- a collection of essays on Neodruidic Studies
- a journal of Post-Reconstructionist Neopaganism

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanks to The Mother

photo (c)2008 Earrach
and by all the Blessed of those therein;
by the wisdom, love and example of our Honored Ancestors,
and by the exalted Gods, Guides and Heroes of the Eternal Realms,
let us now, with an ancient hymn,
likely a thousand years old, one thousand years ago*,
give thanks to our First and Greatest Mother…

" E  A  R  T  H ,    
Divine Goddess,  Mother Nature,
who generatest all things and bringest forth anew,
the Sun which thou hast given to the nations;
guardian of sky and sea and of all gods and powers;
through thy power all Nature falls silent and then sinks in sleep.

And again thou bringest back the light and chasest away night,
and thou coverest us yet most securely with thy shades.
Thou dost contain chaos infinite, yea and wind and showers and storms.
Thou sendest them out when thou wilt and causest the sea to roar;
thou chasest away the Sun and arousest the storm.
Again, when thou wilt, thou sendest forth the joyous day
and givest the nourishment of Life with thy eternal surety.

And when the soul departs, to thee we return.
Thou art duly called the Great Mother of the Gods;
thou conquerest by thy divine name.
Thou art the source of the strength of nations and of gods,
without thee nothing can be brought to perfection or be born;
thou art great, Queen of the Gods.

Goddess ! I adore thee as divine; I call upon thy name;
be pleased to grant that which I ask thee,
so shall I give thanks to thee, Goddess, with due Faith... "

- * An ancient hymn to the Earth Mother of uncertain date, but possibly Roman and likely a thousand years older than our oldest surviving source: an Anglo Saxon book of herbal charms and medicine from the 11th Century C.E.,  MS. Harley 1585, FF. 12 V.-13 R., Translation from "Early English Magic and Medicine" by Dr. Charles Singer, Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol. IV.

For a printable PDF of the above CLICK HERE...

And now,

MARIGOLD  by  Maddy Prior  
and the hymn,
HARVEST HOME  traditional.

When the marigold no longer blooms
The summer Sun has turned to gloom
See the forecast winter snow
See the evergreen that lonely grows
Move closer to the fire place
Neglect the garden
See the ground harden
At a ghostly pace

The golden summer sun is silver now
The fruit has fallen from the bough
The season moves to chestnut time
Toffee apples, treacle and mulled wine
Quilts and furs and woolens gay
You wrap around you
But the cold confounds you
On an autumn day

Stout and strong the walls of home and hearth
Curtains drawn against the draft
The rake has reaped, the blade has mown
Nights draw in to call the harvest home
The quiet of a hearth at rest
In peace abounded
By love surrounded
Here the home is blessed...

Come, ye thankful people, come,        (trad.)
Raise the song of Harvest Home
All be safely gathered in
Let the winter storms begin
Earth, our Mother doth provide
That our wants should be supplied
Come, ye thankful people, come
Raise the song of harvest home
Raise the song of harvest home.

Listen to Maddy Prior's rendition HERE.
IMO, the recording on that YouTube page is not her best arrangement;
I greatly prefer her first version on the Steeleye Span album "Sails of Silver"
( "Earth our Mother" insertion mine. Original hymn has "God our maker" -e.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Welcome to the Wasteland...

I.   “Celtic New Year” ( not. )

Contrary to just about everything you’ve read just about everywhere, there actually is a significant dearth of evidence to support the notion that the Celtic feast of Samhain (traditionally Nov. 1,) is the “beginning of the Celtic year”.

Yes, it's long been the assertion of Celtic Studies publications both academic and popular, yet the actual antiquity of the concept cannot be adequately verified.

In 1992 I had written an article, Samhain - Beginning or the End? for the very first edition of our grove’s newsletter suggesting this idea. The article was later published in ADF’s journal The Druids Progress (vol.11, pp12). More recently the British historian Ronald Hutton examined this “factoid” in his exhaustive study of the ritual calendar of the British isles,

"Stations of the Sun" (Oxford, 1996).
Hutton uses both the folk record and extensive researches into calendar references in the medieval literature to show that there is really little evidence that Samhain was considered the Celtic New Year any earlier than the late 1800's.
(Hutton, 1996: pp. 363)

II.   The Sacred Gap: 
The Year as a TORC
For all of our good intentions as serious Celtophiles, I still believe it's just too difficult for most of us to recalibrate our internal calendars to make the Samhain-as-Celtic-New-Years truism actually "work" emotionally. In seeking to reconcile the overwhelmingly "authentic" feel which Yule and New-Years creates at the year's end with the similarly familiar "fit" of Samhain as the feast of the death of the agrarian year, some time ago I began to articulate a pattern of myth and image which I believe we don't need to 'enforce' upon ourselves artificially. Rather, we can easily begin to discover that its componentry is already built-into us: as Westerners, we've actually been celebrating it all along...
If you simply give up trying to make Samhain represent a "beginning" and let the agrarian year end there, the grey twilight of November stands before us as the desolate Wasteland, the Wandering Place located between the cycles of life where eventually we will find our way from the exit of one year to the entrance of the next. We journey from November's dimming grey into the blackness of December and eventually, at the very pit of the year, we arrive at Yuletide, the great feasting-hall of our year's underworld, eventually then to emerge on it's far side, blessed with the spark of hope for the Sun's triumphant return.

It is my contention that although the year ends at Samhain (often translated as “Summer’s-End”), it does not begin there at the end of the old year, but rather, afterward, deep in the darkness of the year’s underworld after a period of wandering and repose, bathed in the Great Cauldron of Rebirth as the golden ring of the Sun slips for but awhile out of sight below those silver waters. That C-ring torc-circle, that lunula (crescent,) holding its fourth and secret unseen phase, that womb-tomb passage door, that horse-shoe-cove of trilithons, that entrance to the Caerdroia labyrinth; the seemingly incomplete cycle leaves a sacred doorway, a gap, a threshold; out through which passes the Old and in through which passes the New…

More on this theme at the Book of Sassafras:

III.   The NORNS     
Three Sisters in the Wasteland...

Perhaps one of the most ancient and widely distributed traditions in the
western Indo-European lore is that of the Three Sisters of Destiny; 

known to the northern tribes as the Norns... 

Each of the sisters represent a different aspect of time:

• The first, an old hag,
peers off into the left or west...
  Urdr, the past. 
• The second, a woman of middle-years, 
stares straight ahead to the south...  Verdandi, the present.
• And the third, a youth, looks off to the right or east...  Skuld, the future.

The Greeks knew them as the Morari: Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos. To the Romans they were the Parcae: Nona, Decima, and Morda. The hag spools the thread from her spindle to the middle woman who measures it, passing it on to the youth who, faceless, cuts it with her shears.

Each sister sees and knows and to a large degree governs her own temporal realm of destiny. These ancient and powerful spirits are perhaps best approached after All Hallows, in the dead of the year; between the worlds, in the Wasteland: the desolate wandering place much like the blasted heath upon which Macbeth encountered the same three "Weird Sisters" later immortalized by Shakespeare.
The story of Macbeth and Banquo's encounter with three weird sisters who address Macbeth in terms of his past, present and future, had already long been a part of the folk record by the time Shakespeare incorporated it into his play. In the lore of the Northern Tradition preserved in the Icelandic Eddas, the Norns were to be found at the base of Ygddraisil, the World Ash-tree. In the shadowy realm between this world and the underworld, at the roots of the Tree, they dwell in a cave that embraces a pool fed by the twelve fountains (or nine rivers) which ever feed and replenish that representative of the Great Well or Cauldron of all origins. It is there they continually tend the roots with water and clay and there they spin and weave their Great Webs; the great fabric of existence.

To the Dark-Ages people of ancient Northern Europe (including most of the British Isles,) the Wyrd was a very familiar and important dimension of their view of the world; a philosophical device not unlike the Eastern traditions’ Tao. Whereas the Asian view has the world and our lives made up of the dynamic interplay of a set of opposites, Yin and Yang, in the west a similar dynamic was seen in the meshing of the Weavers' threads. 

Consider the powerful old European metaphor of the Wyrd:

The stuff of existence as being like a woven fabric...

an infinite number of fibers meshed at right angles to as

many more opposing fibers; each single thread at some point

touches and affects every single other opposing thread.... 
A truly profound image for our contemplation.

- Earrach of Pittsburgh