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So, today’s readings and preparations were all about sacred space: not just the altar, but the entire ritual space. There is a world of difference in the way Deep Ancestors recommends sacred space be created and my own rituals; while one can see the ADF influence in the reconstruction, there are other aspects that make the recommended ritual more like Wiccan practice, or favor historical accuracy to functional practicality.
One of the primary aspects of the sacred space ritual is the idea that sacred space is not permanent. I get that the Proto-Indo-Europeans were a semi-nomadic society, and that temples eventually developed as they continued to roam and settle. This, of course, means that sacred space must be created when a ritual needs to be performed. However, PIE rituals are also apparently supposed to be done under an open sky; while I prefer doing outdoor rituals, I can think of at least a few times when such rites are neither practical nor preferable. This coming Yule ritual, and the plans already made for it, are one example. The health of small children who might be brought to rite are another.
This is not to say we cannot perform the rite, even as written, though traditionally, there has only been the one officiant, which is the second issue. Serith’s rites have a Reks, a Gheuter, a Xadbhertor, a Ner, and a Fire Tender, five separate duties, and some of which are gender-specific. Already, due to my own practice and the practice of my worship group, there’s going to be changes needed to that. While the rite can be performed, those performing will probably need to double- or triple-up on jobs. It might be preferable to slightly alter the wording, as well.
I do love how the ritual tries to include as many people as possible. It’s very much about community, which is part of building sacred space. Sacred space is as much about the community worshiping as it is about the Gods and Spirits being venerated; that is part of the necessary equitable exchange. This is worth a little messing with the traditions so far performed in the household, and why I am willing to give the changes a try. I am especially willing after a second run-through of the basic offering rite, and seeing how it worked.
I will be separating the Wikpotes’ offerings from the altar, which is something different than done before. That is definitely becoming a part of the ritual, regardless of other changes to the ritual text I may make for practicality. This seems to be a major aspect of PIE practice: the dead are separated from the living, even in ritual, and offerings to the Gods of the Dead are not shared. This becomes very important in properly adhering to culture.
On the positive end, I have most everything I need, minus the clarified butter, the bread sacrifice, and an axe. I may make do with a knife for the first couple of rituals, but eventually, an axe or similar implement will be needed. For now, I will need one knife to mark out ritual space, and one for the cutting of the bread/sacrifice.
These three words interest me. They feel final and strong. Just a thought. They represent, “Well-built, well-supported,” and “well-established.” They should feel strong. However, for me, it is something deeper than just the meaning.
Final note for tonight, the processional. A procession into the ritual space will likely be unnecessary, but at the same time, elements of the procession need to be included, specifically, the claiming of the “cattle.” In my mind, this also represents the wealth of the wiks, their bounty and their power. I will be altering things so that such can be done as a personal rite before the ritual begins, on behalf of the wiks.
For reference, this is the ritual from Ceisiwr Serith’s website, which is very similar to the one found in the book.
They are known as “Man” and “Twin.” They are the first priest and first sacrifice. They represent the beginning and end of all things, starting with themselves, and yet they are as eternal as the Gods. They are Mannus and Yemos.
Yet, of the two, Yemos (or Yama) is more often spoken of. In Proto-Indo-European myth, it is his body which constitutes the Earth and the Sky and encompasses all physical forms. Now Gods, venerated among the Deiwos, these entities were the original two before all humankind. Life continued endlessly for them until Yemos, in his wisdom, had his brother Mannus kill him, and thus create death. Yemos now rules the land of the dead and acts as a psychopomp from the land of the living to his home.
Purification: my least favorite topic. As a Pagan, I can understand the need for ritual purification, and the ideas surrounding it. I used to study Ceremonial Magick, and purification was a primary way for the mind to set aside the mundane and continue in the sacred world. In Paganism, purification is a necessity to come before the purity of divinity. It is the practice of removing the energy sticking to you that is antithetical to the performance of and participation in the coming rite. It is separating yourself not only from the mundane, but also from negative thoughts and emotions, such as hatred, anger, suspicion, fear, and worry, which do much to hinder most ritual.
As an animist, however, I’ve always seen purification as a futile exercise. The spirits are always around us. They live here, too. They already know you delve in the muck and mud to earn your daily bread, they already know that you travel through the mire to get to the ritual space, and if they are paying attention, they’re already aware of whom you have helped, whom you’ve wronged, whom you’ve had sex with, whom you have upset. If the Gods and Spirits want your attention, they tend to make themselves known, whether you’re “pure” or not. As much as I understand the purpose of purification, there’s always that part of me that rebels against the need to do so.
Lord Shepherd, guardian of roads,
Keeper of the lands between,
Let your hand guide my path
Along this unknown, empty road,
As a shepherd guides his weary flock,
Paxuson, walk ye by my side.
There is often an assumption from outside observers that Neopagans are nothing but hedonistic freaks, willing to indulge any desire or participate in any depravity they wish. We are often portrayed as crazy or even criminal. One of the first questions I’m asked when I tell people I’m Pagan (as opposed to saying “heathen” or “animist”, to which people say, “Huh?”) is, “Do you sacrifice animals?” Sometimes they’ll even follow up with, “You don’t sacrifice people, do you?” I deal with some real winners in life, let me tell you.
The fact is, while Pagans tend to be a little more lax when it comes to bedroom etiquette, this doesn’t make us necessarily hedonistic or immoral. No, we do not sacrifice people, and most of us do not sacrifice animals. There are groups that do, but they do so cleanly and respectfully (we’ll touch on this in a later post). In general, we Pagans are much like those of other religions: we go to work, work hard, come home, tend to families and friends, go to worship services (like others go to church or temple), and simply live. Our values are somewhat different, but as we are recreating our religions in modern society, our religions include values that are quite compatible with that society.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Pagan values and more mainstream ones is that many in our community tend to emphasize virtue rather than discouraging vice. That which one should not do is often seen as something relegated to society, to government or to its laws, and we focus instead on what we should do, what is right to do. This is a view we certainly have worked hard to cultivate in Neopagan Animism.
The concept of world view is important in Paganism of most stripes, because we have so many different world views represented within the Pagan umbrella of religions. From Celtic Reconstructionism to Asatru to Wicca, the world view of the adherents strongly shapes their practice. We have already seen examples of this in Neopagan Animism, chronicled in previous posts, yet we have not defined what a world view is or how it affects what we do.
Broken down, a world view is very simply an understanding of how the world is composed and how it works. In short, it is how the adherent views the world. Simple, no? Yet the concept stretches as far as the concept of *ghosti, to touch on and influence every aspect of one’s practice.
“What is a God?” This is a question that is important to ask in any deific religion. “What is a Spirit?” In any animistic tradition, it is good to define this as early as possible. “What is an Ancestor?” In any religion that recognizes and honors those who have passed, this is a worthwhile question to ask in the earliest stages of discovery.
“What is a God?” We have been hinting at the Gods’ existence since part 1. We have sheaves and sheaves of notes and chronicles of the Gods that populated Europe before Christianity. Of course, most of those were chronicled by Christians after the fact, but we’ll get into that later when we talk more about lore. We have some idea of what the Gods were viewed as, especially considering most of them are portrayed as often in, er, compromising situations as in virtuous ones. We have some idea as to the power some gods were viewed to have, such as the lightning of Zeus and Thor’s Mjöllnir hammer, or the shape-shifting powers of Gwydion, Loki, and Artemis. But what is a God?
We can speculate until the end of time at what our ancestors conceived a God or Goddess to be; the fact is, we will never know, because we have no unbroken line of practice and worship back to that time. Let me say that again:
We have no unbroken line of practice and/or worship back to Pre-Christian times.
We have traditions, sure. We have old poems and half-remembered charms, certainly. We even have full sets of spells and incantations that come to us from that ancient world. However, we do not have anything that is untainted by the religion that conquered and superseded it. Christianity warped and changed much of the ancient views of religion, and even those that practiced both Christian and Pagan ways could not stem that tide completely. In the same manner, Pagan ways did influence and change Catholic religion, though that influence was much more subtle. As an aside, anyone claiming an unbroken line back to Pre-Christian times is likely lying, misinformed, or misrepresenting their tradition. So we have no certain way of knowing what exactly the ancients thought the Gods and Goddesses were.
ADF was useful in several ways, but never so useful as to introduce me to the Proto-Indo-European word *ghosti. *Ghosti can be interpreted loosely as hospitality, but more correctly indicates an equitable exchange between parties. One can have *ghosti in one’s relationship with others, with a business partner, with other business associates, and even with strangers.
*Ghosti is very tightly bound with the concept of community, but assumes a wider definition of community than one might normally be familiar with. As I said in the previous post, community includes the spirits involved, which may include Gods, one’s own Ancestors, the Ancestors of close friends, and the spirits that commonly inhabit the area, as well as other spirits that a given adherent might work with. In addition to this possibly long list, community in relation to *ghosti also includes visitors to one’s home, traders, those bearing news or messages, and so forth. *Ghosti can even be applied to enemies, such as the idea of an eye for an eye, but it can equally be applied to the idea of repaying evil with kindness – much depends on the situation.
To have *ghosti is to treat someone with respect, but it is also to foster good relations of friendship and partnership with your equals, to keep your word when you give it, to respect the role of those in a position of authority, and to show generosity freely to those less fortunate than yourself. The relationship between crime and punishment is also part of the idea of *ghosti, though the actual perpetration of crime and punishment is still a function of society, not necessarily religion. Part of the whole point is to foster community ties. To show *ghosti is not always reciprocated, but to have *ghosti means that the relationship works in a way that is more or less equitable to all involved. It can be seen easily in the phrases, “Pay it forward,” and, “It all comes out in the wash.”
In the Pagan community, especially among Reconstructionists, this concept (regardless of what we actually call it) is one we are desperately trying to recapture and hold in our lives. We look at the process of government and see corruption and misrepresentation. We look at the process of business and see hundreds of hard workers fired because labor is cheaper overseas, or because they are getting older and accruing raises and hiring younger specialists out of college is cheaper. We see neighbors no longer speaking, prices getting disproportionately higher for the same services, and dinners getting disproportionately smaller for the same price. All of these things have bothered Pagans since Neopaganism started. None of these are examples of *ghosti. The unfortunate side effect is, there isn’t much that can be done about most of it. As we believe the practice of hospitality and fairness begins in our own lives, we start with treating the members of our community as we believe it should be, answering kindness with kindness, and hurt with firmness. We keep our word when we give it, as best as we possibly can (as in, if we can’t, we’re likely in the hospital, or dead). We deal honestly with others that keep their words, and for those that don’t, we don’t deal with them at all. For now, the scope of community is fairly limited on the whole, though there are those of us who include our neighbors, business associates, and others, as well.
Obviously, as one can have *ghosti with other physical beings, one should also have *ghosti with the spirits. This is especially so with the Gods; if your attempts at *ghosti aren’t reciprocated with a God, then it is not very likely you should be working with him or her. In the same manner, if the Gods are keeping you alive and safe and lucky happenstances are occurring often, it seems to me to be a good idea to throw in a little extra during offering, or to at the very least acknowledge and appreciate the help. In *ghosti, it’s not what you’re giving, or how much, it’s that you’re giving something that is equitable to what you’re receiving. If you’ve been blessed with abundance, and your gifts to them are very stingy or given in a miserly way, then that’s not reaching for *ghosti with your Gods, that’s throwing a token gesture, lip service. If on the other hand you give cheerfully and from that which you yourself treasure, then it is likely to be a more acceptable gift. (We’ll get into specifics on offerings in a later post.)
*Ghosti is the act and practice of an exchange of energies between the parties involved. One’s efforts, one’s offerings, one’s attempts at fairness with another, and even one’s respect for another all play an important role in the practice of this concept. Ultimately, the energy given is of the gift given, or of how one is treated. This facilitates the simplest of interactions in our communities and with our Gods, that of respect and responsible action. In many ways, most of the virtues that Pagans espouse (discussion to come) stem from this central concept.
One of the most basic complaints from “rational” religious people – and many atheists – is on the subject of superstition. As defined in Dictionary.com, a superstition is:
1. A belief or notion not based on reason or knowledge, in or of the ominous significance of a particular thing, circumstance, occurrence, proceeding, or the like.
2. A system or collection of such beliefs.
3. A custom or act based on such a belief.
4. Irrational fear of what is unknown or mysterious, especially in connection with religion.
5. Any blindly accepted belief or notion.
In an experiential religion, the experience of the divine or the spiritual often gives reason enough for a given practice. Central to this concept are the twin forms of chiminage and taboo. Chiminage is a term that originally corresponded to the toll one paid to pass on a forest road; as I define it, it is what one does actively and usually repetitively to honor or appease a God, Goddess, Ancestor, or spirit entity, such as the covering of one’s head for religious purposes. Taboos are the opposite side of the same coin: things one refrains from doing in order to honor or appease a God, Goddess, Ancestor, or other spirit, such as when someone gives up something for Lent in the Christian religion. (These terms may also be used culturally, without regard for spiritual entities, but that is outside the scope of this particular article.) From the outside view of mainstream society, both cases have the tendency of being highly scrutinized and disparaged, especially when there is something to be gained by belittling or debunking the practice. Mainstream Christianity is still often interpreted in such a way as to oppose religious and cultural viewpoints that differ. Atheism is plagued by a similar stance, ironically because of the former mindset. Those raised in one of these two viewpoints often port these views to the religious expressions they embrace later in life. Therefore, chiminage or taboos without a readily-apparent, physical reason are relegated to the realm of “superstition” and often disparaged or ignored as a result.
Just a side note: I get most of my subscriptions in email, so I keep forgetting those blogs have “like” buttons. So I’m always surprised when someone “likes” one of my posts.
Over the past twenty years, there are some observations I have made on the experiences I have had concerning the nature of physical and spiritual reality which have strongly influenced the premises I wrote about in Part 1. I’ll be listing some of them here, along with my personal thoughts on them.