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.