Prayer to Brigid

Your hands on mine, Your flame surrounding me,
I ache with the sunlit joy of Your presence.
Bright Star of the Morning, teach me to be still,
To be steady, to faintly follow Your path
Heralding the dawn, drawing up the sun
From the gentle mantle of the night.
Let me find the ways to be aidful in places
Of pain, whether strength of arm or back or will
Is needed; or instead (deceptively simple) to be
Silent, calm, standing there steadfast,
A guidepost, a mirror, a warm hand in darkness
Or cool water from the well on lips or brow.

History, Paganism, and St. Patrick

I happened across this very interesting article the other day:

Pagans, Polytheists, and St. Patrick’s Day

The author raises some very valid points about the rise of Christianity in Ireland, and how it (from a historical perspective at least) doesn’t seem to match many narratives provided by myth, legend, and (it must be admitted) by the Pagan  community itself.  They go on to point out that the historical Patrick is hardly an inquisitorial boogeyman or fire-and-brimstone crusader.  I can also agree with the need to reconcile my polytheistic self with my monotheistic ancestors.

But the author underplays the role of Patrick in the Christian myth of Ireland.  Whether or not you buy into the “casting out the snakes = casting out the Druids/Pagans”, the mythic and symbolic function of Patrick is that of the foe of Irish paganism, an overthrower of idols, a curser of kingdoms. The author says that this is outweighed by the cultural role of Patrick in holding together the Irish diaspora.  If this was just a matter of culture, I would agree… but religion is not just (or even mostly) that, at least not for me.  I’m not a reconstructionist, I’m a relational polytheistic Pagan, and the mythic weight of Patrick means that he doesn’t work for me as a symbol.

Besides, the historical Patrick wasn’t even Irish.  Brigid, who with Her holy fire bridged the gap and exists in both Pagan and Christian worlds, is a much better path of reconciliation.  My devotion to Her is already known to anyone who reads this blog, so I admit my bias- but do not apologize for it.

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:
Mann
    Mannan
    Manannán
    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!

Ezili Freda

Disclaimer: I’m not a vodouisant. My experiences with the lwa have been primarily in the context of Global Spirits ceremonies. Anything I say in this post is based on those experiences and on UPG, and is only tangentially relevant at most to Haitian Vodou practice or belief.

Ezili Freda is a lwa concerned with love, beauty, abundance, the feminine, and many other things. She has been part of my spiritual life for some years now (how this happened is a subject for another post), and when she shows up at UToS services, she almost always interacts with me.

Anyone who knows me should not be surprised that I wrote a poem for her:

Freda

Surrounded by a thousand splendors, she weeps
(Heart stabbed with a jeweled dagger),
And all the riches we heap at her feet
Cannot hold back the storm. Not so much
For what we offer (or how we fall short)
But for what is not- all the lost gems,
Sparkling teardrops, moments and hours,
Caresses and words that never manifest;
Beauty or truth or love withered or unspoken,
The wonder that could be, if only, if only…
That is enough reason to fill each hot salt drop,
Yet her heart breaks, too, for us-
Our turned backs, closed eyes, shuttered hearts.
She sees, in vivid, almost painful glow,
The true wonder we mostly miss. Her tears fall
For herself, for the world- and for us.

9/30/2009

A common aspect of a Freda possession, if it goes on long enough, is that she begins to weep, to sob inconsolably, as if her heart is breaking. I’ve seen it, and it is truly affecting… It’s that sort of crying that makes you want to do anything to make it better, to make her feel better. But you can’t. Nothing can stop the tears, and she sobs until the possession ends.

One meaning of this is that nothing is ever good enough for her, that she wants a perfection we can’t achieve. The goalposts keep moving. The last time this happened at a ceremony, I had a sudden realization: this is similar to the way I feel when dealing with my beloved’s depression- I can’t fix it, I can’t help. We had been going through a particularly bad patch around that time, and the revelation broke me for a bit. Freda saw this, and immediately shifted gears; she held me and comforted me while I cried, and somehow it was better. I have learned now that I can call on her to help me when I’m backed into that sort of corner.

For me, there’s also what I was trying to say in the poem- that she is weeping for all the love and beauty that never makes it, or that we miss because “the world is too much with us”. And there is another important lesson here:

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

If we get bound up with making every last detail exactly right before we do something, we may never do anything. If we get hung up on everything being photo-realistically the way we planned it, we will not be ready when the inevitable randomness of the world intrudes. If we try to control all our experience, we will distort it. And in the end, we will end up weeping in the midst of riches that we can’t see through our tears.

The secret is to do. Get everything as lined up and prepared as you can, certainly; do the best that you are capable of doing, absolutely. Push outside your comfort zone- “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp — or what’s a heaven for?” But at some point you need to say “Enough”- to go ahead, and trust in the spirits and in your path, and accept the downpour and the falling petals as part of the whole. And always, always, remember why you are doing what you do.

And because we, the lwa (and all the Powers), and spiritual truth itself are all multiple and multifaceted, all three of the above interpretations (and many more) are all real and right at the same time. Isn’t that beautiful?

Aye Ezili Freda! Ayibobo!

Being Batty: Polytheism, Experience, and Monistic Reduction

Being Batty: Polytheism, Experience, and Monistic Reduction

An excellent and thoughtful essay on worldviews, polytheism, and the problems inherent in privileging monism.  The comments are so far well worth reading, too.

Also, bats.

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