Happy New Year!

Hail to the home-fires at the turn of the year,
To meetings and greetings, friends and good cheer;
To joy in the darkness and love in the light,
To family at table and peace in the night.
Our dogs are asleep and the cats, too (below),
And outside the grey wind fingers traces of snow.
As the slow-growing Sun gives up the short day,
And the last hours of this month tick swiftly away-
Though this last year was troubled, it’s true,
I wish you good fortune and health in the new!

Love and bright blessings to you and yours!

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Thoughts and Prayers

One of the things I’ve noticed over the past year (possibly brought to the fore by the large number of natural disasters in the U.S. and elsewhere, as well as the horrible world-wide refugee situation and the proliferation of mass shootings and terrorist attacks) is the amount of scorn being heaped on the frequently-repeated statement of “our thoughts and prayers are with them” (or its equivalent).

I think a lot of this is due to the knee-jerk atheism that seems to be hip these days.  Even in those who aren’t atheist, there seems to be a lack of belief in the effectiveness of prayer, in the idea that the divine can and will affect the material world.  And a lot of Pagans (and other people who believe in magic) seem to shy away from the idea of prayer in general because it’s “too Christian”.

There also seems to be a false dichotomy being set up- that anyone who offers “thoughts and prayers” in response to a horrible situation is just being lazy, that they’re automatically not actually helping in other ways.  That may be the case in some folks, but it isn’t in all.  Any good magician knows you need to act in the material and the spiritual world at the same time; every Pagan should take that principle to heart as well.

Also, sometimes, there is simply nothing else we can do.  Someone we know is in trouble- a messy divorce, a fatal illness, serious mental illness.  But they are far away, or their material needs are provided for, or we have no way to help them… or perhaps, our own stock of spoons is so low that we can’t be of material aid.  All we can do is tell them that our thoughts are with them.  It could be that just knowing we hear them and we’re aware of their pain will help them.

Finally:  I’m a polytheist.  I have, to use the Anomalous Thracian’s elegant phrase, “a religious regard for many real Gods”.  That means They can hear my prayers, and choose to act on them if They so choose.  When I tell someone, “you are in my prayers”, it is not trivial to me- or to the Gods.   It is a real and meaningful offer of aid, one that takes time, effort, and sometimes cost.

Hospitality and my tradition

One of the centers of my devotional practice is an eclectic trance possession group called the Universal Temple of Spirits.  Not going to go into detail here, but please feel free to explore the website and ask respectful questions in the comments.

Anyway, one of our central tenets and paths of service is Hospitality.  The way I see it working in our devotional ceremonies is that we create a space of hospitality, a warm and safe “feast hall” as it were, and we send out “invitations” to the Spirits that the mortal attendees want/need/have been told/etc. to invite.

The Spirits we invite are our Guests; it is their choice whether to show up or not, and to help or counsel or chastise or comfort; or to indulge in the song and dance, the food and drink; or to send Their “regrets” as energy or goodwill; or to not respond at all.  We are the Hosts;  it is our duty to make Them welcome and to provide for Them, to honor and praise Them, to heed Their words and respect Their wishes, and to be aware of how They want to interact with us.

It’s a delicate balance, though.  Just like in the ancient tales and myths that touch on hospitality, the Guests have duties, even though They are greater than us- noblesse oblige, perhaps, and definitely remembering not to abuse Their welcome.  And we as Hosts have rights as well- as John Beckett has said many times, we retain our sovereignty, even with the Gods.

LARP and Ministry (part 2)

So, in an earlier post I started musing about what benefit came from my playing a priest for over ten years in a live action roleplaying game (aka LARP).  It certainly honed my spiritual counseling skills, but that wasn’t the only thing.  It also gave me some useful experience with theological exegesis.

Let me give a little background here, without (hopefully) getting too deep into the nerdy details.  My character was a priest of a functionally henotheistic religion dedicated to the worship of the goddess who had created humanity.  The prime tenet of the faith was “Harm None”.  Sound familiar?  This made being an adherent of the faith somewhat… challenging, especially since the LARP setting was a dangerous, D&D like world full of monsters, evil cultists, lunatic wizards, demons, etc.  Obviously, a “turn the other cheek” or complete pacifist approach to this commandment would be ludicrous (and suicidal).

But one of the head writers for the LARP worked with me, and we turned this problem into an opportunity.  One obvious thing that I could say as my character was that the prime tenet applied only to fellow humans- monsters and other sentient races were not the concern of the goddess, so it was all right to fight them (and in fact encouraged in the case of those who were inimical to humanity).

But of course there were also brigands, thieves, and just generally nasty folk.  For this, the head writer and I resorted to a a more cunning plan- we created a series of letters that the human founder of the faith had written, explaining important matters to the first priests he had ordained.  And the very first one was about the “Harm None” commandment.

The founder wrote that the goddess preferred her folk to be peaceful, and to stop wrongdoers without violence, but when that failed, then she did not forbid violence.  It was incumbent upon people of faith to act in order to prevent harm- even if that meant causing smaller harm in order to prevent greater harm.  To fight bandits to stop them from murdering, to fight invaders to stop them from raping and plundering, to fight thieves to stop them from stealing from the weak- this was allowable.

But the goddess’s folk also had to judge- were they acting to cause the least harm?  Were they keeping violence as a last resort and not a ready tool?  And did they always remember that even a justifiable use of violence was in some way a failure, one that the user would have to explain during their post-death judgment?

The letter went on from there to explore topics such as reparations, forgiveness (both divine and human), even suicide. I did most of the heavy theological lifting on this, with the head writer providing important guidance, historical context, and suggestions.  It was challenging and fascinating, and it worked– I know for a fact that it restored the faith of one of the other characters who was a follower of the goddess- and blew the mind of the player as well.

The head writer and I went on to write (by current count) six more letters, dealing with matters such as free will, love and marriage, birth and death, etc.  Just to make things a bit meta, I got to read theses letters in character and do a further level of exegesis on them in explaining them to other characters.  The whole experience worked to greatly improve my theological thinking.  It was also a lot of fun.

The so-called “Maxims of the Fianna” (pt. 2)

As promised in my last post on the subject (long ago and far away though it is now), I’m finally getting around to the so-called “Maxims” themselves.  It’s Samhain night, a good night for tales of Fionn and the Fianna… As I mentioned before, they’re not identified in that way in the text (Rolleston appears to have inserted that subtitle himself, since it doesn’t appear in the translations… or in Lady Gregory’s version, FWIW).

They are, instead, a set of guidelines for a young warrior in service in a noble household. One could argue that this is not a situation that is likely to happen in the modern world, but they are instructions from Fionn himself, and so I feel they should be taken seriously. So, let’s see what we have here (using the Dooley and Roe translation); all of the comments are my own thoughts for modern application- I’m thinking out my own virtue system, so the ones mentioned are my thoughts (and perhaps some UPG), not meant to correspond to any existing set:

“Be peaceable in a great man’s house” If you’ve been given hospitality, don’t get rowdy or start fights with other guests. Virtue: Hospitality.

“Be hardy in the wilderness” Have some basic survival knowledge. Virtue: Resourcefulness

“Do not beat your hound without cause, nor libel your wife without proof” Virtue: Temperance.

“Avoid the fool in battle, though he be frenzied.” Choose your fights. Virtue: Temperance

“Do not mock the holy man” Virtue: Piety

“Nor be involved in quarrels” This may seem like an impossible task in this day and age, but perhaps it could be applied this kind of situation. Virtue: Temperance

“Keep well away from these two, the witch and the evil man” In context, I take “witch” to mean “worker of bad magic”… ‘ all apologies to modern-day Pagans… So, basically, “you’re known by the company you keep”. Virtue: Integrity

“Two thirds of your courtesy to women and the household servants” In the context of the text, this seems to be noblesse oblige; I can interpret this as being good to those who might be taken for granted. Virtue: Kindness

“Be kind to poets, the makers of art, and the common soldiery” You could make a triad of these, naming them as supports of freedom. Also, more practically, three groups of people you don’t want to have mad at you… Virtues: Kindness, Piety (especially towards the first two)

“Do not take the best seat away from friends and advisers” Be good to those close to you. Virtue: Loyalty

“Avoid false and crooked oaths” Virtue: Honesty

“Do not welcome everybody” This may seem to go against hospitality, but if you know someone is bad… Virtue: Integrity

“Do not boast overmuch, nor offer what you cannot rightly give;
For grand words are shameful if nothing result.” Virtue: Temperance

“Do not forsake your overlord for as long as you live,
For gold, silver, or wealth do not betray your guarantor.” Virtue: Loyalty

“Avoid blustering complaint to a lord about his household;
A good man has no business libelling retainers to their lord.” Nobody likes a complainer and a tale-teller. Virtue: Integrity

“Keep from constant gossip and lies, and from impetuous speech;
Though you be generous, deride none in public.” Nobody likes a gossip, either. Virtue: Integrity

“Do not frequent ale-houses” Virtue: Temperance

“Nor be unkind to an old man” Virtue: Kindness

“Listen to words of good counsel” This will be what you get from the friends and advisors mentioned above, if you treat them well. Virtue: Resourcefulness

“Have no truck with the rabble” Choose your company and your inputs well (e.g. don’t read forum comments on YouTube 😉 ) Virtue: Temperance

“Be a listener in the forest, a watcher on the plain;
For you do not know – this matters – if your enemy lies in wait for you.” Always be on the look-out for good intel; it’s worth its weight in gold. Virtue: Resourcefulness

“Do not be mean with provisions, or be a miser’s friend” Virtues: Generosity, Hospitality

“Do not impose yourself on a great lord” Don’t be a suck-up or a parasite. Virtue: Integrity

“Do not speak ill of great men” If they’re truly great, that is… Virtue: Integrity

“Have your armor and weapons ready for the outbreak of sudden battle” Virtue: Resourcefulness

“Do not be mean with your wealth” Virtue: Generosity

“Be constant with your courtliness” It never hurts to be polite. Virtue: Kindness

So, even taking into account my disclaimers at the beginning of this post, you can extract the following virtues from the “Maxims”: Hospitality, Temperance, Resourcefulness, Piety, Honesty, Loyalty, Kindness, Generosity. Not bad…

 

Magnetic Poetry

We collect fridge magnets.  Not obsessively, but occasionally… they make great compact keepsakes to bring back from our voyages, and some artists use them as a convenient medium for small pieces.

At out cabin, we have a sampling of the usual mix, plus several different “magnetic poetry” collections- including Shakespearean words and a selection of phrases from The Onion.  This has led to many odd sentences and slogans spread across the doors of the refrigerator there.

This weekend, however, something different happened.  There were three magnets- one with a Brigid symbol, one with a picture of Her, and one with a Celtic cross.  I moved them so that there was a little space cradled between them, and challenged myself to come up with something appropriate from the remaining words.  I did… and then, after pondering the result, She told me to write the rest of the poem:

My Lady’s fire can make drunk
The coolness of this world- only pour out
And see: Her well contains the flame,
Her forge flows with the inspiring drink
Of poets. Petal upon petal, Her flowered
Aspects unfold from either, both, other;
And as hearth flicker and struck spark
Flash across the earth, springs burst forth
From every hidden hollow; water, blaze,
And the hand of Art all strive, all proclaim
The power of Her name to a waiting land.

(The part up to and including “And see” are from the magnets…)

Cousin Bat

Those who know me know that I like (am mildly obsessed with) bats.  There are many reasons, not the least is that they are an Important Animal to me spiritually – I’m not going to use any more specific terminology because I don’t want to make any claims that I don’t have backup for.

They also, unsurprisingly, flitter into my poetry:

Cousin Bat

What are the ways to sing praise of the night-flyer?
Not hard: emerging at sunfall’s call, they dive,
Flickering through light-cones, prey-hunting, or
Skim swift past our heads, sure of course, seeking
To feed on pests, unwanted crawlers; or they sip,
Hovering daintily, at secret flowers, night blooms,
Blessing each with pollen from the last; or they spread
Seeds, a worthy outcome of fruit-greed: jungles
Regrow from their dung. Cunningly concealed by day,
Carrier away when the sun is gone, so loved by Nature
They arose twice, independent; soaring a six-foot span
Or hiding thumb-small in river caves; solo slumbering in leaves
Or spiraling in their millions to flow against the moon-
Wondering words as many as all their wings would not be enough.

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