A Formal Prayer to Nechtan

I wrote this a while ago, but as the pandemic continues to rage and the political situation in the United States plunges into chaos I think it is a good prayer to share.

 

O Nechtan,

husband of Boann,

son of Labraid Loingsech,

hear our prayer:

 

May the power of your originating waters,

your pool,

your spring,

your well,

energize our lustrations,

our purifications,

our washings.

May this virus be washed away, back to

the infernal depths, where great heat

can take it apart, back to the primal sea

to recycle its constituent dismantled parts.

 

As we bathe in your vitalizing waters,

may proportion and knowledge thereof

return to our lands desecrated by ignorance

and malevolence as much as virulence.

 

May the pestilence that afflicts our world be washed away.

***

I find working with Nechtan that it is ideal to find a local place that resonates with his well, in addition to keeping a shrine with water on it. This can be a good start to doing journeywork.

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Rosc

I recently took a class called Introduction to Rosc Poetry through the Irish Pagan School. It’s taught by Irish poet, Geraldine Moorkens Byrne and it is highly informative and inspiring.

The rosc is an ancient poetry form, magical, often political, sometimes prophetic. The Morrigan’s Prophecies are examples as are Amergin’s famous invocations of Ireland.

Here’s my homework. As readers of this blog are likely to know I am an ally of the Protectors of the sacred mountain Maunakea and the efforts to keep it free of a proposed observatory project called TMT (Thirty Meter Telescope).

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False Tower

 

A false tower not built

the TMT, 18 story observatory

–like at Dowth

in darkness remain

only a plan, a bad plan

a troubling dream

vapors vanish in morning breeze

 

mammoth mountain rising from depths of sea

Maunakea

umbilicus of heaven and earth

red cinder and snow

even in tropic latitude

towering rampart

silver sworded

glacier scarred

summit above this world

 

you rise

majestic giant

Your Protectors undeterred

a great host

anchored in truth and ritual

victorious under sun and southern cross

highest mountain defeats

the Thirty Meter Telescope.

—Bressal’s* tower the spell was broken

Here too, this tower, it is not built

the spell is broken, the desecrators driven

far away over the vast oceans.

 

*King Bressal was noted in Irish place lore as having attempted to build a tower to reach heaven in the vicinity of Dowth (which means Darkness) with the help of his sister’s spellwork, which made an unending day for the laborers. But the king raped his sister and the spell was broken and the tower not completed. See Anthony Murphy’s Mythical Ireland for insightful elaboration. This king and sister have been in the news lately with the discovery of incest in remains at the Brugh. Perhaps a distant folk memory.

Check out course offerings from the Irish Pagan School here:

https://irishpaganschool.com/courses

For Boann

For Boann

 

What could be more inspiring

than the Milky Way flowing

through the velvet midnight sky?

 

an appearance, an epiphany,

as the rains covered the heavens

earlier and later

but as I walked outside You

revealed

 

in starlight

star bright

milk white

illumination

 

 

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Wikipedia

 

In Irish lore Boann is the wife of Nechtan, keeper of the well holding wisdom. The rule was no one but he and his cupbearers could approach it. She transgressed, triggering a surge of rushing water, creating rivers (first the eponymous Boyne) and by implication human access to the waters of imbas. Her name in Primitive Irish was Bouvinda, showing association with a cow and illumination. The Milky Way can be seen as her river in the sky.

A Brigid Prayer

O daughter of the Dagda

O mother of the three gods of skill

O goddess of the poets,

May your fiery waters

Offer healing, may

Your rays falling from

Your bright countenance

Burn away this pestilence,

May your hammer break it up,

May your words inspire us to keep safe, and

May your cloak protect and shield us,

From injustice and abuse of the powerful,

Brigid, most kind and fierce!

brighid

Art attributed to Miranda Gray and Courtney Davis.

Fires of Justice

One of the things that I love about the Celtic traditions is the focus on justice, with deities from Brigid to Nuadha (just thinking of Irish) coming to mind. In different eras concepts on (in)justice will be different but in today’s world and certainly in the country whose passport I bear, justice is so much about race. Americans, especially white ones, have to understand how deeply racism lies in the DNA of the United States right back to how the country was shaped and structured from its beginning; this lives on in the force of those White Supremacist institutions today such as the Electoral College, the police whose origins were the slave patrols, etc. And let’s remember slavery still remains in the US prison system, literally. At this time for Celtic pagans of all varieties and stripes it is so important to say Black Lives Matter. And that people of all origins, ethnicities and races should be very welcome in our Celtic polytheist and Druidic worship. Hospitality is one of our primary virtues. I think we can all do well to think of ways to make our doings more hospitable.

 

However, If we’re honest we can see there are a lot of racists among Celtic pagans; in social media the slightest criticism can bring out the racists. Some even scream that politics need to be separated from religion/spirituality—as if that is a possibility. Often people like to point the fingers at the Heathens but it is very much around (and has long been) in Celtic milieus. One group recently got a lot of attention that was full on fascist (I will not mention the name). One common aggression is the asking POC why aren’t they going for their own ancestral traditions (the assumptions are great).

 

I lead small druid rites (in a practice that comes from an offshoot of ADF) on the fire festivals. The people who participate other than myself are POC. The gods do NOT care about ancestry, race or anything like that. It is humans who hold these abusive modern views. We need to be aware of the coding and dog whistles people use who may come to our groups, our gatherings, our virtual spaces. We need to ward against them. And for those of us who are white this means increasing our own awareness, an ongoing project*

 

 

 

May the compassion of Brigid and the cosmic fairness and measure of Nuadha come to our very troubled land. May the criminal injustice system be transformed into a justice system.

 

 

  • For those interested in furthering their understanding of white racism here are a few books I’ve found helpful:
  • Race Matters by Cornell West
  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  • Ain’t I a Woman? by bell hooks

Some Coronavirus Musings from a Sanctuary

I walk around a large barn, rockwalled on one side, more like a large garage, cement floored; beyond are open spaces revealed and then concealed by the clouds and mists, retreating and advancing. The land glows green.

 

In this time of pestilence, which seems in abeyance here, waiting beyond, yet permeating the mind with its weight of the fraught, of the impending end—and yet across the road the avocado tree is in full bloom, its tiny green flowers myriad, promising.

 

Allie, who works with the horses (I live on a horse sanctuary), has planted taro, called kalo here, in a raised bed in front of this barn. Horse poop has been laid over the soil. There is an indigenous hope in these plants, their unfurling vivid green leaves and their dark rhizomes mostly hidden, growing, growing, doing their work in the dark.

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I wake up too early these days. I can’t go back to sleep usually; the pandemic drifting in my waking thoughts. The awareness simply there. I went to the pharmacy, masked and gloved. They have put tables in front of the pharmacy windows to attempt a forced distance, but people lean in over these. I pull off the gloves outside, an edge of guilt in such waste being made in colossal quantities.

 

The images of the virus are legion, it somehow reminds me of something out of Dr. Who. I think of the Christian doctrine of the holy ghost, depicted in various artworks as a dove. Sometimes called the paraclete (an advocate of sorts). An apparition, yet with a physical form, inchoate and yet…very material.

A strand of RNA encapsulated in a protein shell with spikes which give a corona quality that virologists found reminiscent of the solar corona, that aura of plasma emanating from the sun. Whoa–the virus takes us metaphorically in language chains to some surprising places.

 

A vast net of suffering and yet out of all this something appears that many are noticing: a greater sense of our planetary interconnectedness. Awareness that flutters in and out of our anxieties. Something that emerged out of the jagged tears and rips in the world of late capitalism, the implacable relentless growth destroying and destorying forests, turning the seas into plastic soups, leaving so many people dehumanized and stripped of the rich, complex stories that we need as much as nutrients and vitamins….

 

The novel coronavirus is something that has arrived, that has appeared and changes the world. In the tensions between what was and the unknown what will be a liminal space, that of Janus the god of doors with his two faces of beginnings and endings, signifies.

 

You’ve come to slay

and rip off the bandages

from our eyes, to reassert

most painful truths

uncomfortable as exploding

glass

while malign power brokers

shuffle, like rabid elephants,

stirring up

dust clouds of obfuscation.

 

The Observatory, a Meditation

You’re walking up the mountain. You’ve passed the tree line and keep on going, taking occasional rest breaks as it can be hard to catch your breath up here. You tread on a red crunchy soil. After a while you realize there’s a large round building near the top. At first, you thought it was a cloud.

 

You’re much higher than you had realized as you turn and see the land you’ve walked through unfurling far below.

 

You turn back, taking in the sight of the domed building above you. There is a door ahead of you. The building is high but it is only when you enter that you realize that it is huge. Somehow the interior space seems to have grown. A matter of perspective, they say.

 

There is a long open staircase made of metal, which you can climb up to a ring of galleries. Alternatively, you might find an elevator to take you up.

 

You may find a guide here, or perhaps not. What is up there are a long series of windows (there may be as many as 70*). Through these windows you can look out onto many, many views. But sometimes they only give onto white, thick cloud banks, fogs. Look carefully. You may be able to see into the years ahead. Into possibilities, those that may be important for you and your community. Or into the Otherworld. The colors are liminal. Concentrate on them. Surrender. Can you step onto the clouds? Or see new constellations? With practice you can read them. The starlight can be intense. It can enter your cells. The atmosphere is thin.

 

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Above this, in the center of the dome is an aperture. You can’t easily approach this but be aware it is there. It is possible a god may descend from there or maybe pop up through one of the hatches.

 

You can come to this tower when you really want to know something. You may not like what you see. Maybe it will be life changing, when life becomes insurmountable below. You may see things that better helps you navigate in the turbulence ahead.

 

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*I mention this number because Merlin had an observatory with 70 windows and 70 doors as related in the Vita Merlini (Life of Merlin) by Geoffrey of Monmouth. The architect was his sister Ganieda. Unlike this one, their observatory was built in the woods. But this is just extra information.

The Silversword Alliance

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The silversword plants (Argyroxiphium) grow around 9000 feet up on the island. Their leaves reflect. (Photo from Wikipedia). Fencing is to protect from invasive goats which have demolished their populations.

What follows is a poem full of personal gnosis.

 

The Silversword Alliance

 

the swords flash silver

in the mountain’s life,

the sun rose over the heads

of the many lost below

 

but here we raise the blades

of allegiance to the Cloud Lord,

an archaic league remade,

held high for the future.

 

where the sanctuary reigns

high like an eagle’s aerie

in the narrow valley we train

below the red house wary

 

the plants flash in the ash soil,

the alliance in mirrored din

reflects over world’s turmoil.

 

Sword_of_Nuada

Sword of Nuadha.

 

Gatherer of Souls by Lorna Smithers, a Review

 

These are poems and stories that probe, lifting tissues of (mis)remembered pasts. Ghastly misdeeds of King Arthur and his ‘knights’ are here. Smithers gives voice to those that were decapitated & slaughtered, mutilated like the Very Black Witch of Orddu, the giants of the land whose beards were pulled out bloody and nasty. Gatherer of Souls on one hand is a work of disassembly, but through such it is prophetically freeing of those who were buried, covered up, cast out as monsters from a developing, eventually imperial narrative.

 

Essentially, this book is a retrieval of Annwn, the Brythonic underworld, and of Gwyn ap Nudd to whom it is dedicated, a psychopomp and leader of the wild host who has gathered multitudes over the millennia, and is associated with Glastonbury Tor among other places. She shares her experience in a way that is accessible to the reader and also intensely poetic. “I met him on the tear-drenched edgelands between madness and reason, dreaming and waking, life and death. Gwynn ap Nudd opened the doors of Annwyn and called me to ride with him into the mists through the war-torn centuries to recover his forgotten mythos.” The book continues the courageous charting of Annwyn in her previous and recommended book The Broken Cauldron.

 

“Across Prydain giants lay headless and beardless, stony limb scattered in fragments on their hilltops. I helped them pull themselves together, fixed their broken fingers, stuck on their peeled-odd fingernails, guided their sprits into Annwyn’s craggy beds and chairs.

Their anger gathered into a muttering beneath the land that sounded like grinding rocks as Arthur and his men set forth to capture my hounds with leashes woven from their blood beards.”

 

The book is a mix of poetry and prose, but all filled with the prophetic vision of the anywyddyn. That the dead will rise again is foretold. That Gwyn has strengthened. She turns Procopius, the early Byzantine historian (who described a terrible wilderness of serpents and wolves north of the Roman walls) on his head: “From North of the Wall I return/cloaked in feather and claw./To breach the gap/and bring down the divide”.

 

Many voices speak through Lorna: a young girl living in a Celtic village who comes to know a Chalk God whom she first hates for taking her sister; there is Snow who lives at the time of the reinhabitation of Britain after the Ice Age, and who lives on plains of blizzard in the comfort of a “little tent made from willow saplings and reindeer-skins.” She tells us that it was like living in a “reindeer’s womb.” Wind Singer lives at the time of the Roman conquest and gives birth to dragons. In time of despair she flies as a dragon with the Winter Lord. Then there’s the raven that tells us of the downfall of the House of Rheged, that once-fierce kingdom in the north, of Urien blinded by the bible-bearers who forgot what his shield was all about. The oldest creatures share their stories here in a new way: the blackbirdsmith whose “black feathered cloak was sewn by the tailor who dressed the earth”, the wood stag, “when he sprouts back to life, no prison of brick can contain him; the wingless owl; the eagle who ate the stars, she who was taken to the depths by a salmon whom she healed from the wounds of the tridents; and that salmon of wisdom who now has to wear armor: “His wisdom has become a submarine to sink beneath visions of witches, eyes on the radar, launch missiles at Mabon’s prison…” and so many more…

 

As a child, I grew up with the King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table like so many Americans of my generation, went on to the shimmering artifice of Malory and later saw Arthur (whose name has a bear root) as a Celtic hero fighting off the Saxon invaders. At times this is a discomforting vision, almost a #metoo of the ‘once and future king’ on one level. The reveals of the voices of those abused feels so timely, the voices of Annwyn and the giants, witches and the rest of the ‘othered’. Smithers work is one of deconstruction but most importantly offering new vision and insight, the work of a true poet. I will be rereading this one. It could well be read alongside “Chulwych and Olwen” from the Mabinogi.

 

It can be obtained here:

https://lornasmithers.wordpress.com/publications/gatherer-of-souls/