Welcome to a more or less Celtic Reconstructionist blog, where love of the Old Gods is still strong

Samstag, 25. Februar 2012

Doubt in its Many Forms - and Fiction

For this week’s post, I was quite at a loss of what to write about. With yesterday’s discussions in the PBP Facebook group about the concept of Drawing Down the Moon, I was thinking about writing on discussions and disagreeing, since I’m doing my PhD on impoliteness. But the members of the PBP mainly are very friendly folk, hence as to not rant about some issues any more than I have done in private – and this is where some rants belong, IMHO – today I’ll be talking about doubt.

My trusted Oxford English Dictionary says that doubt is “the (subjective) state of uncertainty with regard to the truth or reality of anything; undecidedness of belief or opinion. With pl.: A feeling of uncertainty as to something. spec. uncertainty as to the truth of Christianity or some other religious belief or doctrine (freq. pl. and occas. personified). So in essence, every time you’re unsure about the truth of your path and practices, you’re in doubt.

There are many forms of doubt, and I guess most of us have experienced it in one form or the other.
First, there’s doubt carried over from other religions, as some PBP members have expressed in their posts. For me, Christianity was never deeply engrained in me to doubt the validity of my new path, but I assume that for those people growing up or having grown up in a very strict, very Christian environment, it can be a major problem. In cases like these I hope that soul-searching and speaking to other pagans will help lessen the doubt. 

Then, there’s doubt that can arise when speaking with other pagans, as their practices are sometimes quite different from one’s own, e.g. some might have a connection to many gods and commune with them on a regular basis, while others who lack this connection might question themselves.* 

 I sometimes doubt whether I’m right in believing in something at all since quite a lot of my friends are atheists who like to point out that
a)      new findings in brain science can explain some features of our practices, like the use of the pendulum (which, I’ve been informed, works by tiny hand movements that we’re not aware of – however, IMO, the pendulum still works as a tool to make us aware of our unconscious wishes/goals, even if it’s us who lead the pendulum into movement);
b)      the Bible and other religious texts are not scientifically correct, and hence, the whole system built upon it is faulty (one friend, A., is very vocal about the Bible, but possibly it’s because their knowledge of this text is greater than say, that of the Edda); and
c)      with reference to Richard Dawkins (and potentially to 9/11), they stress that religion is dangerous. To which I like to reply that a lot of things and concepts can be used for good and bad ends – e.g. nobody would dream of outlawing football just because some hooligans use it as an excuse to be violent and attack others on the grounds of belonging to the wrong team. 

But, the thing is – even if it all is just in my head, where’s the problem? At worse, I’ll be hopping about in a long grey robe lighting candles for imaginary deity, so there’s no real harm done, I guess. And secondly, even if you can explain which neurons are firing when we’re having religious experiences, this doesn’t make these experiences less true and meaningful for us. After all, if you found the “neurons for love,” you wouldn’t say that love didn’t exist and that it was a vain and dangerous effort to be in love with somebody. And isn’t believing sometimes similar to being in love with our gods?

But for me, doubt can at least come in one more form, and that is in the form of fiction. I guess I’ll have to explain this further: During the PBP, I read a lot of great posts on Heathenry (see the source section below for some of them). Remembering my interest in Heathenry when I was about 15, I planned on going back to read Midgard, a fantasy book by the German authors Wolfgang and Heike Hohlbein, since this was the text that sparked my interest in the first place. 

You might wonder how a fantasy book can make me doubt religion – especially since it says on the front page that the book is the authors’ “own fantastic interpretation” of the Norse mythology – but it did anyway.
First of all, I had almost no knowledge whatsoever of the Aesir when I encountered Midgard, and it took me the best part of the next 10 years to see where the authors had actually changed the myths; sometimes, IMO, unnecessarily so (let’s just take the fact that in their account, Skidbladnir belongs to the Norn Skuld). This is obviously my bad, but it did make me doubt how much of the myths – if anything at all – I could embrace.

Second, then, the authors make the gods sound quite different than the lore. For example, Thor is presented as a brute who just cares about his hammer and bashing peoples’ brains out with it (especially Loki’s); and Loki’s description just concentrates on his betrayal. And 15-year-old me didn’t want to contact any gods that sounded like mentally challenged, one-dimensional children. 

But third – and worse, IMO – the authors decide to have the main character (who is 14, btw, so in no position to make such wide-sweeping claims) realize that the Aesir are gods, but not the gods of mankind. So my interest in the Norse myths imploded, so to speak, because They weren’t my gods anyway. 

Fast forward 10 years, and I did realize that we can indeed have fulfilling relationships with Them (however, I still shy away from some, because in my mind Baldur is still a douchebag, and Odin, well, His presence still scares me). Re-reading the book, I actually had some fun in realizing where the myths had been changed. But I also wanted to slam my head against the wall at some points, since what I hate most as a fiction writer is sloppy writing. For example, the main character flees from Surtur’s dungeons, the hot stone in Muspelheim burning his bare feet. A couple days in the flight he reaches Helheim, where bone splinters covering the ground sting painfully through the soles of his shoes – which he wasn’t wearing when he fled Surtur’s dungeons, and as far as I’m aware he didn’t stop at a shoemaker’s between Muspelheim and Helheim...

Hence, I resolved not to let a sloppy fantasy book dictate what I can or should believe in. Instead, I’ve started reading Galina Krasskova’s Exploring the Northern Traditions to foster my relationship to Thor and to reconnect with my 15-year old self interested in the Norse tradition – after all, my hometown does have a Woden’s Oak.

Blessed be,

* This week’s post at http://steviree.wordpress.com/2012/02/25/d-is-for-deity/ incidentally talks about Deity and the writer’s lack of close relationships to Them; hers is, I think, a very healthy attitude without letting doubt rule.


some great Norse blogs:
Gangleri’s Grove: http://krasskova.weebly.com/
If you also have a Heathen blog or know one that could interest me, please leave a comment!

Hohlbein, Wolfgang & Heike. 1987. Midgard. A fantastic story. Wien: Ueberreuter.

Krasskova. Galina. 2005. Exploring the Northern Traditions. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books. 

brain image: http://img.mit.edu/newsoffice/images/article_images/20110126153814-1.jpg

Freitag, 17. Februar 2012

Daily Devotions

After being more or less of an armchair pagan for the past years, I finally decided to tackle an area of paganism that I hadn’t touched upon yet – that of daily devotions.
Much to my chagrin, however, my trusted copy of Kondratiev’s The Apple Branch – as helpful as it is in other parts of our practice, e.g. seasonal activities, – let me down here. Neither did my other reference books, like the Big Blue Book, provide helpful insights. This is quite an interesting fact considering that most 101 books actually tell you to foster your relationship with the divine – they just fail to tell you how, apart from going into full-blown ritual, it seems.
So here’s a list of things I did find, as well as things that I’d like to try, time permitting.

1) To start with, we can say daily prayers to the divine. Cunningham, in his Living Wicca book, lists some nice ones, but they are too generic for me as a hard polytheist in that they are addressed to God and Goddess. One that I do enjoy, however, is one that you say as a grace before meals:
Goddess of the verdant plain;
God of sun-ripe grain;
Goddess of the cooling rain;
God of fruit and cane;
Bless this meal I’ve prepared,
Nourish me with love.
Bless this meal I now share,
With You both above. (Cunningham 1997: 63)

A modified version, saying “we” instead of “I” (since I hardly ever cook for only myself), hangs in my kitchen so that I remember it. And I find I really do need this little reminder, since I grew up in a liberally Christian household; while some of my family were and are devout people, praying is considered a private matter, and so we never say grace at the table.
I also love the following prayers for greeting the sun and the moon that I found in Kindling the Celtic Spirit (a great resource for season-appropriate activities and meditations, by the way): 

To the Sun

Greeting to you, sun of the seasons,
As you travel the skies on high,
Strong your steps on the wing of the heights,
Glorious mother of the stars.

You sink down into the perilous ocean
Free from fear and harm;
You rise up on the gentle wave
Like a young queen in flower. (Freeman 2001: 212)

And here’s the one to the moon: 

Queen of the Night

Greeting to you, jewel of the night!
Beauty of the skies, jewel of the night!
Maker of the stars, jewel of the night!
Foster-child of the sun, jewel of the night!
Majesty of the stars, jewel of the night! (Freeman 2001: 212)

What I find intriguing about these is that both the sun and the moon are seen as female – for my German-thinking mind, this is interesting as in my mother tongue, only the sun is female.
Anyway, I like structured prayers and I’m not too good in spontaneously making them up, so I’m thinking about getting a copy of the Book of Pagan Prayer. Does anyone know or own it and can recommend it?

2) Daily rituals that we can do to strengthen and balance ourselves include the following:
- We can centre and ground ourselves daily to get rid of negative energies. I like to use a visualisation of myself as a tree, with branches stretched out to the heavens and with my roots firmly planted in the earth, but use whatever works best for you. Another way that I found helpful is to do the sun salutation, but I have to admit that I’m too lazy early in the morning to do yoga ;-)
- We can cleanse ourselves daily, either by bathing/showering, or simply by washing our face in the mornings/evenings. This can easily go together with a short affirmation, as I’ve read some people in the PBP do; however, I haven’t quite established a working routine yet, so I can’t give any helpful hints here.
- Meditation also intrigues me as a daily practice. I’d like to set aside a few minutes each day to try, but my day isn’t structured enough at the moment to make it work.

3) Daily devotions that help us develop a closer relationship to the gods and nature can include:
- A daily offering of flame and/or incense (personally, I love incense, but I don’t want to bother my husband with it every day). Telesco (2000: 148f.), for example, has a nice little ritual. Freeman (2001: 18) also recommends having a seasonal candle. Mine is sitting on the kitchen table; we leave it burning whenever we sit down to have a proper meal. In case you want to try it out, Freeman’s colour associations are:
white for Spring
green for Summer
yellow for Autumn
red for Winter
- I’ve also read of people giving daily offerings of bread. While I love the idea, especially if it’s self-baked bread, I still haven’t figured out where to dispose of the offering – the trash is too irreverent, but I don’t have a yard, or for that matter, any patch of earth nearby. So I’d be grateful for any ideas.

4) While I’m still struggling to find a working daily practice, my weekly one is fairly thought out. I’ll give offerings of flame to my gods in a specific order:
on Mondays, a green candle for my matron Anann
on Thursdays, a red one for Thor
on Fridays, a blue one for my patron Manannán
I’m also planning on incorporating the Morrighan, but I haven’t found an appropriate day yet. Her candle will be purple, however.
I’m also considering painting my toenails green in honour of Anann (this lovely idea stems from gleewood.org; a great resource for any seeker, by the way).

 5) Looking through my resource books yesterday, I was fascinated by a suggestion to get up with the sunrise once a month and dance (Telesco 2000: 150). I’m not a morning person at all, though, so I guess I’ll have to give it a pass.

I totally didn’t plan on this post to be that long, so I’ll quickly end with some wise words by Galina Krasskova (2005: 179): “In  reality,  that’s  the  key  to  spiritual  emergence:  consciously  centering one’s life around the Gods. Everything else is decoration.”

Cunningham, Scott. 1997. Living Wicca. A Further Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn.
Freeman, Mara. 2001. Kindling the Celtic Spirit. New York: HarperCollins
Kondratiev, Alexei. 2003. The Apple Branch. A Path to Celtic Ritual. New York: Kensington.
Krasskova, Galina. 2005. Exploring the Northern Tradition. A Guide to the Gods, Lore, Rites, and  Celebrations from the Norse, German, and Anglo-Saxon Traditions. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books.
Telesco, Patricia. 2000. A Charmed Life. Celebrating Wicca Every Day. Franklin Lakes, NJ:
The Career Press.


Samstag, 11. Februar 2012

Church – Leaving or Staying?

A couple weeks ago, a dear friend of mine told me that she had finally decided to leave the church. She has been a practicing Wiccan for several years now and she feels that finally, it is the right time to leave behind Christianity for good and enter a phase of her life in which she will be openly pagan. For her, this is a very important step. A mutual friend is organizing a “leave the church” party for her to commemorate this rite of passage. 

This got me thinking about why I am still officially a member of the Catholic church and if I shouldn’t leave the church behind with her. After all, about 15,000 people from the diocese that my city belongs to have decided to leave the church in 2010. So why shouldn’t I be one of them?

To be honest, I have more than enough reasons to leave:
First, I simply do not believe in the Christian god, so there’s no real point of me in belonging to a church that praises Him. After all, I’d also leave other clubs when I don’t agree anymore with their tenets.
Second, I don’t agree with how the Catholic church especially handles some issues, for example the participation of women in the service or celibacy. Don’t get me wrong here, I have nothing against people who decide that they want to lead a celibate life; I just don’t feel it’s right to make it obligatory for every priest, especially when the numbers of those who want to take their vows are plummeting.
And third, I’m reluctant to finance said institution by paying church taxes, since the largest amount of the money is not used for charitable causes, but for the priests’ salary.

However, while I admire my friend as well as the 15,000 others for doing what feels right to them and for not caring what society will think about it, I still feel reluctant to leave the church.
For one, I don’t have to pay said taxes yet, as I’m still a student. So my stance on the issue might well change when I’m entering the working life at some point in the future.

And more importantly for me, as much as I disagree with Catholicism, it is the faith in which I was born and raised, so in a way it formed who I am today. Moreover, I’m wondering if I would actually benefit from leaving. After all, since Paganism isn’t a recognized religion in Germany, I doubt that I could put “Celtic Reconstructionist” or even “pagan” on my passport where it says “religious affiliation” (and I wonder if that would be a wise choice anyway, as some application forms, e.g. the one that assigns you a place for your teacher’s training, still require you to enter your religion).

And finally, Catholicism is my family’s faith. My dad was a more or less devout person, and my great-grandma used to pray for our family every night. In this sense, Catholicism is still our family faith, and I feel that as a member of my family, it is important to honour this even if I don’t belong to the faith any longer. In a way, this is what honouring your ancestors means for me: not just to honour the rites of our pagan ancestors, but also – and more importantly – to honour those of my family who have just passed on, as well as the rites of my elders.

So how do you handle this? Are you still part of a Christian church, or have you left long ago? And what are your reasons for leaving or staying?

Freitag, 3. Februar 2012

Christian Paganism

For today’s post I’d like to address quite a controversial topic: that of Christian Paganism, i.e. people who feel connected to or practice both a form of Christianity as well as a form of paganism.
While I have quite a strong opinion on the topic myself, I by no means want to offend anyone, especially those who actually practice Christian Paganism. Instead, I’m very interested in others’ opinions.

Looking at the OED (the Oxford English Dictionary; as a linguist, this is where I turn for definitions), we find that paganism means:
“A religion other than one of the main religions of the world; spec. a non-Christian or pre-Christian religion, esp. considered as ancient or primitive. Also: the religious beliefs and practices of such a religion; the state or condition of non-Christian people; heathenism.”
Add to this my own understanding of paganism, i.e. belief in multiple gods (not necessarily of a polytheistic nature) and concepts of magic or such diverse ones as blood offerings (which, I know, you don’t have to practice to be pagan).
For me, this sounds very different from – and quite contradictory to – the Christian concept of monotheism and the acceptance of Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. So my question is how these two different belief systems can go together at all.

From a CR perspective that is mainly informed by Alexei Kondratiev’s work, I can actually see a way of how this could be accomplished. For once, Kondratiev saw himself as a Christian despite writing about topics that are distinctly pagan in nature. And apart from this personal perspective, Freeman (2001: 203) quotes poems from Irish monks and hermits in the early Irish church, which express a deep love and one-ness of nature; these sentiments for me make up part of my pagan practice.

“Glen of the sleek brown round-faced otters
that are pleasant and active in fishing;
many are the white-winged stately swans,
and salmon breeding along the rocky brink.”

One could also argue that Christianity, especially in Ireland, builds on existing belief structures; compare, for example, a story in which St Patrick turns into a deer to escape capture (Freeman 2001: 74). A better example, perhaps, can be found in Brighid, who lives on as a Christian saint with quite the same attributes as her pagan counterpart: at least in Scotland, both reigned over fire and art, as well as the birth of spring (Freeman 2011: 55). Here, it would be interesting to see whether worshipping the saints does not indeed come close to a form of polytheistic practice. 
Also in other countries, old customs live on next to (but at times contrary to) Christian ideology; just take the maypole as a fertility symbol, or the well-known fact that many religions have a saviour or son of the light born at or around the time of the Winter Solstice.

However, if we follow the Bible, God does not seem to want His followers worship other gods beside Him. I have to stress here that I’m currently reading the Bible, but have only progressed as far as Deuteronomy. Yet what I’ve read so far speaks very strongly for a certain position (but if you’re more informed than I am, please feel free to point out flaws in my argumentation!).

The Bible indeed seems to acknowledge the existence of other gods, as stressed in Exodus: “Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15: 11). However, the Judeo-Christian God doesn’t seem to like these other gods much, as He stresses that “thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20: 3), and says: “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me” (Exodus 20: 5).
And in a later passage, the existence of other gods is negated: “Unto you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD he is God; there is none else besides him” (Deuteronomy 4: 35). Hence, when Jesus is asked which commandments one should keep, the one pertaining to other gods is not among the ones He names – He just refers to commandments like ‘thou shalt not murder,’ (Matthew 19: 16) which any morally sound person should follow, be they Christian or not.
So in my understanding, if you accept the whole Bible as true (for you), then being a pagan at the same time does not seem to be possible.

And there are other areas apart from worship of other gods where I see difficulties.
First, there’s the Bible’s attitude towards divination, witchcraft etc. I don’t have to quote the famous passage for you to understand my point.
Also, the brand of Catholicism I was raised in postulated quite a different relationship of humans and God, since the priest acted as a negotiator between God and the congregation to the extend that we weren’t even allowed to partake of the wine during Mass. But then again I guess you could put this down to my town’s priest and simply different requirements, so to speak, of the Christian and pagan god(s). 
And finally, I wonder how the concept of original sin (as well as the fact that Jesus died for our sins) and the concept of going to hell can be integrated into a pagan perspective. I’ll leave out the concept of Satan here since I know quite a lot of Christians myself who don’t have a strict concept of the devil.

To finish this off, I’d really like to know if one of you either is a Christian Pagan or knows someone who practices it. How does it work out for your personal practice, and also for your relationship(s) with those of either faith? Which ritual formats do you use? And how does the perspective of two (at least in my point of view) fairly different religions inform your relationship towards deity?
Also, if you think that the concept is not for you, at all, I’d like to know your reasons why.

Blessed be,

The Bible. King James version.
Freeman, Mara. 2001. Kindling the Celtic Spirit. New York: HarperCollins.
poem originally in: Jackson, Kenneth. 1951. A Celtic Miscellany. London: Routledge and
Kegan Paul.
for Kondratiev’s views, see e.g. Kondratiev, Alexei. 2003. The Apple Branch. A Path to Celtic Ritual. New York: Kensington.

Mittwoch, 1. Februar 2012

Imbolc Altar 2012

Blessed Bridget comest thou in
Bless this house and all of our kin
From the source of Infinite Light
Kindle the flame of our spirits tonight
Lisa Thiel - Imbolc (Candlemas Song)

Blessed Imbolc!
Today was quite an important day since this was the first ritual I did since last year’s Midsummer, where I dedicated myself to my matron, Anann. And I have to admit that without the blog project, which really got me thinking about my spirituality, today’s ritual probably wouldn’t have happened, so thank you Rowan for giving us this great chance!
And second, today was the first ritual I did in a – more or less – Celtic format. I’m still a bit overwhelmed by the beauty of it. For me, this framework works much better than the Wiccan one I’ve been using before, and now I’m fairly sure that I’m on the right path.
Also, I discovered that using Irish when addressing my gods helps me to feel closer to Them. However, I really have to brush up my Irish – I kept addressing Manannán as “mo mháthair,” which means “my mother” in English... but I had the feeling that He was quite amused when I realized it, laughed out loud and finally referred to Him – correctly this time – as “m’athair,” “my father.”
But now to the pictures of my altar:

Usually, my altar sits in the bedroom, but today I chose to hold my ritual in the living-room on the beautiful sun carpet my husband’s grandma made for us. Around the carpet I placed nine candles (I guess watching The Craft influenced me a bit here). It created a beautiful atmosphere, although I was afraid that I’d set my white dress on fire any minute (so as a note to self, I really need to make a decent, non-flowy robe), and although during my greeting to the nature spirits, one of the glass candle holders burst. I decide to read this as a sign that the spirits were indeed present ;-)

front: The little porcelain swan on the left is my symbol for Anann (She is also represented in the picture leaning against the candle). In the front, I’ve placed my offerings: cornmeal for Anann,  the best gin I own for Brighid and an apple for Manannán. The sea shell is a fairly recent addition; Manannán only entered my life a short while ago.
middle: a bronze bowl I use for burning incense, my wand (found by my little brother when he was out playing), and my candles.
back: my chalice, a candle-holder with my “working candle” (this one I use as a tidying-up spell, which is why it isn’t lit), and my treasure chest; originally it was a my great-grandma’s jewellery box, but I use it now for storing my incense.

Blessed be,

Lisa Thiel – Imbolc (Candlemas Song): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLncBl32W2k