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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Seasonal Reportage

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night-blooming jasmine

So last night, we celebrated our household Samhain. As usual, I cooked salmon but it was hard to find wild salmon in the local markets. The finches and doves had gotten all the land spirit offerings by the time I got up this morning (as they should). We did a Beloved Dead altar on the 31st, but very modest, as a lot of things are still in boxes in a shed, and my energy has been limited.

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The night before I had vivid dreams of unusual intensity. In one a horrifying super-wasp kind of creature, which was buzzing about the room, it was many segmented and had a bit of the centipede to it as well. I went after it and had a hard object with which I repeatedly smashed it, but every segment had to be squashed as it could grow appendages and revivify from a segment, hydra-like it was. Full of a virulent goo. But I triumphed, (as far as I know). In dream the sacred approaches us. In many forms.

On Saturday we went up to the Maunakea summit again with a group of international exchange students, to that place of deities above this world. Again the awe. You can easily walk into the Otherworld there.

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The last few days I’ve seen unusual birds, one by the shore that looked like a great blue heron, though I didn’t know they lived on the island, and an owl which flew right above my car at twilight, a good sign according to Hawaiian lore. Rainbows too.

I write this in a night of unease in the long-occupied nation of Hawai’i as the debacle of the United States election brings more instability and turbulence to our world. May the gods help us all.

A few seasonal images:

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A druid walk

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Incubation & Surrender

With Samhain approaching, on Friday I went out to one of my favorite places anywhere. At the end of a remote road on the North Kohala coast lies a deep valley. Pololu. A steep trail zigzags down to the wild beach. This is a favored place for my visionary filidecht practice of incubation. Beach huts make nice incubatory chambers. The sea itself induces light trance. I am the sound of the sea. I am the wind on the sea. The waves of the deep.

 

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Beach huts make nice incubation chambers

 

Deepening. Down, down, down, I went. The Cailleach is a deity that has surprised me in her importance in the work, as least in my practice of it. I feel she laughs with amusement that after my being cast into the sea in her cold waters I washed ashore on this remote tropical coast. And an island that could only be Otherworld from the point of view of the ancients.

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This has been a year where much was about letting go, surrendering; it has not been about my will, my ‘self’, which I think Paganism in its modern from has heavily overemphasized (I’m sure a part of our modern western notions of the absolute importance of the individual). Old ‘selves’ die, are shed, decompose, new selves sprout and grow, if one surrenders to the work of visionary traditions. It comes with pain, mutilation, as well as ecstasy. Such is sacrificial work. Consider the Shining Ones burning their ships when they landed on Eire’s shores. Did they not have great longings from whence they had come? I am told.

 

Perhaps a true sovereignty comes from overcoming the boundaries of the daylight self, the ego, of its puncturing and laceration, of the waters overflowing its dam, as French philosopher Georges Bataille suggested; that overcoming of self that happens when we really come into intimacy with the sacred.

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CR/Gaelic Polytheist Community Boost

If you are interested in Celtic Reconstructionist paths, a Gaelic Polytheist or interested in the Irish/Scottish outsider warrior paths, and you don’t know the work of  Saigh Kym Lambert, you should. She was the first to use the term Celtic Reconstructionism in a religious sense in print and has long been devoted to the Irish War Goddesses,  and has written the best of the pagan scholarship on the Morrigan (Check out some of her articles on Air-N-Aithesc). Saigh has a pack of canines and a small herd of horses (some rescued) on a mountain homestead. Animal health care, just as human, can become overwhelmingly expensive and she is currently running a fundraiser with various interesting items, and an offer for vouchers for future workshops in fennidecht (the Gaelic outsider warrior tradition, think Fionn MacChumhaill, and Scathach). Info about what these workshops would entail can be found here: http://www.dunsgathan.net/feannog/workshops.html

Here’s a link for the fundraiser itself.

https://fundrazr.com/surgery-for-gleann?fb_action_ids=10154570835282299&fb_action_types=fundrazr%3Astory_update

So please help, if you are able to do so.

 

And on just a general note, we really need to be building community in these unstable times.

Report from a Windy Place

The winds are blowing hard. Last night they howled and moaned, things clattered and knocked about outside. A light rain falls. A storm is expected tomorrow. It seems to reflect things happening far away in the national ‘center’. I think of David Abram’s intuiting of the wind as spirit. This has been a difficult year on a personal level. When you have a local focus and animistic practice big moves, changes of geography and ecology are painful. At times I have been nearly overwhelmed with what the French call mal du pays (yes, the French have a much better word for what English makes do with homesickness; readers of Haruki Murakami, that animist novelist, will recognize this term, and know Lizt has a musical piece by this name). Local spirits left behind. Meeting new ones, but that takes time.

 

Things are shifting, realignments occurring on the macro-level. This is happening within our pagan/polytheist communities as well. Unpleasant things have come to light this year, things that weren’t exactly invisible before, but like seeing peoples’ masks slip, and seeing such ugliness revealed.

 

Rootedness is good for animism, good for learning ecological ways. But uprooting can be needed, so a god tells me. And there are much greater ones, much greater uprootings. I received rebuke (it hurt), my complaints getting in the way of doing the work. The storm warning says trees will be downed. Be prepared. Stock up on water, batteries…

 

A god shows me we must make otherworld sanctuaries, places not of this world. With our gods-given gift of imagination we co-create these places. They will be needed.

 

The winds blow harder. I am much more aware of the sky here. The stars. Much of my practice has long been deeply earth-focused (and still is) but the sky is becoming more prominent. There are times for flight. I receive lessons. I watch the birds, especially the white ones. At times it is necessary to fly high above the cloud layers, above the storms to high mountain summits, to the Cities of Knowledge, to the abodes that shine with the light of the Shining Ones.

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We need to unleash the imbas, the awen, the intuitive flows. I touch the odd vitreous substance of the castle walls. There are others here too, others heeding have flown here.

 

I went up on the mountain, almost to the summit. Iron-red and black cinder all about. I was light headed, this one was this-worldly but not really, it all intersects, the heavens and the earth. Some build bridges with science, some with poetry. I was oxygen deprived, I was drunk, the light was tangible. Poetry flit in the thin air, the god wanted me to go there for a long time, I could see for two hundred miles. It’s necessary at times to go high above the cloud layers above the storms to high summits.

 

 

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.

Sacral Kings, Traditions, Defense …

Here are a few thoughts generated by the uproar over Rhyd Wildermuth’s text at Gods and Radicals on Confronting the New Right… While I think that an unnecessary amount of confusion resulted from his lack of providing definitions for the type of Right he is discussing, specifically those who have roots in what is called the Traditionalist school of perennial philosophy, including the thought of René Guénon and Julius Evola in the early 20th century, and even if he painted very widely, there is much merit for us reconstructionist polytheists/pagans to seriously consider his points. And the fact is there is plenty of influence of this school of thought in contemporary polytheism and it is disingenuous to deny it. Just read some of the comments of the people who have crawled out of the woodwork spouting far right nonsense over this article.

 

As Reconstructionists, we, of course, are interested in traditions. The world is deeply wounded and many of us have found much that is healing in traditions that may or not be ancestral. So the slipperiness of language becomes a problem (tradition is like electricity, it can be used positively, negatively or otherwise); it should be clearly noted that “Radical Traditionalism” refers to the Evola/Guenon/de Benoist school and does intersect with fascism and similar far right politics. If some people, want to create universalist neopagan religion that is without roots, well fine. But I ask please be careful not to smear the work of reconstituting traditions, whether they are of nineteenth century fairy faith practices of Ireland, or of archaic Iron Age practices with “Radical Traditionalism”. If one does so, I think they should be aware they are also smearing traditional indigenous people from North American to Hawaii, from Ladakh to Nigeria. Helena Norberg-Hodge, producer and co-director of the film Economics of Happiness and author of the influential book Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, is an example of a very different kind of traditionalist. I personally have long been of the mind that ancient traditions and practices are what is needed for human survival as the current unsustainable petroleum civilization breaks down and leaves everyone a ravaged landscape. And the traditions of the Irish, the Scandinavians, the Welsh and many other European cultures all have their place in that. I do have a problem with Rhyd’s damning of ‘tribalism’, but since he capitalized it, he may mean a particular iteration, but that, unfortunately, he didn’t define. The key thing to keep in mind with tribes is that they are not race-related—and that ancient Europeans didn’t even have the concept of race.

 

 

With that said, I think there is much of value to examine from the article. It claims that Reconstructionism is “one of the more significant places where the New Right intersects with Pagan beliefs. Emphasis on returning to ‘reconstructed’ traditions, older (and poorly understood) social forms and hierarchical structures, as well as an emphasis on recovering European heritage are often problematic. Further, nationalistic and racial exclusionist tendencies are often justified as being part of ‘the lore.’ Very strong language, but worth examining…

 

 

From a Celtic perspective, I think one of the most relevant questions here is how do we as reconstructionists of a Gaelic/Celtic emphasis deal with sacral kingship. I haven’t really seen any individuals or groups who really were monarchists and want to revive and live in an actual monarchy but there may be some hoping for such, for all I know. As I know I’ve discussed here and there in the past the Gaelic kingdoms and kings weren’t the monarchs of more recent European and other countries based on the ideology of divine Christian monarch invested by the Church and made by primogeniture (and often were a of a tuath, a tribe of about 2000 people and weren’t even states!), that people usually think of but nevertheless there was the whole very important symbolic concept of the sacred king (I prefer the Irish word rí) who received sovereignty, often as a liquor, from a goddess. And the filidh often played a role in not only inaugurating the king as representative of sovereignty—and even could share the king’s bed, a far cry from most rightist fantasies!

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Some groups create a ceremonial king, others have the role in ritual invested in a chief druid, but there are many possibilities. I wonder if anyone would have a problem with these symbolic kings and their role in ritual? It’s likely kings arose as ritual leaders whose ritual roles eventually carried over into the mundane. There certainly are examples from places that had moved onto other forms of governance that maintained a sacred king for certain rituals, as did the city of Athens in the classical era.

 

I can see that some people would want religions that had no such ‘hierarchical’ roles, even of the symbolic nature, I supposed even not having one chosen for one ritual, and then another for the next. I would hope that they would be tolerant of those who do wish for such ritual reconstructions. And I would also hope that anyone wanting to literally socially recreate an Iron Age based social structure would be laughed out of the community. I know all sorts of crazy does appear in CR-oriented social media these days, but ones that I am familiar with rapidly throw up bars to those who would attempt to fly fascistic flags or assert racist notions of Celtic identity (sadly, not so much or at least not with such quick defense among some devotional polytheist-labeled groups in my experience). I do agree with Rhyd that we need strong immune systems against such intrusions or false claims. Critical thinking absolutely must be a part of reconstructionist approaches and has to be part of our immune-defenses. So this is a valid place, a vulnerable area in reconstructions to beware of people who are actually monarchists with fascist leanings.

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And while I really haven’t seen much that would seem to be the “New Right” per se in a CR setting, an obsession with genetics and attempts at racial (and thereby racist) identities of Celtic identity do show up a lot. Celtic, as has been said so many times, is a linguistic term and the cultures that are based on said languages, and is not a genetic marker. People became Celtic by adopting the culture. Besides that fostering was a key custom, and thereby the continuous establishment of deep familial bonds between genetically unrelated people. Nonetheless, I think the racists who show up are dim enough to not realize that the black person or the Puerto Rican whom they consider an outsider to the traditions might well have more Irish ancestry than they do, those who would bang their chest in false Celtic pride—and have a deeper relationship to the gods.

 

A related area that is very unfortunate and unhistorical relating to all this is there are plenty of people in Gaelic traditionalist groups who believe in a cultural ‘purity’ and believe you can only worship Irish gods or Welsh gods, and the like, usually based on a false belief that cultures are isolated things stored timelessly in hermetically sealed vessels. I think analogous concepts can be found in some other reconstructionist religions, as among some Heathens or even some Hellenes.

 

So these are some points where I think we should set up strong defenses.

 

I’d be very interested in readers’ thought on these issues.