Monday, October 19, 2009


The year fades into rain and mist and early darkness as Samhain approaches in the Pacific Northwest. There's a sombre beauty about it that leaves me restless and, paradoxically, wanting to curl up by a fire with a good book. My body responds to the weather changes with more aches and less energy, yet I do enjoy some aspects of the season.

This year has been particularly hot and dry throughout the summer and the return of the rain has been welcome, bringing more green with it even as the trees turn and the leaves fall. Soup shows up more often on my stove, warming me for the longer nights.

And my friends and I are preparing for our upcoming Samhain vigil. Every year we get together and create an altar for our ancestors and beloved dead, bringing photos and mementos of those who have gone before us, bringing platters of food and cups of drink for them, offering food and drink to the spirits and deities into the fire as well. And we sit through the night reading traditional tales.

The stories get sillier as the hour grows later. Catalogues of names and repeated phrases take on a call-and-response element as they occur again and again. "You do not rule me! Clouds of blood will come to you!" becomes a wonderfully funny element in the story of Da Derga's Hostel when Chris reads it. Burnishing swords from a tale in the Mabinogi is transformed into a risque double-entendre fit for a drag queen, complete with lascivious gestures. "Oh, burnish it like you burnish your own!"

Some groups hold a silent dinner, but this isn't our tradition. Samhain is the night when the season of storytelling begins -- the Otherworlds enter our own on this night, and we make our visits into them as well. It is fitting that we dedicate the night to song and story, to feasting, to carving tiny lanterns of turnips and setting them on the altar to blaze with tealights inside.

It is the time of the night-watch; those within the ring of light from the fire are safe as the Otherworlds break through. We can touch that reality without being pulled in permanently, against our will. To stay up the whole night is a sacrifice for most of us. We'll have been up all day, going about our usual business, but the night we give to showing our dedication to our spiritual pursuits and to our small shared community.

Our vigil is not an ordeal -- it can be a lot of fun -- but it is a sacrifice. Certainly about four in the morning, most of us wish we could be home in bed. To commit to an all-night ritual is unusual for most people in our society, but the people in our group do find value in it. We continue, holding together before the fire as we face the changing of the year, seeking the blessing of our deities and our ancestors, expressing our desire as generations have before us to be here again, at this same time next year, in good health and prosperity.

It's a good feeling.

Monday, September 28, 2009

PantheaCon 2010

I've just finished up the process of submitting a couple of proposals for PantheaCon 2010, for February next year. One is a discussion of the basics of creating Celtic Reconstructionist ritual. I'll have examples of the rituals our local group has done as well as solitary work that I do, with some thoughts for folks about using source materials in developing on-the-ground practice.

This sense of how to develop ritual is something that is a much-lamented lack in many parts of the CR community. People rarely talk or post about their or their group's rituals, so examples are few and far between. Many people don't even try, for fear of "doing it wrong." I'm hoping that by opening up the process and showing how our local group goes through its own trials and errors, its own successes and evolutions, it will help others find ways to allow themselves space for both research and creative innovation.

The other submission for this coming year is a panel discussion on Warrior Return rituals, focusing on the ritual that was done for me earlier this summer and that will be done for one of our members recently returned from Iraq. One of our panelists will be an ADF member who is both a disabled vet and a veterans advocate and social worker.

We'll be addressing issues of ritual reintegration of warriors into their communities when they return home, as well as giving a very nice example of a ritual brought together with texts from original Gaelic sources and innovative research. As someone who has experienced the ritual, I can speak to its effect on my own perceptions of self and community.

Taken together, a workshop on CR ritual construction and a panel on how one of these rituals was performed and how it serves the community will be a powerful statement of what CR can be.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ecology, mythology, and psychology

This week I finished reading a manuscript that was sent to me for a cover blurb. The book is about Celtic (and specifically Irish) myth seen through an ecopsychological lens. Jason Kirkey, the author, does a fine job of separating and respecting the varying strands of Celtic spirituality and making clear that the essence of his book is about creating a new, ecopsychological interpretation of Irish myth as a potential antidote to some of the poisons of modern techno-obsessed and eco-destructive society. I was very excited to read this book, due out sometime around Samhain from Jason's new press, Hiraeth, based out of San Francisco.

The book, The Salmon in the Spring: The Ecology of Celtic Spirituality, doesn't fall into the traps that so many other modern books on Celtic spirituality tend to. There is a recognition for and a respect of the native traditions as they were historically and as they are expressed in folk practice today. Jason's account of Celtic spirituality is not overlaid on a Wiccan blueprint but acknowledges the views of cosmology and holiness that are expressed in the texts and the tales themselves. He has spent time actually living in Ireland and has come to know the landscape and the people there, having had some profound experiences that he carried home to the US with him.

As an ecopsych author, he is familiar with the leading names in the field, from Theodore Roszak to Gary Snyder and beyond, and has a deft touch with both his quotes and his interpretations. His goal is not to go back to the iron age or to (re)create a Celtic spirituality, but to reinterpret Irish myth, primarily the Second Battle of Mag Tuired, with a modern ecological eye. My personal feeling is that he gives a little too much attention to 2MT as a seasonal myth, but it is in line with his contention that more things should be interpreted with a view to helping us understand once more that we are part of the world rather than separate from it. He offers exercises at the end of several chapters that are based in his understanding of Buddhist practice but phrased in ways that will resonate and be understandable to those of us working with a Gaelic paradigm.

Jason doesn't talk down to his readers but invites them into his worldview, opening doors and offering views from unusual perspectives. His understanding is spiritual at its heart without losing sight of scientific, social, and ecological realities. His treatment of CR, modern druidism, and the living folk traditions is consistent and even-handed and he makes it clear throughout the text where he is speaking of the tradition and where he is coming to his own conclusions and offering his own interpretations. Most of the "Celtic" spirituality authors out there today could take some serious lessons from Jason's honesty and openness.

When I originally printed out the manuscript for a read, I was a bit concerned at the abundant references to Frank MacEowen Owen and Tom Cowan, both of whom in my opinion tend to push their own modern views of Celtic spirituality as historic truth. I tend to avoid their books for this reason. Jason studied with both of them but manages to move beyond them in separating opinion from historical fact and for this I applaud him and have a great deal of respect for the work he's done here.

When this book comes out, I can definitely recommend adding it to your list, particularly if ecopsychology and a spirituality of place are important in your own practice. Five hazels out of five.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Why write about entheogens?

In my earlier post about ritual failure, an anonymous person took it upon hirself to suggest that "you don't need" entheogens and that I should look to the work of RJ Stewart and John and Caitlin Matthews for all the techniques of "the old bards" that I would ever need. Anonymous isn't opposed to entheogens per se and I don't disagree with this. Yet there are reasons one might experiment with such things.

Kenneth talks in the comments about working with the spirit of the entheogenic plant or fungus as a part of the ritual. This is absolutely one good reason why someone might work with entheogens. It is, in fact, one of the reasons that I do so as well. Touching the living spirit of such a powerful being is an profound experience when it works. And yes, once you've got to that state, you may or may not ever need to actually use the entheogen again to re-experience it or to have a good, solid contact with that spirit.

This, though, was immaterial to the point I was trying to make in that post. My point there was that failure of ritual can help us learn a lot of different and useful lessons. Failing means retooling the work and trying again, or repeating the experiment to see if something about the set and setting were problematic. Failing means reevaluating where you are and where you're headed. Failing means dealing with disappointment and losing the sense of being a special snowflake whose every action is fraught with spiritual significance. Failing means recognizing we're human and that we make mistakes, or that even if we haven't made a mistake, sometimes things just don't work the way we expect them to. Failure offers us chances to grow and mature.

What really rather gripes me, though, is anonymous's assumption that I've never read either anything by Stewart or the Matthews' (I have a great deal of their stuff on my foo-Celtic shelf) or anything from the original Gaelic and Welsh source material. I've read a lot of sources on Gaelic pre-Christian religion and culture. I've read a lot of the medieval manuscripts in translation. I've even done translations of materials from Old Irish myself, for my own understanding. Hell, I've had my translation of the Cauldron of Poesy published at least twice. A lot of my work has been translated into other languages.

Much of what the Matthews' reprint is 19th century scholarship, outdated in the mid- to late-20th century. While there are occasional useful nuggets in their reprints, I've already read the vast majority of what they're offering. And I disagree with a lot of their interpretations and uses of the material. I don't find RJ Stewart's ceremonial magic approach to the materials very useful for my own work either. While the Matthews' do a somewhat better job of dealing with Celtic spiritual material than, say, DJ Conway, Edain McCoy, or Douglas Monroe, it doesn't mean they are presenting the source material without their own particular filter -- in their case, usually, Celtic "shamanism", which is a rant in and of itself.

Certainly neither the Matthews' nor Stewart talk about deity in any polytheistic fashion. The Matthews', in their Western Mystery Tradition books, refer to the Celtic deities as "unregenerate godforms," whatever the hell that's supposed to mean, and warn against working with them. Perhaps this is their way of saying the deities are dangerous. If that's the case, so is fire. So is the sea. So is walking out your door every morning to go to work. Should we stop heating our houses, cooking our food, and going outside because it might be dangerous? People are dangerous, too. Even our closest friends and the people we love might hurt us from time to time. Do we stop having friends and family because of this, or do we learn to deal with their rough edges and accept them for who they are?

Ultimately, I write about entheogens because I find them useful in some ritual circumstances. I write about them to show that there are many ways to define and practice rituals. I discuss my experiences, both successful and failed, in order to demonstrate that effects vary and that not everything is going to work every time. In modern US culture it's hard to find people openly discussing that kind of work. Discussions go on in closed fora and between friends in private. There are books out there but the good ones can be hard to find. And to neglect such an ancient source of access to ritual states of consciousness and such powerful potential spiritual allies is to cut oneself off from the potential for powerful learning and spiritual experiences.

Yes, there are dangers inherent in the path. People have averse reactions to entheogens just as they do to any other substance they may put in their bodies. For some people, being in the vicinity of onions is a life-threatening experience. Strawberries have killed people.

Important things to remember are to research thoroughly, to exercise due caution, and to understand that these things will not always work as advertised. Sure, you don't "need" to use entheogens in a spiritual practice. One doesn't "need" a lot of things that are or can be useful. It doesn't mean they should never be used by responsible adults. And it doesn't mean that non-entheogenic practices can't get you where you want to go as well, depending on your goals. Humans are curious creatures. We are interested in new experiences and are prone to experimentation in all fields of life. Ritual is like sex, in the end analysis. Different things work for different people and my kink may not be your cuppa. The important thing is that we all try to get to our goal, by whatever pathway pleases us best.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thoughts on Ritual and Homecoming

On July 18th the local CR schmooze held a ritual. The focus of this rite was a vigil of return for a warrior who has returned from duty. As most of you probably know, I was enlisted in the US Navy from 1979-1982. I was 17 when I enlisted. After leaving the service, I tried to pick up the pieces of my shattered life. It was hard and while I've been dealing with things as best I can, I'm living on a veteran's disability pension due to what happened to me during my service and afterwards. That pension is how I can write books and articles and still keep a roof over my head.

Because I was thrown out of the Navy (I tried for almost three years before they actually did it, so that was my intention), I'm not the kind of vet the military likes to talk about. Not only am I queer, I was a "disciplinary problem" and stood for captain's mast (non-judicial punishment) three times in my enlistment, as well as once being court maritaled. Needless to say, there was no recognition of my service and no one to welcome me home despite the fact that I'd given a goodly chunk of what passed for my sanity to the service of my country.

Over the last year our local group has been working with one of our members who is an active duty military man, currently serving in Iraq. We sent him off with a ritual last August and will welcome him home this August when he arrives. We've talked with the larger Pagan community at PantheaCon about the sending out ritual. This, the companion ritual, is a vigil for the warrior's return. For me, the ritual was a profound experience of welcome into a community that I have never had before. For Arlen, we hope to give him a welcome to the same community he left and hope that he won't have the same kinds of problems reintegrating with the civilian community that I've had over the years.

Our experiences of the military are very different. Arlen intends to re-enlist for another five-year hitch with an eye toward becoming a warrant officer. I hated my time in service and tried desperately to get out. Yet both of us have served, both of us have done what had to be done under the circumstances -- me during the nuclear terror of the Cold War, him under fire in battle.

This is my account of the vigil.

Dusk came slowly that day, as it does so often at this time of year. I'd set up my tent in tall grass beyond the back gate. Last time I'd done a vigil there, I'd been eaten by mosquitos -- over 20 bites all over my body, even through thick jeans and a sweater.
The tent was a blessing because there would be no fire.

After I was sent out to take my place beyond the hedge, the night was filled with loud, thumping, percussive music, punctuated by occasional cheering. Somewhere nearby, there was a concert. It continued until late into the night, but was distant enough to be little more than background to my thoughts. I'd have preferred silence but, when one does vigil ritual in the burbs, even the heavily-wooded burbs of semi-rural Redmond, one has neighbors to consider.

The questions came at small intervals, presented by people who were attempting to affect floating, disembodied heads. Dark clothing, lit features. Between the focus of my headspace in ritual and their sometimes awkward attempts, it was effective enough. At one point
Phil looked like his eyes were glowing. I'm told that at several points I didn't look much of anything like myself, either; a strange silhouette armed with spear and sword, leaning forward, overshadowed by something Other.

I felt that overshadowing. Each time I rose to exit the tent, alert and armed, it covered me. There was a hyperawareness, a sense of stretching beyond the boundaries of my body to encompass the area surrounding me, knowing where everything was despite the darkness. I was on guard, taking care of the community I'd sworn so many years ago to protect.

Thirty years ago, I took an oath. I swore to protect and defend the people and constitution of the United States of America. Twenty six years ago, I "came home." Since that time I have lived on the edges of my ability, broken by my experiences in the military. I had been thrown out, by my own design. There were no ceremonies, no welcomes, barely a word beyond "thank God that's over." I don't remember the exit interview, just that I know I had to sign my DD-214, which read that I was discharged under "General, Other Than Honorable" conditions. I walked away, too numb to try to make sense of it all.

I'm not the sort of veteran the services are proud of. I fought the whole time I was in. I hated it desperately and passionately. Nobody wants to hear about the broken ones, especially the ones who were broken between shooting wars, the ones that could never fit in to begin with. The ones who weren't properly military enough. I was good at what I did -- good enough that they didn't want to get rid of me until I'd made myself such a nuisance that they had no other choice. The few times I was working in conditions I found tolerable, with people who would give me a chance, I was moved to new conditions within weeks. My reputation for trouble preceded me.

During the vigil I sat with questions that brought me face to face with who and what I am, what I did, and what it all meant. There are not adequate words for most of it. I wrote a couple of notebook pages for most of the questions. One particularly stuck with me, because it had a two-sentence answer:

What will you do if you don't get what you want?

Keep trying, just like I always have. The alternative is death.

In so many ways, this sums up my relationship to the military and to the Veterans Administration.
Keep trying, or die. When they beat you down, stand back up. When they refuse you, return with a new set of forms. When they ignore you, shout down the walls. When they break you, pick up the pieces. To do otherwise is to suffer annihilation.

In my life, I have rarely gotten what I want. Often I've had to be content with other things but, in most contexts, that's okay. When it has come to the military, even the idea of compromise has been deadly to my soul. There are some things that cannot be accepted. They must be struggled for, even if that becomes the defining theme of a life.

One of the things I've struggled for all these years has been community and acceptance. I've tried to understand my place in the context of others as groups and individuals. I've stood outside so much of my life, even before I formally signed my enlistment contract. It's part of that kshatriya thing I was talking about last week -- the military displaces families. We don't belong anywhere because we don't stay long enough and when we do try to stay, we have tall barriers to surmount; being the new kid (eternally), being an unknown factor (because no one bothers to get to know you), being different (by background and by temperament).

In a small group of people last week, I found community. I am no longer outside the fence. I may walk the edge and be able to traverse it and live in the wild but I also, for once, belong inside. Welcomed in and given a place of honor, my history and my differences were accepted for what they are rather than rejected as a mark of unacceptable severance.

Good ritual changes something inside you. Those changes may not be obvious for a long time afterwards. I can feel them moving, though. This acceptance was very different than the superficial "thank you for your service" that I sometimes get these days when I note that I'm a veteran. I've never really known how to cope with that phrase. It brings too much back, and in a bad way. To be brought inside the gate, to be cooled and tempered in the waters and purified in the smoke of holy herbs, and to be placed at the head of the table for the feast in a place of honor is a distinctly different thing.

Sleep-deprived after a long night of intense focus and meditation, I was in a very different space than I usually am. Doing a vigil ritual brings it home much more deeply than a ritual that might take an hour or so, even if the content is essentially identical. The time and the effort involved intensify the effect. They separate us from the mundane much more fully. They emphasize the importance of what is happening.

Do I still identify with the geilt? Oh, yes. Yet I know I'm welcome inside the gates. My skills and talents are valued and I am valued, despite the problems I still -- and may always -- have.

Am I "cured" of my PTSD, my nightmares, my triggers? Not by a long shot. But I know how far I've come along that road and I know that I can go further. I have friends and a community who have demonstrated with their efforts and their bodies that what has happened may have marked me, but I am capable of change.

Twenty six years after the fact, I've come home.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Last month I set out to do another session in the incubation chamber. I've done a few now, mostly meditation but a couple of vision-seeking/journeywork sessions as well. I had high hopes when I set out, as I'd been wanting to work with some psilocybe and amanita muscaria I'd had on hand. 

I set up the space, invoked the spirits and deities, went through all the processes I go through to set the stage for the work, and waited. 

There was an immense sense of presence. It was so strong it woke my roommate, who had been sleeping in his room. I felt a sense of the room breathing around me. I waited more. I sang and prayed and watched.

Yet beyond that sense of presence and breath, "nothing" happened. 

I've worked with LSD  a couple of times before and had some very powerful experiences with it. One I would even describe as profound. I've had some very good success with smoking salvia divinorum, though that was an entirely different quality of experience than the LSD had been. After all the accounts I'd heard and read about different types of fungal entheogens, I'd been expecting something big and consuming.

Sometimes, things don't work. They flop for whatever reason. Maybe the dried fungi were too old. Perhaps they weren't going to work with my body chemistry. Maybe there was nothing the deities or spirits wanted me to do that day beyond spend four hours in meditation and ritual. Maybe I was expecting the wrong things and was too focused on what I'd been told rather than on being in the experience.

Yet our failures teach us just as our successes do. The lessons of failure can be very valuable if we are willing to accept them and work with them. When I posted about the issue in my LJ later that day, I got several responses from folks who were glad to hear that they were not alone in having rituals that didn't work out as planned. 

When ritual fails, you're not alone. It happens to all of us, from the veriest noob to the grizzled grey elder. I can't think of anyone who has never in their entire life had a ritual poop out on them at least once; some have even been spectacular in their fail. Failure, though, is a part of the human condition. We all experience it sometimes and how we deal with it is important.

In failure, we learn that the universe isn't all about us. The spirit world isn't a giant wish-granting machine where you put in your ritual and out pops the result you wanted. Life, the universe, and everything is a big place and we're just tiny motes within it. We have our roles to play, but that doesn't mean we're at center stage.

We learn a certain amount of humility in our failures. We may do everything right and still not get the result we wanted. Approaching spirit with humility and knowing that we're only a part of the greater whole is important. Pride may be a value of CR Paganism, but it should be properly placed pride and not hubris.

Failure encourages us to be resilient, to be creative, and to keep on trying. If we don't get it right the first time, perhaps something needs to be changed. Maybe we need to readjust our expectations. Maybe the conditions weren't right. Maybe we were using the wrong tools or the wrong symbol set. Maybe spirit or deity was busy elsewhere. Some things have to be worked for much harder than others and ritual is no exception to this general rule in life.

Patience comes with failure. Learning to bide our time until the next opportunity is an important lesson when dealing with not just the Otherworlds but this one as well. Planting a seed in midwinter is unlikely to be as successful as planting it in the spring, in its proper time and place. 

Failure also teaches gratitude. Success won't feel like much when it's your only experience. Its value tends to decline emotionally in proportion to how routine it is. Failing shows us that success is a possibility, not a guarantee, and encourages us to make the most of success when it comes along. 

When we examine the reasons for ritual failure we learn to think clearly and systematically about how we design ritual and how we understand its purposes. Taking things apart afterwards is a very helpful practice whether the ritual succeeded or not. Most of the folks I know who do public ritual have debriefings with the ritual team afterwards to discuss what went well, what didn't, and what could be improved. Examination, ideally, leads to growth.

In the wake of this particular experiment I've determined that I'd like to try again, but with fungi that are fresh rather than dried. This may have some effect on the outcome. I know I have more luck with salvia, so I'll be doing more in-depth work with that in some of its forms other than dried, unenhanced leaf to see if that will change the ritual results.

I'll pay more attention to what is happening than what I wish for, as well. There were currents I could have ridden in that ritual that I failed to because of my preconceived expectations. Rather than doing the work, I expected to be carried along.

The session was a failure in terms of what I had hoped for, yet it taught me a number of things about myself and the process of the work I'm doing, and for that I'm very grateful.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Poetry month

April in the US is National Poetry Month. As a fili, this is something near and dear to my heart. Over on my LJ, I've been posting a poem a day. Some of them are short. Some of them are bad. Some of them are actually pretty good. When at the Altar of the Flame is one of the poems that has resulted so far.

I'll admit that I don't always keep up my poetic practice. My prose writing looms large in my life -- essays for anthologies, writing on my LJ about my life and about activist interests, and trying hard to get things done for my books are all important to me as well. Yet poetry, even when I'm doing it badly, gives me a way to reach more deeply into my spiritual life and helps to refine both my personal practice and my philosophies about how I see CR and what I do both privately and in community. 

A month or so ago I wrote lyrics for a song for the local group. I posted those on my LJ, along with a link to the original tune I wrote them to. We've used the song a couple of times as a group and it seems to have been well-received. It's a song for acknowledging the three realms of land, sea and sky and for the three fires of the land spirits, the ancestors, and the deities. Much more remains to be done within the CR community in terms of songs and ritual poetry that doesn't have to be borrowed from the Neopagan community or from modern Druidic groups like the ADF. There's something important about creating our own liturgical materials and sharing them within our communities. Shared liturgy helps create a shared sense of community, particularly when we're all so scattered around the globe.

A lot of the secret of writing poetry is found in sitting down and writing it. Technique is important. Emotional impact is important. Rhyme and rhythm are important. But none of that matters if you don't sit down and put your pen to paper.

The music doesn't happen if you don't sing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

When at the Altar of the Flame

burn juniper
plucked by your own hand
sung over with spells and charms

with the water of wells and of rasps
wash your face and hands
singing "gabhaim molta bride"

the flame is passed from hand to hand
rough, calloused fingers
used to work of forge and pen
of weaving and ploughing and toil

her hand the hand of sister
of brother
of uncle and aunt
of cousin and parent and child
her hand the hand of the world

sing to the spark between your palms

light your lamp

Saturday, February 28, 2009

In Other Tongues

I added a new sidebar to the blog today titled In Other Tongues that has links to CR articles and texts that I authored or co-authored. It includes translations of work into Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, and Russian. It also includes a poem I composed that has proved quite popular among folks interested in Brigid.

My thanks to the many translators around the world who have undertaken such a difficult task, for getting not just my work but the work of other CR authors out there and making it available so that people in other parts of the world and who speak other languages can explore this spiritual path. It warms my heart to know that the work we're all doing being is shared with so many.

I'm hoping that soon I can add another link to this list, as the local CR schmooze has received a request to translate our warrior ritual into Spanish. Since I'm not the author, it has to be passed by everyone who did write the ritual at the next meeting in March. I have every expectation that the request will receive approval.

Just for the record, if you are interested in translating any of my work into other languages, please feel free to contact me to discuss the idea. If you have previously done a translation of my work that isn't listed here, please let me know where so I can link it. Thank you!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

CR and personal syncretisms

Originally posted on my LiveJournal, I felt this essay dealt with enough CR material and was important enough to my view of my life as a CR that it warranted posting here. In this post, I talk quite a bit about some of the other practices I follow in my life and deal with questions I've been asked about how I can be CR while also following other paths. I know others in the community sometimes struggle with these issues as well. Please take this as my own personal approach -- nothing here implies that anyone has to do as I do or think as I think. If you're also struggling with multiple paths and self-definition, please take this as encouragement along your way and perhaps as cause for further meditation.

Over the next week or so I'll probably be doing a short series of posts about some of the things I did at PCon this year. I wanted to start with the Ekklesía Antínoou Lupercalia ritual. There were vasty numbers of people in attendance -- 60 or so, in contrast to the smaller numbers last time, and the tiny rituals we do here in Seattle with usually 10 or fewer people. 

Part of the ritual had been a Communalia, a drawing of formal alliances between the Ekklesía and other Pagan and polytheist traditions, most especially between our group and AMHA the polytheist tribal Hebrew group represented by Elisheva Nesher. Eli is a wonderful older woman, wise and forthright and delightfully funny. She's one of the people who regularly attends the con and who hangs with 
Diana Paxson's group when she's in town whom I find both priceless and irreplaceable. I adore her beyond all measure and bless the day when Diana and Lorrie Wood introduced us.

Phillipus has described his feelings of accomplishment and happiness for this alliance in light of the Roman emperor Hadrian's role in the Bar Kochba war and the repression of the Israelites during his otherwise reasonably enlightened reign. He is of Jewish extraction himself and so felt that it was extremely important for the Ekklesía to make strides toward building bridges between our group and those that one of our exemplary figures and deities had wronged. The other groups represented were a Dianic group led by Rabbit and a local Heathen community represented by Ember.

The ritual itself was, as is usually EA's nature, heavily liturgical with much singing and recitation. I do think that some of this could use a little more group involvement as it currently is primarily the lead ritualist and a few assistants doing most of the work. There's nothing particularly wrong with this, though I know that PCon attendees tend to expect more personal involvement in big public rituals rather than sitting on the sidelines as spectators for big chunks of it. I read the Hymn for Hecate and the Prayer Against Persecution as well as carrying two of the lotus lights as one of the Mystai in the processional.

This year 
Lupa ran as one of the Luperci as I did a couple of years ago, carrying on the fine EA tradition of including women as wolf-warriors in the ceremony. The race was exciting and fun, though Eli stepped out during this portion, as it involved some symbolic flogging and she has some combat-related issues with people raising a hand against others in even symbolic violence. All the ritualists did a lovely job, I think. 

Some time after the ritual, 
Ember approached me and talked about some cultural dissonances she felt as a Heathen at a Roman-based ritual. She wondered aloud if I had been there representing for CR or was there just as myself, as one of Phillipus's friends. At the time I said I had been there just as myself but, being so tired after everything I had been doing, I hadn't thought to give her a more in-depth answer so I'm going to explore that here. It has great resonance for my practices in other non-CR religions and may help to explain some of my views on how and why I am still primarily CR in my life and self-identification despite my other allegiances. I'll also talk a little about the syncretic nature of my life, as this is an unavoidable adjunct to the discussion.

My attendance at Lupercalia was not merely as an individual or as 
Phillipus's friend, though my interest in Antinous started as the curiosity of a friend who wished to explore another's spirituality. I attended in my ritual function as both Mystes and Luperca. I am, if you will, what passes for an initiate into the cult of Antinous and, hopefully, only the first of many women (or people in women's bodies) to hold these titles within the group -- so Ave Lupa, Luperca Secunda!

While some people wonder if the cult of a "Gay God" has any place for women within it, I see myself as living testament of that inclusivity. Antinous to me does not represent just "gayness" but affirms all forms of queerness, however that might be defined. That queerness is not strictly about gender and sexuality, although it includes it. Antinous is a liberator not just in terms of one who liberates from death but as one who liberates from all negative forms of constraint. In this he works to free us from our preconceived notions of ourselves. He liberates us from the chains of dualistic, binary thought. He liberates us from unwanted roles into which we have been pressed in the service of conformity. He liberates us from illusion and self-deception. He liberates us from fear.

When I stand before the obelisk, a citizen of Antinoopolis, I do not enter the gates specifically as a Celtic Reconstructionist. I enter as myself -- with all that means -- as Mystes and Luperca of the Cult of Antinous who also, first and foremost, honors Celtic deities. I bring my allegiances to my Celtic deities with me, but in that space and for that time, they are part of the work being done within those sacred precincts. When the Pantheon is opened in Antinoan ritual, I install my own deities to be honored as equal to all the others within that temple according to Roman tradition, just as all others present do if they so choose. In our sacred city, there are no foreign Gods, no holy strangers; all who come are given reverence and acknowledgment. 

As the old saying goes, "when in Rome, do as the Romans do." Therefore, when I am within the precincts of Antinoopolis I act as one should act within the Ekklesía's unavoidably and deliberately syncretic Greco-Roman-Egyptian framework. When I stand before my Brigid altar and light my flame, I am acting as a CR within a CR context, interacting with a specifically Celtic deity and following a specifically Celtic tradition. One does not invalidate nor compete with the other. When I go to the Shinto shrine, I am there to honor the Kami and ask for their blessings. I make the expected offerings and go through the expected motions of purification, bell-ringing, bowing, clapping, and sipping sake at the appropriate times. In this I am in no wise different from any other Shrine member, nor should I be. And in the time-honored cultural and spiritual tradition of Shinto, I follow multiple paths without feeling any particular conflict within Shinto space. I don't keep a Kamidana in my home primarily because the purity/house-cleaning requirements are rather above my current physical ability to fulfill. It is not because I would in any way feel uncomfortable with a Kamidana in my space. I also understand and respect 
Raven's lack of resonance with Shinto due to her own spiritual commitments and do not feel this is in any way a contradiction for either of us -- the Celtic deities she works with as her primary devotion are not the same as mine and they deal in different territories and energies. It is natural we would have different reactions based on these differences.

My life is larger than any one tradition, no matter how much I love and identify with that tradition. There are places that, by its inherent limitations, that tradition cannot take me. This doesn't make it a bad or inadequate tradition. It does not make me love that tradition or my deities any less. It doesn't make me any less dedicated to that tradition. My practice of multiple traditions doesn't somehow magically rob me of my knowledge, my experience, or my ability within any of those I do practice. It does not negate my history with other traditions that I no longer practice. It does not close a gate to future practice of further traditions, or worship of and work with other deities and spirits. I am a polyamorous polytheist -- I love and give my adoration to many Gods and Goddesses, to many spirits and ancestors.

And so I am a CR fili. I am a bangeilt. I am a priestess of Brigid and a flamekeeper. I am an Ekklesía Antínoou mystes and luperca. I am an initiate of Alexandrian Wicca and NECTW Witchcraft. I am a Shintoist. I am an animist. I am an astrologer and a tarot reader. I am a student of Ulchi shamanism. I am an informal devotee of Sarasvati and Hanuman and Ganesha. I am a disabled veteran. I am queer. I am a feminist. I am a peace activist. I am more than all of this.

I am human.

As Whitman said:

Do I contradict myself? 
Very well then I contradict myself, 
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Meditations on a Year

This week marks the first anniversary of the local Seattle CR Schmooze. We started meeting last January on second Mondays of every month and in that time we've developed a pretty solid core of about ten people who show up regularly, even if not every month. We've had several rituals outside of the monthly meetings as well. The group is composed of folks from a number of backgrounds, from people new to the Pagan community as a whole to folks who have moved on from ADF to a couple of what pass for "big names" in the CR movement. One of our number is a Ph.D. in Celtic Studies, which helps us immensely. We have people interested in Irish, Welsh and Scottish material and cultures. One of our number, the woman who had no previous exposure to the Pagan community, has become so enthusiastic for the culture and the material that she's joined a local Scots Gaelic class to learn the Gaidhlig language.

We are working on pieces of ritual for the group as a collective effort. We've done a vigil and blessing ritual for one of our number who was shipped out to Iraq last year and will be doing a welcoming home ritual when he returns late this year. We have explored different ritual formats and tried some guided meditation work together. We've shared book recommendations and meals together. We've held night-long vigils together and read stories from the corpus of traditional texts and tales. We head for a shared dinner at a nearby restaurant every month after our meeting for socializing. We've had a few incompatible people come and go.  We talk on LiveJournal and on our yahoogroup together from time to time outside of our formal times together. We have running in-jokes and repeating themes in our meetings.

Our group still has a long way to go. We have a lot of work to do in developing ritual and in working with Welsh deities, as most of our work has been with the Irish material so far. We're still at a very elemental level in sharing our private work together. But we have a schedule for the year so far that runs to Samhain, with topics to work on, ritual elements to write, and discoveries to make. We're getting together later this month for a Burns supper and looking for ways to grow closer to cultural traditions that aren't strictly spiritual as we explore our interests. 

In February, three of us will be presenting a panel discussion at PantheaCon in San Jose about the warrior ritual we performed, as a way to expand the dialogue with the larger community.  Two of us will be participating in another panel discussion on mysticism in reconstructionist religions. I'll be teaching two workshops down there; one on advanced topics in ogam, and the other an experiential workshop on meditative techniques derived from some of the filidecht materials. This will include the guided cosmological meditation created by one of our members who won't be able to attend, but who is working on a book on CR and the Gaelic warrior tradition.

I'm excited and very proud of our small group, not just for surviving the first year -- a milestone for any Pagan group -- but for how everyone is contributing to discussion and feedback, and how we're working to create community out of a small group of disparate individuals.

I'm looking forward to the coming year. I hope that we're blessed by continuing development in our work as a group, and in our own lives.