landowner who, assuming guilt, is indebted to five lower-class adults and an upper-class individual. I think you'd call it theft under that code. With a return of the stolen property plus additional compensation for the time and trouble, the Leomitis would probably lose the house.The neighbors who pitched in (parallel to the crew ABC hired) would probably enact some amateur justice of their own, and they'd never let that family come back to that section of Ireland again. And I think that if the nobleman had studied Cormac's philosophy on rulership, he'd give the now-abandoned house to the Higginses.

You know, there are times when I like the idea of a system based on compensation with no way to file paperwork to get out of it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The data's changed. So, now what?

One of the questions that has been asked of Celtic pagans from people of multiple persuasions is "what do you do if the scholarship changes?" Celtic studies is prone to fads, fancies and the more solid reasons for alterations in approach. Many documents lie untranslated. New discoveries shape analysis of older ones. And even etymologies get the occasional revisit.

Take the Gaulish god Belenos. For decades, people translated his name as "bright one" and the Victorian presumption that all shiny male gods are sun gods carried into modern times. Recent work has discovered that its definition is closer to "strong one" and may also be related to a Gaulish word for henbane in an echo of how one Latin name for it is apollinaris.

Now, Apollo is a sun god, but he is also a god of healing. And in all of the times Apollo was conflated with gods in Gaul by the Romans, none of them were ever stated as being solar deities in the extant descriptions. It was always Apollo's other aspects, such as healer, that led them to merge the two. Thus, Apollini Beleno was a healing god with no solar aspects.

There are modern pagans who class Belenos as a solar deity, using prior scholarship as their guide. The new data contradicts this approach. And the news leads to examples of how different pagans treat such changes. I know of some who look at the information as the god's way of letting us know we're getting him wrong. Others refuse to change, whether because it works for them or they'd prefer more direct input from the god in question before they change their approach. While I'm all for that kind of spiritual inspiration, I can't help but remember the old joke about the man who said "Jehovah will provide" when rescuers came by to fetch him off the roof of his house before the waters rose too high and he drowned. I can't help but picture Belenos looking at the people who insist he's a solar god in the face of the new data and saying, "I sent you three Celtic scholars and a dictionary! What more did you want?"

Some would argue that innovation shouldn't be treated too cavalierly. A tradition must be allowed to change. I agree with that. But the best, most appropriate and respectful changes come from a base of true understanding. The Victorians shaped the data to fit their assumptions. This is not understanding, it is appropriation. Their presumptions work for some people, I know. And if you're aware that you're using their material instead of more attested ancient lore and admit as much, it's not that big a deal. But honest eclecticism shouldn't get anyone too annoyed, I think.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Burnout, dysfunction, and your friendly neighborhood pagans

I ran across this essay on Dysfunctional Behavior and the Pagan Scene in the Full Circle Events newsletter thanks to Blackthornglade's LiveJournal. As the leader of a pagan organization that is suffering from burnout and has seen its share of the walking wounded, it resonated extremely deeply with me. No religion is a sure cure for mental illness, nor should it be an excuse for same. And tolerating the dysfunction in our groups in the name of a false unity only drives the saner people out.

Lughnasadh

Happy Lughnasadh! As I suspect just about everyone reading this knows, today is the usual day for observing the feast day of Lugh, the Irish god of many skills, as well as a celebration of the first phase of the harvest and the start of autumn. Lugh is described as one of the pan-Celtic gods based on common names and overlapping functions within the set of pre-Christian European tribes commonly called Celts these days. It was originally a two-week festival, but it's rare to find any pagan individual or group nowadays with that kind of time who'd have the money to throw that sort of party.

For an excellent essay on Lugh/Lugus, I recommend Alexei Kondratiev's writeup on the subject.

Brian Walsh has set up an online shrine to the Many-Gifted Lord. If you don't have time to do a full ritual, a visit there wouldn't hurt.

Lugh is one of my patrons, though only since last year after Lughnasadh had already passed. I am grateful to Him for His encouragement, advice, and butt-kicking this year. Hail Lugh!

Friday, July 29, 2005

One nation are we, all pagan and free?

Brendan Cathbad Myers looks to be stretching his bardic wings with this piece, inspired by the the movement to make South Carolina a haven for Christian fundamentalists, with secession a "last resort":
Well, a few enterprising Pagans read in the news that there is a Christian Fundamentalist group that wants to get as many Christians as possible to settle in the state of South Carolina and eventually declare the state an independent Christian theocracy, devolved from the rest of America. This got us thinking, we can do the same! A few months before that, at the death of John Paul II and the inauguration of Benedict XIV, we got to thinking, wouldn’t it be cool to have our own Vatican City, somewhere in the world? It’s been tried before, and never successfully, but our attempt has something no previous attempt at herding Pagans into one mould—I mean uniting them in harmony—has had. People are showing up! Huge crowds are converging on our sovereign territory, a farmer’s field in Greenland, every day. And it can only get better from here.

I rather suspect the attempt in South Carolina will go at least as well.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Whither CR, 79th in a series

The Greeks dubbed my European ancestors keltoi. The secret people. For all their loud shows in battle, learning their ways was not easy for the outside observer. Especially not the intricacies of their faith. I am beginning to wonder if that old approach is permeating modern Celtic paganism.

Misapprehensions about the Celts go down smooth and easy with so many. The truths that we know are only gained with focus and effort. And then they are not so readily shared. Book projects go down the tubes. People who make efforts from their studies are dubbed "overly Wiccan" when they'd never been in a coven in their lives at the point they'd developed what they wrote about. People post web sites that few people find out about. When people ask "what are you doing for X holiday" on a mailing list, replies are few and far between. We're busy doing to the point we don't seem able to talk. Assuming we're doing anything more than gaining a few authors fatter royalty checks.

Celtic reconstructionist paganism has been rightfully accused of being long on academia and short on ritual. I know people are performing rituals in a CR framework. But few of us talk about them. Of course, part of the problem is we have a fairly steady stream of newbies who have to get a grasp of what's behind them more often than not before they can appreciate them. It's one of the hurdles of cultural paganism. If you don't have a good grasp of the culture, the ritual's symbologies could get lost. "Celts liked the number three" doesn't cut it when the real explanation takes a chapter's worth of text to communicate the nuance. Secret, in short, while not being esoteric in the "oathbound to secrecy" sense.

Of course, some of us might be too much in love with the nuance to be able to share the bare bones. But, again, I see the love of the complex over the simple in Celtic art. A love of symbology and detail over realism or minimalism. And we the would-be inheritors of that pattern wind up poring over archaeological dig abstracts to extract useful info for our in-house rituals. And when newcomers arrive wanting to honor the gods, we often as not hand them the same abstract or something like it. I sometimes wonder if it's a knee-jerk hazing ritual. "You must be this intelligent to ride our ride." I vacillate sometimes as to whether I like it that way.

The lack of consistent groups isn't helping with the ease of transmission, either. Those form and die like so many badly plotted games of Life on an Apple ][e. Asatru kindred that maintain coherency are able to support new members and guide their learning. A lot of us Celtic folk are little more than solitaries. But we keep trying, so a solution to that is in progress.

And then there's the arguing. Yet another "why are we doing it this way" debate on a mailing list drove me to post this, in fact. The questions raised are good ones. They tend to be. But it's been a challenge in Celtic circles to keep matters at a civil level. As I was reminded elsewhere, King Cormac had this to say about argument:
"O Cormac, grandson of Conn", said Carbery, "What is the worst pleading and arguing?"
"Not hard to tell", said Cormac.
"Contending against knowledge,
contending without proofs
taking refuge in bad language
a stiff delivery
a muttering speech
hair-splitting
uncertain proofs,
despising books
turning against custom
shifting one's pleading
inciting the mob
blowing one's own trumpet
shouting at the top of one's voice."
If nothing else, if more of us could commit to following that sage advice, we'd at least have our schisms form politely.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Why?

Someone posted a long screed to a pagan mailing list I'm on that he titled, "Why are We Druids?" In it, he proposed to speak for all druids by going on about how we worship nature as if that were the only reason for the concept to even exist.

I realize that the term druid has been ripped from its moorings so long that the original connection points have rotted into uselessness. I'm not annoyed at the nature-boy approach being dubbed druidry per se so much as I am at the claim all who use the term mean the same thing he means by it. I have protested the claim that all pagans practice Earth-based spirituality for a long time. I for one do not. I see conservation and related behaviors as sensible. I also know my ancestors practiced slash-and-burn agriculture and thought midden heaps were just peachy. This is why I see green paganism as a valid modern innovation instead of a return to the way the old ones would have wanted it.

I've also been making my way through Barry Raftery's Pagan Celtic Ireland recently. It contains a drawing that reconstructs the probable look of a pre-Christian temple they know was built on Emain Macha. And where there's a permanent temple, I know there were druids who were happy to be out from the rain leading sacrifices under its roof. Not so much with the communing with trees there unless you consider dead timber to be the same as an oak grove for the sake of argument. And while I can enjoy an outdoor ritual, I have issues with sunscreen and blood sacrifices to mosquitos being mandatory to my pagan experience.

So, I grant that neither the nature lover nor myself can really claim an unbroken line of descent from Cathbad in any realistic form. I was still not represented by his words. I figured my definition of druid is as good as his and posted it. To wit:

"I am a druid because I am a priestess of the Celtic gods and serve a tribe (small and scattered, to be sure) of like-worshipping people."

It's a definition I don't see used too often, truth to tell. But it's mine, and I like it.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Turning on your own kind

I like the idea of putting the internecine squabbling that happens in pagan circles in some sort of perspective. But frankly, people vandalizing and committing arson against a Christian church because its denomination supports same-sex marriage is not the way I want it.

That may be a terribly self-centered way to look at it, but I'm stunned at the whole thing. We've all been aware that the hatred of fundamentalist right-wing Christianity against what they perceive as non-Christians has even led to murder for some time. But now, some of them are turning on their own kind. I knew that sort hated disagreement in the ranks, but that's going beyond the pale.

I've heard noises about liberal and moderate Christians rising up to voice their objections to the fundamentalist fringe that's trying to set itself up as the only Christian voice in the world. I hope and pray this galvanizes them into stronger and faster action. It's wrong when pagans turn against each other over doctrinal or procedural differences. It's heresy bordering on apostasy when members of one sect of a faith physically attack another's house of worship over similar conflicts.

Monday, July 04, 2005

A declaration

Because...
  • My ancestors served this country with honor and sometimes shed their blood for it and the ideals upon which it was founded...
  • I believe the precepts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are compatible with my faith...
  • I know the Founding Fathers did not consider polytheism to be a sign of a bad American...
  • I know "my country, right or wrong" means "It's my country whether it's behaving itself according to its ideals or not" instead of "love it or leave it"...
  • I vote in elections and try to keep myself informed on the issues...
  • I raise my voice against would-be tyrants regardless of their political bent...
  • I remember that this nation was founded by people on wildly different sides of divisive issues, which means respect for diversity has been part of our ideals all along...
For all those and many other reasons, I call myself a pagan patriot.

Happy Independence Day.

Music, Maestro, please!

Jason Pitzl-Waters tipped his readership off to an article on the Grievous Angel blog that suggests modern pagans look to house music as a source of expression of our energies. GA considers it a more appropriate form for at least his own expression of faith than the usual folk, Goth or rock music. A lot of GA’s point is how Dionysian disco and its descendants are, a mood far closer to his own experience of paganism than that provided by the aforementioned genres.

In my own life, I work with ecstatic practices. I am deeply aware of how a driving beat can help pull you out of your logical brain and into a deeper communion with spirit in whatever form you're reaching for. It also leads me to appreciate the times when I'm not swimming in a Dionysian river. I want my rituals to be in touch with spirit. But I don't always want to be overwhelmed by it. So, while I do like the idea of house music as a pagan form, I don't see it as the pagan form. I think there's plenty of room for more, just as there's room for both group and individual ritual, trance work and feasts. Think of it as an adjunct to the "many roads, one mountain" concept for religions, only there are many mountains. Different music takes you different places, and there are lots of good places to go. Only approaching your faith on one vector leads to stultification if you're too rigid and chaos if you're not careful. I know a lot of pagans rejected the faiths of their childhoods because it felt too restrictive. It is always possible to run too far the other direction.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Dressing for success

Chas Clifton made note in his blog about the tendency in many pagan circles for people to dress like they're in the SCA when they attend rituals for a much more modern religion (and in some cases, for the modern iteration of older ones). I'm not one of those people who wears such attire, though I confess it's at least in small part because I just don't have the gear yet. Peer pressure has its way with me sometimes. But I don't think it's required. The notion of dressing as was fashionable when the tradition started gives CRs like myself an interesting conundrum. Do we attempt Iron Age fashion, or give up on that notion entirely and aim for what was trendy when we started?

Of course, as my last post would attest, that means we'd have to dress like the characters in The Breakfast Club. I call dibs on Ally Sheedy.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Happy proto-anniversary to us

Twenty years ago, a group of Celtic-minded pagans met up at the Pagan Spirit Gathering and compared notes, performed rituals, and otherwise started to build bonds that in many cases have continued to this day. Erynn Laurie's founding of the Nemeton-L email list a few years later sparked further developments, including the creation of Imbas. And the ball's just kept on rolling from there.

It's been and continues to be fractious in some ways, but by continuing to talk, build, and listen, we also are growing a tradition with solid footing. And much of it started then.

Go raibh míle math agat, mo chairde. Without that meeting and what followed, I know my life and the lives of many others would not be the same, and we'd be poorer for it.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Say what?

One of my LiveJournal friends tipped me off to this lovely piece of equal-opportunity humor, Things You'll Never Hear a Pagan Say. I could argue two of their four for Celtic tradition, but I think I'd wind up proving their point on one and will really have to spare the other for a different time. Playing "who was a god" with insular Celtic lore is a game for a different day.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

A Midsummer Eve's moment

First, in case anyone wondered if I was being late, my Celtic League calendar says today is Midsummer Eve instead of the solstice being midsummer. Considering tomorrow is St. John's Day and there's a good bit of evidence that the British Isles Celts of at least the post-Christianization era considered that day to be midsummer, I don't see a problem with doing it myself. If there's one area where I feel a certain common ground with Celtic traditionalists despite the divides between them and reconstructionists, it's where we both believe more recent cultural patterns are just as valid a source as the older material when it comes to customs and practices. I'm attempting to build a more Celtic practice in the here and now, after all.

According to some archaeologists, the Stonehenge site wasn't used for summer solstice rituals. Rather, it was a popular spot for winter solstice rites. This is based in no small part on the remains of pig's teeth found on the site, which indicate the animals were killed while not quite a year old. That sort of pig is born in spring, so the teeth would be much smaller if they had been Midsummer sacrifices.

I am pretty sure I know how the druids of Britain will react to this data. They'll go merrily forward as they are now. Not that I blame them too much. They'd have to invest in waterproof robes to use the site in December. But if anyone thinks the concept of an outdoor festival in England in any December seems odd, they may wish to consider the evidence that England's weather changed over the centuries. After all, they used to grow wine there. That requires a more Mediterranean climate. Living in one as I do, I can assure you that a sunny December day can be pleasant enough to be outside in so long as you're wearing the right clothing. The Neolithic equivalent of a light jacket and/or sweater would be adequate, especially with a huge bonfire to keep you warm.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Horse of a different language

There's an interesting mental twitch that I get over one of my side projects these days. I'm in the cast of a production of Peter Shaffer's Equus. For those who don't know the plot, it focuses on a boy who gouges out the eyes of six horses and the psychiatrist who's trying to figure out why. It's a somewhat heavy-handed look at belief, materialism, and normalcy. I've been cast as an understudy to the horses (no, we're all the front ends, thanks for not asking). Aside from the brain-eating nature of being in my first play since 1987, the work I've been doing to evoke a horse has been interesting.

I'm not the sort of person who had a major horse fetish growing up. This makes me unusual amongst women of my race, but that's a familiar state for me. I've had my first opportunities to associate with horses thanks to this show, and I really did enjoy it. I'm having to think about a somewhat alien mentality and bring it to life. I'm also doing some spiritual work to find myself a horse to more fully flesh out the character. Shaffer purists would probably find that annoying. The seven of us who are doing the work find it helps us connect more with the show.

What I find keeps coming to me is how "equus" and Epona are so closely related. When the boy calls out to his great horse god-slave, I sense a gender-bend inherent in the situation that perhaps Shaffer didn't see. I feel the cross-connection that led to the Romans adopting Epona from the Gauls as a goddess without attaching her to one of their usual pantheon, the way most Gaulish gods were. This may be why as I work on a character for my horse, she grows more and more Celtic. Irish, to be fair, as I'm very much not in touch with Gaulish Celtic lore. But in my experience, that's how it flies sometimes. The traveler takes the recognizable route. Destination as-yet undetermined, but the ride's been good so far.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Seeking the old ways

MTFierce raised the following question in a comment:
The thought that someone has to worship "as their ancestors did" always surprised me. If people can change, and social structures can change, why not gods and rituals?
One of the main points to reconstructionist pagan religion is worshipping within the cultural matrix that the gods were being addressed in when their traditions flourished the first time. Mapping the rituals directly to how it was done in the past is occasionally awkward for the well-documented traditions and impossible for others. But there are good reasons to do it to the best of our ability for those of us who feel the need to do so. And as the gods have had some hand in the situation, guessing at their motives isn't too far out of line.

Starting from the presumption that gods change because people change, it would easily follow that gods, like people, are creatures of habit. One doesn't exist without the other. They get used to certain things being done in certain ways. Some are more prone to accept innovation than others. Attempting some degree of continuity to the older approaches gives the god something familiar to work with and grants the practitioner a certain degree of contact with tradition. When dealing with a cultural matrix other than the one someone was raised in, the contact helps deepen their understanding of that culture. This is not a reason to remain hidebound, but it is a reason to base their innovations on their best understanding of the root culture.

Putting it another way, while the gods may be fine with the new and different, they may also get nostalgic for the older ways. People have nostalgia fits all the time. It would then follow that some people would be led to follow the gods in a way that at least somewhat approximates the original forms of worship. Plenty of people will invoke gods into rituals that have little or nothing in common with the ways those gods were first dealt with. If nobody tried for the older ways, the new ones would be all the gods ever received. It might be fine for some, but I highly doubt all of them are that flexible. Most humans aren't, especially if they didn't choose their displacement. From where I sit, gods are closer to forcibly emigrated people than voluntary ex-patriates as a rule if their pagan roots have been stepped away from by any form of coercion. If you're away from home because of reasons outside your control and the new system has little room for you, reminders of what you used to take comfort in will matter.

This is why I think the gods respond both to the new and the attempts at the old. The innovators who approach the gods from outside their original culture at least call their names and pay attention to them regardless of the familiarity of the framework. Those who strive toward the older ways carry some version of the gods' old reality they can recognize. In tandem, the gods get a fair amount of attention they'd lack otherwise.

The above is no excuse to claim a new ritual is ancient. But it is part of why people strive for it. The reasons people are willing to lie about their rituals and others are willing to believe them is a topic for another post.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Followup: Times gets it right

The New York Times printed a correction of their earlier statement about Asatru:
An article on Wednesday about a Supreme Court decision upholding a law that requires prison officials to accommodate the religious needs of inmates included an incomplete description of the Asatru religion practiced by some inmates in the case. Based on the brief the Ohio attorney general submitted to the court, the article characterized Asatru as advocating violence by the white race against the "mud races." But other Asatru followers say that the use that some violent and white-supremacist prisoners make of the religion is a perversion of its peaceful and nonracist beliefs.
I confess the dodge language has me a bit concerned, though. There's ample proof that Asatru is not racist in its politics or practices as a general rule. Claiming it's a matter of what its non-prisoner adherents claim versus the court brief is privileging the latter. But it could be far worse. They could have stood by the original statement. And anyone who bothers to read the corrections will be aware of the conflict, putting them miles ahead of a lot of people in their knowledge of Norse paganism. And yep, that's my faint praise department rising up from committee to give its report.

Friday, June 03, 2005

He reviewed the book so I don't have to

Over the years, there have been several reviews of what may be druidry's answer to Plan 9 From Outer Space, 21 Lessons of Merlyn by Douglas Monroe. Ceisiwr Serith wrote what has to be the most thorough one anyone should dare essay. With page numbers provided for every error Serith chose to acknowledge (trust me, there are others), anything I'd have to say would be redundant.

Samples to whet your appetite:
"To those with an interest or fascination in THE MATTER OF BRITIAN: [his caps] Arthurian Lore (fact or fantasy), Druidism and the mysticism of Merlyn -- this book is a 'first of a kind.' Now aren't we just special.
The "3 Keys of Druidic Mastery" are "To know, to dare, to keep silent." Gee, all those ceremonial magicians got it wrong; they included "to will."
And one last point that's really close to my heart, just to close this out:
"Llyyr ab Manannan" I don't know if the Welsh is right, but I do know that "Manannan" was an Irish god, whose Welsh cognate was "Manawydan," and that he was the son of Lir, not the other way round.

Now that's credible reporting

It was announced a few days ago that the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that prison officials should make reasonable accomodations to allow inmates to practice their religion of choice. The New York Times' article about it (not linked due to its pending disappearance from their free archives) had this to say about the Ohio prisoners who brought the suit:
The five Ohio inmates who brought the case belong to nonmainstream religions, including one, Asatru, that preaches that the white race needs to use violence and terrorism to prevail over the "mud races."
Nice to know. I'll be sure to watch for the Times to point out that Christianity is a religion that supports eliminating a woman's right to vote.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Semi-vacation

I know I'm not one of those multiple posts per day sort of bloggers, but I wanted to note that I'm facing a few time pressures as of late and am not likely to pop up much until next week. I'm going on a short trip, and I'm also trying to get more focused at work.

But I will be back. Maybe I'll take some time and compose my first book review offline and pop back up sooner than I think I will.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Part of the issue?

The trend in my topical posts thus far, as well as a fair bit of what I see put forward by other Celtic reconstructionists, runs toward the negative and reactive more than the positive or proactive. We have several essays floating around about topics like "why Wicca isn't Celtic" or discussing what we do more in the context of what we don't do. Which, again, tends to run "how CR is not Wicca."

On the flip side, when someone comes along and says, "This is how I do CR," how much time do we spend flaying it for what we see as inconsistencies instead of at least starting with a few kudos for doing it at all? I'm as guilty as the next person of following this approach, mind you. This is as much about my way of doing as it is anyone else's.

I am not too sure how to deal with it. Most of us are going to face continued repetition of the usual modern material presented as ancient lore. New variations will pop up, such as the "ancient Celtic ritual of Merlin calling up the bear" that I attended at a pagan convention for reasons unrelated to wanting to bond with Mother Bear. And that kind of nonsense needs to be called for what it is.

But if we can't ameliorate our criticisms with compliments when they're called for, it's small wonder I've seen people state that they called themselves CR until they pulled the broom out of their ass. Now, some people will resent being told they can't get away with calling modern material ancient no matter how much sugar you add to the medicine. I just hope that I, along with others, will continue to work on treating the well-meaning but wrong as if they are educatable instead of inscrutably dumb.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

As the ancients would have it?

We've all heard, and many of us have said, that the cultures predating Christianity knew how to live in harmony with the Earth. In fact, environmentalism is often described as part of how we honor the ways of our ancestors. Surely they wouldn't have wrecked the land around them in order to achieve a selfish end. The more I look at Irish myth and ancient history, though, the more I see that as a lovely fantasy.

The myth that points to a contradiction between the "go green" approach of neopagans and our ancestors is the history of Lughnasadh. Lugh wanted to grow grain. The best land was forested. Did he decide to abandon the idea of bread in favor of harvesting acorns? No. Tailltiu, Lugh's foster mother, single-handedly wiped out the Forest of Breg as a personal favor to her darling boy. The exertion killed her, and Lugh founded the feast day in honor of her achievements and what it provided the TdD. The main thrust of the holiday is the start of harvest. It wouldn't have been possible without one serious act of clear-cutting.

I realize the myth wasn't written down until after the conversion process had been in full swing for several centuries. But unlike the mythical and misinterpreted snakes, we know Ireland used to be very heavily forested. The peat bogs which are part of the current definition of the Irish landscape resulted from Neolithic forest-clearing practices. The Tailltiu myth is thus, if nothing else, an allegory for the rise of farming as brought in by settlers from elsewhere in Europe.

This is not to say that modern pagans should abandon environmentalism. Hardly. It's a very important approach, and more necessary now than it ever has been. The reasons, however, are not easily supportable by claiming "our ancestors would want it this way." Our ancestors used the technology they had to make their lives more comfortable and developed more efficient means of getting there. If they could have predicted the results of their deforestation, would they have done it anyway? I personally suspect that can only be answered with a question. Were they human beings?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Alliances

I received a comment off of my last substantive post that raised a thought or two with me. Greenheart wrote in part:
In other words how about more and stronger polytheist alliances? Real world, not cyber, and no, not for eclectic purposes but to say, in one voice,"One god is not enough"
I'm all in favor of making alliances. But "one god is not enough?" For whom? I have no problem with monotheism the same way I have no problem with monogamy. The fact I don't practice either is purely a statement of my own needs, preferences and biases. I will not tell anyone who believes either is the way they should live that they are wrong. I will only demur from following if they try to talk me into it.

And what sort of alliance are we discussing, anyway? Political? Social? What will we do once we form one? Most politically active pagans are already using what's out there. We write letters, stage and participate in marches, join organizations, donate money and time, and vote. And if it's political, whose politics? There are pagans in just about every organization you can think of, including conservative ones. Many pagans cling to the belief that every one of us is a lockstep progressive. It's a prejudice of many of them that all pagans should be. I for one will not give in to it. The world is far more complex than any extreme would like people to believe.

On that note, while I've been aware of the Dominionists longer than some people, I'm not yet convinced the threat they pose is more than minor. I've been looking at some of the more secular right-wing voices, such as Instapundit, in a deliberate attempt to get information from more than one perspective. I do see the influence the Dominionists want to have. I also see many Republicans getting increasingly tired of them as well as some of President Bush's domestic policies. More and more, they notice that their party of limited government is being taken over by people who think "limited" means "limit everyone else but us." Ignoring the radicals won't make them go away, no, but I think there are ways of using the mutual distaste.

While more left-leaning people will not agree with the right-leaning folks about many things, if you want to talk alliances, this may be an opening we can use. Perhaps having a nice sit-down chat or twelve with the true conservatives about how we just want to be left in peace to live our lives as citizens with full and equal rights in exchange for helping to get the ultra-right-wingers out of their party might not be out of place. If you doubt it can be done, consider this. The Economist spent lots of pages explaining why same-sex marriage would be a good idea. I think that alone shows there are ways of arguing liberty with conservatives that gets us somewhere other than the wrong side of the door. After all, some of them already agree.

There are a lot of people who would be ill-served by a Cromwellesque takeover of the US government. Sexual and religious minorities are not the only ones. And I think we'd do well to remember that when we express our concerns about the latter-day Roundheads.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Question for the RSS feed readers

Do you prefer the entries to appear as just the first few lines, or would you rather the whole thing be posted? I've set it to short for now, but I should be able to change it. Let me know (I'll check the LJ feed as well as the blog itself).

Ancient, modern, verified

Ronald Hutton, a professor at the University of Bristol (UK) and author of over eleven books about pagan and medieval Europe with a focus on the British Isles and the Celts, was interviewed a couple of years ago by the Druid Network. He had this to say about modern Druidry and its provenance:


My line on this is consistently that we know so little of certainty about the ancient Druids that really all we have is a set of literary stereotypes of them left by foreign or Christian authors. All of the latter may be wrong or misleading. This means that nobody is in a position to tell modern Druids that what they are doing is inauthentic, but it is equally true that no modern Druids are in a position to declare that what they do is the authentic ancient tradition. We're all working with flawed and unreliable images, and doing our best with them.

I admit to finding this argument compelling on some levels. He's not far off, though some would say this soundbite oversimplifies what we have of pre-Christian Celtic material. Hutton is certainly not the sort who'd be unaware of the volume of material, though. One thing nobody can deny is that no extant texts of druidic rituals performed by any tribe assigned the label of Celtic have surfaced as such. Christian Guyonvarc'h's analysis of the Colloquy of the Sages sees in its pages a codified test to determine the fitness of a druid. Past that, most of what we have are archaeological analysis and folk practices. Some of the latter might be time-degraded versions of druid-led traditions. I for one could see such events as the hobby horse parades on St. Stephen's Day as older ritual turned into children's play. But it's not what it once was, and we can't be sure what that original form was without a lot of speculation.

This is where Hutton's argument comes in. We have bits and pieces. Guesswork and maybes. Some items are less likely to have been part of the Celtic mentality than others, such as the maiden-mother-crone Triple Goddess of Wicca or vegan sensibilities. But some of the lines that get drawn in the sand in some pagan circles are even less stable than the sand. One of the claims in Celtic reconstructionist circles often taken as gospel is, "The Celts didn't work with the directions." However, they felt the compass points sufficiently important that the king's residence at Tara in Ireland was built with five directions in mind as an analogy to the five provinces (the four cardinal points plus the center). Each province was assigned a direction as well. This is not prima facie evidence they called the directions, but it is proof they knew they were there and found them of some significance. Any opinions about their usability in Celtic ritual are just that. Opinions.

Nobody has a direct line on ancient lore as it was before the Romans and monks showed up to change the Celts forever. We're all doing "best guess" work, even the people who claim they're hewing closest to tradition by leaving things out when they can't be verified in three sources that postdate the Great Hunger. I think it's one of the dangers and strengths of Celtic reconstructionist paganism. We stand at risk of needing to re-invent our wheels whenever the theories of academia run headlong into our personal practices. But in the quest to create a tradition rooted in what we know of the Celts that fits the world we live in today, we are not shackled to ritual patterns that might not make sense without, say, full fluency in Old Irish, the way some mystery traditions' rites are not fully comprehensible without knowing their source. It runs the risk of importation of truly incompatible items as well, but that is where the rigor of scholarship comes in. It's a delicate balance. I can only hope my fellow CR pagans and myself continue to see the value in flexibility paired with a just caution.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Out into the blogosphere

I've received my first comment, with thanks to the fine host of The Wild Hunt. I've added a few more pagan blogs that caught my eye and held it to the list. More will pop up over time.

I'm considering an occasional "Books I've Read So You Don't Have To" segment, thanks to my perverse tendency to get what I see as the schlocky side of pagan texts. I realize I may get some people angry with me for it. I think it's a bit late for me to worry about that, considering my role in Celtic paganism. I've seen the harsh comments about Celtic reconstructionism in certain circles, and I'm attempting to resurrect one of its first organizations. I'll just have to be careful about the quality of the company that refuses to keep mine.