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

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

But it's a book ABOUT the Autumnal Equinox !

I'm sorry, I know I've been whining about this for years but in this case I just couldn't restrain myself. My intentions are constructive and I tried to blunt the sharper edges of my prose and even gave her an "out" for my primary complaint. Nonetheless there's at least one counter-review accusing me of being unnecessarily mean to the author. Well, you be the judge...

Mabon: Celebrating the Autumn Equinox
(Llewellyn Paperback, (c) 2002)


OK Kristin, what IS the date of the September Equinox?

I'm sorry but every time I get a chance and have the time in the bookstore I grab this book and scan and scan til my eyes are blurry and my head is spinning... I've probably logged 40 minutes this way over the last couple years and still have not found one place in your whole book about this Pagan holy-day where it states THE DATE of the actual equinox. Perhaps I'm wrong and I've consistently overlooked it?

If it's really not in there, why? What about the likelihood of a book about Christmas or Independence Day being published which never cites the calendar date of the subject? Initially, the absurdity of this just boggles the mind...

If it's really not in there, I can hardly blame you, Kristin, since virtually NONE of the books on Wicca and Neopaganism or Celtic Spirituality ever published by Llewellyn (or their competitors) -ever- get this date right. As a result there is such a towering body of incorrect citations for the date out-there that I could easily imagine Llewellyn's editors forcing you to not give the correct information since it would then indicate that the related statements in 99 of 100 of their other books as being wrong.

Well, regardless, here's the deal: for Western Europe, Britain, and North America, the September Equinox occurs usually on September 23rd and on the other years on September 22nd. NEVER on the 25th; NEVER on the 21st, etc...

If you don't believe me, here is where astronomers and calendar makers go for the actual data for such things, rather than Pagan writers eternally cribbing off of other ill-informed Pagan writers as they seem to have done for generations.

Maybe in the next edition?
Otherwise it could have been a charming little book.

Blessed be,

Pittsburgh PA

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Part II of POST-Reconstructionism...

"Vetting" our deities?
Please see my previous post for the explanation of the context for this material.  
A downloadable PDF of the form below is linked HERE...

Hmm, let's see, where did we leave off last time?  Oh, yeah...

...WHAT ?


( Damn straight... )

P o s t - R e c o n s t r u c t i o n i s m
 a new (?) vector for Neopagan Druidism

Part II

EHUMERIZATION is a term for the intentional religious action, or accidental folk-process, in which a heroic or otherwise legendary character from the lore of a people becomes elevated from the status of remarkable mortal-being to that of a deity or exalted spirit, worthy of religious veneration.

SO, using the following (IMO, not unreasonable) form, how do you think the following candidates would fare if vetted for their actual historical or contemporary qualification as a "deity" ?

EXAMPLE CANDIDATES - a mix for comparison:

Zeus; Demeter; Hermes; Herakles
Cernunnos; Lugos; Taranis; Ogmios 
In Dagda; Mannanan; Brighid; Lugh; Cuchulainn
Rhiannon; Arianrhod; Cerridwen; Taliesin; Merlin
Odin; Tiw; The Norns; Freya; Thor; Balder

I intentionally mixed up the list of sample deities to include a lot of "sure things" layered with some who are not. 

Let's see... there's:

1.) the "Sure-Things"
- plenty of evidence of being worshipped as deities in the ancient world. 
(Greeks, Romans)

2.) the "Certain, but without surviving lore"  
- (Romano Gaulish is a good example)

3.) the "Certain, but sources expurgated"
- only surviving lore transcribed by Christian clerics and historians, living roughly contemporary with their sources (Norse, Germanic)

4.) the "Likely, but sources expurgated"
 - only surviving lore is heroic, no one is referred to as a deity, written by Christian clerics many hundreds of years afterward. (the entire Irish corpus)

5.) the "Speculative, literary"
- based on isolated texts of heroic material referring to none of its characters as deities 
( Welsh (Mabinogion))

6.) the "Speculative, folkways"
- based on active folk traditions collected over the last 500 years.

Yep, I'm not ashamed to admit for myself and the rest of us that to a greater or lesser degree we're playing-out a big Druid-"Field of Dreams" operation.

SO... let's coax them out of that cornfield.





1.) Name of candidate spirit/character

2.) Region / culture(s) involved

3.) Estimated time-range this spirit/character was venerated (years BCE/CE)

4.) Estimated time this spirit/character fell out of ongoing formal/public worship.

5.) Did this spirit figure as a character in specific heroic (or other) ancient lore?

6.) Did this individual appear in multiple stories; or in multiple sources?

7.) Was that lore primarily “heroic” lore, telling the stories of a great mortal’s life, or when and to what degree did it contain esoteric elements implying the character was in part or wholly supernatural? Give examples.

8.) Have archaeologists discovered clear evidence of shrines or temples and/or offerings made, or dedicated to the veneration of this spirit/character?

9.) Does the historical record give us mention of worship at shrines or temples, or celebrations dedicated to this individual as an exalted spirit worthy of veneration?

10.) Were said sources writing in a time contemporary with or closely-to the time of said worship? Were the sources quoted relatively friendly-to their subject or could their writing be seen as libeling them as savage, deluded or un-civilized?


In the case in which the candidate does not do well in light of 1-10 above, give compelling reasons for why our organization should collectively agree to elevate this candidate to the stature of a spirit worthy of veneration (i.e. “worship”) at our public rites.


On the weight of the above and/or the following scholarly source and reference materials, we the undersigned feel confident this candidate either was formerly worshiped as a deity, or (see #11,) should by now qualify for religious veneration at the status of “deity” or “exalted spirit”…






Monday, September 5, 2011

Reconstructionism? Hmm, well...

P o s t - R e c o n s t r u c t i o n i s m
 a new (?) vector for Neopagan Druidism

First, some definitions:

Neopaganism:  an umbrella-term encompassing all forms of contemporary pagan religious activity if based largely or in part on religious ideas and customs assumed to be closely related to the ways of the ancient, non-Christian peoples.

Neopagan Druidism”:
Any group or individual since the mid 20th Century of the common Era practicing modes of activity that would qualify as both “Druidic” and “religious”, concurrently. In other words, a contemporary activity involving public or private worship conducted in a “druidic” modality.This distinction is required since globally there are a significant number of contemporary “Druid”-identified groups who define themselves as not a religious movement but rather, as being “philosophical brotherhoods”.

(Celtic Reconstructionist; Druidic Reconstructionist; Norse, Greek, Roman… etc.)
Groups or individuals strictly limiting their religious expression to the use of those motifs and modalities supported by the findings of up to date, archeological or historical research.

Initially, this is not a discussion of the reconstructionist folks within ADF. 
Here instead I am commenting on the non-ADF reconstructionists one encounters on Wikipedia subject and discussion pages and those who publish articles on pagan forums and are actually critical of ADF for using the term "Druidism" for what it's doing when in fact, they say, not only is it not exclusively "Celtic", ADF is even guilty of committing the cardinal sin of "eclecticism". Yes these are the holier-than-thou trolls who you even catch at times trying to dodge the very classification "Neopagan". 
Celtic Reconstructionism quickly reaches its limits...
It's a simple as that. It seems to me that Druidic or Celtic Reconstructionism (“CR”) loses steam especially fast. The Norse, Greek, and Roman reconstructionists have much more authentic material to work with since there survive large bodies of the lore from those ancient peoples written down in a time truly contemporary or closely-so with their original pagan practices. Due to the profound lack of Celtic lore authentically representing the ways of pre-Christian Celtdom, the CR folks quickly find themselves at a loss for the material necessary to fulfil their self imposed “reconstructionist” criteria. Once they find themselves synthesizing for their practices with progressively more speculative themes, cobbling material together from regionally and historically unrelated, albeit “Celtic” sources, and reaching ever further into to their own “UPG” * to make sense of it all… they quickly find themselves performing functionally as heretics to their own draconian standards. Then again, if you chose to be aSelf-Confessed Heretical-” Celtic Reconstructionist, you might just get by; at least until the Reconquisitors catch up with you.

Self definition and definitions based on actual practice are often two very different things. The job confronting us as Neopagan Druids and grove organizers is to create a rational and effective public ritual at least every six weeks and to actually carry it through. In ADF we have made it our obligation to serve our greater Neopagan community openly this way both to members and to non members. If we don’t make our offerings accessible and rewarding experiences to the folks who do show up, we will (and do) find that fewer and fewer folks show up at each event. We consider making our works accessible and rewarding enough to bring in more and more folks to be one of the best ways of attracting and maintaining the favor of the gods and other spirits. Surely you don’t think that just shouting “accept our sacrifice!” while plopping some oil on the fire really impresses "Them" enough?

In my experience (it sounds snarky but that's not my intention,) I’ve gathered the distinct impression that it’s easy to be a Celtic Reconstructionist, as long as you don’t actually do anything. How many of these non-ADF groups actually keep up a system of open, public rituals? How well attended are they? How many of these groups (if they constitute physical “groups” at all) last for any appreciable amount of time? The ADF grove I founded has been doing open, publicly promoted rites every six weeks since 1992 and the attendance at these events varies from twenty to over fifty persons each time. At this writing (2011) that puts us at 152 High-Day events and we’ve learned a lot in the process. We still are always very careful with our scholarship and sources, never saying or implying in our rites that what we are doing is what the Ancients did... yet I'm sure that the Recons would still turn up their noses at our work as "eclectic" and somehow beneath their standards.

So, at length, I find myself confronted with the notion that so-called reconstructionism is based on an attractive yet fundamentally illogical premise. It’s sort of like calling yourself a pro-choice Roman Catholic. Calling yourself a Celtic Reconstructionist and then changing the rules is not the prerogative of one who wishes to  keep calling oneself a CR. Another, even more basic problem here is really simple: you can’t practice an ancient pagan religion, because the fact is that you’re not an ancient pagan. You are a Neopagan, and you can’t escape that definition as long as you seek to practice a pagan religion using ancient cultural motifs which ceased being practiced many centuries ago.You either “are” or you’re “not”, and you don’t get to choose both, it’s one or the other (how dualist of me!). One factor, by definition, automatically precludes the other.

So then, “POST-Reconstructionism” ?

I could go on. There’s a lot more to be said about (my opinions on) the false assumptions and other fundamental problems with reconstructionist paganism, but we’re here to talk about a new and hopefully less contentious definition for our work, a sphere of activity I’m calling POST-RECONSTRUCTIONIST Neopaganism.

Sometimes I’m tempted to suggest that Isaac, for all of his early reconstructionist language, in creating ADF was setting up one of the first great Post-Reconstructionist Neopagan systems. From his youth onward, Isaac’s very identity was based on getting involved in whatever was going on at the time, figuring out the obvious errors involved and broadcasting it back to the community at large and (then, cementing my appreciation for his work,) NEVER doing so without presenting a constructive solution for fixing things and moving forward toward a more productive future. 

Neopaganism was needing something like ADF and Isaac created it for us. We didn’t all just crowd into that brand new ADF because Isaac was such a swell guy; it was because we found the model to be a compelling solution to the problems we encountered in Neopaganism and we wanted to carry it forward. A core principle in what Issac was offering us was reconstructionism... but not reconstructionism alone. In one sense (and I have checked this with him,) Isaac wanted ADF to be an open pagan "church", serving the needs of Neopaganism at-large, not just playing to its own membership. To do this he saw that, considering the populations involved, a monolithic Celtic Recon format just wouldn't cut it and so, right from the get-go, he wanted ADF to be able to provide high quality Celtic, Greek, Norse, Roman, Lithuanian, and even Vedic public rituals at a similar level of quality.

Today, ADF has quite a few members (and whole groves) who would describe their work as reconstructionist. From the mid-nineties through the early 2000's this manifested as a strong shift toward groves forming under the declaration of a single "hearth culture" (solely "Celtic"; solely "Norse", etc.). I have been around long enough though to see a big shift in ADF's membership since then toward a more pragmatic approach recognizing both the limits of reconstructionism and the shortcomings of single hearth culture groves.  

a bold Post-Reconstructionist strategy...

Who defines which spirits are worthy of public worship, "Celtic" or not?  
Over the years, I myself have been on hand for ritual-planning arguments such as "Are the Faery Folk (specifically, Oberon and Titania,) spirits qualified for the focus of a rite (i.e. qualified for "worshipful veneration")?". Is "Morgan LeFay" likewise, a spirit worthy of veneration, or a name from fiction? And what of Merlin? Or Arthur himself? - - These are just several of the easier yet still debatable examples; don't get me started on the sure to be inflammatory topics of the lurking scholarly challenges to the authenticity of the Welsh (and even much of the Irish) "pantheon". Some of these "gods" were actually never verifiably gods of the ancient cultures we ascribe them to; many were simply legendary "characters" in items of ancient lore, and many of those were characters who show up in one story in one piece of lore. 

The answer? :   (Conditionally...)  WE do !
The trick here is one right out of Isaac's magic hat: It's honesty and the freedom honesty conveys upon those who embrace it. It involves clearly admitting that certain (if not "many") of these "deities" on our docket offer little hard historical evidence confirming their divinity, or little significant evidence of ever have anciently been objects of worshipful veneration by their peoples. So where does that leave us? Well, there's one thing of which we can be sure for most of them: that, at the least, most of these characters would be considered ancestral spirits of a "legendary" and/or "heroic" stature. Considered this way then, we find such characters lining up as candidates for ehumerization. If not already having been elevated to such historically, then by now they may qualify for a late, contemporary elevation to the status of deity by those who now would consider them worthy of this stature. Yes, it is up to us to 'canonize' them. One might say that we have been doing that all along by giving most of them worship and assuming for decades in our practices that they were verified deities - - yet, in the context of my argument, we have been doing so on far too little evidence and thereby somewhat "dishonestly".

Ok then, if you follow me at all so far, it stands that the authenticity of these spirits' "godhood" should be satisfactorily vetted by each individual or group planning on invoking them in any public rite. Each ADF rite, for example, has a moment in it where the rite's intention and historical precedent is declared. This is the very moment which calls out for our declaration of who the Persona Divinae for the rite are to be and, (a.) why we assume they are worthy of veneration as deities, and (b.) why we are planning to honor them in this particular rite. There's our chance, and there's our responsibility.

W H A T ? 

Damn straight.

- - (more to come / article continued HERE...)

Steps toward a POST-RECONSTRUCTIONIST Druid practice:

1.) Understand, admit, and embrace the fact that, doing this work, you cannot escape being "Neopagan".

2.) Regardless, still maintain the highest standards for scholarship and source material in your public rituals.

3.) Be honest about the amount of "proof" there exists for the historical "divinity" of each of the "gods" you call on. Doing this you will make your work more cautious and prudent than most of the hard boiled CR's.

4.) Consequently, admit that there's not hardly enough "Celtic" (or other) source material to "reconstruct" much of ANYTHING... Still, there's such a wealth of MOTIF elements to work with, it almost makes up for it.

5.) And so, always make it plain to yourself, your grove, and your congregation that to a large degree, you're "making it all up"... and that, as long as you do it well and you're honest about it, THAT's OK.

6.) Understand that ADF groves are for serving their greater Neopagan communities, not primarily their own membership. A grove should be a "team", not a "club".

7.) Remember that your Rites of the Wheel are supposed to be "celebrations", not just solemn obligations.

8.) Work toward finding the best cultural fit for each particular holiday. Seasonal factors should always trump hearth-factors. Don't throw the Yuletide Spirit out with the bathwater and never turn your back on The-Sun-Above at Summer Solstice.

Dedicated to the memory of Isaac Bonewits.

- EARRACH of Pittsburgh