Of Meditations Volume Seven


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Progeny on my progeny.

Should a woman find a forked carrot, she breaks out into a more exultant strain that brings her neighbours round to see and to admire her luck.

‘Fhorca shona, shona, shona,

Fhorca churran mor orm,

Conuil curran corr orm

Sonas curran mor dhomh.’
Fork joyful, joyful, joyful,

Fork of great carrot to me,

Endowment of carrot surpassing upon me,

Joy of great carrot to me.

There is much rivalry among the women who shall have most and best carrots. They carry the carrots in a bag slung from the waist, called ‘crisolachan,’ little girdle, from ‘crios,’ a girdle. When the ‘earrasaid’ was worn, the carrots were carried in its ample folds. The women wash the carrots and tie them up in small bunches, each of which contains a ‘glac,’ handful. The bunches are tied with three-ply thread, generally scarlet, and put in pits near the house and covered with sand till required.

Fall Equinox Essay: Sirona

A Druid Missal-Any Fall Equinox 1987

By Emmon Bodfish

Fall Equinox, a minor High Day in the Druid calendar. The days are getting short again and the harvest is in full swing. This is the time of Cernunnos, and the other Deities of night, of the Season of Sleep, and the Otherworld. The Celts, as far as we know, did not have a specific lunar deity. (I often get asked for the name of a Moon Goddess.) In researching this I have come across the interesting information on the origins of the Goddess Sirona. Her name comes from the same Indo-European root as “star,” although She was later associated with the source of the river Seine, a spring where a shrine to Her was located.

As the Celts moved out of the Halstatt homeland in Austria and across Europe, they re-named rivers and springs for their Goddesses, perhaps merging them with local protective Earth Goddesses. A major shrine to Sirona, located at a spring in Hochscheid has been both traced in Roman reports and verified archeologically. This shrine was associated with healing, and Sirona is shown here on plaques and in votive statues along with a young male figure. This is probably Lugh, whom the Romans equated with Apollo after they took over the site in the second century AD. When Christians later took over the shrine, the dedicated it to a “Saint Sabine,” another euhemerism of a Pagan Goddess into a Christian Pious. In late Celtic times the sanctuary was a Nemeton built around a spring whose waters were directed into a pool. In the pool have been found small votive statues of the Goddess and of the Divine Couple, presumably Sirona and Lugh, and also coins and precious offerings. It is described by the excavators as an unusually rich shrine for one so far in the country.

Sirona is portrayed here, as elsewhere, in statues and wall reliefs, holding a serpent, and a bowl of eggs, probably serpent’s eggs. The motif of the Serpent’s Egg appears in Irish literature and in folklore about the Druid in the British Isles. Possession of these magical eggs was said to bestow divine wisdom, eloquence, and protection against spells and disease. This last quality may be a dim echo of the healing powers of Sirona and of Her ancient association with night and dreams. People seeking cures for chronic illnesses often made pilgrimages in order to sleep within the sanctuary of a healing Deity in hope of receiving a Divine Dream in which the cause and cure of their illness would be made known to them by the Goddess of the shrine. Dio Cassius wrote of a pilgrimage made by the Emperor Caracalla to the shrines of the Celts as well as to Greek and Roman temples in search of a cure.

Farther west in Gaul, Sirona takes on a more diurnal and agrarian image, and is portrayed holding an ear of grain and a bowl. The concepts of healing and of regeneration were always closely associated in Celtic culture, according to Prof. Miranda Green, archeologist and British expert on the Celts. The ear of wheat symbolized the power of growth and rebirth, truth to its name “spica” from the root for hope. Green calls Sirona “polyandrous,” but evidence simple shows Her working in conjunction with several different male Deities: Lugh, Bormo, Grannus, and several other as yet unidentified male figures. She is always associated with the serpent itself as an image of healing and wisdom in the Ancient World, and a symbol associated with the milky Way in several early astronomies.

Night, rest, and healing are the domain of Sirona. The nights will be getting longer now, taking precedence over the day. But as one devotee of Sirona, in spirit if not in name, put it, “I hold the darkness to be good no less than the light.” Now begins the harvest of the benefits of the “good and covering dark.” Between now and Samhain, try to visit some place in the deep country where you can see the Milky Way and the dark sky the way the Druids of Sirona saw it before artificial lights and smog lowered our vision. Anywhere you are, though, a few of the bright stars and planets are always visible, even in the city. If you can’t sleep go out and look at the stars.

A meditative experiment for the radical and the brave: From now ‘til Samhain, avoid all night time electronic media. Know darkness and stars.

Fall Equinox Essay:

Preparation for Winter

A Druid Missal-Any, Fall Equinox 1988

By Emmon Bodfish

Fall Equinox, a minor High Day in the Reform Druid calendar. The season of Foghar begins. The harvest advances in earnest. All produce of the fields and wild woods must be gathered in before Samhain Eve. Any fruit left in the fields after that night must be left, abandoned to the birds and the wild creatures, “to feed the flocks of Cernnunos.” At Fall Equinox the work of harvesting is in full swing and we can appreciate a minor holiday from our work.

There is very little to gather here at the Orinda Grove Site. After the drought and the oak moth plague of this year and last, the oaks has not ripened any acorns to speak of, and the Blue Flag bulbs and wild onions are scarce. We’ll leave what there are to the animals. The deer are hungry and the squirrels have grown bold. They come into the yard or sniff around the garage. However we have a bumper crop of fire wood with all the dead saplings and fallen oak limbs. Never cut a living tree for fuel. There is plenty of the dead stuff around.

From now until Winter Solstice is the time of Cernunnos, Master of the Animals, the woodland God, the antlered shaman. He is the teacher and “brother” of mystics, and of the solitary woods hermits of the Celtic pagan tradition. Professor James Duran believes He is a cognate to Hindu Shiva. He is the magician or shaman figure, cultivating his “yoke to God” in solitude. One theory of the torque symbolism in Celtic religion is that it represents a bond to the wearer’s patron deity. There is archeological evidence, shrines in caves in Spain and France with continuous offerings left over the centuries, that His identity may go back to the antlered and costumed shamans of the Paleolithic. He is a patron of hunters, and is probably cognate with the Anglo-Saxon figure of Hern the Hunter.

The emphasis of this season is balance: old and new, gains and losses. Now we can take stock of the past, of the year’s activities and harvest our gains or cut our losses. Harvest is a time of endings. We are busy storing, preserving and celebrating crops and insights. Balance it with rest, and talking over future plans, beside a hearth fire if possible.

Fall Equinox Essay:

Cernunnos and Dance

A Druid Missal-Any, Fall Equinox 1989

By Emmon Bodfish

Equinox approaches! This is the time sacred to Cernunnos, the Hunter God. The cult of the horned god, the shaman-god dressed in the horns and hide of a hoofed prey-animal, is one of the most ancient themes running through Indo-European-Siberian group of cultures. Cave paintings in France and Spain dating from the Paleolithic show these figures, and he is seen again on the Gundestrup cauldron, crafted by the Eastern European Celts under Druid auspicious and direction, he wears the antlers of the stag. It would be rash to think of all the horned Eurasian gods as Cernunnos, each tribe probably had their own name for him, but the theme seems universal among those cultures which lived through the last Ice Age in Europe and Eurasia north of the Caucus. In the Pre-Indo-European Balkans he is associated with the goat, in Siberia with the. reindeer, in England with the Red Deer, and in the Mediterranean and Ireland with the bull, (Here is another element linking Erin to Spain and the Mediterranean world as opposed to the rest of the British Isles or Gaul.) Everywhere Cernunnos is associated with a horned and hoofed, food producing species. He may be the Being commemorated in the “horn-dances” carried out in a number of English villages up through the nineteenth century, and now exclusively in Abbots Bromley. Whether this is a local survival from Druidic or even Pre-Celtic times, or is a rite brought with them by the Anglo-Saxon invaders in the service of their cognate deity, Hern the Hunter, is not known.

Originally Cernunnos seems to have been a hunter’s god, and later to have become associated with flocks and herds as “Master of the Animals.” Still later he is appealed to for prosperity and fertility in general. This was the stage of the tradition seen in the Grecian Pan cult, and in that of European “Robin Goodfellow,” later distorted and debased by Christian missionaries into their “devil” cults and images. There is no devil in the Celtic Pantheon. A cosmic “bad guy” is a theological invention of a set of Middle Eastern religions including Zoroastrianism, Persian, Sumerian and Semitic as well as Christianity. Devil inventing and worshipping as we see it now is a Christian spin-off, and usually a rebellion against that same faith. It has nothing to do with the older, indigenous religions and God-figures of Europe. Cernunnos was an extremely popular figure among the farming peoples of Celtic Europe, and the Romans, newly Christianized themselves, seeing that they could not co-opt his worship, or euphemize him into a “saint,” as they did a number of the other Druidic deities, debased him into a demon, i.e. the god of a rival, competing theocracy. Margaret Murray first enunciated this theory in the 1920s. Her work then fell into disrepute in the ‘40s and ‘50s, but has since been revived and vindicated. Her book, The God of the Witches, Oxford University Press, 1970, is worth reading if you can find it. G. Rachel Levy also sheds some light on the Mediterranean versions of his worship. In her book The Gate of Horn, Farber and Farber, 1948. (This book is now published as Religious Conceptions of the Stone Age and Their Influence Upon European Thought, New York: Harper, 1963.)

The Gaelic word “Faighe” that come to be translated “prophet,” originally meant “seer” and was the name of one class of Druids, solitary forest-dwelling mystics, who may have originally been connected with the worship of Cernunnos in his role as the shaman-god. “Fiagh,” the Gaelic root word for “deer,” is suggestive in this regard. The old “seer” whom Finn encountered beside the sacred pool was probably one such. They are associated with the Hazel, as Cernunnos may have be as Bride is associated with the Birch and Lugh with the Apple tree.

The Horned-god had a second sacred time beginning around the Winter Solstice with the tradition of the Plying Shaman, Mystic and inter-world journeyer, he descends Into the Land of the Ancestors, (the sun, sinking to its nadir?) to bring back new souls, of game animals and kine and humans that new animals and Infants may be born and increase and prosperity be assured. This journey, “dedicated to the continual flow and renewal of life,*” was still being undertaken by Finn-Ugric and Siberian tribal shamans into this century. It is well documented and the beliefs behind it recorded by A. A. Popov, the Russian anthropologist in his numerous books and articles,

Cernunnos’ rituals and, from the evidence of offerings left secretly at cave shrines, his worship, continued long after nominal Christianization of Europe. The Highland Calluinn (Hazel-tree) Ritual is an example of one such rite, still in practice in the nineteen century. The Protestant cleric who recorded it seems to have had no inkling of its meaning, but he writes that the people of the west Highlands, in the middle of the seventeenth century, were “little more than heathens, having been neglected by the Roman Church.” According to Dwelly, of Dwelly’s Gaelic-English Dictionary fame, it is an old west Highland belief that old Calluinn night, when the winds blow from the West, is the night of the fecundation of the trees. The West is the direction of the Celtic Other World, and of the dead. One wonders if this post-Solstice celebration marks the successful return of the shaman, (as well as the sun) from the Land of the Dead with his sack of new souls and spiritual gifts from the ancestors

(See the Yule Druid Missal-Any for 1986 for the “Santa” Claus-Cernunnos-Flying shaman connection.)

*Quote from the R.D.N.A New and Full Moon Day Service

Section Two:

The Heathen on the Heath


The Thoughts of

Les Craig-Harger

The Heathen on the Heath: Dying

A Druid Missal-Any, Samhain 1986

It is the dawning of our year, and the time to mourn our dead.

I mourn two men of gentle courage, Earl McKeever and George Russ. I cannot keen, or recite their deeds in epic verse; I was not so trained, and neither am I that big a liar. I wept when weeping was fresh and unavoidable. Now is the time of remembrance, and I remember each of them.

Both lived with disability; both died at the hands of murderers. What this means to the year that has ended, or the year that is beginning, or any years before or after, is beyond me--for which I am glad.

As always, I turn to the garden, to the land.

Plants are dying now, sinking to the ground, beginning to decay before the green of life has entirely left them. New growth fastens on the decay and is made strong thereby. This is the way of compost, and of those of us who bear the stigma: Survivor. Ruthlessly the living soul battens on memory. The mourner weeps proudly, wearing the names of the dead as decorations of battle.

And the earth does not judge us, nor does she care. Salmon run, and spawn, and die, and all their history is carried out to sea, along with the hope of their race. Leaves fall, and become rich loam. Myth degenerates into bedtime stories—

--And children dream.

And what shall we do, when sweet-scented loves and bright, clean angers of youth begin to disintegrate into the nameless depths of a mind no longer young? Some of us become cynical, embracing disproof when proof proves impossible. Some of us set places for the dead at our tables, and turn down their beds, and berate the living world for slighting them; we too cling to dead dreams as if loud repetition of their content would bring back our innocence, and vindicate its misconceptions as higher truth. To some of us, the passage of time is a pattern, immune to any attempt of ours to contribute. To others, time has not passed at all.

“When I die,” one friend told me, “the world ends.”

But I choose to inhabit a world that will outlive me, if only for company, and the desire to belong. I may not leave a mark on the face of history; there may be no place for me in any structured scheme of things.

But there’s always room on the compost heap.

The Heathen on the Heath: Death

A Druid Missal-Any, Samhain 1987

Samhain is change; Samhain is ever the same. Year after year we celebrate the Eternal Return, yet in many ways, every Samhain, we are made aware that you can never really go home.

Remember the dead, they whom--at least this time around--we will not see again. If ever we do meet again, it will be a different story, with everyone wearing different faces; the beloved ghosts who watch with us this night can only wait, and whimper, hoping that when Mannannen’s cloak is finally drawn between us, it is wisdom and not wounds that each shall bring away from that parting. Some changes are irrevocable.

I talk to my death. I ask his advice, and he always gives it. It never differs from the last advice he gave me, but the sound of his voice awakens the mind to flooding moonlight, clearer than the cluttered light of day, and all the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and petty things become very small indeed. For my death says, “Whatever it is that you will do, remember that I am coming for you; I know when that is, but you don’t.”

We live in a real world, and we know that because, one by one, we die. This Samhain, as we stand in the moon drenched grass, can we let wishful thinking drain from us, and be there for our Gods as they are? The wishful mind is a lover so busy planning the wedding, or choreographing the seduction, or mentally buying a house, that the fiery satin of the beloved’s touch goes unnoticed. Imagination given to the present, and to the opening of the senses, is psychedelic; there is no book of instructions for the opening of an eye, and no script for a kiss. Name the names of your dead, and let yourself cry. Look at the living and see them. Don’t miss anything, because the next Samhain, the next year, the next life, the next time you step on this same patch of ground, everything will be different.

The Heathen on the Heath:

Seasonal Festivities

A Druid Missal-Any, Yule 1986

The wind is rising; it yowls like a ghost, or like my boojum-hunting Siamese cat. Modern society, to placate centralized authority, has its Halloweens and Christmases mixed up; Yule’s defiance of the dark has always had a shiver in it, for all the blazing fires and gift-giving.

In the hills, our potlatches begin early and end late, with gifts displaying little of meekness, or modern good taste. It is a show of individual power and communal solidarity, an upraised finger to the society that names us separate and subordinate, and a jeer at the darkness. Animals are given, and food, and parts for woodstoves, and tools, and weapons. The well-to-do clothe their friends in gaudy finery; the poor may literally give the shirts off their backs. (“I got good wear out of this, but it’d really look better on you…”) Some of these folk are Christians, and others evade all Gods equally; we pagans, for the most part, go in secret. But the Mother is there. Who can forget Her ways, when She blows off chunks of the roof and pours the bounty of Her waters down the backs of our necks at 4 A.M.?

The Really Together Pagan Farmer could perhaps use the Season of Sleep to catch up on same (barring the occasional invasion by the elements!) For all Her vaunted somnolence in these short days, Mom would do a lot of my winter work for me, had I only prepared. Clover scattered in the cornfield will both feed and weed it, while we who miss the boat get to experience winter’s majesty firsthand, as we haul manure in the rain. And this is the litany of the Not So Together Pagan Farmer: “Next year, for sure, I’ll remember!”

People of the towns and valleys charge about at breakneck speed, readying for their own midwinter festival. They beam in childlike glee at festoons of red and gold and green--anybody recognize those colors? Spend money like water, and then go home and feed their shrewd and skeptical children one version or another of the Santa Clause: there is or there ain’t. The Heathen’s child didn’t wait for the huffing and puffing of grownup authority. “Santa’s a spirit,” he said. The Heathen’s child happens to believe in spirits, being something of an imp himself. Will Santa come to him in visions? Guide him through the forest at night? Bestow amulets, misplace household objects, spook the cat? There have been a disproportionate number of small, impressively-antlered deer around here lately; perhaps I should have a talk with that kid.

Do people have a Yule instinct? With crèches and evergreens, candles in varying arrangements, and assorted bells and books, we all seem to gather in the dark, to give the Wheel of the Year a push out of midwinter’s mud and snow. And thus we come to love a season of harsh truths. It is now that sickly animals will die, and terminally-ill people as well. It is now that the weather takes its toll, in sniffles and shivers, in stuck, crashed, or broken vehicles. And darkness settles in our thoughts and our hearts, depression and contention and unexplained tears: we need our festival now. The flame of Life’s energy burns low, and it is our turn to fan the embers that once blazed so heartily, whether or not we noticed or cared.

So join now, my people, remembering who we are. Let not the traditions of others, whether openly sacred or merely The Way Things Are Done These Days, bind us in unawareness. Rather let us face our hardship and heartbreaks, wearying pasts and intimidating futures, and together make loud, rude noises at them. And so we shall be prepared for the Sun’s return, and strengthened for the work that is to follow. Don’t worry if it isn’t easy, or if the holiday’s merriment has a catch in it here and there. We have the freedom to debunk the real seasonal fraud, and admit: it isn’t easy, or carefree, or exactly like being a kid again. Then, having admitted it, light the fire, pour the punch, and make the light welcome when it gets here.

It isn’t easy. So why should Mom have to do it all alone?

The Heathen on the Heath:

Making A Tradition

A Druid Missal-Any, Yule 1987

Time was when I tried to tie every column in with the theme of the seasons. But I’ve ridden at least one revolution of the year-wheel with this column, and it has finally occurred to me that Mad Sweeney handles the seasonal aspects of the Missal-Any quite well, without the aid of my scholly sloppership. So I think I’ll stop the year and get off.

What, I haven’t succeeded? Why, so I haven’t. For I have here a subject of rant and rave quite appropriate for winter’s dark insistence. You see, it occurs to me that winters--especially country winters--are a fine time to get down to the grunt work of our religion. We have sung and feasted and sacrificed, and yelled at one another and praised our ancestors. But what do we do next? What is a pagan, or more specifically a Reformed Druid, life, in grubby day-to-day detail?

I must first admit that hard, clearheaded scholarship is something that I perceive as a duty, badly neglected on my part. I am currently poking my nose into the study of history, in bits and snippets, including more of the world than the U.S., or Celtic Britain and Ireland. The future springs from the loam of the past; if one wants to add a few nutrients for its proper growth, it helps to know what was thrown on the compost heap to begin with, and also to be reasonably aware of the nature of composting.

But what do we want to do with that future? Could I say that most of us would like to bring with us some of the values that we find in the visions of our Celtic forebears--the stubborn individualism that has led English-speaking peoples (and those who still speak Gaelic) into political experimentation that has continued to this day? Do we want to continue the openhearted pride and hospitality of the Celt, and the bold curiosity that looks the very Gods squarely in the eye?

We can only start right now. And though we may debate the correctness of possibility of writing, or rather rewriting, our own religion, the need to rewrite our culture is hardly worth an argument. Culture gets rewritten, and one can either participate actively or be manipulated by those in power. We’re living a script that was heavily re-written in the aftershock of two world wars: although the sanctity of the family per se is a very old concept, the sanctity of the nuclear family is no older than our own parents. Cut! We’re gonna have to do that scene over again. The previous generation meant well. They probably hoped, by isolating the breeding unit, to achieve greater individual prestige, and in some cases, it worked.

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