In any Neopagan Druid service, we pause self-consciously to remind ourselves that we are standing in one limited spot, using limited names to offer the limitless Gods a passel of praise and sacrifice that They don’t actually need.
In Beltane’s disorderly abundance this reminder becomes especially poignant. Where is need of any kind in all of this? Fullness approaches, and our need is for union, for celebration: to be drawn into the riotous family of nature. Beltane is a love story, and I shall go a-Maying.
Shall I call you Earth Mother? Talithu? Nerthus? Ina? In all languages You have a name. I have trusted the seed to its rebirth in the rich death-and-life cycle of the loam; the plant has risen. Someday I shall be part of this, in body as well as in spirit. Is composting and mulching and planting and watering praise? Is gratitude praise?
Shall I call you Danu, Wellspring, Mother of Gods and of Mysteries? Mysteries are not that-which-man-was-not-to-know, but that which lures the mind beyond its depth, lest it grow too stolid to swim. Is it praise to seek our origins, to stare into the past and future, to revel in identity? Is it praise to be ourselves?
I begged my vision through night’s chill, and morning’s first ray was a kiss. Belanos, Lovelight, Seed-father; what is my praise but desire? The praise of green grass means the same, but love does not judge.
An antlered Cernunnos, may we amuse You! Ever the joke is on us, Lord of Beasts and of deep woods, dark fear and bright mockery. By green bough and animal-cry I know I shall live and lust and die in good company, but praise? You’ve heard me say things less polite. My flower gardens belongs to Rhiannon, for what She has taught me. In birdsong and sweet scents nature may praise the wise Horsewoman, bu I can only learn. Let there be forgetfulness of that cruelty too often called justice: honor is a fresh blooming wild flower, and valor a note of music. Is a life praise? I cannot know while I am living it.
Like children, we praise greedily, reaching up for notice and acceptance, as a baby demands a hug. Our Gods are Mothers, Fathers, Lovers, Teachers; our gratitude quivers with wants yet unspoken. Like children, we have little to offer but ourselves and our works, in the hopes that our arch-Parents will gather us to Them as sentimentally as we do our own children. (All the while trying Their patience by attempting to shove our siblings out of the way, and hog all the attention for ourselves!) Is sharing praise, or service, or respect for fellow-creatures?
Surely we do not worship because we think our guaranteed annual year depends on it. And if we worship for the sake of the Gods, what shall we say to the Gods we do not know? The people of Thor offered wary respect to the White Christ, until Christian priests rejected, on Christ’s behalf, the brotherhood of Thor. Then might Thor’s people denounce Christ as a Wimp; but never did they take the view that what they did not know did not exist. Defining “unproven” as “false,” or “myth” as “fabrication,” or “unknown” as “nonexistent” is a popular failing of the current scientific establishment; in seeking our own science, we must remember that the modern mind is trained to the square corners and shut doors of monotheism. Though pre-existing knowledge is there for us, we are denied the cheap tricks of Central Authority. Do we worship in ritual? And what is our ritual: the mutable traditions of a farmer in the garden? A window opening on the visions of our forbears? Or a door to shut between emotion and thought, magic and work, religion and real life? Lugh help us; it’s not an easy path.
We seek the path of heroes, for the modesty of the monotheist is another cop-out we don’t get. Saints are safe in Heaven, beyond the reach of our kind, but heroes are meant to be emulated--though they may shine brighter out of antiquity, all their awkward moments over and one with. We need only remember that some being or circumstance will eventually play Emer to our Cuchullain, and require us to place money where mouth is.
So be splendid in the splendor of May, fellow wedding-guests! If our praise is presumptuous and our dreaming extravagant, only look around: with gaudy flower fields, flooding light, and leaping beasts, we have a fine example.
My son’s cat, Boadicia (a proper battle-queen, with knives on her chariot wheels) has just brought forth four mewing heirs to her warlike throne. They rest in a box that once held frying chickens, and think happy thoughts.
My son is the proud one: Bo is a little confused. Who will ye marry on Beltaine day? When the tomcat comes around, she wants to kill him. And I watch the little princes and princesses as anxiously as she does, remembering my own little wonders, which had to be rescued from my incompetent womb by men with blades, rubber gloves, and endless dials and gauges. The door into this world swings both ways...
Check on the kittens,” Daniel says. “I’m not sure Bo won’t take them out of the box and put ‘em back in Olin’s bed.” I do not yet interrupt a system that a mother cat doubtless understands better than I do, however young and inexperienced she may be. So when my eyes finish opening, I use my spy-hole—a gap between the boards in the wall of my son’s room, visible from the ladder to the loft.
My glasses are still in a kitchen drawer, but I can make out an indistinct Bo-and-kitties blob, and a smaller orange blob off to one side. Rattiness has already given way to the audacity of fur.
The fuzzy reddish blot does not move. I hear a small, grunting noise. Perhaps it has moved aside to answer a call of nature, and is awaiting the fullness of time. I am barely awake. I do not want to know more.
Coffee. The horse needs her hay. Dogs trip me; ducks laugh. I don’t think about the perils of fertility. The hell I don’t! I did not share Bo’s touching faith in the universe: her first heat simply pre-dated my being able to afford to spay her. My male animals remain as they are, for the sake of the élan that their altered counterparts seem to lack. But I know what my female critters would be missing—urgency, pain, birth. And motherhood, the one solid joy among--all of them, presents an overpopulated world with another potentially homeless child. No, not homeless! If no one else takes the little ones, I do. A stray once offered me a real deal on puppies does anybody wants one?
I’m putting it off. Something has either gone wrong in that box, or it hasn’t. I will either look, congratulate Bo again, and then relax and have breakfast, or I will spare Bo the pain of further association with the corpse of her child.
I will look, but not too closely. My glasses remain in the drawer.
The orange one is still there, still motionless. May it nurse at the undying teats of Earth, How big it is, handsome and furry. It sits in an attitude of guardianship, watching over Bo’s unconcerned sleep...with huge...exactly round pale...plastic...eyes.
The devilishly grinning toy Garfield that Olin set in attendance on them is doing his job.
Once again I have been a human, empowered and therefore a klutz. That which has escaped my control is doing just fine, thank you, without respect for my megalomaniac and overprotected neuroses. Once again I have peered tremblingly into the face of the Mother, expecting to see death, and found instead the tentative whimsy of love. Sometimes worship is humility. Sometimes worship is as rich and private as a stolen kiss. And sometimes worship consists simply in letting go of responsibilities that don’t belong to you. My son already knew that. I have just been shown.
Even when life is fragile, it is not brittle: we invented brittleness. With what do we replace our innocence? What playful and unnecessary gift do we have for the May-bridal and summer-birth? For they will be celebrated in spite of us, even up to the day when life is no more. There is a time to do battle against the destructiveness of power, and a time to simply let go of power and join in the party.
For reasons beyond our ken, She did invite us.
The Heathen on the Heath:
Babbles on about Patronage
A Druid Missal-Any, Beltane 1989
I recently had a very dear brother tell me that my life in the woods had a romantic mystique of being more genuine than a pagan life in the town. May I say, hogwash? The only thing the Heath has managed to impress upon the Heathen and make it stick, so far, is how un-genuine a life she usually leads, next to her other brethren of water, beast, and tree. Oh, close-up adoration of the gods is a very moving experience. But there’s more to a god or goddess than loving him or her, and it’s all much too big for us, and I suspect that the energy of our natural comedy is a better feast for the immortals’ table than any amount of praise and sacrifice.
One thing that I’m sure inspires a veritable salvo of godly giggling is how we deal with our patrons and teachers, both in the other world and in this one. Most of you probably know your patrons, and have at least some idea of who your totem beasts are. Some of you may know a departed of discorporate spirit who teaches you, or uses you to speak to others. Some of this stuff is very recognizable; other times, you may shake your head, check whatever resources you use to identify the “real” archetypes, and decide that you’re simply crazy.
Totemism, for instance. I’m not going to get into whether our forebears practiced any precise or organized form of totemism, although Cuchullain’s relationship with the hound (killing one, then having to fulfill its function, and thereafter being forbidden to harm the hound or eat of its flesh) sounds a lot like totemism to me. But we Neopagans are balanced between two influences: What is born into us from our ancestors? And then, what do the gods and the beasts do to us in the here-and-now?
For instance, I sit at the feet of the entire canine tribe. Wolf, dog, coyote, fox--all bitches and vixens are my sisters. Elder sisters. A totem is a teacher, a giver of omens, a bridge between human anomie and the solidarity of nature. I don’t know anyone else whose attachments are so general. I do not know that for me to ignore the call of any pack-running nightsinger means disaster. It puts me in quite a dilemma, because a country homestead, with its deliciously helpless ducks and chickens and its panicky newborn grazers, is an even worse place to interact with large number of canines than a house in town. So in a very undignified, non-ritual way, my totem is constantly teaching me the difference between genuine love and respect and the phony human construct of charity. We are not the gods. An ordinary housedog knows the gods better than I do.
It can be a pretty harrowing relationship. There’s you, and there’s your teaching-beast, and there’s the rest of the world. Are you brother or sister to a beast that the neighbours regard as property, or a menace, or a running larder? I listen to the song of the Grey Brethren on the ridges with an entirely different emotion than do the sheep-ranchers a little further down the valley, though we meet on the common ground of wishing dysentery and poison oak on the morons who dump unwanted dogs “out in the wilds” to seek out their niche as incompetent pack members and stock killers.
Sometimes an animal relative will come to you for its death. Fub that one, and you’re in big trouble. I know.
Then there are the creatures other than your totem who show up here and there with messages or lessons, or just to make your day, There was the king stag of our hill, laughing at me. There was the squirrel crossing the road, to show me the consequences of letting faster drivers (or anything else which is simply more aggressive or socially acceptable than I am) push me around. There are the white cranes that feed in the pastures north of here, whose mere presence lights up my heart for no reason that I can name, and the river otters who join me for a dip: “Screw it; this is playtime!”
You can’t put your life in a pattern, or make a pretty pattern with the wild things in all their rightful places: not and know anything about yourselves. Nonhuman logic is not going to make sense to you. A brave man can find himself chosen by a grazer; a timid woman might have a totem that hunts to survive. There is more to any animal or spirit than one human can know.
Plants will choose you, too. What kind of wood is your staff made of? I don’t have one. I kept waiting for a branch of madrone to wave yoo-hoo at me. Meanwhile, the bay tree at the head of my garden, that I had talked to and cried on and rested under for the last dozen years, dropped a branch in this winter’s snow. It’s about ten feet long, and as thick as my 1eg and finally today it occurred to me that my staff is smack in the middle of it, waiting for me to get my lazy butt in gear and whittle it out. “Hey, is anybody awake here?”
I suspect that the gods sort of meet us in the middle, choosing us when we most need them. Perhaps we look harder for our gods, because religion makes such a blatant difference between us and the rest of the world, and the gods are such an obvious feature of it. We meet with blessings, opportunities, and quest. Eventually, we find the gods who are our patrons. When I was younger, I always thought that my patroness would be the goddess who ruled over my purpose in life, or my identity. Now I know better: my patroness is the goddess that don’t cut me no slack.
Paganism is not a TV set, and the teachings of gods and beasts are not a spectator sport: our patrons and our totems will all want something from us. Our laughing disclaimer at the beginning of services may remind us to respect reason, but the praise and sacrifice that follows is just as necessary, to keep our end of the bargain up until we find something better to offer. Wherewith, I offer this praise:
Who loves you?
Whose laughter caresses your departing back?
Beneath whose cloak of midnight do your eyes adjust to the dark,
And whose hand sets the geas before you
Like a wall of stone?
To this, I give my heart.
The Heathen on the Heath:
The Gift of Horses
A Druid Missal-Any, Summer Solstice 1987
I invoke that portion of compost, which is the gift of horses.
Do you guys know how many times I’ve rewritten this #!%?!! thing? I think we can settle down and admit that the Missal-Any has become a new format: Interactive Nonfiction. Is there some Hitchhiker’s Guide to the minority-theological Galaxy? Or are we headed for the Snit at the End of the Universe? Stay tuned…
This is the season of battle; the Sun stands ringed by hero-light, facing the confrontation He cannot win. In the summer blaze of midsummer, YES!, we stand cocky and feisty at His side. The day is long and summer just begun--will it not last forever? By August, each warm hour is precious: our words and deeds will echo with the gentleness of farewell. The (Carleton) traditional services chant our glee at the conquest of day over night, but most of us have our moments of rooting for Pryderi. We are in our glory, our attitude of immortality unsmirched, yet we can still take comfort in saying “This, too, shall pass.”
We (genetic and/or emotional) Celts are historically marked as argumentative cusses, as witness the forms of lampoon, rant, and challenge-in-verse. Boldness is our legacy, and defensiveness our last year’s garbage.
What is the appropriate channeling of our quibblesome nature? I, for one, would not go back to my pacifist beginnings; I have little respect for the tameness of a toothless dog. My most honored comrades are dangerous folk, controlled by volition rather than weakness. When people are scarce enough to be a resource rather than a nuisance, the strong can stop apologizing. We don’t sheathe our blades in the neighbor’s house out of fear, but because we respect our neighbors.
Also, if we love, we are having too much fun to care overmuch what our beloveds can do to us…
As a religious minority, we are an automatic rural neighborhood. We have our local characters, but let the stranger say, “Do you know that nut-case?” We will quite likely say, “Oh, he/she’s okay once you know him/her,” and find that, against the perspective of the rest of the world, we mean it. I know, I know; you’ll all howl that this kind of neighborhood loyalty is not something you reserve for Druids or extend to everyone who takes that name. That’s true. My primary clan relationships are likely to differ from Tom’s, or Albion’s, or Mad Sweeney’s, and a good number of the members of my clan or clans do not name Neopagan Druidism as their religious orientation. They are all, however, joined to me in avowed and reliable goodwill, and respectful of the orientations I profess. So okay, I am available to my own clansfolk before I would be available to Tom, or Albion, or any other Druids that I don’t personally know. But I am available (willingly, and in good faith) to my Druish brethren and sistern before I am (willingly, and in good faith) available to the mainstream authorities. I assume that we squabble en tutoyant, and will still be there for each other if that is necessary. (And yes, you can call me on that. Box 215, Myers Flat, CA 95554.)
Fear of names? Sometimes. What do I most fear to name: my Gods, or myself? My dealing with some Gods are embarrassingly private. And I myself possess a name that will call me from sleep, or draw my energy to the user of it; I don’t give that to just anybody. But Tom and Albion have boldly “named” themselves in these pages, to a degree that I have not. Ergo, the Summer Statement: Here am I, a woman 35 years old, attempting to farm a hillside steading in southern Humboldt while making a living as a freelance reporter and general odd-jobber (currently, selling cherry cider and produce to tourists.) The untidy generosity of my physique bears witness to my undisciplined nature, but I’m still pretty functional.
I write--basically, anything that anyone will print, and a lot of things they won’t. Most dear to me of all our lore are the poetic, emotionally-charge stories of Erin. Like Albion, I was once a Quaker. My religious practice contains little of formal observance, but I operate under a number of what I see as my own geasa and obligations. (Laugh if you want; sometimes I do, too.) I use magic only as a last-ditch adjunct to doing my damnedest on the physical plane, and only for certain purposes. I honor ethics and deplore morality. My greatest weakness is a reflexive snapping and snarling at what I see as elitism or authoritarianism. I once beaned a wife-beater with my purse, but I am not reliably or consciously brave. I’m a solitary 3rd, married, with a 7-year-old son who lives with me full-time and a 9-year-old daughter who visits.
Tom, Albion, I offer this: who among us has the power to be a threat to the others? (Hopefully none of us is such a slob as to throw energy around as we argue, instead of grounding it out!) Both “promoting darkness” and “Ku Klux Klan” show a fine sense of drama, but you know effing well that if the storm troopers showed up looking for any of us tomorrow, the rest would like like right valiant rugs to cover his/her ass. So will you guys kiss & make up, or at least wait for the bell?!!
The Heathen on the Heath:
A Druid Missal-Any, Lughnasadh 1986
Okay, enough already! This is war. Sweat runs down too fast to blink away from my eyeballs, and my hands are too filthy to mop it away. How can so many slugs exist in the world, let alone in my garden? And where did that eighth duck go, and just what is it that got past my eight-foot fence, stacked tires and assorted whirligigs and wind chimes to eradicate half my potato plants? Hey, gang, there’s a limit! Isn’t there? At Beltaine you came to party. Now the sun is past the zenith, and you’re still raiding the pantry. I’ve tried asking you to go home. No dice. And the dog has some inexplicable wound on his paw—boars? Bobcats?
This is war. Somehow mine ancient enemy, the wild gooseberry, has started some fifth-column activity amid the tomatoes, and sent spies among my mealybug-ridden brassicae. No use griping to Mother: She and her Consort are making hay while the sun shines, and hardly interested in the squabbles of the children.
Whoever first characterized life in Nature as peaceful had a somewhat warped sense of humor.
The very plants do battle; this winter my pruning-saw must break up a slow-motion barroom brawl between an oak, a madrone, and a whitethorn, all of whom can survive quite nicely if they will simply settle for their own spaces and leave each other alone. Fat chance! All living things demand to not only live, but win, preferably at the expense of any and all possible competitors. That herd of wild pigs must not only have the next ridge, but also my ridge, to find true happiness.
And what members of any one species think of each other cannot be printed and sent through the U.S. mail.
Where does that leave your everlovin’ Heathen? Confused, mostly. While I have no compunctions about claiming the fruits of my own labor, and whatever else I can pry loose (I’m not even a vegetarian) there are certain human-engendered refinements on the art of war that I will not use. Mom may not care whether my tomatoes or her gooseberries grow in the garden, but that’s not sufficient reason to dump assorted petrochemicals in Her water-table--or feed to my down hill neighbors, if it comes to that. I’ll go after rodents with cats, traps, and a .22, but I have no desire to bring down my allies the redtails with the “friendly fire” of B-gon or DeCon. Can this be said to make a difference, in view of how the rest of my species chooses to nuke their nuisances? And ought I to be messing around in here at all? This garden is an invasion in itself, exotic and pampered organisms installed in the devastation of turf that I chose to call French Intensive Double-Digging. That’s not what was here to begin with.
Thing is, an attitude of nobles oblige requires a certain amount of backup. Kindness is for what we control, and as I gaze in utter dismay on the ruin of my efforts, and the impossibility of reverting to humanity’s original mode of participation (hunting and gathering) without overstressing an already depleted wild economy, I realize that my control over this environment is minimal. And wasn’t that what I wanted?
Admittedly the fight is rigged. Pit me, with a rifle, against a boar with tusks and I’ll bet on me every time. I ought to know; I rigged it myself…I, and forebears who shared my motives, long ago. Like the boar, we also want it all. Unlike the boar, we may someday be unfortunate enough to get it all, thereby destroying it. Will we someday live on chemicals, or mutated yeast, because we have won all our wars and there are no other surviving species?
The squirming, biting, struggling child takes endless comfort in the unarguable restraint of Mother’s arms. But as the child ceases to be a baby, a little caution creeps into its protest, unaware at first: we don’t want to hurt Mommy, after all. And hopefully, by the time we are big and strong enough to do Her real damage, we will have thoroughly absorbed the lesson that She has feelings, too.
Except that people-en-masse are always a little dumber than people one at a time.
Where are you in the world? Where are your battles, what have you won…and at what cost? Come, swap war-stories with me, for even if you are busily making chemicals out of other chemicals, or laying concrete over ground, we are all the same in this. Nobody gave us the right to be who we are; we have made ourselves. Nobody owed us a place in the world; we have taken it. This is our nature, as surely a part of us as greenness is of grass, to be channeled but never truly changed.