Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Gentle Bee Shaman: Keeper of the Pollen Path

Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt a marvelous error;
That I had a beehive here inside my heart.
And the golden bees were making white combs
And sweet honey from my past mistakes.

-Antonio Machado

The Shamanic spiritual path of the anthropologist Simon Buxton developed slowly over a 13 year apprenticeship with a European Bee-Keeper. During that time he established the British branch of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, and The Sacred Trust; an organization which guides those seeking native spiritual traditions. His sharp and enlightening path is detailed in his book; ‘Shamanic Way of the Bee: Ancient Wisdom and Healing Practices of the Bee Masters.’

I find this a strange, beautiful but not altogether surprising occupation. The ‘Pollen Path’ is certainly mystical, yet based on practical elements and possesses a sound purpose. The honey bee and all its relatives have been exchanging information with humans since the beginning of our time, they themselves are prehistoric, having been here for at least 55 million years since the Cenozoic era. Within the concept of healing and nutrition we are indebted to this marvelous creature, their beneficence is without doubt. Buxton’s initiation into this secret world came when as a nine your old boy he succumbed to a fatal infection of encephalitis, yet was miraculously saved by an Austrian bee-keeper Shaman. We need only consider the various healing agents of the hive to understand; honey, pollen, propolis, wax and royal jelly to understand the immense potential. I myself recently created a successful skin healing salve with bee’s wax and lemon balm for a particularly bad irritation. This is animal-spirit medicine at its most potent; traditional practitioners even used the bee stings as a form of acupuncture!

In medieval Ireland there was a saying; that one of the three most difficult things to understand was the work of bee’s (obair na mbeach) and as such were closely connected to the mysterious and magical priestly functions of the Druids. Legal restrictions were imposed as to who kept bee hives and who was entitled to the seemingly divine produce of honey, but especially mead; reserved for warriors and nobles. Throughout Europe, especially amongst monastic orders the bee was not only symbolic of the soul, death and rebirth but also of the Virgin Mary herself; the queen bee of heaven. Amongst the Native Navajo the pollen path is sacred, representing the very source of life and incorporates a ritual as a way of envisioning the center of existence. They sing;

“O beauty before me, beauty behind me, beauty to my right, beauty to my left, beauty above me, beauty below me, I am on the Pollen Path.”

It is a journey to understanding the deepest aspects of the self, to the hive of the heart, to listen to the constant drone of the song of creation, and extract the honey-like essence of our mind and bodies. Pollen is the substance of the earth, the spirit, the cosmos; truly the finest blessing.

As a totem animal the bee possesses the powers of a higher consciousness, prophetic dreams, industriousness, diligence, productivity, creativity, immense sexual attraction and can act as a divine messenger. Like the Queen Bee in the Grimm fairy tale, this creature has the capacity to restore order, life and love; a balm blessing on the lips of the ‘forever young.’

One of my favorite stories is that of Saint Modomnoc; as a young lad of the O’Neil clan in Ireland he longed for a spiritual life, life his relative St. Columba. So one day he set off across the sea to serve and study as a monk in the monastery with St. David in Wales. Modomnoc was given charge of the bee hives, and diligently he cared for them like they were his own children; even planting the sort of flowers they liked best in the garden. The bees likewise became enamored of the monk, constantly following him around, buzzing about his head singing fair melodies in an enchanting manner.

Soon it came to the end of his time their, and after his ordination he packed up and prepared to return to Ireland; bidding farewell to his bees. Every time he boarded the ship the bees would fly after him, not even twice but thrice times in a row. He tried all means to persuade the creatures to remain in the Welsh monastery, but all without success until eventually St. David himself told Modonmoc to take them with him. He eventually settled in Bremore near Dublin and built there a spiritual dwelling which soon became known as ‘The Church of the Beekeeper.’

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Garden of the Bears...

“I am the black bear, around me see the light clouds extending. I am the black bear, around me see the light dew falling………” – Pima Indian medicine song.

As we slowly drift into fall it is worth reflecting on this season from the perspective of the majestic and noble bear; those of us lucky enough to live close too or near mountains or forests will experience this creature at first hand this time of year. The gradual approach of winter alerts the creature to the necessity of building up its weight for a long hibernation, and it is frequently found scavenging and roaming amidst human settlements for tasty morsels. The relationship between bear and human is a long epic, full of myths, fantasy, amazing adventure and struggle. And so, before our tired eyes begin to falter before the slowly fading Harvest moon I will recount some of the great legends of our gentle forest cousin.

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago (believe it or not) the mighty and majestic bear once roamed all across Europe, dwelling in the dark forests of oak and ash… free and plentiful. It was the inspiration for many legends and tales amongst the Celts and Scandinavians, its strength and stamina was imitated through heroic deeds of valor. In ancient pagan Norway there were specialized bands of warriors called ‘Beserkers’ or ‘bear-shirts’ because they donned the hides and furs of the bear, adorned themselves with their teeth, claws and bones, and were always the first furious combatants in battle… invoking the strength and ferocity of their totem beast. Such fearless warriors were in high demand as body-guards for the nobility and persons of the highest rank. The Norwegian term bjorn was one of the titles of Thor, the mighty god of thunder.

Fionna MaCleod recounts an ancient Irish Celtic legend of the Pole Star; the youthful Finn mac Cumhail went bear hunting beyond the western mountains. Together with his two faithful hounds Luath and Dorch they discovered an immense bear and chased him all the way to the icy North-lands to an everlasting rainbow, across which the bear climbed. It was met in the middle by the two hounds and all seemed to have brought to a conclusion when it crashed to the ground, mortally wounded it seemed… but not! It started running again. The ‘All-Father’ the Great Creator watching this spectacle from the heavens decided this escapade was more than enough and so he hoisted the bear by means of a rope noose into the pitch dark sky where it raced around Arcturus the ‘North Star’ or ‘Northmen’s Torch.’ Finn didn’t give up, with the hero’s leap he mounted the rainbow, then again onto the hill of heaven and gave eternal chase to the divine beast. Here the magnificent northern lights we see are said to be the spears of Finn, forever being hurled at the Great Bear… forever in pursuit.

In ancient Ireland there were two names given to the bear; art which is cognate with the Greek arktos and the name of the star Arcturus, and math or mathus which is the origin of the name mac-mathghamhna or the ‘bear-club clan’ of the Mac Mahon’s. In Pagan Irish tradition the bear possessed a unique divinity and was often regarded as a god of the heavens, forming a triplicity in the night sky with Arcturus as the ‘Bear-Guard’ or ‘Fort of the Bears’ and the two smaller bears sleeping around it, called Ursa major and Ursa minor. There is another myth that these sleeping bear gods will arise from their hibernation and come to the aid of their people when called, and this obligation is borne by the bear-tribe of the Mahon’s.

Bears still existed all across Western Europe as late as the fifteenth century, although they had become extinct in Britain by the 10th century. They were frequently caught, imported and used in games and entertainment, for public spectacle. In 16th century Elizabethan England fighting bears were common; famous bears such as ‘Harry Hunks’ and the ‘Great Sackerson’ became national idols, fighting at the Paris gardens in Southwark London every Sunday. By the beginning of the Spanish civil war in 1936 bears had almost completely disappeared in Western Europe, only in the eastern parts of Romania, Hungary, Poland and the Transylvanian mountain ranges do they still live in considerable numbers. In the Apenusi mountains is the ‘Pestera Ursilor’ or Bears-Cave where the 15,000 year old skeletal remains of an ancient family of 140 bears has been discovered. Even when the bear is no longer with us in a physical way, we can always sense its powerful spiritual presence, like the invocation-song of Vainamoinen in the Kalevala:

Autumn weather is slippery, winter days are dark.
My bear, my darling, honey-paws, my beauty,
You still have ground to cover, heath to clamber upon.
Start, splendid one, to go, glory of the forest, to step along.

We cannot fail to recognize the primitive importance of the bear to our sense of being, when our lives as children begin with old tales like ‘Goldilocks.’ In the original oral tradition the young fair girl was a silvered widow, and before that a crafty fox called Scrapefoot… when we dig deep we become wild creatures living in the dark deep forest just like the bears, then we stole their food and now they repay us likewise. Beware; before you scream in fear remember he is just a prince with a fur-coat!

I send my blessings to you all this fall Equinox, and pray your harvest and hibernation during the dark months be a peaceful one, deep, relaxing and refreshing.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Personal Political Soul - Power Struggle

“The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work... when you go to church... when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth” – Morpheus.

I may have appeared in the past as a classical anti-communist emerging from the swampy depths of the McCarthy era; continuing the struggle against political and religious extremism. Not so! I care little about the personal beliefs of any individual, providing of course that their adopted system does not seek to affect the lives of others in a detrimental fashion. The core truth about all modern political and governmental systems is that by their very nature they seek to manipulate the ‘people’ and this is as true of Communism as it is of Capitalism; political leaders of all persuasions maintain their lifestyles, authority, characteristics and dynamic by feeding on the energies of the populace.

I am not a political scientist. My views and opinions are all based on personal experience, and from an early age I disliked the political mainstream. I always viewed the politician as a blood-sucker, a manipulator, a base creature that needed recognition and popular assent to pursue his/her vain-glorious career to boost his/her petty and frivolous ego. Politicians maintain their dysfunctional, Babylonian empires through perfectly repackaged lies and deceptions… until everything begins to fray and fall apart from the burden of the nightmare that is bureaucracy and ever increasingly insane forms of indentured servitude. And so I automatically gravitated toward writers and political philosophers such as Henry David Thoreau;

“That government is best which governs not at all” and “Until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.”

My political allegiances hover (idealistically) between anarchism and a sort of tribal-feudalism. To me, democracy is only the illusion of power, where an individual is inspired to imagine that through the act of submitting a name on a piece of paper they have exercised something profoundly sacred. The government is a government; like a ship on a particular course… it cannot change itself, perhaps the captain can be replaced or exchanged for another, but it is still exactly the same vessel pursuing the originally designated destination. In these sorts of arguments I always seem to end up comparing the supervisory management of the modern world to the ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ (I prefer the Hopkins/Gibson version) and in which, using the analogy of the ship as a micro-cosmic version of the state chaos ensues, the revolution deposes the dictator, as Captain Bligh says;

“The Royal Navy is not a humorous institution, sir, and insubordination is no laughing matter…Now the crew is deeply demoralized and I must accept, as every captain must, the inevitable and theoretical responsibility for that. The actual and immediate responsibility, however, I place on you, my fellow officers who met this crisis with lethargy, impudence and flagrant defiance, publicly uttered. And perhaps for that I am also to blame. I counted on strength of character which you do not possess. However, the cure for our predicament is discipline and I shall apply it with an even hand of course, but most where it is most required.”

Yet even as one power structure is disposed of, another is put in its place… perhaps in this case with one which makes its people destitute exiles on the lost island of their desire. The natural way is not always concerned with order, it need also not concern itself with governance that we as human beings have constructed it. It may perhaps be more construed as a form of anarchy, since much of it is beyond our will and appears to all concerned to be wholly without directorship. I step lightly here, for I am walking through the thickets of religious thought! Omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscience are all terms applied to dictatorial fascism, the ‘1984’ of George Orwell. Of course you are free to express yourself in any way you desire… but, remember that the ‘state’ has wired and tapped your telephones and is now sorting through your personal email account, it is x-raying your letter-box, your name is in a file… just in case you are a terrorist!

I have no answers. I am a no-body. I am deaf and blind. I present no clear or distinct danger to the order. And by the order I mean the notional limitations of doctrines, dogma and laws that we construct in an attempt to explain the universe and our role within it. Such a stance is and of itself very fine… but yet it disallows the very real motion of constant universal change and metamorphosis. The most common and basic experience that one observes in nature is the lack of rigidity, no straight lines, infinite variation, abnormality and a perpetual flux of form and invention. I see subtle connections between these myriad spheres of energy… we are all part of a massive and beautiful web of life, more than anything we must come to the realization that we all have choices regardless of pressure from authority, and a choice is the bed we lie in… even if it is spiraling totally out of control, as Renton in ‘Trainspotting points out;

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a f……g big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed- interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of f……g fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing sprit- crushing game shows, stuffing f……g junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing you last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, f……d-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who need reasons when you've got heroin?

So, I choose myself… the complete package wherein lies all imperfections, obscurity, eccentricities, beauty, ecstasy and ugliness… the right to curse every now and again. I don’t need the proverbial ‘nanny’ state to dictate the rules of life to me or/and attempt to shape me into a mold of absolute perfect obedience. But sadly it seems that these days this is the way things are working in the modern world; basic freedoms are fast disappearing like soluble aspirin in a cup of murky water!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Book Review: A History of Pagan Europe by Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick.

I had been previously accustomed to reading Pagan history from the viewpoint of Christian literature and writers, who unfortunately portray this faith as cruelly despotic, ignorant, irrational, filled with hatred and prone to bouts of fiery persecution. In choosing this book I was seeking a balanced, informative and historically accurate account of Pagan culture from an objective perspective. I began to read with some trepidation as to whether the book could fulfill my criteria, knowing that Prudence Jones is a respected Pagan academic. However, she clearly remained within the stringent ethics of scientific research and enquiry, carefully laying out her extensive 20 year period of dedicated study into this subject.

The first amazing revelation for me was the authors etymological elucidation of the term ‘Pagan’ and its origins, misuse, and applications throughout history. She forwards a correct working definition in combination with the principal characteristics of its use within an animistic religion. As a modern spiritual movement Paganism is a holistic, earth-centered, Goddess orientated, polytheistic, theophanic religion, having as its foundation the values, ethics, culture, reasoning and rituals of ancient, pre-monotheistic societies. My understanding is that the core principals of Paganism are its capacity for inclusivity and pluralism: essentially possessing the capacity to hold or incorporate almost any philosophy, notion or spiritual concept.

Jones manages to assess the entirety of European Paganism, from the pre-classical civilization in Crete (circa 2800 BCE), through to the Greeks, Etruscans, and the Romans up to the fall of the empire; the incorporation of foreign cults from the east such as the worship of the Egyptian Isis, Mithraism and Christianity. She also considers Islam, the Irish and Celtic world, the Germanic peoples, the Baltic, Russia, and the Balkans to Byzantium. From the high Medieval period (950-1350) her story takes the reader through to the renaissance and the reformation, the great witch hunts (1480-1650), the age of reason and science to the principle romantic revival movements of the 19th century; the Druidic revival at Primrose Hill in London in 1792, the romantic notions of Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) and Neo-Paganism in the 20th century typified by the Order of the Golden Dawn, Theosophy, Wicca and Celtic Druidism.

Several observations and accounts of the author improved and enlightened me. The appraisal of the ancient and classical Greek and Roman pagan faiths were contrary to my previously held understandings and gave a more realistic and accurate picture. My perceptions of ancient Greece and Rome were colored by ideas of empirical, domineering and arrogant cultures. I was surprised to learn of their day to day faith, hearth cultures, belief in spirits, numerous deities and complex organization. I found myself truly inspired by Jones account of the actual mechanics of ancient pagan spiritual practice, this not being a subject I had encountered before. I was also struck by the manner in which political allegiances affected the status of paganism as official religion in many countries, that there was an ‘ebb and flow’ of belief and practice (Christianity did not simply replace the old order); groups or individuals reverting back to their prior religious path or even holding a dual faith. Just as amazing for me was to discover that there were Pagan intellectuals, polemicists, and apologists working to defend their faith against Christian incursions.

As I read on to through the historical accounts I realized that as a religion Paganism has never really died out, being practiced in some form, in some way somewhere in the world. As the Catholic Church spread across western Europe it incorporated many Pagan rituals, the reformation preserved the ancient languages and dialects of people through the translation of the Bible. Jones's conclusion is that Paganism is constantly being reaffirmed, repackaged, in constant revision within the context of establishing itself as a movement concerned with balance, harmony and social equality, a spirituality that is complimentary to rather than at odds with mainstream forms of belief. Modern Neo-Pagans are not concerned with hierarchy or dominance, and it is comforting to know that the voice of a relative minority is leading the path with spirituality married to ecology and humanist concern on a global platform.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ancestors Envisioned in a Power Meditation...

Idho (Yew)

Old ones twisted and entwined;
Embracing in the cragged wind
Of a rumbling Eirrean vale, two yews
Whose knotted embrace, reflecting...
An ancient binding.

And in their wedded cincture;
A dark hollow, echoing lyrical...
Walking within a candle wakens
Shadows slip away...
Revealing inner etched thoughts.

Slumbering in the belly of the chamber
A silent, solitary adder
Bedecked in a robe of glistening jewels
And as she speaks…
The walls pulsate and breathe.

An ochre cave of life, inscribed;
Hand-painted; of elk and wolves and
Hunters, and the origins
Ship voyage on the waves of memory, in moonlight
On the edge of distant oceans.

Fire thunders down, drenching;
From the axle star far above, and
The body becomes lacertine in a storm...
Of electrifying mist…
And almost transparent.

Walking on the Plains of honey;
Of poppies and welcomed by the two…
Fragrant bronzed limbs
Tongues drenched in the blood
And juice of ripe berries.

In orchard shadows;
Snow blossoms showering,
Drifting upon an breathing mound
Along the contours of an open palm,
The egg-stone of beginning

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11: Is The Universe Friendly?

Thoughts on the Ocean of Life, in constant revision according to experience:

I believe in synchronicity... that formulation by the psychologist Carl Jung in which differing facets of a greater reality come together (perhaps in what seems like a conspiracy) and present us with a rare insight or revelation.

Yesterday a friend in Australia passed me a message that his wife had suffered a miscarriage: an immense misfortune that greatly affects our view of life. This happened to me and my wife 15 years ago... we had a son who we called Samuel. We were fortunate in being able to go through a process of grieving, assessing life and death and to bury the small and delicate spark... to rest. The brief life of a departed child is one of the most difficult for any parent to experience, but important to realize that nothing is manifested in the circle of life without reason… however short the span of time a person spends with us is significant and ultimately gives us a greater and more sacred appreciation for existence.

And then today I realized that it was the anniversary of 9/11 and the horrific events that occurred in New York at the Twin Towers. This is another aspect of life in the universe that demands our attention and certain contemplation... maybe a representation of chaos. Events such as these can completely alter our view of the world, other cultures and the humanity in ourselves. My thoughts today are with General Petraeus in Iraq (the outcome of 9/11) who is commissioned with the seemingly immense and difficult task of finding a solution to all this madness!

When our lives are surrounded by traumatic despair, the horrors of war, personal loss, and fractured systems of morality how can we believe in divine justice… if a God or divine power actually exists beyond our sphere of life how can it allow such events to take place let alone permit their continuance… making way for the wanton destruction of life and peace? In my investigations and experience I saw something greater than a notion of God… a powerful and vibrant presence throughout the Cosmic order.

In contemplating the 'friendliness' of the universe, and this ‘Cosmic Order I discovered that I had to go beyond phenomenal, definable characteristics. I saw an ocean of vast powers and energies of which we ourselves are a reflection... indeed an embodiment, flowing, singing, birthing and dieing... an ocean with great waves in ebb and flow constantly. And I think that it is important to consider that we are all connected to this 'Great Song' that is the universe. We cause our own futile pain and anguish by distancing and distinguishing ourselves; the creation of barriers and ultimately a dualistic pattern of thought.

In conclusion, for me it is not a matter of whether the Universe is friendly or peaceful, orderly or chaotic, angry or complacent; it is more about accepting the beauty within ourselves in relation to everything else that exists... all of one, existence as a whole monumental thought. I have been working today on a prayer, based on some thoughts of R. Tagore, but humbly molding them to reflect my perspective:

"Let us not pray to be sheltered from the storms of life...
But to possess courage in navigating through them without fear,

Let us not pursue a relief from painful events and personal
But the heart to face and conquer them with sacred purpose,

Let us not seek blind guidance without foundations in troubled
But the strength of character and a strong stride to resolve our

Let us not crave in anxious fear for a resolution of dreams...
But hope for patience to win an infinite peace."

This moment I believe in the sacred energy within the core of my being... this moment I believe that this energy can flow from my body in endless rhythms of harmony and healing... this moment in complete breath with all the spirits of life.
Many Blessings to All

Monday, September 10, 2007

Book Review: Drawing Down the Moon (Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and other Pagans in America Today) by Margot Adler. Beacon Press 1986.

I picked this book up in a local thrift store for $1.99, intrigued by the beautiful red and black cover design with a mysterious witch standing against the backdrop of an ocean expanse, within a circle of flames. The title of the book was equally enigmatic to me, not knowing the relevance or meaning of it within Pagan history or practice. Flicking through the pages I noticed that there was some discourse on the RDNA (Reformed Druids of North America), the ADF and Isaac Bonewitz, and I guess that this was the crucial factor in deciding to part with the best portion of two dollars in return for some practical knowledge.

Before I read this book I saw modern Pagans as crack-pots, foundationless cults, weirdo’s and overgrown hippies. I was at a stage where I could accept the slightly eccentric but practical spirituality of ‘OBOD’ and the AODA but found even the notion of polytheism beyond my understanding. My mind was absolutely closed to this book in the beginning, the 1 ½ inch’s of solid paper suggested a good door-stop and I lay it down in a corner of the room where it gathered dust for several months. Visions of naked feminist witches haunted my dreams, strangely effeminate men on LSD staring into glass globes on a wayward camping trip whispered profanities behind my back. I secretly made private jokes about people with names like ‘Ferret-Raven Wolf Prancer’ and ‘Moon-Swirler.’ !!!!

This book actually scared the hell out of me, literally. I clearly saw the book for what it was; a genuine account of modern American Paganism and this frightened me, maybe because I didn’t want to come to the realization that such a thing actually exists. I was too wrapped up in the comfort of a semi-gnostic, spiritual haven of abstract and unspecific wandering. I began reading with a heavy sigh, expecting complete penta-grammatic nonsense. After reading the three chapters of the first section; Paganism and prejudice, a religion without converts and the Pagan world-view I began to feel a sense of shame for my previously held beliefs.

This is a first hand experiential account of modern Paganism. The author didnt sit in a silent room of academia pondering the subjective and objective implications of alternative theology... she went out and got totally involved, met totally intriguing and often eccentric people, participated in rituals and 'walked the walk.' I am glad I forced myself into this, otherwise I would be a complete and utter ignoramus!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Book Review: The Druids by Stuart Piggot

I read the ‘Druids’ with slightly amused rapture as I imagined the croaky voice of a pre-war colonial authority on primitive tribes. This book had been recommended to me so many times that I eventually caved in and procured it as a bargain on E-Bay. I was perhaps slightly wary of the semi-divine official status of Professor Stuart Piggot, an accepted archeological authority at Oxford University, and whilst he follows the standard principals of academic research and remains objective throughout, his style of writing provokes a ‘Monty-Python’esque’ humor for its occasional eccentricity.

What I found immensely helpful was Prof. Piggot’s approach to analysis, categorization and organization of evidence and information. This would include the use of archeological, iconographic, epigraphic, classical and vernacular sources. Whilst I groaned every time I came across the word ‘savage’ or ‘barbarian,’ I was also grateful for the authors introduction to the terms ‘hard and soft primitivism’ to explain the differences between the classical Greek and Latin accounts of the Gallic tribes and the Druids.

Piggot is absolutely thorough in his approach and account of the Druids. He is prepared to examine every facet, each crumb of evidence and article of information available to him, regardless of academic opinion. I can imagine how revolutionary in format this book might have been when first published, since even today few academics are willing to explore a subject beyond their own particular specialism. For this I admire Piggot, who evidently pushed out the boat, broadened his field of enquiry and tackled the subject as a whole rather than remain in a subjective arena. And so, I found myself looking at the importance of maps, place-names, technology, science, agriculture, economy, social order, language and literacy, archeology, shrines, temples, earth-works, burial sites, votive sites, etymology, rituals, education and literacy, cosmology and religious beliefs, magic, gnomic wisdom, philosophy, and politics. In this respect, ‘The Druids’ is definitely comprehensive, provocative and inspiring; it provided me with a wealth of topics for deeper consideration and contemplation.

The bulk of the text is conveniently divided up into four main chapters. In the latter part Piggot deals with the romantic ideal and the Druid revival. Whereas many scholars would begin perhaps in the 17th century with Tolland and Stukely, Piggot draws back to the last phase of the European Renaissance to discover the roots of paganism as we know it today. I found it interesting to learn that many early speculations on the nature of the Druids and Celts were colored by the discovery of native American Indian tribal cultures and systems. Piggot takes the reader up to the romantic revival, the ‘dignified nonsense’ of the Welsh Gorsedd and Iolo Morganwg, the shady mysticism of dreamers and the ‘cosy world of lunatic linguistics’ of individuals like Rowland Jones. Piggot’s view of this latter modern development in ‘native spirituality’ is one without historical or cultural foundation, a colorless and fanciful imagining, and I for one must surely agree.

In his epilogue Piggot succinctly draws his conclusions and theories together. He defines the practices of the earliest Druids as being developments of customs and rituals in Paleolithic prehistory, and proposes the possibility of syncretism with other Indo European cultures. Piggot even considers the possibility of a strain of shamanism within Druidic practice, a question which regularly appears within online discussion groups today and inspires fierce arguments.

Having absorbed the radical content of this volume I can now see how vastly it influenced the beginnings of a traditionalist Celtic Pagan movement in the latter half of the twentieth century. Piggot has created a stable foundation on which reliable research can be conducted for the implementation of traditional practices and rituals within a modern context. Perhaps his final comment reveals the most about the inherent characteristics of the Druid, that the truest modern evocation of their spirit is within the realms of scientific exploration and computer engineering than mythic reconstructionism and ‘role playing.’

The message I got from this book was that I should be prepared to question everything, to analyze and carefully weigh the evidence of any spiritual matter but particularly those subjects dealing with ancient concepts. Piggot provided me with the academic tools to disseminate, examine, and probe beyond careless ambiguity and imagination… and seek the core dynamic of a topic rather than peruse its exterior decoration.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Book Review: The Celtic Realms by Myles Dillon and Nora Chadwick

This book is a scholarly account of the history and culture of the Celts, from the earliest archeological evidence in the Iron-age Hallstatt culture circa 800 BCE, To the Norman invasion of Britain under William the Conqueror in 1066. The authors discuss the mysterious origins of the Celts using place-names as a guiding demographic to trace their principle routes of migration and their established settlements. The book then goes on further to discuss the formation, structure and the bodies of independent Celtic kingdoms, of Gaul, Britain, Wales, Brittany, Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall and the Isle of Man. Of particular interest is the changing and reforming political and social change which occurred in Britain following the withdrawal of Roman governance C. 4-500 CE. The fifth chapter on Irish secular institutions gives an interesting account of a Gaelic society, its inherited laws, the class based structure, customs and dress, festivals, and the organization of time. All of this is done in comparison with the Welsh system, but interestingly draws many parallels with Indo-European culture, particularly the Vedic and Hindu codes of law.

The 6th chapter outlines the structure and organization of the early modern Celtic kingdoms, providing information on the Pictish tribes and the Dal Riata, Irish incursions and influence in Scotland, the development of the Celtic Welsh and their relations with the Saxons, and overall the influence of the Viking and Nordic raids and settlements throughout the Western Gaelic communities. This period history spans from the 5-6th CE to the late 9th, leading up to the invasion of the Normans at Hastings in 1066. The remaining chapters examine Celtic culture from the perspective of literature, myths, language, religion and art.

I chose this book because I wanted a broad but academic and scholarly account of Celtic history, its formation, structure, people and culture. This volume fulfills all of those criteria, but it was certainly not a ‘casual’ read, indeed it took me several weeks to digest and may properly be used as a reference and source of information rather than leisurely perusal. Both authors are renowned and respected academics, Myles Dillon having been the senior professor at the Dublin Institute, and professor of Celtic studies at Wisconsin, Chicago, and Edinburgh universities. Nora Chadwick is a veteran lecturer at Cambridge University and Newham and Girton Colleges. Celtic Realms is written with an absolutely serious attention to detail, woven together and cross-referenced in the true tradition of Celtic knot-work, and is perhaps the result of several years dedicated study and research. It belongs in the library of any reader with more than a passing interest in Celtic history, and itself provides a student with valuable resources.

What I enjoyed most about this book were the accounts of literature and arts, where the authors bring the voice and actions of the Celtic people to life. The study of any history can be susceptible to a dry and flaky recount, yet Dillon and Chadwick have cleverly avoided such a downslide by depicting the passion, ingenuity, creativity, artistic beauty and linguistic enchantments of individuals who lived so many years ago.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Wild-Woman's Dream...

A beautiful, dark-haired Wild Irish Woman once dreamed that a certain Druid visited her in the night and made passionate love to her. When she woke up, she called her maids, described the Druid to them and asked them to demand recompense from him for his midnight sojourn. They seized the Druid as he was walking along a path into town, told him of the affair, and asked for 50 silver coins. The honorable scholar was flabberghasted. But the surly maids grabbed him and would not let go. A passerby saw the bitter argument and told the king of Tara, and so he summoned both the Wild Woman and the Druid to his court.

The Wild Woman said, "I am accustomed to being compensated for intimate alliances. This man visited me in a dream last night and enjoyed himself… He must pay me for this illicit pleasure."

The king said, "That seems fair enough, but wait a moment." Then he ordered a pole to be planted in the street, then he hung a bag of silver from the pole, and placed a mirror under it.
"Now," he said to the Wild Woman, "Put your hand into the mirror and take your money. It's all yours."

The Woman was baffled and said, "How can I put my hand into the mirror and take my money? Give me the real money in the bag."

"Oh no, no, no," said the king, "the money is not yours. The Druid visited you only in your dream. The proper payment is only the money that you can see in the mirror."

And so, the Wild Woman marched off in a huff whilst the Druid retired with a smile… dreaming!