Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Ring of Healing and the God of Sorcery

In my "Mera material" (which will soon be the first part of my coming work "The Sacred Forest") the spirit of the shamaness Mera discusses the uses that the ancient Britons had for the various circles of stone that they erected around their land. Britain, Ireland, Orkney, and the Continent of Europe all have many beautiful and powerful alignments and circles of megalithic stone, and the power they contain and transmit to the lonely souls of modern mystics is profound.

This subject is very important to me, and to all Traditional Pagans because if you work in the stream of Ancient Britain you must come to terms with what the ancient stones mean. They stand there, in Albion's landscape, long-standing shadows and ghosts of former times, and they inflame the imagination of practically every person who has a chance to get close to them or experience them.

The old stones have certainly influenced modern Paganism a great deal- even today, and despite the fact that the "Druids" had nothing to do with the actual building of Stonehenge and Avebury and the other megalithic circles, they are ubiquitous symbols of Land-based Paganism, particularly of the Celtic stream.

Now, don't get me wrong- I do not believe that the Druids were "solar priests" of some wave of Indo-European Celt invaders that suddenly shot into Britain and displaced the native Britons, inheriting the monuments of a previous people. No, I believe that the culture we call "Celtic" on the continent and "British" and "Irish" in the Isles was present in those places for a very, very long time.

I think that it slowly, gradually evolved into the form the Romans encountered it in. I don't think it had to "invade" out of its original homelands, where the "proto" form of the culture evolved; I think it slowly spread through trade, contact, travel, and "slow filtration". I'm more convinced by the scholarship I've read that suggest the "gradual Celticizing" of Europe than I am by the "waves of invaders" theories which were popular long ago.

In that sense, the "Druids" can be thought of as products of a slow spiritual evolution and "changing of the guard"- from the primal shaman of the Stone and early Iron Age to the time of the Roman conquest, there was always a "priestly" caste of people, dealing with the powers of the Otherworld and dealing with the sorcerous mysteries of initiation, sacred poetry, memory, relationship to the unseen dimension of the Land, and trance- but who can say at what point the term "Druid" became the term used to refer to them, or at what point they achieved the level of organization that they were reported to have, at least in Gaul and Britain. But the later "Druids" were certainly the "next in line" to be the guardians of the great mystical traditions of the European peoples in their own regions. Some people see the Christian priesthood as the "next in line" after the Druids, but on this point, I must take a serious issue and disagree. More on that later.

If we look at things as I outlined above, it was the shamanic guardians of the native religions of these people in Europe, on the continent and in the Isles, from tribe to tribe, which were there when Stonehenge was raised, as well as all the other megalithic sites. Even if they weren't called "Druids" then, or didn't operate according to the later structure and organization and learning of the Druids, the ancient Druids and the modern ones can claim to be in the same spiritual line of descent from the stone-raisers.

Any group of people that came to live near the stones would have been influenced by their numinal presence, and the great sum of Otherworldly power contained in them. In this way, I don't really mind the stones being used as "symbols" of Land-based modern Paganism; they are as good a symbol as any, and better than most.

Even in the mysteries of "Traditional Witchcraft" (which is the term given by me and others to the latest manifestation of Celtic and Germanic folk-wisdom, degenerate, forgotten animism and paganism, and primal gnosis which arises from the intuitive level on the parts of modern people of a mystical bent and the proper fateful or ancestral ties) the ancienet stones rise over the "inner" landscape, as symbols of the "foretime". The same can be said about Druidry. And the voices of these stones call out for people to come to terms with the mystery they represent. Who built them? What did they do inside these rings of stone? What can they do for us today? What can these ancient monuments tell us about ourselves?

People have wondered for a long time what Stonehenge was used for. There have been many theories, some better than others, of course; but the very best theory in my own never-so-humble-opinion has been put forth by Timothy Darvill, professor of archaeology at Bournemouth University.

There is a short news story here which gives Professor Darvill's theory:

Stonehenge was a site for sore eyes in 2300BC

To make a long story short, Professor Darvill has proposed that Stonehenge was a place of healing, a shrine that ancient people came from very long distances to see, hoping to be healed of various ailments.

The article states:

"For most of the 20th century archaeologists have debated what motivated primitive humans to go to the immense effort of transporting giant stones 240 miles from south Wales to erect Britain's most significant prehistoric monument.

Stonehenge was built in different stages between 3000BC and 1600BC and theories about their meaning and purpose have ranged from the serious to the wacky. The most widely accepted view is that it was to honour their ancestors.

Now Timothy Darvill, professor of archaeology at Bournemouth University, has breathed new life into the controversy with the publication of a book which proposes that the monument was in fact a centre of healing. Prof Darvill also backs the recent view that modern-day druids and hippies who celebrate the summer solstice at the site in the belief that they are continuing an ancient tradition should in fact carry out their rituals in December.

In his book Stonehenge: The Biography of a Landscape, Prof Darvill points to evidence that many of the human remains excavated from burial mounds around Stonehenge, dating from around 2300BC, show signs of the individuals having been unwell prior to their death.

Chemical analysis of their teeth has shown that a good proportion of those buried near the monument were not locals, but in fact came from as far away as Wales, Ireland and the Lake District. A grave uncovered in 2002 three miles from Stonehenge revealed the remains of a man who became known as the Amesbury Archer. He was found to have originated in what is now Switzerland."

The professor doesn't stop there. I have not yet read his book, but I will, very soon. But the news story on his theory quotes the professor giving two further important bits of support for his ideas.

Firstly, he points out that the stones were taken from 240 miles to the west, from the Preseli mountains of Wales. Why? Because there are many sacred springs in Wales that were (and are) believed to have healing properties.

But the second bit of support is by far the best- he points out something that folk-tradition even upholds- that Stonehenge was the temple of a Solar God or a Sun-God. Which God? He points out that in the beliefs of the Greeks, Apollo, the God of Light and Healing, left his home in Greece, at his oracle-shrine in Delphi, to go to Hyperborea, or Britain during the winter. The Hyperboreans were considered Apollo's sacred people; of course, we have no idea what the ancient Britains called the "Apollo-type" God, but we can be certain that he was with them. And I believe that Stonehenge was meant, at one point, to be a temple for him. Perhaps it was raised specifically for him.

The "Apollo-type" God is a common fixture among the Germanic and Celtic peoples. The Romans encountered Gods they called "Apollo" all over Celtia and Britain. If you look at the lore of Apollo, who he was, precisely, among the Northern Peoples is not hard to divine at all- Apollo was a God of Light, the Underworld, and Healing, as well as occult rites and prophecy.

He (Apollo) bestowed trances upon his shamanic priesthood, the Iatromantoi who went into caves and dark places to lie down, like hibernating animals, and journey into the Underworld. They took these journeys to gather healing power and knowledge for others, and sometimes, they helped others to take these journeys, lying in stillness for days sometimes, in caves which were situated near shrines or entrances to the Underworld.

Apollo's links to these shamanic practice are only the tip of the iceberg. Ravens, wolves, and serpents were all sacred to him, totemic emblems of his power. He was an archer, and a hunter. No Greek God had more rustic shrines devoted to them than Apollo. He was called the "enlightener" of mankind. Foremost, to the Greeks, he was a healer.

It's perfectly clear that this God Apollo, who was not originally from Greece, was the same God that the Celts encountered and called Lugh, who was also an archer, also a God of light and lightning, and a God of Druidry, sorcery, healing, and who was totemically represented by Ravens. Lugh was the God who mastered all arts, including the magical and healing arts.

There are, of course, variations in Celtic myths regarding Lugh; his myths in Celtia are not the same as his myths in Greece, but this is not hard to understand; the Greek experience of him was very different from the Celtic experience. They gave him two different names, which is not surprising, as these people spoke different languages. But in both places, he was who he was and he still is who he is.

Lugh is often syncretized with Hermes/Mercury, as well, but only because he was the master of the skills of tradesmen and merchants, and thus, worshipped by them as well. He protected travellers just like Hermes did, and like Hermes, he likely had a "psychopompic" role for the dead. The Romans who encountered Celtic merchants and tradesmen worshipping Lugus or Lugh had little choice but to immediately assume that they were seeing the familiar activity of their God Mercury.

It's an interesting fact that the Romans called the Germanic God Odin or Woden "Mercury" as well. Shall I point out that, like Lugh and Apollo, Odin had Ravens as a sacred beast? Like Apollo, he also had Wolves as a totemic beast. Like Apollo, he was a God of occult rites and shamanic mysteries. Like Lugh, he wielded a spear, which he hurled- a ranged weapon. Lugh and Odin both defeated the forces of Chaos, to establish the dominance of the Gods over the Giants (whom Celtic myths call the Fomorians).

Like Lugh, Odin he was born of one giantish parent and one godly parent (Lugh was the son of a Fomorian princess and a Godly father). Odin is depicted as one-eyed, and he sacrificed one of his eyes to gain wisdom and power. Lugh, when he used deadly magic against his enemies, closed one of his eyes to take on a "one-eyed" visage, which was considered magically powerful. Like Apollo, Odin was also totemically related to the serpent or the snake. Odin was also a guide of souls, a psychopomp, and a God of the Underworld and the Death mysteries.

And like Lugh/Lugus in the Celtic world, Odin came to be worshipped all over the Germanic world. When Romans encountered these two peoples, they encountered the manifold appearances of Odin and Lugus. The Romans were quick to label Odin and Lugh as "Mercury", but a study of the mystical and shamanic myths of Odin and Lugh would reveal that Apollo is the more likely counterpart.

It just so happens that the Celtic people were not as "compartmentalized" with their Gods as the Romans. Lugh was able to be a God of Druids and deep mysteries, and a Sovereign God of Kings, but also a God of smiths, tradesmen, warriors, and the like. He was able to be all things to any person, for he was the "Samildanach", the "Master of all Arts". He was a transfunctional God.

Odin's character is less "across the board", but this merely tells us more about the state of Germanic culture and religious interpretation at the time, and less about the deeper reality of Odin. Odin was typically worshipped only by Kings and Sorcerers, but he was still the "Allfather" of the Germanic peoples and their Gods, after a point. What we can see, historically, is that his "sovereign" aspects, as well as his sorcerous aspects were emphasized over any others he may have had. His character as an original God of the Dead, however, is always there, and thus the old saying about "Seeing Odin" at death. This is also another reason why the Romans were in a hurry to call him "Mercury".

There's more than enough evidence to suggest that the Sky God Tyr/Tiwaz was the original "Great God" or dominant God of the primal Germanic pantheon, at least in Continental Germania, just as there is evidence that Thor was also once a "chief" figure in Germanic pantheons in certain places. There's no doubt that a lot of religious evolution took place in Germania and in all the groups of Germanic peoples around Europe. And as I have long said, this tells us about human cultural realities, not the realities of the Gods, of who they are and what they are.

Humans will see the Gods in many ways, and come up with many myths about them. They will evolve names for the Gods, unique myths, and unique ways of worshipping them. But the Gods are the Gods. I do not believe that people invent or create their own Gods. I do not believe that the Gods are dependant on human beings for their own existence. I do not believe that the God of Sorcery and Light and Primal Wisdom that stands behind the cultural masks of Lugh, Odin, and Apollo would cease to exist if the Germanic peoples vanished, or the Celtic peoples, or the Greeks.

I do believe that the Gods are related to us within this system of Fate, within the inter-locked system of forces that we call "this world" and "the many worlds". We affect one another, but the Gods do not depend on human belief to exist.

The main point of practicing Ancestral religion is to honor the wisdom of your ancestors- and that means honoring these Gods as they knew them. It means giving worth to the cultural features and practices of your ancestors, because you believe that these features and practices were good, worthwhile things. It doesn't mean losing your common sense and creating a "Germans only" club or a "Celts only" club and becoming an ethnocentric ass. It doesn't mean ignoring the bigger picture of mythology when it doesn't suit your exclusivist claims.

A few very disagreeable people in modern Paganism, particularly the reconstructed ancestral religions, get angry when someone insinuates that Lugh and Odin may have been the same God, simply experienced in two different ways by two different cultures.

They refuse to see the possibility of a deeper reality, and choose to remain ignorant, selfishly holding on to unrealistic theories about how "Odin" only belongs to the Germanic peoples, (despite the fact that his mythology clearly states that he created the entire world and all the worlds) and that Lugh is the God of an "alien" people, and not at all possibly just the way that an Indo-European cousin people- the Celts- experienced the numina of the same God.

These people aren't in Paganism to honor the ancestors; they are in Paganism to find an identity that they can jealously protect. I find that many of them are people who are very jealous of small, ethnic cultures around the world, especially Native Americans and Jews, and they want so badly to belong to a small, exclusive group. They feel the lack of identity- especially spiritual identity- that so many people in the desacralized modern day feel, and they go for broke.

In most cases, they tend to find Asatru, and then begin abusing the spirit of the Germanic peoples. They butcher the myths and discard common sense, all to make the myths say what they want them to say, and they tend to carry along their own smiling racism to top it all off. They re-write history better than the early church did, and that is nothing short of ironic.

But enough of that. If we can admit to the reality of Odin, Lugus, and Apollo's identity as the Lord of Sorcery and Occultism among many ancient peoples from Europe's Pagan past, we can begin to see a deeper vision of this God's long and lasting relationship with our ancestors. We can see how important he has always been to us, and why he is important now.

In the "Colloquy of the Two Sages", Lugh is given credit for gifting mankind with cultural technologies, including the "Assembly", slingshot balls, and goads for horses. This marks him as the primal "culture teacher", the one who gifted mankind with the knowledge to create items of physical culture, as well as cultural institutions, by which they could make better lives for themselves.

It was Odin as "Rig", (The King-God) who sired the three classes of human society, and taught the Runes or mysteries to humankind. Apollo was called the "enlightener" of mankind, and was likewise there to give gifts of culture to human beings, a Promethean role that demonstrates the mystical connection between shamanic priests and the wisdom, insights and "laws" they brought back from the Underworld or the Otherworld, to make this world a better place.

Mera's material is not silent on the role of the Sorcerer-God. It says:

"There was a "Sorcery God" or a "Shaman God", a "God of Magic" who made shamans powerful and sometimes brought about the Traumas needed to awaken their relationship with their Follower-spirits. He was symbolized by the sun, but he was not a sun god; the sun was his emblem because it represented the power of light conquering darkness and cold, and he was a famous hunter and slayer of monsters and evil spirits. He was represented by snakes, wolves, and ravens, all of which were forms he took to communicate with people, and all of which acted as his messengers at times. He was possessed, like shamans, of an unpredictable and wild side, but he was married to the wind-mother, and was a great healer of body and mind, like she. He knew the secret of the Trance better than any other being." (6)

In footnote 6, I write:

"More clearly than the others, this God seems to be the primal origin of Lugus, Woden or Odin, and Apollo. Insofar as the "cunning" God who taught or initiated human sorcerers and shamans was always also mythologically associated with the gifts of culture and other human technologies, we can see a similar Basque deity here in BASAJAUN or BASAYAUN, the "Lord of the Woods" who hunted evil, protected cattle, and taught humans agriculture, smithing, and other crafts. Smithing, especially, was associated with shamanism and sorcery."

The Sorcerer-God, the "Proto Apollo", the "Proto-Odin" or the "Proto-Lugh", was the presiding deity at Stonehenge. He was a healer; he had to be- sickness and disease were believed to be manifestations of the ravages of wicked spirits and dangerous spiritual miasma in the human being, in the minds of all primal peoples, and certainly in the minds of the ancient Britons. Indeed, even today, the same logic holds true- the dis-ease of the order of the body is caused by harmful intrusions from the outside, viruses and bacteria, which are nothing short of the physical manifestations of giantish or fomorian powers, especially epidemic diseases.

The other source of dis-ease is some part of the body's natural harmonious order breaking down or not working correctly- again, this is what the dangerous, titanic or giantish powers do to the order of our world- from without or within, they degrade it, make it fall apart, work to spread chaos and destruction. The God of Sorcery IS the Healer because he is the God who was cunning enough to overcome these evil powers. The winter and darkness and cold have always been associated with these wicked powers; winter, when the sun moves away and less light and warmth can bathe the world, is the time of the greatest power of dangerous forces.

The light and the sun that rises and restores warmth, life, green to the world, and kinder weather, IS the face of the protective and healing God coming back. It is that same power that dawns within the sick body or mind, the body or mind which is "winter-gripped" and heals it.

His light dawning is the ultimate mytical emblem of not only healing but literally "enlightenment". He didn't just heal the sick bodies or minds of humans; he healed the rift between our isolated, wandering minds and the truth of spirit. He was and is the initiator into the Mysteries, which is the healing of spirit. A body that is healed will die still, one day. A mind that is healed will stay healed for a time or perhaps forever, but the body which is another aspect of that mind must die, still, one day. The awakening of the "internal sun" of spirit puts a person beyond the grip of death and the suffering caused by dark forces forever.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree. I've been trying to find the counterpart of Hermes/Mercury in Norse/Celt mythology. I think Apollo fits the description of Odin/Lugh rather than Mercury...

I disagree with you on somethings though..

"These people aren't in Paganism to honor the ancestors; they are in Paganism to find an identity that they can jealously protect. I find that many of them are people who are very jealous of small, ethnic cultures around the world, especially Native Americans and Jews, and they want so badly to belong to a small, exclusive group. They feel the lack of identity- especially spiritual identity- that so many people in the desacralized modern day feel, and they go for broke."

Whats wrong with an exclusive religion? I don't believe a universe religion is right for all people of different cultures. I don't think Islam was right for Africa or The middle east.
And do you support the jews/natives being exclusive?
Although the jews are not an exclusive group, as one can convert to their religion, although they will always be a convert rather than a "true jew". Since a jew needs to have a jewish mother in order to truly be jewish...

Basically I just don't believe that some universal religion is right for all cultures.

I think all early european religions are the same since came from the pre-indo-european and indo-european people. I don't think Odin in Norse mythology is the same as a god in Mayan mythology...

" No, I believe that the culture we call "Celtic" on the continent and "British" and "Irish" in the Isles was present in those places for a very, very long time."

Very true. read about R1b, the celts came in relatively low numbers. The celts and pre indo european culture/religion kinda merged together..

anyways, good article!