Saturday, December 10, 2011

Irish Lessons in Seattle

Caera, one of the members of the local CR community, is offering Irish lessons in Seattle starting in January. Here's the information:

I will be teaching Irish Language Classes for Beginners, on Wednesday evenings in 2012, beginning Wednesday, January 4th. Classes will run from 7pm to 8pm. Cost is $40 for the month of January paid in full (at the first class), or $15 per drop-in. I will be providing materials for at least the first few classes; you will want to bring a notebook and a pen, and if you'd like you may bring a recording device if it is nonintrusive. This class will go over reading and pronunciation, but will have a focus on speaking Gaeilge as a living language.

There are no prerequisites. If you have never tried to learn any Gaelic language ever, you are welcome to take this class. If you have tried a bit on your own but not gotten very far, you are welcome to take this class. If you had some a long time ago but would like a refresher, you are welcome to take this class. If you have Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig), but no Irish (Gaeilge), and would like to fix that, you are welcome to take this class. If you can already converse fluently as Gaeilge, please email me at and we can talk about setting up a conversation group (and you are probably well beyond this class).

Classes will be held at Edge of the Circle (bookstore), on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Their full address is 701 East Pike St, Seattle, WA 98122, and phone number for the shop is (206)726-1999. Classes will be held in their meeting room downstairs.

If you have any questions about the classes themselves, please feel free to contact the teacher at -- Thank you.

This is a great opportunity to meet like-minded others, and to learn to speak Irish. Come and join us!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Accepted for Mandragora!

I got notice today from Ruby Sara, an editor at Scarlet Imprint, that an essay and two of my poems have been accepted for the new anthology on esoteric poesis, Mandragora. This is a sequel to the beautiful anthology Datura, now out in paperback.

My essay, "Burying the Poet: Brigid, Poetry, and the Visionary in Gaelic Poetic Traditions," deals with incubatory and initiatory themes in filidecht and other related European poetic traditions. I was very excited to work on a project of that nature and I hope that the material presented in the essay will be inspiring to people following the path of filidecht. Due to the nature of the publication, I didn't use footnotes, but the material is findable and I intend to use a good bit of it as I work on a book on filidecht over time.

Two of my poems, "Lost Text" and "On the Origin of Dreams" were also accepted, much to my delight.

The books from Scarlet Imprint are always beautiful visually and they are physically sensual. The silk-bound hardcover of Datura has to be held to be believed. The contents are equally beautiful, thoughtful, and inspiring.

I'm very pleased to be included in this new anthology. No publication date has yet been announced, but I am guessing we'll be seeing it by late 2012.

Friday, November 25, 2011

My schedule at PantheaCon 2012

The PantheaCon schedule for February 2012 is now live on the PantheaCon website.

I have three planned appearances this year:

Friday, 11pm:
Celtic Reconstructionist Rituals: A Look at the Nuts and Bolts

We will examine rituals used by the Seattle CR community as examples of ritual construction for vigils and shorter rites. With scripts in hand, we'll deconstruct these texts and the elements involved, and discuss how and why these rituals were created and how they evolved. These living examples can provide inspiration for creation of rituals for other local groups or individuals.

Saturday, 3pm:

Sisters of Seshat's Moon Ritual. The Sisters of Seshat is a feminist ceremonial magic group based on material in Brandy Williams's excellent and thought-provoking book The Woman Magician. I still owe Brandy a review for that book. I was extremely impressed.

Sunday, 7pm:

Brigid and Sarasvati: Goddesses of Poetry and Inspiration

Imbas flows in many forms. Poetry, music and other creative arts lie within the purview of Brigid of Ireland. India's Sarasvati is similar to her in many ways. Join Erynn Rowan Laurie in exploring the mythic and poetic intersections between these two Goddesses and their poetic gifts to their devotees.

I hope I'll see you at the con! I'm very much looking forward to participating this coming year.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

On the use of juniper for purification

I've been asked a few times recently about why I use juniper, why do a purification at all before doing ritual, and whether this is some sort of Christian influence on the tradition.

I'll address the last question first. A lot of non-Christian (and, in fact, uninfluenced by Christianity) traditions do purifications before they do ritual. Siberian shamans (Ulchi, Nanai, etc) purify with smoke. Lakota people purify with smoke. Shinto purifies with water. Many other traditions to purifications of varying kinds. They do them for a lot of different reasons.

Purifications like this don't imply that we are evil or sin-filled or unfit to stand before the Gods. A pre-ritual purification can be viewed in the same way as wiping your feet before you walk into someone's house or taking off your shoes at the door -- sometimes we carry stuff with us that we don't want to bring into a ritual space on our bodies or our clothing. It's not a value judgment about us as human beings, it's just a way to remove any unwanted influences before we enter ritual space, however we are defining that.

The reason I use juniper in particular is because it was used in Scotland. We don't know if they did this every time anyone did ritual, but for a lot of people, doing something like this before ritual is a comforting thing, or a signal that we are entering ritual space. In Scotland, juniper was burned on New Years morning in enough quantity to fill the entire house or byre. I don't want to suffocate my whole house and make all the smoke alarms go off, so using a little of it at the beginning of a ritual was something I considered a reasonable adaptation of the tradition. It was also burned on the quarter days (Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnassadh, Samhain) for the same reasons.

Here is a quote from F. Marian McNeill's The Silver Bough (link to ebook edition) regarding that tradition:

Juniper, or the mountain yew, was burned by the Highlanders both in the house and in the byre as a purification rite on New Year's morning. Like all magical plants, it had to be pulled in a particular manner. The Druids, as we have seen, had considerable medical skill. They knew all that was known of botany and chemistry, and to them fell the selection of the herbs for the mystic cauldron. These were gathered at certain phases of the moon. Magical rites were employed in the culling; sexual abstinence, silence, a certain method of uprooting, and occasionally sacrifice were necessary. Long after the disappearance of the Druids, herbs found by sacred streams were used to cure wounds and bruises and other ills, and traces of the rites and runes linger in folk tradition. Juniper, for instance, to be effective, had to be pulled by the roots, with its branches made into four bundles and taken between the five fingers, whilst the incantation was repeated:

I will pull the bounteous yew,
Through the five bent ribs of Christ,
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,
Against drowning, danger, and confusion.

As with so many Gaelic prayers, we can take the form and consider which of the Pagan deities would suit the situation. Miach seems a very reasonable deity for the second line here, given that all of the healing herbs were said to grow from his cairn. The third line might work well with Dían Cécht, Miach, and Airmed, if you are so inclined.

John Gregorson Campbell, in several places in The Gaelic Otherworld, says:

Juniper, pulled in a particular manner, was burned before cattle and put in cows' tails.

Juniper (Iubhar-Beinne, literally Mountain Yew): This plant is a protection by land and sea, and no house in which it is will take fire.

Shrovetide [the Tuesday before Lent] was one of the great days for 'saining' cattle, juniper being burned before them, while other superstitious precautions were taken to keep them free from harm.

The Carmina Gadelica offers:

Iubhar beinne [juniper] and caorran, mountain ash or rowan, were burnt on the doorstep of the byre on the first day of the quarter, on Beltaine Day and Hallowmas. The byre lintel was sprinkled with wine, or failing wine, with human urine. ... This was done to safeguard the cattle from mischance, mishap, and each other's horns.

Milliken and Bridgewater, in Flora Celtica: Plants and People in Scotland say:

Juniper is another tree whose branches were sometimes hung above the doors and windows on auspicious days, or burned in the fire. Juniper burning, which formed part of the New Year rituals in some parts of the country, seemed to have a dual purpose. Not only was it supposed to ward off witches and evil spirits but, at a more practical level, it cleansed the house of pests and diseases. The branches were dried beside the fire the night before, and when all the windows and doors were shut, fires were lit in each room until the whole house was full of their acrid smoke. When the coughing and sputtering inhabitants could stand it no longer, the windows were opened and the process was repeated in the stables. Interestingly, the smoke of burning juniper is also used for spiritual cleansing in Nepal, where it plays a key part in puja ceremonies such as those held before attempts to climb Mount Everest.

I don't have any particular investment in warding off witches, given that a lot of my friends fall into that category, but warding off evil spirits, bad luck, illness, danger, fires, and general klutziness seems like a pretty good reason to follow this tradition. Besides, juniper smells wonderful, and it grows abundantly around here, just as it does in the Highlands of Scotland.

Juniper was also known in Irish and Gaelic as aiteal. This Irish gardening website claims:

The stems and branches which provide support for the trees foliage and berries are covered in rich, brownish red bark, which can be seen to shred, curl and peel away in strips from the mature tree. Under the bark, you will find the pinkish white water-filled sapwood similarly aromatic to the pungent foliage. The interior brown heartwood is quite soft and has few if any wood working uses, apart from veneering; instead, it was used for burning because of its scent. The ancient Celts burned the wood of the Juniper at their autumn (Samhain) festival for purification, as an aid to allow contact with the dead.

I haven't seen other references to the Irish or Scottish use of juniper for contact with the spirits of the dead, but this may well come from traditions in other parts of the world and have been attached to "ancient Celtic" uses for the plant, given that it was burned at the quarter days, one of which is Samhain. If anyone has further information about where this particular reference might have come from, please let me know. I'd be interested to see the sources on it!

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.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

An Added Page: Imbas Forosnai by Nora K. Chadwick

After I had a lengthy search and jumped through a bunch of hoops to find the online copy of Nora Chadwick's article, Imbas Forosnai, only to find that it was in three nearly inaccessible parts via the Wayback Machine, I spent today editing the text and putting it up as a page here on Searching for Imbas so that it would be much more easily findable and accessible for everyone else who might want to read it.

I've cleaned up the formatting, checked for typos, and added the footnotes missing from Molly's original transcription of the article on her Geocities site. Please feel free to pass the word, and the link.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An Added Page: Erynn's Publications

I've added a new page to Searching for Imbas that contains cover graphics and purchase links and information for all the books I've written or have contributions in. You can find the new page here or in the tabs above.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Searching for Titles

I'm currently considering titles for my upcoming poetry collection and haven't decided on one yet. You (yes you!) can help me make up my mind by popping over to my LiveJournal to vote on my options. This isn't a binding poll, obviously, but I do want to know what my readers think is the best of the bunch.

Thank you!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Swimming in publishing news

Among all the other publication news I've gotten recently, I received confirmation today that Hiraeth Press will be publishing a volume of my poetry next fall. I haven't decided on a title for the volume as yet, but I have the contract in hand and will be looking it over soon.

This is a very exciting milestone for me. I've been having poetry published off and on for many years now, in journals and more recently in anthologies. To have a volume of my own poetry published is an honor and a pleasure. There are so many poets who never get to this point in their work. Getting poetry published, unless you do it yourself, can be a very difficult proposition, so it's a thrill to have someone interested enough in my writing to want to print it and send it out into the world.

I reviewed a nonfiction volume from Hiraeth Press a while back -- Jason Kirkey's The Salmon in the Spring, and was very impressed with both the content and the quality of the book itself. I think this bodes very well for the finished volume when they print my poetry.

I'll keep you updated as I get more information on this new volume!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

PantheaCon 2012 part deux, and a new book

Here's the joint session proposal involving myself and Finnchuill of Finchuill's Mast:

The Vision Poet

Poets have held roles as seers and visionaries in many archaic and traditional cultures worldwide, performing and practicing as intermediaries with the sacred. In the modern era, certain poets reclaimed/reinvented the poetry of the see-er, including Arthur Rimbaud, the Surrealists, and later the Beats. Today some of us are reconstructing archaic seer-poet traditions like that of Gaelic filidecht, along with working within the modern visionary poet lineages mentioned. Listen to two poets, Erynn Rowan Laurie and Michael Routery, talk about these practices. Writing exercises will follow, so bring something to write with.

I'd also like to announce that my article "Since Feathers Have Grown on My Body: Madness, Art, and Healing in Celtic Reconstructionist Spirituality" will be published in Disability and Religious Diversity: Cross-Cultural and Interreligious Perspectives. It is due to be released by Palgrave Macmillan on October 25th. Sadly, they've misspelled my name on the web page, and I fear they may have done so in the book as well, but I emailed the editors today to (once again) ask that they spell my name correctly. We'll see what happens.

Despite the misspelling, I'm very excited by this publication. The anthology is from an academic publisher and should bring some attention to the CR community and our theologies from the academic community. My article addresses the geilt phenomenon and its similarities to manifestations of post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans and others, taking examples from Irish, Welsh and other literatures and discussing some of my own experiences as a veteran and how the geilta have been a helpful model to me for examining my own issues with disability and "madness."

In connection with this article, I was asked to speak on this topic at an upcoming University of Washington class on "Medicine, Illness, and Culture," being taught by a friend of mine. I'm looking forward to this opportunity. It will not be the first time I've spoken on PTSD, but it will be the first time I've spoken outside of a Pagan context about the geilt connection. It will, however, be the first time this article will be used in a classroom setting as study material, which I also find very exciting.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A new ebook! Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom

My book Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom is now available as an ebook from Smashwords. It's currently selling for $7 in a number of different electronic formats. Please feel free to pass the word to anyone you think might be interested.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A frequently asked question about ogam

A question that I get asked all the time is why I pronunce the word "og-um."

The name of the early Irish alphabet can be properly spelled two ways.

The more commonly seen modern spelling is ogham, pronounced "oh-am." The Old Irish spelling, ogam, is pronounced "og-um." Both are correct. You can use either or both. I prefer the "ogam" version, but that's purely a personal preference. It doesn't reflect on a person's knowledge of the system at all (unless they try to tell you you're wrong when you use one of those spellings or pronunciations).

Thursday, September 8, 2011

An update: the Esoteric Book Conference and my current writing

This weekend I'll be at the Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle.

I'm not presenting anything at this conference, but I'll be seeing many of my friends and acquaintances, both local and from further afield. My publisher will be there, as will Hex Magazine, which is reprinting my Amanita muscaria article from "Shaman's Drum" in its new issue, #9.

I've been hard at work writing this past year or so. A number of projects have been finished and turned in, including my piece on geilta and PTSD, which will be published in an academic anthology from Palgrave Macmillan late this year. My essay, "Since Feathers Have Grown on My Body: Madness, Art, and Healing in Celtic Reconstructionist Spirituality," will be published as chapter three of Disability and Religious Diversity: Cross-Cultural Narratives and Inter-Religious Perspectives, edited by Michael Stoltzfus and Darla Schumm.

My first piece of fiction, "Birth," is the opening essay in The Scribing Ibis: An Anthology of Pagan Fiction in Honor of Thoth from Bibliotheca Alexandrina. I was delighted to be included in this volume, which was released late last month.

My book A Circle of Stones: Journeys and Meditations for Modern Celts is going back into print from Immanion/Megalithica, the kind folks who printed my ogam book. It should be available sometime next year. I'm negotiating to have sound files available so that people will be able to hear the pronunciations of the Irish and Gaelic prayers involved.

I'm currently finalizing my finished draft of "Queering the Flame: Brigit, Flamekeeping, and Gender in the Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan Community" for an upcoming Immanion/Megalithica anthology on queer magic. I'm very excited by the work I've done on this piece and hope that it will receive some attention. This is not the only Brigid themed work I'm engaged in at the moment; an essay I'm working on for Scarlet Imprint's next anthology on sacred poetry, Mandragora, deals with Brigid as a totemic figure for sacred poets in filidecht, and themes of visionary poetry and burial/incubation/enclosure as initiatory. It's a lot of interesting material.

I'm also at work on an article for a new esoteric magazine, "Phosphorus", dealing with issues of racism, homophobia, and misogyny in certain segments of the reconstructionist movements, focusing primarily on CR's response to Steve Akins, his forgeries/plagiarisms, and his Stormfront connections. Both the Mandragora essay and the "Phosphorus" piece are due in by Samhain. Thankfully, they don't have to be very long. I'm currently at work on the local group's Samhain ritual at the moment, as well.

Once I've got those together and dealt with my notes for next year's PantheaCon, I'll be settling in to work on my book on Brigid and flamekeeping. I believe that I've mentioned this project here before: it will be based on my own flamekeeping practice, and on the liturgy of the CR flamekeeping group, Brigid's Irregulars. Much of the work I'm doing with all of this poetic and Brigid material will be tapped into for my trip to Ireland with the Sisterhood of Avalon next year. We'll be doing a pilgrimage to a number of Brigid sites, though details are still being worked out.

I should note that my friend Finnchuilll, of Finnchuill's Mast, is putting in a joint proposal to PantheaCon involving the two of us discussing visionary poetry and doing some work with writing and visionary exercises for poets and writers interested in both the Gaelic tradition of filidecht and the connections of writing and mysticism generally. I'm very excited about this potential session and hope that we'll be able to do this for the con.

I can't exactly give excuses for my spotty posting here, but I can say that I've been exceptionally busy this past year, and I hope that the results will be exciting for more than just me!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

PantheaCon Proposals, 2012

This year I've sent in proposals for two sessions at PantheaCon. The theme is "Unity in Diversity" -- a response, no doubt, to issues raised at last year's con over things like Wicca-centricity of discourse, and trans-phobia in ritual.

I received a request to do a session on Brigid and imbas, which I expanded into a more cross-cultural exploration. The result is this proposal:

Brigid and Sarasvati: Goddesses of Poetry and Inspiration

Imbas flows in many forms. Poetry, music and other creative arts lie within the purview of Brigid of Ireland. India's Sarasvati is similar to her in many ways. Join Erynn Rowan Laurie in exploring the mythic and poetic intersections between these two Goddesses and their poetic gifts to their devotees.

Last year, I was heartened by the presence and participation of folks from the Hindu community at the con. They are very interested in making common cause with Pagans and other polytheists regarding our mutual problems with the politicization of the Christian overculture in the US, and in fighting unethical and coercive evangelical tactics in India and other countries. Their words were powerful and their fellowship is greatly appreciated.

I've been very interested in Sarasvati for many years and I keep an altar to her as well as to Brigid in my home. The similarities between the two deities are, in so many ways, quite striking, and I thought it would be fun to explore these similarities with others who might find it of interest. That it fits so well with the con's theme this year is a lovely perk.

The other proposal I've sent in is also a response to a specific request. I've done talks at PCon about living a CR path, and about basics of constructing CR rituals, but there are a lot of people who mostly only hear what CR isn't. We don't use four elements. We don't cast circles. We don't invoke The Goddess and The God. One of these wanted to know exactly what it is that CR ritual looks like and what it does. It was an excellent question, and one that's rarely actually discussed online, at least that I've seen. As always, there's often just too much fear of the UR DOIN IT RONG contingent. I thought that, in this setting, we could examine the particulars and demonstrate what one local group is doing, hence this proposal:

Celtic Reconstructionist Rituals: A Look at the Nuts and Bolts

We will examine rituals used by the Seattle CR community as examples of ritual construction for vigils and shorter rites. With scripts in hand, we'll deconstruct these texts and the elements involved, and discuss how and why these rituals were created and how they evolved. These living examples can provide inspiration for creation of rituals for other local groups or individuals.

Naturally, I can only address what my local group is doing. Other groups in other places will be approaching things differently, but this will at least serve to illustrate actual ritual practices and show exactly what's happening and why.

I hope I'll see some of you at PantheaCon this year!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Aisling, Ársaíocht, agus Agallamh: A Modern CR Triad

Several new blogs have appeared in the past few months that would likely be of interest to folks who have read my (admittedly and shamefully infrequent) posts here. These include The Presence of the Past by Disirdottir, A Wolf-Man, Not a Wolf in Man's Clothing by Faoladh, and Finnchuill's Mast by Finnchuill.

Each of these individuals, all of whom I know and who are friends of mine, are approaching reconstructionist religions and, usually, Celtic Reconstructionist religions, as an enterprise that requires as much flexibility and attention to intuition and mysticism as it does to history and archaeology. Some people would argue that intuition has no place in reconstructionist religions, or that anyone who is researching or (horrors!) practicing more than one path can't be a "real" reconstructionist, but I would argue that the ancient world was filled with both of these ways of living and that a search for a pure, non-intuitive indigenous Pagan religion is unlikely ever to turn one up. People worshipping deities from multiple cultures happened all over the world without being the "dirty word" sort of eclecticism that some reconstructionists appear to hate, and it still occurs in many places, including in many modern reconstructionist Pagan households.

Pretty much anyone who has ever read my work knows that I am as much in favor of a mystic approach as I have been of an approach incorporating a necessary understanding of history, folklore, and the archaeological record. I proposed this when I originally founded the Nemeton email list as "aisling and archaeology." It's a phrase that still comes up from time to time in discourse with in the CR community, and I'm pleased that there are still some who remember that the concept is there.

In a conversation on Finnchuill's blog, on the post Revisiting the R Word, it was noted that an expansion of this duality needed to be brought forth and what needed to be included was "argumentation," not in the form of fighting about viewpoints, but in terms of discourse between people who might disagree but who still treat one another with respect for their knowledge and ability, as we see in The Colloquy of the Two Sages from the Irish literary tradition. In this text, two filidh fight it out for who will be the supreme poet. They each strive to gain that position, yet their discourse was a respectful one that acknowledged both parties and that they were both worthy to contend for the position. The conversation on Finnchuill's post is well worth exploring.

The triadic construction that was arrived at for the concepts we are discussing was Aisling, Ársaíocht, agus Agallamh.

Aisling is the power of vision. It's a word that means "dream" and is also one of the classes of tales memorized by the filidh in their studies. This, in the context of CR, could be classified as UPG, though aisling is a term recognized within Gaelic culture, where UPG is not. Dream, vision, Otherworld work and journeying, and oracular work all fit here. All of them were recognized and, in fact, necessary aspects of the original cultures and spiritualities of the larger Celtic world. Prophets, oracles, dreams, and diviners were an immensely important part of public life in Celtic cultures and, in fact, in all ancient cultures.

Ársaíocht is "antiquarianism" and fills in for "archaeology" in the original dyad; it stresses the importance of the past, of the physical record, of the textual and the problems of the textual within the tradition. It signifies history and tradition. It also explicitly implies (given the nature of "antiquarianism") that our knowledge of history and tradition is incomplete and ever-evolving as new discoveries are made and new theories in scholarship are proposed. Our understanding of the past is not static. When new information is brought forth, we must decide whether, or how, we are going to readjust our understandings and our practices.

Agallamh is the word used for a colloquy: a conversation, a discussion, a debate between those with knowledge that serves to generate a process of critical discernment wherein the other aspects of tradition and practice are brewed. Without learned discourse within the tradition, little can be learned and nothing can be fruitfully passed on to a new generation. This is the place where history and mysticism meet, where the insights of imbas are brought into practice, where ideas are examined critically and with respect for both the past and the needs of the present and the future.

All of these aspects must balance one another. Mysticism, history, and discussion are all important in the rediscovery and reconstruction of oral traditions like those of the Celtic peoples. If we lack one or more, we risk falling into different types of dogmas that can solidify into fundamentalisms; this is an undesirable place for us to be, as anyone can plainly see just by looking at everything happening in the world today.

Pagan literalist fundamentalisms are as appalling as any Christian or Islamic literalist fundamentalisms, even if we're not lobbing bombs at one another over it. We have to remember that "the lore says" is often just another form of "the Bible says," and remind ourselves that a phrase frequently found in that same "lore" was, "and other versions say..." The texts are no more flawless in their revelations of the Pagan past than are the various interpretations of archaeological sites that have fallen in and out of fashion over the decades.

It's obviously possible to fall too far into the idea that what we get from our practices of aisling and imbas should apply universally, but this is where agallamh will serve to curb the worst excesses and bring one back to balance. Individual practice has a lot more space in it for these things, but public and community practice can both be deeply enriched by inspiration. The answer is not to crush any and all manifestations of mysticism within reconstructionist religions because there is a risk that one might be wrong (by far the most common response I have seen), but to examine these manifestations both critically and respectfully in light of what is known, then make a decision.

Talk without action, study without practice, leads only to spiritual masturbation which, generally speaking, isn't pretty and should only be done in your own space with those who have consented to be present. Debate simply for the sake of debate, or argument just to stir people up, is useless and annoys nearly everyone. It certainly doesn't contribute to building either community or practice. If you're only going to stand there arguing, get out of the way while the rest of us do the work.

In the end, the practice of filidecht requires mysticism, the study of history, and discourse. A fili who was unable to access the Otherworldly spark of imbas was no fili at all.