Celtic Reconstructionism

Lessons from the Embalmed Heads

20171117_072310_hdrIf you haunt archaeology twitter or other outlets of that kind, you probably heard about the new evidence that the Gauls practiced a type of embalming with the severed heads of their enemies. And if you haven’t, well my friend! It looks like we have tangible evidence of the written accounts of the Gauls embalming their severed heads. Aren’t you excited?!

It’s a really interesting article and one that spawned some thoughts in my brain that I thought I would share. The topic of head hunting, and the trophies that they made, is one that I have been fascinated by since I first read about it when I was a child. The way the history books and Roman historians painted the picture of this practice with equal parts disgust and awe was to be frank appealing to me. Many years later there is a lot of be said about the political agenda of the historians, to cast conquered people in a negative, uncivilized light, and how that is still seen everywhere around us and a practice that people in power still use today.

But today I want to focus on a different aspect, on what lessons that I might be able to glean from this practice and bring forth into my own modern life. Naturally, I’m not suggesting decapitating my enemies and embalming their heads (tempting though it may be). In so many things with history, there doesn’t have to be a one to one correlation, there can still be meaningful lessons and practices.

The statement that really jumped out at me when reading the articles, was the value that these embalmed heads are proclaimed to have. Several articles paraphrase Strabos on the matter and I felt like I needed to read what the actual quote from the old Roman historian said.

“The heads of enemies of high repute, however, they used to embalm in cedar-oil and exhibit to strangers, and they would not deign to give them back even for a ransom of an equal weight of gold.” – pg 249 the Geography of Strabo published in Vol. II of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1923

They will not part with them for their equal weight in gold. Now, this is very likely an exaggeration, again we have to take into account that our writer here has an agenda and wants to paint a very particular picture. That being, “Oh isn’t it a good then that Rome came in and brought civilization to these barbarians who kill in all these OUTRAGEOUS ways? P.s. buy my book for graphic details. ” Just because something is ancient doesn’t mean that it isn’t a form of sensationalism. That being said, in light of the tangible evidence to back up the embalming practice, we can assume that there is thread of truth in this statement. These heads were valued and likely not something easily parted with.

Why? That’s the natural next question. One that there isn’t a way to get an absolute for certain answer. There is no way to interview an Ancient Gaulish warrior and get their intent, purpose, and meaning. We can try and imagine. The article puts forth the hypothesis that this practice was rooted from wanting to preserve the recognition of the person. This seems pretty solid common sense wise. The reason you would use preservation techniques is to keep the appearance of the head, instead of letting it rot to a mere skull who could be passed off as anyone. The value then is being able to point to your enemies head and have them recognized for who they were in life, and have all who look on it know, that you killed them. You overcame them. You were victorious. It’s not just a story or a boast. The evidence is right there.

I can easily see the value in that.

On the mundane level, it is proof of your power/strength/cunning. On the spiritual level, well it can be a talisman of that power/strength/cunning, perhaps even amplifying and adding to it. Afterall it is a belief in many parts of history and cultures that overcoming your enemy can give you their power and strength. We see it in stories and even in the modern acquisitions and buyouts of companies it is a truth that millions and billions of dollars is staked on.

I can also imagine there is a deeper blow than just the killing blow being made here. Let’s suppose that the mere act of keeping this grisly talisman of victory of an enemy is also keeping that enemy from some comfort or honor in death and/or the journey after death. Again, if we go back to Strabo’s quote, and taking it at face value, there were people (presumably the people of the enemy) that wanted those heads back and where willing to pay for them. They were denied.  It’s possible they wanted the heads to complete a funeral rite, and the victor wanted to deny their enemy even that. Depending on the beliefs in play about what happens after death and what needs to happen to secure and afterlife or transition, that has a HUGE ramifications for the spirit of the enemy. Not to mention the morale and grief this would have on their enemy’s family and people.

I’m not an expert on Gaulish spiritual belief, but if we assume that they had a type of animism in their practice, then sitting here with the idea of embalming the head of your enemy and the mundane and spiritual power play that evokes added to the notion that the head holds a spirit even after death, I am struck with how this is a very powerful violent act that has ramifications in this world and any spirit or afterlife, and just fucking damn.

What can we pull out of this for our own lessons? Clearly, do not fuck with a Gaul is one. We already pulled off the table the idea of beheading your enemies and making necromantic talismans of them. However, I think some interesting and deep modes of cursing are pretty self evident here for those that care to look.

Pulling it farther into the abstract and towards tools that can be used for self practice, there is a lesson on the value of your victories, reminding yourself of them, and not hiding them from others.

In the United States there is a culture that for whatever reason, tends to speed on by people’s everyday accomplishments, there may be a brief window where it is allowed to celebrate them but then that time is over and you are expected to move on. If you are a fairly self aware human who cares about people and strives to be a good person then there is a good chance you worry about appearing too boastful. You don’t want to toot your own horn. It’s better to be humble. Which can express itself in the development of inner voices that undercut your accomplishments so you don’t get a big head. At some point someone in my inner circle (and my apologies for not knowing who for proper credit!) called these voices brain weasels and pointed out how they lie.  What I have witnessed this to mean is that we in general do not spend near enough time acknowledging our accomplishments and getting the emotional, mental and spiritual benefit from those accomplishments. We let it pass by and turn on to the next thing without seeing the full picture of how much we have gained. How much stronger we are.

Right now, I’m struggling under the weight of living up to my expectations of taking care of my household. Money has always been a hard topic for me and it is the current monster I am trying to conquer or redefine my relationship with at least. In short, things a little hard and I’m not in a great mental place about myself. I think it’s time for me to take stock and really look at the things I have already conquered in my life, in the last five years, etc and the enemies to my own well being that I have already beheaded and remember. It seems like there is a benefit in the visual reminder and I will think about ways to incorporate that. Whether that takes to form of magical charm, or a piece of artwork, or something else entirely. It just seems like this a good time to apply this lesson and help bolster my spirit against the challenges I am currently facing.

The other part of this lesson that I think will be useful to me is the visual exercise. I have been suffering from waking up with anxious thoughts. My mind just starts listing out and fretting over all the things I have to do and all the ways things won’t add up. It’s not great for my sleep cycle and stress in general is just not helpful when you need to get shit done. This morning when I woke up yet again with the diatribe of endless todo’s and worries, I thought about this blog post and went through the mental visualization of slaying my current enemies (this morning it was financial insecurity) and beheading it.  This probably isn’t an exercise for everyone, and I mean your brain might work differently but for me it was not only satisfying but focusing on making things symbolic and in the form of imagery really helped to stop the anxious thoughts and hopefully help me to manifest my goals for success and victory.

I realize this is likely one of the stranger blog posts that I have published, but these are the thoughts that have been brewing in my head and on the off chance that it helps someone else find some tools and understanding to use in their practice, then it’s worth it. The thing I really love and cherish about my practice is that I can find new inspiration, tools, and perspective every day. There is always something more to learn and analyze. There is always another layer of myself to question.

And now, if you will excuse me, I’m off to go embalm the head of my enemy.

 

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Google Scholar for Polytheism!

I woke up this morning with the very clear thought in my head to do a blog post on how I use Google Scholar as a resource in my studies for my devotions and polytheism. A rather dry and boring topic but hey, maybe someone will get some use out of it somewhere.

For those of you that don’t know there is a specific search engine of Google that only indexes and searches scholarly and published material. It is not your standard Google search, but a whole different search engine all of it’s own. In Google’s own words, “Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature.”

The benefit of Google Scholar to your polytheism practice is that it means you will not have to weed through geocities type websites wondering where exactly someone got the information that the Morrigan is associated with pumpkins. None of that is going to be in Google Scholar, because Google has created criteria for what is “scholarly literature” and they stick to that. Most of Academia do everything they can to get their works in Google Scholar as a result, because it provides more discoverability for them and their careers.

The difference between an academic paper and a website mostly comes down to standards of sources and peer review. I am not saying you can trust absolutely everything you read in an academic paper you found on Google Scholar. That is just silly. Papers are written by people, who have agendas, and biases, and Google Scholar is also filled with historical scholarly content which will have theories and viewpoints that have long since been proven incorrect. These are all incredibly important things to remember when researching anything. That being said, there is a standard of citing sources, and even peer review that means there is more reliable information in these papers than a random website that pops up. Because all it takes to put up a website is server space and a domain. Publishing a paper takes a bit more leg work.

Alright, one more disclaimer and then we’ll push on to the meat of it. I am by no stretch of the imagination a professional academic. This is all my very amature way of trying to build up my understanding and studies of the culture and the history of the Gods that I worship. If you have better methods you would like to share, if there is something I am missing, please feel free to comment and let me know!

Step 1: Go to Google Scholar! Search!

Fairly easy step. Go to https://scholar.google.com, and you will be presented with a search box that looks very familiar but in fact is different.

Here you can enter the search term you would like to find articles on. If you are like me, you may have forgotten that there is a wide variety of advanced search commands you can use to best utilize getting the search results you want. You can find a list of these commands on this website.

The two most useful ones in my experience are using “parentheses” to search for exact phrases and the minus (-) command. For example if you wanted to search for “Irish poetry” -Yeats, you would get results that contained the exact phrase “Irish poetry” but did NOT contain Yeats.

This can be super useful when you try looking for something and notice that you keep getting results that are not what you are looking for.

Step 2: Looking through Results!

Alright! Now we got some results. How to decide what’s worth looking at and just general info.

Google Scholar Screenshot

The first thing I would like to note is the option in the red box on the left hand side of the screenshot. There are two options “include patents” and “include citations”, generally speaking for polytheistic studies you aren’t going to be looking for patents, so you can go ahead and turn that off. You may want to include citations however, as that will give you the names and authors of articles that many other articles are citing in their works. It is likely that they won’t be available online for you to read, but if you have access to a college library or contacts you might be able to track them down, but you can disable them if you just want articles.

Next is to look at the information under the Title. That includes the Author, Institution or Journal, when it was published, and maybe platform it is on. This is all important information to look at and can tell you a lot about the article.

Publishing Date: As I mentioned before there is a lot of historical published articles that are in Google Scholar. You can get a feel for what information is going to be up to date, vs what might have some historical biases, based on when it was published.

Anything published in the Victorian Era, so 1800’s, is going to have out dated information in it. Archaeology, history, and just academic understanding has come a long ways since then. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t also have good information in it. It just means that you will need to read it with a critical eye (you should do that with everything but you get what I’m saying). The Victorian era in particular, besides being filled with racism, was also a time when Ireland was under colonial rule by England. A fact that colors a lot of the papers written at the time. Additionally you will find a lot of classicism in regards to deities in these papers. This is where you will read about Lugh being a sun god and other Irish deities being the “Irish Mercury” and so on. It is important to know the lens that you are reading a paper through.

Some other things to look into is the Celtic Revival, or the Celtic Twilight, and the schools of thought prevalent during those time that will likely be present in papers written during those times.  

Honestly, just learning the different eras schools of thought is a study all of it’s own. You can get into nativist vs anti-nativist theory, the “Celtic Migration”, and probably a whole lot that I am not even aware of because as I said I am not a academic in the field. Just a Branwen being a nerd.

Author: This one I usually pay a little more attention to this after I have read the article but it can be useful before as well. You can look up the author and see what institutions they studied at which will tell you something about where and how they got their information. If they are a professor your can sometimes get bios on faculties sites as well that can be helpful. How is this helpful you ask? Well, is this an American born academic that has always lived in the USA? Or is this a British born academic? Do they or have they ever lived in Ireland? Did they study at an Irish institute? These things again can give you an idea about the lens that they are speaking from.

Plus knowing the author means you can look up to see what else they have written. (Moar Homework!)

Source Information: So if you see JSTOR, that means it’s available on JSTOR, other publication and online journals might be listed. JSTOR there is a good chance that it is available to read online for free with a JSTOR account. One thing you are going to realize and run into quickly is what are known as “Pay Walls”. That means that you would need to be with an institution (college, university, etc) that is paying for a subscription to the journal to read the article, or sometimes you can pay to download the article (usually around $20).

Academics need to be paid just like the rest of us, and while I do believe that we will eventually get to a full Open Access model of education, we aren’t there yet. BUT there are a lot of open access articles you can find, AND if you live near an awesome library you should see if you can go get access through them (Libraries are the best.)

Cited By: Underneath the blurb about the article you will see a link that says “Cited By” and a number. This indicated how many other papers in Google Scholar cite this one as a source. They will also link you to those articles.


Step 3: Read all you want! Set up alerts, swim in information!

Once you go through and find the articles that are available for reading online, you can also set up alerts so that whenever a new article matching that search criteria is indexed into Google Scholar. To do that you can click on the “Create Alert” link in the purple box in the left hand of the screenshot. This will then send you an email when new articles are indexed and meet your search. Magic! Information straight to your inbox.


That’s all I got for you today folks! I hope that this shined a little light on a new tool for you to use in all your lore seeking needs.

If you liked this and would like to see more content like this. Let me know! Send me a message or comment. I’m always curious if this kind of information is too dusty and dry or what. But then again I also believe that we should share our resources so that we can all have access to what we need for self betterment.

Happy hunting! May the information that you seek find it’s way to you and you have the wisdom to use it for the greater good.

Altar of Bone and Flame

Hello little blog, it’s been a while. I find that frequently I just get wrapped up in the real world, or my own mind that leaves little room for things like blogging. But never fear, I always come back. Eager to share, and eager to continue transcribing my spiritual adventures. 

As it’s been a while I thought it would be a nice way to ease back into things by sharing photos from my recently cleaned altar. There are to be many projects, and much blogging on the horizon. This blog will get a face lift amoungst other things. But that is another post for another time. 

For the now I’d like to say how much I love my winter altars. They just come together so much easier. The bones, the stones, the furs, and wood. It all just sings in harmony and I love it. In spring and summer I feel the lack of color, the lack of being outside on a green hill in the open sky. But in winter, it is all stark and wonderfully homey. The bones I leave out all year round, they are spring and summer bones as well. But in winter they take center stage. Wonderful in their off white glory. Warmed to yellow in the flame. 

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There is something about candlelight that just makes an altar connect. It’s hard to capture in photos, at least it’s hard for me but still. The illumination of the flame has always connected to me. I think of it as the light of the human soul. There is something incredibly comforting and familiar while at the same time foreign and mystical about it. 

I arise today
Through The Gods strength to pilot me;
The Dagda’s might to uphold me,
The Dagda’s wisdom to guide me,
The Morrighan’s eye to look before me,
The Morrighan’s ear to hear me,
Manannan’s word to speak for me,
Anu’s hand to guard me,

 

 

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The Gods way to lie before me,
The Morrighan’s shield to protect me,
The Dagda’s hosts to save me
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.
Gods shield me today
Against wounding

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The Gods with me, The Gods before me, The Gods behind me,
The Sea around me, The Land beneath me, The Sky above me,
My Beloved Dead on my right, My Beloved Dead on my left,
The Ancestors when I lie down, The Ancestors when I stand,

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The Dagda be in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
The Morrighan be in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
The Spirits be in the eye that sees me,
Imbas in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of my beloved Gods, of the Valiant Dead, and all that came before.

 – Prayer adapted from Carmina Gadelica St. Patrick’s Breastplate  

Starting something new…

arms_open_by_waitingforemma-d4chrhkArms Open by ~WaitingForEmma on deviantART

For several years now a project, an idea, has been brewing in my mind. A growing desire to create a space for something that I need, while providing that same space for others who may also need. All the way back in 2011 when I wrote “Carving out more Worship”  it was this new space and project that was on my mind. Now I am literally days away from enacting it. 2013 it seems, is the year of fulfilling a lot of promises, and making vows.

As those of you who read this odd little blog may know or at least summize, I am a public priestess. For several years now I have worked with CAYA Coven and the Bloodroot Honey Priestess Tribe putting on countless rituals. No literally countless, I have loss track. Our Coven puts on 8 sabbats, 9-13 full moon rituals, 8 pan-dianic sabbats, and a smattering of other rituals in the minuscule inbetweens. Learning ritual coordination and creation in this dynamic group with Yeshe Rabbit’s excellent example has been one of the highlights and true blessings of my public priestess path.

Even with all those rituals, and the calendar year packed, I still felt little tug that something was missing. See CAYA rituals are fantastic, and dynamic and always changing. Always learning. With all those people with their different ideas, paths, and ways the stream of creativity is truly astounding. But on the flip side CAYA rituals are eclectic, and interfaith and most the time do not speak to my specific path. They certainly fulfill my community needs but I knew that I would eventually need to be more of a public priestesses for my gods specifically, in some way.

When you are elbow deep in public ritual it’s hard not to start creating your own, imagining different flavors you would try, the things that are important to you, the things you would probably not do. And as a Celtic Polytheist who has yet to experience a Celtic-centered ritual that she was truly happy with, the thought “put up or shut up” began to circle round and joined forces with another reality.

In the Bloodroot Honey Priestess Tribe every HPS is expected to create and maintain a project that benefits and brings forth the Divine Feminine into the world. These are our Legacies. For the past two years my Legacy was High Priestessing the Goddess Sabbats that the Tribe put on. That meant maintaining, coordinating, and helping wherever needed with the 8 sabbats we put on every year. The “put up or shut up” had teamed up with a whisper of  “what if you did your own rituals for your Legacy?” The threads began to come together.

During my many Dark Moon outings with Temple Witch to our beloved beach another tugging became known. That of the soul satisfying rush of worshiping outside. There are many pagans whose path is not nature based, I’m not one of them. The three realms, Land, Sea, and Sky, and the mysteries and balance found within them are things that get my blood up. Nothing so easily puts me into alignment than being in the alignment of the realms. It feels whole and right to create a relationship with the local places. To see the subtle changes of a place. To notice when people have been less than kind to it, to do what you can to make amends (cleaning up trash).

Another layer, perhaps the most eye opening layer, was the freedom that came with worshiping freely within the eyesight and earshot of whomever. Creating the normalcy of it all.

I have to say I am damn lucky to live in the part of the country where that is even possible. Where no one intrudes and asks what I’m doing while bent over intently by my serpentine rock altar.  And while a few eyebrows may be raised as Temple and I wander out into the cold waves with out silver chalice singing our songs and laughing, no one heckles. No one shouts. There is no danger.

That’s simply not true everywhere.

In Florida, Kyjra Withers has been experiencing escalating attacks on her home.  While it there is no official stance on who or why, but evidence seems to point to her being targeting for her being an out witch. It’s sort of hard to imagine such things happening now and in this country. Especially when you live in a liberal area, and work at a metaphysical store, and in general have never experienced any harassment for being a pagan.

The knowledge of this inspires a sense of responsibility in me. That this freedom, that should be available to all, needs to be utilized, cared for and nurtured. Because it needs to be protected. It needs to grow.

Thus were the small pieces that came together and became a vision for rituals, for a platform that I’m calling the Temple of the Open Sky.

The Temple of the Open Sky is founded on the belief that freedom of religion is a right that needs to be practiced when and where it can be. Here in the SF Bay area we are privileged with a freedom from fear of retaliation for outward expression of differing religious beliefs that is not found elsewhere in the USA, let alone in the World. It is this truth that brought forth that need to create a space where the Gods names were spoken outside of closed doors, without hiding, witnessed under the open sky.

In that vein, the Temple of the Open Sky seeks to create a platform for pagan worship and devotion that is supportive of the many and varying methods of finding the divine. To create a safe container, free from shame, to be out in the world with our spirituality.

For me being a Celtic Polytheist, and the founder of these rituals, it means that for now the rituals are going to be Celtic-centric. I’m not aiming for reconstructionism  but for culturally founded and modernly adapted. But the underlying goal is creating a space for authentic expression of worship and normalization of that worship. In the future I hope that other priests and priestesses in the area might wish to share their rituals, and speak their gods names aloud for all to hear.

An important aspect of the Temple is once again bringing feasting into ritual space. It’s not an easy aspect to work in modern times, especially in public rituals. While it would be easy to host a ritual and feast for a small party in a home when you know how many guests you are expecting, opening things to the public complicates matters. Dietary needs, and just the basics of feeding an unknown number of people quickly turn the idea to a dream out of reach. But the feast is such a central part of the Celtic celebratory ritual, and is the part that I  long for the most. Food being a central foundation of my practice. If we release the idea of trying to feed an unknown number of people without a budget and acknowledge the fact that we will be outside away from a kitchen anyways, an obvious solution presents itself. Picnic! A completely acceptable and long held American tradition, easily rolled into pagan worship. That simplicity really is the structure that I’m building on and hope others will enjoy as well.

But for now it’s just me, which means all Celts. The first ritual is scheduled for this coming Saturday and will be a devoted to Brighid. The next will be in June or July and devoted to Manannan Mac Lir. August or September will be in honor of Epona, and we will end the year feasting to the Dagda.

I plan on posting more about the process, how each of the events go, and even the outlines should anyone be interested in them.

Gotta say I’m a little nervous. But I know this is what I’m suppose to do.