|Posted by Erin nighean Brėghde on August 6, 2015 at 2:20 PM||comments (2)|
Last weekend I attended the marvelous Many Gods West polytheist conference in Olympia, WA (right here in Cascadia!), organized by Niki Whiting, Rhyd Wildermuth, and PVSL. It was fascinating and exciting to spend a few days soaking in the theology and ritual of devotional polytheism, meeting new people, and getting to chat with personalities I'd only met or known by repute online. I especially enjoyed the workshop talks by druids John Beckett of a CUUPS chapter in Texas, who spoke about bringing polytheistic infrastructure into our wider society, and Kirk Thomas, archdruid of the ADF who lives in his own druid monastery in Trout Lake, WA (also in Cascadia!), who spoke about how offerings form the foundation of our practical relationships with our gods. Keynote speaker Morpheus Ravenna gave an engaging and thoughtful speech about the agency of the gods, and how agency works with and informs archetypes (I will always remember the imagery of the stained glass window figure illuminated fom without by the light of the sun). And, I attended two devotional rituals, one to Cathubodua, a Gaulish battle goddess of endurance and strength, lead by Morpheus Ravenna and Rynn Fox of the Coru Cathubodua, and one to the Romano-Gaulish Matronae, depicted often as three, but really a collection of all the culturally-included goddesses of healing through weaving strong bonds across all areas of life and between all beings, to bring health and vitality to society at large, lead by River Devora, who channelled the Matronae, and Rynn Fox. While Slavic polytheist Gordana Kokic sadly missed her slot to give her talk due to car trouble, a friend of mine introduced me to her, and I enjoyed hearing her reflections on the workshops we all attended together, and sharing ideas with her. The Aomolous Thracian shared an intriguing talk about engaging with the gods via local cultus, and how the envorinments through which the gods come to us informs the nature of Their beings and blessings. Bravo to the brave and daring organizers who put this together-- please do it again next year!
After sitting with the residual energies, and processing all the workshop input for a few days, what has settled for me as the essence of what I take away from this experience is that the work devotional polytheist leaders are doing today is truly *with* the gods, not just for their own growth, actualization, or empowerment, but to bring the many blessings of the many gods *back into* our world today. The gods have sensed our readiness to work with them actively and deliberately, after so much time has passed in which the major work was being done with one god, whose devotees have also worked to bring His blessings into the world, but to the detriment of insisting that there were no other blessings from any other gods to be brought. We have all been poorer for the fewer blessings we've had in the world, but now is the time to bring back that abundance of blessings, and to celebrate these great gifts! How much richer will our worldly lives be with so many gods walking beside us, with so many blessings bestowed upon us!
The beauty of the many blessings is that none of us need become special devotees of all the gods to receive the benefit of their blessings in the world. I received the blessings of both Cathubodua and the Matronae without having ever met Them before. Their priests did this work, bringing these blessingd into the world, for the benefit of the many attendees who enjoyed their rituals. These gods are not necessarily jealous gods, either, so many of we polytheists have the freedom to visit many gods, and receive Their many blessings, even while we might be particularly devoted to one or a few of them at any given time. These blessings are freely given, and freely received, and more blessings are upon Their priests for doing this sacred, holy work with their gods of bringing Their blessings into our world.
This event has also inspired me personally. I am creator of and Mother Priestess to the Nigheanan Brìghde Celtic polytheist Order of Brighidine priestesses and flametenders. This September, the order will be both hosting a Brighid shrine, and leading a devotional ritual to Brighid at our local Columbia-Willamette Pagan Pride event on the 20th. I am also exploring the idea of creating such a conference especially for Brighidine flametenders and devotees, here in Cascadia, which could hopefully turn into many local conferences, like regional Pagan Pride events. I am excited and inspired to join other polytheist leaders in bringing the blessings of the gods into our world again. Hail to all the gods!
The slogan at this year's Many Gods West conference was, "Many Gods, No Masters." In hopes of their being another conference again next year, I propose next year's slogan be, "Many Gods, Many Blessings." This is truly the work we are all doing, with all of our gods, and we can only all benefit.
|Posted by Erin nighean Brėghde on August 3, 2015 at 7:15 PM||comments (0)|
It is fashionable today in many pagan circles to treat Lughnasadh's Harvest theme as a metaphor, or an abstracrtion removed from its literal meaning. This is often claimed as an updated way to engage with the holiday, more apt for urban dwellers of the 21st century than rural dwellers of the ancient past, or even the recent past of the past couple centuries. I understand the inclination, especially with the popularity of Jungian archetypes in pagan religions, as it lends itself to this sort of reductionist abstraction, but to do misses vital realities we *all* live with, here and now, and opportunites for growing in right relationship.
This is the key thing to know about the Harvest celebration of Lughnasadh: it isn't for farmers, it is for eaters. If you eat, and are of European heritage living anywhere in a temperate climate, this holiday is vitally relevant to your life here and now, wherever you live, as much as it was to our deep ancestors of ancient times, and those right on up through the centuries.
Staple grains have been the bedrock of civilization for thousands of years. Ensuring a reliable source of food is what allows civilizations to develop and cultures to flourish. Food security is what has allowed all of the gifts of Gaelic culture to come into fruition. Modern civilization today is also supported by grain crops, so this continuity is very much a part of our ongoing lives.
Grains are living beings, which must be killed to ensure our survival. They are great beings who give their lives for ours, and upon whom whole cultures can depend for longevity and cultural development. Grains are truly gods, giving goodness to us freely, and mighty warriors who stand between us and death, protecting and safeguarding us. This is no minor thing. It is no metaphor or abstraction. This is the foundation of our lives, phsically and culturally, and what will sustain our future generations. The Corn King deserves our recognition, honor, and gratitude, and teaches us to give goodness freely as He does, to take care of others. It is important to respect His presence and sacrifice, and the Harvest ceremonies and celebrations of Lughnsasadh give us exactly this moment and opportunity. The Harvest is the culmination of the land's work for the year, its great gift to Her people. Honor and graititude are how we align ourselves in right relationship with the Land Goddess, the Corn King, and their gift of the Harvest.
Lugh is the god of Lughnsasadh because he embodies what is possible when food sources are secured in abundance-- the flowering of all the arts and sciences which allow civilization to flourish and grow. The Lughnasadh celebrations then included demonstrations of arts and skills, and regular revisitiations and revisings of the codified laws and customs of the people. Lugh was known in the Irish lore to have many wives in different places, signifying in the various locales the marriage of the local land goddess to the god of civilization, to bless the tribes.
At the end of the tale of the Cath Mag Tuired, the Second Battle of Moy Turra, the Fomorrian King Bres is allowed to live after being captured when he gives the Tuatha Dé the secrets of agriculture. In more recent lore, we see how the Harvest is welcomed with prayers of thanks, and offerings and libations, often from the first grains gathered and baked. Such offerings hark back to the tale of the Battle of Tailtean, when the Tuatha Dé Danann retreated underground to the mounds, and then promptly withered both the grain in the fields and the milk in the cows' udders. When the Milesians went to them asking for their food back, they were told they may have them so long as they remembered to honor the Tuatha Dé with regular gifts of 'icht agus blicht,' grain and milk, returning in thanks and honor part of the very foods which sustained them in their agrarian and pastoral lifestyle, which also formed the foundation of the Pact between the humans and the gods, to be maintained through all time.
Traditionally the season of Harvest, Foghar, is considered the end of summer's season of grain growth, and the beginning of autumn, which is not meant to mark the onset of cold weather and impending leaf drop, but instead meant to mark the height of the grain-ripening heat, for the impending grain-fall by scythe (or, combine, these days). Though the date has been codified as a single universal date (within Ireland), the spirit of honoring the harvest can be done anytime any local, sustaining grain crop is ripe and ready, which will naturally vary from region to region, and should. Despite our tendency to view seasons as universal, like 'the first day of summer' everywhere in the world, seasons are really local, and variable from place to place. We can bring that awareness and understanding to our rites today.
While the Harvest season can be viewed as another kind of harvest in our lives, a reaping of many blessings, this would be better observed as an *adjunt to* the honoring of the Corn King's sacrifice, service, and gift of himself to us, as he stands between us and death and allows our culture to develop, rather than imposing it over this, and sweeping the very real Harvest and its implications aside. This is the beauty of polyvalent thinking, which includes in a 'both-and' construct, rather than eliminating in an 'either-or' construct, and allows us to engage with tradition in multiple ways, on several levels at once.
The people didn't honor the harvest specifically because they were farmers or rural folk. They did it because they are eaters, and the Corn King provided sustenance for both physical and cultural longevity. This respect and celebration belongs every bit as much to urbanites as to ruralites, and far from being anachronistic, continues to support us and our present culture in the very same ways today. Lughnasadh is not a relic from some distant place and time, it is an ancestral teaching and lesson speaking to our very real here and now. All hail the Corn King!
|Posted by Erin nighean Brėghde on April 17, 2015 at 2:45 PM||comments (1)|
In Irish myth, a Pact was made between the first Gaels, also called the Milesians, and the Tuatha de Danann, the beings who lived in Ireland when the Milesians arrived. This Pact formed the basis of their mutually-respectful and -beneficial relationship, and can stand as a model to us today in such living.
After the Milesians and the Tuatha de Danann battled for control of the island of Ireland, the two parties agreed to share it- the Milesians would live on the land, and the Tuatha de Danann would live below it, with the great tumuli being their palaces and portals to the Underworld. There had been battles of magic to test the druids, and battles of combat to test the warriors, and now there was to be a test for the farmers and ranchers, seemingly after terms had been reached. As soon as the Tuatha de Danann went underground, the grain wilted in the fields, and the cows dried up, giving no more milk. The farmers, desperate that the forces of life be renewed to them, went to the tumuli to where the Tuatha de Danann had retreated, and asked would they please return the bounty of the land and cattle to their people. The Tuatha de Danann agreed they would do so, upon condition. They stipulated that the Milesians, and their descendants after them, must respect the life-giving and -sustaining powers of the land, and the Tuatha de Dannan themselves who were a part of these powers. The tumuli where they lived must be left unharmed and undeveloped, and the people were to demonstrate their ongoing respect and gratitude by leaving gifts of milk and grain, 'ith agus blicht,' there at each of the four Fire Festivals, in recognition of these blessings given to them by the Tuatha de Danann. The Milesians agreed, and the grain and milk immediately revived and flowed, to support the people. The two tribes also went on to share their lives together in other ways, through fostering each others' children, and enacting rites to formally acknowledge and respect each others' presence in the land, that each party might continue to flourish in mutually-beneficial ways.
in this story, the land and its life forces are recognized as Persons, afforded the respect one would give any person, addressed as someone of awareness, consciousness, and intelligence. They are also deeply honored as sources of life, great powers capable of generating and supporting life for many. To harm them is to harm life for many, to break the oath that is the Pact, which would disrupt the livelihood of all. This Pact then provides guidance for living well, for protecting those forces which support all life, and living in harmony, or mutual-benefit with the many Persons who both support and surround us.
In other traditions, there are other similar Pacts. The Haida people of the Northwest american coast have made a similar pact with the Salmon People, through Salmon Boy. They teach that, so long as they follow the instructions given to them by Salmon Boy who came to instruct them, the Salmon People will continue to return to the river to feed them. The tribe agrees to welcome the Salmon People back with ceremonies of honor, return the first catch to the river as a sign of respect, and return the bones of the fish to the river, that they may have their bodies returned to them, swim bacl to their home, and return again for the next salmon run. The tribe also ensure the rivers are welcoming places for the Salmon People. This the, functions as the Pact of the Haida.
Similarly, the Lakota tribe of the Great Plains were instructed by White Buffalo Woman to treat the Buffalo People with honor and respect, so that they would continue to offer themselves to feed and support the tribe. This then, was their Pact.
We can see in the folklore how the Irish honored their Pact in how their tribal chieftains ritually married the Land Goddess of Sovereignty where each tribe or clan dwelled. If the chieftain were to rule unjustly, the land goddess would reject his right to rule by withdrawing Her life-giving support, Her fertility and life force, by blighting and wilting the crops in the fields. One of the goddesses of a major complex in Ireland was called Boann, meaning White Cow, and is the goddess of the Boyne River, said to be a seat of inspiration and wisdom to poets, nourishing their souls with Imbas as a cow nourishes the body with milk. Healing springs were treated as persons of honor, for their great power; it is said that if a healing spring is disrespected and polluted, it will get up and leave the place, removing itself and reappearing elsewhere.
We can still keep alive the Pact today. We can offer up gifts of milk, grain, produce, and eggs to the Tuatha de Danann on the Fire Festivals. We can treat uncultivated, wild spaces with respect for the life they provide for many. We can honor our local land goddesses through gifts and caretaking, cleaning up trash, and working locally to ensure they are clean and healthy, able to support life for all. We can grow, raise, and source our food ethically, in ways which do not damage and poison the land, plants and animals which feed us and support life for many. We can honor our water sources as persons, and work to ensure they are kept clean and treated with respect for their great life-sustaining power. In these ways and others we keep the Pact, as descendants of both our Gaelic and our other-than-human ancestors, ensuring a Good Life for our own descendants. The Pact is not only an agreement to ensure the betterment of our own lives, it is a responsibility we choose to carry, to ensure the betterment of life for all. In this, we demonstrate the essence of Living with Honor.
|Posted by Erin nighean Brėghde on March 23, 2015 at 6:00 PM||comments (0)|
It has been fashionable in some polytheistic and pagan circles today to claim that contemporary personal relationships with the gods is influenced by Protestant Christian culture prevalent in western civilization today, and that this would not have been traditionally observed by our ancestors historically, which therefore makes such relationships corrupt, suspect, or both.
My thought on this notion today is that, as relationships are living things, when maintained, what they were in the past might then not be a stone template for what they might be today, and that in some cases, folklore might be misunderstood when some try to fit it to a western religious framework.
In the past, gods were related to as powers of a place, a family, a political tribal government, or great forces of the natural world. They were then related with, and to, on a communal basis, largely, during tribal gatherings, for civic as well as religious purposes. The concept of the individual was subsumed under the concept of the collective, barring exceptional cases like great warriors, druids, heroes, healers, or storytellers. Personal relationships were not widely expected or sought, so would not have regularly manifested, but occasionally they did, as various tales recall. To commune with the great powers of the gods was potentially dangerous though, and could result in either great gifts like songs, tales, and skill, or great damage like dementia and death, so wasn't often encouraged.
But what might the gods think today, after observing a couple thousand years of popularity of a religion in their lands which in part encourages a personal relationship with its deity? Perhaps they might see how those new traditions grew, how fond of their god the people have become, how willing to commune with him they are. And perhaps, with such an observance, the ancestral gods decided to change their tactics, and reach out to individuals themselves, in the manner in which the people had become accustomed to commune with deity. Perhaps this new sort of relationship is what is needed now to revive knowledge of the Shining Ones and encourage embracing of Tradition once again, the tradition of sacred relations with the Powers and other-than-human Persons and Nations among whom we dwell. Perhaps too, because our official civic and religious institutions do not recognize or honor Them, the Shining Ones can only really forge relations today on an individual level, because that is how we have now structured our societies. In this case, the gods have no other choice, and in other cases, might still, and once again, be recognized and honored by family groups today.
In the case of historicity, could it be that civic and religious institutions missed the mark themselves with respect to the Tradition, to some extent? The Irish myths tell is of The Pact made between the Milesians and the Shining Ones, in which the gods move underground and demand that offerings be regularly made to Them in exchange for the milk and grain the people needed for sustenance. The folklore also tells us the people learned skills from the gods, were decended from the gods, echanged fosterlings with the gods, and dwelled among them upon the land. It tells us the tribal king once married the land goddess to sanctify his rule and provide for his people. It does not tell us though, that the people worshiped the Shining Ones. As Powers of the Land, They were to be recognized, honored, and respected through reciprocal and mindful relations and living, which people managed regularly in folklore and folk custom. But perhaps installing Them as legitimizers of civic politics and religion was a misuse of that relationship. Perhaps attempts at worshiping Them today, rather than maintaining sacred relations with Them as other-than-human Persons and Nations is a misinterpretation of the ancestral faery tradition.
Perhaps the real diversion of Christian pervasiveness isn't personal deity but worship, a relationship pursued by some historically as well, but in the pursuit and legitimization of instituional power, which has nothing to do with respectful sacred relations with powerful other-than-human persons. Perhaps our personal relationships offer us new opportunities to relearn how to pursue and maintain respectful relations; perhaps as more of us regain this wisdom we will begin to relearn how to forge respectful lifeways grounded in the values of those sacred relations. In the meantime, as our ancestral indigenous lifeways have largely vanished, perhaps we can look to the living indigenous traditions around the world today, which remind and demonstrate to us what such lifeways tend to be shaped like. I offer their people many thanks for the examples they provide, and acknowlege the debt owed to them for the pain and losses they have suffered under the regime of modern western civilization (pain and losses sustained by our own ancestors as well). Perhaps we can also look to the examples of indigenous civilizations which were corrupted by institutional power, as were those of our ancestors.
Happily, ancestral and other indigenous traditions offer values and lifeways grounded in sacred relations which offer worldview lenses we might learn from today which differ from the prevalent lenses of duality and materialism we are surrounded by today, and the lens of instituional power to which humans of all stripes and times have succombed. Perhaps the lens of sacred relations is being offered to us today by the gods of our ancestors, reaching out to us as individuals, to help us remember how to live by those relations, so we might begin to craft those lifeways once again.
|Posted by Erin nighean Brėghde on May 27, 2014 at 11:35 PM||comments (0)|
As I spend time in the online spheres of contemporary polytheists, and read about contemporary polytheist worldviews and practices, I understand that these practitioners primarily relate with their polytheism as 'religion,' and that they understand religion to be a discrete entity in and of itself, to be selected, rejected, or changed at will. I have come to learn that I don't relate with this mindset.
While I can appreicate the modern impulse to break free of what western society had so long imposed via near-eastern monotheism and its attending power structures, and that I myself do benefit from the freedom of choice this impulse has manifested, I am somewhat turned off by the very western idea of viewing 'freedom of religion' as the freedom to view the religions of the world as existing in some kind of existential shopping mall, to be browsed and tried on at will, bought and taken home for a time, then dropped off at the used-religion store with a sigh of dismay or apathy, to head off to 'religion-shop' again. I am also not drawn to the idea of 'god-collecting' just to give worship, or develop personal spirituality. What these forms of discreteness do, to my mind, is amplify the sense of alienation that western culture and worldview emanate and perpetuate, through initially the rejection, and now amnesia, of our ancestral roots.
A religion is a thing to practice, to develop, to name. When one identifies with ones religion, one is identifying with a modern western concept, that of religion as an entity independent of culture, which might look to it as a mine for digging up elements which might enhnace ones personal practice, but does not view culture as the body of a tradition which is collectively owned by a people, delivered to them by their elders.
Tradition, conversely, is the collective body of worldview, mindset, and culture of a people, including its spiritual expressions and teachings. Religion exists within it, and in tandem with its other elements. Tradition contains roots, delivered by the ancestors, if no longer directly by elders, and binds one by duty to pass on to future generations what one receives and learns. Tradition is a root and a thread, which is both grounding and connective; both a spring and a river, which is nourishing and encompassing. Tradition is also a living thing, for we, through our personal experiences within our generation, in turn shape it to better address our needs in our present time and place. But each generation must respect and adhere to the integrity of Tradition, and not soil its wellspring, or alter it into unrecognizeable forms which no longer resonate with the nature of its roots. In spirit, the Ancestors are always available to guide and counsel in the traditional ways, so we are never alone with Tradition, even if we walk our traditional paths in a seemingly solitary way. One is always surrounded by Ancestors, and proceeded by descendants, to whom we are duty-bound to deliver Tradition, in some manner or other.
It is ultimately within Tradition that I find roots and meaning, connection and relationship, because Tradition is a concept of traditional/indigenous thinking, rather than a concept of modernist, western thinking, the latter of which is more oriented to analysis than connection, study than relationship, scholarship than experience. I belong to Tradition and my Ancestors, so I am vitally connected with them, rooted to and grounded within them, and they provide me context and guidance, company and comfort.
Do you resonate with Tradition in these ways? If so, I'd love to talk and share with you. Leave me a comment, and let's chat.
|Posted by Erin nighean Brėghde on May 24, 2014 at 1:45 PM||comments (0)|
Article author Manuela Simeoni discusses the nature of the ancient polytheistic ethic from a Roman perspective, and how it can be applied to contemporary polytheist traditions today. In examining his three points from a Gaelic polytheist perspective, one can appreciate how they align with the body of Gaelic religio-cultural polytheist tradition, and practice of its folk religion in today’s world. The article may be read here:
What I most appreciate about Simeoni’s perspective is that it is firmly grounded in the bedrock of Tradition, which I find uncommon in a lot of Celtic polytheist discourse today. Granted, this may be because Romans recorded and preserved much of their polytheistic tradition, while Celts did not, but this article also presents a true reverence for Tradition, which I find refreshing, and something with which I personally relate. Being grounded in the ways of my Ancestors, Tradition is the means through which they lived and expressed their ancestral ways, and passed them on to future generations. Understanding oneself as a part of this ancestral thread, even still with so much having been lost, never-the-less provides a strong anchor into something lasting and firm, and a faithful guide as to how to embody that thread as Living Tradition in my life today. This orientation also provides a spiritual attitude towards Tradition, creating an ethic which differs from the social ethics typically discussed in historical polytheist contexts, which creates an adjunct to them, if not a more encompassing context for them.
Taking Tradition as his starting point, Simeoni’s three bases can be summed up as: a) mindfulness to tradition and religion; b) respect and harmony towards the land in this world; and c) relating to tradition as both a body which one receives, and one which one passes on to future generations. Here is now I see these three bases reflecting in the body of Gaelic tradition.
The mindfulness indicated in Simeoni’s first basis comes from the Latin definitions of religio vs superstitio, roots of our words religion and superstition. According to Cicero, the difference between the two is knowledge and mindfulness of that knowledge. Superstitions are repeated without understanding the reasons for the actions, but religious acts are done with attention given to the reasons for them, creating this distinction. So the first ethic in guiding spiritual behavior is to always remain mindful of tradition, ones gods, and ones religious acts. In practicing the Creideamh Sidhe, the pre-Christian Gaelic folk religion, we can maintain this mindfulness towards Gaelic tradition by studying and engaging with Gaelic myth, folklore, faery lore, Irish Triads, Gaelic proverbs, Brehon Law, song, poetry, and folkways. When our religious practices and concepts of the gods flow from Tradition, remaining mindful of it is built in. We can remain mindful of our gods and religious acts by bringing all of our focus and attention to those acts, to deepen their relevance and meaning in our lives, and how they connect us with our gods, ancestors, and land. This suggests to me both a cultural and a spiritual ethic, and I like the way they are seamlessly blended, and inform each other.
The respect and harmony in Simeoni’s second basis stems from how we talk about the gods- a god of this place, or goddess of that river, etc. They are discussed as being of the land, and indeed it is in this life, upon the land, through which we come to know and interact with them. Therefore, he concludes, we ought to respect and seek to be in harmony with the land. In Gaelic myth, our gods first come to the land from otherworldly isles, and then after a final battle, go into the land, dwelling in its hills and mounds. So, we can see how our gods are literally within and of the land, and we can then appreciate the suggestion to honor the land for this reason. This ethic is also evident in the ancestral tradition of the King’s Truth, in which the tribal leader who ritually married the sovereignty goddess of the tribe’s land was bound to rule with justice and generosity, which was the expression of Firinne, or Cosmic Truth. While he did, the land goddess approved, and provided peace and plenty for the tribespeople. When he failed to live up to Firinne, through stinginess and injustice, the land goddess withheld her blessings of bounty, causing famine and drought and strife among the people. The land literally blessed or rejected the rule of the tribal leader. Each of us today lives on land which is properly viewed as sovereign in its own right, and each of us can choose to live in accordance with Firinne, which harmonizes with and upholds Cosmic Truth or Natural Order. When we do, we demonstrate respect and harmony, towards the land and its beings, and towards each other, with whom we share the gift of life.
Simeoni’s third basis returns again to the theme of Tradition, and emphasizes our place and role within it, and our duties towards it. This third basis is the one I find most lacking in contemporary polytheist discourse today. In his examination of what Tradition is, he looks to its Latin root, traditio, which comes from the verb tradere, to deliver. Mindfulness towards this inherent meaning shows us that Tradition is something delivered to us from Ancestors and Elders, and is therefore in turn something we are intended to deliver to our own future generations. Tradition is meant to be the thread which connects the generations, and which is meant to be delivered on in perpetuity, to preserve the knowledge, wisdom, and identity it contains for ones descendants. Though there have been disruptions in this deliverance, we still receive delivered tradition all the same when we research and study the traditions of our Ancestors, from where we are, as far back as we can go, and connect those to wider cultural traditions which can be followed back to their ancient roots. In this sense, we still receive, although the method of delivery is indirect, and not ideal. But what this ethic reminds us is that what has been delivered to us comes with a responsibility and a duty- not only to practice it today for ourselves, but to deliver it again to our own future generations. This constitutes our role towards Tradition. Tradition will be naturally evolved and adapted by each generation to suit its situation and subsequent needs, but its basic elements and roots will still be intact and traceable. This is what constitutes Living Tradition, and our adaptations per our own situations of our times then becomes a part of that thread. That thread is meant to perpetuate itself through the reflections of the generations, and it is our role to ensure that this thread carries on. So what we practice today is not only for ourselves, to suit our own personal fancies, but are spiritual and cultural lifeways belonging to a Tradition, which began long before us, and is meant to extend far beyond us. As a part of the gratitude and humbleness we express towards those Ancestors and Elders who delivered the Tradition to us, we in turn deliver it, with honor and integrity, to our future generations, because, Tradition does not belong to us, we belong to Tradition. And because Tradition is communal, we need not feel that sharing traditions with ones own children is the only means to this end. Our community can also be thought of as broader than those we know in our face-to-face lives, since we regularly communicate with others of like mind in other means. One can be a part of adults or elders in a religio-cultural community and deliver tradition to the youth of that community communally; one could write stories for youth to share online which deliver Tradition; one could share customs with extended family like cousins, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren which deliver Tradition, in addition to raising ones children at home with Tradition. The important thing is to understand the role, duty, and relevance of delivering it to future generations, as a part of respectfully and humbly engaging with Tradition.
I think Simeoni’s three bases deserve to be held as a basis for engaging with Tradition in our religio-cultural traditions, and a means of shaping our Ethic as traditional pagans/polytheists.
|Posted by Erin nighean Brėghde on May 18, 2014 at 8:00 PM||comments (0)|
Some Celtic pagans today fear talk about ancestry and heritage, mistakenly conflating it with neonazi supremacist and eradication agendas. For me, Ancestors is my starting point, my central hub, the Well from which I come, and the container of the wisdom and knowledge which I seek. They are the ground of my very being. To negate them, dismiss them as irrelevant, or to trivialize them with distancing, technical terms like 'genetics' is to create a chasm between my soul and theirs, from which I learn ancestral worldview and identity. I didn't know who I was when cut off from knowing them, and I would again be without identity and grounding if I were to cut them off again. They are my roots, my connection to spiritual nourishment. I don't understand the idea of dismissing them, or that connection, or the supposed value to be gained by it. To view them as simply a set of genetics irrelevant to lifeways and worldview is to take a very scientist, modernist view, in stark contrast to an indigenous, ancestral worldview. One cannot be nourished by ones ancestors in the former worldview, and so I reject it.
White nationalism is the exact opposite of this deep relationship with Ancestors. Our ancestors were manipulated by the powers of their day to give up their ancestral culture, lifeways, worldview, and identity in order to become 'white' in the socially-constructed sense, which was invented by WASPs, White Anglo Saxon Protestants of Britain and Germanic/Scandinavian Europe, the former of which was not eager to grant it to our Gaelic forbears originally, and the oppression and cultural rape they practiced on aboriginals around the world was first perfected against the Gaels of Scotland and Ireland in medieval and early modern times. 'White' is a socially-constructed identity based on imperialism and colonialism stemming from Britain's Roman roots and Europe's love affair with classical culture via the Renaissance. As such, it has nothing at all to do with Gaelic ancestral worldview and lifeways.
For myself, my Ancestors (not 'ancestry') stand at the center of my lifeways, and spirituality, guiding and instructing me, their descendant, into their worldview and ancestral mind. I will always be a drop in this Great River which flows down from the Well upon the forested mountaintop of mythic time and space into my historical ancestors of this world, through and around me, and down into my children and future descendants. This Well will always be our Source, our Origin, our Identity, and our spiritual and cultural nourishment, to which we might always return.
|Posted by Erin nighean Brėghde on April 12, 2014 at 5:25 PM||comments (0)|
We have traversed the circle of the Celtic Cross sunwise from West to South; now we must follow the spoke inward to the Center, where the four points meet, where the four directionally oriented provinces meet in the central province that is Míde, or Meath, the political and spiritual center of mythic Ireland, encompassing both hills of Tara and Uisneach. The center itself is also sacred, being where holy spirit fire is kindled, and so all actions taken from this sacred center ring out with sacredness into the world, and carry sacred power with them.
Fintan recites thus about the qualities of the Center:
‘Her kings, moreover, her stewards, her dignity, her primacy, her stability, her establishments, her supports, her destructions, her warriorship, her charioteership, her soldiery, her principality, her high-kingship, her ollaveship, her mead, her bounty, her ale, her renown, her great fame, her prosperity, from the centre position.’
The Center is represented dually, by both the High King noted overtly, and the Sovereignty Land Goddess, noted obliquely by the references to ale and mead, the drink given by Her to the High King in the coronation ceremony ritually marrying him to Her, the Land. The primal function of the High King, or any tribal king, was to serve in this sacred marriage. The Fir Bolg were the first mythic people to create the custom of the sacral kingship, the lore says. The king is the physical representation of the tribe, of all the tribespeople, and their joining to the land which supports and nourishes them, which they in turn work and defend. The Land as Sovereignty Goddess then determines the fate of the people by the nature of the king's rule. If he rules justly and fairly, with integrity and honor, then the people will be prosperous, the land will be fruitful, there will be peace and contentment. However, should the king be unjust, cruel, miserly, and corrupt, the Sovereignty Goddess will reject his right to rule by bringing blight, famine, poverty, and strife to the land and people. The tribe will then depose the king, and begin work towards electing a new one. From this sacred marriage, what rests upon it, and its centrality to the well-being of the tribe as a whole, we may infer some universal virtues worth cultivating.
Justice is the quality the king must cultivate and practice in order to ensure the blessings of the Land will remain with his people, because Sovereignty demands it of him. Justice speaks to calibrating towards balance, as was noted in a tale about Cormac, renown for his wisdom. The tale runs that a landowner brought a complaint to the court against his neighbor, whose sheep had eaten all of his herbage. He demanded that justice be done, and the sheep slaughtered. The judges were about to rule in his favor when Cormac noted that (this being prior to his kingship, which lead the people to marvel at his propensity for justice, and to consider him suitable for the role), if the sheep shaved the plants through eating them, which will grow again, then the due justice would be to shear the sheep of his fleece, to give to the landowner in compensation, which would also grow again, whereas the slaughtered sheep would not. And so this was upheld as the most just solution to the issue. Justice tempers emotional responses, as illustrated by the landowner who wanted slaughter in compensation for his loss. Justice also speaks to fairness and mercy, which would be anathema to despotic dictators, and indicates our ancestors' abhorrence of such qualities in a ruler. Cultivating Justice helps us to gain perspective and context in the pursuit of balance, and to execute it rationally and with grace. Cultivating Justice recalibrates towards balance in situations which have become unbalanced, both within ourselves and among our people in the world, but must be delivered with integrity to uphold the cosmic order which perpetuates blessings for all.
The primary role of the king is to harmonize the relationship between the tribe and the land, in order to ensure the relationship will be mutually-beneficial between them; this, effectively, is what Harmony is. She is Sovereignty because, while he is the elected leader, it is the She as the Land which ultimately decides the fate and well-being of the people, by what she either provides, or withholds. Through his actions, Hers are determined. In this role, he is not permitted to act the dictatorial despot, serving only his own base wants, and desires for power. He is responsible to his people, whose ruling nobles and lawgivers have the power to depose him should he fail to live up to his sacred obligation. His responsibility to harmonize relationships for the benefit of the whole tribe means he must always act with the strictest integrity and honor. His actions must balance the needs of the people with the needs of the land. His actions must refrain from exploitation of either party. Through honor and balance, Harmony is reached, when all parties are then in active, effective, and meaningful, mutually-beneficial relationship. When we cultivate such Harmony in our lives, through honor or integrity of action, with the goal of calibrating towards balance, we bring various elements of our lives and our world into functional, mutually-beneficial relationship, which allows all parties to work together so that all will flourish and prosper, thus maintaining cosmic order and the flow of blessings for all parties, whether they be people and land, people and creatures, people and gods, or people and fae.
Respect is what must be given to Sovereignty, the Land, as She ultimately rules the fate of all. The sacral kingship was designed to enshrine this virtue within the high office of the people in order to remind them of its gravest importance. The power of the Land Goddess as Sovereignty provided peace and plenty to Her people when She was acknowledged and treated with Respect for her ability to care for the tribe. Cultivating Respect towards the gods and powers, towards our own Sovereignty Land Goddesses, reminds us that as clever or as powerful as we may be, our existence is indebted to forces greater than our own, and is held in their hands. The forces of Winter, Sea, Mountain, and Storm must be respected if they are to be survived and lived with. Conversely, cultivating Respect in our earthly relationships reminds us that our happiness, and that of others, is largely dependent on the types of relationships we foster. Cultivating Respect means honoring the Sovereignty of others as free and equal beings unto themselves, whether they be gods, powers, persons, land, animals, or fae. When we honor their Sovereignty, they in turn might honor ours, creating fulfilling and meaningful relationships between us. When we have these, and we work to maintain them, we create the very essence of holistic, cosmic order and balance in our lives, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, which we feel in both body and soul.
And so, after the telling of the Settling of the Manor of Tara, cosmic, and thus, tribal order was restored among the people in this political center of mythic Ireland. Nearby, in Uisneach, spiritual center of mythic Ireland, the Cat Stone stands, also called Aill na Mireann, the Stone of Divisions, at the top of its hill. Its knobs represent each province, or fifth, of Ireland, all brought together into one sacred site, where the fires of Bealtaine are lit annually to bless the land from the center to the edge. We too may keep our spiritual fires burning in our hearts, our spiritual centers, and so be blessed in living the good life, by cultivating these ancestral Celtic virtues around the spokes, and in the center, of the Celtic Cross, serving as a sacred map of Ireland's directions, provinces, and spirituality. For, when our actions are begun at, and from, the center, they are infused with the sacredness with which the center is imbued, and carry sacredness with them, out from the center, into the world, and into all facets of our lives.
|Posted by Erin nighean Brėghde on April 11, 2014 at 4:35 PM||comments (0)|
Traveling sunwise a final turn around the circle of the Celtic Cross, to its bottom leg, we come to the direction of South. The name for south in Irish corresponds with positive attributes associated with the right hand, which is what faces the southerly direction when one stands facing east towards the rising sun. As such, the qualities of the South have to do with what is pleasing and enjoyable, in contrast to the qualities of the North, of the sinister left hand, whose qualities are difficult, combative, and challenging. The South brings us pleasure, what we enjoy when we rest in the peace of the abundance provided by the East. It also brings us the arts which flourish in and celebrate the culture of a content and proud people. Fintan recounts thus about the qualities of the South ~
‘Her waterfalls, her fairs, her nobles, her reavers, her knowledge, her subtlety, her musicianship, her melody, her minstrelsy, her wisdom, her honour, her music, her learning, her teaching, her warriorship, her fidchell playing, her vehemence, her fierceness, her poetical art, her advocacy, her modesty, her code, her retinue, her fertility, from the southern part in the south.’
The unique qualities perceived here are musicianship, minstrelsy, music, and poetical art, shared at fairs for the pleasure of the nobles and warriors. The social role of the South is the Man of Art, a member of the Aos Dana, who practices the cultural creative arts of the people, to express their culture artistically, to remind the people who they are. From his role and his directional association, we may infer a set of virtues which all of the folk might be inspired by.
Creativity becomes a virtue to cultivate, rather than a talent to possess, when we apply it to our way of living, and our way of expressing and honoring the sacred in our everyday lives. Creativity is a part of the lifestyle of the Man of Art, but so too is the creative force a power we might all put ourselves in touch with, as it is the basic creative energy of the land and universe, and through it, we can create lives of meaning. We cultivate Creativity when we speak spontaneous or self-composed prayers to the gods, when we design small or grand rites or customs which give honor to the Ancestors, or establish and perpetuate our spiritual relationship with the Land and its beings, spirits, and powers. Creativity is what we cultivate when we put together a lovely meal for our families, present a pleasing home for them, arrange our gardens, draw ambience into our spaces, and more. We cultivate it when we center ourselves, put ourselves into the presence of universal creative power, and commune with it, allowing it to infuse and inform us, just as poets and artists do, when they create from their sacred creative centers. This is the very energy which creates and recreates the world, and maintains all of its nourishing cycles of creativity, destruction, and re-creation. When we allow it to flow through us, we become a part of the world creating itself, a part of the world making pattern and meaning, and communing with the sacred.
Beauty is what we manifest, and also cultivate, when we are in touch with the creative process, while we are cultivating Creativity. Beauty as a virtue relates to identifying with the inherent patterns the creative force generates in the world, visible in sunrises and sunsets and star constellations, all the way down to the spiral pattern in seashell, pine cone, and sunflower center. Beauty is the order rendered pleasing to both eye and soul, beyond the merely utilitarian. Beauty deliberately cultivated and manifested makes the lives we live everyday works of art, and creations which nourish us both our minds and our souls. The poem, the painting, they are pleasing for their use of inventive words, color, symmetry, and composition, which satisfies the left-brain's sense of orderliness. And how those words and colors work together to create the piece as a whole, combined with its subject matter, satisfies our right-brain's sense of meaning. And so, not only might our poetry and painting cultivate Beauty, but all the things which we create when we cultivate Creativity. The furniture we use, the homes we live in, the food we prepare, the daily implements with which we fashion our lives, all of them may be created in Beauty, to transcend the merely utilitarian, which assumes that only our left brains need be satisfied, and exalts its needs over the rest of our needs, thus devaluing our right-brain needs. If Nature and Life create with beauty, then so might we. The sunflower's seeds are no less nourishing for being rendered pleasingly; in fact, the beauty of the flower adds to its value. Cultivating Beauty means cultivating the holistic, as each part is brought together with the other, to appreciate the whole pattern. We can see a lifestyle cultivating Beauty in the Scottish Gaelic Carmina Gadelica, in which daily chores are accompanied with prayers to gods and saints and angels, in which there is no division between the mundane and the sacred, the utilitarian and the artistic. We see this in tribal art forms, which are always represented in utilitarian pieces, from spoons to baskets to buildings- art is not a separate facet of life reserved for the few, it is the way of expressing life, of what some call walking in beauty. Cultivating Beauty cultivates a holistic lifestyle in harmony with the world around one, bringing life into pleasurable balance.
Humility is not a virtue often associated with Celtic peoples. Our ancestors seem to be better remembered for their blustery boasting and great pride. We must remember that we see this primarily among the warriors, where it makes sense, as war was often fought between two tribal champions, one on one, and so this rare individualism was expressed, in which prestige was a prize earned by prowess and subsequent victory. Among the folk however, the tribe was the unit to which all belonged, and by which all formed their shared identity, and so individuality on this level was uncommon, and so did not lead to regular boasting. It is this very idea of ones identity being primarily associated with a tribe that cultivates the quality of Humility, in that it does not inherently foster individualism and its subsequent self-centeredness. One grows and develops within oneself, sure, but ones skills and talents are cultivated with the goal of using them to serve, advance, honor, and perpetuate the tribe and its culture, for ones future generations, and in honor of ones ancestors. One is always mindful of this greater context. And so, tribal poets and artists are unlike modern poets and artists in that they did not cultivate their talents in order to further their personal prestige, or to create new innovations, or express themselves personally. These are the hallmarks of modern artistic expression. Tribal art is cultivated as a means of expressing ones culture, mediating it for its people, communicating what they as a people hold meaningful and sacred, to remind them of their context and their identity. This was a special role imbued with its own power, but mostly with social responsibility. And so, we are guided to commune with the creative force and create practical beauty for the good of our people, not merely for our own personal satisfaction and momentary expression. Humility reminds us we exist as a part of a family, a community, a circle, and that we might use our creative efforts to serve this group in meaningful ways which feed our collective soul. It is one of the many ways in which we take care of each other, which ultimately is what a people does for one another. When we cultivate Humility, we remember to whom we belong, and hence to whom we are obligated, and we fulfill those responsibilities with honor to our tribe, to our ancestors who also fulfilled this responsibility, and to our future generations, that we might leave them the heritage of their ancestors.
|Posted by Erin nighean Brėghde on April 11, 2014 at 3:00 AM||comments (0)|
Traveling sunwise again, we arrive in the direction of East, where the sun rises, most beneficient of all the directions in Irish lore. The names of the cardinal directions in Irish are all oriented towards the sun, so that the word for East means, before me, as in, facing the sunrise, while west means, behind me, as in, where the sun sets. The Sun is the source of all life and blessings, from where all goodness comes, meaning, that which supports our physical needs and keeps us alive, so we may appreciate and enjoy life. From Fintan's discourse we learn thus about the qualities of the East ~
‘Her prosperity then,’ said he, ‘and her supplies, her bee-hives [?] her contests, her feats of arms, her householders, her nobles, her wonders, her good custom, her good manners, her splendour, her abundance, her dignity, her strength, her wealth, her householding, her many arts, her accoutrements [?], her many treasures, her satin, her serge, her silks, her cloths [?], her green spotted cloth [?], her hospitality, from the eastern part in the east.'
And so not only did material wealth flow from the East, from the householders, beehives, and silks, but also social wealth in the form of civilization, through good custom, good manners, hospitality, and dignity. The social role associated with the East is the Farmer who works the land and animals to bring abundance and goodness to his people. From his close work with, and ties to, the land, which produces and rests by the cycles of the sun which comes to us from the east, we may infer a set of cultural virtues which we might all cultivate.
Gratitude is often thought of these days as a platitude, a cliché, a thing remembered lightly while we fret about the problems of the day. While cultivting Gratitude does not make problems go away, or even necessarily diminish them when they are overpowering enough, it does ground us in what is regularly provided for us, every day, which allows us to continue receiving the blessing of life. Cultivating Gratitude reminds us of the gift of sunrise every morning from the east, which brings life to the land, and that the land gifts us with all we need for food, shelter, and clothing, along with many plant and animal companions, family and friends, and time to honor the nourishing powers, and make harmonious relationship with them. Every new day is a new opportunity to improve ourselves, to support and care for our people, and to maintain balance in our world and our sacred relationships. While we make mistakes as we learn, we are never denied fresh opportunities to make corrections and receive blessings. Smile to the rising sun in the East, and feel Gratitude.
Hospitality is mentioned overtly as one of the qualities of the East. Once upon a time, in the age of the Ancestors, Hospitality was the Golden Rule. No matter who came calling, each guest was received warmly, given food and drink, and had his welfare looked after before his business was inquired of him, whether he be friend, foe, or stranger, so long as he came in peace. The land of the elements was harsh, and all knew the perils of travel in heat, cold, and dark of night, and how one could run out of food and water, or be beset upon by reivers. Or a neighbor might be visited by misfortune and in need of help. The people knew that if they did not help others when they were in need, nobody would open a door to help them in their own need. Hospitality therefore was sacred and not to be violated. When it once was, remembered as the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692 in Scotland, it was considered the gravest of transgressions. One clan welcomed another, and though they were not friendly, hospitality dictated that the hosts would protect their guests. Instead, the hosts turned on their guests in a planned betrayal and slaughtered them. The Law of Hospitality outlines proper protocol for both hosts and guests, so that both parties behave graciously to one another. This has been called the *Ghosti principle in Pre-Indo-European reconstructed language, in which social balance is maintained by mutual giving and receiving. Hospitality was the height of good custom and manners in the time of the Ancestors, and always brings benefit when we cultivate it among our people today, which upholds cosmic order in our world by ensuring that all parties in need will be cared for.
Generosity is the cycle of sharing blessings, and when we practice it, we participate in it, and perpetuate it for the benefit of all things, which upholds cosmic truth and order in the world. As the Sun generously blesses the Land with life, so the Land then generously blesses us with Life, as do the Waters of lake, river, and sea, and so we generously bless the powers that are the gods with thanks as we return to them a portion of the blessings which we received, that their powers will recognize that we are doing our part to maintain the balance of life for all beings, as all beings generously receive blessings from Land, Sea, and Sky. In Gratitude, we learn to receive graciously; in Hospitality we learn to share with one another graciously; in Generosity, we learn to give graciously to all, for the mutual benefit of all, that the cycles of abundance may continue to flow to all, maintaining balance for all, that we may once again cultivate Gratitude, as the cycle turns and it is our time to receive blessings once again.