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; 4) that we are capable of judging the gods and their actions as much as if not more so than vice versa; 5) 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.


W&P #32 – Polytheism

I just finished reading the Polytheism issue of Witches and Pagans, and it’s a winner.*  As well as a mind-expanding essay by Edward Butler and good solid pieces by Gus DiZerega, Galina Krasskovka, Niki Whiting and Silence Maestas, there was an excellent letter from John Beckett on what makes religion work.

* Of course, I’m also happy that there’s a review and a poem by yours truly in it… 😉

Many or One

Many or One

Her hand turns, the wheel (Her cross) spins,
And Mystery revolves into view.  Many Faces
Of one Power?  Many Voices in one Choir?
I do not, cannot know.  All I can say is:
Each Name- Healer, Warrior, Muse, Midwife,
Smith, Hearthkeeper; Exalted and Keening,
Flame and Well, on and on into mist and flicker-
Is unique, yet each is also Brigid.  No
Choice of mine which way the chance falls,
But Hers to decide; the road of approach,
The easy and the hard paths all are
Hers in this; and if after I pass from Time
To Her embrace I am indulged by Her and
She chooses to whisper the riddle’s
Answer to me, that’s enough- I will wait.

Word sonnet for Simbi Andezo

Galina Krasskovka recently introduced the concept of word sonnets on her blog.  So I decided to do one for Simbi Andezo:

Simbi Andezo





[Something I wrote a couple of months ago…]

We cannot do this: see the world as They do-
Somewhat removed from time, suspended in
A suffusing, after-storm light, wet gold
In the west; a renewal even at sunset,
A promise more freighted with subtle awe
Than a rainbow; a pregnant peace, cloud-
Formed magic on high meeting the damp below.

Or as She sees it, as all Muses do-
All things as words to a poem, parts
To the greater work, fuel or tool or
Metal ready for the forge; gems to set
Just so, refracting; the shape emerging
Under patient hands, carved or pulled
Or picked out by paint, shaded into life.

But They cannot (choose not?) to touch direct
The world of hours; upswing, downfall,
Chrysalis-change; our senses are the ones
To take in this dust and delight, our hands
The only to mold the mortal; They may guide, order,
Even drive our actions, but our blood, brains,
Will and thews are the means of making.

They make masks

They make Their masks from us-
Our deepest thoughts, words
New-forged in our souls’ fires,
Kindled by Them in our heads.
We change; how dare we say
That They do not (or cannot)?
It is not we who alter Them-
They choose anew the parts of us
To make Their faces, add and
Subtract us as They will, while
We learn to hold still, stop
To listen and see, to prise
Open the least peephole into
The camera obscura, that Their
Chosen image may be printed
Upon us, catching dustmotes
In a beam too bright to bear.

Paying the Rents

As I mentioned before in this blog, earlier this year some eejits stole a statue of Manannán Mac Lir from its place in Ireland.  I have to wonder about the intelligence of some people… pissing off a sea god when you live on an island sounds like a very bad idea to me.  But I digress.

Galina Krasskova dedicated her blog to Manannán in February, and there was a wonderful outpouring of devotion to him… including a poem from yours truly.  Amongst the other offerings, there was a lovely ritual by Sparrow, based on the Manx custom of paying the rents to their patron deity at MidsummerFree Spirit Gathering was coming up, and I saw that Saturday there would be Midsummer’s Eve.  Perfect.  I did some divination, and was disappointed to find that doing the ritual myself was contraindicated.  But then I recalled Sundance, a fellow member of the Universal Temple of Spirits, had a strong connection to Manannán, so I did another divination: should the both of us present the ritual?  The answer this time was a resounding “Yes!” We submitted the proposal and were approved, so it was time to come up with an outline.

Camp Ramblewood is a lovely and powerful place, and the land spirits there are very supportive.  So is the Free Spirit Gathering spirit- this year was the 30th FSG, and the spirit has grown and changed with the festival itself.  We chose a location down by the lake- a water connection seemed right (although the actual Manx ceremony takes place on South Barrule Hill on the island).  There was a bridge over the narrow part of the lake that we decided was perfect to make the offerings from- since Manannán is a psychopomp and gatekeeper to the Otherworld, a liminal space like a bridge over water just made sense.

Of course, we had to modify the outline when we got there- there was no longer a sandy beach, so we dropped the idea of drawing triskeles and other appropriate symbols in the sand.  We also dropped the parts involving people standing in circle and holding hands- there were several mobility-impaired people who attended, so we let people sit or stand as they felt best.

Here is the outline as it actually went:

1. Sundance used her rattle to define the sacred space and we invoked the Ramblewood spirits and the FSG Spirit

2. We spoke our names in turn

3. I had everyone close their eyes while I did a brief “place-setting” guided meditation and read the poem I wrote

4. Sundance showed around the symbol on the Isle of Man crest and explained the motto

5. I sang the song “C’raad ta’n Ree?” (Where is the King?) three times through while everyone concentrated on the symbol.

6. We passed around a chalice of Atlantic seawater so everyone could offer a prayer or libation to Manannán.

7. Sundance led us in a chant while we made our offerings.  It was very simple yet powerful, starting out with:
    Manannán Mac Lir
Sundance encouraged it to go into a swirling call-and-response that was very much like the sound of waves crashing on
the beach…

8. We gathered back together and I did a brief “come back” and then closed with my variation on an old sailor’s hymn:

    Come all you bold sailors wherever you’re bound
    And always let Manannán’s proud mem’ry go round
    And pray that the fighting and the tumults may cease
    For the greatest of gifts is a sweet lasting peace
    May the Gods put an end to these cruel old wars
    And bring peace and contentment to all of our shores

9.We then closed by thanking Manannán and the “locals”

Sundance and I thought things went very well, and we got a lot of good feedback.  The visualization and invocation felt like it had opened the way to Manannán’s presence.  His trickster nature was brought in by some of the participants, and especially manifested when we trooped onto the bridge to make our offerings- we didn’t know that it was on pontoon supports, and it started heaving like a ship on the waves!  I learned the songs well, and managed to deliver them clearly enough that people could sing along (not an easy thing with lyrics in another language).  We were left with a feeling of blessing and rightness.  Sundance and I are definitely planning on proposing it for FSG XXXI.

Our most sincere thanks to Galina, Sparrow, the members of Gaol Naofa, and the Manx and other Gaelic folk who’ve kept the traditions and memories alive over the centuries.

Hail Manannán Mac Lir!

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