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I’ve been playing around with writing some poems (in English) using traditional Gaelic forms/meters. Here are a few including a humorous rain prayer. Far from perfect but hopefully amusing. Robin Skelton’s Samhain and Other Poems in Irish Metres of the Eighth to the Sixteenth Centuries is a great source for learning about these meters.

First a cosmological one.

Bith’s Boat: A Breccbairdne

from the beginning

the waters lapping

quick the craft gliding:

the dream is sighted.

always waters moving

the dark sea pierced alight,

above, rowers sitting,

quick oars pulling aright

toward unknown shorelines.

the unmade lands wait called

from deep vision’s guiding,

they drift through seaweed called.

In the eyes of boatsmen

a shore yet emerging,

shuttled across ocean

forward from the beginning….

Breicbairdne is 5 syllables in first stanza, then 6 syllables, with 2 syllable end words (yeah, I cheated a bit).

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Rannaigecht of the Shades

The cobwebs guard these old doors,

ghosted footsteps sound these boards,

spiders furrow shafts alight,

ligatures of sorrow moored

long ago, the faintest weave

of past lives shuddering give

motion to whirring ethers,

my breath stirring their wills brave.

Whispering now their dark redes

awakened by my spilt blood,

these wights, wronged in hoary ages

tell me tales before the flood.

April 4, 2015

In rannaigecht the lines have 7 syllables and end in monosyllabic words,

with consonance in end words of lines 1, 2 and 4.

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An Indo-European Rain Hymn: A Casbairdne

Cow-eyed goddess, beautiful,

held stalled in cavernous

hall, She shining, delightful,

and milk full, by sonorous

dragon, greedy, unyielding.

Hid by clinging thicketed

boscage, the lair concealing

rain. Dare young hero arrayed

in valor burst unannounced

and pounce on winged brazened

malice and pierce, bellicose?

The wyrm now toast, unloosened

its grip, its reign defeated

in death, its mane deflated:

Milk flies from the cavity

and waters rise, boisterous!

A casbairdne has 7 syllables per line, which end in 3 syllable words. End words of 1 and 3 have internal rhymes in lines 2 and 4.

It was good to see the return of the Pagan (Pride) Festival to downtown Berkeley this Saturday.

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These two swans remind me of Aonghus and his beloved Caer Iobharmheith (Yew Berry).

For those who celebrate, have a happy festival!

April 21st has a number of interesting events and rituals associated with it. Some time around this date in the year 125CE the emperor Hadrian went on a bear hunt in Greece (note, I don’t suggest that hunting bears is something that should be done these days or is ethical in our overpopulated world). He offered the bearskin at a temple in Thespiae to the goddess Aphrodite Ourania, (and her son Eros), the aspect of the goddess who presided over homoerotic love. He offered this inscription to her and her son (translation by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus):

To Eros the Archer-son of the sweet tongued Cyprian

Aphrodite,

dwelling at Heliconian Thespiae

besides Narcissus’ flowering garden:

I say be gracious, grant acceptance

of the best parts of this bear from Hadrian,

the very one killed by a blow from horseback.

Thou, of Thy own accord, in return for this, may kharis soberly

be breathed on him by Aphrodite-Urania.

Of course the prayer was eventually filled with the arrival of Antinous. I mark/celebrate this as a beginning of their love, even if this was purely conceptual on Hadrian’s at this point. The day is also called the Erotikon.

The Ekklesia Antinoou marks this day as the celebration of the Megala Antinoeia which manifest today in a contest of poems stories, artworks, and so on and some kind of physical activity, as the original Sacred Games of Antinous initiated by the grieving emperor in 131CE consisted of various athletic competitions as well as artistic and theatrical ones. Check out the Aedicula Antinoi for more about this. https://aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com/2015/04/21/megala-antinoeia-2015-post-andor-link-here/

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Hadrian also moved the festival of the Veneralia, the feast of Venus to this date when he opened the Temple of Venus & Roma Aeterna. A poem I wrote a few years ago is here shared:

“Venus Felix and Roma”

Hadrian set Venus to face the bloody

Coliseum, reinscribing martial Rome with amor,

Which, as the emperor via his temple

Architecturally ordained, is Roma backwards.

The temple where the two goddesses sat back to back

Was built on the site of Nero’s

Golden House and leaden crimes.

The shimmering green goddess,

The alluring one, cast her spell upon the city,

Backed by her sister; the cavalcade of history

Broke over the metropolis—churches and columns

Commingled, promiscuous in baroque subversions,

Bedecking a city no longer of empire but

Of La dolce vita, Fellini’s carnival.

O Venus Felix, your power, your seduction

Still washes over the city in perfumed waves,

Spins desire in elegance and glamour,

From the Spanish Steps to the Pincio, from

Santa Francesca Romana* to Castel Sant’ Angelo.

*The church of Santa Francesca Romana was built on the site of the temple.

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Of further note, this is the traditional birthday of Numa Pompilius the wise king and giver of the sacred laws to the young city of Rome, the peaceful lawgiver who succeeded the warring sovereign Romulus (and said to be the birthday of the city itself). Dumezil saw these as the two sides of sovereignty in Religio Romana, the terrible magical sovereign and the reasoned juridical legislator, with the penchant for historicizing mythology in that culture. Too bad that Rome was not more often governed by wise and just leaders like Numa and Hadrian. Hail the love of Hadrian and Antinous!

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Photos are mine (mostly of remnants of the Pan-Pacific world fair of 1915, San Francisco), except the Antinous one from Wiki.

Herakleitos

I love Herakleitos. Here are some quotes.*

Fragment 5: Our understanding of the greatest matters will never be complete.

57: Many people learn nothing from what they see and experience, nor do they understand what they hear explained, but imagine that they have.

61: Men are not intelligent, the gods are intelligent.

63: The gods presence in the world goes unnoticed by men who do not believe in the gods.

72: Fire catches up with everything, in time.

74: There are gods here too.

79: There is a madness in the Sybill’s voice, her words are gloomy, ugly, and rough, but they are true for a thousand years, because a god speaks through her.

School of Athens, Raphael. Michelangelo was the model for the philosopher here.

School of Athens, Raphael. Michelangelo was the model for the philosopher here.

*From Guy Davenport’s translations in 7 Greeks (New Directions).

Hospitality can, at times, be a complex thing. It does lie at the core of our tradition. With the knowledge that we have in the 21st century of interrelationships of all life I think we should be able to recognize that we are guests on this planet ourselves. We are part of it but we have a limited time span. We should strive to understand better these interrelationships and do the deeds that each of us will feel compelled to do (which can obviously very widely). Maybe we will find we have certain geasa.

But on a more microcosmic level what about with our fellow humans? If we live in a republic, then surely that includes our fellow citizens (a word that seems kind of radical at this point in time, when powerful forces constantly insist we are simply consumers, which implies we are not in relationship at all).

Media forces, power forces in this particular republic (US) work to obscure for white people (as I am socially constructed) that many Americans experience life with much less privilege. The last few years images and incidents of police violence, what are ‘extra-judicial killings’ of young men of color, especially African-American and Latino, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Mike Brown, and the recent slaughter of Walter Scott, have broken through carefully attended facade for some. And yet for millions of whites complacency remains intact.

A month ago I found myself at an event where extended family, people I would consider rather distant relatives from geographically far off places (Midwest, South) had all assembled to celebrate my mother’s life. I found myself in the awkward situation of to some degree being a guest, as two of these relatives wanted us to stay in their place (which I was not comfortable doing in the first place). One morning I found myself having a bit of breakfast and coffee at the dining table with some of these relatives whom I don’t actually know and obviously perceived the world very very differently than I do. Suddenly disturbing remarks were being made. The key word was Ferguson. Outwardly, I stayed calm (something I wouldn’t have managed when I was young) and challenged the racist statements. I wish I’d done more like delivered a coherent lecture. At any rate the dictates of truth and justice overrode any specific law of immediate hospitality. I know some people won’t say anything in such situations; I think it is crucial that we do so. I think of the Druid revival phrase ‘The Truth Against the World’, in this case the world shaped by institutional racism. If truth is in our hearts, it must find fulfillment in our tongues (as the fianna Caílte once told St. Patrick).

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The killing of the world begins with an assault on the imagination. Across the planet the invaders from England, France, Holland, Spain spread, bearing guns and crucifixes, germs and fires, figurative and literal. New techniques of organization to regularize ‘things’, one way to order the numinous imposed on multitudes, one grand story of one sacrificed god, whose revelation had happened long ago, and the channels were not open for more. Missions, burnings of books—think the burning of the Aztec and Maya codices, erasures of ancient ways, and back at home, the reformations and the counter reformation to do the same to those who’d remained somewhat outside the bounds, outside the pale (the ‘pale’ being the area of Ireland under direct English control).

 

Today it’s carried out by Hollywood, by game designers, by the manufactures of America’s heavily processed landscapes, its simulations of nature, and of course the digitalization of everything. The steamrolling of mythologies into franchises, the proliferation of non-spaces like those of resorts, airports, malls, parking lots, convention hotels, business parks and tech ‘campuses’ and all the other ‘de-placed’ spaces. People would rather play Candy Krush on their phones than look at each other or their actual environment. Likely that the ugliness of so much of the man made environment creates its own feedback loop.

 

Recently a family reunion brought me into one of those non-places. A rich cousin whom I hadn’t seen since I was a little kid put us up in what was an obviously expensive but generic resort in Hawaii. I’ve long decried the massive development on what once were lava beds in a desert microclimate; golf courses and hotels and expensive condos distributed in a sprawl creep like mold over this one pristine coast. The first night I sat outside my room, opening myself up to the land, and I felt a terrible sadness, the intense suffering of the spirits of this place that had been essentially de-placed. Instead of vitality there was a listlessness. The next day my partner and I walked for quite a ways along the coast, walls and keep off signs in abundance; there, I felt the anger of the local spirits. I stopped and offered prayer, not knowing what else to do. The powerful ocean lapped against the shore of this tourist sacrifice zone.

 

 

The next morning we walked out of this enclosure and into a tangled wood of tough kiawe trees (a wickedly spiny mesquite, Prosopis pallida, originally brought from the desert coast of South America, nearly 200 years ago, which have claimed the arid coast to a degree where they seem native). Another world still prevails here, tough and shrouded, and elemental. The sky was wet, and soft droplets of rain fell. Out here are petroglyphs, an ancient ‘script’, a writing on the land by a people who saw themselves as part of it. Rough lava rocks and thorny branches clawed at our shoes. And then an opening, a flow of lava that seemed also an enclosure, but another sort, a sacred set aside—inscribed with this language that I cannot read but opens me up to awe. My own skin absorbed something mysterious from this field of inscribed black rock, as I breathed in the warm air, air moistened with the rain drops of Pele’s island, literally enchanted.

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The Imagination is a resource that humans cannot really live without, not as free beings worthy of the gods, at any rate. The Imagination connects us with that which is beyond, and with deeper relationships with the rest of life. Finally, I would say a democratic society cannot live without its citizens’ imagination. Late capitalism replaces everything with an ersatz inauthentic way of life. And we will require the unfettered imagination to get out of its erasures.

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