Fire, Blight, and Balor

 

Fires and more fires, blights, an ogam reading in a storm and more….thoughts over at paganbloggers:

 

http://paganbloggers.com/finnchuillstrack/2017/10/16/blight-fires-and-balor/

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Above the Clouds

It’s been quiet around here (it seems with the gloom of the US political situation, prepping for a new job, and my mom being hospitalized my ability to write has been stopped up), but before the newness of the year is gone I want to spill out a few words here. The old year sputtered out with an occasional remaining fit of coughing and spewing. A new one has come in with the energy of a careening freight train, will the rails hold, or if not what might be down there at the end of the line? Some will say years are arbitrary but they are astronomical realities. Sure, it’s a cultural thing where they’re said to start and to end and begin again but we are symbolic animals and psyche is as real as soma.

 

For many in the northern hemisphere it’s winter, but here in the tropics day and night are the antinomies, but the nights have at least cooled off. At the end of the year I had the opportunity to journey up to a high summit (just under 14,000 feet) where winter is reigning. Plenty of snow on the amazing mountain of Maunakea. The effects of high altitude, of low oxygen can easily induce light trance-like states, and the otherworld can more easily communicate with this one at these heights, I have found. Whether via literal heights or those we can reach in our imagination, in “interesting times” it is important to get above the clouds from time to time, above the light pollution of the media (including social media). Of course, one can go underneath too, but that is a different journey.

 

I do have a few announcements to make:

 

I will be at PantheaCon in San Jose in February and presenting a class on filidecht practice on Feb. 17th, “Cauldron Work: The Cauldron of Poesy” (9PM). Here’s from the program:

 

The Three Cauldrons are discussed in the medieval Irish text: “The Cauldron of Poesy”, attributed to the mythical vision poet (fili) Amergin. We will talk about the nature of the whirlpool-like cauldrons and their turning in this wisdom tradition, the importance of our emotions in this tradition (which can turn the cauldrons), and techniques to scan for personal knowledge. To turn the cauldron of wisdom upright, even if momentarily, brings mystical insight. We will discuss the key technique of incubation as well; poetry, art, song, knowledge, wisdom are fruit of this work.

 

The devotional book The Dark Ones, published late last year by Neosalexandria has my poem for the Cailleach, along with a lot of familiar voices. Ordering info here:

https://neosalexandria.org/bibliotheca-alexandrina/current-titles/fiction-anthologies/the-dark-ones-tales-and-poems-of-the-shadow-gods/

 

The new issue of A Beautiful Resistance is available for pre-order and will be out next month. I have an essay there about the left-hand sacred, an important understanding of the sacred earlier developed by Emile Durkheim, Marcel Mauss and Georges Bataille and very relevant for 21st century pagans/polytheists. https://godsandradicals.org/2017/01/01/left-sacred-presale/

Here’s a lovely meme with a quote from the essay made by Rhyd Wildermuth:

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Finally, a quote from an inspiring essay by William Hawes:

“Each of us must find the strength to light their own flame, find their own inner strength and sacred fire, and use their passion and creativity to change the world. By using our collective brilliance, a new space could be opened up for a new kind of Earth. Reviving our communities one-by-one gives us our only chance to confront and defeat the many tentacle monster of international capitalism and US imperialism. There is an alternative: but you won’t find it by watching your TV, or playing on your smartphone.”

https://godsandradicals.org/2017/01/16/lighting-a-flame-in-dark-times/

Imbolc is coming! May Brigid’s flame inspire us.

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Extinction Remembrance Day

November 30th is Remembrance Day for Lost Species. I believe commemorations like this can be channels for the grief that any authentic living in this time must confront. Definitely a good day to mark for those with an animist bent.

More information can be found at this website.

https://www.lostspeciesday.org/

I’ve also found valuable thoughts from Lo (Keen) on extinction on this blog: https://rotwork.wordpress.com/

I’ve written a couple of poems and tributes to the lost birds of the Big Island of Hawai’i for this day.

A distinctively human consciousness arose in Paleolithic

linguistics and painted its wrestle with abyssal animal mind,

staving guilt of hunt and anxiety separation

with ritual’s diplomacy:

ochre and feathers

and sorcerers dancing on the edge of worlds,

occasionally falling off into the pit of bones.

now centuries of the rites cast aside,

suppressed volcanoes of grief wait unaddressed

and sedimentary layers of numbness press on our continents—

a society looks for the forgotten

who peek occasionally from sedated dreams,

in pixar and pokemon-alert smartphones

(the children were out in August—I hadn’t known there were any,

but there they’d gathered near where the stream gushes by the supermarket unseen)

while outside barely known

the Sixth Extinction rages on.

We the truly lost species as tectonic plates grind on.

Here on the island of Hawai’i there are at least ten species of bird that have gone extinct since the arrival of whites in the late 18th century. There are many more if the entire archipelago is included. Hawaii has suffered more extinctions and more endangered species than any other US state. The majority of these lost species are of a group of birds called Hawaiian honeycreepers that underwent diverse speciation as they adapted to a multitude of island environments much like the finches that led Darwin to theorizing evolution. In many cases their habitat was destroyed by sugar plantations and cattle ranching; also the introduction of rats, mosquitoes and the diseases they transmit (there were none before the Europeans came), mongooses and cats have led to the demise of others.

The Hawaii mamo, Drepanis pacifica, last seen in 1898.

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The greater Koa finch, Rhodocanthis palmeri. Last confirmed sighting in 1896.

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The lesser Koa finch, R. flaviceps, 1891.

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The Kona grosbeak, Chloridops kona. 1894.

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The Hawai’i o’o, Moho nobilis, last seen in 1934.

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The ula-‘ai-hawene, Ciridops anna, extinct at the latest by 1937.

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The greater ‘amakini, Viridonia sagittirostris, last seen in1901. Lost to sugar plantations destroying its habitat.

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The lesser ‘akialoa, Akialoa obscura. Last seen in 1940.

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The Hawaiian rail, Porzana sandwichensis. 1884 or maybe 1893.

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The kioea, Chaetoptila angustipluma, 1859.

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All images Wikipedia, public domain.

 

An Elegy

before the cattle, before the sugar,

before the mosquitoes and rats

brought by whalers’ ships,

before the plantations

how much richer the island life—

when the lost birds could be heard cracking

the naio fruits, flitting in gold epaulettes and black dress

among the ohia trees,

opening the seed pods in the koa groves,

sheltering from fierce noon sun and plundering

nectar with long curved beaks. Your flights

haunt, a lost net of sorrow.

.

Gods & Radicals

As the US roils with turmoil, a rising tide of hate crimes and a promise from the Strongman the Electoral College put into office that the US will pull out of the Paris Accords, I take stock of my religious communities. This has been a divisive year in many ways, in so many layers. Many things have changed. One of the bright constellations in this depressing year has been the growth of Gods & Radicals, and its publications, including the magazine A Beautiful Resistance. A re-membering of the radical nature of being pagan in a capitalist-dominated world, something many had forgotten in the mainstreaming, especially in the US, of paganism/polytheism, is called forth. The roots of paganism have sent up new shoots. The ensuing year further revealed that publisher Rhyd Wildermuth’s exposes were real and of great import: that in our pagan/polytheist communities the alt-right had put their envenomed tentacles down. There was much hew and cry about how dare such accusations be made, but then we saw how many revealed themselves as White Supremacists, along with those who would give them passage and cheer, and who knew no integrity in their campaigns against those that they felt threatened by. A year ago, I thought the alt-right were but a tempest in a teapot. I was wrong: now a major voice of this new revised version of fascism has been given a top job in Drumpf’s White House, the head of the horrifying Breitbart alt-right ‘news’ website. A year or so ago I was told a Storm was coming; it has arrived, taken the capital and frightens the planet. An informative background on the alternative right: https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/ideology/alternative-right

 

G&R offers a wide variety of writers and perspectives (although its detractors claim otherwise) from Alley Valkyrie to Christopher Scott Thompson, the Hunter S. Thompson-esque hell-raising of Dr. Bones to the beautiful poetry of Lorna Smithers, the eco-wisdom of Sean Donahue, the spirited politics of T. Thorn Coyle, Yvonne Aburrow, Wildermuth and so many more compassionate, intelligent voices. Such voices are needed more than ever in these times of descent into neo-fascism. Please contribute to their fundraiser! It runs till the end of the year.

https://godsandradicals.org/solidarity/

There are plenty of cool perks too!

Keepers of the Past, Guides to the Future

I’ve lately been very struck by this statement of Arundhati Roy, Indian writer, activist and author of The God of Small Things:

“The day that capitalism is forced to tolerate non-capitalist societies in its midst and to acknowledge limits in its quest for domination, the day it is forced to recognize that its supply of raw material will not be endless, is the day when change will come. If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate-change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings. It lives lowdown on the ground, with its arms around the people who go to battle everyday to protect their forests, their mountains and their rivers because they know that the forests, the mountains and rivers protect them.”

 

“The first step towards reimagining a world gone terribly wrong would be to stop the annihilation of those who have a different imaginations—an imagination that is outside of capitalism as well as communism. An imagination which has an altogether different understanding of what constitutes happiness and fulfillment. To gain this philosophical space, it is necessary to concede some physical space for the survival of those who may look like the keepers of our past, but may really be the guides to our future.” (Quoted in This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein).

 

I find there is much applicable to pagan polytheism and our reconstructions here. And an understanding of the positive side of traditions that a reconstructionist should hope to cultivate as attitudes/practices/imagination that are an “altogether different understanding of what constitutes happiness and fulfillment” and a good way of life that what our mainstream viewpoint of neoliberal capitalism asserts. Whether Celtic—Irish, Welsh, Gaulish, etc.—or Scandinavian, Hellenic, Baltic, etc. reconstruction of our traditions provide tools of imagination and life as we fare into a dangerous future and forging new/old ways of life that are integrated into the great life cycles of our planet, of our biology and ecology and the greater cosmos. They provide us with understandings of reciprocal living in a relational landscape, that we may step out into a sacred intimacy with world.

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Christopher Williams, Ceridwen, 1910. Wikipedia commons.

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.