Holding Multiple Paradigms

20140120-121832.jpgWhen seeking answers from the universe, it’s important to be flexible as to how the message is going to be delivered. These are all paradigms I’ve found useful at various points in my life.  Call me fickle if you want, but sometimes I’ll slip back and forth between several in the course of a day. Just like in an ecosystem, monocultures, or monoparadigms (to coin a phrase), are an unhealthy thing, whereas a multiplicity of potential thought processes is an expression of flexibility and diversity.  To invoke the ancestor Emerson, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”.

Default Paradigms:

Animist–This is where I end up most often. Yes, I talk to my tea kettle in the morning, and apologize to the cabinet door if I shut it too hard.  Animism is the key to mindfulness in my practice, because if everything is sacred and deserving of respect, then we can engage with difficult situations in new and creative ways.

Polytheist–Second most frequent default.  I blame it being dragged around half a dozen Gothic churches every morning whenever Dad was on sabbatical in France. You can’t tell me that having three or more altars to various holy figures doesn’t inspire polytheistic leanings. ‘Cause it does.

Practical Paradigms for Everyday Living:

Henotheist–Really more like serial henotheism if I’m totally honest. It’s kinda like serial monogamy. There will be times when I work very closely with a single deity for an extended period, to the exclusion of other gods.

Kathenotheist–basically a term similar to the one above, and perhaps more fitting for dealing with shorter time frames. “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” Sometimes I’m convinced Aranrhod is the be-all, end-all of all goddesses, sometimes it’s Cerridwen, or occasionally Brighid. Don’t even get me started on my flip-flopping between Gwydion and Gwynn….

Depression Paradigms for Those Low Moments in Life:

Apatheist–don’t care if there are gods. Even when this one rears its ugly head, I tend to go through the motions of offerings anyway. Ritual for ritual’s sake can be an important part of self-care, even if it’s hard to muster the energy for genuine belief in the moment.

Meta-Paradigms for Those Big Honkin’ Questions:

Sanctity of Natural Laws–Most often I’d agree that the divine can be found in everything, as evident in the natural laws of physics and chemistry. Those very basic building blocks, like the Law of Gravity or Thermodynamics, are pieces of the sacred.  However, I don’t necessarily believe that a sentient creator was necessary to set these divine laws in motion.

Agnostic–It’s a good idea to challenge default assumptions on a semi-regular basis. Agnosticism is a good tool for that.

Igtheist–This one is pretty much omnipresent in the back of whatever paradigm is currently operating. We aren’t capable of knowing the full extent of the divine. Creating a space for sacred doubt is what allows growth and change, even if it’s uncomfortable.

Omnist–All religions provide a possible path. Again, this is usually running in the background of my metaphysical philosophies, though I want to acknowledge up front that some paths are definitely not for me. I also struggle with this paradigm when encountering intolerant or violent religious practices, as I have a hard time justifying a belief that thrives on hurting others.

Magic in the Mundane

15519344247_f2f1652951_zAfter yesterday’s post about repairing hoses, it occurred to me that much of my spiritual/magical practice is based upon finding the sacred in the mundane, in giving that little extra magical push so that the simplest tasks carry renewed meaning.

John Michael Greer has a wonderful description of re-enchantment, where is the act of literally singing the sacredness back into the world. There is something so simple and so beautiful about this approach. Though Greer is not necessarily talking about actual songs or singing, that’s the direction I’d like to explore today.

For hundreds of years songs have accompanied daily chores, from the butter churn chant to the rhythmic stroking of orders across the ocean surface. Songs not only serves to pass the time and to speed the work, but also allow a deep connection with the act that we simply do not have in our ages of ergonomic office chairs and glowing screens. The music comes from the individual, we breathe out sound into the world and breathe back in the gifts of our land and community. That connection of breath, of spirit is what can re-enchant the world.

Housework is one of the easiest places to start singing sacredness back into your home and land. I would venture to say that most housework falls under either the category of cleansing/purification magic (sweeping, washing dishes, brushing your hair) or prosperity magic (cooking, gardening, paying bills). If you make home remedies of any sort, that can also be considered healing magic. And of course there are also various sorts of protection/warding rituals for the home and its inhabitants (lullabies being one of my favorites). Finding songs or chants for each task can not only be a way for the work to pass more quickly, but it also allows you to really sink into the rhythm of the chore and in many instances to achieve  a light trance state.

To be clear I’m not necessarily talking about the stereotypical Neopagan dirge here. Use whatever gets you singing, whatever gets your Nwyfre flowing, whether it be Dvorák or Beyoncé. If it feels right, for more physical activities like sweeping or washing the windows, let your whole body move with your song. Push that broom with your whole being, not just your arms and hands. Push it with your core, push it with your heart. The important thing is that it is YOU singing, YOU engaging with the task at hand.

Remembering the layers of meaning behind a chore makes an act sacred instead of superstitious. Songs keep our focus on otherwise mind-numbing activities, and allow us to glean benefits that have largely been forgotten. One of the things I love best about being a Druid is being given the chance, every day, to fall in love with the whole world. Every little piece of it, no matter now mundane. How wonderful is that?

January Hearthside: The Faerie Realms

Untitled by James Dempsey c 2014.

Untitled by James Dempsey c 2014.

This past Monday, those of us who were fortunate enough to have Martin Luther King Day off gathered at Sarah Fuhro’s house to have a discussion about and meditation on the faerie realm (or realms, depending on your perceptions of such things).

Sadly I arrived late, and so missed the beginning of the hearthside, but it was great to spend time in these folks’ company nonetheless. Walking into Sarah’s east-facing dining room, I was greeted by the sight of my grovies meditating in the sun, like a troop of ring-tailed lemurs. Even just catching the tail (ha!) end of the journey was nice, and I used the time to confer with my own guides as the others in the room made their way back.

Lemurs meditate, just like Druids!

Discussion focused largely on those beings classified as devas or plant spirits for the most part, with Jdth recounting quite a bit of her Findhorn experiences.  After settling down to a fantastic lunch of lentil soup, root soup, and assorted sweets, James had a lovely treat for us all: painting he’d made since his muse returned that reminded him of the fae.  I absolutely love the one I chose. It reminds me of the ferns that grace my grove in the deepest heat of summer.  Inspired work, indeed!

As each of us talked about our own encounters, the only fair thing to say is that there seem to be as many discarnate critters as there are incarnate plants and animals living on this world. Seeing where they intersect our lives never ceases to fascinate, not to mention all the various cultural filters placed upon our interactions with these beings, whether we call them fairies, elves, devas, wights, or ancestors.

And of course there is infinite overlapping, mixing, and outright trampling of any and all of these classifications.  One of the more interesting part of our discussion revolved around a transcript of R.J. Stewart’s experience in a mound tomb.  Essentially Stewart believed that when the time came, a tribal leader would go into the tomb to become part of the earth itself, the Stone King, and continue advise his people from the mound long after his body died.  That leader in essence became a local god.  This is where the lines get delightfully blurry–what is a fairy vs, a land spirit vs. an ancestor vs. a god?  It’s similar to the discovery that humans and neanderthals were closely related enough to interbreed, and that some modern humans do in fact carry neanderthal DNA.  The takeaway: the lines between various sorts of fae are not as cut and dried as the magickal encyclopedias would have you believe.

NYC Pilgrimage: The MMA

New York City has always been something of a touchstone for me, so I decided to make a pilgrimage to three spiritually significant spots: St. Patrick’s Cathedral, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Central Park. This is the second post in the series. 

Ah, the MMA. No, not Mixed Martial Arts (though I enjoy that, too!).

No, I’m speaking of that bastion of culture and antiquity, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As an archaeologist, all museums and historical sites are holy to me, but the Met holds a special place in my heart.  It was my first museum, and probably still qualifies as the most frequented.  There was a point in my early teens where I no longer needed a map to navigate its many wings and galleries. I had uncovered just about every nook and cranny, from the Tibetan galleries to the American study collections of silver and furniture hidden at the top of some back staircase.

huge amounts of specular highlights in the dark areas of the transparency

A special Pre-Raphaelite exhibit what was prompted this particular pilgrimage in the first place. It turned out to be quite a small little collection, but with some immensely powerful pieces.  It does seem that the Pre-Raphaelites are enjoying something of a renaissance, and I for one cannot complain.

I suppose all those wonderfully romantic paintings of Waterhouse, Rossetti, Morris, and Burne-Jones are to blame for laying the visual groundwork for my interest in Revival Druidry (yes, I’m one of those in case you hadn’t already noticed).  The Revival Druids are undeniably the ancestors of all modern Druidic movements, for without them and their interest in the lost heritage of the native Britons and Irish, we would not have the robust growth in Druidry that we are now experiencing. But that’s a tangent for another time.

The piece in the collection that I found most moving was a plate from The Well at the World’s End by William Morris (happily made available by Project Gutenberg for free, though without pictures).  The maiden in armor, the lush vegetation of the border, the camp fire that looks like it could be made of Brigid’s hair–it all creates a portal to another world.

The well at the world's end_Morris

Beyond the special exhibit, there are two permanent installations that have always soothed my soul and let my brain slow down, if only for a few minutes.  The Temple of Dendur is spectacular, but particularly so at night.  Seeing one’s reflection in the enormous slanted glass wall drives home how small we are as individuals, not only in physical size, but in lifespan, compared to the seemingly eternal stones of the Egyptians.

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Unsurprisingly, I was fascinated by the Egyptian gods at a young age, though they were never beings with whom I tried to build a relationship beyond the academic.  Sekhmet was always a personal favorite, though not someone I’d necessarily feel comfortable having over for dinner.  That whole getting drunk on blood thing…yeah.

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With 10 minutes to closing, I had one last stop to make on the other side of the world.  The Astor Court, is the imagined recreation of a Ming poet’s retreat. The ghosts of the pasts are particularly strong here, including one of a little blond girl sketching the rocks from a stone stool.

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The tall stones represent peaks, while the piles of rocks are mountains. The small fountain in the corner is the source of yin energy, while the hard and bright stones are yang.  It is a place of deep peace, one even the museum guards are reluctant to disturb at closing time.

The Met has the simultaneous effect of firing up the furnaces of the imagination and settling one in the arms of human history.  Happy accidents preserve many of the things we value from the past.  We can try to be deliberate about what survives us, but it’s not always a guarantee that those who follow will treat our remains and artifacts in the way we would want. It’s a great big, wondrous mess of chance we play, and yet our lives are so much richer for it.

The museum always closes too soon. This time was no exception.

Thoughts on Spirit Bottles and Reliquaries

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Spirit jar for A., the Strategist.

As many of you know, I’m a big fan of Jason Miller’s Strategic Sorcery course.  He has some great techniques and a sensible, straightforward syllabus that is an effective crash-course in magick and conjuration.  The lesson on spirit bottles is one of the most respectful approaches that I’ve seen, considering that many traditions have long and tangled histories around the practice.

One of the best things Miller does is get into the differences between local and non-local spirits, i.e., beings like the archangel Uriel vs. the nymph of a particular pine tree.  When making a spirit bottle or house for someone like Uriel, he’s so big there is absolutely no way that you’re actually going to cram all of him into that little bottle–no matter how good a mage you think you are.  What you can do is make a connection and give that non-local entity a foothold in your space so that you can develop a much deeper relationship.

Unfortunately, there is a very strong association with the term “spirit bottle” or “spirit house” and the practice of binding a spirit against its will to work for the sorceress. However, as Miller wisely points out, you really don’t want to trap a spirit in a bottle. If you’re good enough to actually pull that off, you’d have one extremely pissed off spirit on your hands. You’d be far better off performing a solid banishing ritual and pushing it out of your life completely. Why keep an enraged entity (who will eventually more than likely escape and wreak havoc on its jailor) in your space where it has a direct line to carry out its vengeance?

Not really smart when you think about it.

Then, there’s the simple matter of manners.  Speaking from my own limited experience, spirits do in fact have agency; they don’t necessarily want to sit around on your altar all day waiting for your requests. Treating a bottle or house as a place for an honored guest to visit is a much more hospitable approach; to say that the beings with whom I work are big on hospitality would be an understatement. When I use a spirit bottle, I’m seeking a contemplative relationship with the entity, rather than a power-over relationship.

Unsurprisingly, the baggage surrounding spirit bottle terminology has left me searching for another term. Dipping back into my early exposure to European Catholicism, I began to think of reliquaries. As a kid, I loved looking at the pretty boxes with the bones that were supposed to perform miracles. Looking at this practice now, from a polytheistic/animistic perspective, it’s a clear instance of ancestor veneration. (I’ve spoken with a couple of American Catholics who were frankly weirded out by the reliquary collections they’d seen in Europe, but I’d always found them rather comforting.  In fact, I still far prefer seeing a saint’s bones in a box to having to walk over their tomb markers on a cathedral floor. The latter has always felt disrespectful to me, and led to much hopping about trying to avoid stepping on various medieval cardinals interred beneath the pavers.)

Reliquaries do, in fact, serve a very similar function to spirit bottles, but with a very different set of expectations.  Often elaborate and opulent, reliquaries are at their simplest boxes with an object (relic) closely associated to a particular saint or miracle worker. That object is often a bone, but can also be a piece of clothing or hair. In short, it’s very similar magickal tech to a spirit house, which often includes items closely associated with the spirit’s nature, as well as tools for the spirit to carry out its work. Now, there is a difference in that certain types of spirits do not leave physical traces to include in a reliquary, but when working with plant and animal spirits, physical material is readily available.

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Materia magicka.

Thus far I have created one spirit bottle/reliquary (pictured above) for a non-Midgard being, A., from Miller’s personal grimoire.  There are tools and symbols inside the jar, as well as a map of where to extend his influence. On the outside of the container is a necklace with still more symbols of this being, which I wear when working with him in ritual.  The jar sits on my altar and once a week or so (more often if there’s other work to be done), I pour him out a libation.  He is fairly low-maintenance, and we both find the current arrangement satisfactory.

For spirits grounded in this world, I have materia for Turkey, Crow, Frog, Rabbit, Mugwort, and Datura.  I have not as yet designed the spirit boxes, but this may be a good Yuletide project–to reaffirm my connections with the genius locii of our land. (The other questions, of course, are of storage and display, and offering frequency. Making sure everyone is fed and happy can turn into a full time job if expectations are not made explicit at the outset of the relationship.  It’s also an argument in favor of not acquiring more allies than one can properly honor.)  Making the reliquaries is a slow process, both in terms of physical assembly and putting the whammie on the final product. Still, it’s one of the most worth-while magickal processes I’ve engaged in.

To conclude, one the the main reasons I consider myself a Druid is because of the emphasis on being in right relationship–with our ancestors, our landwights, our gods, our bodies, and our communities. Druid magick, in my opinion, needs to reflect this fundamental principle. Wyrd runs thickly throughout our lives, connecting us in ways that may remain hidden for years or even lifetimes.  Reliquaries offer a way to emphasize major nexuses in the web where our threads cross those of other beings, points that we can reinforce through right action and ritual. Eventually, with enough time and work, each nexus brightens until it illuminates other surrounding threads in our wyrd–ones which would otherwise be beyond our sight.

 

NYC Pilgrimage: St. Patrick’s Cathedral

New York City has always been something of a touchstone for me, so this past Friday I decided to make a pilgrimage to three spiritually significant spots: St. Patrick’s Cathedral, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Central Park. This is the first post in the series. 

15368731415_5ff520ca75_zWhile I was raised in a secular humanist family, my father also specialized in medieval French history. This resulted in much of my childhood being spent in Romanesque and Gothic churches and cathedrals all over France, as the church still holds much of the historical information for the period.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve always felt very comfortable with Catholic iconography, even if I don’t entire grok the religion itself.  The soaring stone vaults and rich incense bring me comfort–a forest of stone trees sheltering both the lost and the joyful.  The peace of fragrant cloisters, the damp coolness of ancestral crypts, candles lit for saints and ancestors alike, weave a fascinating tapestry of tradition and faith.

In many ways, the Catholic church sets a fine example of venerating ancestors (saints), land spirits (Our Lady of XYZ), and gods (Father, Son, Holy Spirit).  I’ve been lighting candles for Jeanne d’Arc and Catherine of Alexandria since I was tall enough to reach the tapers.  I’ve traveled pilgrimage routes to holy sites and drunk from sacred springs.  If I ever ended up a flavor of Christian, it would like be Catholic.

In my own muddled polytheistic mind, each chapel in a cathedral is a small shrine to spiritual being–Catholics call them saints and angels, I call them ancestors and gods.  St. Patrick’s has over a dozen altars to various saints, including St. Brigid, whom many view as a syncretization of the Irish goddess Brigid.  Now, no Catholic will ever consider this a shrine to an ancient goddess. But I figure if the church did such a good job of absorbing the pagan gods, we can return the favor and light a few candles for those beings in honor of the good ol’ days, regardless of their current forms.

The goddess Brigid in her capacity as healer is often closely associated with the Ovate grade, and as I’ve been struggling a bit with that work as of late, I decided to pay her a visit.  Brigid’s chapel (which she shares with St. Bernard–yeah, don’t even get me started on the Flowering Lady, Animal Lord symbolism in that one) is the second to the left as you enter the cathedral. There were only a couple of candles lit for her, which always makes me a bit sad. I took three deep breaths, dropped my $2 in the offering box and and recited a variant of the Druid’s Prayer as I lit her candle:

Grant me, Lady Brigid, thy protection,
And in protection, strength,
And in strength, understanding,
And in understanding, knowledge,
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice,
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it,
And in the love of it, the love of all existences,
And in the love of all existences, your love, Bright Lady, and all goodness.

In my mind’s eye, I saw her face turn to me, no longer distantly gazing towards heaven. My throat closed and tears welled up, even as I felt my heart reach towards her.  She embraced me with peace and fire.  Goddess or saint, it no longer mattered. She is the Lady of the Healing Well and the Smith at the Forge. She is all the fires of the Sun and all the waters that run under the Earth.  She loves, simply and profoundly, each of us who come to her.

15368730465_e11df58dfa_z I stayed for a while, meditating on the significance of the symbols incorporated into her chapel.  The knotwork surrounding the cross on the altar between the statues of Brigid and Bernard made a contemplative mandala that was wonderful to ponder. The cross itself was the equal-armed solar form, found so often in Celtic countries. The twisting vines surrounding the cross at first appeared asymmetrical, until closer observation reveals the pattern. (There are, in fact, asymmetrical elements, which makes for a fun visual treasure hunt.) A spiral graces the center of the cross on Brigid’s pedestal. In short, the whole altar seethes with the verdant power of Eire.

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Our Lady of Immanent Construction?

Perhaps the most mundane of “offering” was the ladder and old offering box that were stashed to the left of her pedestal.  At first I was irritated that someone was using the chapel for a storage closet, but then I could almost feel Brigid’s amusement at the presence of such mundane items, and decided instead to view them as tributes to hard work in all its forms.  The cathedral is currently undergoing renovations, and I could imagine her satisfaction at helping with that in some small way.

Brigid is a goddess of craftspeople, and with her many faces of poetry, healing, and art, she sets an example for today’s working class folk, who themselves may have two or three jobs to make ends meet.  She teaches tolerance of a less-than-ideal situation, if sticking it out will improve your lot in the long run.  She also kindles desire in the complacent, driving them to find something better.  She will help you dig deep within yourself to find that sleeping strength, to rouse the dragon of the soul’s discontent.

Hail Brigid, Lady of Desire!
Hail Brigid, Mother of Arts!
Hail Brigid, the Survivor!
Praise be to you healing waters.
Praise be to your sacred flame.
Praise be to your joy everlasting.
Ninefold are your blessings to us,
Ninefold are our gifts unto you,
Infinite is the love between us.

Magic vs. Devotion

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I rambled a bit on this in the Paths Between the Pillars comments, and thought it was an analogy I’d like to refer to again later:

At least to me, “magic” can be practiced by anyone, regardless of religion, while “devotion” indicates a particular type of interaction within one’s religious/spiritual framework. To make a rather silly comparison, magic is the Xbox; devotion is inviting your mates over for beer and pizza, where the Xbox may or may not come into play–Hel, you can even play the Xbox by yourself!