Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Amanita article finally available

Back in the mid-90s I was doing quite a bit of research into the potential links between mushrooms and filidecht. One of the results of that was my 1997 article, co-written with Timothy White, titled Speckled Snake, Brother of Birch: Amanita Muscaria Motifs in Celtic Legends. For a long time, I've wanted to be able to make it available online, as it has been rather influential and cited in a number of books over the years. Until this point, it's only been available by ordering the back issue of Shaman's Drum in which it appeared, or in a French translation that was previously available on my Preserving Shrine website. While the front page and the article page have not yet been updated, the article itself is available for viewing from the link above.

Early this month I spent some time scanning it and turning it into a pdf file so that the original English version is openly available to anyone wanting to read it. Please note that it was co-authored and that Timothy's position on "Celtic shamanism" is somewhat different than my own, but I felt that getting the research out there was more important than worrying about exact definitions of shamanism. I expect to also make the French translation available again sometime soon. 

I think it's also important to note that the article only deals with Amanita muscaria due to space limitations. My feeling is that other fungi could very well have been involved in the seeking of knowledge, but there was no way to include everything in the article that either of us wished to present. Psilocybe species certainly do, and did, grow in Ireland and Great Britain at the time. At some point, I may expand on this material, possibly as an appendix to the book I plan to write on filidecht. That, however, is something for the future and I can't really project too much about it at this point. My research on the geilt material is occupying a great deal of my attention at the moment.

I'm pleased to be able to make the article available online, finally. I think the research deserves a much wider distribution than it has previously received. It'll be interesting to see what comes of its new availability, and the dialogue that could potentially develop around it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Results, thoughts and meditations from Monday's work

I am firmly convinced that "discipline" does not have to mean getting up at the crack of dawn. The only reason I should ever see the sunrise is because I'm getting ready to go to bed. In fact, I find that the earlier I get up, the more miserable I feel, hence the desperate unlikelihood that I will ever become a monastic in the tradition of "discipline = misery".

Getting up at 10 am, for me, is kind of a challenge. I can do it but, for the most part, I honestly don't see why I should have to put myself through that kind of pain. I'm lucky enough to live a life where I mostly only have to get up in the ante-meridian occasionally and/or because I genuinely want to. This morning I rose promptly when the alarm went off and proceeded through the shower/dress/purifications/dog-walking routine right on schedule. The fact that I was shambling like a zombie should be swept under the carpet and left unremarked, but there are no carpets in my house. More's the pity.

I got out and walked around the lake (and, incidentally, dropped off things at the post that urgently required mailing out this morning) in freezing, crisp, bright clear daylight. It was gorgeous, but the sidewalks and much of the roadways were still slicked with ice anywhere that wasn't extremely heavily trafficked. This means that crossing streets was a bit dicey. There weren't many people out during my constitutional given that most adults were at work, most kids at school, and the rest of the world was sanely inside -- unlike me.

I kept warm during the walk though my mind, like my body, wandered rather a bit during the course of my excursion. Between paying attention to my footing and soaking in the rare winter sunlight, my eyes were occupied constantly. At intervals I tried to focus my mind on songs and some chanting, though with only minimal success. I'm used to better footing when I do this sort of movement meditation and that broke my concentration frequently. Despite this, it was a lovely walk and I had a delightful time. It did help me make a complete break with my usual complacent morning routine, particularly in waiting until after I'd returned to the house to have my morning herbal tea.

By the time I got home, I was ready to sit with a hot beverage and meditate for a while until my face rejoined the land of the living. During this time, I read some excerpts from 
Celtic Theology: Humanity, World and God in Early Irish Writings by Thomas O'Loughlin. This belongs to my roommate but it's on my Powells wishlist of books I want to get at some point. The chapter I read was on "The Litanies: Petition, Procession, Protection" and in fact had some relevance to the ideal of walking as meditation that I was pondering while out in the snow and ice around the lake. I found the reading quite fruitful and will be pondering it with a mind to creating a litany for myself for while I'm out walking, to help introduce more formal meditative techniques to my exercise and incorporate that physical activity deliberately into my spiritual life on a more frequent basis.

Right about on time, I finished up my mint tea and the chapter and got to the cleaning up portion of the day. In addition to the sweeping and dusting of the chamber, I swept the floors in bedroom and bathroom, and in the hallway as well. After that I put fresh water and candles on all my household altars and lit them up as a meditation on allowing the sanctity of the everyday more effectively permeate my consciousness as I went about my work.

I found this was a really useful exercise because it meant that pretty much everywhere I went, there was a flame in or at the edge of my field of vision. It was a very effective reminder of my intentions and of how I try to surround myself with the memory that everything is sacred.

I sat down a little after 1 pm on the couch to decide what I wanted to do for the ritual purification and consecration. Over the next few hours I brought together some of the tropes I frequently use in ritual -- 
muir mas, nem nglas, talamh cé, the five rings from Scéla Éogain, and the five provinces, four winds construct from The Settling of the Manor of Tara. I also wrote bits for Manannán, Brigid, and Airmed. Given that I'll be doing some plant-based work in the chamber, it made a great deal of sense to include her in as the patron of herbal medicine and magic.

I'll admit that I napped fitfully on the couch off and on during this process for about an hour or so, given how groggy I was feeling after having got up at what is, for me, a very early hour. Unfortunately, afternoon naps often leave me feeling crankier and more creaky than not taking them, but my eyelids were at half-mast through a lot of the composition of my ritual and I didn't want to fall asleep while I was in the chamber trying to work, so napping was the better part of valor here.

By the time I got started with ritual in the chamber itself, it was about 4:45. This wasn't too much later than I estimated for a start time, so I felt I was doing well. I went into the chamber and did the ritual work of the purification and consecration, which included the prayers and some ogam sonic work. In invoking the energies of the five rings of protection, I used sonics for h-úath as a hedgerow to keep the space protected, and gort within that ring for fertile work.

Taking a leaf from some accounts of the initiation of poets with imagery of graves and rebirth, I invoked the chamber as the grave of every ignorance, the spring of every vision, and the womb of every wisdom and followed that with sonics for ailm and coll.

The ogam oracle for this part of the work was the oceanic current of Nin -- networking, connecting threads, and building bridges. This was very much in line with the intentions I was putting forth so I felt good to go on.

I should note that next time I do this, I'm not starting ritual before at least 10 pm. Trying to work when you live below people raising elephants upstairs is a bit challenging. It was at this point that I really would have given my left arm to be able to be doing this somewhere in the woods where it's 
quiet. Between somebody running a bath, people shouting (at dogs or kids, I wasn't sure) and galloping children, it took me a while to really get into the swing of the rest of the ritual and my concentration got jarred from time to time throughout the process.

Thus, not worrying about getting up at 10 am and not starting incubatory ritual in the chamber until 10 pm is going to be my order of the work from now on. *grumble*

I did some work with stone on the belly stuff pretty much as described in my ogam book. This was good and steadying, as well as energizing and focusing to a certain extent. It did help as I tried to push through the distractions later in the ritual.

The cauldron breathing work was nine breaths of fire in each cauldron with one deep breath between each to raise the flame up a level to the new cauldron. At the end of this I slowly let the warmth suffuse through me and felt prepared to try the next step.

The oracle for this part, concerning whether I had done enough preparatory work to continue, was chthonic edad. In this case it was about creating the tools for the journey, which was literally what I was doing in making the incubation chamber, so I felt this was a confirmation and moved on to the meditative work.

I smoked salvia (dried leaves) and kept a few of the leaves under my tongue, then lay back and let myself go into the mist. The tealight candles lit earlier in the day literally died out into darkness as I finished the pipe and set it down to go into the incubatory part of the work. Perfect timing.

The first thing I noticed was a sense of vines growing along the walls of the chamber. This lasted for a while as I contemplated the presence of Airmed. It felt very comfortable and welcoming, growing and green and protective. She's been a presence since the beginning of my explorations of Irish and Celtic spirituality and has been a guiding hand, though a much more subtle one than that of Brigid or Manannán. I was very glad to include her specifically and work with her this closely in something that was so manifestly a part of her being.

Eventually I began to feel encapsulated in a chrysalis. This seemed to generate a new stage of the meditation. I felt very safe in there despite a physical feeling of some constriction and being lightly wrapped within a winding of some sort. At that point all I had was a small blanket over my legs, so the feeling was not reflective of physical reality. The imagery of enclosure and transformation here is very significant. The creation of this space and the first meditation and journeying within it are only a beginning. It's fitting that I felt enclosed within the chrysalis, but did not get further than that during this meditation.

During this time I had a very brief flash of airships of some sort, then equally quickly flashed momentarily to skeletal images of fish and other aquatic life. This was too brief to really get more than an impression. I'm including it here in case something rings bells later.

After this, the sense of being cocooned faded and I felt more like a seed that had been planted in the ground. The chamber itself manifested as the soil I was buried within and there was a sense of sprouting and hidden growth below the ground. This led me to thinking about embodied theology, how theological discourse needs to be grounded in bodily experience and wondering about how to articulate a Gaelic-based Pagan theology of the body drawing from all the rich bodily imagery in the tales and the traditions.

Eventually this slow feeling faded and I lit another candle to make some notes. The oracle for this point was h-úath, which said I wasn't finished, so I offered prayers of thanks to the deities and to the ancestors specifically along with the spirits I usually work with. After that, the oracle was chthonic fern, a physical shelter and protection -- the goal of the work for the day.

Emerging from the chamber, I checked the time. It was about 6:15, so I'd spent nearly two hours in ritual. I think that's pretty good for a first time working this solo. I'm pleased with what I got and am thinking about what happened and what I perceived, as well as the warning to remember to thank everybody at the end. This, I suspect, is a persistent flaw in my approach to ritual that needs to be corrected.

My general feeling is that I'm on the right track. I feel I need to add a few more layers to the work I did in consecrating and dedicating the chamber itself as I do more work with it, but it does seem that places worked with consistently build up a charge of ritual energy that increases with time. I also felt that I should be working in there at least once a month at minimum for the moment. This doesn't seem to be too unusual with the other folks I know who are following similar paths. There is a lot more work to be done, but I expected this to be a bare beginning, so I'm content with my day's efforts.

I was ravenously hungry when I got out. Experience told me I should eat rather than waiting until midnight to break my food fast. Electronic communications could wait until midnight, though and I was okay with that. I used those hours to get some more reading done on topics relating to the project and to my geilt book, some of which was quite useful. A couple of the books had only an article or two that I needed to look at, so I got two of them crossed off my list and finished up Mac Mathúna's 
Imram Brain.

Some of the questions I have now regarding body and theology:

How is the body used as a symbol in Gaelic texts?
How is it transformed and how are those transformations experienced in age, gender and species?
How do mutilation (Bóann), monstrosity (Cú Chulainn, Suibhne, et al), and artificiality (Nuadha) inform what might be theologies of Gaelic Paganism?
How are bodies both as wholes and as parts perceived spiritually in practices of contemplation, transmission of wisdom, and presentations of spiritual and magical power?
How does an individual practitioner identify with these bodies?
What devotional practices do these potential theological theories suggest?

Food for thought. Don't expect answers anytime soon.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Incubation chamber dedication tomorrow

Since my roommate will be away tomorrow and not coming home until Tuesday morning, I've decided to use that day/night to do the dedication for the incubation chamber. Today I'll be doing some work on the ritual and putting together the order of activities for the work itself. It's been a longer, much slower process getting here than I'd expected -- or wanted -- but the time has finally come to take the plunge. 

Some of the hesitation has been uncertainty, I know. There are no models in CR for this at the moment, but that's not at all unusual for us. What little we know about incubatory practice describes meditation in the dark, but nothing about how or even if the spaces were prepared in any particular way beforehand or what the meditator had to do before going into the meditative state. This is where we have to experiment and create dialogue, taking some inspiration from what we might find in closely related cultures where it's available.

I'll spend some of today and probably a good part of tomorrow searching for appropriate texts from the Gaelic traditions to use as blessings and protections for the space. There will be a purification with juniper and fire. I'll do invocations of the particular deities I'll be working most closely with in that space and asking their guidance and protection for the proceedings.

Once I feel the space is properly consecrated, I'll be doing some shorter meditations in the chamber; mostly breathwork and feeling out the space in trance. I'll likely do some sonic stuff as well -- chants and songs intended to aid the process of meditation and trance. 

During the day after I get up and take care of morning devotions, I'll be doing a fast of everything but liquid so as to focus my attentions and energies on the purpose of the work. I'm also considering being incommunicado online and turning the phone off for the entire period as well. Obviously I would not have the phone on during ritual proper, but removing myself from all distraction and maintaining silence aside from ritual song and speech will likely be useful as well. This means no music being played during the day. I'm just hoping the elephants upstairs will be marginally cooperative, but doing this on a Monday should mean the kids aren't there through much of the day at least.

A lot of this has been brewing in the back of my mind for the past year, though it's been difficult to set any of it down in firm terms. I'm hoping that it will feel more settled once I get into the work itself tomorrow. Tonight I'll be doing some outlining and will probably do a walk around the lake tomorrow after morning ritual in preparation for the internal focus. I need to get some contact with the outside world and with nature before I close myself up in a dark, quiet space to provide some psychological contrast, I suspect.

After I finish up the ritual work, I may let myself back online to journal a little about the process and the results. It's difficult for me to write longhand for more than a few paragraphs because of the pain it causes, so if I'm going to get the insights down about what worked and what didn't, and about what happened, it will need to be with the computer. That said, I may just write in a doc file and post on Tuesday evening, depending on what feels appropriate. For me, online activity is so much an everyday activity that separating myself from it during this period is important as a part of the fasting, though when I break the fast I may break the communication fast as well, given that they're of similar import.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Life of the Poet

The process of writing a poem represents work done on the self of the poet, in order to make form. That this form has to do with the relationships of sounds, rhythms, imaginative beliefs does not isolate the process from any other creation. 
-- Muriel Rukuyser, from The Life of Poetry

Muriel Rukuyser's words express, in my opinion, one of the great secrets of filidecht. The poet and the poem are intertwined. Every act of writing undertaken with intention creates some subtle change within the body of the writer; it sows the seeds of evolution in mind and spirit. 

Using writing to create deliberate change is an act of magic at its root. Words change the world and so by their nature they also change the self. When we look at the concept of the "connecting thread of poetry" found in the early Irish laws texts we find the rationale for how that change may be seen to take place. Tug on a thread and the rest of the web will feel it. As writers and poets, we cannot help but shift and change within ourselves as we find the words to express what's in our hearts and minds. To write, to recite, or to compose is to incubate the images we store within us and ripen them into expression. 

When we contemplate the images as we work toward a poem on the page we are learning to understand them. Writing, like teaching, so often forces me to confront my knowledge so that it can be enumerated and expressed. To leave it unwritten or unsaid in some sense leaves it incomplete and untried. This is part of how writing the poem changes the poet; it creates within us a matrix for understanding that may not have previously existed.

Rukuyser speaks of how she took eight years or more to write a particular poem, starting from a brief note taken of an image, and living with that image in the course of her everyday being. As time went by, it became more nuanced. It gained accretions of experience and resonance. Eventually, words began to take form on paper, slowly thought over and edited, opened out and explored. The poet who produced the final poem was changed by that process, no longer the same person who had noted the initial, sparking image that grew into the finished piece.

What we turn our thoughts to in our writing will, in many ways, influence who and what we become. As we brew those images and experiences in our internal cauldrons we extract nourishment from them. They grow like reefs within us, changing our internal landscapes and structures. They wound us or heal us as we carry the shadows of them within. The best of our poems and our other writings recreate us and make us anew. We are reborn.

Monday, November 24, 2008

I'm Not Dead Yet!

No, really. 

I've been busy with a lot of different things, from a trip to Arizona to teach a couple of brief classes at the Irish Cultural Center in Phoenix to working with the CR group that we started here in Seattle back in January. Political and other concerns had a lot of my focus this year as well, though I'm a little calmer now the elections are over. 

That said, my work has been moving on apace toward my writing on filidecht and geilt, with my writing plans being slightly revised to work on the geilta book first in accordance with a suggestion from Phil. Given that a lot of my focus in filidecht is about the material surrounding the geilta, this made sense for me on a lot of levels. To get the materials on madness and trauma and how poetry works as a healing methodology in that context frees me to write more clearly about the rest of the traditions surrounding filidecht in books and articles after that.

Writing for anthologies has also taken a lot of my time and energy this year. I've got two essays coming out in an anthology due in December about cultural appropriation and Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism. After that there's another essay in an anthology on animist practice, taking a CR perspective. I have yet another essay in progress for an anthology on sacrifice in Neopaganism that's based on a lengthy email on Nemeton back in the day. All three of these will be from my publisher, Megalithica. A non-Celtic short story will be coming out next year sometime in an anthology dedicated to Thoth from Neos Alexandria.

The incubation chamber is finally ready for dedication. I had planned to do it around Samhain, but events caught up with me and I've been too overwhelmed, though I hope to do the dedication in early December after several other obligations have been dealt with. This week I'm reading a manuscript by Alf Siewers that my roommate is doing editing for, on landscape and the Otherworld in Insular Celtic imagination. It's a fascinating read and has been very useful in some regards, though I'm having to wade through a great deal of postmodernist jargon. It is, however, saying a lot about the kinds of things I believe about deity and immanence, about how the Otherworlds and the landscape interpenetrate in my spiritual consciousness, and giving me places to look as I ponder what may have been the practices of the early filidh.

In keeping up my LiveJournal, I've rather neglected this blog. This has partly been due to a lack of emotional energy on my part, though not from any lack of interest. I will admit that there have been many days when I've been driving from Seattle back to Everett thinking about something and telling myself I was going to write about it here, but my energy fled me when I got into the house and I've collapsed on the couch and grabbed a book instead. This fall has been both difficult and rewarding, given how successfully the local CR group has been going while I've been facing some of my own personal demons on a deeper level.

I do have a post in progress about deity that was sparked by a friend on LJ which I'll likely post in both places, as I think the content warrants posting here as well. I only hope I'll do the question justice in my answering.

Thanks for your patience.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Incubation Redux

Some time ago I started clearing things out to turn a closet into an incubation chamber. After many months of delay due to weather and other issues, I've finally finished the painting that was necessary. The space is now nicely done in a darkish green, somewhat sagey, and very nicely relaxing. I'm letting the space air out now as I contemplate the layout of the space and what to place within it on the altars and for the work.

I've used the time since I began work on the chamber to do more reading, do more thinking, do more meditation about incubation and its processes. I feel more ready now than I did when the project began and so I also suspect that this was part of the reason for the delay -- integrating new ideas and some growth into the process. 

Another good sign is that I've started at least a bit to write poetry again. For me, this is the heart of so much of my practice. It's slow right now but that's all right. I find it difficult to push against the ebb and flow of that tide and I probably shouldn't try to anyway. So much of the work of writing and poetry happens like the germination of a seed, unseen and underground. It isn't a conscious process but a slow, imperceptible unfolding. Given time it touches the surface and becomes words to be sharpened and honed. 

I have cushions for the chamber, blankets for comfort. I have candles and places to put them. I have objects and images for those parts of the work that will take place in the light. I have ideas for ways to proceed. The time has come to write the framework for the rituals themselves so that vision can flow forth.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Filidecht is a path not just of contemplation but of action. It's important to remember this as we walk along the path. Like everyone else, I have to keep reminding myself sometimes, but beyond daily practice this spiritual path demands action in other ways as well. As a solitary practitioner I know that I often face a sense of emptiness when I contemplate the thought of a ritual alone, particularly given that the major festivals are primarily oriented toward families and social occasions -- feasting doesn't have quite the same panache when approached alone, certainly.

Yet it is action that makes a spiritual path a practice. There's no point in a path if no feet follow it, and path implies necessary motion. It helps to remind myself that what I'm doing is not just for myself, but for the deithe agus an-deithe as well, for the deities and the spirits with whom I share my life and whom I serve. Even if I'm the only physical body at the feast, I still have company in the form of deities, ancestors, land spirits, helping spirits. They deserve my recognition and my offerings and it is for them that I perform the actions of any given ritual.

To go through the physical work of preparing the food mindfully, laying out the altar, setting out the offerings, speaking sacred words aloud; it is this that marks a spiritual practice. Belief has some importance to me, absolutely. But practice is a primary part of what distinguishes a spiritual path from a passing fancy. No matter how splendid one's words or how high one's thoughts, if there is no action then there is no proof that those words or thoughts genuinely mean anything outside of one's own head. Ritual enacted, the actual cultivation and practice of our virtues, bringing one's life into physical harmony with community and environment, and acting mindfully in each moment are all necessary parts of creating a life that is poetic. 

I know it's too easy to slip into complacency, too easy to make excuses of being too busy, too tired, too unprepared. And with CR there is so often no real pattern set to follow for personal, solitary ritual. Even groups often face challenges of what to do together if everyone follows different deities or works within different Celtic cultures. Yet the act of taking up the cup of welcome, of offering each person a taste of the drink that is shared with the Gods, is an excellent place to start. Pouring out a libation to the beings who are to be honored, speaking words aloud and calling upon their names, telling the stories of their deeds -- this is ritual.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


An article from the New York Times titled Can You Become a Creature of New Habit addresses something that I think is very important in the practice of filidecht, and in spiritual practice generally. The article speaks of creating new habits as a method for cultivating and maintaining creativity, particularly as we get older, when our minds might begin to fall prey to Alzheimers and other diseases or problems that affect the memory.

In a quote from the article, author Dawna Markova states, "The first thing needed for innovation is a fascination with wonder." The mind of filidecht is about that fascination with wonder. It's a poetic need in the human soul, an identification with the ever-shifting, always miraculous kaleidoscope of the universe in its glory. 

Filidecht demands that we create habits of exploration. We explore language through poetry and meditation. We explore the world around us through wilderness vigil. We explore culture through song and storytelling and ritual. Imbas comes through openness and receptivity to change and it is cultivated through the development of new habits -- new rituals, new ways of thinking, new points of view based in the understandings of Gaelic language and culture. 

Daily ritual practices help open and set new patterns and new habits. Such things require both discipline and generosity to oneself. We're human and as we develop these new habits and patterns we'll inevitably muck things up from time to time. The key is, like riding a bicycle, to get back up and get back on when you've fallen off.

To many Pagans, discipline is a dirty word. Yet discipline is a part of magic. No one would expect a martial artist to develop perfection of form without discipline. A fili's poems take on beauty in shape and sound with the exercise of discipline. Staying at things, doing them again and again until a habit is grounded in the mind and body, is a necessary part of filidecht and of all deep spiritual practice. Habit is essential to creating ways of doing things that become effortless through knowledge and repetition.

When the basics of practice are felt in the body, the mind can be freed to explore new dimensions and new points of view, giving the fili a place to stand that can serve as the springboard for journeys of exploration within the Otherworlds or for doing serious work in this one. Ritual habits and knowledge of lore can be a buffer zone of safety when we encounter new things. They give us an understanding of the potential behavior and expectation of Otherworldly beings. They ensure that we'll do things properly even if we're distracted, because our bodies know what to do even if the mind is engaged elsewhere. The development of steady ritual habit and pattern in order to create freedom of action may sound paradoxical, yet even the freest improvisational jazz musician needs to know the basics of musical form and function. 

Cultivate new habits of ritual and beauty. Set yourself free.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


One of the things that I encounter a lot in my practice is uncertainty. Filidecht as a formal modern CR practice is still being created and the hints about its place as a mystic and magical practice in the past are few and far between. We have bits and pieces but those pieces need to be examined pretty carefully as, even though we can see some of the ways the filid operated, we can't be certain of exactly how rituals were done or what was said.

With material like the Cauldron of Poesy text, we have some statements about cauldrons in the body and what they do, and we can infer about where they were situated. But when it comes to actual operations and getting those cauldrons to do what they're supposed to, the only thing we can really do is look at comparable systems from other cultures and do some experimentation. Will what I come up with be exactly what the pre-Christian practitioners of the art were doing? No. Will it have the same or similar results? Well, if it results in imbas as an upwelling of poetic inspiration and magical and spiritual power or enlightenment, then yes, I think the results are similar to what was intended. And if it works then this is the direction in which we should be moving.

Within CR there are a lot of branches that people find of interest. Within any given culture you're going to find householder paths, warrior paths, magical paths, healing paths, storytelling paths, and more. And each of the various Celtic cultures adds another layer onto that complexity. You're much more in luck if, for instance, your interest lies in Irish material about household traditions than if it lies in the deities and practices of Gaul. It will be much harder to understand and reconstruct Gaulish practices because of the lack of easily available material. There is no extant Gaulish literature that describes deities and myths. Most of what is known is from archaeological sources, with a few inscriptions on altars or on spell tablets. A little more is added from references to Gaulish people by Greek or Roman writings. 

A lot of Irish household tradition has survived into modern folk practice, though very much changed and buried within Christianity. It is by no means a fully realized polytheistic Pagan practice at this point, but it's a good and necessary basis to grow from. For Irish Pagan mystical and spiritual practices the material is rather less plentiful and so more has to be reconstructed or created by reference to other things. It's regrettable, but it's how things are.

So what's a person without a lot of sources to do? Here's where our uncertainties lie, and this is where a lot of people get discouraged. But comparative work helps in many cases. Nearby cultures can be examined, of course, and the field of Indo-European studies has a lot of useful material. Offerings are a practice common to every culture I've ever heard of, so that's always a good place to start -- and the archaeological record often provides fairly good material on what kinds of objects and foods were offered by any individual culture or people in a given area.

But ultimately the words of our practice will always need to be our own. We can base them on material in sources like the Carmina Gadelica, but that text, wonderful as it is, doesn't cover all contingencies or address every circumstance for which we might need a ritual text. And if filidecht is about the creation of poetry, then always using someone else's words is a violation of that tradition.

We know that the tarbhfeis ritual of Ireland involved a fili who was surrounded by four people chanting truth spells, but we have no idea what the words of those spells were. We don't know if the same one was used each time, or if they were extemporaneous compositions created by each of the chanters. Imbas is what helps us to create appropriate words for situations like these and experimentation can tell us if those words work or not. We can't know until we try it.

Practice is about what works. We can theorize all we want, but until we commit something to physical ritual, until we commit words to speech, theory is all that we'll have. Uncertainty can be frightening, but it can also be fertile. In a practice involving extemporaneous poetry we won't know the words until we speak them. Without the uncertainty there's no room for spontaneity, which is the heart of poetry created in the moment. The words come out on our breath -- anál -- and vanish into the universe. We look at what happens to see if there is an effect. And we note what happens (or what doesn't) and try again.

There's no escape from uncertainty, but we can embrace it and make it a friend.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Root and branch

Every so often I get email from someone asking if I'll teach them about filidecht. I do teach, so this isn't an unreasonable request. Most of the time, though, people drift away after a few weeks or a couple of months. There seem to be several reasons for this that fit into general categories.
Usually folks that wouldn't get along well with me don't make it past the first exchange of emails. I don't want to promise people anything I can't deliver, and I don't want to work with people who would grate on me and leave me frustrated and angry. I don't want to work with someone I would annoy and upset rather than inform. I don't see this as an issue. Sometimes people just don't fit together and there's no shame in that.
Sometimes it's a case of our beliefs being incompatible. I can't see teaching someone who wants to learn Celtic Wicca when that's not what I'm offering. I'm pretty up front about the actual existence of deities and spirits and don't really blend well as a teacher with folks who see deity as a higher self or an archetype. Some of the practices and exercises that I assign work from the assumption of the reality of spiritual beings and don't make much sense outside of that paradigm.
Time is a reason given by some. I understand that people are busy with their lives. We all need to put food on the table, keep a roof over our heads, and take care of any children we might have. We have responsibilities and needs that must be met. Yet one thing that, more than anything else, strengthens a person's spiritual life is a daily practice. Finding room for that might be a challenge, but it's not usually impossible. Foregoing a few minutes of television, getting up a little earlier, going to bed a little later -- these are things that can carve out more than sufficient time in a day for a regular spiritual practice. Twenty minutes or half an hour a day really isn't that much time to spend developing a relationship with your spiritual life and your deities and spirits, even for a busy person.
Others are looking for a place where they feel at home. This is a legitimate and healthy desire. However what some folks are actually looking for is a spiritual "love at first sight" experience. They want a feeling of instant belonging and while some people do find that in the spiritual paths they practice, for most people it doesn't happen that way. I know people describe finding Paganism as a sense of "coming home" but after that there's often a long search for the type of Paganism that feels like the best fit. A few weeks isn't really enough time to decide whether or not a practice is right for you, though it's certainly enough to let you know if it's desperately wrong for your life and your worldview. Instead of sticking with something for a year or so to see if it will grow on them, they head off for the next thing along the road to see if that will give them the instant feeling they're looking for. I might feel they'd benefit by giving it more time, but I'm not going to tell people they have to stay if they don't want to. That's not my task.
There are people who are enthusiastic about the idea of practice but who aren't willing to read suggested books or articles or to do research that doesn't involve a google search. Filidecht has a strong scholastic component to it and it always has. In order to practice poetry, one must read both poetry and prose to understand the context of the practice and build up a strong style of writing and speaking for personal and spiritual development. Sometimes this goes back to the time factor but in other cases it seems to be rooted in a distrust of scholarship and intellect. Our society has a very strong anti-intellectual streak in it and this often seems even stronger within Paganism, even though, as a rule, Pagans read more books than most other Americans. It's hard, though, if the only books being read are flawed sources and elaborations on yet another Wicca 101 text. Discernment is important, as is intellectual development. Being in print is no guarantee of a source's veracity and telling the wheat from the chaff takes practice.
Some folks want a fully developed path with prescribed rituals and activities that they can fall right into. Filidecht isn't at that stage of development. At this point everything is experimental, and the path demands a lot of creativity, self-motivation, and the ability to develop ritual and extrapolate from discussion, practices and reading. It's certainly not wrong to want a fully developed path. Traditional Wicca is one form of Paganism that offers exactly that. But those of us reconstructing filidecht haven't been at it long enough to have everything laid out that can then be handed to the student in bite-sized packages once a month at the full moon ritual. People who are interested in filidecht are going to have to be willing to put forth the effort to help develop the path so that some day we'll be able to offer something more complete to a new generation of students. The right people will find that an exciting adventure and be interested in helping to build toward that future.
A lot of people want a safe, comforting path. Filidecht, especially where it touches on the geilt phenomenon, is not safe. This is a path that will break you down into your component parts and reassemble you. This means that a student has to either be in a place where they have no choice but to push through it, or be willing to go through some radical transformations with no guarantee of results. Sacred madness isn't safe. Satire that calls attention to social and political folly isn't safe. There are no guarantees that you're going to come through the process whole, or even recognizable. Madness isn't a pretty thing, so generally only those of us who are already there are willing to do the work to get through it. You don't invoke it casually. Letting go of control is frightening. What are you willing to let go of?
If you're interested in filidecht, before you write to me, think about these things. Decide what it is that you want spiritually: where you are and where you want to go. What are you willing to risk? How are you willing to change? Can you be articulate in discussing your spiritual life? Are you willing to study? Are creativity and innovation important to you? Can you live with uncertainty?
I do a lot of my teaching not through set curricula but through conversation. There are some standard exercises and practices that I ask my students to do, and I need to get feedback about how those exercises and practices are progressing. I'm not condemnatory if people miss a day or are having trouble. We're all human, after all. I miss days sometimes too. That's why this is called "practice" and not "perfection." I'm certainly willing to go to great lengths for people who are genuinely working on the path. I've spent hours in instant messaging answering questions and engaging in dialogue with students. I've driven hundreds of miles to facilitate important personal rituals. I've answered the phone at obscene hours during emergencies. I demand a lot of myself as a teacher, just as I demand a lot of a student. It's a reciprocal relationship.
Some of the things I ask of students are willingness, open-mindedness, diligence, intelligence, discernment, honesty, vulnerability, courage, adaptability, and patience. While filidecht is a path of poetic nature mysticism, it is also a path of rigorous scholarship. It's a path that demands focus and attention as well as kindness and self-nurturing. We have to be willing to go down into the dark before we can let ourselves burst with bright poetry. We have to be willing to set down roots in our practice before our branches can bear fruit.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Back in January I was working on a project to get the bedroom closet cleaned out for creating an incubation chamber. Everything has been moved out into the garage now, though I'm still waiting for somewhat warmer weather so I can do a second coat of paint with the windows open. The time it required to air out the bedroom after the first coat was an abject lesson in proper timing. Best to work on this kind of thing when the weather is cooperative.

Incubatory practice is still on my mind, though. It shows up again and again in hints and pieces through the literature of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Today I read an article by Patrick K. Ford from the Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies titled The Death of Aneirin about the Gododdin poem that probably originates in 7th century Wales. The article involves references to being imprisoned or buried under the earth as a potential reference to initiatory and/or incubatory ritual.

The ogam fid úr is soil and its word ogams refer to the grave and to burial and death, but this metaphor is taken up in so many places as one of incubation and initiation. Whether the poet is buried in the ground, lies within a darkened chamber with plaids over her eyes or a stone on his belly, whether she is bound up in a bag and set adrift for forty years, the themes of darkness and restriction of movement appear over and over again. Aneirin lies under the earth with a chain about his knees. Taliesin was found in a bag in a salmon weir. The poets in Scotland lay within windowless huts seeking inspiration.

What is apparent is that illumination comes from within. External objects of meditation -- images, fire, the stars in the sky -- are not a focus in this particular practice. Blindness is its metaphor. To be blind in one eye is to see into the Otherworlds, those places that can't be seen with the physical eyes in this realm. Darkness opens a door. 

When we look at what the filidh sought when they went to sit on a burial mound we see the same thing -- poetry, madness, death. Madness is what pursues us, death transforms us, poetry arises as the fili arises out of the darkness of the incubatory chamber of the symbolic grave. The search for poetic inspiration brings death to our old life, our old personality, and a new spirit, alive with imbas, is born.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


My last post generated some confusion and a number of comments and I wanted to be very clear about what I was saying.

There are apparently some folks out there who would insist that CR can only be practiced by itself and that a CR person can never honor any deities from any other culture. I think this is bullshit, pure and simple. I believe that, as polytheists, it's our responsibility to properly honor any deities or spirits who come knocking, in their proper context. In some cases, if your home is small, you may only have space enough for one altar, and in those cases, it's okay for deities to share space even though you're honoring them separately. If all you have is a windowsill for your altar, that's all you have, and it doesn't make you not-CR if you have Thoth on that altar beside Lugh and Epona and Dian Cécht. We all know they're not the same deity and they aren't approached in the same ways or with the same ceremonies and offerings.

Eclecticism and syncretism are kneejerk words for a lot of people, myself included. This is because a lot of us have seen them used as an excuse for the worst possible mashing together that ends up with things like thinking Kali and the Cailleach are the same Goddess because they're "crone Goddesses" (which is more bullshit) and their names sound similar. This is right out of the Barbara Walker school of confused monism. This is not eclecticism or syncretism being done properly. It's laziness and self-delusion.

If we look at the definitions of eclectic and syncretic, we can see that both are necessary if we're going to reconstruct, recover, or otherwise (re)create a group of modern Celtic paths that are full and workable in our time and for our lives today. The little hints we have about the internal cauldrons that are a part of Gaelic filidecht are going to be nearly impossible to reconstruct without some reference to Hindu understandings of chakras, despite the fact that the cauldrons and the chakras are obviously not the same thing. We don't have enough in the Gaelic material to go on without those outside references. People on a CR warrior path inevitably seem to end up studying eastern martial arts at some point because that's where most of the information is. This is slowly changing as more information becomes available about western martial arts, but it's still a basis for a lot of the modern CR warrior path and serves as an important point of comparison.

CRs can legitimately and happily be a part of religions other than CR. Polytheism recognizes all the deities and spirits, even if any given polytheist doesn't honor all of them. Honoring all of them would be impossible because there are so many, even within just the Celtic cultures alone. Remember that historical syncretisms occurred -- we have Romano-British deities, we have Gaulo-Roman deities. We have Epona who was honored by Romans. We have the mixing of cultures in Ireland and Scotland where the Norse/Germanic peoples came in and shared space and families and cities with the Gaels. Celtic cultures extended from Iceland to Spain to Anatolia, and ignoring all of that in favor of some sort of Gaelic purity movement simply does not make sense.

Pay attention to context. Pay attention to the deities who come to call on you. Respect each of them for who and what they are. Don't turn your back on one just because it's not "Celtic enough." Live your life with honor, and have fun.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

You say "eclectic" and I say "syncretic" -- let's call the whole thing off!

Eclecticism and syncretism are a couple of words that tend to generate a lot of heat in reconstructionist social circles. Sometimes they're used interchangeably while other times eclectic is taken to mean a much looser form of intercultural exchange while syncretism is offered as a more measured, thoughtful alternative.

We can take a look at dictionaries to help us a little. Merriam-Webster's 11th Colligiate has eclectic as:

"1. selecting what appears to be the best in various doctrines,  methods, or styles."

Syncretism is defined as:

"1. the combination of different forms of belief or practice."

Both of these practices were found in the ancient world. Both were practiced by our ancestors, whoever they were and wherever they lived. It isn't eclecticism or syncretism that are, in and of themselves, a bad thing. Far from it. What a lot of us are actually concerned about is not eclectic or syncretic practices, but sloppiness and disregard for context. 

Context is an extremely important part of any reconstructionist process. Language and culture influence religions and spiritual practices deeply and they help to determine what types of practices develop in different regions and for different deities or spirits. Sincerity is fine, but when you're looking at culture and custom, a sincere mistake may still be an insult and can have some serious consequences. Culture and pre-existing practice determine things as important as acceptable offerings, how one approaches deity or spirit, and often the forms used for prayer or propitiation. What is acceptable in one practice may be strictly forbidden in another, and if you are inviting deities or spirits from many cultures to your table, knowing these rules can make the difference between success and failure in your relationships with them.

In spiritual practices that regard deity or spirit as something strictly internal, this is obviously not going to be all that much of an issue. If it's all in your head, from what I can see, it doesn't matter that much what you do so long as you get the results you're looking for. But from the viewpoint of someone who believes in the external/Otherworldly existence of deity and spirit, small things can make all the difference in the world. Effort is important. History and custom are important. This doesn't mean that nothing can change, but it does mean that knowing the road signs is useful and can often keep you out of troublesome spots along your path. If the mountain is an illusion, the map doesn't matter, but if it's real, you'd best not ignore the place where it says there's a five hundred foot cliff. It makes all the the difference between whether you bring a day pack or your mountain climbing gear.

Both eclecticism and syncretism can be legitimate parts of CR and other reconstructionist religious practices. It's best when those things are approached carefully and allowed to grow organically. Time and depth of both study and practice are necessary in understanding how to enlarge a practice or invite a new deity or spirit into your life. Sometimes they come pounding at the door while at other times they approach quietly and subtly. Often this will depend on the personality of the deity or spirit in question. Sometimes it happens that we decide we need new energies in our lives or wish to cultivate new relationships to help us with goals and areas that are challenges. Like people, each spirit or deity is going to have its own areas of expertise, and sometimes going to a deity from a different culture may be the best answer for us.

It's helpful in these cases to remember that not all our deities have to get along, in much the same way that not everyone in our family or among our friends gets along with everyone else. Uncle Fred's favorite pot roast might upset your vegan best friend Clara's sensibilities. It doesn't mean you can't invite them to the same party, but it's a good idea to have things that they can each enjoy when you're feeding them if you want both of them to be happy at your table. Remember that a favorite offering for one deity might be unclean or an offense to another, and keep those things as far separated as necessary -- different altars, or even different rooms in the house might be a good idea.

Eclecticism and syncretism aren't about cooking everything together in the same pot. They're more like creating a satisfying, multicultural meal that includes favorites and harmonious dishes from many lands, with many ingredients. It takes great skill and a strong knowledge of ingredients to have it all come out right and be satisfying for everyone joining you. 

Sometimes the experiments fail pretty badly, but that's a part of what it takes to create a working practice that involves deities and spirits from more than one culture. Be prepared to offer apologies if you've unintentionally offended. It goes a long way with humans and with spirits.

When it works, it can be glorious.

Monday, March 3, 2008

At the table of many Gods

I practice a polytheistic path, one that recognizes and celebrates a wide variety of deities and spirits. My path recognizes that there are historical methods of interacting with these beings that we can discover and work with today. Those methods and newer ones based on fragments of older ritual and thought are centered primarily on insular Celtic, primarily Gaelic models. 

I consider my practice to be primarily Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism. This, however, does not in any way prohibit me from worshipping other deities or working with spirits outside of the insular Celtic world or its paradigms. I am a polytheist. I believe that all the deities and spirits exist somewhere, that they are all real and can have an effect in the lives of their followers. There are deities and spirits that I'm not particularly interested in, but this doesn't mean I don't think they're out there.

As a polytheist and someone who does a good bit of Otherworld work, I find myself in a place where the doors are often open. Sometimes the spirits ask things of me that I expect. Other times, their requests bring me up against difficult choices and take me places that I never expected to go. A Cherokee teacher who lives locally once said to me that spirits talk to people who listen, and that our bodies and our ancestry are not of particular concern to them. This helped me immensely with an issue I struggled with for about twenty years, but it also has bearing on European and other Pagan paths.

As someone who does Otherworld work, who speaks to spirits, and who treats with deities and the dead, I often find myself in relationships with deities who are not a part of the families of insular Celtic deities. I honor Gods and Goddesses from several continents in my home. I have shrines for Sarasvati and Ganesh. I offer honor to Buddhist entities. As a child I was fascinated by the deities of Greece and Egypt. Spirits of the land -- animals, plants, places -- have no "nationality" or "race" and they are simply what they are.  When I do healing or visionary work for others, it is right and necessary to speak to and honor the deities and spirits that they honor, for they often will approach me and teach me how to help the person in a way they understand.

No culture and no religion has ever sprung from a vacuum. Each spiritual path that exists in the world today -- that has ever existed -- has been influenced by its neighbors. As a polytheist, this becomes an important part of my spiritual reality. And as someone that listens to the spirits, sometimes someone new and unexpected drops by. As a good Celtic Pagan it would be a violation of my practice to refuse them hospitality, just as it would be poor form to turn away the friend of a friend who came to my door unexpectedly with an introduction and a request.

It's important for us to remember that we have room for more than one culture's deities at our table. Joy and wisdom can be found in the cross-cultural pollination of such conversations and relationships. When Garuda sits down with Exu, surely something interesting is about to happen.

By this I'm not talking about randomly inviting deities from multiple cultures to a ritual and expecting them to work together and cooperate. But if they show up at the same time unasked, perhaps there's a message there for me. The universe is a very big place, and attempting to place limits and conditions on it from my particularly small human point of view is, perhaps, an act of hubris. I'm not going to sing a chant that equates all Goddesses with one singular Goddess, but if I have relationships with Brighid and Sarasvati the fact that they have similar interests means they might be willing to come and visit at the same time. They might even be willing to share altar space if there's very little room where I live.

Polytheism, done with respect and due caution, can be a freeing way of approaching deity. If someone's knocking, don't be afraid to answer the door. 

Thursday, February 7, 2008


One thing I've found is that when I need to get deeply into my practice of filidecht, I need to get outside. 

It's not that you can't do some of it indoors. Composing a poem can take place anywhere. Most kinds of meditation work just as well indoors as out. My altars are inside my apartment and I live a primarily urban life.

Yet some things just work better outside. I find I contact the land spirits and many of the deities better when I'm away from buildings and pavement and noise. Being surrounded by trees or walking the beach speaks to me differently than sitting on a couch or lying on the floor. Intensive meditative ritual flows better for me when the only sounds around are wind and water and the songs of birds.

When I was growing up in rural western Massachusetts, I'd regularly spend all day outdoors, sometimes even in the winter with the snow hip-deep in the woods. I felt more comfortable with the local forest than with most people. I watched birds and animals, learning where they lived and what they ate and what their tracks looked like. I learned stillness and patience so that they'd come close. 

Living in the city, I still need to get outside. My most intense experiences are multi-day ritual work while I'm camping and immersed in the natural world around me. For a lot of people in urban North America, opportunities to get out of the city are rare, but I believe they're essential to the practice of filidecht. Without being in the flow of the seasons, without being away from people and surrounded by trees or desert or water, without having an opportunity to observe non-human life, I think that filidecht is just a sterile exercise in poetics. 

Life enclosed within the walls of a house or an office is circumscribed and restricted. While filidecht can be practiced solely within the confines of a city or in urban parks, it finds its wealth and depth in natural places away from human influence. I think it's particularly important for those of us who are working through the issues of being geilt to be able to get out into the wild as a clearing and meditative practice. This doesn't mean rejecting the human or the urban so much as it means embracing the Other and learning to see yourself as existing within that world. 

Human culture carries an incredible amount of pressure within it and I feel like it's easier to clear my head and listen when I'm away from my urban environment. Staying indoors might be tempting for a lot of people, but I believe that a practice that involves work in wilderness is more effective than one that takes place entirely indoors and in urban environments.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


I haven't posted recently because the incubation chamber project has been moving slowly. It's been cold and rainy and even snowing, making airing out the bedroom and closet space a slow and unpleasant process. 

I just shipped a whole trunk full of clothing and other things (most of it from the former closet space) over to Goodwill this evening, clearing up the living room where it's been piled. Within the week I'll be starting the second coat of stain, this time with an intent to texture the walls so they don't look so stark. There will be photos again when that phase of the project is finished.

Imbolc is coming soon as well -- only a few days away. This year I'll be doing ritual that involves laying out the brat Brid and the Brighid's Cross for her touch as she passes by. There will be a fire for the night, and an altar laid out. I'll have candles and songs, food laid out for her, and offered to her in the flames.

This year also, a little later in the month, I'll be getting together with some local CR folk to do a ritual for the Imbolc of Brig Ambue. Brig Ambue is "Brighid of the Cowless Warriors" -- a Goddess who integrates outsiders back into the tribe. My friend Phil put together the ritual, which we'll be doing on the 11th (close to the old calendar Imbolc) and again at PantheaCon this year.

Imbolc is not entirely about the domestic cult, just as Brighid is not entirely a domestic Goddess. In some ways the holiday is similar to the Roman lupercalia, a festival of purification and renewal. This is what the Brig Ambue ritual signifies and incorporates; it brings in those parts of us that had gone walkabout, renews ties between the wild and the domestic, eases tensions between outsiders and insiders. So along with the homely and healing work of the brat Brid, there will also be purification and renewal, an acceptance of the wild and outlying parts of ourselves as we move into the burgeoning light of spring.

Darkness has begun to recede here, despite the overcast days and the dreich weather. It has snowed in the past two days and the remains of snow are still on the ground. Black ice is on the parking lot. Yet the days have been longer and buds are beginning to show on the trees. The season is in flux, and soon I'll be able to open the windows and the song of frogs will fill the nights.

I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Starting the project

Today I started working on clearing out the closet that will eventually be the incubation chamber. It was full of laundry, spare bedding, old photo albums and a bunch of other things that people keep in closets, including a lot of clothes I haven't worn in years or which no longer fits. So after having cleared out the dirty laundry, I took some photos of the closet in process.

First with general storage and some bedding that needs dry cleaning rather than tossing into the washer. As you can see, it's pretty crowded in there. I moved the hook for the robe onto the bathroom door. The bedroom door, when open, covers part of the closet door, but this shouldn't be an issue for my purposes.

More likely to be difficult is the fact that the closet door opens inward. This means that nothing can be in the path of the door, including cushions and such, unless I move them before the door opens. That may be an inconvenience, depending on where I end up placing the cushions that I'll by lying on. Most likely, that will go along the back of the closet. Altar stuff will likely go along the wall on the right hand side looking in, as there is room next to the door.

The next photo is after I'd pulled out the majority of the stuff on the floor. As you can see, there's still a lot of work to do. Clothing and storage items need to be removed. I'll also need to remove the hanger bars and the shelves. The hanger bars are right at the level where I'm going to whack myself in the head if I try to stand up under them. This is a Very Bad Thing when one is in a perhaps not entirely grounded state, so it's partly a safety issue as well as one of space. 

First I'd considered leaving the upper shelves, but they make the room feel claustrophobic when I'm in it and taking them out has made a big difference in how the room actually feels. There were a lot of screws and some nails to deal with. I'll be putting both the shelves and the hardware out into the garage because if I ever sell the place, I'll need to reinstall the shelves and bars for the next owner. I rather doubt they'll find much use in an incubation chamber in the master bedroom!

The third photo is of the room entirely emptied, except for the stepladder. I decided that the off-white was entirely too... something and so tomorrow I'll be painting the room with some sage-green stain. It'll mute the brightness of the room when the lights go on, and help with a more comfortable feel if I have candles burning on the altar for any reason. The bland off-white is a color I don't care for much and the incubation chamber should have as few non-ritual distractions as possible, so comfort and easiness on the eyes is important to me through this process. 

I'll be having my Very Tall Roommate and possibly his boyfriend help me with the painting, and it should go quickly. It's cold out and snowed late last night, but I'll still need to open the bedroom window to air the space out while the painting is going on, as well has having the bathroom fan going to help clear the air as quickly as possible. The door to the room will need to be left open, probably for several days, to be sure that I'm not going to keep the necessary out-gassing from happening. Paint fumes are nasty stuff, and that's not the way I want to alter my consciousness. I may end up sleeping with the window open for a night or two, with a lot of extra blankets on the bed!

As you can probably see even just from the photo, having the rails and shelves out of the room changes the feel a lot. What you can't see is that I had to remove a broken light dome from the fixture. That happened quite a while ago when I was trying to get something off one of the high shelves. I'll have to replace the fixture so that I don't have a bare bulb up there on the ceiling. 

Another issue is that if I'm going to have sound in the closet, I'm going to have to run an extension cord from the hallway. I have upstairs neighbors who have kids. Most of the time they're not too noticeable but now and then it's like elephants on the ceiling. I'm considering looking for cds with nature sounds on them -- not nature sounds with music but just nature sounds. Flowing water, ocean waves, or birdsong and wind in leaves would all be acceptable, so if any of you have suggestions for places to find this, that would be great. 

I don't want music over the background sound because that drives a certain mood and it also presents problems when the sound loops at the end of the piece with a CD or iPod on repeat.  I may also experiment with soft harp music or other instrumentals that carry an appropriate mood in them, intended for quiet contemplation or meditation. Harps are certainly a part of the tradition and if there was any sound driver for trance in the Gaelic tradition it was most likely harp, given the three harp strains of laughter, sorrow, and sleep.

I'll take suggestions on good harp pieces as well, and I'm sure some of you will have them. I'm very much open to experimenting with harp music for trance and healing work, and without a harper at my personal disposal at all hours, I'm going to have to go with recorded music. Damn the inconvenience! ;)

Monday, January 7, 2008

Practical incubation ritual

Inspired by one of my Hellenic Pagan spirit-worker friends, I'm starting a project to do experimentation with incubatory vision work. She's got a room in her house that she uses for her adyton or temple and that room has a closet that she's fitted out for incubation and oracular work.

Like most folks, I don't have room enough in my apartment for a whole temple room. I have a roommate living in my library, and the library takes up a lot of space all by itself -- there are books in every room of my house. But I do have a walk-in closet in my bedroom. So, soon I'll be working on rearranging my storage so that I can empty out that closet and create my own incubation chamber for work on some of the rituals from the Gaelic tradition that require darkness and isolation or intensive internalization. These rituals include the stone on the belly poetic incubation described by Martin Martin from the Isle of Skye in the late 17th century, the ritual of tarbhfeis (tarv-faysh or bull-feast), and the lengthy imbas forosnai (im-bus for-oss-nuh) ritual that could take as long as three or nine days.

My most intensive ritual experiences so far have been backpacking trips out to the coast in Washington and California. In both cases, I spent three nights camping and doing ritual during most of that time, even when "ritual" consisted of beachwalking while meditating and watching for potential information regarding my process. This will take my work in a different direction, but one that's necessary as a part of the practice of filidecht. Part of the work involves sensory deprivation of a sort -- isolation and darkness are definite steps in that direction. Entheogens may also have been a part of the practice of filidecht at some point in the past. The visionary experiences described certainly often read like entheogenic experiences.

If I want to be able to add fasting to the ritual preparation, I'm also going to have to look at the idea of giving up tea for a while, as caffeine withdrawal can cause bad headaches or even migraines, and going into a fast for spiritual purposes while dealing with migraines from withdrawal is just not a good way to get your visions on. Talking to a doc would probably be a good idea as well, due to my health constraints. I have fibromyalgia, migraines, PTSD and a variety of other issues including clinical depression that require a certain amount of monitoring, so hardcore fasting is something that I would absolutely have to work up to carefully rather than just jumping in and not eating for a couple of days.

In doing this kind of practical work, there will always be considerations of time, isolation, preparation, space, and ritual creation. We have rough accounts of these rituals, but the formats and ritual words are not preserved. In some cases we're told that four druids accompany the one seeking a vision, chanting "truth spells" the entire time the seeker is in trance. Human assistance may not always be available, so allowances have to be made for the "sound track" of the ritual. Precautions need to be taken in the case of both fasting and entheogen use as a solitary worker. Distractions have to somehow be kept to a minimum.

Later this week I should be posting some photos of the closet before and after clearing it out. After that, as I work on creating sacred space within it, there will probably be a few pictures of how the chamber develops. Not having a dedicated temple room may mean that I'll need to divide the closet into two "rooms" with a curtain so that there is a preparatory and post-incubation space as well as the space for the actual incubation itself. An altar, a comfortable cushion to lie on, warm blankies and other considerations need to be looked at. 

As a practical thing, I also have to accept that there will be some failures and false starts on this. In the hope of encouraging and informing others, I'll be recording the flops as well as the successes. I hope that my work will inspire others to do some research and experimentation with Gaelic incubatory ritual work. The more of us who are working on it, the more likely we'll be to develop successful technologies for it within the CR community. In my opinion, more successful ritual forms equals a more diverse and stronger community. 

Just as Celtic cultures have never been monolithic, I think that CR should be diverse in its practices so long as it stays true to the Celtic cultures that inspire it, even if there is syncretism and adaptation of technologies from outside the cultures. Nothing in this world has developed in utter isolation, and if one of CR's questions is "what would Celtic polytheism look like if Christianity hadn't come along", then one of those answers is very likely to be "very diverse."