Bowie

A bard of the stars,

a Dionysian adept of the game of masks,

marked by lightning

he stepped down among us,

a very multitude he was.

 

Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke….He saved lives. He saved mine.

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He sang: You’ve got your mother in a whirl
She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl
Hey babe, your hair’s alright
Hey babe, let’s go out tonight
You like me, and I like it all
We like dancing and we look divine

(Metrolyrics)
And it was all all right in the starshine of the renewed night.

 

And then with the shock of the death, the detonation of Blackstar. The Black Sun. The Sun Behind the Sun. Hovering over The City of the Dead, where an Otherworld woman, part animal wanders, black and white boy musicians seethe (seidhr?) and Bowie’s eyes bandaged/covered are topped with a seer’s artificial eyes. I’ve only watched once, there will be many more.

 

 

 

 

 

Three Candles & Darkness

…there are many darknesses in our time, yet darkness is also a nurturing place where the vitality of seeds is expressed, where bones decompose into vital nutrients for those future plants, and for the those that will eat them. Our flesh is dark, as is most of our future. I think we do well to remember that.

 

It still surprises me how often pagans subscribe to a light vs. dark narrative that comes from the Abrahamic religions. And predominates in powerful pop culture narratives.  May ‘we’ remember to honor the chthonic powers.

 

I always wish I could really hibernate during this time of year, but I can at least turn inward.

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But if we, as visually oriented animals, need light this Irish triad can guide us: Three candles that illuminate every darkness: Truth, Nature, and Knowledge.

Traditional Celtic {Irish} Triad (Imbas)

But the darkness is there first.

Happy 2016!

Polytheist Book Recommendations

 

I like making lists, keeps my mind form chaos. Here’s a list of some good polytheist books I read this year. These were either published in 2015 or 2014.

 

 

Dance of Oak and Wren: Rites of Draiocht by Robert Barton. The author is a leader in the Gaelic reconstructionist community of Sinnreachd. There are a lot of Druidist books out there, but not a lot grounded in a reconstructionist foundation. This one is, and is a worthy interpretation of recon Druidism for our times.

 

 

The Treasure Book of the Tuatha De Danann: A Pocket Book of Irish Myth by Morgan Daimler. Includes, the Tain Bó Regamna, The Morrigan’s Satire, Berba—The Story of the Morrigan’s Son, Oenghus’s Dream, and the Taking of the Sí. The author has both Irish originals and her own translations (impressive). A Miscellany of little bits from the lore about the gods and the holidays. A lovely little book.

 

Irish Paganism: Reconstructing Irish Polytheism. Moon Books (Pagan Portals series). Another one by Morgan Daimler. A good, if short, introduction to an Irish Reconstructionist practice, something people have been waiting a long time for. Includes a pronunciation guide.

 

Enchanting The Shadowlands by Lorna Smithers

A beautiful book of landscape poems (and short stories) and evocations of the Brythonic god Gwynn ap Nudd and also to my delight, of Nodens. Post-industrial landscapes (in Lancashire) and their forgotten spirits along with buried rivers are called forth, as it were too. Some of these poems give me shivers.

 

Ephesia Grammata: Ancient History and Modern Practice by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus. Red Lotus Library. The Ephesian Letters are fascinating magical formulae that were associated with Artemis of Ephesus. This little book gives historical background about their uses and how to use them for divination. I have found them a very interesting divination set to add to others in my toolkit.

 

Thunderstruck with Wine: The Hymns of Sannion by H. Jeremiah Lewis. Nysa Press. As the subtitle says, 31 hymns to bring us closer to the God. As the blurb says “…they are Keys that open the Labyrinth”. If you’re a Dionysian, get this one!

 

Komos: Celebrating Festivals in Contemporary Hellenic Polytheism by Sarah Kate Istra Winter, (aka Dver). Winter’s main focus is on Hellenic festivals, but what she has to say is applicable to other polytheist traditions, including Celtic. She writes that the record even for Greek festivals is spotty, most of what is known is Athenian, and even there the details are often spotty. For Irish we have so much less that the Hellenic record seems rich. But I think developing new festivals for deities and heroes that fit our local situations is an important thing to do. As Winter says it’s a both and, meaning doing traditional ones and creating new ones within the spirit of the old ways. An excellent read, full of useful ideas.

 

I find myself thinking, as I rounded them, these are small books, and there is something good about that! Easy to carry, among their other virtues.

 

There are so many winter holidays coming up, (and books are such good cheer) and I’m sure most of us celebrate at least one, if not many….

 

 

Oh, and From The Prow Of Myth is still available and makes a nice gift. J

https://www.createspace.com/4443944

Nietzsche & Dionysos

This is an essay that will be in a collection that I will publish next spring/summer.

 

I feel Friedrich Nietzsche has been sadly neglected as a pagan/polytheist precursor, he who did so much to lay open avenues for pagan developments, among others. Many misunderstand his death of God statement and see this as a proclamation of an ideological atheist, rather than a clearing and the insight that the Abrahamic god was dead, at least in as occupying the center stage that he had held for so long in western culture. His trenchant analyses of the negative influences that Christianity had on European cultures, especially in terms of its cultivation of what he called resentiment, the resentment of those who identify spiritually as victims, and the nihilistic pessimism of the passive approach to a life so cultivated and the goal of living as life’s negation, which he explored in books such as Beyond Good and Evil and the Anti-Christ, retain much of value in today’s world (I find this especially obvious in the assertions so often made today that one should not critique Christianity, even in its most regressive forms and institutions, often under the banner of “inter-faith”). But for our purposes his Dionysianism is central. In his passionate weave of Dionysos and the Heraklitean philosophy of becoming, life-affirming (but not shying from the tragic) resources for pagan/polytheistic theology can be found.

 

The son of a pastor, Nietzsche had an interest in paganism from his earliest years. As a child, living in the small town of Naumberg after his father’s death (1850) Friedrich and his sister constructed an altar for Wotan. As quoted from Zarathustra’s Secret by a German academic, Joachim Kohler, Elizabeth Nietzsche said, “We happened to hear that the nearby hill called the Kirchberg had originally been a place of sacrifice, so we collected stones and fragments of bone and built an altar round which we erected a pile of bones and wood, then set fire to it. When our goodly pastor, attracted by the strange smell, came to see what we were doing, he found us striding solemnly around the altar with burning torches held aloft, chanting a kind of hymn to the words, “Wotan, hear us!” (22). Elizabeth went on to horrible things* but we can only wonder how much Friedrich’s imaginings and contemplations of Wotan was a formative element. He remembered an eagle answering their call who had screeched out the name of the god. In this period he wrote his dreams down faithfully, and an important figure was a cloaked gamekeeper with “wild, glowering” features who seems to echo the Wild Huntsman. A few years later, his diary reports, ”’Finally, we reached a valley,…surrounded by wild undergrowth. Suddenly our companion took a whistle from his pocket and blew a shrill tone. At once the forest came to life, torches were to be seen here and there and we surrounded by men in masks” (24). This sounds like the spirit of the Wild Hunt. But it would be Dionysos to whom the adult Nietzsche would be dedicated; it is relevant that Dionysus also has an aspect as a leader of the dead and other spirits in a procession similar to the Wild Hunt.

 

Nietzsche often described himself in the role of a healer, a physician diagnosing the illness of Western civilization, and in his early book The Birth of Tragedy, the diagnosis was that the Dionysian aspect of life had been suppressed and neglected in Europe under the reign of Christianity and what he saw as its world-denying regimen. The Apollonian was just as important but had been given much greater due. There was no art form so vital in his view as Greek tragedy, that pure form of dramatic poetry that had been developed as part of the Urban Dionysia, the great Athenian festival dedicated to the ecstatic god. The tragedy grew out of the dithyramb, the enthusiastic choric form of poetry chanted and danced to Dionysus. He wrote that “Dionysus never ceased to be the tragic hero… all the famous figures of the Greek stage…are only masks of that original hero Dionysus. Nietzsche was himself a poet, though many only know him as the philosopher who wrote in a poetic style. He wrote a book of dithyrambs, which any lover of Dionysus should have, entitled, Dithyrambs of Dionysos. A German/English bilingual edition translated by RJ Hollindale and published by Anvil Press is an easily accessible one. He wrote the nine poems from 1883 to 1888, before his mental breakdown. A short poem that inscribes the beginning of the book is written as Dionysus:

In as much as I want to do mankind a boundless favour, I give them my dithyrambs.

 

I place them in the hands of the poet of Isoline {meaning Nietzsche}

The first and greatest satyr alive today—and not only today…

Dionysus

 

Nietzsche’s most famous and complex work, Thus Spake Zarathustra, presents a pagan vision of life. The philosopher T. K. Seung has written a hermeneutic work on Thus Spake Zarathustra entitled Nietzsche’s Epic of the Soul wherein he argues for the epic nature of the book, specifically that is as an epic journey of the soul. He situates Nietzsche as a pantheist, and in the lineage of Spinoza, a walker on the sacred earth, a climber on an epic quest, which parallels some of the writing of the book, which took place in the mountains of Switzerland as well as on the Mediterranean coast of Italy. Spinoza dealt with the problem of the deterministic material universe, the endless chains of causality, and how to create human joy from this seeming impasse of free will, and this would be one of Nietzsche’s concerns as well. One of the thorniest problems in interpretations of Zarathustra over generations is what Nietzsche meant by his doctrine of eternal recurrence; Zarathustra proclaims that seemingly impossible doctrine that everything will be repeated over and over, our lives in all our minutiae. Seung interprets it to be Spinoza’s chain of causality, the endless connections of our material lives and of the universe we are part of. The scientific universe whether of Newton or Einstein is this determined reality and the notion of the sovereign individual unleashed in this cosmography presents a basic contradiction. The laws of nature can’t be overcome. Seung states, “As long as these two ideas are kept apart from each other, there is no problem. But they generate an intractable problem when they are placed together. How can the individual be a creative master in the deterministic world?” (xiv). For post-medieval western philosophers the medieval theological debate over Adam’s free will versus predestination became one of free will vs. nature. For Seung this is Nietzsche’s ring of the eternal recurrence, a metaphor for the situation of the would-be sovereign individual within the laws of nature.

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Photo by Maylene Thyssen, Denmark.

 

But why not take the Dionysian Nietzsche at face value, and examine the theology of eternal recurrence? Carl Kerenyi in Dionysus: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life wrote, “in the union of the two archetypal images, the divine pair of Dionysos and Ariadne represent the eternal passage of zoe into and through the genesis of living creatures, this occurs over and over again and is always, uninterruptedly, present.” Nietzsche had named himself the “last disciple of Dionysos” (Twilight of the Idols 563) and had found a precursor for his thought in Heraclitus: “The affirmation of passing away and destroying, which is the decisive feature of a Dionysian philosophy; saying Yes to opposition and war; becoming along with a radical repudiation of the very concept of being—all this is clearly closely related to me than anything else thought to date. The doctrine of the ‘eternal recurrence’, that is of the unconditional and infinitely repeated cyclical course of all things, this doctrine of Zarathustra might in the end have been already taught by Heraclitus. At least the Stoa has traces of it, and the Stoics inherited almost all of their principle notions from Heraclitus” (Ecce Homo quoted in Lukacher 7).

 

Nietzsche traced the eternal recurrence back through the stoics to Heraclitus, and his sense of the world eventually ending in a great conflagration, the ekpyrosis. In Heraclitus 45: “This kosmos, the same for all, none of gods nor humans made, but it was always and is and shall be: an ever-living fire, kindled in measures and extinguished in measures” (Curd 45). Life, fire, destruction, continual becoming are interlinked, indissolubly (as in ever-lasting: àeízöon, composed of zoe and aei, eternity). Stoic allegorists saw that the ever-living survives by dying, and Chrysippus said, “that all gods die in the last conflagration of the world, except for Jupiter” (Lukacher 10), we may hear an echo in the Norse Ragnarok. But for Nietzsche the god who survives the end of the cycle of the great year is named Dionysos. Regeneration in fire would always be world renewing. And Nietzsche theorized in 1883 that the Mysteries taught such eternal recurrence. Many die too late and a few die too early. The doctrine still sounds strange: “Die at the right time!”…I want to die myself that you, my friends, may love the earth more for my sake; and to earth I want to return that I may find rest in her who gave birth to me.

 

Like Heraclitus, Nietzsche did not see Being and Appearance as an opposition. There was no static Being but an ever-continuing coming to be and passing away without any closure of resolution. Like for Heraclitus, the strife of the world was not negative but something creative, in fact an overfullness, like a pregnancy near term (Ullers 9). Life is a process of renewal though its own destruction, something essentially Dionysian. The phenomena rise and pass endlessly, the forms broken like the tragic hero, the pathos of the will of the Heraklitean joinedness of opposites, of suffering and ecstasy at the heart of nature, an insight captured in the Dionysian theater, in the intoxicated god. (see Ulfers)

A Dionysian theology/philosophy can be discerned in this pain and ecstasy of becoming, one that has much potential as an alternative to the Neo-Platonist ones that have so much popularity these days, one rooted in pre-Socratic insight and the immanence of unlimited life and with potential for various polytheisms.

 

 

 

 

 

References

Curd, Patricia. Ed. A Presocratics Reader: Selected Fragments and Testimonia. 2nd Ed. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2011.

Kerenyi, Karl. Dionysos: Archteypal Image of Eternal Life. Princeton, 1976.

Köhler, Joachim. Zarathustra’s Secret: The Interior Life of Friedrich Nietzsche. trans. Ronald Taylor. New Haven: Yale, 2002.

Lukacher, Ned. Time-Fetishes: The Secret History of Eternal Recurrences. Durham: Duke University, 1998.

Ulfers, Frierich. “Introduction.” The Dionysian Vision of the World. Minneapolis: Univocal, 2013.

 

*Elizabeth Förster-Nietzsche became a notorious racist, fascist, and anti-Semite.

When Second Function Perverted…

Like dogs trained against their sensible nature, striped by whip and chain,

chained and fenced in pens, then unleashed in demented fury—

furious the bullies beat upon the weak when

 

forces of the second function* turn against their own communities,

committing attacks upon those within the precincts of the assemblies;

now they appear traitors to their oaths to protect,

oaths reflecting mirror-like their very purpose for existing.

 

And yet, in insulation of armor, they turn their weaponry,

on the peoples in paroxysm of injustice,

injustice where the blood of innocents

flows on the streets and stains red-brown the robes of justice.

 

Then truth, as well as justice, has departed from the land,

harried off to a sinister hall, stripped of dignity,

hellishly gagged and chained; her cries are rending,

heard in night’s trembling. Expeditions must be prepared by new

heroes with strength in their arms and truth on their tongues,

heroic courage beating in their hearts.

 

*The second function in Dumezilian Indo-European theory is that of warriors and protectors.

Hospitality & Current Affairs

The world is in crying need of the ancient value of hospitality, a value that is found in cultures throughout the world, and yet so absent in much of the modern world. In my Celtic tradition it is a core value, and is historically witnessed in the person of the Irish briugu, the hosteller. In medieval Irish society the briugu was usually a prosperous farmer, some of whose prosperity was funneled to a larger good, that is providing hospitality for those who were traveling beyond the abodes of kin. Hostels were also maintained by member of the skilled professions who had received wealth due to their services, wealth some of which then got spread around. One of their most important possessions was their cauldron. The briugu was not part of military obligations and their hostels were places of the exchange of much news and information, thus providing another function important to the rural society. The hostels are an important setting in the lore, unsurprisingly, with tales like Togail Bruidne Dá Derga (The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel)*.

 

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We live in a time when movement of peoples is global in nature, many people are on the roads, and many are those desperately in need of the most basic hospitality, a place to shelter from the storms of war and horror. Perhaps hearts must open before doors can, as many in this land seem to have closed hearts. May we find again the value of hospitality, and find ourselves better off for doing so.

 

 

*They were sometimes seen as being in the Otherworld or at least liminal. Interestingly, in modern Irish the term can refer to a fairy dwelling.

A Time of Lamentation

the storm comes

in blood

battering rams of

hate

breach the gates

Erebus Phobos and Eris

stalk the avenues

ash smeared lamia wait

in streetlight

the storm comes

in the splash of blood

in the opening of

man hole covers where

hungry ghosts congregate

Somewhere a piano plays deep in the night

a song of lamentation drifts

like cigar smoke

in starlight

among the

Sirens

call.