Catching Wisdom: Nuadhu, Nechtan, Nodens

I’ve decided to share an essay I wrote for Air N-Aithesc (Lughnasadh/Samhain 2015) issue here. This exploration was generated out of my filidecht work which has brought me to this awesome god(s).

Catching Wisdom: Nuadhu, Nechtan, Nodens

The god who is willing to play a high price for justice, for the protection of his tribe, is found in many Indo-European religions. In the Irish pantheon we find Nuadhu, often known as Nuadhu Airgetlam (Silver Hand or Arm). The lore tells us that it was under the leadership of Nuadhu that the gods came to Ireland from the four cities of magic and learning in the north, where they had previously resided. In his most famous myth, He loses his arm in the First Battle of Maige Tuired. He who has held the kingship among the gods, steps down, as the king must be unblemished and whole—steps down of His own accord. The physician gods Dian Cecht and his son Miach come to strife over the replacement: flesh restored by spells (Miach) or a beautiful silver prosthesis (Dian Cecht). With the perfectly usable silver one Nuadhu was enabled to receive the kingship again. The context is the First Battle of Maige Tuired: this divine war puts him into the heart of the Indo-European myth of the battle of the gods, which was probably part of his cultus (Ó hÓgain, Myth 326). There are parallels with the Norse Tyr who lost an arm to the Fenris wolf here (Puhvel 199). Nuadhu’s arm was severed in combat with Sreang, a Fir Bolg warrior; His comrades had intervened and brought him off the battlefield but the next day He was back on it. He entreated Sreang to tie up his right arm so they could resume combat fairly, but the Fir Bolg warrior refused. The Tuatha De Danann stepped in in what They thought would be Nuadhu’s destruction, offering the province of Connacht to the Fir Bolg, which they rejected (Ó hÓgain, Myth 326). Justice, doing the right thing, is a key aspect of Nuadhu but there is much more to Him, and associations with healing and the poetry and the fire in water complex will be explored here.

 

Nuadhu also has important water associations. One of the poetic kennings for the Boyne river is “the forearm of the wife of Nuadhu” (Ó hÓgain, Sacred Isle 136). He appears to be the same as Nechtan who is named as the husband of Boann (and I will precede here from that perspective). This river association is particularly interesting, as the Boyne River was considered the primal river, a source of sacred wisdom. The first reference to it is from Claudius Ptolemaus in the early 2nd century CE who labeled it Buvinda. The Celticist Dr. Dáithí Ó hÓgain says the early Irish form would have been *Bou-vinda, meaning ‘the white lady with bovine attributes’” (Myth 110). She dwelt at the source of the river, a well surrounded by nine hazel trees, whose nuts contained imbas, and when these fell into the water they were consumed by the salmon who in turn held the wisdom in their flesh.

 

In a well known tale1 Boann disobeys Nechtan’s command that only He and his cupbearers can approach the well; if anyone else did, then their eyes would supposedly burst (Puhvel 279). But Boann disregards this and Her transgression ushers a flood as waters gush forth and create the river, which bears Her name. As She fled from the three gushes She was injured, losing a hand, an eye, and a foot as She ran all the way to the sea. While this could be given a misogynistic interpretation, it actually conceals mystery (Carey 170). There is an allusion to the Irish magical practice of closing one eye, standing on one foot, and holding up one hand, hinting at Her agency and intentions in this ‘transgression’. It also references a much wider Indo-European association of wisdom being associated not only with wells/pools, but with eyes. As Carey mentions, the word for eye and spring can be the same in Celtic languages, citing the hot springs of Bath, which were called the Waters of the Eye, that is of the goddess Sulis Minerva (171).

 

Ó hÓgain asserts that Boann would have originally been the sacred cow who gives the milk to an archetypal seer-poet named Find, whom Ó hÓgain states is “an early personification of wisdom, many vestiges of whom are found in the early literature” (Myth 208), whose reflex would be Finn the Poet whom the hero Fionn MacCumhaill goes to learn poetcraft from in the Fenian tradition (Nagy 179). This implicitly associates the river with sacred milk. Indian tradition also names rivers as being the milk that flows from mystical cows (Ó hÓgain, Myth 49). Nuadhu is named as an ancestor of both Fionn MacCumhaill and of Finn or Find the Poet. In Find’s lore, He is also called Nuadha Find-Eces, that is Nuadha the Far-Seer Find who was associated with a wise salmon; Ó hÓgain states that Nuadha’s cultus may well have absorbed the lore of this earlier wisdom figure of the Boyne river valley (Myth 210).

 

All of this has led me to explore His role in filidecht. And right into the problem/situation of Nechtan. Necht may have been an ancient word for water (Ó hÓgain, Myth 326) and comes from a root for washing, with additional meanings of clear, pure, white (eDIL). Alternatively, it may derive from the other meaning of necht, that is nephew, which will be considered later. ÓhÓgain states that Nechtan was a “pseudonym” for Nuadhu who was also known as Nuadha Necht. As we’ve seen, His well was said to be at the source of the Boyne, which we have already seen was considered the ‘archetypal’ river. The salmon that Fionn MacCumhall caught and which illuminated him, was originally ‘intended’ for a seer known as Finneigeas and also as Nuadhu Finnegeas, further associating him with the seer-poet tradition. Fionn is as much a seer-poet as an outlaw warrior; he cooked the salmon of wisdom for his teacher Finnaigeas, who’d already fished seven years for this fish and who asked his new guest/pupil (gilla) to do the cooking. Doing so, Fionn burnt his thumb, and put it into his mouth to suck on and was flooded with imbas (Nagy). The image echoes the Norse Sigurd, the dragon-slayer who while cooking the heart of the dragon burnt his thumb and realized through the resultant illumination that his companion sought to kill him. Ó hÓgain believes that Norse and Irish stories influenced each other in a complicated way during the 10th century (216). There are the well-known parallels with the Welsh Gwion Bach attending Cerridwen’s cauldron and licking the spatters that landed on his skin, and the ensuing chase, transformations, and rebirth as poet/prophet Taliesin (Ford 20).

 

 

Nuadha has a parallel and cognate in Britonnic lore, Nodons or Nodens, a god who had a temple at Lydney in what is now the county of Gloucestershire on the bank of the river Severn near the English/Welsh border. The Roman era temple is located on a bluff over the river, which is famous for its tidal bore, a huge incoming tidal wave that surges far upriver. The temple is believed to have been a site of incubation2 for pilgrims seeking healing, and who would stay overnight hoping for a visionary dream. This god was associated with dogs, evoking the hunt. In the interpretatio Romano, He was synchronized with Mars who besides having war attributes was a god of agriculture and had associations with water (Jones). At Chesterholm in north Britain, an inscription synchronizes Nodens with Neptune. He was syncretized at Lancaster with Mars where two such inscriptions of Mars Nodens have been found (Green, Dictionary 162). Dogs, while symbolizing hunting, also symbolized healing; belief in the healing powers of dogs are widespread (and reappearing in current western medicine). Besides war and water, Mars also was associated with healing, so the dogs could represent both strands. Nine striking canine images were excavated from the temple (Green 162).

Roman_Temple_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1318760

 

Nodens also has a syncretism at Lydney with Silvanus, a forest and hunting deity (Green, Gods 148). Silvanus was a Roman god of the forest and wild places, boundaries, and with some agricultural attributes, as one of His attributes is the falx, a sickle. Important in terms of Lydney is his association with sight hounds. This fairly elaborate and large temple with its guest house for the pilgrims. The temple has depictions with marine imagery: there is a mosaic in the cella of a marine scene, a bronze relief of a sea god, and a diadem was found that shows a god driving a quadriga (chariot) adorned with tritons and anchors, in other words a Neptune like figure, though Green rather surprisingly states Him to be a solar god (Green, Gods 148).

 

This is a good place to think about synchronization: while this is often thought to be an actual equation of two deities, as is so prevalent in western occultism and Neopaganism, it can just as well be thought that analogical comparisons are being made, that is similes: Nodens is like Neptune, or like Silvanus in some way3. Carefully considering these comparisons made in the Romano-Brittonic practices can shed light on qualities of deities so synchronized (and indirectly of Nuadhu). Neptune might seem an odd one at first, but His earliest role was an association with springs before becoming merged with the Greek Poseidon and thought of as oceanic (even Poseidon appears to have had archaic associations of the chthonic). A lot of coins were found at Lydney; one of them suggestively has a figure catching a salmon (Ó hÓgain, Sacred Isle 136). A reconstructed IE proto-myth as elaborated by Jean Puhvel finds another connection between Nechtan/Nodens and Neptune. The other possible root of the name is the other meaning of ‘necht’, which means nephew, which would prove a philological linkage with the Indo-Iranian deity Apam Napat found in Vedic and Avestan sources and whose name would then share a root with Nechtan and is the ‘Nept’ in Neptunus, as well, argues Puhvel (279). Even Rome had a historicized version of a fire in the waters myth; in its case, the Alban Lake was said to have overflowed its volcanic crater during the war with the neighboring Etruscan city of Veii (Puhvel 279).

 

 

Proinsias MacCana notes the etymological equivalence of Nudd, who would be the same as Nodens and of Nuadhu (69). However, because the god who was worshiped at Lydney and whose temple dates to the 3th century and was renovated in the next (Green, Gods 147), was part of a heavily synchronized cult, he states “that some of these would suggest that the god had strong aquatic associations, and yet these are not noticeably reflected in the legends of Nuadhu and his Welsh congeners” (MacCana 69). However, if we accept Nechtan as Nuadhu, this really isn’t true. The Welsh tradition comes down more blurred, but a parallel is that both Nudd and Nuadhu were portrayed as governing realms threatened by chaotic forces, with Llud’s kingdom threatened by the invasion of the magical people known as the Coraniad in the tale “Lludd and Llefelys”, included in the Mabinogi (MacCana 69). Nuadha/Nechtan/Nodens could have strong ‘functions’ in the primal struggle of chaos/cosmos reflected in the domains of war, medicine, and art.

 

Returning to the Boyne River, which was the body of its eponymous goddess Boann after Her ‘transgression’, or as Christopher Scott Thompson (with whom I agree) sees it, Her tactic to unleash the poetic waters and their wisdom for the world, it is relevant to consider that another of Her names is Segais, according to the Metrical Dinndchensas (93). In the Cauldron of Poesy text4 which provides an arcane guide to the turning of the three cauldrons that are said to be within the human constitution, and provides a guidebook to the practice of the filidh, the Boyne becomes seen as the ‘ur’ river, the original sacred river, which has many manifestations from the Tigris to the Tiber and interestingly enough, the Severn is mentioned as one of them (93) in light of the location of the temple at Lydney). According to the Cauldron text (Thompson’s translation, which incorporates the glosses; see Henry, and Breatnach for original and scholarly translations), the “joy at the coming of poetic ecstasy from the nine hazels of the Well of Wisdom in the otherworld, landing on the Boyne river as thick as a ram’s fleece and flowing against the current faster than a racing horse at the midsummer fair once every seven years. When the beams of the sun strike the plants along the Boyne, it is then that the Imbas bubbles up on them. Whomever eats them then will acquire an art” (Thompson 14). Pushing up river we must go, and like returning salmon to the headwaters, the source, the Well of Segais where Nechtan dwells with his cupbearers. His wife has disappeared into the waters, but there He can be found by the waters of life that bubble with chaos and potentiality. Such is my aisling. As the dweller at the Well of Segais, more of a pool it seems to me, I think Nechtan would Himself be intimately linked with the flow of imbas, with the Cauldron of Wisdom, which is linked with the Well of Segais in the Cauldron of Poesy text, whose nuts are stated as a source of one of the joys that this cauldron affords (Henry 125, Breatnach 67).

 

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE
Weir on Boyne (by JP–Wiki).

Again flowing out, the rush of the imbas like a stream of milk, like waters bursting a dam, like a tidal bore; the river itself, a river that has held attraction since the earliest times, the river that ran beneath the monuments of the Neolithic Irish, which the Gaels were to repopulate with their own deities as dwellers therein, and whose seer-poets (re)mythologized the rich river valley. Ó hÓgain suggests that the previously mentioned wisdom figure Find, derived from a Celtic Vindos, was thought to dwell there with a sacred cow, the source of inspiration, Bouvindos, and was seen as a bright-haired youth, hence his name, who emerged from the waters (Ó hÓgain, Myth 209). Fionn MacCumhaill in this view was to later absorb this tradition and Find would be echoed in medieval lore in other figures such as Find File, Morann, and Fionntan, the famous seer and lore keeper who had lived through many ages as an eagle, a hawk and a salmon as well as in human form and said to have come to Ireland with Cessair (Myth 224-5). Ó hÓgain writes that His name most likely comes from a “Celtic compound Vindo-senos, which would mean ‘old Find’…that Fionntan was a variant in ancient lore of the great mythical Find” (Myth 224). He suggests that around the 2nd century BCE this cult was influenced by the adoption of the cultus of Nuadhu, who was said to have a sacred salmon in the river (Myth 209). All in all, a vast tangled net of stories and lore but through which swim the central figures of wisdom, which manifests in metrical speech in illuminated states.

 

The etymology of Nuadhu/Nodens remains unsettled with conflicting views. They include ‘cloudmaker’ or ‘wealthy one’ (Green, Dictionary 163). Another is that it comes from an Indo-European root meaning ‘catcher’. Even J.R.R. Tolkien weighed in on this, interested as he was with Lydney Park and consulted by its excavator Sir Mortimer Wheeler (Kennedy). Ó hÓgain found the most likely meaning being catcher, acquirer or fisher, eventually going back to an Indo-European root of *neu-d, meaning to grasp (Pokorny 768), *neud, to make use of, enjoy (Watkins 60). This seems a fitting name for the catcher of fish, the catcher of the salmon, and brings us back in a skein of associations of catching wisdom and those associated with the poet wisdom tradition of filidecht. The catcher is one who is on the chase, and similarly the fisher. So I have found Nuadhu/Nechtan important in my personal practice of filidecht, from knowledge seeking, to healing and to drinking from the waters from which imbas flows. As the catcher and hunter He is one who searches, who looks, who catches. I look for him in the shining knowledge—and at the place of dangerous watery wisdom at the heart of the world where we can find both healing and wisdom. In my own aisling many of these deities work together, as one launches on this river. The gods give us multiple paths to take; often the destinations are surprising and the linkages even more so, and therein lies much change. In my personal work, I approach Nuadhu and Nechtan at different locations, but whether considered as separate or as the same, He warrants the attention and reverence of those of us fishing for imbas.

 

Notes

 

  1. The stories of Boann and the well of Segais can be found in various versions in the Dindshenchas, the place name lore, for example in The Bodleian Dinnsenchas 36, translated by Whitley Stokes, 1892; and The Metrical Dindsenchas 3.26-28 edited and translated by Edward Gwynn, 1913.

 

  1. Incubation, the withdrawing to a dark chamber for the purposes of a healing dream, had a widespread use in the Greco-Roman world. In the Gaelic world, it was a technique used by the poets, the filidh, for vision and composition.

 

  1. According to O’Cathasaighe, the switch to Lludd from Nudd is “owing to assimilation of the initial to that of the epithet Llaw Eraint ‘of the Silver Hand’” (48).

 

 

  1. The Caldron of Poesy is the name usually given to a text found in a 15th century manuscript (Breatnach 46), the oldest layer of which probably dates back to a 7th century original composition (Henry 117).

 

 

 

Works Cited

Breatnach, Liam. “The Caldron of Poesy”. Eriu 32. 1981. Print.

Carey, John. “The Waters of Vision and the Gods of Skill”. Art and the Sacred Kairos

       and the Dallas Institute for Humanities and Culture. 23 March, 1991. Santa Fe.

Print.

Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language (eDIL). Arts and Humanities Research

Council. Royal Irish Academy. Queen’s University, Belfast. 2007-13. Web.

Ford, Patrick K. ed. and trans. The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales. Berkeley:

U of California P, 1977. Print.

Green, Miranda. The Gods of the Celts. 1986. Print.

—. Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend. London: Thames & Hudson, 1992. Print.

Henry, P. L. “The Caldron of Poesy”. Studia Celtica 14/15. 1979/80. Print.

Jones, Mary. “Nodens”. Jones Celtic Encyclopedia. 1998-2015. Web.

Kennedy, Maeve. “The Hobbit Ring That May Have Inspired Tolkien Put On Show”.

The Guardian.com/books. 2 April, 2013. Web.

Lupus, P. Sufenas Virius. A Serpent Path Primer. Anacortes, WA: Red Lotus Library,

  1. Print.

MacCana, Proinsias. Celtic Mythology. London: Hamylyn, 1970. Print.

Nagy, Joseph Falaky. The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in Gaelic

     Narrative Tradition. Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California Press, 1985. Print.

O’ Cathasaigh, Tomas. Coire Sois: The Cauldron of Knowledge. Notre Dame, IN: U of

Notre Dame Press, 2014. Print.

Ó hÓgáin, Dáithí. Myth, Legend and Romance: An Encyclopaedia of Irish Folk

     Tradition. London: Ryan, 1990. Print.

—. The Sacred Isle: Belief and Religion in Pre-Christian Ireland.

Woodbridge/Cork: Boydell Press/Collins Press, 1999. Print.

Pokorny, Julius. Indo-European Lexicon: Pokorny Master PIE Etyma. Linguistic

Research Center. University of Texas. 13 May, 2013. Web.

Puhvel, Jaan. Comparative Mythology. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1987. Print.

Thompson, Christopher Scott. A God Who Makes Fire: The Bardic Mysticisms of

       Amergin. 2013. Lulu.com. Print.

Watkins, Calvert. The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, Third

Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. Print.

 

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A Book of Celtic Polytheist Prayers

Something that has long been needed in Celtic Reconstrusitionist communities and households are prayers that are easily accessible. Ceisiwr Serith’s A Book of Pagan Prayer was a good pioneering effort, with templates easily adaptable to our needs but many have long-awaited a book of prayers specifically for Celtic Polytheists.

 

An Leabhar Urnaí: A Book of Celtic Reconstructionist Friendly Prayers,  edited by Maya St. Clair and published by Air n-Aithesc remedies that. The book includes prayers in Old Irish and reconstructed Gaulish, as well as prayers in English for Welsh, Irish, and Gaulish deities. There’s a very interesting Gaulish “Geneology of the Gods” by Segomaros Widugeni, prayers for specific occasions, praise poems, and other devotional prayers and invocations. I do have some contributions therein.

Deities include, Sirona, Cernunnos, Rosmerta, Epona, Taranis, Grannus, Lugus, Nuada/Nuadhu, Macha, Nemain, the Morrigan, the Dagda, Lugh, the Brigid’s, Manannan Mac Lir, Rhiannon, Arianrhod, Lleu Llaw Gyffes, Blodeuwedd, Branwen, Ceridwen, and more.

 

Copies, both print and digital, can be purchased at

http://ciannai2.wix.com/air-n-aithesc#!blank/q7plh

b887d3_2c59b75238244d21b5e43157dcd1dce5

 

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.

800px-Stort_bål_sankthans

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.

Serpentine Twists of Fate

Contemplation for this day:

“Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happen the way it happens: then you will be happy.” Epictetus

Pondering Ananke today, (and for awhile actually), on this day in the Sacred Nights of Antinous. Ananke: she is fate, compulsion, necessity.

Nietzsche (from Gay Science): “I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.”

Orphic Egg
Orphic Egg

The turning of an ineffably elaborate intricacy of wheels…..

harmonizing ourselves with firinne to put it in Celtic turns; we don’t have to align with truth, but it’s fool’s play to not try to do so.

Walls, Taxonomies, Spills

Boundaries are often good things, walls sometimes, sometimes not. Walls are much in the US news of late, with a would be demagogue loudly proclaiming the need to build a wall between the US and Mexico, and another would be president imbecile saying it’s worthwhile to explore building one between the US and Canada. Which leads to the thought if the inhabitants were completely walled in, wouldn’t that be a prison?

Staking out claims, carving out territory, specifically for those whose theological stance is definitely polytheist has been and continues to be a necessary action, when larger communities have proven so often that they want to redefine our polytheist stances into their own—or to disregard ours completely. But it works both ways, an obsession for taxonomy doesn’t necessarily lead to a healthy practice. It easily leads to this is the ‘right and true way’ to do Polytheism.

One aspect of this makes me at times feel like I’m caught in one of those awful European tortures of centuries past (drawing and quartering), being pulled in more than one direction. This is the notion that Paganism (that poorly defined rain protection device) has various ‘centers’. These are said to be the Gods, Nature, the Self (not the ego), and Community. I orient in a general way within the Druidic Three Kindreds practice. That is the Gods, the Spirits (conceived as spirits of land, sea, sky, that is lowercase nature) and the Ancestors. That my practice is largely deity-driven and focused doesn’t in any way preclude my animism, devotion to the spirits, seen and unseen. And all of these drew me to paganism in the first place.

I agree with John Beckett that it is very important to have that vocabulary of fishes (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/2015/08/fish-is-not-just-fish.html); if I want mahi-mahi I certainly don’t want to end up with a plate of perch. But I might want to order that seafood medley the next time around (I still want to know what’s in there but the grouping might offend your taxonomy, though*). Boundaries and definitions (and they are very important in a time when people want to make words mean whatever they feel like—like the Atheopagans now saying they have a ‘theology’ and a ‘creed’), yes, but let’s note we are setting our taxonomies up, they weren’t cargo dropped from the Sky by the gods, and we need to be careful we don’t set up high walls that only keep us in—or worse dismember our bodies and minds. My core tradition (Irish) is full of overflows, spills, gushes, after all. Defining things needs to be strategic and conscious and strategies have to be able to be changed. Walls can be undermined, or bored through or overflown. Nomads have much to teach. And we oughtn’t forget walls/borders are built across indigenous territories in colonial architectures devised to divide and rule.

My religion includes trees, gods, stones, demigods, ancestors, lakes, creeks, ancestors, more gods, animals, heroes, the sun and the moon, deified humans, the stars… and if it’s not clear, I will say it: all are persons with agency.

220px-Coryphaena_hippurus

*An obsession with taxonomy can be found in the Book of Leviticus.

The Many Gods West Report

First of all it was a powerful experience to be at Many Gods West, an environment where I didn’t feel like an outsider, as I so often do even at pan-Pagan events. The Governor Hotel, the site of the conference, is an interesting place with a sense of distinctive, and at times intense, local psychogeography. The current one was built in 1971 but hotels have been on the site since the mid-nineteenth century. The hotel is across the street from a tree filled park that marks the center of Olympia with a handsome, old government building on the far side. On the back side a block or two down is a shallow lake. I will say that on my first night (Thursday) the Hotel did seem to have its ghosts, and it was probably a good thing that a procession called the Furious Revels led by River Devora occurred the next day to keep any disruptive influences at bay. I soon learned that the lake had once been an estuary but was dammed and thereby flooded a shantytown that had existed on the site, apparently built in the Depression years, that was said to have housed, among others, a number of sex workers. I made offerings in the park and at the lake before the conference started and I know some others did too.

The conference formally began at 1:30 Friday afternoon with an opening ritual that I found very moving. So counter to the generic Neopagan rituals that I’ve experienced at pan-Pagan conferences before or even at Pagan Prides. First of all conference attendees had been asked to collect water from their locales and also to gather soil or a rock or such and bring it for the Opening Ritual. So often I find Pagans talk about practicing religions of the Land, yet I can’t gather anything particular or concrete of their places when I listen or talk to them. They say Earth and Water are elements they use in their rituals and such, but that’s pretty generic. At any rate, each individual had a chance to bring both their soil and their water and say where it was from and then deposit into a large bowl for soil and another for water. It was so moving to do this and listen to all of the particular places that people named. Our places have names, that is so important. Then there was a focus on ancestors, ancestors of all kinds including gender-diverse and spirit workers and warriors. Names of Native peoples were called out and the local land thanked for hosting us. Hosting, guest-ship, and hospitality and its responsibilities were a key theme at the conference. PSV Lupus had carved ancestor figures from madrone wood, and these were passed around, so each person could hold them and commune with ancestors. Again, this was very powerful. Next came the gods. Each person could come to the altar and bring a deity image or symbol (or for some of us multiple ones) and place them on the communal altar. I know some have issues with commingling but this was a god party as Lupus explained, a place where all of our deities could be honored and given the due They so deserve. I found it moving to see and hear names of deities who hark from Europe, Asia, the Americas, the Middle East, and Africa. This really set the mood for the conference, a time that was devoted to the Gods, the ancestors, the spirits, a place for deep devotion. Photos can be seen here: https://finnchuillsmast.wordpress.com/2015/08/05/many-gods-west-pictures/

Local First People.
Local First People.

That evening, Morpheus Ravenna gave the keynote address wherein she discussed discerning archetypes from the deities but with the interesting notion that the archetypes can be used by the deities to communicate with us; this all done through the metaphor of a cathedral with stained glass windows, the artistry of the stained glass windows being the archetypes, which can be filled with colors and illuminate us as the Sun –the light pouring form the multitude of the gods—lights up the colored glass. The text can be read at Polytheist.com.

After this I went to a talk by Rhyd Wildermuth entitled “What Do They Mean?”, which basically was about construction of meaning, of how truths are relational…He started by riffing off some of the meanings various people tried to establish around the recent Charleston white supremacist-perpetrated church murders, including the astonishing-to- me one that it was about an ‘attack on Christianity’, this apparently set forth by some evangelicals. A key word of the talk was his discussion of the notion of the jetzzeit, a concept of Frankfurt School critical theorist Walter Benjamin on ‘now moments’, those points in time that greatly alter meanings, like September 11, 2001. This could well have held interest for a longer time slot than the conference set up allowed for; as a colleague said to me, a smaller group with plenty of time for a discussion would have been great. I didn’t agree with everything presented, like his definition of anthropomorphicism, but it was an engaging and, dare I say, meaningful talk.

The next morning Lupus led Antinoan mystes in a pre-conference prayer and ritual for Antinous. The first officially scheduled event that I attended was Sarenth Odinsson’s “Calling To Ancestors”. Sarenth had a lot of good things to say about working with one’s ancestors and led us in a short ritual that was quite effective; I received several surprising communications.

Next up on my schedule was Heathen Chinese who presented on “Chinese Polytheism and Millenarian Movements”. This looked at the relationship between Chinese millenarian movements—much broader and more interesting than in medieval Europe—and various Chinese rebellions, and related social unrests ranging over a vast period of time all the way from the Han dynasty to the Boxer Rebellion at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. This included the peasant movement of 3 BCE which worshiped Xiu Wang Mu, the Queen Mother of the West, and whose chaotic ‘unrest’ was noted in royal chronicles that rarely noted religious practices of peasants, and was viewed as a portent that the country was being mismanaged and showing that the emperor may have lost the Mandate of Heaven. Famine and drought were associated with these. He also spoke of the Yellow Turban movement led by a Daoist faith healer which brought the downfall of the Han dynasty (220 CE). Similar revolts kept occurring from time to time. In the 14th century the White Lotus Society appeared under whose name rebellions would occur all the way up to 1804. A secret society that combined Buddhist and Daoist elements, it maintained radical sexual equality and had women fighters. The Boxer Rebellion held religious aspects that were never noted in my world history classes, that’s for sure. It was a polyvalent movement; one impulsion was a response against the Christian missionaries that were disrupting local communities with their conversions, which caused converts to break off ancestor worship. There was am element of Luddism, and outrage of how church spires disrupted feng shui. As in previous Chinese millenarian movements women played an important role: girls between 12 and 18, called Red Lanterns from the red lights they carried, claimed magical powers and were believed equal to the male Boxers. He drew subtly out the thread of drought and its obvious applicability to those of us in the US West (Washington is experiencing drought too) and thoughts on connection between human(dis)order and cosmic powers. This was all very well organized with lots of powerpoint slides, and definitions. Impressive. It would make an interesting book.

Then it was time for my talk on “Becoming Placed”. Several of us had our presentations at the Columbia Center, which was some blocks away, a pleasant setting itself but it did require walking through some intense heat (mid-90s). I was glad a decent amount of people turned up. I probably will post some notes separately, but I talked first of all of how we got to the place of disenchantment, focusing especially on Bacon and Newton and the ‘dissolution of place in space’ in modern thought within the context of the great shift to capitalist relations, before moving on to thoughts on reenchanting place.

Olympia.
Olympia.

On Saturday night the onset of the Bakcheion provoked an aura of mystery and a large crowd lined up to be prepared for entry. Sannion and the Backheion Crew put on an amazing ritual that engaged all the senses in devotion to the Ecstatic Lord, including dabbing with a compelling oil made by Aridela, the taste of black grapes and dried figs, and freely flowing wine, of course. I must say Dver is an amazing ritualist. I had an expectancy as to see what would personally transpire, as I’ve gone through a kind of fallow period with the Lord. Very slowly I was taken in and after quite a while I was compelled into the center of the room in front of the altar, transported by the music, and the wine and the revel of Dionysos and Ariadne: I was in a space where communication came. That is all I will say. My great gratitude for all who put on this rite. For awhile that room in the Governor Hotel was truly transported….

Sunday morning respect for my body demanded sleeping in. But I was up for Anomalous Thracian, whose talk on “Religions of Region” was like an alternative keynote address. Terms of Service was his key term and came from a dream while at the hotel. Anomalous is funny and was waving a bottle around. Yes, there is a Thracian Mystique. My notes are funny too: flotilla, god phones, not the best term; Dented cups (prompted my Denton CUUPS, where John Beckett is). The Ds: definitions, yes, definitions are Important! distinctions, differentiations, all those things. And relations. Watersheds. Definitions—we need to find better ways to talk. Jesuits and discernment were talked of too. Regions: what places do our gods come through to us, epiphanies of place, these are distinctive and will be important in future. But everything kept coming back to his term of service dream—protocols, requirements…. A great talk, but I guess, you had to be there.

Rev. Kirk Thomas (ADF ArchDruid) gave a talk on “Sacred Gifts” that was informative, funny (he is very funny) and full of good storytelling based on various Indo-European cultures. Guests, hosts, gifts, hospitality, a thread that ran throughout the conference. Among others, he told the story of Philemon and Baucis, a story of hospitality and the gods that was one of my favorite mythic tales as child and made a big impact on me, whichever grade that was when Greek mythology was first studied in elementary school (I wonder how much that one stayed in my subconscious?!). Thomas was quite emotional telling the story, which impressed me. We need a lot of heart in Druidism and sometimes it’s sadly lacking.

John-Bernard Restout, 1769.
John-Bernard Restout, 1769.

The ritual for the Matronae, “Reweaving the Fabric of Connections”, presented by the Hearth of the Blessed Web with oracle River Devora and priestess Rynn Fox was another very powerful one. This collective of Celtic/Germanic goddesses was called forth and spoke through the oracle. Sometimes these types of events can seem staged and inauthentic, but River Devora is the real deal. However, it seemed the Oracle was carrying most of the weight of the rite, and a Sovereignty figure could have stabilized things, (as a friend received very strong communications regarding in the rite). I was taken again into ancestral communications and insights and learned I have much work to do in this area. The coming of a Storm was prophesized.

There was a closing ritual that basically mirrored the opening ritual and the community altar was taken down. Dinner was had at the atmospheric McMennimin’s (apparently also known as the Spar) and later a few of us met in a hotel room for a short CR ritual to Iuchar, Brian and Iucharba, the Three Sons of Brighid the Poetess. “Take back the sun, Bring the Rain…” Yes, indeed.

And in restaurants, hotel rooms, and at the end of events and rites important conversations took place, where important ideas were turned over and communitas cultivated: I especially note those with C. Lee Vermeers, Disirdottir, Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdotir, Sarenth Odinsson, Owen Cook, Silence Maestas, TurningTides, Lon Sarver, Ember Cooke, besides people already named in the event coverage.

Some levity: River's unicorn
Some levity: River’s unicorn

It was a bit arduous getting to and out of Olympia, but it was a pilgrimage. The heat wave was difficult to deal with, the main event room at the hotel had no AC, just a couple of fans and even the AC in the rooms was feeble. But I supposed it added to the liminality (even the nights were hot). It was interesting to see several threads run through so many presentations like hospitality, importance of regions and place, critique of capitalist relations, etc. All in all I feel this was a historic event, and the dedication to the gods, and polytheist practice was soul-satisfying. I’m still processing and probably will be for quite a while….

Many Gods West Pictures

I will be writing more extensively about the conference, but for now here are some pictures. The conference was a deeply meaningful array of experiences. It was such a welcoming place, and the need for such dedicated polytheist time was profoundly felt. My gratitude to PSV Lupus, Niki Whiting and Rhyd Wildemuth!

Many gods, spirits and ancestors.
Many gods, spirits and ancestors.
The Community Altar.
The Community Altar.
Central image above altar is of Baal of Palmyra.
Central image above altar is of Baal of Palmyra.
Sabina, Antinous and Hadrian
Sabina, Antinous and Hadrian

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Paneros
Paneros

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 the Three Brighids, Ogma and some hazelnuts offered.

the Three Brighids, Ogma and some hazelnuts offered.
Cu Chullain!
Cu Chullain!
PSV Lupus in fabulous ceremonial attire.
PSV Lupus in fabulous ceremonial attire/regalia.