Monday, 24 August 2009

Some sort of Oracle

Sort of sticking with archetypes in a way, I have for a fairly long time been giving thought to the idea of an oracle of sorts. I have over the years poked about with runes, tarot and a couple of other types of divination (lit: to foresee, to be inspired by a god) but they haven't been all that good for me for one reason or another. Tarot is too much to keep in my head at one time and runes just seem...well, Heathen, and I am not. I did look into a couple of options which seem a bit more in keeping with my own practice and on one hand found a system which used 3 bones (already appealing) but after reading into it a bit more it isn't quite what I want. Then there was coelbren, I did a little work on making this more personal and use-able at one point but have abandoned it. I guess it held some appeal being on one hand a native system, and yet on the other hand its authenticity as a native system is dodgy as hell.

Then along came Bo with what he was constructing using his
archetypal tarot; incredibly personal and incredibly meaningful, though only of course to him.

What got me on to this was reading about a dream Jung had whilst meeting with Freud, in this dream Jung is in a house on the top floor – very swanky and to his taste – he goes down a floor and its a much older d├ęcor. He goes down into the basement and it is a cave dwelling from some distant ancestor, probably hunter-gatherer by the sounds of it. Dreaming of houses tends to represent oneself, you are the house. About 13 years ago I had one of my semi-typical dreams; I was in the offices of some sort of superhero agency and I was the newest superhero – I cant recall what powers I had at this point -, my first job was to descend into the basement and make my own weapon. So I go down this winding staircase deeper and darker and reach a much lower level of this house/office building. The place was like a slaughter house; it was littered with bones and body parts, blood on the walls. Proper horror movie material here. I was fine with this and proceeded to root through the bits looking for bones and whatever with which to construct my own personal weapon. In Jungian term this is rather interesting and I am sure plenty can be derived from it. It came at an important time in my life and as such I have my own meaning attached to it.

So I am thinking I might have a go at something similar to Bo's archetypal tarot – albeit totally personal and tailored to my own tastes – with personal imagery derived from a number of sources and not all of them dreams (or else Spiderman would need to feature). The second image would be the Sapphire Lady, a figure from a dream I had semi-recently involving the end of the world and the gods. Notably the end was coming and we needed the gods, we needed this Sapphire lady to call them. What stands out in this was that normally in circumstances like this I suddenly find I have the ability to stop the apocalypse or beat the hordes of monsters with superpowers of my own. In this case I surrendered to her and her gift.


So, I bought myself a copy of this with a view to getting my head around the concept of archetypes and how this may be applied to my own grasp on my own personal theology.

So, if my understanding of archetypes – at a simple level at least – is roughly correct then there are two immediate implications that come to mind with reference to the gods:

on the one hand they are fabrications of the human psyche in place to interact with god archetypes within the collective unconscious. As such they do not exist outside of the human mind. In this case, interaction with them is a means of interacting with and tapping into the collective unconscious.

On the other hand, it might be that they do exist as discrete entities and our interacting with them – in fact our very search for them is driven by archetypal images which we seek to fulfil. As such, we have an innate set of deities built into us which we seek out in the world around us and form relationships with. This would to some small extent go toward explaining why different cultures come up with the same types of gods albeit based upon a local experience of them. I would need to do a hell of a lot of research to support this with some solid examples, however the type of thing I am thinking about is that in different cultures, different gods of the same sort e.g. the Sun God or the Sea God have similar associations. Maybe. Or maybe not.

There is something about all of this that is fleeting at the edge of my conciousness, something I can almost see but cant quite grab hold of yet. It is there when I am trying to mentally digest Jung's concepts, like a buzzing fly I cannot yet swat. Give it time.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Today I..

.. went to a pick-your-own farm in north London. I am home now with 3k of plums, 1k of strwaberries and 10 freshly picked corn on the cobs. All for £13 and a nice day out.

I shall probably spend tonight and tomorrow jamming and chutneying.

this book is awesome and this man is God

Sunday, 16 August 2009

A Berry Good Time

Yesterday I went up to north London to spend the day with J and M and to do a little berry preserving. Picking and preserving wild and FREE food is one of those things I keep building up towards getting involved in and for some reason or another I end up missing the best opportunities and so getting annoyed at myself. However, this year has gotten off to a good start and I am going to keep up with it for once.

So to begin, I had picked some elderberries from the local park and brought them with me, we also wandered down to their local park to get some more – which we did – and we also came across a bunch of blackberries and a blackthorn groaning under the weight of sloes. We stocked up on those too.

The first thing we got on with was some Elder Rob; simmer the elderberries with enough water to cover them, once they turn to mush you strain them and return the juice to the heat with sugar (roughly 450g of sugar to 500ml of juice) and some cloves. It rapidly turns into a rich bull's blood of a liquid, and once the sugar has completely dissolved you allow it to cool. Once cool it has become elderberry cordial and can be left as it is, however to make it bit more grown up you pour in dark rum – we put in 350mlto about 900ml of the cordial – to give it extra kick, extra taste and to help preserve it. This is then bottled and kept. It is best taken with 2-3tsp in a little warm water. Not only is it very nice indeed but is good for coughs, sore throats etc as it is packed with vitamin C and soothes the throat too. The rum probably helps kill of germs too, or at least that is my theory and as far as I am concerned is good enough reason to have it.

Next was a jelly. This time with the blackberries and some of the elderberries too, simmer in a pan with only a little water till the fruit is much and the juice has been released, again strain and return to the heat but this jam with jam making sugar (for the added pectin) in the same sort of quantity for the cordial, bring to a rolling boil for about 10 mins, pour into sterilised jars and you are done. We only had enough for 2 jars of this so I need to get back out bramble hunting soon enough. I also aim to get to a pick your own farm some time over the next week or so to stock up on raspberries (for raspberry jam, gin and vodka) and plums (jam, chutney and brandy). The sloes are in the freezer for now but will soon be mixed with cheap gin and vodka and left till the spring before being bottled for drinking – or storage as it matures with age. There is so much more that can be done with these free or cheap fruits I cant imagine why people don't do more with them, I recall going bramble picking all the time when I was a kid and my mum making tarts with them

To bring this back to a spirituality angle, I was talking not so long ago about how Lammas and the grain harvest is largely irrelevant to me, I am beginning to think that this time of year could become the focus or a more personal harvest time – namely that of the fruits. I shall have to consider this some more I think and see how it fits in.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Tentative Brythonic Ritual

Ok a little more on ritual seeing as I have gotten this running through my head.

1: The Greeting - for a gathering of several people, the 'greeting' described would be an ideal kick-off either when everyone arrives or prior to getting ready for the ritual proper. Ideally it is something that is done as soon as the attendees gather – largely to blend ritual into the everyday rather than a denoted time only.

2: Preparation of the space – this is a bit of a hangover I have from Wicca, but I find it to be a very useful tool when you have several people perhaps not from a close working group as it helps centre and focus and foster a state of mind conducive to what is about to take place. Ideally a central fire or brazier – the centre and focus, the place for the gods. Anyone who has sat before or around an open fire will know the power they hold over us. Ritualise the fire making and lighting, say a few words as it is lit, invite the god or goddess of the fire to take notice of what is being done. I find that washing and certainly the preparation of the self is a useful tool in these situations. It adds a lot to the 'feel' of things. Of course do what is appropriate and possible given the circumstance.

3: The Invitation – ask the gods to be part of the circle, ask them to the honoured guests. Ask the ancestors and local spirits to come too. Make them feel welcomed and part of proceedings. This could be a song, poetic or prose evocation.

4: The Sacrifice – though I refer to this bit as sacrifice, it is the point when offerings or libations are made. This is when food and drink is shared with those present and the gods. The first portion should be offered into the fire for the gods as honoured guests, some left out in the ground or in a bowl for the local spirits and some left for the ancestors on a plate or bowl. I like the idea of burning the gods portion, it continues the 'taking it out use' theme that you find in Iron Age water deposits, the breaking or metal offerings so that they are of no mortal use. Whilst the offering to the local spirits can be left for the local wildlife (sensible thinking here of course), the ancestors portion can be left to one side for the rest of the gathering and then perhaps left out for the wildlife too. This is also the time when other offerings can be made whether they be physcial objects made or bought or words crafted especially. I think it is useful when in a group to add words to the sacrifice or offering – it opens it up to the group.

5: A.O.B – this is the point where other things can be discussed or taken part in, oracles, divination. Things like that.

6: The Parting – whether at the very end of the ritual proper or when the gathering ends some sort of formalised and ritualised farewell should be made I think. Not sure on a format though.

Points 1 and 6 can be carried out independently of the rest if at all, I think they add to the sense of weaving ritual actions into the everyday whereas 2-5 are much more focussed on a specific ritual event, that said the ritual of lighting preparing and lighting the fire could be broken off and carried out as a stand alone.

Ok, there is my ritual blogasm for now. Lots more to think of and more to add in time.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Theology Question No. 1


I started to consolidate my thoughts on this a
while back and think it is time to move on with the topic a little.

Essentially what constitutes a god is rather arbitrary as there is no clear way to delineate between a god or a particularly powerful spirit associated with a specific place (lets say the river Severn for instance), so I guess this applies to all non-physical beings to a lesser or greater extent. In my own view (and probably one shared by many others) is that the gods can be broken down into three types:

Primal Gods: those associated with raw natural forces such as the sea, thunder or the earth and landscape. Clearly some ancestral gods and spirits of place have become associated with natural phenomenon. This might be clear in some cases and in others not so.

Ancestral Gods: those gods who appear to have once been human beings and through a process of deification via ancestor worship have become what we could call gods.

Spirits of Place: those gods who have evolved out of a localised spirit of a well or river or hill.

I used to think this was all rather clear cut and with only a hint of cross-over, however these days I think there is far more 'smearing' of the boundaries of these types and far more crossover in our perception and understanding of them and their nature. That said I think the above classes of god are useful when it comes to explain their nature.

I am loathe to begin trying to explain the mechanics of how all of this works in scientific terminology and with some semblance of scientific explanation but I think I might have a go at it as at least an attempt to offer a means of explaining this is something other than a totally spiritual world-view.

In the blog-gasm I linked t above I talked how I visualise all existence as a stream with the physical (the bed itself with pebbles, plants etc being the physical) and the spiritual (water) coming together to form the whole. I mentioned how living things can be seen as loci of disturbance in the surface of the water (not disturbance in the negative sense) which act as centres of, and for, interaction with other loci (I use ripples in my analogy).

Right then, let's crack on!

These primal gods, the roaring ones of the rivers and the booming ones of the heavens. My view is that such beings do not exist as discrete and individual beings with personalities as such and only do so in the human conciousness as a result of human interaction with them. That is, the repeated interaction of people with a specific place (now that I am on about it think the same here can be applied to spirits of place) or phenomenon so that over time and with continual physical and spiritual interaction a new locus has developed and been imprinted with those qualities imparted by humans over many years, decades and millennia. In these cases what we perceive today as personalities and idiosyncrasies often associated with a discrete individual personality are impressions left behind as 'keys' to that locus which us humans use as a means of interacting with them which we can cope with a process as (limited) human beings. I think the term 'egregore' is probably useful as a descriptor at this point. As I said ancestral gods can be substituted in and become the personality of the place or phenomenon, and as such still act as the 'key' to that locus. In this case I find it hard to distinguish whether they are simply a 'mask' or whether they as a discrete entity with their own personality have now taken up residence within the locus.

In summary gods who fit these two types are 'keys' to our accessing and interacting with the spiritual loci within the landscape we inhabit. This is beginning to raise more thoughts and questions in me, specifically, regarding this interaction as being a means of regaining our place within the world as a whole which we have slipped out of in
what has been described as 'the fall' or other suitably Promethean process. Whilst we cannot retake our place within nature as a whole in a physical sense we can make efforts to do so in a spiritual manner. Though I think this is a subject to come back to at a more appropriate time.

Ancestral Gods come into this from a slightly different angle, they are to my mind loci in the 'stream' that persist and are maintained after physical death by people and their interactions over periods of time. These are the culture gods if you will; the divine-ploughman, the divine-blacksmith, the divine-wordsmith. They are also those gods who have come to be significant and important to the localised community though I think I highly likely that several ancestral gods can merge and spread in importance; to my mind Lugus-Belenus fits this mould as he has come to represent very anthropocentric qualities (craftsman, healer etc).

As I mentioned there is a lot of smearing in this whole system and so many loci have become merged and blended into one another taking on qualities of the other, so that an ancestral locus incorporates rather primal attributes and qualities or a primal locus has an ancestral locus implanted into it.

I think that kind of covers it for now and at least addresses the question posed. I am sure some of my astute readers will point out something I have missed or a point I have failed to address.

Monday, 10 August 2009

The Whats and Whys of Ritual

I have a had a little moan about public ritual and what I see in the modern pagan community as a lack of thinking behind ritual, or at least a lack of examination of the purpose of ritual. As I see it ritual is carried out too often with little thought as to its purpose or its component actions. Any old generic pagan ritual will have a standard format:

Cast a Circle: usually based upon the Wiccan format but with changes to suit the people such as who is called at each quarter. The reason often given is that it is to 'protect' those inside. The reason Wiccans cast a circle is twofold: to keep in what is raised (note how this is the exact opposite of the reason often given) and also to centre and focus those taking part in preparation for what is to come. This latter reason is hardly met with public ritual, there will be fidgeting, talking, children wandering about and a general lack of focus.

Ritual theatre: sometimes there is, and sometimes there isn't. The point being is is often amateurish to the point of absurdity and is so overtaken with being 'fun' that the whole point is missed. Ritual theatre should be conveying something of importance or significant to those attending. It isn't supposed to be pantomime. Within Wicca the main piece of ritual theatre used is to expose initiates to the mysteries and as such is a solemn event carried out in a setting pregnant with significance. Watching or even participating offers something new each time.

Cakes and Ale/bread and Wine: often this is done with the standard Wiccan 'as the athame is to the male...' wording but again the point is missed and the purpose of doing this is lost on those taking part. Ask anyone attending why they are doing this and it will be an answer of 'shared food and drink' or 'communion'... not the reasons this small ritual is performed in the Wiccan setting (and which is by the way in my opinion one of the two main reason Wiccans perform rituals).

Drawing down the Moon: this is actually the one thing common in Wiccan ritual which DOESNT happen in standard public ritual and which is the single most important part I think. So, next time you are in a public ritual held by someone claiming to be Wiccan ask them to draw down the moon, ask them to do their duty as a priest/ess.

All of this begs the question of why many modern pagans are aping Wiccan ritual with little to no understanding the whys and wherefores of it?

Surely the best thing to do is to formulate their own rituals loaded with meaning and purpose and suited to them and their path. And for those brave souls who wish to perform public ritual; ask yourself what it is you want to convey or share with those attending.

To bring this back to a Brythonic context, I guess I am still in the process of asking myself what should be part of a ritual carried out by one of the Aelweddau who form part of Brython. I think I would like to see it go something like this for starters:

*All those attending gather together in a circle around a fire or table or whatever is suitable
*The host makes some sort of customary gesture of welcoming
*The host pours some drink into a drinking cup/bowl/horn and passes it around the gathering, during which time the host talks about the place in which they are gathered.
*The host breaks bread/cake etc and offers it around the circle, as it is passed he offers some of it with some of the drink to the gods, to the spirits of that place and to the ancestors.

Perhaps this would suit for when people gather together for a day or weekend visit as the 'opening ritual' as it were and from there do whatever it is they wish whether chatting, wandering about the place etc. During meal times some sort of formal way of offering the first portion to the gods could be carried out by the host before anyone else eats.

I think I would prefer it if ritual in chunks were woven into the everyday in small ways rather than being inserted in as one lump. To this end, perhaps in our hypothetical weekend gathering of groups we have woven a little bit in here and there at specific times when appropriate rather than forcing it in because it is felt it should happen.

I am beginning to find myself wondering if ritual devoted to the gods should include ritual possession as a means of direct communication between the group and the gods. I think I will have to come back to the deity focussed side of things another time.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Art and Paganism

I am going to drop this here as something to come back to at some point perhaps and also to nicely crystallise the kind of thing I have ranted about in the past. It comes courtesy of Bo and as ever makes a superb point in style.

pagan art is often too literal--Lee, you've railed about this--too concerned with drawing deities as idealised people holding symbolic objects (egg. hammer, harp, flame, whatever). This is why they seem so childish, I often think--sacred art like orthodox iconography or hindu or Buddhist art removes deities/holy beings from the ordinary by visual clues: the elongated, austere proportions, inverted perspective, and limited palatte of byzantine art, and the multiple limbs and third eyes of Indian deity images. These bits of symbolic shorthand help to abstract images of deity, avoiding the cloying literalism that afflicts the Witchfest school of pagan aesthetics.

To end on a higer note, this is a picture I came across a while back from an album cover by a band called 'Mastodon'. With a little Microsoft Paint jiggery pokery it turns out as a brilliant representation of the Wiccan concept of the Horned God in a manner which suggests Old horny himself went to India for a make over. This image of him perfectly encapsulates the idea of wild and inhuman whilst at the same time retaining an air of anthropomorphicity, it covers areas such as new life, fruition, riches and death. It has the hunter and the hunted in one. It is a perfectly symbolic and abstract image that has done away with the realism of modern pagan art without going too overboard and becoming too abstract so as to lose the common symbolic imagery.

Theological Questions

The question of a (well) thought out pagan theology has been cropping up in a few places lately in the forum and blogospheres. It does seem to be an area that is lacking and as such is a little black cloud hanging over the modern pagan community, it does not serve us well and if anything adds to the wishy-washy poorly thought out image people have about pagans today. I am going to quote Bo here:

*What is the nature of the gods?
*What is the nature of the soul?
*In what ways might we, compellingly and with coherence, conceptualise the relationship between the gods, the soul, and the world?

These are some very important questions that need addressing and I am going to have a stab at it, if nothing else to record my thoughts at this time perhaps with a view to going back and reviewing how my perceptions have changed.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Ritual Failings

I run the risk of being incredibly bitchy and nasty here. But what the hell. The subject of ritual has come up recently on a blog and the Caer Feddwyd forum and has got me thinking. Ritual to my mind has a purpose, not just as a whole but each element of the ritual in and of itself; each part of the ritual is there for a specific reason or to achieve a specific aim rather than being filler. I have seen a fair bit of public ritual and most tend to be knock-off's of the basic Wiccan ritual format and seem to simply ape it 'because' that is is what they seem supposed to do. These public rituals really don't seem to be geared towards the key elements of the ritual; 'Cakes and Ale' and the 'Drawing down the Moon'. Where they do occur it sets me in mind of a child playing with it's mum's make-up; it know that it gets slapped on the face but not how and why and where. It strikes me that there is no thought as to what they are doing and why, rather they appear to be labouring under the impression that it all needs to be done to be 'authentic' or 'real'. One example of what I would put under this class of ritual attendee is this chap, who it appears seems to attend as many ritual happenings as possible come any festival as if the attending is the important bit rather than what is being carried out.

Lammas is kind of here again, though this year I am struggling to connect with it. Lets be honest, this festival is all about the harvest or grains and crops and the thanks that they have (a) grown and (b) not been blighted/eaten/stolen. It is a thanksgiving and a celebration that there will be food for winter. This is not at all relevant to 99% of modern pagans, and mentions of 'personal harvests' et al just wont wash.

So, is this time of year significant to me? In some ways yes, there are certain things which happen that stand out; the thunder season has begun – and this year there has been thunder and lightning of a regular basis, it is the time for the soft fruit harvests notably elderberries which I am beginning to place some significance on (along with the blossom). Other than that nothing much happening has an impact. So perhaps in future I need to examine whether the fruit and thunder season is worth marking in my calendar year, do I need to do anything? Do I have anything to give thanks for at this time?