Friday, November 03, 2006

All That is Green and Good

Some of the most profound teachings and aspects of the Old Ways are the simplest. The modern occult world, so used to complexity in "ritual" and rigid forms of rote ceremony and worship, has colored modern forms of religious Paganism with a strange expectations. In much the same manner that people who come from "high" Christian backgrounds (like Catholicism) often cannot adjust to the more minimalist forms of prayer and worship common in low Protestant churches, modern Pagans seem to have a subconscious need for their theologies and rituals to have more structure than perhaps is necessary. The result of this is a feeling of dis-satisfaction with very simple rituals or devotions, and a suspicion of modern Pagan theologies and worldviews that are not "complex" enough.

The influence of the old Hermetic and Cabalistic societies on modern mainstream Paganism is profound- the "LBRP" or the "Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram" and the "Opening by Watchtower" which was the cornerstone of nearly every ritual expression in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn has found it's way, heavily altered, into modern Wicca, and from Wicca to many strands of Paganism.

Today, your chances of finding a "Pagan" group that doesn't start its rites without praying or chanting or tracing odd symbols to the "four quarters" or the four directions, are not good. "Calling the Quarters" is almost cliche now, and practically omnipresent in modern Pagan liturgies. And it's always something that I found a difficulty with.

The founding mothers and fathers of the modern "reconstructionist" Celtic movements were some of the first people to dispense with the "quarter calling" logic of mainstream Paganism. Their reasons were good; they found much evidence to support a Triune system of seeing the "realms" of the world; as opposed to a "four element" system, visualized through a Greek-Hermetic lens, they looked to the traditional Celtic "Oath of the Elements" whereby men and women swore by the Sky, the Seas, and the Earth.

The "Three Realms" appear in other places as well- a trinity of realms: Land, Sea, and Sky. It not only captures the great "triskele" of Nature, but it aligns the thinking of people to the inexhaustible power of Three. Three is a most powerful number and spiritual concept; without Three, no manifestation is possible. Without at least three legs, no stool or table will stand; without at least three legs, no cauldron will stand; three are the child, mother, and father; and where Land, Sea, and Sky meet, there life is formed.

Look at the world to see this simple fact shown: The fertile Lands of Europe, green and forested, are perfect mixtures of the earth, the waters, and the sky above. Lands where one of the realms is lacking are barren- such as the scarcity of water in the desert. In deserts, where Land and Sky are dominant, and the watery realm, or the "Sea" realm is far weaker, life has a harder time, though it is not absent.

If you were to go above our atmosphere, where air is lacking, you may find watery and earthy materials floating in the void, but without the Sky, the life-giving airs, what shreds of life can survive out there?

The Three Realms idea is very organic and easy to align yourself to, wherever you go. As I said, some things that are most profound are also the most simple. A simple walk on the Green Land itself can re-invigorate a person, in a way that simple rest cannot. I feel it all the time, when I go for a walk in the forest, or when I get to gaze out over a green expanse of Land: there's a goodness in it, something regenerative about it.

And it never gets old. The visions that flash forth from all Three Realms, they never get old. You will, one day, become a little tired of even your favorite movie, if you watch it enough times. Even the most enjoyable books finally get put down for the final time, flashy clothes fade and get worn out. But when you stare at the sunrise or the sunset, or see a brilliant full moon in the sky, you might as well be seeing it for the first time. It is easy to stare at it, to get lost in it. The forest scenery is the same way; the deep green of the treeful canopy just draws your eyes away. And it never gets old.

Emerson was the first to point this out, and he gave a good reason for why you could watch the moonrise a million times and never get tired of it: because Nature was an expression of an Eternal Spirit, and it was timeless, ageless, forever old and forever new, simultaneously. The evidence for this is in the simple fact that you *never* get tired of gazing upon the manifestations of Nature's beauty.

Few teachings from the Old Ways could be more profound than that. The constant modern need for "evidence" for "God" or "Eternity" or "Spirit" is discovered in something as simple as taking a walk on the green and good Land, and just being unafraid to open oneself to the immensity and power of it all. The vital power of life in the Three Realms pulses and rushes forth like a waterfall. The only reason most people don't feel it is because they have gotten so used to feeling it, that they become numb to it. They categorize the constant feeling of life, within and without, as just the "mundane" or "normal" feelings of their day to day existence; many are surprised to "re-cognize" the fact that what they call "mundane feelings" are in fact subtle and mystical powers of life and regeneration forever presenting themselves to us.

Most people do things like take walks or go camping or spend time outdoors because, whether or not they realize it, they are gaining a form of physical, mental, and spiritual regeneration from these activities. It is a religious communion of a very ancient, primal, and simple kind. And it is no less profound for this.

Modern Pagan rituals need not stray from the simplicity of the direct experience of the flow of life around us, in the Land, and surrounded by the Sea, and under the Sky. And the constant invigoration we get on all levels from opening ourselves to those Three Realms must not be forgotten as one of the central "goals" of both ritual and our everyday lives.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Sacred Ring of Tents

Sun Daughter, Brilliant power of the Mother
warming the entire world,
Sending the white light of life,
Sending the red light of life,
The spirits of darkness flee under your eyes,
Under your white eyes, your red eyes.
You see all things and circle the land with gold;
You make the power of life rise from earth.
You are honored first among the three fires of life.

My British Celt/Pictish re-enactment troupe went to the Texas Rennaisance Festival last weekend, and we had a grand time. I will be making some of the many photographs we took available at this blog soon. April (Turanona) will be making a website for our troupe soon, which I will announce here and link to here. I'm excited about it.

It's always good to get out to the woods, out to the country, and camp for a weekend. Camping, building a central fire for a camp-site, sleeping outside, and celebrating closeness to the natural world is an instinctual activity for nearly every human being alive- even the most "city" of the city-folk occassionally enjoy getting out to the country, for all who are not spiritually dead can sense the natural regenerative power of Nature herself.

When we camp, we like to bring in elements of our own Land-centered and natural world centered spirituality. Almost any activity you do with your friends or family, whether in your own backyard or in some distant place, can be approached from a view of animistic understanding. A good example is the layout of a camp-site. Aligning our tent-entrances to face east is a sound practice, for many sacred sites in Neolithic Britain have their entrances aligned on an east-west axis. This is to allow for the new light of the sun to shine directly into the site every morning, regenerating and empowering it daily with a visible symbol of new life and vitality, and the divine wisdom, all represented by the Sun.

The Song for the Sun, given above, is an example of an easy yet evocative chant that can be used each morning, if you rise and go to stand in the new light. Arising in the morning, and drumming a bit for the sun while singing or chanting the sun, with your own tongue or your inner voice, is a very empowering practice. Lighting the camp's fire in the new light, or uncovering the coals that have slept under the layer of ash all night is also a powerful practice. If you make libations for the Sun, pouring them around this fire and sprinkling a few drops onto the coals is powerful.

Sleeping inside your tents with your heads to the west, and feet to the east, is appropriate, as the west is the great road of the Ancestors, taken by the dead before they veer north to the Underworld. To the west we situate the Blessed Isles, the Apple-Islands, the Island of Women wherein we find the Spirits of our Clans or Ancestors, appearing in their forms as Faery-women and Spiritual Lovers, Guardians, and Teachers.

When we lie down in the dark of night, our heads to the west, we should consider for a moment how we will one day lie down to die, or be lain in a grave or on a pyre. We should lie there, fixing our minds on the "Furthest West" or the distant west, and its spiritual locations, wherein dwell the spiritual powers representing all the experience and wisdom of our ancestors. It is as time to consider our own deaths and reconsider what is important in our human lives, and to speak to the ancestors intimately, asking for their protections and guidance, and for their visitation and teachings in our dreams. Every evening is a trance-time, an opportunity to have dreams, which are a profound form of trance and a state of spiritual awareness.

The fire of a camp should of course be in the center, and the east/west axis of the camp should be as free as possible of obstructions, or, if a tent or lodge is in the west, the east should be open.

I never pitch tents or build fires without breaking out my horn or cup and filling it full of ale or mead, and, from the depths of a good awareness-trance state, I communicate with the powers of that particular place, the site upon which I intend to live, sleep, and eat for the next few days. I ask them to accept my presence there and bless me and those staying with me, with protection and good joy for my stay, and I pour out the libation for them.

If you can, a few wooden stakes driven around the camp, sometimes linked by rope or cord, can add the element of a boundary, a sacred boundary, which should always be open at least to the east. In this way, a camp can be very much like a Nemeton or a sacred place, which is very much like I describe this camp, minus the tents. The camp is a sacred place; friends and family center their lives there for a short time; they enjoy one another there and fill that place with their power. If you look at even camping in this manner, you can make a real connection with the past, and have a deeper experience of the outdoors.