Posts Tagged ‘Religion and Spirituality’

After lunch, Ilona Tuomi (University College Cork) presented on the St. Gall MS, which is part of her ongoing research.  The entire afternoon line-up of speakers was fantastic, so my apologies in advance for potentially spotty note-taking.  I slept poorly the night before and unfortunately struggled to maintain focus toward the end of the day.

Ilona discussed the importance of words, within ritual actions, and the structure of charms, e.g., the power was built-up through names and story, and then discharged (the invocation, historiola, conjuration).

I. In the first example of the Thorn, we see the ‘aggressive’ language again:

Against a thorn
Ni artu ní nim ni domnu ní muir arnóib bríathraib rolabrastar crist assach(oich) díuscart dím andelg delg díuscoilt crú ceiti méim méinni bé ái béim nand dodath scenn toscen todaig rogarg fiss goibnen aird goibnenn renaird goibnenn ceingeth ass:- Focertar indepaidse inim nadtét inuisce 7 fuslegar de immandelg immecuáirt 7 nitét foranairrinde nachforanálath 7 manibé andelg and dotóeth indalafiacail airthir achin ;~ ;~ ;~ :• – Mary Jones

I strike a blow on it
which makes it spring out
which makes it spring forward
which drives it out

And again more aggressive language, this time invoking Goibnui:

the point of Goibnui…
before the point of Goibnui…
let it step out of him…

There is a translation for each charm on the Mary Jones site.  The Thorn charm contains these instructions:

This charm is laid in butter which goes not into water and (some) of it is smeared all round the thorn and it (the butter) goes not on the point nor on the wound, and if the thorn be not there one of the two teeth in the front of his head will fall out.

This instruction relates to the ritual performance discussed in the presentation.  The words of power are not sufficient.  They must be accompanied by the action which discharges the power.  In this instance, unwashed butter is put all around the thorn, but not on the thorn.  The “does not go in water” section referring to the butter making process. Important to note, there is potential danger in this charms use.  If you don’t actually have a thorn when you use this charm, your front two teeth will fall out!

II. In the ‘charm’ for Urine disease we see how repetition increases power, but also how not naming something specifically deprives the disease of power:

Against urinary disease
Árgálár fúail;~

Dumesursca diangalar fúailse dunesairc éu ét dunescarat eúin énlaithi admai ibdach;~ Focertar inso dogrés imaigin hitabair thúal :•~

PreCHNYTΦcANϖMNYBVc:- KNAATYONIBVS:- FINIT:•-  (again, from Mary Jones – see link above)

… a cattle – goad saves us

skillful bird-flocks of witches save us

with the ritual performance (instructions) to place the charm (perhaps written? a textual amulet?) in a particular location:

This is always put in the place in which thou makest thy urine.

III.  The Charm against a headache is arranged like Pat’s breastplate, with a listing of body parts, etc.

Against headache
Caput christi oculus isaiæ frons nassium nóe labia lingua salomonis c?llu•m temathei mens beniamín pectus pauli iunctus iohannis fides abrache sanctus sanctus sanctus dominus deus sabaoth ;~ ;~ ;~

Canir anisiu cach dia imduchenn archenn galar • iarnagabáil dobir dasale it bais 7 dabir imduda are 7 fortchulatha 7 cani dupater fothrí lase 7 dobir cros ditsailiu forochtar dochinn 7 dogní atóirandsa dano •U• fortchiunn ;~ ;~ ;~  (Mary Jones)

The ritual performance here includes therapeutic massage (which I rather like!), and making the sign of the cross on top of the head 5 times.  Prof. Hillers mentioned during questions what the “U” sign represents in the literature, but I failed to note it:

This is sung every day about thy head against headache. After singing it though puttest thy spittle into thy palm and thou puttest it round thy two temples and on thy occiput, and therat thou singest thy paternoster thrice, and thou puttest a cross of thy spittle on the crown of thy head, and then thou makest this sign, U, on thy head.

IV. Is a non-christian I-form charm:

Against various ailments
Tessurc marb • bíu • ardíring • argoth • sring • aratt díc hinn • arfuilib • híairn • arul • loscas • tene • arub • hithes • cú • rop achuhrú • crinas • teoracnoe • crete • teoraféthe • fichte • benim • agalar • arfiuch fuili • guil • Fuil • nirubatt • Rée • ropslán • frosaté • admuinur • in slánicid • foracab • dian • cecht • liamuntir • coropslán • ani forsate • ;

focertar inso dogrés itbois láin diuisciu ocindlut 7 dabir itbéulu 7 imbir indamér atanessam dolutain itbélaib cechtar ái áleth ;•

I save the sick to death…

Snake, hound, fire   (side note: this trinity is a recurrent theme in many of the charms discussed today)
I invoke the remedy which Dian Cecht…
Left with his household…

3 nuts which decay
3 sinews which weave

The ritual performance for this charm includes placing water in your palm when washing, then drinking (?) the water and placing the middle and ring finger in the mouth:

This is laid always in thy palm full of water when washing, and thou puttest it into thy mouth, and thou insertest the two fingers that are next the little-finger into thy mouth, each of them apart.

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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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