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Archive for the ‘practice’ Category

When I try to tease apart my own cultural bias, my very Western bias, about many topics, religion not the least of these, I find myself on an unmarked path in a dense forest. My understanding of what deity is, even knowing the word “deity”, is part of the clearly defined Western path through this forest of knowing. I try to imagine a different world view, my own had I been born before the rise of Rome and the enlightenment. I look around and attempt to experience my world with older eyes. David Abram writes eloquently and thoroughly on the experience of our sensual world in his phenomenal work, Spell of the Sensuous. In this book, as opposed to his second work, he presents for the hungry reader an intelligent discussion of how literacy impacts the human animal, how indigenous populations that remain pre-or-illiterate engage with their living environments, and how oral culture shapes and shifts our perceptions of non-human persons.

When I open myself to this way of Being, what I experience is immediacy and consciousness. Suddenly every object around me is a power, a pair of eyes observing me. It ceases to be ‘only’ other mammals; or birds; or amphibians. Instead, I am now greeted by the sensation of observance from the mighty trees, the unyielding brambles, the luminous Moon, the flowing Milky Way, and the Great Winds. The Waters that fall from the sky, wondrously alive, interact with my being. The planet, the solar system, the galaxy, the universe….suddenly have consciousness.

In the light of all this intelligence, all this consciousness…. what is a *god*? The concept loses shape and meaning. All of the seen and unseen is imbued to my perceptual field with a breath previously unknown by me. |f my understanding of deity is of a being more powerful or knowledgeable than myself, well…. my white blood cells are clearly god, as is the moss that covers the rock in my garden. These powers have strength and knowing so different from my own, so vast in their understanding and ability, that I rarely come close in my struggle for meaning. Do I, a human person, alone define ‘power’? Do I alone define knowledge? I find myself back in the forest, tempted to walk on the clear path of Western bias in a human centric knowing.

But I resist, as I hope most pagans do who desire to return to a different way of knowing and being in the living world. Our western constructs are failing us as a species. Part of knowing myself, in all my parts, is understanding how my neural pathways are shaped by culture; how the marvelous universe of my brain organizes and categorizes information sent to it from my limited sensory organs. To deconstruct, and rebuild with intention, is a mighty work. It is a worthy work, and necessary to walking a truly pagan path through the forest, as opposed to the same Western path decorated with pagan paraphernalia. I do not wish to be seen as a Witch because I wear Stevie Nicks skirts (which I don’t), or strand upon strand of silver jewelry (which I don’t), or because I have pentagrams tattooed on my skin (which I don’t). Likewise, I do not want to be a pagan who interacts with the world around me using the same lenses my culture and wider society gave me, with nothing more than a pagan film overlaid: western religion wearing pagan clothing. I have to ask myself…. am I interacting with and viewing the Morrigan the same way I was taught to interact with and view Jesus?

Of course, that line of thought is only religious and doesn’t begin to delve into the subtle human centric discourse of the wider Western culture, let alone secular concepts that are restricted to western societies, such as human rights, individualism, freedom of expression, etc. For myself, this rabbit hole has led to a fairly straight forward non-theistic animism, and to re-examine cultural mythologies and folklore (namely Irish mythology) in this light.

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In my last post I started talking about worldview, but actually slipped into focusing on just one: a christian worldview. We can hold many worldviews, and move between them based on situation. In fact, ‘worldview’ has often been compared to a lens which alters the way we view life and how we perceive the world we live in. There are a variety of worldviews, as there are a variety of lenses for my camera, some of them are: Christian worldview, postmodern worldview, secular humanist worldview, new age worldview, etc. A broader concept is bias, and particularly when thinking about religion – a western bias; our very understanding of the word religion shows this. The word religion has a very close association with the development of Western culture. Benson Saler, an anthropologist, is quoted as saying, “the practitioners of a mostly Western profession (anthropology) employ a Western category (religion), conceptualized as a component of a larger Western category (culture), to achieve their professional goal of coming to understand what is meaningful and important for non-Western peoples.”

I think this bias, in part, arises from the unclear etymology of the word religion. From the Latin religio , some scholars believe it stems from leig, “to bind”, while others think the root meant “to reread” or to “be careful”. (1) It was certainly a cultic term associated with the careful performance of ritual obligations. The word eventually came to refer to sincere worship and to distinguish between monastic and laity life. Of course today, in the modern era, with our increased exposure to practices and beliefs different from christianity, we use the world to refer to various traditions of the world.

I hope you can see how our western centric worldview colors and shapes the way we view even secular ideas (as I mention in my first post on this topic), but particularly religious or spiritual ones. Even if we have managed to scrub clean our cultural exposure to a Christian worldview (which I doubt), we are still using a western biased term to discuss many pre-western cultural practices and experiences. There are many scholars out there writing on the topic and value of a pagan theology and religious study (my dear friend Christine Hoff Kraemer being one of them) and I recommend seeking them out.

Having outlined my thinking on a western centric worldview, I turn toward indigenous ‘pagan’ practice and what it means for modern pagans looking backward through the lens of the west (and hope to god I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew).

….more to come.

1. Kessler, Gary E., Studying Religion; An Introduction Through Cases, 2008

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For some time now I have been pondering the influence within paganism of the western centric worldview. No doubt other minds have pondered this very thing, and written about it. The sure knowledge that pagan scholars (or any scholar for that matter) have grappled with this topic (or any other that might rumble in my brain) has created a sort of lethargy in expressing my own views. Why add to the noise of the cultural milieu? I know this is silly thinking….

As with any thought you try to contort into a coherent one, you need a beginning. My beginning was living in Ireland, and then looking back over the water (as it were) at the way U.S. pagans take localized deity forms and transplant or interact with them on other continents. [bias warning: This tendency has always irked me because it feels like the “daddy god” syndrome I dislike in Christianity – “You are a floating up there ever present caretaker that loves me and desires to communicate with me wherever, whatever, I am.”] In fact, let me take a moment to express why this irks me. It seems the height of nonsense (and arrogance) to imagine that a being more complex or vast than myself would have the slightest interest in listening every time any of the several billion there are of us currently on this planet needs a parking place or has a headache. I don’t always listen to my partner, and he is only one person who is intimately important to me, and often located in the same room! Now, back to the point. Here in Ireland it is clear to see how modern pagans take a personal god or pantheon and then interact with them in much the same way Christians interact with their god. Why this became so clear to me while living here on this land is for another post.

So, this coddled, narcissistic [my bias showing] view that some complex, powerful being is paying attention to every little whim of humanity smacked of foolishness from the beginning. It irritated me within Christianity for both religious and political reasons. It is incredibly human centric and is at the core of the western-centric worldview: a term I first heard in a comparative religions class. Most people reading this will know that the idea of worldview arose from the word “Weltanschauung” and was a concept fundamental to German philosophy. It is understood as “the fundamental cognitive, affective, and evaluative presuppositions a group of people make about the nature of things, and which they use to order their lives.” You can see how understanding a particular religion’s, or culture’s, worldview is imperative for scholars studying them comparatively. It is equally as important to identify your own worldview when engaging in ANY study – whether that be the sciences (both hard and soft), philosophy, or religion. In fact, I think the great work of the 21st century may be untangling our sciences from the grip of a western-centric worldview.

If we take just a moment to consider what has shaped our fundamental views, which include such seeming secular things as human rights, rationality, individuality, freedom, separation of church and state, etc, we find very quickly several factions of Christianity. This one religion, along with strong helpings of Greek philosophy, has utterly shaped our perceptions, and the way we view our world. Since most pagans I know were brought up within a western society, none of us has escaped this conditioning. The tangled web of our western worldview utterly influences our current understandings, and practice, of a neo-pagan religion which originated pre-western society (unless you are a Hellenist).
Now to my pondering. A few of the underlying tenets of Christianity that I see shaping western worldview are:

  • There is something called “truth”, and usually just one of it, i.e., THE Truth.
  • The human race is a special creation of a personal, loving god. Which means that humans have a purpose for being alive and this personal god is active in each and every one of our lives.

(I’m a mother, and this notion of being active in every human life makes me tired on a whole new level!)

I am not finished pondering (not by a long shot), but I will close this post here. If paganism is to become a growing and robust religious movement we must grapple with the issue of worldview, and not on a superficial level. Unless I still believe in a human centric universe, why in the world would I cling to the notion that some god form (or as I prefer to call them, incorporeal persons) is attentive to my every whim and is portable, like a pop-up tent? In a community of non-human and human persons, what makes the human so damn special?

I propose that the human is only special if we are still living, moving, and having our being within a western-centric worldview which is shaped by Christianity and its belief that the human race has a purpose and is a special creation.

…..more to come.

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Animism is me

Brilliant podcast on Animism.

More to come on this topic.

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Bealtaine is here, and many wondrous occurrences  with it.  As most know, Bealtaine heralds in the light half of the Irish year (and I specify Irish because this word is Irish, and its use would be restricted to this specific geographic area and meteorological experience – it’s certainly the BRIGHT half long before May back in Texas!).  Many customs surround this ushering in.  Some are folkloric in nature and others historic, even mythic.

“May Day serves to divide our story-telling year in two equal halves (no stories after May Day until Samhain, when darkness comes to claim us back). It is considered direly unlucky to get into storytelling around Mayday — singing is a different matter, however.”

Marion Gunn, Folklorist / Linguist, University College Dublin

On the Hill of Uisneach, both historically and mythically, Bealtaine fires were lit and a sacred assembly held.  This practice is being rekindled with the modern Festival of the Fires.  There is not, as yet, legislative activity taking place but there is, without doubt, festivity, remembrance, and one kick-butt Fire!  Warriors on horse back patrol the perimeter, ensuring that the neighboring, and sometimes waring, tribes keep their peace.  Bards and musicians share their craft while families stroll the sacred hills.  A visit to the holy well may bring healing, if a votive offering has been made in LoughLugh.

This was a time of purification (the ancients seemed awfully concerned with purification, I’ve noticed).  Cattle and people were cleansed with the smoke of the rising fires.  The great fire at Uisneach was echoed by answering fires that were lit on neighboring summits. The resulting topographic web of fire stretching from the omphalos of Uisneach outward to the coast of Ireland, created a “fire-eye,” a divine oculus mundi, or eye of the world through which the goddess of Ireland, Aine…Eriu, could once again see and be seen.

Of monumental landforms, mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote, “to be seen in the eyes of the Goddess and to move upon [her] as she revealed herself in hill and vale was to be part of both time and timelessness, matter and spirit.”

From the lofty to the daily, we turn to the tiny Primrose.  This delicious yellow flower of early spring is to be collected on May Eve, before dusk, by children who make posies or small bouquets with them.  They are to be hung in the house or over the door, laid on doorsteps and windowsills, strewn in profusion, to protect against the Fair Ones…who traipse at this time of year!  As an added benefit, if you rub them on a cow’s udder her milk will increase!

Here in Cork, particularly the southern part, May Eve was known as “Nettlemas Night”.  Boys would parade the streets with large bunches of nettles, stinging their playmates and occasionally unfortunate passersby who got too close.  Girls joined in this as well, usually stinging their lovers or boys they especially liked!  In most parts of Ireland, it was believed that taking 3 meals of nettles in May guarded against illness for the rest of the year.  Other parts of the country dispensed with the stinging, instead nettles were gathered on May Eve, pressed into a juice, and everyone in the house drank a mouthful, … to keep a “good fire in them” for the rest of the year.

Now, something a bit more maleficent, and of interest to us Hedge Witches, is the May Eve Curse.  Vervain, Speedwell, Eyebright, Mallow, Yarrow, Self-Heal, St. Johns Wort:  if collected on May Eve under the enchanting words, these herbs do great harm and nothing natural or supernatural may dissuade.

For myself, on the gregorian day, I traipsed about stone circles with two friends.  Three times Three we visited them: water, earth, and sky. In the enclosure we raised our voices, along the way we shared laughter and, where appropriate, offerings of fruit…or gentle tears.  On the astronomical day, … pilgrimage to Uisneach to join the tribes, of course!

Let the Debaucheries of Summer begin!!

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The history of herbalism in Ireland begins in the eighth-century myth of the Battle of Moytirra [Magh Turedh] (1).  The story relates how Dian Cecht , the “pagan Irish god” of medicine, became aware of his son Miach’s superior skill at healing, and so of course killed him in a jealous rage.  Out of Miach’s grave grew 365 herbs, one for each of his joints and sinews, and these were gathered up by his sister Airmed, who laid them out on her cloak.  She began to classify the herbs according to their different virtues, but Dian Cecht (this dude is beginning to annoy me) saw what she was doing and mixed up the herbs so that, even to this day, all their virtues are not known.  [The idea that there were 365 joints and members of the body was a common belief in early Ireland.(2)]  Later during the battle, (and we assume once he cooled down) Dian Cecht created the Tiopra Sláine or Great Healing Well by putting every herb known to grow in Ireland into a well located between Moytirra and Lough Arrow.  The bodies of all the fighting men killed in the battle were put into the well, and emerged the next day alive and stronger than ever.  Medicated or herbal baths are frequently mentioned in Irish tales and were apparently a major feature of healing in early Ireland.

Before I leave Dian Cecht behind, and though I dislike his treatment of Miach, he does offer what many believe is a native Irish chakra system.  Attributed to him is a medical tract (3) dating from the fifteenth century (though linguistically, the tract is much older). Aside from various judgments of payment for medical procedures based on social class, it has an interesting paragraph about what it calls “The Twelve Doors of the Soul” sometimes translated as “The Twelve Portals of Life”:

 There are twelve doors of the soul in the human body: (1) the top of the head, i.e. the crown or the suture, (2) the hollow of the occiput, (3) the hollow of the temple, (4) the apple of the throat, (5) the spoon of the breast, (6) the armpit, (7) the breast-bone, (8) the navel, (9) the side {?}, (10) the bend of the elbow, (11) the hollow of the ham, i.e. from behind, (12) the bulge of the groin, i.e. the bull sinew, (13) the sole of the foot.

And, if you notice…there are 13 not 12. A very auspicious number!  Now, back to the plants.

Traditionally, every Irish chieftain had his own hereditary physician to serve him, and all the Gaelic septs (or clans) had hereditary medical families linked to them (4). For instance, the O’Lees were the hereditary physicians to the O’Flahertys of west Connaught, the O’Hickeys were physicians to the O’Briens of Thomond, etc.  Many of the Gaelic physicians produced works in Irish and Latin that survive to this day (5).  The most famous of these works is the ‘Book of the O’Lees’ [or the Book of Hy-Brasil] which appeared in 1443 (6).  A striking feature of the manuscript is that the writing is formed into patterns resembling the astrological signs of the Zodiac (astrology being a major part of medieval herbalism).

With this history in mind, I will attempt to share what I have uncovered regarding native Irish plants, including their folkloric and magical uses.  I will include the herbal properties of plants, as recorded in folklore, but I make no claims as to the current medicinal value.  This will not be a modern herbal, as the focus will be almost entirely on magical uses.

So, stay tuned!

(1) D.O. hOgain, Myth, Legend and Romance – An Encyclopedia of the Irish Folk Tradition; Fleetwoord. J., The History of Medicine in Ireland; Lady A. Gregory, Complete Irish Mythology (London, 1994) pp. 49-50.
(2) Na Arrada of De Arress (8th century Irish religious tract: http://archive.org/details/medicineinancien00welluoft
(3) “The Judgements of Dian Cecht.” trans. D. A. Binchy. Eriu. Vol. XX. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1966.
(4) M. Moloney, Luibh-sheanchus – Irish Ethno-botany; P. Beresford Ellis, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology.
(5) N. Mac Coitir; Irish Wild Plants, Myths, Legends & Folklore.
(6) http://www.ria.ie/library/special-collections/manuscripts/book-of-the-o-lees.aspx

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A fierce westerly storm roared last night.  The rain lashed our stone house and the West Wind sang strong in the treetops.  I am a child of the Wind.  My body came into the world on the Gulf Coastal Plains, home to hurricane, tornado, strong southerly winds, and great blue northers.  I feel most at home standing in the power of the winds, arms outstretched and hair wild.

I went out into the beauty of it today.  I walked down the lane to the crossroads I am cultivating.  Who are the winds here?  I know their relatives, the winds of Texas and the Gulf Coast, but who are these mighty winds of the Atlantic and Europe.  I open myself to their song, to their touch, to the power of their Being.  As I walk, I recite Yeats…

the Winds awaken, the leaves whirl round

our cheeks are pale, our hair unbound

our breasts are heaving, our eyes are agleam

our arms are waving, our lips are apart.

I run and skip and twirl on the lane.  My hair billows in the wild wind.  I see small rabbits hop into hedgerow, a pair of pheasant stealthily scurry in tall grass, and fresh spring rains fall, dancing, on my face.  At the crossroads I stand, looking northeast to the undulating fertility of Sléibhte Chnoc Mhaoldomhnaigh (the Knockmealdown Mountain range), with its voluptuous peaks:  Cnoc Seanchuillinn (hill of the old holly), Cnoc na Loiche (hill of the lake), Cnoc na gCloch (hill of the stones), and the Sléibhte na gCoillte (Galty range – Mountains of the Forests), with its ripening peaks: Ladhar an Chapaill (fork of the horse), Cnoc an Tairbh Beag (little hill of the bull), Cnoicín na Teanga (little hill of the tongue-shaped land).

The West Wind feels masculine, carrying messages from the Great Ocean Mother to Her Sisters, who recline in their pregnant state, birthing spring onto the Green Land.  “Caress me, oh Wind.  Kiss my Lips, dear lover.  Wrap me in your embrace.”

The Host is rushing ‘twixt night and day, and where is there hope or deed as fair?

 

 

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Within one of my traditions are a group of Old Ones that have agreed to work with human animals for specific purposes, as we like to say: they guard, witness, and join.  Who these Beings are is debatable and there are several juicy origin myths for them.  One story identifies them with the Nephilim of Genesis (when the sons of God mated with the daughters of men), while another story I’ve heard identifies them with the Fomoire of Irish mythology.  They are viewed as Celestial by some, Animal by others, and powerful Old Ones by all.  Certainly, they are not to be trifled with.  The saying, “when you look into the abyss the abyss looks back”, applies here.

It is often said then when one is called to this path it is the Guardians who instruct them.  This notion of Guardian as teacher, as mentor, and as protector is on my mind as regards women.  :screech: (that is the sound of the vehicle changing directions)

In women’s psychology there is a developmental stage between the ages of 42-49 when we are moving into midlife transition.  Dr. Joan Borysenko has dubbed a key component of this transition, the “birth of the Guardian”.  She is referring to the beginning stages of what sociologist Paul Ray termed the Cultural Creative.  Midlife is a time when many women who have accomplished personal healing work and have reached a level of emotional maturity enter their second pubescence full of new energy.  The midlife woman’s intuition is increasing, she tolerates less BS, keenly perceives injustice and is willing to speak truth to power, calling people and institutions to their higher and best expressions.  As she continues to develop a larger social, political, and spiritual perspective throughout her forties and fifties, she is prepared to become a visionary with the heart and GUTS to create change.

Ray identified three major worldviews within American society: Traditionalist, Modernists, and Cultural Creatives.  The emergent CC social group identifies feminine values as core, and are “seriously concerned” with psychology, spiritual life, self-actualization, self-expression; are socially concerned; advocate “women’s issues”; are strong advocates of sustainability.  Women who have moved into and through midlife transition by stepping into the Guardian role often find themselves in their fifties and sixties in the company of Cultural Creatives. 

These powerful Old Ones are mentors to young women, a strong voice for the feminine values of relationality, and are inspiring forces for change.  It is with the emergence of the CC worldview that women’s values are gradually beginning to shift the zeitgeist in the US.  Of course, there is a backlash occurring and many of those values are under heavy assault.  This is a time when we truly need our Guardians, both human and celestial, to stand, guard, and join.

It is yet another time in the history of women that we must call on our Mothers and Grandmothers, our Guardians and our Guides, our Beloved and our Mighty.  It is time for each of us to step fully into our own Power, learn our unique Voice, and Use It.  The world needs the gifts we all have to offer, the skills we have learned as witches, and those etched into our bone from before Time.  It’s past dallying…. no more talking, it’s time for action.

(she exits her soap box gracefully)

 

 

 

 

Ray, P.H. (1996). “The Rise of Integral Culture,” Noetic Sciences Review (Spring 1996): pp. 4-15.

Borysenko, J. (1996).  A Woman’s Book of Life; The Biology, Psychology, and Spirituality of the Feminine Life Cycle. New York, Riverhead Books.

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Burial

In Mr McCarthy’s field where the new born lambs are frolicking, behind the Fairy Fort, we dug a hole and laid the fox to rest.

 

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Death

It’s part of life, yet when it visits we feel the sting.

On Samhain this year I sat in the field outside the Ring Fort.  In the gloaming I breathed in and out, made offerings, and listened to the Land, the Ancestors, and the spirits of Place.  A bull snorted.  A cow watched, chewing.  A lithe red fox leapt out of the hedge, glanced at me, then bounded into the Ring.  The fort is named for the badger, Lisnabrock, but I believe there are fox dens in the SW corner.

As I walked the lane the other day, with a fresh spring feeling on the air, I passed by the Ring and paid my respect.  I looked out toward the rolling fields, now filled with grazing dairy cows, and stopped in my tracks.  Breath held.  On the soft grass by the stone wall lay a lithe red fox.  Ears erect, eyes open, hind legs crouched, but the gaze was into a far southwestern land.  I stood immobile.  Within sight of my house, across from the Ring,  and on the first truly Spring-like day… was death.

How long I stood there, I do not know.  Many emotions welled-up within me.  From resignation of the cycles, the final kill of the Hunt, book-ending Samhain and Imbolc to…….. NO, the machine is not part of the natural cycle.  The machine is the Orc, the mind of metal and corrupter of the natural world.   In that rising anger a Charm sprang into my memory.  The Descent of Bríd (re-imaginings of the original, which is found in The Carmina Gadelica:

Radiant Arrow of Flame,
Brigit, daughter of the Dagda,
Dagda the Good God, son of Ethlinn,
Ethlinn, daughter of Balor,
Balor, king of the Fomoire.
 
Every day and every night
That I say the genealogy of Bríd
I shall not be killed, I shall not be injured,
I shall not be enchanted, I shall not be cursed,
Neither shall my power leave me.
 
No earth, no sod, no turf shall cover me,
No fire, no sun, no moon shall burn me,
No water, no lake, no sea shall drown me,
No glamour out of Faery shall oértake me,
And I under the protection of the holy maiden,
My gentle foster-mother, my beloved Bríd.
~Hilaire Wood
 
Or……
 
Brigid daughter of Dagda,
Brigid wife of Bres,
Brigid mother of Ruadan,
Radiant Flame of Gold, noble foster-mother of christ.
 
We are under the shielding of good Bríd each day,
We are under the mantle of Bríd each night,
We shall not be lost in this shifting age,
We shall not be thrown from our path,
We shall not be abandoned,
We shall not be beaten,
Nor political corruption dismay us,
Nor apathy delay us.
 
No fire, no sun, nor star shall burn us,
No lake, no water, nor sea shall drown us,
No arrow of betrayal nor dart of deceit shall wound us.
Bríd is our comrade,
Bríd is our escort through danger,
Our choicest of women, our guide,
our Saint, our Goddess.
~ Traci Laird
 

And placing a coin beside the body, I walked to the crossroads.  The words of a charm bubbling into my heart.  Safe from poisons, safe from the wounding dart of the machine, safe from the flood.  In the center point where the ways meet, in the heart of the crossroad, I placed the remaining two coins.  One for death, and two for the Way.

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