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

Donnerstag, 26. April 2012

Is Irish important for CR?

Dia duit!* In today’s post I’d like to explore the issue of language in a recon faith. Should we learn the language of the culture that our Gods and Goddesses stem from? What about older stages of this language? Or can we safely conclude that, since the Gods have contacted us miles away from Their original places of worship, we don’t have to bother with another language at all?

For me, the question didn’t really apply – I already spoke some Irish when I met my patron Manannán. It took me about a year of university courses to accomplish the basics, but I find it was time well invested. On the one hand, I love the Irish culture, so it was natural for me to study the country’s original language. On the other hand, as a recon I feel you should learn as much as possible about your deities’ culture, and language for me is a very important part of that (for those who haven’t guessed yet, yes, I’m a linguist^^).

Learning any new language is a worthwhile enterprise, in my opinion. When you’re speaking a different language, you’re more immersed in a different culture and also in a different way of thinking about things. For example, Turkish requires you to use different grammatical forms depending on whether you’ve witnessed an action yourself or whether you’ve just heard about it (Zimbardo/Gerrig 2008: 293). So essentially the language requires you to think about things you wouldn’t normally consider when speaking English – the same applies for languages like Irish, where you don’t “have” a name but a name is “on you” (Harzgeist an t-ainm atá orm = Harzgeist the name [which] is on me). 

For me, using Irish in ritual has a totally different feeling (see my post about my Imbolc ritual, where I used Irish in a ritual for the first time). I feel much closer to my Gods when addressing them in Irish terms – e.g. I’d call Manannán “m’athair,” which is the Irish for “my father.” In a way, this feels like the most natural thing to do. And finally, sharing a language with your Gods creates a special kind of community and intimacy.
Obviously, when you’re addressing your Gods, you don’t have to sound like a native-speaker of your chosen language. I see it more in the vein of making an effort to learn a few phrases if you’re going on holiday to a different country.
However, being a linguist and all, I beg you to try and get it as right as possible for you. I agree that some languages are difficult to pronounce when you’ve had no prior contact to them or to a similar language. So for example, for an English speaker trying to learn German, some sounds are quite difficult to produce – and I guess most English speakers have heard Germans struggle over the “th”-sound. So I guess if you’re teaching yourself how to speak another language, some mistakes are inevitable. But instead of sitting back and saying “well, I can’t get it right anyway, so why bother?” think of it this way:

If you had a friend from a foreign country, you’d also try to pronounce their name correctly – not because someone has told you to, or a book said so, but because you respect that person and because their name is an important part of their identity. So since our Gods are also our friends, mentors, or family, in my opinion we should take the time to at least learn to pronounce and spell Their names correctly out of respect for Them.

Still, when you’re a professional writer or organization, you should aim at the maximum level of correctness that you can manage – after all, people do rely on books and websites to e.g. find out how to pronounce their Gods’ names correctly. For example, the Norse Solitary Ritual Template on the ADF website used to read “Naturgeisten, ich danke Sie!” as an address to the land wights. However, the correct German (which they’ve now included, thankfully) is “Naturgeister, ich danke Euch.” We don’t have to go into German grammar here for you to see that there’s a difference. Just imagine the horror in my language-loving mind, picturing rituals using butchered grammar ;-) And I still cringe at the ritual’s pronunciation guide (there’s an IPA for a reason, you know?).

However, even I find that there’s only so much you can do as an individual. In his book The Apple Branch, Kondratiev (2003: 91-96) includes invocations for the four directions in four different languages, without any pronunciation guide whatsoever. There is an appendix for the English translations (Kondratiev 2003: 291f.), but even with my knowledge of a Celtic language I couldn’t manage to read out the Scottish invocation without horribly butchering it, much less the Welsh or Breton ones. Being skilled in six Celtic languages (Irish, Scottish, Manx, Breton, Welsh and Cornish) is just not possible for somebody who can’t learn languages easily (and has a day job), since it’s very time-consuming, takes an awful lot of dedication and sometimes is only do-able if you attend university courses - language centres in your city won’t offer courses in Manx, while a university department might.

So, summarizing my rant: I think learning the languages of your Gods’ culture is a very worthwhile experience that might bring you closer to your chosen culture and also foster a new and closer relationship with your Gods (imagine how you’d feel if your friend/loved one made the effort to study your language – you’d be pleased, wouldn’t you?). However, in contrast to Kondratiev I suggest that far from acquiring native speaker-like skills, learning the most important phrases and pronunciations correctly will be enough for most of our ritual practice.

While my post centred on Irish, the question obviously extends to other recon faiths – is speaking Greek important when you’re devoted to Zeus? Should you learn German, Swedish, Norwegian or Icelandic when you follow the Northern and Germanic gods? I’m debating learning at least one of these in honour of Odin (Who I address in German, by the way). But first on my ever-growing list of languages to learn is Polish, since my grandma was born in Poland. And I’m looking forward to calling her and saying “Hello grandma, how are you?” in her language. 

After all my ranting, I’m interested in your opinion. Do you speak the language of the Gods you follow? Do you think it is necessary at all?

Blessed be,

* “Dia duit” is an Irish greeting, roughly translated as “God to you.”

Kondratiev, Alexei. 2003. The Apple Branch. A Path to Celtic Ritual. New York: Kensington.

Zimbardo, Phillip and Richard Gerrig. 2008. Psychologie. München: Pearson Studium. [German edition]

Online Sources:

Samstag, 21. April 2012

Harzgeist's Harvest Stew

For this week’s H post, I’ve decided to share with you my recipe for a harvest stew that I prepare each year at the autumn equinox. Actually, this is my longest-going spiritual practice since I made the first stew in 2008, shortly after reading my first introductory Wicca books. Needless to say, the recipe has progressed through various incarnations since then. But that’s the beauty of it – if you’re out of one ingredient, you can just as easily substitute another and/or experiment with different vegs.
Note: this is the vegetarian version of the recipe; you may just as well include meat like beef or pork. 

Ingredients (this makes a stew for about 4 hungry people):
a pumpkin (Hokkaido or something similar works best; I wouldn’t use butternut squash) – alternatively, use two smaller ones
about 8 potatoes
2 bell peppers (I normally use one red and one yellow pepper, but any colour will do)
2 carrots
2 courgettes
6 tomatoes
a handful of mushrooms
1-2 onions
as much garlic as you like
1,5-2L vegetable stock (alternatively, you can use beef broth if you’re a meat-eater)
tomato purée to taste
salt and pepper

How to: 
You can start by assembling all the ingredients on your kitchen table (or wherever you usually chop your vegs). Take a moment to perceive and reflect on each vegetable – what does it smell and taste like? What shape does it have? Do you know where it usually grows?
Then, thank the Goddess (or Whoever you feel is appropriate for the occasion – for me, it’s my matron Anann) for the bounty She gives us in the harvest. You may also want to extend your thanks to the rest of your life – in which other areas has the Goddess given you bountiful harvests?
When you’re done communing with the Goddess, start by cleaning your vegs.
Peel your vegs and chop them up into nice little cubes (potatoes, onions, peppers, tomatoes, garlic) or slices (carrots, mushrooms, courgettes). Cut the top from your pumpkin(s) and hollow it out – you won’t need the seeds.
In a big saucepan, heat 3-5 tbs of oil. Let the onions and the garlic roast for about 1-2mins, then slowly add your vegs, starting with the potatoes. Let them roast gently for a bit, then add carrots and bell peppers. Let them roast again, then add tomatoes and courgettes.
Pour in vegetable stock and let simmer for about 5mins. Add pumpkin and mushrooms and let simmer for about 25mins.
If you want to, you may add some meat substitutes now.  
Add salt, pepper and tomato purée to taste.
Cooking times may vary depending on how many vegs you’ve used.

Serve your stew with some slices of buttered, home-made bread. Put some in a bowl for the land spirits if you honour them, or place a bowl of stew on your altar to share with your Gods.

Blessed be,

All photos © by Harzgeist.

Dienstag, 17. April 2012

Holidays - Learning from Non-Pagan Celebrations

When I was staying at my family’s for the Easter holidays, I realized two things – one I talked about in my last post on gospel songs and paganism. The other is that we can learn a lot about each other by attending spiritual services of other faiths, and also enrich our own pagan practice.

My family has always been Christian, although not overtly so – my great-grandma would pray the rosary every week, but privately, and my gran also prays by herself each night. Since my dad passed on three years ago, however, my mum quite often attends services with my little brother (8) and me. As I don’t live at home anymore this usually this happens three to four times a year around the holidays, i.e. Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and potentially the service held in summer at a local site in the mountains.

So today I’d like to talk about the last Easter service I went to and what I learned from it.
First of all, I find that attending a Christian mass once every so often is a good and easy way to remind me of the core tenets of Christianity. Not that I’d forget that Easter commemorates the occasion of Jesus rising from the dead, obviously. Instead, the sermon reminds me not only of what is celebrated, but also of what it means for believing Christians. For Easter, this would be a sense of hope pervading all aspects of their life, and a belief that they, too, will rise one day to be with their God. Hearing sermons like these and understanding what it is that Easter means for Christians helps me to see parallels to my own pagan faith. 

the altar of the church my mum attends

This brings me to my second point, i.e. that once I see that the sense of hope Christians feel at Easter is similar to the hope and joy I experience during the spring equinox ritual, I might be able to better explain to friends and relatives what it is that I celebrate and believe in. So when I can show that while I do not believe in Jesus, I do focus on hope and the good things in life (that is, not on courting the devil and eating little children), we might have some common ground – and if we cannot agree, maybe we can at least peacefully co-exist, knowing that the other’s beliefs are not too far from one’s own in a sense.

The third and main aspect that really struck me during this year’s Easter service is that in my own pagan practice, I really do miss the sense of community. On the one hand I’m quite happy to be a solitary practitioner, since my schedule is quite messy at the moment and I don’t think I could find time for a regular meet-up; and I also want to explore more of paganism in general before settling for a certain group’s way of doing things.

But on the other hand, I really do miss feeling a community spirit. In my mum’s church, the congregation gathers in a circle in front of the altar for the holy communion, and you can partake of both the wine and bread (my dad’s Catholic church, where I used to go to when I was young, only had the priest consume the wine, so this is a really interesting experience for me). After everyone has partaken of the bread and wine, you take your neighbour by the hand and the circle is blessed by the priest or priestess. This sharing of bread and wine, to me, is closer to Jesus’ original idea than the Catholic practice that I grew up with, and it also reminds me of the fact that you’re not alone, but celebrating your faith together with others. 

Also, I simply love singing with others to praise God. While I’m quite happy with my own singing voice, it just doesn’t compare to a whole church packed with people singing well-known gospels.
And finally, I miss having a proper ritual structure. I do like to experiment with how I do ritual. However, I find that once you have a set structure you can concentrate better on what the words and gestures mean to you personally instead of fretting about getting the next ritual step right. Also, a fixed structure gives me a sort of comfort, because no matter where you enter a church of a certain denomination, the structure will be the same (or very similar, at least) and you can feel instantly at home.

So how can I adapt the things I miss into my practice?
I talked about the gospel songs last week, so I’m not going to go into detail here. As to the community aspect, I’m planning on asking a Wiccan friend of mine if we could celebrate some of the sabbats together. While I’m not Wiccan myself, I guess our core beliefs are close enough for us to get a meaningful ritual structure that we could work with. Another friend has asked me whether I’d do a little pagan ceremony on our annual Walpurgisnacht trip up the local hill (Walpurgisnacht is the night between April 30th and May 1st, i.e. the German version of Bealtaine), so if all present are fine with it, I might share some bread and mead with the group.
And as to the ritual structure, I don’t have a perfect solution just yet, but since the structure I used for my spring equinox ritual worked really well, I might use it again for the next sabbats and see if I want to stick to it.

As a conclusion, joining my Christian relatives in church is a good way for me to see what they believe in and celebrate on their holy days, and it also gets me to reflect about the current state of my own faith and how I can make my celebrations be even more to my liking.

Do you have other thoughts about attending mass (or the services of other faiths, depending on what faith your relatives adhere to) together with your family? Do you do it at all, and if not, why? 

Blessed be,

Montag, 16. April 2012

Gospel Songs in Paganism?

Today, I’d like to share with you an experience, or rather a realization, that I had while I was attending the Easter service together with my mum this year. The church she attends has quite a lot of songs that I enjoy, and I found I really loved singing along with the congregation.
I’ve also been a member of a gospel choir during my time in England, where I went twice a week – sometimes more often, when a concert was approaching – to sing songs praising God. But it only occurred to me during this Easter service that there hardly are any gospel songs that we can sing as pagans.

Obviously, there are quite a lot of songs with a pagan theme, often written and sung by pagan artists. For example, I do love the work of Damh the Bard; his rendition of the Raggle Taggle Gypsy never fails to make me smile, and his The Spirit of Albion gives me goosebumps quite often.

However, apart from a song by Kellianna called I Walk with the Goddess there is hardly a truly pagan song I know that comes close to gospels like, say, Elvis Presley’s rendition of Working on the Building that I could use during ritual. 

The fact is that I love music, so naturally I would like to use music to celebrate my gods. While chants can be very powerful when used in ritual, I’m looking for gospel-like songs that were written for the praise of our gods and that you can sing along to. For me, there’s a certain challenge in getting the key and difficult bits in a gospel right, so I’d like to be able to give a well-sung song as an offering, so to speak.

However, I don’t feel that using existing Christian gospels and changing the lyrics is appropriate, in a way. I do appreciate the efforts by e.g. the German Asatru-Ring Frankfurt, who have quite an extensive library oflyrics – either Christian-themed songs changed to fit pagan rituals, like their Yule songs, or modern pop songs changed to incorporate pagan and Heathen ideas. For example, there is quite a nice Heathen version of Dolly Parton’s Jolene titled Wotan (Heart of You), directed at Odin. My problem is, however, that you’d have to find an instrumental version of these songs to use them during ritual (as much as I like Mrs Parton, I don’t want her to sing about Jolene when I try to devote a song to Odin – and if I don’t have musical accompaniment, I go terribly off key, and no God wants to hear that, believe me).

I also tried to change the lyrics of a song I learned in the gospel choir (it’s called He Reigns; a version of my choir performing it can be found here).
While I managed to get as far as
“Our God is an awesome God, 
He reigns from Asgard above”
the next line that says “with wisdom, power and love” wouldn’t quite fit my view of Odin (wisdom, yes – love, not so much); and besides, “Asgard” wouldn’t quite go into the metre anyway.

So essentially, what I really miss at the moment are gospel-like songs that are pagan-themed – or at least neutral enough for me to use them during ritual. Are you familiar with any songs that I might enjoy?

Blessed be,