Praises to Brigid

Something I wrote recently:

Praises to Brigid

Hail Brigid, thrice great, thrice powerful, thrice blessed!

I arise today in praise of You,
O Brigid.
For the blessing of water I praise You,
O Brigid.
For the blessing of fire I praise You,
O Brigid.
For words on my tongue I praise You,
O Brigid.
For skill in my hands I praise You,
O Brigid.
For cradle and hearth I praise You,
O Brigid.
For the protection of the fian I praise You,
O Brigid.
For justice for the weak I praise You,
O Brigid.
For healing for the sick, I praise You,
O Brigid.
For keening for the dead I praise You,
O Brigid.
For Your mantle around the Earth I praise You,
O Brigid.

Bíodh sé amhlaidh!

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My own sacred calendar

One of the many places where I differ from mainstream (Wicca-descended) Pagan practice is that I don’t celebrate the Wheel of the Year.  The reasons are many… but what it comes down to in the end is that most of the holidays don’t resonate with me- or the Powers that I follow.  Perhaps this should be filed in the “Paganism- I’m doing it wrong” part of my life, but really, this is the truth.  I can go on here about the historical validity (or lack thereof) of the construct, but that hardly matters to me these days.  It was different in my “baby Pagan” days, when most of the people I ran with still believed in the literal truth of the founding myths of Wicca.  Even then, though the Wheel was treated as a given part of my practice, some of the fests never resonated with me.  The difference is that I no longer feel guilty about it.

Some of the feasts still work for me, of course.  Imbolc is sacred to my Patroness.  Summer Solstice is the time for the Free Spirit Gathering, the festival I helped found, and more recently has become sacred for me to a certain Irish sea-god.  Samhain and the Day of the Dead is for those who have recently died, as well as my Ancestors.  And Yule is the centerpoint of the winter holiday season, the sacred time of renewal.

My current ruminations on this were sparked by John Beckett’s article on building your own liturgical calendar.  So I started thinking about what mine is currently, and what could be done to improve it.  I found his post inspirational but I disagreed with it parts of it- he suggests starting with the Wheel, and as I mentioned above that’s a non-starter.  But I like the idea of having a day for each of the Powers I have close links to.  I’ve gotten a start, but I need to add Fionn and Sulis at least.  Someone (it might have been PSVL) once suggested St. Patrick’s Day, but I think that might be a bit quixotic…  there’s also Simbi Andezo, but apparently the traditional day for the Simbis is Three Kings (Jan. 6th), and that works well for my current calendar- that’s the day that the winter sacred time ends for me.  I’ll have to remember that.

He also suggests “a day for yourself”, but I’ve got that covered.  My spouse and I celebrate each other’s “birth months”, because the fragmented nature of our lives and of those around us means that commemoration of our birthdays often takes place in a spread-out fashion.

I also incorporate some “secular” American holidays here.  July 4th I dedicate to the Mighty Dead of America.  The party I go to every year incorporates a ceremonial reading of the Declaration of Independence, something that is very powerful for me.  Thanksgiving is for home and hearth and connection to my living family, and also for gratitude.  And my spouse and I still celebrate Christmas- not for the birth of Yeshua, but as a celebration of giving and generosity.

So… very much still a work in progress, but it’s working for me so far…

“Fear” is the wrong word

I recently read a fascinating article on Atlas Obscura about the subject of “taboo deformation” (when we call something by a word that is not its true name).  I immediately had some issues with it.  On the surface, this doesn’t come as a great surprise- AO is a fascinating cabinet of curiosities, but the writing (and research) is uneven and not necessarily checked very well.  I signed up for an account there in order to be able to do a near-complete rewrite of the article on the Tortuguero Stela (a key piece of evidence used by promoters of the Maya 2012 phenomenon.

The article on taboo deformation doesn’t have that kind of problem, though. Instead, the author uses the word “fear” where they (in almost every case) should (also) be using “reverence”, “awe”, or even simply “respect”.

The article accurately describes the origin of humorous pseudo-expletives such as “dagnabbit”- an unwillingness to use the “true name” of something, especially while swearing. There’s a very good linguistic discussion of the process.  The author traces it back to (amongst other things) a curious phenomenon in many Western European languages- the word “bear” in English (for example) is not actually descended from the proto-Indo-European word for bear (*h₂ŕ̥tḱos, from which we get such works as “Arctic” and possibly even the name “Arthur”).  The bear is a powerful and dangerous animal, words have power, so people wanted to avoid invoking it directly.  But our of fear, or fear alone?  I think it’s more likely that this circumlocution comes from awe and reverence for something of such great elemental power.

Likewise, the substitution of (for example) “gosh” for “God” isn’t done out of fear but reverence or respect.  So is using “darn” or “dang” for “damn”- after all, damnation is a divine prerogative, and it would be disrespectful for mortals to tread in that area.  And changing “fuck” to “frick” (or my favorite, the Irish “feck“, although that one seems to be a bit more complex) or using the word “crap” instead of “shit”- that’s not fear.  That’s just skimming the edge of whatever society defines as polite language.

I think this points to an impoverishment of our language these days, probably driven by a similar poverty of the imagination.  Words like “awesome” have lost their original spiritual sense, and the idea that someone could revere and respect a powerful force of nature or the divine, as well as fearing it, just don’t seem to occur to most people, the author included.

LARP and Ministry (part 3)

So, now I’ve racked up two posts about playing a priest character in a LARP for over a decade, and how that affected my this-world ministerial and devotional practice.  The first post was about spiritual counseling, the second about exegesis.  This third, (probably) last but (I hope) not least post will be about creating and performing prayers and ritual.

One can gather from prior posts that I didn’t create this religion for the game, nor was I the first to craft rituals and devotional practices for it.  There was already an established outline for the standard religious service, with prayers and invocations for various occasions.  There was, as well, a funeral service and blessings for the dead (important indeed in a world where combat against monsters and dark forces was a common occurrence).  The writers introduced new rituals and prayers occasionally, on at least one occasion having me hurry about to collect certain items and set a specific stage without letting me know what it was for until just before the ritual was about to commence.

But I was also allowed a great deal of creativity.  In some cases, I was creating something that already “existed ” in the game, but had never come into play- there had never been an in-game wedding in our faith, and so it was my pleasure to write the outline for one.  For another example, the ecclesiastical letters that I mentioned in post 2 always contained an appropriate prayer or invocation written by or revealed to the founder of the faith.

On the other hand, I had established my character as having some interest in and skill at poetry.  I wrote a number of prayers completely, and adapted several others (from sources including St. Francis as well as Kipling).  I also brought a devotional dimension into the ritual of making someone aware of magic by adding a guided meditation that used an appropriate story from the founding of the religion.

The most obvious benefit to my this-world practice was in making my public performance more confident.  I’m an introvert with some social anxiety and shyness; having a “playground” in which to practice being a celebrant helped me when I was doing the real thing outside of the game.  And the creativity involved in crafting in-game ritual and writing in-game religious poetry also resonated with my general creative life; more concretely, the in-game prayers I was writing were generally rhymed and metered, which challenged me usefully (as readers of my poetry here may notice, I work in free verse most of the time).  And all of my creative work is dedicated to my Patroness first, though I think She’s amused and bemused by my LARP work…

Ursula K. LeGuin

Ursula K. LeGuin was one of the first writers I came across when I discovered fantasy fiction.  I found her Earthsea Trilogy fascinating in concept, absorbing in detail, captivating in character… and ultimately, disappointing in its philosophy.  Still, I hold a deep love for the second book, and the work as a whole sparked my early interest in Taoism.

She was a profound influence on modern fantasy and science fiction… John Scalzi described her as “the spiritual mother of generations of writers.”  She was an outspoken feminist and a strong believer in the moral and intellectual value of SF&F.  She believed passionately in the power of imagination to make the world a better place.

I can’t think of a more fitting epitaph for her than her own words:

“Only in silence the word,
Only in dark the light,
Only in dying life:
Bright the hawk’s flight
On the empty sky.

—The Creation of Éa”

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!

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.

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