Thursday, October 27, 2011

Disability and Religious Diversity now available!

I just received my contributor's copy of Disability and Religious Diversity in the mail from the publisher! I hadn't been expecting to see it until next week, at least, but here it is.

You can get it from Palgrave Macmillan if you are interested. My paper in this book is titled "Since Feathers Have Grown on My Body: Madness, Art and Healing in Celtic Reconstructionist Spirituality" and addresses the similarities I see in the narratives of the geilta in Gaelic and other Celtic mythologies and the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I'll actually be speaking at a class at University of Washington, Bothell on November 1st about this topic. The class is Medicine, Illness, and Culture, taught by an acquaintance of mine. She was fascinated by the paper when I described it to her, and so I provided her with a text copy before the book came out so that she could include it as part of the class reading material for this quarter.

Today I also got notice that contributors to Datura will be receiving a free contributor's copy of the paperback edition, which is very exciting to me, needless to say. If you were interested in the beautiful hardbound edition but could not afford a copy, this is your chance to get some excellent poetry and essays on "esoteric poesis" from Scarlet Imprint. I was delighted to be included in this wonderful anthology and I'm sure that you'll enjoy it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Datura in paperback and Circle of Stones report

I got notification today from Ruby Sara, the editor of Datura, that the anthology is now available in paperback. This is a much more affordable edition than the hardbound, of which only a few copies remain. The book contains two of my poems and an essay.

The book can be ordered from Scarlet Imprint.

I've had the reprint of Circle of Stones on hold, awaiting a much improved pronunciation guide for the Irish and Gaelic in the text, and that has now been finished. I should be able to get the text back to my publisher within the next week or so for layout. The projected publication date is May of 2012. When the reprint goes live, I'll be removing the original PDF edition from my website. I will keep everyone updated on the progress of the reprint.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A spell of protection

In honor of those holding the line tonight, in Oakland and wherever else they may be.

There is a lorica prayer written probably sometime in the 8th century, around the same time that the familiar prayer known as "St. Patrick's Breastplate" or "The Deer's Cry" was composed. It feels remarkably Pagan, despite its date. With very little editing, it can be made entirely Pagan. I offer this translation, from John Carey's King of Mysteries: Early Irish Religious Writings. It is called Cétnad n-Aíse: A Chant of Long Life, or Fer Fio's Cry.


May Fer Fio's cry protect me upon the road, as I make my circuit of the Plain of Life.

I invoke the seven daughters of the sea
who form the threads of the long-lived youths.
May three deaths be taken from me,
may three life-times be granted me,
may seven waves of luck be poured out for me.
May spectres not harm me upon my rounds
in the breastplate of Laisrén, without injury.
My fame is not bound to perish.
May long life come to me,
may death not come to me
until I am old.

I invoke my silver warrior,
who has not died, who will not die.
May time be granted me
with the virtue of findruine.
May my shape be made golden,
may my rank be ennobled,
may my strength be magnified.
May my burial be not swift,
may death not come to me upon the road,
may my journey be confirmed.
May the senseless snake not sieze me,
nor the harsh grey worm,
nor the senseless beetle.
May no thief destroy me,
nor a company of women,
nor a company of warriors.
May an extension of time be granted me by the King of all things.

I invoke Senach of the seven ages,
whom fairy women fostered
on the breasts of inspiration.
May my seven candles be not quenched.
I am an impregnable fortress,
I am an immovable rock,
I am a precious stone,
I am a weekly blessing.
May I live a hundred times a hundred years,
each hundred of them in turn.
I summon their benefits to me;
may the grace of the holy spirit be upon me.


May all who are fighting for justice and equity in these difficult times be protected. May they be blessed. May their strength be magnified. May they be an impregnable fortress and an immovable rock. My heart is with you, even though my body cannot be.

Friday, October 21, 2011


She was Lí Ban once, before the flooding of Lough Neagh.

She tended a sacred well, keeping the door to its enclosure locked to prevent the waters from rising. The well she guarded had been magically created by the hooves of a horse given to Eochaidh, her father, by Oengus mac ind Óg. Eochaidh had been warned that if the horse ever stopped moving, destruction was sure to follow, and Eochaidh knew that the well was dangerous because it flowed forth from where the horse had stopped.

The story says that Lí Ban one day forgot to lock the door, and the waters of the well rose and flooded the countryside, creating Lough Neagh and sweeping everyone away, killing almost everyone but Lí Ban herself, and her lapdog. She took shelter in the enclosure that had guarded the well and remained there for a year, safe beneath the waves. At the end of the year, and the end of her rope, Lí Ban uttered a wish that she might be a salmon, so that she could swim with the fish outside in the water; she was transformed into a salmon with a woman's head and shoulders, and her lapdog became an otter.

After three hundred years, Beoan, a disciple of St. Comgall, was traveling along the coast with his company and heard the voice of a woman chanting. He looked down from his boat into the water and asked who was singing and Lí Ban responded to him. They conversed and, after he returned from his sojourn in Rome, he brought boats and nets and raised Lí Ban from the waters. They kept her in a boat filled with water and took her around the countryside. During these travels, her lapdog was killed and she fell into despair.

At the church of Beoan, Lí Ban was told she could either live a very long life there, or die and immediately be taken up into heaven. Tired of life and still grieving, she chose death, and was given the name Muirgeilt. Some sources translate it as "sea-wanderer" but, as we have seen before in our explorations of the geilta here and in some of my other writing, it can equally be translated as "sea-mad one." A saint on the Irish calendar, her feast day is January 27th.

Like Suibhne, she is a poet, singing songs and chanting poems in her exile. Where Suibhne grew feathers during his years in the wilderness, Muirgeilt became part salmon, silver with scales. They were both profoundly alone in the world. None of her poems were recorded; we have only Beoan's report that she chanted and sang, the acts of a poet. She did not consume the salmon -- she became the salmon. She embodied wild wisdom, originating from a sacred well.

Lí Ban shares a name with the sister of Fand, who is the wife of Manannán mac Lir, the sea god and the keeper of mists. We find her in the tale The Sickbed of Cú Chulainn, where she and Fand bring the warrior into the Otherworld to fight a battle for them. This Lí Ban is not known for her poetry, but she, like Fand, is another shapeshifter, appearing as a seabird. The intense liminality of shapeshifting, of taking on the partial form of a bird or a fish, or of total transformation into another species, is deeply resonant of the place of the geilt in Irish society. They lurk at the edges of civilization, half-wild, steeped in creative power. They are unpredictable, taking on new shapes and redefining the human. They touch upon both human and animal nature, partaking of both.

Part of what I find fascinating about Muirgeilt is that, while her name contains the element geilt, she does not appear to be mad in the same sense that Suibhne is. They share an exile from their own people and the trauma of death all around them, but their isolation is different in quality. There is more desperation in Suibhne, and a certain sense of resignation in Muirgeilt. Both of them wander the wilderness -- his of the forest and hers of the sea. Both of them are poets, even if we never see an example of Muirgeilt's work. There is a sad erasure of women's words here, but we can imagine her sea-songs and laments. We can imagine the wisdom she must have possessed. We can reclaim her salmon-human flesh from Christian sainthood and take her as a teacher from beyond the ninth wave.

I write about her today because of a friend's dream, where I showed up dressed in a feathered cloak that was shaped like a salmon, talking to him about the significance of the ogam letter coll -- the hazel -- and a cauldron filled with coals. He was unaware of the multiple layers of resonance that the image had for me. The feathered cloak is the tugen, the mark of the fili's vocation. The geilta, after twenty years in the wilderness, begin growing feathers in a bird-transformation that bestows the tugen upon them by suffering rather than study.

The salmon shape of the cloak reminded me of Muirgeilt, and also of the strong presence of the salmon as a powerful spirit, who embodies wisdom ingested through the nuts that fall from the hazels that grow over the well of wisdom. The hazels themselves, as the subject of the dream-Erynn's discussion, are the root and source of wisdom and are a massively multi-layered symbol all on their own. They are one of the nine traditional woods used for sacred fires, and fire is also a symbol of wisdom as imbas, the fire in the head of the poet.

The three cauldrons found within the body, discussed in the Cauldron of Poesy text, are echoed by the cauldron in the dream. My friend's cauldron contained embers that he could not allow to go out, an apt metaphor for some of the things happening in his life at the moment. In the dream, I instructed him to ask a mutual friend about the use of the cauldron. The image is a striking one and I will be trying to catch up with him for a chai to talk about the whole thing.

May your dreams be intriguing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Upcoming pilgrimage to Ireland, Summer 2012

Today I talked with Jhenah and Vyviane of the Sisterhood of Avalon about our upcoming pilgrimage to Ireland. We are still very much in the planning stage, with no date set just yet, but from the looks of things, locations will include Kildare, Sligo, Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth and the Hill of Tara, Mullingar and Ardagh, among other places. We will be in Ireland for about eight days.

Now that I have locations and some idea of what's wanted, I'm in the process of contemplating the workshops and work we'll be doing there. Incubatory work will definitely be a part of this -- with luck we will have a cave to do some of the work in -- and direct work on creative projects like writing, poetry, and music. There will be work with Brigid and her flame and with the land in the places we go, as well as having good food and time for fun and for deep conversations. I'll be doing a session on the three cauldrons as a part of the material surrounding the incubatory process, and we'll be discussing and (we hope) experiencing the process of imbas in our creative work.

We are looking at having options for everything from hikes to sacred sites and talks on archaeological information, to Irish music, ritual, and time to work on writing and other creative projects with the inspirational aid of Brigid and other deities and spirits. We will also be visiting with Michael Quirke of Sligo, a storyteller and woodcarver who makes wonderful images of Irish deities and mythological figures. There will be bookshops and cultural centers and museums.

I'll keep everyone up to date with the progress of the trip as I learn more details. It looks like the pilgrimage will be 15 people at most, given the space limitations of the places we'll be going, so it will be a fairly small, intimate group of seekers. There will definitely be much more information by the time PantheaCon rolls around, so if you'll be there, you'll be able to get lots of details firsthand.

I am also hoping to be able to spend at least a couple of extra weeks after the pilgrimage in Europe, visiting friends whom I would not otherwise ever get to see. As soon as I have travel details, I'll try to be in touch with people to see about an itinerary there. If you are in Europe and might like to meet me next summer, please do let me know! I would love to meet people there!

I can't even tell you how excited I am about all this. My dignity (what little I have) is doing a happydance.