Honoring the ancestors of my profession

In my day job, I’m a software developer.  I was fascinated by computers as soon as I discovered them, and ended up graduating with a degree in “business” (i.e. not computer science) programming.  I’ve worked in the field for over thirty years now.  I honor the ancestors of my profession- people like Charles Babbage and Lady Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing, Admiral Grace Hopper

Recently, I’ve been geeking out on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, including through the excellent BBC podcast 13 Minutes to The Moon.  I just finished the episode covering the guidance computer and those who created and programmed it and… well.  My life has been shaped in many ways by the wonder of the space program; it and science fiction literature were profoundly formative influences on my imagination and creativity.

But that episode made me realize how much the space program shaped my career.  The Apollo guidance computer pioneered the use of integrated circuits (ICs) in computers, and the Apollo program itself consumed 60% of the world production of ICs.  The very term “software” came to prominence because of the program, and the modern principles of software engineering came out of the work of Margaret Hamilton and others involved with Project Apollo.  You could say that without undue hyperbole that the modern computer industry was born in that time.

So, it’s pretty fair to say that my career wouldn’t have existed without the trailblazing work that the computer scientists, software engineers, and programmers who were behind the Moon landings were doing, around the time I was born and into my early childhood.  They (and their families), like many others in the project, paid a great cost for that triumph- long hours, isolation, marital and familiar stress, health issues.  I honor what they achieved, and the doors they opened for me.

Hail to the ancestors of my profession!

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Bealtaine and Fionn

So, a while ago I posted an entry describing my personal sacred calendar.  In it, I mentioned that I wanted to find the right day to honor Fionn, but nothing had come to me yet.

Flash-forward to a few days ago, when I found myself ruminating on the approach of Bealtaine, and the fact that it never really resonated with me even when I was keeping the standard Pagan Wheel of the Year.  I mean, I honor both the sacred sex aspects of it, I like the Maypole dancing and the singing, and I realize the deep power and mystery that lies there… but it just isn’t personally significant to me the way it is to others.

But then it hit me:  Bealtaine is the beginning of the “summer half” of the old Irish year, when the fianna would  leave their winter quarters to go back to living on the land, hunting and fishing (and making trouble, on occasion)- and Fionn is the king of the fianna.  And what was Fionn’s first creation after he had gained the salmon-wisdom?  Why, a poem praising Maytime!

May-day, season surpassing! Splendid is color then.
Blackbirds sing a full lay, if there be a slender shaft of day.
The dust-colored cuckoo calls aloud: Welcome, splendid summer!
The bitterness of bad weather is past, the boughs of the wood are a thicket.
Summer cuts the river down, the swift herd of horses seeks the pool,
The long hair of the heather is outspread, the soft white bog-down grows.
Panic startles the heart of the deer, the smooth sea runs apace-
Season when ocean sinks asleep- blossom covers the world.
Bees with puny strength carry a goodly burden, the harvest of blossoms;
Up the mountain-side kine take with them mud, the ant makes a rich meal.
The harp of the forest sounds music, the sail gathers-perfect peace.
Color has settled on every height, haze on the lake of full waters.
The corncrake, a strenuous bard, discourses;
The lofty virgin waterfall sings a welcome to the warm pool;
The talk of the rushes is come.
Light swallows dart aloft, loud melody reaches round the hill,
The soft rich mast buds, the stuttering quagmire rehearses.
The peat-bog is as the raven’s coat, the loud cuckoo bids welcome,
The speckled fish leaps, strong is the bound of the swift warrior.
Man flourishes, the maiden buds in her fair strong pride;
Perfect each forest from top to ground, perfect each great stately plain.
Delightful is the season’s splendor, rough winter has gone,
White is every fruitful wood, a joyous peace in summer.
A flock of birds settles in the midst of meadows;
The green field rustles, wherein is a brawling white stream.
A wild longing is on you to race horses, the ranked host is ranged around:
A bright shaft has been shot into the land, so that the water-flag is gold beneath it.
A timorous tiny persistent little fellow sings at the top of his voice, the lark sings clear tidings:
Surpassing May-day of delicate colors!

(source)

So tomorrow I’ll light His candle, pour Him a drink, and read the above poem and one of His tales.  And I’ll build on that from there.

Happy Bealtaine!  Hail Fionn MacCumhaill!

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Praises to Brigid

Once upon a time, there was LiveJournal.*  I haven’t posted there for over a year, but I was digging through my account and found this (from twelve years ago, almost exactly:

Because I have dreamed of beauty

Sing within me, oh perilous Muse,
Bright mistress of my soul’s fire;
Your mantle lies still swirled around
This world- warp and weft embedded,
Emblazoned in the lines of light,
Dragon-fire in the deeps of the land.
Untie that knot of memory, return,
Descend in imbas into my secret self;
Set your flame within my head
That I may frame, focus it in words,
Blaze it in beauty through the land.
My heart is always home for you.

Mighty Brigid, threefold Flame, my Muse of Fire, how can I praise You enough? You are the blaze on the hillside, the whisper in the well, the shield of the house. Your spirit inside us inspires- guides the healer’s hand, the smith’s hammer, the poet’s pen. You set the cool head aflame with ideas, seeds of bright beauty that sprout and grow, entwining all the green and grey and blue of this fragile world.

Bright Arrow of Fire, Victorious and Gentle One, when have You not been near me? I have been a hawk above a cliff, a hound on the trace, a salmon in a pool. I have been father, mother, son, daughter, infant and aged, dead and alive and neither. I have made worlds, shaped them, ruined them. Above and beyond and within, You have been with me through all of it. On my left and on my right, before and behind me, above and below me, within and without me- I am always in the compass of Your glory and grace.

Thrice-shining One, Beauty of the Upper Airs, Hearthkeeper and Comforter, accept my thanks. Guide my art, grant me imbas and imagination; let me draw compassion from Your well; make me sure in the works of my hands.

Light-casting, Triumphant Brigid, mighty and gentle, nine times hail!

Essay on Brighid from the IMBAS website

 Brigid, the Energy of Creation

*It was a good place to write various things, and to communicate with friends.  But it started to wither for various reasons, and then the Russian company who bought it moved the servers to Russia, and most of my friends ditched it wholesale in the face of various (IMHO legitimate) concerns.  I haven’t deleted my account, though I haven’t posted in over a year.

Imbolc 2019

Into the ice wind and snow sting, I trudge
A path to ring my neighborhood, layering
Another fine line of fortune around the land.
Your fire in my deep within leads me on,
Your song (one of so, so many) drives
The rhythm of my feet. Wearing red,
I carry Your flame; engraved above
My heart is Your sigil. I warm
To my task, returning home to light
Your candles, offer You mead and music
And a story that is litany to You.
The cold-bringing winds cannot quench
This blaze; whatever the season, You
Whisper this blessing in my words.

Faith and Mystery

A few years ago, I picked up a fascinating (and often frustrating) book called The Shark God, by Charles Montgomery- a man who discovered that his great-grandfather had been a missionary in the South Pacific, and who decided to go there to retrace some of the stories he’d heard, and seek out the magic that might remain there.  Fascinating, because of the sympathetic depiction of a pre-Christian culture struggling (sometimes more successfully than not) with Christianization and Westernization, and also because of the real spiritual mystery that Montgomery sometimes found there (including an enigmatic encounter with the titular being).  Frustrating because of the narrator’s bumptiousness and occasional insensitivity, and because of the sense of so much lost to time and missionarial depredation.

But the author also was forced to do some deep thinking about the nature of myth, faith and mystery, and (although his brain was being periodically boiled by malaria… he never once mentions taking antimalarial drugs either, the twit), he comes up with some points well worth considering:

As soon as you stand apart from myths, divorce them from faith, pick apart their function and their origins, you become like an anthropologist, like Frazer peering through his ancient texts.  You may be fascinated and amused, but you will never see ghosts, or magic, or the hand of God, because you have stepped outside the realm of faith.  People say that religious fanatics are blinded by their faith.  Evans-Pritchard asserted that there is something just as blinding in rationalism.  You must make room for mystery before you can reach for it. [p100]

He sighed.  “Look, our knowledge of truth, the truth about that which is life-giving and eternal, it exists beyond the bounds of rationalism.  Faith carries us closer, but in the end we can’t describe it.  We just don’t have words for it.  At the end of the day, we are reduced to telling stories about that mystery.  That’s what I know.”[p305]

Faith, mystery, the Gods- we must be humble if we are to approach them successfully.

Outside Time

I reread Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising every year, starting on the solstice and ending on Twelfth Night (the duration of the book).  It’s an important book to me, full of magic and wonder, and I count it as one of the influences that set me on the path to Paganism.

There’s some things in it that are even more relevant to me now than when I discovered it.  An example is this quote, from the chapter titled (of all things ) “Christmas Day”:

“Everything that matters is outside Time.  And comes from there and can go to there… the part of all of us, and of all the things we think and believe, that has nothing to do with yesterday or today or tomorrow because it belongs at a different kind of level… all Gods are there, and all the things they have ever stood for.”

This rings true for me, and not in just a metaphorical or archetypal sense, either.  Although we incarnate into bodies that experience time, we have an eternal part.  And the Powers exist mainly in the eternal, although they can reach into time to interact with us and the world.

Myths and the gods

The Shakespeare Theater is doing an adaption of the Oresteia (compressing it to one play of three acts) this season, and reading the notes on it in the season guide got me to musing about the nature of myth, especially in regards to the mythic portrayal of the gods. It’s fashionable these days to comb through (for example) the Greek myths and point out (with an odd combination of salacious humor and prim outrage) the “awful behavior” of Zeus.  And too much of the urban fantasy these days portrays the gods and spirits as just people with powers (if not spoiled superchildren or divine vending machines), and treats them flippantly or disrespectfully.

I think a lot of modern Western humanity’s arch snarking about the subject (and an underlying discomfort that causes it) comes from a number of modern, Western ideas:  1) that the gods and their motivations and plans are entirely knowable by and comprehensible to humanity; 2) that every situation allows us to make the right choice that leads to a good outcome or the wrong choice that leads to a bad outcome; 3) that we are capable of judging the gods and their actions as much as if not more so than vice versa; 4) that humanity is the crown of creation, the apex of evolution, and the master of its own fate…

All of these ideas are false from the polytheistic point of view.  Yes, myths can be re-interpreted (with respect), and the gods change the way they work with us as we change and are changed.  One real change about the modern era- it seems to be possible (though not for everyone) to ignore the gods… but if you choose to interact with them, and also try to hold onto any of those ideas, you’re in for a rude surprise.

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