December 14, 2009

Hail and Merry Yuletide Misrule: The "Bust a Nut" Sorcerous Working

Just in time for the Holy Yuletide season, I have come to share this tiny, fun sorcerous technique of aggression sublimation in a brotherly spirit of help and cheer. This little working is easy to use, and very effective on many psychic levels.

I am a great fan of walnuts- they are my favorite nuts- and this time of year seems to bring them out in huge bags at the market. I always keep a bag around the house, and an earthenware bowl piled high. I have this big black stone that I keep near the bowl (I can never seem to keep up with nutcrackers) and so I use that stone to smash the nuts open.

Living in the world that we do, any person of even partial world-awareness will become familiar with the countless people that they just don't want to be around, or even to share their world with. You know the types- those strange people who think that anyone but them is destined for an eternal hell; those oddballs who think that birth control is somehow evil, and feel the need to stop people in other countries who badly need it from getting it by subscribing to "abstinence only" programs, thus directly creating death and misery from thousands of more transmissions of STD's and thousands and millions more unwanted pregnancies.

You know them! Remember those odd people who think that it's okay to immigrate into prosperous Western countries from eastern toilets and take advantage of Western liberties, while seeking to overthrow those same liberties? Or those famous, bizarre people who think that there's somehow really only one God, and that thousands of years of animistic and polytheistic civilizations before ours were hopelessly misguided, superstitious and demonic? Stop grinning- YOU KNOW who I'm talking about. You've seen them all over.

Open your heart, now, in the spirit of this season, and embrace the troubles these people bring to us all. Really see the misery that they author. That human misery is your misery, too.

The Yuletide always brings the very best of these nithing fools out, for most of the people you don't want anywhere near you or your family will tend to get on TV or in the local papers screaming about "Keeping Christ in Christmas" or some such. While we're bringing trees into our houses and continuing on our ancient tree-worship, eating the traditional Yule-boar in the form of a Ham, and waiting for a generous and jolly miracle man (who flies through the air all around the world drawn by animals, has elf-helpers, and comes from the cold north) and other such ancient Christian practices and beliefs, let's take time to realize how irrelevant our Heathen ancestors are to this time.

As these frustrations and special holiday joys build, we may reach a point where we need a little release. And this, my friends in the Dark Season, is why Wyrd the Mighty, working hand-in-hand with Great Nature, gave us walnuts!

The next time you realize just how much you wish Eastern extremists didn't exist, or Western fundies (or the patriarchal, woman-repressing, gay-hating, and plurality-denying philosophies that made these people possible in the first place) or the next time you have to endure Republicans on the television set, or even certain Democrats, or the scores of other people that make you ashamed to be human, get a walnut and your own big stone.

Place the walnut on the table before you on a wooden cutting board carved well with signs of wrath and chastisement, and visualize that knobby brown thing not as a walnut, but the head of one of these people who have worked so hard to spoil your world and destroy the sense, reason, and joy that is natural to mankind. You have to slip into the role here, get into the visualization of it.

I find that it helps if you imagine the (presumably confused) new "face" on the walnut-head looking around in a slightly disoriented way, before fear of you- standing over it with a stone- creeps into its wide little eyes. Oh, the helplessness of the little demon tumor!

Then smash the hell out of it with your stone. Smack it a few times; get pieces of shell flying across the table. That's not walnut shell! It's skull fragment! Freshly flown, warm with life fading! Funny thing- a walnut's insides (the delicious part you eat) looks squiggly and sorta like a brain. I like to give a good cackle of laughter when I'm done, and sometimes while I'm smashing away- it's good to slip into the mirth of this time of year.

You can feel free to embellish this minor little Holiday technique all you like- some people (like myself) sometimes make a small container of ember-hallowed water with a pinch of salt, and baptize the little walnut-heads in the name of the person or group they are intending to smash the life out of, before they proceed to the gnashing, cackling, and crushing. A little ceremony never hurt this seasonal fun!

The final part of the operation is, of course, to consume the brains of your defeated foes. This is important, as you absorb their power into yourself. No longer can they use it to unsettle and punish our world under the force of their thoughtless ignorance; now, it passes into you, in a gore-smeared Yuletide feast of busted nuts, so that you can transmute it into the simple goodness and peace that our world really desires. Sorcery can be so very uplifting, if one simply understands the beauty and simplicity of the entire process. The power of the Yuletide season helps in these sorts of workings.

I now make this small working of Mirth and Misrule my gift, in this hallowed time, to you. I share it with my children on these silent and holy nights; I hope you will pass it on to yours.

A very glad Yule-tide to you all, and lasting woe betide those whose faces or group-spirit you conjure into the Walnuts from the nut-brown bowl this night!

Sincerely, Your RA

December 4, 2009

Cold, Hard World: Spiritual Maturity in our Personal Paths

If your religious journey begins with unrealistic beliefs and expectations, it will end in disillusionment. The end is always in the beginning, and the beginning at the end. It has been pointed out how delicate a time a beginning truly is- and today, in our world of recently liberated people striking out onto new spiritual paths, beginnings are a very important matter.

How it begins says everything about how it ends. I don't guess many people want to hear this, because many had difficulties at the start of their path. But new beginnings are always in the sieve of possibilities. Don't cling to a doomed path; the beginning will reveal to you something about the end.

These sentences are a strange way to start a letter about realistic spirituality, but crucial to my later point. Those of us who have embarked on the "lesser known" paths through the forest of spiritual experience- which is the forest of life- have to watch ourselves and our paths carefully. We have all seen how the people on the "well known" paths fare in this world- we have all seen disillusionment, and probably felt it ourselves. But did we ever really question why so many people end up being disappointed or put into intolerable quandaries after faithfully following their religions?

I've been doing a lot of thinking and reading and walking about in this late fall. It's gotten very cold, and we are expecting our first real snow tomorrow evening. It's below freezing every night, and has been for weeks. There have been flurries of snow, and ice on the roads. The glorious colorful blaze of the autumn leaves is gone now, and, aside from the evergreens, everything is straw or brown. The world is turning harsh- your hands go numb if you don't wear gloves outside; your body begins to shiver and feel weak at times. The sun vanishes by 4 PM every day, leaving behind an impenetrable darkness in the countryside where I live. There's less light, less activity, and just... quiet.

The entire environment lends itself to the sort of pondering I've been doing. I've studied a lot of religious, down to very exacting details. I've chosen for myself the religious path that I felt most drawn to, and I have excelled in its power, gained a lot from its poetic story for this world. But I have encountered, in this land, the most recent "round" of stories from an ancient people that I have found, and a people to whom I am ancestrally related- the Mi'kmaq. I have no intention of seeking out some membership in the Mi'kmaq community; the collection of their sacred stories and essays on their worldview which I have collected, is blessing enough for me.

Before I came to this home, I had never even thought twice about the Mi'kmaq. I certainly knew nothing of their ancient beliefs. But in the time I have studied it, I have discovered so much wisdom and power, it seems that my journey here was intended for deeper reasons. By studying the organic ways and perspectives of these great people, I have seen finally why my religious life turned out the way it did. I know why I was attracted to organic polytheistic and animistic religions.

I would say that the spirit in me was comfortable with nothing else. But I can bring it up a detail level- the spirit in me couldn't accept that the entire world and universe was really all about human beings, and that an omnibenevolent, omnipotent power was "holding us all in his hands."

I have come to see now, clearer than I ever have, the flaw in the thinking of the Christians and monotheists who truly think that the "all good, all powerful" man-god will protect them and make everything perfect one day in the future. Before now, this idea had just seemed like fanciful wishful thinking; but now I know how wishful it really is.

I recently acquired a superb book by Professor Mary Lefkowitz, called "Greek Gods, Human Lives: What We Can Learn from Myths." It is an excellent overview of what the ancient Greek and Romans believed about the Gods, and what their religion told them about human life, and the relationship of the Gods to humans. Like any classicist worth the name, Lefkowitz points out that the ancient Polytheists didn't live in a world that contained any religious guarantees.

That's right- the Gods lived their Godly lives, and mortals lived their lives, and sometimes- just sometimes- the two overlapped. The Gods on Olympus dwelled in pleasure and peace; to take a human form and come to this earth, in response to a prayer from a favored mortal, or to take some direct action in the unfolding of things, was not a very common event. Humans could give gifts to the Gods that the Gods would be grateful for- but even if a God favored a certain person or group, there was no guarantee that this God could spare them suffering; one God's will could be contravened by the will of a more powerful God, and then, despite the care the original God felt for others, nothing could be done. There were simply no guarantees. There was a good bit of certainty that the Gods would reciprocate to the worshipers what gifts were given, but the reciprocation wasn't an exact science, either.

Humans died and didn't go happily among the Gods, at least not in Greek and Roman belief; they went to a shadowy, quiet underworld. Some there might be blessed to be happy, and some cursed to be miserable because of extraordinarily wicked deeds in life, but in general, the mighty and the lowly went to the same dark rest. That's that. That's it. And for millennia, people were content to believe these things. Humans were promised nothing in particular by the Gods; humans were very much left to their own devices. What they discovered was that their greatest strength was each other- humans had to rely on one another greatly in those days. Your family was your best strength and your greatest comfort.

Christians today scratch their heads at this and wonder why anyone would want to see the world in such a way. Why give up the comfort of the all-powerful loving God that cares about each person, individually, and who will put all evil to rights one day?

The answer to them is simple- no one who believed as the Greeks believed was "giving up anything", because such a God doesn't exist. That's not how reality works. Such beliefs in cosmic omnibenevolence are as much wishful thinking now as they were when Christianity first spread out across the ancient world. And the attestation of many ancient peoples- beginning with the Polytheists of old Europe- reveals that the worldview of "no guarantees" was once the nearly universal worldview of the organic spiritual world. I can understand how the "everything's going to be okay" story could be an attractive sell to the sentimental or dull people of ancient times (or today) but enough is enough!

I had to stop, freezing in the cold in these long evenings, and look at it directly, perhaps for the very first time. None of my Pagan European Ancestors ever said "The Gods will make it all okay." In fact, my northern Ancestors had Gods who perished eventually, struggling at the end of the world-cycle with the forces of destruction- forces who won the last battle and ended all things.

For the Greeks and Romans, the Gods led separate lives that didn't include, as their first priority, the well-being of each individual human, or sometimes, large groups of humans. The Mi'kmaq native peoples had a worldview of "power" in which the world was seen as a great mass of constantly transforming power- precisely the same as the Wyrd of the Heathens- forces interacting and changing and transforming, eternally.

Within that kaleidoscope of power, some patterns of power gained consciousness and became "persons"- humans were just one. Animals were others; spirits were others; there were many non-human persons. But within this system, even though it was all sprung from a "greatest power" called Ukji Mn'Tu, there were no "guarantees" of how life was going to be for anyone. Spirits could befriend humans, and humans spirits; but spirits were neither "good" nor "evil", but both, just like humans. Mood and circumstances could lead any sort of person, human or otherwise, to act in a destructive or selfish way at certain times, and in a benevolent way at others. The "highest power" was a mysterious abstraction, who certainly didn't act as a doting, protective parent to human beings.

Like the Greeks and other people of Old Europe, the Mi'kmaq found their greatest solace and benefit in one another, in bonds of clan and family. But humans had to face a hard truth- the central truth that I have come to embrace as key to a mature spirituality- that we are not guaranteed anything by life or by the sacred powers that co-exist with us in this amazing world.

Christians love to tell me how satisfied and safe they are with Jesus and their God. And for all their reports of protection and divine security, these people regularly lose jobs, live paycheck to paycheck, succumb to serious health problems, get into car wrecks, lose relatives and friends to accidents, crimes, or diseases, and are crushed by death and loss in other ways. From top to bottom, being Christian apparently spares no one from the same sufferings that non-Christians have to endure. The only difference is that Christians mindlessly drone on, seemingly in denial, about how powerful and good their great benefactor is.

Some would say that was an endearing portrait of "faith". But I see it now, clearer than ever, for what I believe it is: people sticking their head in the sand and living in denial. They don't want to face the hard truth that the ancients knew: you aren't in the hands of a great universal power that's watching out for you, and despite your cherished hope and belief to the contrary, you never were. And the more you try to live in a religious path that teaches this dream, the faster you are heading for disillusionment.

Because when your world is in the hands of the all-good, all-powerful whatever, then that car accident that killed your toddler was somehow part of this being's "plan", and this being (like it or not) allowed it to happen. This being that you loved so much took all of your joy from you, and all you can do is sit quietly, crushed in grief, forbidden from questioning it. You will simply have to be like Job, and make a great showing of your faith, hoping to at least squeeze some eternal reward out of the bad situation. Those who do question it enough- and have the courage to see clearly- tend to jump ship and "lose their faith".

The "prayer of protest" which is allowed in Judaism has no place in Christianity or Islam. That's because the Jews have at least one salient fact about "God" right- even though they foolishly believe that God is the greatest and in charge of the whole universe, they also admit that he's an ass at times, and isn't nice all the time, and that's just his prerogative as the supreme being. And his followers can wail and whine at him if they want; so long as people follow his laws, they don't have to like him.

That's actually quite mature of Jews, in my opinion. The point is that they have a place in their spirituality for humans to complain to heaven, to rebuke even God for his unfairness or harshness. Jews certainly spared their "God" no shortage of harsh words as he watched, unmoved, while millions of his chosen people were gassed and burned to ash by the Third Reich.

Beneath their maturity lies a deeper, more primordial vision: the vision that never put a single "God" in charge of all things to begin with. If your helping spirits and household Gods don't have complete charge over the universe, then when tragedy strikes, you don't have to lose your religion. The spirits that care about you can mourn with you, or help you some other way. The world is just hard like that, unpredictable, and not even spirits can stop some things; and even spirits can die or be transformed away from their condition, and into something else. The world is always changing.

Our Buddhist cousins have evolved a worldview that is every bit as mature as what I have been discussing, and it goes back 2500 years. Even though the many worlds of the Buddhists are inhabited by countless Buddhas and Bodhisattvas- universally compassionate and loving beings with miraculous powers, not a single "enlightened" being can save a human from their own karma, the consequences of their own thoughts and actions. The world is full of enlightened beings, but the help they offer suffering mortals is through teaching them how to see themselves and the world properly to escape suffering. But mortals must do it for themselves, must apply the teachings. Buddhas can't spare mortals from house fires or tsunamis. Buddhas can't fix the stock market.

When mortals purify their minds sufficiently, they can sometimes "see" the awakened, compassionate beings (the Buddhas), and understand something of how these beings try to help. But in the end, the Buddhists have no "great God" in charge of the universe; refreshingly, they are a non-theistic world religion.

In Buddhist thinking, nothing is in charge of everything. There are simply many classes of sentient beings, and awakened beings, all interacting and changing and transforming within the inter-connected web of reality. There are no guarantees in this world of "Samsara"- the world inhabited by beings who are not enlightened; Buddha himself described this condition as unreliable and unsatisfactory. And- no surprise- Buddha believed that many Gods did exist, but like the Pagan Europeans, he believed that these Gods were not all-powerful, and had to exist as victims of the greater system, just like mortals. Gods could sometimes interfere in mortal lives, but Gods, in the end, had their own lives to lead.

* * *

The nicest people have to suffer the most awful fates. This is a simple fact of life, as true now as it was when the world was young. There are many ways to react to this fact that no one can deny- you can imagine that it's all "really okay" and that a big all-powerful good guy is really secretly behind it all, or you can see that nothing but countless powers shifting and combining is behind it all. You can see that in the web of causality, the web of power, there are no guessable guarantees, with one possible exception: the bonds of affection that can arise between human beings, and help us endure through this amazing, open, and boundless world of possibility. And sadly, even those bonds can suffer and fail at times. But they are, I think, all we can really put our deepest and best trust in.

I believe in Gods, of course. I believe in spirits or non-human persons that co-exist with us in this great world, seen and unseen. But like my ancestors, I know for a fact that I can't trust my entire well-being to Gods or spirits. I know that I can befriend them, or at least offer my friendship; I know that I can trust in the benevolence of Gods, and the friendship of certain spirits, but not much beyond that. Even the Gods must bow to the weaving of Fate. I can believe that things are working out as they have to, but I also know that, in the fateful sense, "working out as it has to" doesn't mean "in a way that I like it."

I don't have any doubt that some Pagans- like some Native Americans- believed that a sort of "divine justice" existed. We know that such a concept did exist; mortals could not violate the "order" of things- the Rta of the Vedas, without repercussions. But then, neither could Gods. I'm not talking punishment after death, or for eternity; usually the sort of punishment that comes from violating the Cosmic Order comes in terms of a ruined life. It could be "after death", but these sorts of stories become diffuse, strange, and even speculative. Again, there are no guarantees.

That seems so desolate when you compare it to the shining, optimistic story of churches, but ask yourself: which story seems to coincide with the evidence of your senses? I've not seen one shred of evidence- nor felt a shred of evidence- that a great storyteller with wonderful intentions was controlling my world. I have sensed the darksome power of Fate straining behind the threads of reality, and felt the touch of spirits interfering here and there, but never have I encountered anything that would lead me to believe that "the Good God" was in charge. The universe may be set on a fated course for a doom one day, but there is no "plan" for us all. There is only power and the shifting of power, and sentience seeking to know itself within the kaleidoscope, and to live the best it can.

And indeed, as the ancients told us, the Gods themselves are subject to Fate, and fatal, blind Necessity. What's a person to do? It's smart to offer friendship to the other powerful beings that co-exist with us. That's "Pagan common sense." But the real thrust of the ancient organic worldviews generally would seem to be this: don't have great expectations; don't make great plans. Live and love generously here and now, make bonds, don't assume anything about the future. Be flexible. Lean on your fellow humans for aid and comfort, and be a helper yourself. Don't think that you can control everything, or that spirits or Gods can.

Live with the dignity that is native to the human being, for as long as you can, or as long as it is useful to the greater good of your folk. Like the animists of this world, asking a God or a spirit for healing is fine and well; you might get it. But finding a human being who had acquired the power of healing was a far better bet. And yet, even powerful people couldn't heal everything. Live well with your own kind. Cultivate the joy that it was possible for humans to have.

I think that in doing so, we'll find the treasure that truly belongs to humans- and it isn't an eternal life with a God, but a deep satisfaction with our capability to love and be loved, and to work with others for good ends. Who knows what will become of us when the kaleidoscope of power shifts- as all kaleidoscopes do- a "shifting" we call "death". Like the array of colors and shapes in the kaleidoscope, we will change, and remain a part of the web of power, as perhaps we have always been a part of it.

But in what condition, what world, who can say? From day to day, hour to hour, century to century, who can say what will be? Maybe these questions aren't so important. The questions we ask about our lives here and now are, in my way of thinking, the truly important ones. In my way of thinking, "death" is not the greatest issue at all. Living wisely is.

If your religious path begins with wishful thinking about the world, it will end poorly. Don't plant the seeds of absurd optimism early on. Don't live in the world like the world was made for you, or like you are an exceptional part of the world, above its natural cycles and disasters. You aren't. We are conscious parts of a whole, and that whole doesn't show a great preference for us, and nor should it. A deeper pattern is playing out. With us in this situation are Gods, spirits, and other sentient powers, who have themselves learned to endure and thrive in their own great ways. We can learn a lot from them.

Plant seeds of acceptance for the great mystery that faces us all, whatever the form it will take. Plant seeds of real affection for those that have been placed closest to you, and those you meet and recognize a kindred soul in.

We may worry about the premature deaths of our loved ones, but in the shifting of power, we are not the authors of their lives or deaths. We can only offer them our one guarantee: that we will love them and protect them as much as we are able, as far as we are able. That's all anyone can do. If you can't have peace with that, you should take a long look at yourself and your thinking about the world.

These are all good seeds. These sorts of seeds planted at the beginning of any life-path, I believe, will take a person all the way to peace.

* * *

Ruth Holmes Whitehead, the great teacher and expert on Mi'kmaq culture whose books have changed my life so much, makes a statement in her book "Tales from the Six Worlds" that sums up what the Mi'kmaq people felt was the real point and purpose of a wise human life- something that we could focus our energy and attention on, that would serve us always. Want something to invest your time into? What could be so valuable in an unpredictable, dangerous, and beautiful world like this one?

The acquisition of power, that's what. Whitehead writes:

"Because of this aspect that nearly everything in the six worlds- including the geography- can change both its shape and its mind, the universe is unpredictable, unreliable in a European sense. So how do humans and other Persons survive when nothing is necessarily as it seems? They survive by accumulating Power of their own, the ability to change their shapes and modes as circumstances require. This is such an important tenet that almost every story of the People has Power as its central theme: how to acquire it, how to use it, how to lose it, and the consequences attendant on all of the above."

Becoming a shape-shifter, gaining the power to change your own mind and even form to cope with the constant changes of the world- that was the point. Being flexible, in the most powerful sense imaginable, was what led a person to do well in this world, and even in death- for the most powerful Persons in Mi'kmaq stories are able to maintain their power and reconstitute themselves even after death.

And it all comes from being able to accept whatever arises and to shift oneself appropriately to match it, to deal with it. I cover this spiritual aspect of "Shape Shifting" in the textbook of Witchcraft I wrote entitled "The Horn of Evenwood"- not for no reason was the Master of Witches believed to be a great shape-shifter himself! For he is one of the spiritual powers- a non-human Person- who teaches the primordial wisdom that can even overcome death.

On a mundane level, the power of shape-shifting begins with being brave and flexible in your thinking about things in this world. It means being open-minded and not fooled by "everything is going to be alright" stories. It means being responsive to whatever arises in your experience, and not in denial about things that arise and bother you or offend you. May we all internalize this ageless wisdom, and overcome the traps of wishful thinking. May we all engage a mature spirituality, and live well.

December 3, 2009

The Season of Memory

A Witchwalk Through the Sacred Season of the Yuletide

* * *

There is snow falling, and a bright, large moon riding across the sky between great continents of cloud. When a man stands outside on the dark ground, on pale fields of snow glowing in moonlight, it's like standing in a dream. Shadows are never more black, and moonlight never more radiant, than when it becomes trapped in web-works of ice and shines out in a pale radiance.

The most powerful part of any walk in the winter night, to me, is the sight of houses from a distance- they are dark, too, but their windows glow in the most inviting orange and gold hue. Each of them is a warm center of life, their walls holding back the life-withering cold and ice. In a sea of freezing power, these ships of glowing life drift in place- seen from the shadowed sky, they would make the dark landscape seem aglow with golden stars.

All around me, in the village, in the woods, in the countryside, are islands of golden warmth, each of them the hearth of a family surviving another winter. Human life is persistent; its allies in the struggle for life are likewise persistent- fire, masonry, beams of wood, stone, and ingenious contraptions of wire and pipe that bring water and electricity in through the worst storms. We are enduring beings. We have endured countless winters.

From one window, a cat peers out at me. That tabby-colored cat sits in pure bliss, legs tucked under his furry chest, eyes narrowed into that tranquil meditative relaxation that cats seem to specialize in. The cat dozes in the warmth, totally unconcerned about the falling flakes of ice and snow that cascade down in front of its face just inches on the other side of glass. How many other cats, throughout the ages, have sheltered next to the warm fires of their masters in this time? That cat is a fellow traveler through time and history with me. I'm glad to see him so warm.

There are candles and wreathes and colored lights dancing about in places. The Winter Solstice time is here, and in the middle of all this frozen desolation, people are preparing to celebrate something as old as humanity itself. Most don't have any clue how far back it goes- most wouldn't think of it as going back before the birthday of Jesus, but these same people drag trees into their homes in this season, keeping alive a Heathen tree worship that certainly pre-dated the Nazarene by a great distance in time.

The name given to the supposed Galilean miracle-worker- "Christ"- has come to dominate what people in the west call this season of ancient power- Christmas- and the "advent" so awaited by the traditional faithful is nothing more than the appearance of this miraculous child. But older names for this time lurk below the surface, known to all who "Toll the ancient Yuletide carol."

* * *

When I stand in the cold and dark of the Yuletide, I always become introspective about the vastness of history and the chasm of eternity that yawns behind it. This time of year, more than most, sends my mind and imagination on a journey through the story of the West. That story begins in places that most people would shrug off as fiction more than fact, but fact it is- every bit of it. If you could have seen it, you would see more golden circles of fire glowing on snow under the veil of night- because ages ago, in the coldest and most distant of places, that's where the ancestors lived and held back the cold and dark.

They had tents, lodges, roundhouses, and villages, all glowing with healthy blazes that were beacons of survival in the frost-gripped world. They wandered a world that was not conveniently mapped out for them or easy to conceive of by whirling a plastic globe around. To the north was mountain; the east, forest; to the west rolling hills and valleys, and south, more forest, stretching as far as the eye could see. The life-giving flow of a river cut through nearby, and the Goddess of that river provided much for them. What was beyond what the eye could see? They didn't know. They would discover what; they were brave and always on the move. Where did the river come from? Who were the other people, the strangers, stalking through the forests south?

The ice and snow that blanketed their world, it was not just the predictable result of a meteorologists' report; it was magical power. It was the footprints of giants, the breath of giants, covering the world with their brutal power. It was power from a world of ice which lay far beyond, and the one day, they knew, the powers of light and life would shift and banish those cold powers, at least for a time. There was a struggle in the cosmos about them, which paralleled their struggle right here in the village or camp- to enclose themselves with safe circles of fire and strong men and women, safe in the sacred enclosure of kin.

There was nothing in the world that didn't hold some fascination, for all of it was mystical or magical power of a kind. For these people, the presence of something mystical or magical wasn't such a shock; they lived in a world full of Gods, a world full of powers. Some powers were human and animal; others were immensely greater. All were part of a web of power which excluded nothing. There were magical treasures, things humans could create or obtain, which granted safety or skill or power to their owners or their groups. There were places of power in the landscape to be found, the work of previous hands, either lost groups of human beings or perhaps the Giants themselves.

It sounds like high fantasy, but it is reality, plain and simple. This is our origin. Not just these people or their technologies, but their worldviews- their belief in the awesome sacred powers which surrounded them. When we forget these people, or consign them to a realm of fantasy, we forget so much about who we are. For who we are is partly determined by who we were- and in fact, I might say, the very best parts of us owe so much to who we were.

If we want to know where we are "going", as a culture, as massive groups of people whose bloodlines run back to those distant times, we have to look back to the ancients, for the clues to our final destination are found in our beginnings. The end is always present at the beginning, and the beginning at the end, because life and causality finally and ultimately describes a great circle of power. We aren't in an "open ended" universe, and we never were. We are enclosed in power and destiny, though it is a vision so massive as to seem quite bottomless to the person who lacks the poetic vision to really look.

My journey continues, through more dark trees and snow-covered fields, down the course of great rivers, to a southern sea that encloses the reaches of many glittering ancient civilizations. People here placed stone upon stone and raised monuments of awesome power. Here, they raised temples and gleaming cities by the water-lanes of commerce. Here, they forged ideas of philosophy that transcended their own concerns and attempted to embrace the entirety of things. Here, the Gods still lived and still joined with mortal men in the great work of destiny.

* * *

For countless generations, these societies- so different from the people of the Northern fires, and yet, so similar in other ways- wore out their Fated time, and achieved reaches of glory which have still not been matched by our vain modern day. Something of the old mysticism from time's first human dawn still lived in these ancient cities and cyclopean temples. Among the Romans, the great reign of king Saturn the Sower was commemorated in the darkness of December; the rites and celebrations of the Saturnalia were simultaneous to the joyous birth of the Persian savior Mithras. Life wasn't just enduring; it was being reborn, a new golden age was being celebrated, at the deep of winter.

These rites were half civilized and half barbaric- at times wild, orgiastic, yet solemn and profound at other times. Don't mistake me- the barbarism was found in the solemnity, not the celebration, for only people out of touch with the sacredness of the wild ever innovate the technologies and social systems that truly harm this world. But the ancient struggle of the wild and the structured pranced on in its mesmerizing leaps then, as it does now.

These Pagan people are my Ancestors, and yours. They are who we were, and in so many ways still are. I embrace them, all of them, and I love them. I appreciate their wisdom, their aesthetics, and I know their hopes in dreams by having a long look at my own. Without these great and brave people, nothing we have now would exist; not this language, this computer that I am staring at as I type, not our social values of democracy and humanitarianism, of liberty and scientific inquiry, our spirit of philosophy and our very souls. The very glass I lifted to toast with tonight, under a fresh sprig of mistletoe, was raised first by the Northern people from whom I gain this flesh and blood.

My journey has to take a dark turn now; the ragged ruins of the world around me still have some of the old wisdom glowing in them, like heat and light in the embers that remain after a majestic building is burned down. And the edifice of the ancient world's true life was burned down by fear and ignorance. Let us never forget the awful power of these twin forces- ever more devastating than any modern nuclear weapon, more pervasive than any political unrest. The precious Gods that once wandered with the Ancestors through the same snow that is under my feet, and who were once praised in temples of great majesty, were once abandoned by Kings and people of power, and gradually, by the commoners that followed them. Not everyone left the Gods behind, but many did, and soon, it was the sword that assured that only one way of believing would be allowed.

This shift wasn't simple, nor fast, nor did it reflect only a drama in the human mind; the world fell to ruins around it. Rome was undermined by it; Rome burned to the ground over it. The next fifteen hundred years are called "Dark Ages"- and not for no reason. The lamps of Greek learning were dark. Civilization's order collapsed. Literacy was lost. Ancient cultural arts and achievements were lost. The great spirit of the Northern folk was torn from the land itself and crowded into dirty villages and towns and cities, and into churches, whose harsh bells drove the spirits of the land away in disgust and fear.

There was no more magic to be found in the landscape or the mountains or in the worlds of Gods; that magic was categorized as satanic trickery and a snare of diabolism. No longer could the sun or moon or stars, or wells or groves of trees be a merging point for human souls to enjoy their connection with the sacred All; now, Popes wrote documents containing the penalties for those who enjoyed these ages-old activities.

* * *

When I look at the crosses on the church buildings near me, I see the cruelty of these ages staring back at me. I see the cross of ignorance, which has crucified countless people of my blood and of the same legacy as me. I see the old solar Gods, blazing out from their own ancient crosses, and even bloody dead Gods from Pagan times who emerged from their own deaths to the great joy of their followers, now sunk low while Jesus reigns from on high, morally pure, ready to judge the quick and the dead.

I see the continuation of the most distant and degenerate form of Roman Paganism in those churches. I see great hopes for eternal happiness, and I see despair. I see ages of ancient power echoing in the cross, that old power forming a great austere background of force that informs the entire edifice of Christianity, but which is ignored fully by the faithful themselves. That power, they reason, is God; that power is the Holy Spirit. A rather simplistic final product for so many centuries of hope and fear, of blood and conquest, of dead Gods and risen Gods, of decadent Roman courts and of dark incense-filled temples and churches covered with colorful mosaics.

Christians have never been free of the Saturnian Pagan Yuletide. Their savior gained a birthday on the winter solstice, taking for his company an ancient cavalcade of divine figures; Christians were latecomers to the ancient power of the season. But they joined, and added a new dimension to it. That dimension is, to me, the least of all; it is the least wise, the least compelling, and the most superficial. But it is the most pronounced, today- especially when you walk through the snowy village in your head, like I am now.

I see the nativity scene, complete with big plastic camels poking up with their humps out of the snow. Camels in the snow- Semitic shepherds and Persian astrologers huddled around a plastic manger, covered in snow, in a northern forest, in the front yard of a family whose surname is "Bachmeier"- as Teutonic a surname as you can get. There you have it. While the sacred Yule-season of their ancestors is glowing in power around them, the Bachmeiers place faded plastic statues of Near-Eastern goat herders and Persians and camels in their yard, and pray to an ancient Hebrew man, and the ancient God of Israel- who was never worshiped in a Yule or a Saturnalia.

Does Father Bachmeier know about Sigurd and Sigrdrifa, or Arminius? Does he know about Jolnir or the Disir of this time? Does he know what the "Weihnachten" really stands for? Or does he really sit around singing about Angels and Bethlehem and Jerusalem? We have truly lost our souls when a person even needs to ask these sorts of questions. We have lost our true senses. Thank the Gods for remaining with us through these dark times. Gods, we are coming home- but excuse us; some of us have lost the way. They'll take a little longer getting there. We know you understand, and remain with us anyway.

* * *

There is something about the West- our great spirit, our great contribution to the world- which is tied into our theism. We've always believed in Gods. Recently, we've betrayed the living Gods for the spiteful Monotheism of the ancient Hebrews, but as I said before- just wait. The end is in the beginning. The Gods are not gone, nor done with us, nor we with them. We are going through a painful growing phase. We are the ones that changed, and not so long ago, all things considered.

But something around us isn't changing. This snow- this night- it is the same. Night is night, in any age. Her darkness has touched the face of every human being that has ever lived. The same water that fell as ice onto the ancients melted and rose again to freeze again and fall onto me, now. Nature, majestic Nature, She is forever young and forever ancient. She is something we all have in common. She has seen many religions come and go, many civilizations rise and fall. She is common grave-mound and tomb to us all, and to all things. She is common mother to us all. Want a truly enduring religion? Worship her. In her is the essence of all religions arisen before or arisen recently. She is the true Godhead of creation and destruction. In her, all things come to pass. In her, all things are made new.

We Westerners are "Godists" if there ever were any. While the highest philosophical ponderings of the East lead people away from God or Gods, we hang on to our "big man in the sky". I hang on to my ancestors' "big men and women in the sky and under the earth", but that's just me and a few others like me. And I am, of course, risking the comical here- the Gods aren't men and women. Something about the spirit of the West is found in theism, found in our own belief that one day, we have to journey beyond this world to face a mystery.

For some, that mystery is in judgment. They will die and cross the final veil hoping for their heavenly retirement plans to be cashed in, and fearing that perhaps they won't be. It will be for the judge to say, after all. For others, that "final" mystery is another long journey to be back again at the beginning, and among the people of the beginning- the ancestors. And from there? Who can say?

But I can say one thing- the dead are not gone, not taken from this world, and nor is there an escape from the world. The supreme selfishness, the supreme lack of wisdom of any religion would be in how it teaches escapism of the soul or spirit. I will be dead and yet alive in the land, in the rivers, in the mounds, in the sky, in the winds. I know this, because I've seen it. I will be present to this collection of sacred powers then for the same reason I am now- because there is no other place to be. In the enclosure of life, of power, this is it. See the snow with your earthly eyes; see the trees; when you are dead, and seeing in a new way, they will still be there and so will you, though how it will seem to you then, only the dead can know.

* * *

I'm walking now, in my head, remembering a real walk through snow; I know that my journey is ongoing and won't end, ever. I'm moving through the forest now like the ancestors, and remembering them in the season of memory, the great Yule season.

While my Christian neighbors are singing happy birthday to Jesus, I will be sitting around a fire with the Ancestresses, with the Yule-father and his host, with my family and with the giants of the great cold. A collection of sacred kindreds is precisely what this season is- along with any other season, truth be known. But this sublime cold and dark cracks open a special kind of perception for those who can brave it long enough. In this darkness, we can really go back to the beginning. And we must go back to the beginning if we want to complete our circle and be whole.

My Yule-wish for all of Europe's sons and daughters- and truly, anyone else- is this: do not live on the "timeline" of the soteriologist- live in the natural circle of power which no God can create. This world did not "begin" one day at the whim of a creator, and will not "end" just as quickly; it is not an arrow-shot story with a single conclusion, but a woven circularity of eternity that has no ending. I want you all to be whole, complete, and joyful.

Your completion is not found in Judeo-christian triumphalist religious fictions, but in this very snow, this very world, in the spirits of those who came before you and who believed in the Gods. Do not isolate yourself behind the walls of churches; let the world become your temple, as it was for your ancestors. Reject the lies of human exceptionalism, and take your place as equal kin to the land and the wild beasts and the Gods.

Understand that the womb is the most sacred thing, and that our Greatest Grandmothers are the beings to whom we owe all of this. If you discover a religion blaming women for the downfall of the world, or crushing women underfoot- commanding them to subservience or silence- reject it as an enemy of the common sacred life that we all share.

Our ancestor-women were not weak women, second to men: they were women of power; seeresses, valkyries, spear-disir, women who ruled as queens, women who raised children in brutal and dangerous circumstances, who held the keys to our homes and hearths, and who remembered our sacred stories and passed down rare wisdom through many generations. They wove the threads of our Fates as certainly as they wove the sails on the ships that carried our ancestors to glory and renown, or as certainly as they wove the linens and wools that our people wore to survive in the cold and weather.

As dark irony would have it, even the Abrahamic barbarians owe their entire existence to the women they accuse of mothering sin and death, and whom they punish for leading men astray to sin with lust. For the women in those faiths, trapped without choice, or simply ignorant of the great legacy to which they belong, I wish for freedom and justice.

For those women outside of that bondage, I wish them the strength to remain outside of it, and raise strong daughters and sons like themselves, to make our new Pagan future a great one. May the strength of our woman-kind make us whole and strong, now, as always.

October 20, 2009

Hushe and Baloo: Protecting Children from the Weird Otherness

Are children, both the newly-born and toddlers, in some sort of danger from the Unseen world, simply by virtue of surviving their births? The testament of the ancients, as it has passed to us in the fund of folklore, would say "yes". A mountain of folklore from Northern and Western Europe deal with the pervasive fear experienced by mothers and the folk of previous centuries regarding "changelings" and the common theme of "stolen children"- and the many traditional steps taken to shield children from the dangers of the unseen and supernatural.

People have struggled to come to grips with these strange beliefs in many ways. The simplest modern explanation would have us believe that "changeling" stories were vibrant folkloric expressions of a very real sort of loss- the common deaths of children at a very early age, rooted in a time when infant and toddler mortality was very high. Perhaps, it is reasoned, parents might prefer to imagine their dead children were in reality "taken" and still alive in some fashion, while the corpse they were burying was merely a copy.

If this was the case- and I don't believe it was- it certainly wouldn't belong to the realm of superstition, but to the common comfort sought by every Christian mother who ever lost a small child, in any age (including this one): the idea that her lost child lives on in heaven, while the earthly body is only a "shell" to be buried. One cannot look at changeling lore and not see the common themes: another world to which children are taken, and the meaningless or fake wooden copy left behind.

But changeling stories have another, more disturbing element, especially in Irish folklore: the idea that the child has been exchanged with a living being, a faery which takes the form of the child and continues to live as the child. Many charms and rituals exist for forcing the faery-people to return the actual child and take back the changeling. Some of those charms include nothing more than forcing the changeling to reveal its true nature by allowing it to see something it finds amazing or ludicrous, after which it cannot hold back from revealing its preternatural intelligence by expressing its wonder or making a comment- such as the boiling of water or beer inside of egg-shells.

The act of displaying its Otherworldly nature is enough to force it to leave or be banished, with the hopeful instant return of the original child.

This is an element of changeling mythos that brings us into a new realm of mystical speculation. Clearly, we aren't dealing with death in some folkloric way, but with the loss of a child to a supernatural "other". For all practical purposes, the "child" is still there, kicking, eating, squawking, and seeming innocent (even if changeling babies were rumored to eat voraciously and seldom be satisfied, and never gain weight) but the parents suspect that something is "wrong" with their child, to the point of believing that they no longer are in possession of their child.

Sadly, some charms to force the faery-people to return the original child required the "changeling" baby to be tormented or tortured in some way- and I have heard that deaths of the suspected changelings sometimes occurred in the rural places.

These sorts of legends beg for an elucidation that goes beyond the simple dismissal of the modern day researchers who are all too quick to say "ignorant superstition" and leave it at that. It is my contention that the ancients felt that ominous, weird forces did threaten "new" children, and there is a very easy-to-understand reason why. A "new" child isn't a "new" thing at all, but, in line with the ancient beliefs, a continuance of a being or entity of some sort (a spirit) from the unseen that has come into this world through the event of birth.

That "new" child is simultaneously a new member of a human community, but an ageless member of the oldest community of all: the community of spiritual forces that we are all a part of. As we have worn out our lives in this world, we have forgotten our more ancient connections with the powers of the Unseen world; I believe that we will recall those connections, on some level, when we all must return to that state at death.

But the ancients clearly believed that something needed to be done to truly separate a child from the grip of the unseen, as soon as it was born- and the Pagan rites of baptism, the "sprinkling with water" of both the ancient Druids and the ancient Teutons, is the primary example of the use of water to magically separate a newborn from the grip of the unseen, and differentiate it fully into a "worldly" state. That names were bestowed during these sorts of rites is also easy to understand; to name something or someone is to bestow on it a status in this world, in the order of our minds and communities. A "naming" is an act of will that differentiates something from the mysterious background-reality out of which all things come, and gives it an identity.

This sort of naming gives a sort of protection. The ritual of baptism utilizes water, which was itself seen as symbolic of the "primal, watery layers" of the ultimate origins of things- the Bog-Weird, the murk or the "primordial ooze" that some say was the true origin of physical life in this world. The water is a symbol of the dark depths of unconsciousness, the murky depths of the originating unseen, and Fate. If the bright flame of fire is the light of this world, the dark waters are symbols of the other. To sprinkle or baptize a child with water is a symbolic re-exposure to the unseen, so that the child can be then named and re-integrated formally into this world, as the unseen watches.

It is no mistake that so many of the ancients of Europe believed that death was marked by the soul's passage over a watery boundary- it had a correlation to the passage over water into this world in the first place- passage through the physical watery fluid of the womb, and the following "sprinkling" of the consecrating waters over the infant. The Christian rite of baptism neatly replaced the "water sprinkling" rite of the ancients, and continued to uphold this ancient logic.

Apparently, the "connections" we have in the Unseen world are not always so eager to give us up to our fateful journey (through conception and birth) into the world of men and women, and, it was believed, the strange forces that lingered near children might try to steal them back, or cause tragic accidents or sickness to kill them, thereby getting them back again. Alwyn and Brinley Rees, in their indispensable work "Celtic Heritage" report:

"In the west of Ireland to the present day, a newborn child is palpably within the grip of unseen forces, and precautions have to be taken lest it be born away by the fairies. It will be remembered that it was a supernatural claw that snatched Pryderi from his mother's side. The danger of abduction is greatly reduced by baptism, and the child is sometimes given a temporary name, or a lay baptism is resorted to, to protect it until a proper ceremony can be arranged. Baptism is also widely believed to be efficacious in restoring a child to health, that is, in preventing it from slipping back into the unseen world. By being returned through water to the world beyond, and brought back again by the proper ritual, the child is separated more completely from its uncanny associations with the unseen world. From now on, its relations with that world will be channeled through the proper rites" (p. 242-243.)

There is an interesting relationship to the newborn and its unseen "other"- for, as I have covered in great detail in my many writings concerning Witchcraft, the Witch- a human man or woman who intentionally "crosses the boundary" between this world and the unseen, does so through relationship with a familiar power from the "other side" which is precisely that "Other". The Witch cultivates, as an adult, the "uncanny associations" that the Rees mention, and which children come into this world still strongly in the grip of. Baptism rites, either Pagan or Christian, are attempts to "de-witch" or "un-witch" a child, so that it can safely and more easily develop into a worldly life.

It may be strange to imagine the Unseen powers trying to "reclaim" a newborn; but when one examines the opposite extreme, the end of life, it is easy to understand. When our loved ones die, we normally don't want to let them go- if we could do some ritual that would literally pull them back from the Unseen, mysterious condition they have gone into, many would certainly do it. Would we be so different from those mysterious forces that may mourn a friend or comrade of theirs departing from the unseen to become integrated into this world of materiality, and who are using their power to bring that comrade "home"? The point, I think, is that transitions are never easy, on either end of life's spectrum, because the fact of parting is a tearful occasion. But for the order of things to work, we must integrate successfully, and transition successfully, as dignified beings.

The Rees go on to say:

"If we are right in interpreting the changeling as a personification of the otherworldly side of a human child's nature, these tales may refer to a pre-Christian rite analogous to baptism, whereby the human child itself was ritually "expelled" or "exposed" so as to separate it from the supernatural and save it from being possessed by its mysterious "other" self" (p. 243).

The Folklore Society of Great Britain, in 1894, put out their Folk-Lore, A Quarterly Review of Myth, Tradition, Institution and Custom. All of their works are treasure-troves of folkloric insight into the strange metaphysics of the Unseen; this edition contained many treasures, including a Scottish lullaby-poem, discovered in 1801 scrawled on the fly-leaf of a book, in the "thin, sharp-pointed handwriting used by ladies at the beginning of the century", but which probably belonged to the last century.

Some unknown Scottish mother had penned this lullaby for her child. I will give the Lullaby as it was written, and then give a modern transliteration of it, for those who may not be quite so up on their comprehension of the rich local, dialectical terminology and word-usages of that age:

"The Boomen and Maukins are scourin the steep,
The puir wee bit mousie's nae mair at her ease,
For the howlet is scrieghin amang the lane trees,
But ye'll sleep my luvelie, Hushe, Hushe and baloo,
And I'll keep the Boomen frae medlin wi' you.
Wheesh there, Wullie Moolie, Hushe, Hushe noo my pet,
Hear, Hear how he's jinglin the hesp o' the yett,
He'll be here in a jiffie, Hushe, Hushe now my dear,
For queyt sleepin babies he winnae come near,
Gae 'wa ugly Wullie, my bairnie I'll keep,
Ye dinna tak wee yins wha'll cuddle and sleep,
Na! Hushe and baloo babie, Hushe and baloo,
There s nae Wullie Moolie sall ever get you."

"Boomen" are supernatural creatures, like goblins or bogles; Maukins- malkins- are witches in cat or hare form. The "Wullie Moolie" would appear to be a booman of its own, but a very particular type: a "wooly earthy" thing ("mool" means earth)- either a spiritual presence known well in this woman's part of Scotland, or something more ancient/sinister; the devil himself? It would appear to be a chthonic, hairy thing, and the Devil gets that appearance often enough. Whatever it is, it, like the boomen and witches (all representing the powers of the unseen world) are a threat to young children.

In modern English:

"The boomen and maukins are scouring the hills, (or countryside)
The poor, tiny mouse is no more at her ease,
For the owl is screeching among the trees of the lane,
But you'll sleep my lovely, hush, hush and easily sleep,
And I'll keep the boomen from meddling with you.
Shush there, Wullie Moolie, hush, hush now my pet,
Hear, hear how he's jingling the clasp of the gate,
He'll be here in a jiffy, hush, hush now my dear,
For quiet, sleeping babies he won't come near.
Go away, ugly Wullie, my baby I'll keep,
You don't take small babies who'll cuddle and sleep.
Now! Hush and easily sleep, baby, hush and easy sleep,
There's no Wullie Moolie shall ever get you."

I think this rare bit of folklore encompasses more than just a woman's heart-felt lullaby; it can also be read as a protection charm. The dangers of the world around are reflected in the animal kingdom- the night is dangerous even for the poor mouse who is terrified by the screeches of owls. That same night has bogles and witches "scouring"- looking for something? But this child will sleep, and it appears that sleeping and being quiet is the best protection from the "Wullie Moolie"- for it is attracted by cries in the night. One can easily divine one of the earliest kinds of protection for children from this- certainly the earliest pre-cultural humans risked being found by night-predators because of the cries of their infants.

Being quiet in the dangerous darkness would just seem to be common sense. No Scottish woman from the late 1700's would have had any knowledge of pre-cultural humanity cowering in the jungles, hoping that tigers or lions (quite wooly or furry things themselves) didn't find them in the night. But human beings are not designed to be nocturnal; we, like all diurnal creatures who are naturally helpless or less capable in the dark know instinctively how to hide and be quiet. I think it is hard-wired into us to both fear the dark and to not move around or make much noise in it, in the same way that baby chicks come forth from the womb naturally afraid of the shadows of predator birds that they have never seen.

If any of these ancient, instinctual/intuitive impulses had anything to do with this lullaby, they were fully unconscious on the mother's part. But these unconscious powers don't stay down in the dark; they emerge in surprising other ways. I'm not at all suggesting that boomen and maukins are just "folkloric symbols" for unconscious fears born in pre-cultural predation; I know that some people have advanced this theory, but I don't agree. I think that the deep, watery chasm of inherited biological experience that layers deep in our humanity does contain ancient fears, but they are only a part of a bigger story. Entities like Boomen and Maukins are quite real in their own right, and belong to that shadowy, unseen world that the "primal wilderness darkness" is only a single historical manifestation of.

And children, as we have seen, are more vulnerable to them, for many reasons. May the wisdom of the old people help us to understand these mysteries and thereby help our young ones on their journeys through life.

October 16, 2009

The Village, or, The Pendulum of Souls

Good day, friends:

I have just completed a writing project regarding New England Witchery, which includes a detailed study of the metaphysics of Hedge or Boundary-crossing, and a complete system of Sigil-based sorcery and hexing. I have made the entire project available online, and can be viewed by clicking Here.

I hope that you enjoy this Hallows gift from me to you and yours.


August 13, 2009

WEIKERIE: The True Story of Witchcraft, Then and Now

In the mists of the most ancient of days, our first ancestors lived on broad, expansive grasslands with endless stretches of rivers and dark stands of forest scattered about. Distant mountains rose up to clouds, and frost-bringing winds scoured the ground and trees in winter. We don't know where they came from originally, but when they first expressed their primordial cultural yearnings with invention and imagination, binding themselves together into cohesive and related groups through the powers of language-sorcery and artifice-art, they were east of Europe, in the trans-Eurasian steppes, near the great inland Caspian sea, and in the environs of the Don and Dneiper rivers.

It really doesn't matter where they were; the world at that time was nothing like it is now. No one lived then who had a vision of a blue globe glowing in the black void of space; no one lived then who knew every mountain chain and what lay beyond every ocean. No one had even the first idea of the many different sorts of people or civilizations that might be encountered if they traveled far enough in any direction. What "world" means to us now is nothing like what it meant to them.

These ancestors were wise in other ways; they lived on the soil, under the sky, with an infinite omnidirectional power of multi-faceted life and mystery stretching away from them: the mystery of the ancestral land. It was linked, harmonically, to the mystery of the glowing stars in the freezing night, whose shapes traced out destiny. This was the foretime of our ancestors; animals spoke, all things possessed strange powers, and Gods and demons walked the earth and fought for supremacy amid the majestic forces of nature's great body. The dead were not severed away and gone; they dwelled in the land, as part of it; they interacted with the living in regular ways and following hidden cycles of the dusk-world.

As our people wandered and spread out into the unknown, they came to know of the other peoples they encountered; and they knew, after a course of countless centuries of mystical connection, even deeper lores about the land and sky which they had organically learned through spectral intercourse with the spirit world: that intensely mysterious "other side" of life, reached through extraordinary states of conscious awareness. They knew what they needed to know then about the luminous ruling powers- strange divine entities- that ruled the plains of the heavens, and they knew, from an even earlier date, about the spirits that appeared as plants and animals, and about the spirits of the dead, in the gaping darkness of the world below.

They knew about primal forces that were divine, who were so old as to be nameless, but still potent- the dark female spirit who through the noose of death around the dying and bound all things with Fate beneath the grave, and who drew souls to birth from the black waters below; they knew about the entity who emerged from the deepest places of the soul as a mighty, antlered being, with a potent and erect phallus, master of serpents and beasts; they knew about the whirling, rushing, windy inspirer of rage and ecstasy; they knew the land itself as a feminine entity of titanic, giving and taking power, mother to all that lived.

They knew of malevolent entities, enemies of the bright powers and some, very ancient, dwelling serpent-like in the land and waters, corrupting and consuming, hording and destroying with disease and cold and fire. They saw the struggles of the spirit world, mimicking the struggles of the earthly world, the numinal and phenomenal fully inter-connected, within each realm and between them, across the misty border of twilight-states. They saw the great cycles of space, time, sun, moon, birth, life, season, and death, endlessly whirling within the spindle of unguessable Fate and her pale handmaidens.

Among these men and women, our greatest grandmothers and grandfathers, as among all people in the ancient world, there arose a segment of spiritual workers who had the prerequisite strangeness about them, the cunning or bravery or unexplainable warping of mind, body, or soul which gave them access to the unseen. This special quality made them capable of channeling the mysteries of the unseen world, with all its living powers and bizarre, ancient entities, into the frame of reference of the common man or woman gathered around the night-time fires. They were practitioners of a series of related-though-broad spiritual esoteric sciences and practices, giving them the power to interact with unseen powers, speak to the dead, divine and prophesize, propitiate spirits, and move in spiritual journeys beyond the boundaries of the body, into the whiteness and darkness beyond sense and easy conception.

These men and women- the first sorcerers of these ancients- were parts of a cultural phenomenon captured distantly by the ancient word WEIK- "that which regards sorcery and religious matters". One etymological branch of that old word, WIK, pertains to the "sacred", the "holy", and the act of consecrating and even sacrificing. From WEIK, through its branch of WIH, we gain "guile" and "craftiness"- and seership, the person of the seer or prophet, and the sorcerer. We gain WEID, WID and WIT, "to see" and "to know"- two functions that are always connected in the ancient root-languages; from WEIK, finally, we gain WIKKE and WIKKERIE- and finally, down through the corridors of time's mutations of language, we gain "Witch."

WEIK might be called the "religion of the sorcerers", but to those ancients, religion and sorcery were not yet evolved so far apart as to be seen as radically different or opposed to one another. Today, most see the two institutions of sorcery and religion as diametrically placed across a spectrum from one another; in reality, anciently, a more holistic view likely existed, displaying the mysteries of the holy and terrifying Unseen World as an integral part of what they experienced as "this world"- such that interaction with the unseen powers was as much an interaction with the deep places of the self as with the deep places of the world. Interacting with "them" was both religious and sorcerous- intended to bring about needful ends.

Most of us know where this true story of these ancient people goes: vast gulfs of time rise up and they break apart, migrate, wander, and enter into the group-story of other branches of the human family, always taking their related but mutating languages and sacred cultural root-concepts with them. They begin to take on different surface identities, drawn from changes in language that naturally occur when they integrate foreign languages they discovered, and they changed in response to the different lands they came to inhabit, coming to know new powers, civilizations, and mysteries. Their wise people laid down the seeds that would become what we call "myths" today; in some places, they lifted glittering cities to the sky and tamed the seas, empires rose and conquered and fell, and in others, they lived among forests and valleys in small groups and villages, maintaining a thriving and ancient tradition of storytelling and vibrant expressions of poetic art.

As time passed, "religion" and "sorcery" did drift apart into two separate-seeming phenomena; temples and state religions and priesthoods arose, and practitioners of the far-flung arts of WEIK dwindled into an indistinct group of practitioners of the spirit-art, in dozens of unique local forms, sometimes they were respected, in other places and times were seen with ambivalent eyes, and in others, with some fear or hostility. As ages passed, one thing remained the same: the Unseen World never lost its ability to confuse, frighten, or cause wonder. It was never explained away. It still has not been; and I contend that it never will be.

Ages changed and changed again, and a world like the one we know now began to take shape. The rather flimsy story of "history" became more and more codified as a tool of the powerful, and the spiritual destiny of all people in the west fell into the lap of the conquering monotheistic Catholic faith. With that institution arose a Europe which began to organize itself into the national groupings we know now; and in that recent chapter of civilization's story, the stories of Gods, spirits, witches, and the world of the foretime have all become dim, shallow curiosities to most, and academic stock found on the dusty shelves of libraries and universities. Within those bits and pieces of the cultural past one may find just hints of the great world that once existed; one may also find keys to the doors that lead deep into the past, to the feet of the men and women who practiced WEIKERIE- the elder "craft" of the cunning and wise, those who see and know in ways that others cannot or will not.

Even in this world, this electron-haunted, mass-media linked world of consumers and bright lights, the strange powers that gathered behind the men and women of the WEIK still exist; as old as the desert sands or the steppe winds, as old as the lineage of oaks or ravens, the strangeness of the Unseen is still there.

In the Middle Ages, the potent echoes of Weikerie still glanced about the forests and village corners; to the laps of the healers, herbalists, hedge-sorcerers, craft-keepers and storytellers fell the ancient inheritance of the preternatural legacy of the foretime, though it was not (by this time) received in some directly “transmitted” form from other people; it came in a more profound way, as a part of the natural and innate metaphysic of the souls of people descended from the ancestors who knew WEIK, and from spirits. As the hateful "enlightenment" came, with its new sorcery of science and soul-choking materialistic empiricism, even those final bearers of the wisdom of the ancient world dwindled into caricatures encircled by mocking overtones of "superstition."

Today, the notion of the religions and magical systems of the past as "absurd" and "superstitiously ignorant" still informs the minds of most so-called "educated" people- but the presence of WEIK is far from dead or stamped out. Like the Unseen World of which it is a part, it is forever dynamic and able to morph and transform and hide and appear, revealing itself even today in what times and places it will. The chief "place" it reveals itself, in forms sometimes ancient and sometimes unique to the modern day, is in the minds of men and women who bear the spiritual mark and developmental disposition required to make a fertile manifesting ground for it. Through those minds, minds that become bridges and gates, blade-edge bridges and doors of dream and nightmare, the oldest of stories is still playing out, still shaping the destinies of individuals and groups, and through them, the world, in subtle ways of connection.

WEIK, in its most ancient root-form, was certainly what we might describe as "necromantic", "land-centered", "mantic" in the sense of "divinatory", and even "shamanic", to coin an academic phrase appropriated from a people of distant Siberia. If we are to take the reports of sorcery throughout the ages as partial evidence for the shape of the distant "magical seeds", we can say that WEIK dealt with the transformation of the mind and perceptions into shapes that could perceive the unseen; it dealt with the idea of journey through the skies and through night in a spirit-form or subtle body that could change its shape, and ride with spirits in the liberation of flight; it dealt with communication with the dead and the elfin spirits of the land, the "waihts" or "ansu" or the "people" under the hills- whether they be natural hills or burial mounds.

It dealt with propitiating nature-spirits that inhabited (and still inhabit) the natural world; it dealt with trance-delirium for the purpose of prophecy. It dealt with curses and cures for diseases; it dealt with deception of the senses and control of the faculties of others. It dealt with herb lore and wortcunning, the use of sacred intoxicants, and of mystical influence over the weather and beasts.

Within WEIK was certainly a notion of immortal spirit-bodies that survived the grave, and of transformations that could overcome the living and the dead in the post-mortem state, and how spirits could be bound, released, or accessed. Within it was a notion of rebirth for some, by mysterious means, and a notion of deadly, fatal consequence, binding all beings based on their deeds and Fate. There was a notion, as old as the Ancients themselves, of the birth and death and regeneration of the cosmos, which each individual life microcosmically demonstrated in its own birth, life, and death.

There was a notion of the transformative turning and binding that held all things together, and made all things- entities of any kind, no matter whether they appeared as human, plant, mineral, animal, or otherwise- actually and sympathetically connected and able to affect one another.

What is one to make of such things? What we must concern ourselves with most is the impact of WEIK's undying legacy on the modern world which it exerts through each of us- we who have felt an attraction to the unknown and occult and the religious or spiritual experiences of the very old times. For some of us, that strange fascination will lead them to the altars of the Old Gods; for a small percentage, it will lead to the door of sorcery in the most authentic sense. The map of that journey leads through many houses and countries, and has many dead ends.

Some despair and never finish the journey. Others, however, find their way to the house of the Binding Weird-Lady and her pale women who weave the Fate of the world, and in the forested hollows of the Antler-crowned king. For some, it leads to the subversive, soul-shattering, soul-stealing and soul-reshaping initiations of the Master of Sorcery, who still leads covens here and there through the back roads of our towns and troubled woods. The dance of the "feery folk" is still going on, following the same ring that it followed when our ancestors first challenged the new world with their bravery and grasp for the extraordinary.

What these people find is more than just the timeless houses of ancient Gods or spirits. They find undimensioned reaches of the self "opened" and new capacities of thinking and experiencing unsealed, just as vibrant and alive as they were in ages past. The sorcerer of today and the sorcerer of ages ago both transcend "religion" and "magic" as a false division; they find the fullness of the human metaphysical potential, the true meaning of "spiritual ecology", and they find the true poetry of life.

The path of Weikerie is not about rebirthing "old religions" into the modern day, though that may be an aspect of it; it would be more accurate to describe it as the ongoing relationship of timeless entities and powers with the modern day, through the minds and bodies of living people. Weikerie's touch is melded seamlessly with the modern day, in surprising ways, but it is still different, ancient and new at once, and mystically potent.

The oldest powers- even those once worshiped as Gods- are still here, and by this distant age, their truest and oldest names have all but passed away into myth and forgetfulness; but their images still emerge from within the deepest places of the folk of WEIK; the spinning grand-crone, the blood-drinking woman of skulls, the phallic antlered man, the entity of light and raging force of insight, the spirit of the storm, the bodies of light in the ground, the fruitful and perilous earth-mother, the women in the wells and waters, the serpent-monsters and theriomorphs in the deep places, the hosts of the heavens and hells.

These images are not just phantasmagoria from a forgotten age; they are the avatars of real potencies that forever live in the out-weaving of the universal pattern. We, too, as human beings live in them and interact with them, forever. It matters not how much we have forgotten our place in things, and our place in the ancient tree of spectral inter-relation. The universe whirls on regardless, to our detriment if we remain forgetful. These images and forces live in us- all of us- at the deepest levels, and no matter of a few thousand years of following the creed of an alien religion and metaphysic can spare us the destiny-patterns set down by uncountable millennia of ancestral expression. When we rediscover the power of WEIK, we rediscover who and what we really are- because this story I've been telling isn't fiction. It's reality; it was real; these grandmothers and grandfathers were real, and these beliefs were held by more of our ancestors than not.

We are those grandmothers and grandfathers, living now- spirit-bodies passed down through timeless spheres of experience, swam back to a human experience, all human bloodlines still bound by the patterns of ritual and culture and belief of the past, and shaped by true sorcerous workings of magnitudes that even myths today cannot adequately express. Their poetry was ours; their sorcery is ours, too. What sorcery channeled then is what it channels now- something trans-cultural and far beyond the human range of full comprehension; in real sorcery is a freedom from any limitation imposed by cultural boundary or twist of moral or politics. It is an encounter with the most authentic, timeless forces and powers, as they exist in the bodies and minds of men and women- and when taken far enough, sorcery is the final and ultimate transformation of a person's destiny.

June 18, 2009

A Sabbatical Hodge Podge

A Sabbatical Hodge Podge: The Problems of the Eightfold Sabbat System

Why Your Eightfold Sabbat System of Worship is Killing the Spirit of Genuine Paganism- and the Witchcraft That Sometimes Lives Inside It.

Copyright © 2009 by Robin Artisson

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Beating a Well-Known Horse

It has become the mainstream currency of neo-Pagans everywhere to follow the calendrical observations of the "eightfold sabbat" year. Even though I feel like I'm beating a well-known horse by saying this, those eight sabbats are (beginning with the darkest) Yule, Imbolg, Eostre, Beltane, Midsummer, Lammas, Mabon (or the Autumn Equinox), and Samhain. Four are equinoxes and solstices; the other four are (today) positioned directly between the four solar events, and called “cross-quarters.”

Ever since my first days being cognizant of neo-Pagan religions, I've had issues with this system, and those issues turned into a full-blown illness when I did the research behind the creation of the Eightfold Sabbat system. I won't do like I normally do and write eighteen paragraphs before I get to my actual point. I'll just say it: the system, as it is, is unforgivably new-agey and invented.

Now, let me unpack what I just said. Let me start by saying "hey guys- if you like your eight sabbats, then by all means, keep celebrating them." But don't walk around thinking that you're doing anything remotely similar to Pagans from pre-christian times. These eight "sabbats" were assembled by Gardner and team for you, about 60 or so years ago. He was inspired by many then-available sources, chiefly his pals in the revivalist Druid movement- a movement that is far more Christian than Pagan, and whose luminary members and founders were always church-attending men.

The eight sabbats, as they stand, are a hodge-podge of Germanic and Celtic holy days. Before I unpack this, let me say that "Germanic" and "Celtic" are not words that refer to unitary, singular cultural traditions, but very, very broad terms that refer to linguistically-related tribes and nations of people which numbered in the hundreds. The chances that all Germanic Pagans, everywhere and at all times, kept some sacred "wheel" of rituals every year are so tiny as to be negligible. The very same thing goes for the many peoples that we now call "Celtic".

The Summer Begins Twice This Year

There is no doubt in anyone's mind that many Germanic peoples saw the Yule-tide as a very sacred time. There is no doubt that Beltaine in Ireland was a sacred time for the peoples of that Island, at least around the time of the visits of the probably fictional "St. Patrick." We do know that, historically, SOME Celtic and Germanic peoples celebrated these seasons: we know that there was a Lugh's Commemoration Fair, a Lughnassadh, in ancient Ireland, and a shadow of a cognate in Christian times. We know that Midsummer stands tall in the folkloric memory of Germanic-descended people. A few other notable nights and seasons stand out. For instance- we know that the Romans, in all places where Roman culture was strongly spread, celebrated Saturnalia around the time of the Winter Solstice- just like the Germanic Yule.

But when you look at history more soberly, you will discover quickly that taking the Celtic Beltaine, and putting it on a calendar with a Germanic Midsummer or Yule leads to the creation of a calendar that is neither historical, culturally accurate, nor very respectful to the broad ancestral metaphysics of either culture-group. Beltaine, the celebration of Bel's summer fire, seen as a great fertility drama by most neo-Pagans today, stands as the crown of the neo-Pagan conception of the "Celtic Summer": to follow it with the equivalent Germanic "First of Summer" festival- Midsummer- is nothing short of redundant.

One culture-group, at certain times and in certain places, had their summer's beginning on Beltaine, and the other, at Midsummer. These were different cultures with many different ideals, different Gods, and different destinies. They blended together eventually, sure- but they maintain, even now, their own unique treasures to offer, and they can't offer those without people who respect them enough to approach them on their own merits. Celebrating Samhain, followed by Yule- two prominent festivals that include the return of the dead kindreds or ancestors to dwell with the living- is also a bit redundant; your ancestral dead are probably annoyed by being moved twice in the space of seven weeks.

Now, if you're an "eight wheeler", and unless you're claiming to follow a "Celtic-Germanic" Pagan reconstructionist path, what are you really doing? And why on earth would you invent a modern "Myth cycle" with oak kings and holly kings and Persephones and Ishtars, to follow the eight hodge-podge sabbats, as though the ancients believed in any way similarly?

People are passing off "Paganism" (and worse yet, "witchcraft") as gleeful talks about "The God" (that annoying nobody-everybody God of Wiccans) getting married on Beltaine, and reaching the "height of his power" on Midsummer, and blah blah snore- people, please- spare my poor heart.
We're better than this. We don't have to "invent forward"- we can "go back" and see what is still there, written for us in the sacred seasons and in the land. We can "go into" the land around us, and see more. What we'll see is important because it's what the ancients saw, before they began doing the things that we eagerly seek out ourselves now.

Each of these sacred seasons that people toss around, within the context of its own generalized cultural group, has its own mythology- it does not "link" to others with invented neo-Pagan Godforms. Every season and time contains its own mythology, its own sacred powers, its own moods and forces. They are universes all their own, not just steps on a stone-lined path.

I know some of you have heard this sort of rant before. Many of you have not, or have and don't care. I care about getting to the real treasures that have come down to us from the past, and I know for a fact that over-inventing modern contexts and overlays for the treasures of the past is the fastest way to obscure the power and wisdom that is sitting right there, calmly and simply, waiting for people to live it again.

Lugh’s Festival Has Nothing To Do With Anglo-Saxon Loaves

When we examine the origins of these "solar" holy days and festivals, like Yule and Midsummer, even a fool can see that they were inspired by ancient people watching the sun's apparent motions in the sky, and what impact that had on earthly life and weather. When we examine the origins of agrarian festivals and culturally-encapsulated festivals like Lughnassadh or Beltaine, we can see that they were not solar; they were not timed to equinoxes and solstices; they were cultural relics of the many Celtic peoples- particularly the ancient Irish- and they have their origins in the mythical life of those people.

The very widespread Celtic God Lugus, in his Irish hypostasis of Lugh, declares a time of mourning and of competition and games for his foster-mother, who gave her life for the people of a particular region of Ireland, and thus was the mythical origin of Lughnassadh, the commemoration that was established by Lugh.

This is not a universal Pagan holy day. It belonged (and in a sense, still belongs) to a specific culture. The Anglo-Saxon harvest rites of Lammas are not the same thing as Lughnassadh. They are not a "Germanic equivalent"- the Germanic peoples who came to settle in England had no equivalent to Lugh's ordered commemoration event. And they might have been as confused as I am about people leaping all over a disordered year with all these various "holy days" dragged together and forced on one another, as though there was some secret universal pattern to them.

We have no evidence that all Celts or all Germans in every Celtic or German community followed a "four-fold" year. In fact, we don't have a single historical record saying that anyone in Northern Europe "came together this many times a year on these days" for this or that sacred day or ritual. What we do have, however is the common sense to study the everyday lives of these various peoples, and, by adding an understanding of how central nature and the land were to Pagan religions all over Europe (and the rest of the world) we can reconstruct a more sensible vision of what their years might have been like.

To begin with, when you rely on herds and crops for your very life, weather-cycles become very important. But weather-patterns are not everywhere the same: what is a killing cold in England is a balmy day on the shores of the Mediterranean. It was the cold that may have threatened life in the north, but it was drought and heat that threatened life in the Mediterranean world. Their planting seasons and growing seasons were different. What they grew was different. What they hunted, fished, and herded was different, all over. Gods and spirits associated with these animals, crops, and weather were different. They were not all faces of "one divinity" or even two, or three, or ten. They were countless, and unique to each community. The Goddess of the Land was not even called by the same name everywhere, even within cultural boundaries.

This is the key issue: how unique genuine Pagan religion was to each community, or tribe, or grouping of people. Neo-paganism destroys the very fabric of the traditional Pagan vision by trying to bang together a "sacred year", without recourse to the context of small village and community life in ancient times, and even in recent times. There was no internet; no phones; various practices and customs sprang up all over the world, in response to the unique environmental and spiritual conditions of many places, without the other places even knowing about them or understanding them. We are speaking of a non-standardized, totally decentralized way of approaching the natural spirituality of life.

A Hammer Hallows Our Fields… A Penis Hallows Yours

What genuine Pagan people living in a village somewhere in the middle of the woods and fields in the middle of Ancient Germany would have "done" for their community "calendar" is radically different from what Pagans on the top of Norway would have done, or Pagans in Iceland, or Pagans in Britain, or Pagans in Rome. Their local weather- and thus the start of their "harvest" season, would have been different from Pagans in other parts of Europe. What local land-spirits and powers were unique to their community would have been the ones receiving their harvest or planting sacrifices. What larger "Gods" or "Goddesses" they culturally believed in would have been invoked in various ways, but probably not in the same ways, or at the same times, as the Germanic peoples just a hundred miles away, in another part of that same region.

Iceland is a good example: the God that most of the farmers of Iceland prayed to for the well-being of their crops was Thor. He was the God that sent rain and fertilized fields. In southern Sweden, the God farmers traditionally relied on the most was Frey or Ing, for the same goals: fertility and well-being for the land. And beyond these national Gods, whose names were known generally by all Swedes or Icelanders, were the local divinities and land-spirits that only the people in those communities knew and sacrificed to. Those local powers had every bit of say over what grew in their land. They were a crucial part of the old Heathen religious complexes.

Roman and Greek sacred days and seasons were and are radically different from Northern European ones. I don't need to bother going into the very well-known Roman calendar and pointing out how it bears no resemblance at all to anything the Northern Peoples were doing, with almost one exception: Saturnalia coincides in a general way with the Yule-time, and has similar themes. But this can be explained in various ways. It is not an outgrowth of a universal "Pagan year wheel".

Gerald Gardner and the Wiccans (as said before) working in tandem with their Revivalist Druid friends (those Druids who believed in the Helio-Arkite pseudo-pagan christian mythology) gave us the "eightfold sabbat" system. And before you think I'm just against it full stop, let me say a few things that are good about it.

Gardner, like all of the people of Britain now, was a mix of ancient native British and Germanic bloodlines. One might make a case that all Europeans from Northern and Northwestern Europe (as well as Spain and Italy) have Germanic in them, considering it was the German people who migrated to all these places, conquered them (yes, even conquered Spain and Italy- the Visigoths settled Spain and the Ostrogoths ruled Italy, bringing their Gods, culture, and having sex with the local women) and created the "Europe" we know now.

By making a "half kinda-Celtic and half sorta-Germanic" Calendar for his vision of a new Witchcraft, Gardner was in a way being true to his mixed-blood roots. And, for a time, all over Europe, Celtic peoples did celebrate their own local holidays alongside Germanic settlers who followed their own ways. Thus, the folkloric and historical tradition will mention "Lammas" and "Midsummer" alongside things like "Samhain"- but the chances of some small tradition of "witches", the likes of which Gardner claimed to meet, following a clockwork calendar of four Celtic and four Germanic holidays are nil and none.

The Witch of That Small Village… Somewhere Out There…

The local witch of later times, after the names "Celtic" and "Germanic" meant little and national names like "English" or "French" were in place, would certainly have gone to the harvest festivals or his or her community. That festival may have coincided with some more ancient Pagan festival, but it was no longer the same. Some of the same powers may have been there- some of the same impulses, and even some of the same practices (big bonfires, corn dollies, feasting, or what have you) but this is not an instance of "survival" of Pagan rites. Our fictional witch may, in fact, be the only person at the harvest fair that still senses the older powers and spirits of the time- I would hope they would- but again, we are a very long distance from an ancient "Lugh's Commemoration" to the local "St. Agatha's Harvest Home".

That witch might have recognized the power of these times- for they all have power- and used them, as I do myself in my own life, to assay trance work and wisdom-gaining workings. But then, all times have their own power- not just special days. I think that the folk-calendar, which does in fact contain a hodge-podge of older-rooted holy days from different cultures, has its own unique wisdom. But there was no one "folk calendar" for all of Europe. Not now, and not ever. And it certainly didn't contain a "wrap-around story" that told of the progress of some singular Goddess or God.

This modern attempt to bolster Gardner's calendar with new mythology is forlorn, because it is miles from the Land itself, from the unique spirit of unique places.
The "witchcraft"- the native sorcery- of European folk-customs, ancient Pagan spirits, folk-beliefs, and the whole mystical spirit of ancient Europe as it came into the modern day, it will flee before people that automatically ignore the individual sacred lands and places, the subtle messages of individual customs or lores, in favor of some "over-arching" new Pagan calendar that sweeps up the biggest chunks of history, and sweeps away the divine, mystical details.

Gerald was, in his own way (along with those pseudo-Druids) among the first Pagan reconstructionists. And that's good. Without meaning to do so, they certainly inspired a lot of research into the Pagan origins of certain times. But in doing so, they obscured the power of local, land-based rituals, rites, and yearly observations, and how important those are to people today who are fortunate enough to take part in them, and how important they were to the ancients.

Paganism was never meant to be a centralized religion with a liturgical year, like the Catholic year or the Jewish calendar. It was meant to communicate something of the uniqueness of each and every stand of trees, field, or corner of the woods. It was meant to engage every person who lives on a land, grows their own food, or sees their own local wildlife. It was meant to be an expression of each individual's life and land, and their family, and their community. This is what organic religion is. This is why the Gods are not all "one"- they are there, in the land, hills, and mountains of many lands, and in the group-soul of many people, following them on their long migrations. They are in the storms, the skies, and the seas. They are living out their ageless lives alongside human beings, being met by humans everywhere humans go.

Pope Cernunnos

It seems to me that too many neo-Pagans don't see how similar they've become to Christianity or Islam or Judaism: they rush to ram all their Gods into "one", so as to keep some ridiculous claim on a monotheistic-ish seeming religion, in what can be described as nothing short of a fear of true Polytheism- for centuries, Polytheism has been excoriated by Monotheism as ignorant and chaotic, and these lessons have been entrenched in our cultures, in our scholarly fields, and in our basic thinking.

Many of our "New Pagans" don't seem to have the depth or the courage to challenge the Monotheistic claim that Monotheism is just better or "makes more sense". It makes no sense to place all of the rich treasures of human spirituality, all of the unique spirits of places, and all of the unique cultural Gods of the past into an immense blender and make a horrid sludge out of it, all in the name of being able to tell disapproving Christians "well, we all worship the same God, just under different names and facets..." And they've come up with a liturgical calendar, complete with "colors" for the different seasons and precise days of worship, precisely like the Roman Catholic liturgical year.

The more one thinks on it, the more disgusting and shallow it becomes. It is a betrayal of the very essence of organic, traditional Paganism. I don't need Christian approval, and I don't have to be a sorta-monotheist to be taken seriously in a philosophical debate. I don't have to debate at all; I only need to know the closeness of the sacred powers, wherever I am. I need to bond with them and live in peace and harmony with them. That is what Pagans did. That is what "Pagans" worth the name still do.

I don't need a calendar created by Popes to tell me when "Beltaine" is. I can see the bluebells come to the trees, see the bloom of hawthorn, and know that my Summer-fire festival's time is here for me and for mine. They may bloom early one year; they may bloom later- but that's fine. It's the sacred power of the Earth itself telling me that it's time to celebrate. This custom, incidentally- of waiting to see the Hawthorn flowers- is not my invention. I wish I could be so rustic and deep sounding. It was an old custom from some parts of England and Ireland.

Pagans don't need "books on sabbats" to tell them how to worship. They need the sacred book that the ancients had: the Land itself. The Land at YOUR house will show you its own seasons. People need to pay attention to that, if they want to "celebrate the cycles of nature". People claim that the point of "celebrating the cycles of nature" is to gain "balance". I disagree. Balance comes from being part of a place, part of a family, part of a community, part of a vision of life that gives you peace. The seasons cycle around that, through that- but the balance, the "Frith" as many ancient Heathens called it, comes from belonging. You belong to a place, first, then it teaches you about its moods and seasons. By honoring those moods and seasons, you honor it and yourself, because you've become a part of it. The land and the people are one.

Even A Broken Clock Is Right Twice A Day: Let’s Go Deeper

I said that I'd say more than one good thing about the neo-Pagan calendar cycle, right? I did... and, well, I suppose I'd rather see people doing something unforgivably new-agey, and getting excited about the moon or the sun or racked-up Pagan holidays, than getting excited about Jesus and the twelve apostles. At least neo-Paganism is a move back to the sober sanity of nature, and away from the invented "triumphalist" linear story of "sin and salvation" with its absurd notion of "time beginning" and "time ending" at the hands of the ancient Hebrew God. I'd rather a modern story that excited people about nature's sacred powers, than an ancient one that excites people about physically crawling out of their graves one day to go to heaven and watch as most everyone else goes to hell forever. There's just no competition in my mind.

So, thanks to Gerald. But we can't stay right where Gerald or anyone else started people off. We have to use our hearts and reason and go deeper. Unless we all want to be content allowing "Paganism" to be perceived as a bunch of new-agers tossing together Greek and Roman Gods alongside caricatures of Norse and Celtic ones, (and a few Hindu divinities tossed in, alongside some Semitic ones, all slammed into a "one god and one goddess" duo-theism/bad monotheism) and ignoring local lands, powers, and folklore, and then worshiping on "Sabbats" that are blends of Germanic and Celtic holy days, all tied up with a big ribbon of radical liberalism and eco-feminism, we have to go deeper.