According to the early hagiographies, St. Brigid was born at Fochard Muirtheimne, a few miles north of Dundalk, about 450 CE. Though of the strength of this tradition, the place later became known as Fochard Bríde. On the hill nearby, are the remains of an Iron Age fort, a Norman motte-castle and a medieval church. St Brigid’s…
Not to put too fine a point on it but Nietzsche proclaimed that God was dead quite some time ago. It has been a bit a crow for the modern pagan movement to deal with since we like to boast of our vast reading experience, our familiarity with various philosophers and with this one right on the doorstep of when modern pagan witchcraft was borne [nope shan’t be dealing with that ol’ crap of the ‘Burning Times’ or the ‘Old Religion’ because so many rabbit holes!] Tonight I happened upon a Facebook post by Wade MacMorrighan in which he asked:
Say, does anyone else cast some seriously judgmental side-eye at fellow witches and pagans when they speak of communing or working with some amorphous and divine entity that they call “Spirit” as if they are some New Age hippie on the verge of being diagnosed with diabetes from all the sweetness-and-light they are spewing?
Well straight out to bat I am going to say yes, yes I do get fairly judgmental when I hear neopagans hide behind some vague concept such as “Spirit”, the reason isn’t because I have a particular issue with ‘Spirit’ in Native American traditions but because most neopagans or new-agers have no concept of what they might mean. Often it is a means to obfuscate the fact that they are insecure about their own processes and relationship to the world around them.
I recently had a very surreal experience with someone who claimed to be a shamanic practitioner here in Ireland but who used Chakras and basically blamed my epilepsy on my Chakras being misaligned or some shite like that. When I asked why “Oh Spirit told me”, as if that was a legit reason to try to claim my neurological condition as your truth. Of course same said individual went on to say ’Spirit’ had revealed to him that everything was an illusion… great so thousands of years of mystical and magical structures and teachings get ignored from a hundred odd traditions and spiritualities because you don’t like being told what do do… Bardo, Maya, etc!
If you want to offer sound healing advice for me then test your contacts out. Ask them for specifics and get them to check their own sources. Or better yet, if you don’t actually have any contacts or spiritual guides then don’t blame them for advice that comes from some inexplicable source an is only partially correct. Even in Traditional Reiki, Usuhi had diagnostics as an intricate part of the early studied for would-be healers in his system.
Moreover, it irks me when some witchlings say, “I don’t worship anything!” as if they are somehow greater than the spiritual powers that animate the Universe! Of course, some actually say, “I don’t believe in the gods!” and they insist that anyone who is pagan and calls themselves a “witch” is misusing the term. However, it is they who are misusing the term “witch” since “Witch” has always had strong magico-religious connotations. Instead, they ought to call themselves “sorcerers”, which yields (academically!) those atheistic denotations that best describe their practices. But, they still *want* the term “Witch” for some reason. They are trying to redefine it! In recent years I have seen MANY so-called “traditional witches” harshly criticize any anythor who dares to conflate witchcraft with paganism. They simply won’t have it and use the internet to bully anyone who might.
I disagree here. I think it is not only entirely possible to call oneself a witch and mean it when you don’t believe in gods or do but simply refuse to worship any. Personally, I fall somewhere into the spectrum of existentialist views on paganism. There is much of the g/Gods I can accept but worship seems to fly in the face of thousands of years of working with tutelary deities and spirits. Even when cultures or individuals in cultures have acted as emissaries to the g/Gods the depth by which they worshipped was varied.
In classical times witches and priests were not one-in-the-same. That innovation only really became accepted mainstream with the growth of the Traditional Wiccan movement. This is not to say that priests and priestesses were without charms or magical spells but that these were not for the day-to-day running of the household.
Cochrane, Gardner and Sanders amongst others all coopted the terms; witch, Wicca, Wica, Pagan, et al. for their own purposes to revive the idea of the ‘Old Religion’ echoing Margaret Murray but this has long been disproven. Gardner in particular wanted to see PAGAN witchcraft flourish in Britain. The “witches” who were more properly called cunning folk or healers were either Christian or non-plussed about doctrines of faith, they had cures and spells to enact those cures alright. The specifics are often muddled now but I daresay assuming that all so-called low-magic systems of witchcraft believed in worshipping deities is a bit far-flung.
I personally feel the problem in trying to guess the secularist attitudes of the cunning-folk witches lies at the heart of British culture at the time. It was just starting to establish a modernist identity following WW2 and we can see this in the power-structures of modern Traditional Wicca. I’m not suggesting everyone who joined Wicca or the Craft of the time did so because Nietzsche proclaimed God to be dead but it does mark the epistemological doubt surrounding society of the time which I do believe affected modern Paganism. Customs and traditions being what they are and cures often cheaper that medical advice people found a sense of control in keeping these alive.
From the period of 1800s-1900s magic as well as modern paganism enjoyed a revival. Because modern witchcraft became synonymous with modern paganism other forms of witchcraft either fell outside of the accepted vernacular for what defines a witch or succumbed to modernity and the development in technology. I know of only one confirmed family tradition of Witchcraft which was Christian but it died with the last practitioner because the children refused to carry it on viewing it as too archaic for a modern world. So what I suspect kept the familial customs of witchcraft alive in Britain until the popularity of Wicca could help to define it may have also killed off other forms.
I’m not a fan of most of the Traditional Witchcraft forums online – certainly not the Facebook groups because they often spend more time defining themselves as something other than Wiccan. They seem to ignore the fact that they have just as much magpie syndrome as any other witch out there. I know some really good people in the Appalachian region of the USA who work magic and help people in their communities but I don’t need the forums to remain friends with them. I’m always doing to remain open to learning from others as I go – I don’t need family lineages going back to before the Famine anymore than I think lineages in Wicca or the Golden Dawn have served to help end false groups.
Many of the posts in response to Wade’s question seemed to err on the side of least judgement. I don’t think the word sorcerer is well defined enough my anyone to accurately state that it is better for atheistic witches. Largely because many of the words we use: witch, sorcerer, magician, warlock, pagan, etc. have been used as both cultural and counter-cultural motifs when deemed necessary. In modern parlance I call myself a Witch amongst pagan friends as I am Gardnerian and Magician amongst my ceremonialist friends as I am a member of MOAA. And frankly I see both terms as meaning much the same.
As you may have guessed I’ve been rather bogged down with work life and study pressures. While this has been stressful in its own right, I’ve also found that I haven’t been able to be as focal on some of the issues facing the world, humanity or even my own little corner thereof. I’m not naturally an activist, whether it is the occult/pagan aspect or whether it is the gay aspect to my life. In fact, I’ve always presented myself as an advocate – someone who can speak up for someone who can’t speak for themselves but who was there ultimately to help others speak for themselves.
In recent months my attitude to protesting and activism has changed. While Facebook and other social media remain active with people protesting or voicing their disagreements with the system (in Ireland we’ve had the establishment of water charges being fought, accusations of tax evasions between ministers and even the covering of child abuse by former Government officials). From these visible pagan or occult commentary has been somewhat lack lustre – don’t get me wrong, many of my pagan friends have been commenting but in a markedly reserved fashion.
A few months back I made concerted effort to post and remediate (reposting with critical commentary) on some of the issues facing the occult and pagan communities. Namely I posted on issues of child abuse and so-called “Big Name Pagans” or career occultists who were using their position of respect and authority to abuse others. Some of these individuals were not, shall we say, “avouched” members of the communities and one was even a fraud claiming initiation.
In my post I criticised the occult/pagan communities’ reliance on vouching (a system of private or “back-channel” checking of credentials) because this system does not engage with the mainstream and check for abuse. In fact, checking for a person’s vouch merely checks whether they were “duly initiated” in the manner befitting the particular tradition. This has often lead to a state of “out of sight, out of mind” for individuals accused/found guilty of abuse (either emotional/mental, physical or sexual) to move along. The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland and elsewhere found this tactic to be very manageable in terms of protecting Holy Mother Church.
One of the reasons I chose to speak out on these issues is because they are so rampant. I’d also seen and experienced what it was like for someone to be ousted from a group on false claims based on innuendo and had some well known occultists telling me to keep my mouth shut because my vocalising the issues was messy and not indicative of someone developing in the magical community (this particular commentator was less articulate at the time and ironically used a lot of profanity to express his ideas of who I was into this situation). I had others accuse me of breaking my oaths – others who were not present for my Oath within MOAA and therefore haven’t a clue what I swore to do or not do! (FYI: the Golden Dawn obligation, before someone takes it they are assured that nothing of the Order or its members or the obligation will run counter to one’s moral, ethical or legal obligations – basically you can’t use your oaths to hide criminals or wrong-doing!) While what happened to me was not on the level of some of the issues I posted about this year, it was indicative of our attitudes toward dealing with problems around making judgements and decisions based on those judgements.
Over on his blog Nick Farrell posted two entries. The first was called Modern Esoteric Groups Have a Judgement Problem, in which he outlines several of the issues with covering up mistakes and staying out of it because of attitudes toward the idea of group wars. Yes, group wars happen and they often happen for inconsequential slights (perceived or otherwise) but sometimes they also happen because someone has royally f*cked up! Nick sums up his point quite well when he says:
My biggest concern was that I was in two esoteric groups where the leaders went off the rails. It was never mentioned publically and those groups continued with their reputations untarnished by problems which should have haunted them. I often wonder if by not judging I put others in harms way. (emphasis mine)
Whether you are aiming to cultivate a rose or a lotus, a tree or a garden some general gardening tips are to let the plants germinate in the soil of course. They do need the dark, moist earth to help them break out of their bulbs and journey to the light. The same is true for initiates which spring forth on budding petals from that seed. We should not be asked to remain in the dark because “it is better” for the Tradition (seed). I hold a lot of guilt for what happened in the esoteric group I was with because had I not being so reserved in my judgements things may well have transpired differently.
Nick’s other blog, 20 Things An Adept Never Does, is more of a humourous slant on things…if you’ve not had a look do so now! Done? Good now you know what not to do to become the next Supreme!
Honestly, though Nick’s list is satrical in nature it does prove a point lists of criteria for what marks an adept or elder in a community can just be as crippling to the community or tradition especially if that list is premised of some lofty ideals which ignore the world around us.
In recent months, there have been some measures taken by some individuals to form actionable plans to mainstream reporting of abuse or other illegal activities from marginalised groups that may not be reported in social media.
Forget women in black hats cackling around a cauldron – today’s followers of paganism are more likely to offer you spiritual healing, says Andrea Smith
ANDREA SMITH – 24 AUGUST 2013
Niall MacSiurtain (27), known as Abhainn, is originally from Sligo; his family moved to Leitrim when he was a teenager. He has just completed the first year of a master’s degree in English literature at the University of Limerick…
The interview was conducted via email and explores my path into modern craft practices and eventually the Golden Dawn system of magic and how I see it playing out in my life and the lives of those around me. I had a lot of fun putting my ideas into words and it was strange being on the receiving end of the interview process for once. Hope everyone else enjoyed the interview with myself the the other three ladies… I’ve only briefly met Janet Farrar before with a lot of friends in common but its always lovely to see other Craft practitioners sharing their stories.
And thus begins my career as a poster child of paganism! I jest of course. Paganism, witchcraft and magic as a whole is far too diverse to accurately reflect it all but Ms. Smith was a wonderful interviewer. And I’d also like to thank the staff photographer who drove all the way from Sligo to take the wonderful picture! I really want to use it for my profile pics online now! lol
Check out the info section for details on the U.L. Pagan Society and how to get in touch. We’d very much like to meet you and share in some great events as well as create new ones!
I wanted to share with you some of the notes shared on Story Archaeology’s blog about useful resourses around Lughnasadh the origins of this Irish festival from origins and a link to some of the games played at the “Lunacy Games” linked to in the article.
The subject of Lughnasagh is worthy of a whole podcsst episode on its own, as are any of the traditional Irish festivals. We may well examine these these in more detail sometime in the future.
In essence, however, Lughnasagh is a festival that marks an important phase in the agrarian year. It is the close of the summer, the hay is saved, and produce, crops and stock, close to harvest. Like all of the major festivals, it marks a nexus point in the year and such times have always been marked by rural communities in particular.
Typical of Lughnasagh, have been the holding of fairs, games, feasts, social ceremonies and settling of contracts such as marriage, and a particular focus on visits to hills and high places. Customs have, of course, changed and developed over the centuries but recognisable Lughnasagh customs survive, in a variety of forms, to this day
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Greetings dear readers, following the series of posts from my fellow blogger Orfhlaith Robin over on Musings of a Young Irish Witch I’ve decided to revisit some of the Irish terms that might be of interest to people and add my own suggestions to the list. Orfhlaith has done a wonderful rendition, as a Gaelgoir this is most helpful.
Now for my approach to this convoluted approach to magic! First, I’m not stating that Irish magical practitioners need or are required to use the Irish language. Indeed I once pointed out to a friend who lived in Galway that the Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley, used Latin to converse with Queen Elizabeth I when they met because O’Malley only spoke in Irish and Latin and the Queen of England didn’t know Irish. He rightly spotted then that Latin would be an ideal choice to work with her in a magical setting [I’ll refrain from the usual commentary of Grace O’Malley as a godform; this idea seems to have seeded itself in the practice of those who would allow it]. My point here is simple, godforms and (actual) gods are one bridge into the magical traditions but by no means the only bridge. Indeed most magical systems and traditions use a synthesis of Gods, languages, usually deemed sacred i.e. Hebrew or Sanskrit, symbolism – in particular a set of key tools or implements (fetishes) which form the central cosmology on a microcosmic scale.
So with all this in mind I plan to explore the cosmology common to most cultures and subcultures. To get the ball rolling let us look at some of the Systems and Traditions known to be operating in Ireland and see if we can render these in Irish terminology.
British Traditional Wicca (BTW) – Wica Traidisiúnta na Breataine (WTB)
British Traditional Wicca can also be known as Traditional British Wicca, now why might one draw a distinction between this you ask? Ah well simple in terms of translation work it matters! Heck in terms of English it matters i.e. is it British Wicca that happens to be Traditional? Or is it Traditional Wicca that happens to be British? This does mean that ‘word order’ can become problematic, especially if you’re not familiar with the language you are translating.
I tend to err on the side that it is Traditional Wicca which has evolved from a British only tradition to the US taking on cultural idioms along the way. Traditional in this sense refers to the mode by which the teachings of Wicca are disseminated through traditional modes of the system. Just for divilment lets reverse matters and say its Traditional British Wicca we want translated and then we need to look for what the defining features of Wicca make it British, are these found in downlines in the US? Is so, why so? Language carries culture but these are American witches learning a British magico-religio system in a traditional fashion.
- Alexandrian Wicca – Alexandrian came, according to Alex Sanders, from the Library of Alexandria. What I can suggest, and to be honest I probably wouldn’t bother; is, a Bearlacais or a word sounding like it would in English. Since we have no ‘X’ naturally in Irish, Wica Alecsandraiochta*. This one was/is a toughie since Alexandria in Egypt has been rendered as “Cathair Alastair” in modern Irish.
- Gardnerian Wicca – Wica Gardnereán. Why the difference between Alexandrian and Gardnerian you ask?* Well as always this is a best guess scenario and my best offers that the ‘-ian’ suffix in Gardnerian is different because it is Gardner’s own name, now Sanders may well have used his own but the common telling of the tale [hint: clue here too!] is he named it for the Library so this is where I went off after for names in Irish.
Modern-pagan – Págánach Nua-Aimseartha
Personally I would render this as Nua-phágánach (Neo-paganism). Generally speaking in English when we say paganism, modern practitioners are referring to the contracted term of neopaganism. Indeed the latin term paganus means “country-dweller” or “rustic” according to contemporary etymological research but as one might expect its not simply a descriptor but the term seems to have been use pejoratively in a similar fashion that someone from Dublin (a “jackeen” colloquially speaking) might refer to me as a “culchie” – I am and damn proud of it too!
Placing a word in context is paramount to understanding how the word changes and morphs with time. People often assume that Irish speakers are being rude or mean toward a querent’s spirituality (as whimsical as it may be in some cases) but this isn’t so! What most people asking for translation work can’t seem to grasp is that languages aren’t translatable in the first instance, but rather we agree a series of meanings which are developed over time. See, for instance the term paganus to pagan to neopagan and back around to label pre-historic spiritual practices.
- Neo-druidism – right before we get started on this one whatever you think you know, you don’t! Its all speculative in nature and we’re all guilty of running with it from time to time. This isn’t an Irish practice, all the neo-druidic traditions are British and American, there I said it! We have Order of the Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) and Ar nDraíocht Féin (ADF). Thing is all we have in Ireland on the practices of the Filí or poets of Ireland are to do with legal tracts, indeed the word draoi in modern Irish lending itself to the term druid comes from dair/duir meaning oak and refers to a class of judiciary (druí). As before; the prefix neo- can be rendered nua-, and druidism isn’t going to be altered by me so my vote is on Nua-draoidheachta.
- Shamanic practices – this is awkward as a Bearlacais needs to be created for Shamanism as we simply don’t have the practice in Irish Traditions, since shamanic practices often rely – though not exclusively – on this the scots-gaelic term: Taibhseara Cleachtais meaning “Seer-ship Practices”. Before people get high and might Scots-Gaelic is related closely to middle-Irish.
- Heathenism – Gentliucht (includes magical practitioner too). I’m outright going for the old-Irish term here as simply put we have no modern term since pagan and heathen tend to mean a paynim in general.
Thelema – Tol / Tuili
The term Thelema is greek for Will; and I translated using old-Irish. Why am I including a Crowley-ism here? Well simply put a lot of Crowley material as moved on over to the Wicca side owing to a meeting of minds between Gerald B. Gardner and Aleister Crowley but also because the whole issue of linguistics as presented by Wicca also are to be found in Thelemic religion as modern magical systems with Thelema at their core tend to owe a lot to the Mediaeval Grimoire Traditions. Below is my translation on two Thelemic systems I know to be in operation in Ireland:
- Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO)… Ordú an Teampaill an Oirthir (OTO) / Ord Tempul Anair (OTA)
- Irish Order of Thelema (IOT)… Ordú na hÉireann den Tuili (IET)
Here’s how this’ll roll out, as people post comments in the blog below I’ll vet them for relevance where I missed the plot or messed up or both. I’ll update the post here but do check the comments someone might explain something and others might refute it. I will have other terms coming along over the Christmas break or into the New Year. Remember this is step one I want to bring everyone along with me and so language needs pacing for people.
- Blue = Modern-Irish (or a hybridization of old and new Irish)
- Green = Old-Irish
- Italics = Latin (occasionally names to groups)
In my last blog, Oathbound Witches Sworn to Secrecy, I discussed Oaths of Secrecy as a frame to build a suitable structure for one’s individual or group Path. This post is following on from a discussion on my last post I had with a brother and friend in the Craft whose currently in training from a syncretic tradition. What stirred me to consider my position was the frequency by which Traditions and systems of magic craft their own histories, often taking from other sources. In this sense what this blog post seeks to explore is the concept of the “essential” Truth in the information society that we live in as modern practitioners of magic.
As a Witch the first port of call for me as someone interested in the study of modern witchcraft was published materials, either online or in hardcopy books. Books such as Stewart and Janet Farrar’s, The Witches Bible adorned my bookshelf (as it does so today). While the Farrars are downline from Alex Sanders, they inherited the syncretic history crafted by Sanders whether they asked for it or not. In case people are unfamiliar there is a text called, King of the Witches by June Johns first published in January 1971, in which the author writes Sanders biography. Now many critics have argued that Johns may have been a pseudonym for Sanders himself to add creditability to the biography, however, whether this is true or not we find an interesting development in Sanders accounts of his initiation into the Craft by way of his grandmother. Many disputed this, including Sanders own family, as a means to legitimize himself in Craft circles. Some commentators remarked that the three core texts of the Alexandrian Book of Shadows do not differ too greatly from Gerald B. Gardner’s Book of Shadows.
Much like Sanders, Gardner has also been accused of founding his form of Wicca through false claims to older covens and traditions. Gardner claimed initiation into the New Forest Coven, while its been hypothesized that the New Forest Coven may have been a coven formed in the wake of the works of the now disputed scholar, Margaret Murray little information has been dug up on this group. Occasionally the internet and blogospheres will alight rumours of Family Traditions who dispute the material in Wicca as being a mishmash of folk customs and ceremonial works. This is what is meant by syncreticism; whereby elements of other traditions and systems are inserted into another to form a new whole. Sometimes this is done eloquently and other times it can be very slap-dash.
If Gardner (and Doreen Valiente) is guilty of creating a syncretic system, so too are many forms of ceremonial magic such as the Golden Dawn system. What Samual MacGregor Mathers and William Wynn Wescott, the founders of the Golden Dawn, did was to use manuscripts called the Cipher Manuscripts as the focus for building the system. It still required work from the founders and of course besides the Cipher MSS there was always the letters from the mysterious Fräulein Sprengel which would take on mythical aspects as the Order splintered into different groups. As with any living tradition people add to the mythos as well as take away from it. When Crowley moved away from the Golden Dawn system he found his way into Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) and developed Thelema based on the experience of the spirit, Aiwass.
Let us recap; we have Sander’s mythicification of his grandmother as a family witch, Gardner’s mythical New Forest coven, G.’.D.’. and the mythical Fräulein Sprengel and the Cipher MSS, OTO/Thelema and the information passed on to Crowley by Aiwass. Anyone familiar with magical realism in literature will note that mythos is an important motif but it is rarely the narrative itself. Oddly enough when it comes to group dynamics such syncretic histories or mythical origins can be useful to a point insofar as fostering the sense of mythos that a new Candidate or student seeks. However, when a group forms on the basis of rejecting such syncretic histories they can invariably develop their own mythos based on the idea that they rejected a “false” one.
The idea of an essential Truth in magical groups strikes me as a misnomer and indeed if I were to ask friends I am sure that I would receive a very bemused series of questions as to why I should think there should be. In all honesty such essential truths strike me as a stepping stone to pursuit of magic as a field of study. In much the same manner that placement of implements and tools can form a pattern of behaviour and eventually build upon the strengths of the ritual or ceremony, so too can a sense of connection established through the past. Fundamentally that is what lies at the heart of the various creation stories explored previously in this post.
Culture itself thrives of its creation stories and myths, as a Túathaid in Ireland the stories of Irish lore form an important baseline for me to stand upon. But equally so as a Túathaid who lives on the back of the Shannon, the power of story not only teaches us of the past but also teaches us how to tell stories of our own. What is your story?