Geeking Out With Druid Math

AncientPathsImagine you lived about 2,000 years ago and you were one of the few far and between who had pretty much all the knowledge that was available back then. And don’t even begin to think that wasn’t quite a lot. You knew 350+ stories verbatim, the law (all of it), herbal remedies (all of them), you knew medicine, and how to augur from the flights of birds, from a sheep’s shoulder blade, or the entrails of an ox. You not only new the heavenly bodies, but could also calculate their path, and knew what their relation to the zodiac and to each other meant for you and your tribe. You were a Druid.

And as such, you also knew math.

Not just adding and subtracting, but geometry, sacred geometry. You knew π, and the number you had was pretty close to what we know of it today. And you knew about the Pythagorean theorem, that the three sides (a,b, and c) of a right triangle always follow the formula a2+b2=c2.

Well, if all that knowledge feels like pressure, how about this? You and your fellow Druids apparently mapped out at least Gaul and the British Isles – and I propose also Gallia Cisalpine – using this formula, π, and the angle of the Sun’s rays at the Winter and Summer Solstices, the so-called solstice lines. And when I say “mapped out”, I really mean you founded your tribal centers and built the roads in between them based on this math. You used a triangle with a=11 and b=11 (in Gaul) to represent the slant of the solstice line, and you used these lines together with meridians and latitudes to build a fascinating web of communities all over Western Europe.

Now, if you think all that and the following mesmerizing facts sprang from my own head, you think too high of me. It was the British author Graham Robb who about the details of this scheme underlying the Celtic lands on over 300 pages of enthralling druidic – how should I say – geekiness.

I have read a lot of fascinating books on Druidry in the past five years, but this one book by Graham Robb, ‘The Ancient Paths – Discovering the Lost Maps of Celtic Europe’ has struck a special cord in me.

For example, Robb – who actually did much of his research by biking all over France and Britain – found that there are hundreds of towns in Celtic Europe, from Hungary to the Hadrian’s Wall, which were called Mediolanum back then, and whose names today still refer back to their old ones; Milan in Italy being one of the most famous one of them. Yet, most of these Mediolanums weren’t really important tribal centers. It turns out, they were more there to measure out the lands.  AncientPathsInnen

Look at the chart to the right, where within a roughly 28.5 km radius around one Mediolanum, today known as Molliens-Dreuil, several other Mediolanums and additional “middle places” can be found. These Mediolanums were like the geometer’s measuring points we find today in our streets and everywhere.

Well, these are just the measure points for a much bigger matrix. As Robb lays out, Alesia, the big tribal center famed for the battle in which Vercingetorix lost and conceded to Gaius Julius Caesar, not only lies exactly on a Winter Solstice sunset line trajectory from another Mediolanum, today Châteaumeillant, but also exactly on a Winter Solstice sunrise line from the famous Italian Mediolanum, Milan, and further down southeasterly, the Greek Oracle of Delphi. And I mean on an exact line. There are 300 pages about these lines, how they all play together, and how they are all seen as the path of the Sun-God-Hero Herakles (or Hercules), who wandered on a line parallel to the Châteaumeillant-Alesia line. This “Heraklean Line” starts at a point in Portugal at the most Southwestern point of Europe – and follows the a=11 b=7 trajectory northeasterly, going right through Andorra and ending on a mountain pass in the Alps, the Matrona Pass, whence he turned southeasterly back to Greece. History buffs amongst you would say now “Wait a minute, this is exactly the way Hannibal and his elephants took when he marched against the Romans.” Why yes it is, because if the path was good enough for a God, why shouldn’t a general follow it?

Again, there are hundreds of jaw-dropping eye-openers in this book, and I wouldn’t even know where to begin. But here is the real beauty of the book. With what you learn in there, you can map out your own point of interest, as long as it lies in the lands of Celtica. So, for me, there were two facts of great interest so far, facts that are not described in the book per se, but I have found out since. Hallstatt, you know, the little town after which the earlier Celtic culture is named after, lies on the exact same latitude as Alesia, which you will learn to embrace as quasi the axis mundi of the Gauls (if you read the book). And the other learning is still in progress. Because right now, I am trying to measure out where the famous city of Noreia may have been, the center of the Noricum, the Celtic kingdom within which Hallstatt lies, and my home town the Romans named Aquae, near the Celtic town Vindo Bona, the White Castle, today better known as Vienna.

What else this ancient knowledge reveals, I don’t know. But I think it may be much more. So, my advice would be: get the book and geek out with Druidic math!

For other ancient Celtic magic, please consider my book “Mountain Magic – Celtic Shamanism in the Austrian Alps”, available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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Knowing the Unknown Unknowns

dnaA couple of days ago, I had a pretty good idea who I am when I woke up that morning. Going to bed later that day was a different matter. Much – and nothing – has changed. How so? Well, I got an email from Ancestry.com that my DNA heritage analysis was done and that I could see the results on the web.

Now, why did I do that in the first place, you may say. What’s so important about one’s ethnic heritage?

It’s not important at all, but interesting. And a little more different from what I thought it would be.  It also conveniently confirms certain believes I have had all along.

Let me start with telling you what my ancestry is, ethnically speaking………….Really?
Sorry, no, I am not going to tell you what it is. Because it does not matter. Most is not surprising anyway, only one is in the sense of “Oh, who would have thunk!”, and another one in the sense of “Now that’s surprising!!!”. And the latter is the only one I am going to share. As it turns out a part significant enough to not being categorized as “trace” is European Jewish. And I say “In your face, Schicklgruber Dolferl (better known as Adolf Hitler). Can’t imagine how many of your fellow “pure Aryans” had that as well, desperately trying to cover up their ancestry so to not fall victim to their own genocidal schemes. And you feared you did as well, for a good reason, didn’t you, Schicklgruber? Had the SS look into that because you weren’t so sure, were you?” (I call him Schicklgruber because that was his father’s actual name, himself being born out of wedlock by a Maria Schicklgruber. Later on, Dolferl’s father took on his mother’s husband’s last name.)

My little Schicklgruber-rant is not unrelated to why I had the DNA test done in the first place, though. Because, more often than I care for, I run into people and arguments on social media who come very close to being Schicklgrubers themselves. You know, those who insist on purity in heritage, and that this is the only thing that can determine the line of spiritualty one should follow. For them – if I were so misinformed to eclectically choose a path other than the one and only predetermined by my ancestors – I would be a plastic-this and a fraud-that.
And make no mistake, these Schicklgrubers can be found in many – if not all – ethnicities, not only those associated with Germany.

But now, with the results of my DNA analysis in my hands, I can confidentially say – evidence based as it were – what I have wanted to say all along: Total. Fail.

Why? Well, I am 28% of one big European ancestry, 23% of another big one, and 17% and 16% of yet two others, respectively. And then the Jewish aspect and a couple of traces. Now which one ancestry’s spiritual traditions would you permit me to follow, you little Schicklgrubers of this world?  Can I choose myself, or are you going to do that for me? Does it make your head explode that there is someone out there who actually could choose one, or, by all the Gods, pick and choose from many?

For those interested how it could be that I am so multifaceted, genetically: I was born in a region that, although once inhabited by Hallstatt Celts (as evidenced by a rampart near my home town, was Romanised early on. And only a few centuries later it started to develop into one of Europe’s biggest melting pots, Vienna, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Vindo Bona, as the old Celts called her, the White Fortress, on the river named after the old Goddess Danu. People from all over the lands covered by the Habsburg realm made it to Vienna, may that be because they left their Alpine homesteads for a military career like my great grandfather, or their northern Austrian (almost Czech) rural dwelling simply to seek fortune closer to the Imperial Court. Like his wife, my great grandmother. And I have six more of those, of course. Bavarians, Hungarians and some I don’t know. No wonder my ancestry is all over the place…

So, with this mix of ethnicities – not one really manifested in a significant enough way to be called a majority – I can say with a level of conviction I could not muster without that darn test: DNA does not and should not determine your spiritual path! At all.
I much rather would advise to follow – as my friend and fellow Druid John Beckett says – the Gods that call you, even if They are Gods from different pantheons. And if you don’t believe in Gods, follow what’s right for you. Don’t listen to the Schicklgrubers.

I have found my path long before the test, and it led me to write “Mountain Magic”, where I delve into the traditions of my calling, DNA approved or not.

(“Mountain Magic – Celtic Shamanism in the Austrian Alps”, available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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And I can only say that I went to bed that day enriched in a way I could not have imagined when clicking the link in the Ancestry.com email, that said “View your results now”.

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Things To Know About The (US) Opioid Crisis

PapaversomniferumAs a Druid, a big part of my obligations falls under the wide umbrella of “teaching”. Therefore, much of my blog entries, talks, and workshops are about my personal interest of traces of Celtic traditions in Alpine folklore and customs. My obvious target audience for this are other Druids, but also Pagans in the widest meaning of the word.
Sometimes, though, I need to equate “teaching” with “informing the general public”, like here.

The difficulty in writing this was to walk the fine line between being open to suggestive correlations hinting at a major system failure, and not falling into the trap of conspiracy theories. And no, this is not about the Queen of England being a lizard from the Draco systems, as one major conspiracy theory claims (and which I poke fun at all the time).

The article is about the unprecedented surge of opiate related deaths in the US. This is a brutal fact, not a theory, and it is demonstrated visually by the graphs below, issued by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). You can see that until the early nineties, the rate of death by opiate overdose was still at about 2 per 100.000 people, roughly what it has been for two decades. Then it began to rush upwards.

CDC1

The first graph only goes until  2007, and shows all drug-related overdose deaths (including cocaine, roughly a third). The newer data in the second graph (only opioid related overdose deaths) shows that the rate is now (2014) at 9 per 100.000, 4.5times the level of 1992.

CDC Overdose
Deaths from overdose are only the tip of the iceberg, though, because for each single person dying from that, there are 10 people in treatment, 32 in ER treatment for heavy use, 130 people having an opioid dependency, and 825 are casual users. So, if there are roughly 1,000 opioid users per 1 overdose death, there were approximately 2,000 opioid users per 100,000 people in the US in the 1992. In 2014, where there were 9 such deaths, extrapolating the number of users from 2,000 to 9,000 per 100,000. That’s 9% of the US population using some form of opioids. Or, if you are at a party with 30 people, there may be three folks in the crowd you are hanging with who use such drugs. Even worse, if there are 29 friends of your kid partying in your house, there may be 3 rummaging through your medicine cabinet, looking for opioid pain killers. Statistically speaking; which is quite an important qualifier!

For those not familiar with the term “opioid”, it means any drug that is either manufactured from the natural sap of  Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy (like morphine), semi-synthesized products such as heroin, and fully synthetic drugs like Fentanyl. One can fatally overdose on any of them, prescription or not.

These are just the not-so-fun facts about this epidemic. And while I am empathetic with anyone dying of such an overdose, and with their families, this is not what angers me. I am not mad at the active users either, throwing their lives away, some because they have a compulsive disorder commonly known as addiction. I am also not angry at the physicians who, in many cases, are forced to clear the way to such an addiction. We’ll learn in a moment why they often have no other choice.

I am furious at the system that is behind this surge of deaths. And that part of this system are corporations which we trust in creating products that keep us out of harm’s way!

But let’s look at a few facts first that correlate – timewise  – with the rise of overdose deaths in the 1990ies:

  1. Medical professionals are now required, by law, to treat pain as a separate part of any of the pain-causing diseases that they are treating in the first place. For example, if one has arteriosclerosis, the physicians are required to treat the physical reasons for this disease, plus the pain that comes with it.
  2. Prescription opioids like Oxicontin hit the market.
  3. The Faces of Pain, a scale with emoticons developed for children (!) is widely adopted by hospitals and physicians. Look at the sample below, and you’ll see that there is no frown until the scale goes beyond five. painfacesTen, the worse pain, is reserved for childbirth, passing a kidney stone, and dislocation of bones. 8 and 9  is when the feeling, i.e. pain returns for a limb has been severed, or when vital organs are ripped apart by bullets (hence the morphine shots for soldiers). Now, without emoticons, people would rate their headaches or joint paints at 3 or 4 maybe. If you use the scale with emoticons, that would mean you’d still be in the smiling section. But nobody smiles when having pain! Ever. So, while this works for children (because you can stillmake them giggle when they have some pain) most adults overestimate their pain level and rate it above five. Way closer to “unbelievable pain that doesn’t go away” than necessary. Go back to the first point, and you’ll see why doctors have to prescribe hammer-drugs containing opioids when their patients rate their  arthritis pain or head-aches with 6 or 7, similar to large flesh wounds after a bear attack for example. It’s not that they aren’t hurting, it’s just that the scale coerces people to rate their pain according to the emoticon, leaving the whole section from 0 to 5 untouched.
  4. Consumer targeted advertising of pharmaceuticals hit the air waves. That’s the worst of the four. These are all the commercials on TV that ask you to talk to your doctor if you feel “x”. Like during the evening TV programming, they’ll ask you, after you have come home from a long day at work, if your back hurts, or your joints. Duh! Whose doesn’t? They show you people like yourself, aching and making frowning faces (like on the Faces of Pain  scale). And they suggest you should talk to your doctor to prescribe you pain meds.

Well, these are just four things that happened right before the curve of opioid related overdose deaths spiked in the US. Many in the Substance Abuse field say that this is not only coincidental, but a cause-and-effect correlation. And I concur with them.

So, is this a conspiracy? Nah. Nobody is secretly trying to kill people to rule the world, to establish “The New World Order.” Pain should definitely be treated, for it could be – and most often is – counterproductive to the healing process. But then physicians and patients need a way to make the right choices, and not be guided by the fear of violating law. The nurses who invented the scale of pain did so with the greatest of intent, help little kids express their pain accurately and trustworthy. The adverse effect of possible overestimation of pain levels need to be known and communicated, though. Even if that means that Big Pharma makes less money because they can’t sell the more expensive stronger drugs. But subliminally suggesting to use dangerous drugs is just plain wrong.

We do need the pharma industry, obviously. But there is a very large range between “normal” capitalism and ruthless, neo-liberal capitalism. The one where maximizing profit (also a law in the US, by the way) makes CEO decisions reckless and cause large numbers of people to suffer and die. Something folks who make “free, unregulated enterprise” part of their  campaign should consider (just saying, in an election year).

Again, this is not the fault of anyone person or any particular group. It’s a system issue. Bet let’s not forget one  thing: We are not only The People, we are also the market. We are the system.
I am aware that systems don’t change that fast, so here are a few ideas how you can safeguard yourself against this particular issue. It may just keep you or your loved ones away from addiction and all that comes with it (loosing all your money and all your friends and family, criminal behavior, prostitution, Hepatitis C and HIV from needle sharing, homelessness, infections of the veins, brain damage, and possibly an agonizing death due to respiratory failure (the cause of death in an opioid overdose)):

  1. When your doctor or the ER personnel shows you the Faces of Pain scale, take three deep breaths, and think about your pain in numbers, not in smiley faces. You might just end up about two notches lower than the smiley face suggests. And you may still arrive at a painful 4.
  2. Ask your doctor about non-opioid pain treatment. There are other drugs that do not cause addiction.
  3. Have an “ER-buddy” who knows of your opioid-related wishes, even when you are incapacitated. As a parent, make sure you are the “ER-buddy” of your child, protecting them from opioids whenever possible.
  4. When you need opioid medication and you’re done with your treatment, bring your unused meds back to your doctor or pharmacist. Some communities even have places to collect them. Having them in your home is dangerous, for you, your kids (remember, they may have friends who don’t make good choices), and it may just lure criminals into your home.

There is one other thing that we all can do, over time. When your doctor suggests surgery and you don’t want that, there is a form that says that you were advised of the benefits and risks of surgery, and then you sign it stating that you decline it.
There is no form to decline pain management with opioids! If you indicate to your doctor that you have a high enough level of pain, they must prescribe the adequate meds. Opioids in many cases. If they don’t, if they have no record of the prescription, they committed malpractice, technically. You can rip up the prescription, but your doctor has to write it.
Let’s all ask our doctors if they have a form to decline pain management with opioids. Every time. All of us. Until they get so sick of this question that they pressure their lawyers to come up with something all can agree upon, even Big Pharma.

A little waiver here: Pain management with opioids can sometimes be the only valid option. Especially with cancer, or in cases where the pain is really high up on the scale. But it should be the last resort, not the first go-to. Not with the danger of fatal drug overdose at its end. And let me also tell you this. I did once pass a kidney stone. The opioid meds that I got (they didn’t have to use the Faces of Pain scale; with that pain you’re automatically a 10) where useless for me. I couldn’t keep the first one down, for my stomach reacted adversely, if you know what I mean. I didn’t even try another one. But there was an Ibuprofen alternative that worked. For a classic 10 on the pain scale.  For me, I should mention. I’m not saying this  this to show off. My body simply didn’t accept opioids, now matter the law. Couldn’t do anything about it. But I listened to my body, and sought an alternative. So, no, I am not saying ‘cancer – schmancer’ or ‘walk off your broken vertebra!’ I am saying: be aware and know you have choices.

The best prevention against death from drug related overdose is awareness, communication , and having a plan.

 

Christian Brunner
Druid
Concerned dad
Equally concerned community member
And also Dir. of Program Evaluation (i.e. cruncher of numbers and statistics) at the Pine Street Inn (a homeless service provider agency in Boston, MA)

 

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Pagan Catholicism

Bartolomaeusnacht

Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Only that it’s not, and I have seen it happen in social media, at courses, and even in books now.

To make sense of the existence of “Pagan Catholicism” we need to look at the word “catholic” first. Although we associate that Greek term (καθολικισμός, katholikismos) with certain branches of the Christian churches, most prominently the Roman Catholic Church, the word actually means nothing more than “whole, universal”. The early Roman Christian Church chose this term in the second century CE to establish their superiority, by expressing what they thought of themselves. Which was that they are teaching, adhering to, and representing the whole, the one and only, the universal truth. Opposite to the heretics, who weren’t seen as “bad” in the beginning, just as some folk who didn’t follow the mainstream Catholic way of thinking. Only later, when the Catholic Church assembled, and wielded, more and more power, being heretic turned into being associated with or influenced by the devil.

I, for one, am always skeptical when someone claims that they know or represent the truth. And it feels like history confirms me in that belief. The horrendous atrocities that have been committed by people who seviewe themselves as the “Keepers of The Truth” – whatever truth that was – are just staggering. And it’s not only the Catholic Church here, Protestants have been just as bad, and Muslims, and – to a very limited extent – nowadays some orthodox Jews, too. Hitler knew everything about the purity of race, Stalin knew the truth about how an economy should be organized, and Dick Cheney knows the truth about weapons of mass destruction.

But let me tone it down here now, for we are talking about us Pagans, and I have not noticed any genocides or wars initiated by the Pagan community at all. Not by a far cry.

BUT…but…I have noticed something. A spark, a little glimmer of the same energy that eventually gave rise to these atrocities. I have noticed this seemingly human trait to claim to know the truth. Let me pick on one group here, but just as an example. I chose this particular group not because I don’t like them as such, but precisely because I think they do good work. I even consider myself a part of them. And that is why I am even more alert, want this group to not fall into the pits of and internal Pagan war of faith.

The group I am talking about are the Celtic Reconstructionists (CR). The idea is great; research what archeology reveals, anthropology discovers, and what the few remaining authentic successors of the old Celtic ways still do, or at least have done in the times of recent, better recorded, history. The recipe is to stick to that and only to that. Then, you couldn’t possibly go wrong, could you?

While that holds true, the problem is you don’t progress either. But that is only one of the problems, and I have as many doubts that the Druids of old wouldn’t have embraced brand-new philosophies that weren’t part of their traditions – and thus progressed – as I doubt that this Yoshua from Nazareth (provided he’s historic) would have been remotely as conservative as so many Christians are. It’s a point, but not the point here.

The point here is that I have encountered Scottish CRs who – after having yelled at me that it is not at all certain that there was a great Celtic invasion on the British Isles – tell me that they are the one and only keepers of Celtic traditions. The point is that I have seen verbal altercations between CRs and say, modern Druids, in social media over and over again. Because as a Druid, you somehow can’t follow Celtic traditions, for there were some folks a few centuries ago who thought of themselves as Druids but were also connected to Free Masonry. That somehow un-Celtics the modern Druid? And most recently (and to my great disappointment) I read in a book on Ogham that taking on a geas (a ritual injunction) is “serious business and should not be done by anyone just starting on the CR path.” For everyone else it’s fine? Others following a less narrow Celtic path can just get into trouble with the spirits for they are lesser people than hard core CRs?

Again, I am picking on the CR community simply because I do Celtic reconstruction myself. From my blog posts you know that I do a lot of research in old Alpine folk customs and lore that can possibly be traced back to Celtic times. I have found traditions and stories connecting us to the Celts of Hallstatt, and have incorporated these traditions in my Druid practice. The thing is, and that is the important issue here, that that doesn’t make me think of myself as “pure”, or “purer” and more knowledgeable than others. I could, but then I would become what? Catholic, I would practice Pagan Catholicism; and that would have unintended consequences that I would rather avoid.

Again, the CR community is not the only one where some whip up this attitude. I have seen, heard, read this attitude all over the place. I’m not immune to it myself. Thankfully, I am alert enough to identify it when it creeps up. And I certainly call it out wherever I see it.

Look at the old painting at the beginning of this blog post. It shows Catholics going at Protestants in utmost brutality in 1572. Over nothing, literally nothing. 99% of their beliefs are the same, based on the same old book. And then there is this little discrepancy in interpretation, which apparently was reason enough to torture and kill each other. The only motive for that behavior was attitude. The misguided belief that they, the Catholics, know the truth better.

This is not how I picture the Pagan community. We don’t need to be fluffy harmonious, but we do need to be a strong and coherent conglomerate of many different paths, not easily broken down externally, and definitely not internally by the worst thing of all: arrogance and attitude.

Let us Pagans be better than that.

More Celtic Reconstructionism of Alpine folk customs and lore in my book “Mountain Magic – Celtic Shamanism in the Austrian Alps”, which is available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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Vaselen – Awakening The Spring Maiden

vaselenNow that the festival of the returning light – many call it by its Irish name Imbolc – has passed, time must not be wasted. The agricultural cycle of the year is already in full swing, even though we cannot see it in the apparent world. But we do know that with the Winter Solstice a couple of months ago the seeds buried deep in the frozen ground have changed, albeit ever so minutely. With the February festival of Lichtmess (read more about here) the farmers have started to pay close attention to the land, and have started to prepare themselves for the months of hard labor to come.

So, what to do in the meantime? Well, you certainly remember when you were a kid and your mom or dad, or whoever your caregiver was during your school years, came to your room and woke you up in the morning. You definitely caught the, “Wake up!” or “Up and at’em” when they bolted into your room. But wasn’t there something else that you heard, felt in your whole body? Something that was as familiar to you as their voices, their smells, their hugs? It was the footsteps that you heard as they were approaching your door, that subtle tremble of the floor that brought you out of your deep slumber even before the door handle was turned. That, together with the daylight penetrating your closed eyelids, causing your pineal gland to inhibit further release of the hormone melatonin, you body’s own “sleeping pill”, prepared you to wake up the moment you heard the familiar words.

We could easily compare the sunlight, hitting the Earth’s surface now a bit over an hour longer than at the darkest time of the year, the Winter Solstice, with the daylight entering your window. While the increasing strength of the Sun may prepare the Spring Maiden to slowly rouse and eventually spread her green coat over the land, who’s footstep could make her feel that someone is coming to wake her up?

This is where vaselen comes in. This Old High German term means something like “making fertile”, and people of old did that by stomping the ground. Rhythmically. Also known as dancing.

In today’s German, vaselen is known as Fasching or Fas(t)nacht, the version of carnival celebrated in the German speaking lands. What we do in Fasching is we party, feast and drink, and dance the nights away. Stomping the ground. There is a fair amount of alcohol involved, people dress up, frivolous at times, and lose their inhibitors. Masks soften moral and societal boundaries. I have a lot of friends with a November birthday…

Making fertile is the motto. And no matter if you live on a farm, have a vegetable garden in your back yard, or a few pots for tomatoes and herbs on your terrace or balcony, why not throw a party, with lots of dancing. Everything else is optional. Just make good choices…

Read more about Alpine folk customs in my book “Mountain Magic – Celtic Shamanism in the Austrian Alps”, which is available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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Imbolc – Let’s Bring The Light Back!

imbolc

Imbolc is a festival of light in many – if not all – regions of the Celtic lands. In the Alps, whence these ancient peoples came, and in the German speaking lands in general, the concept of light is even in the name of the festival, Lichtmess (“Light measure”). Candlemas, as it is called in the Christian English speaking world, is also a reference to it.

All this is probably based on what our forebears observed at the beginning of February: The Sun is out longer – for about an hour – than He was at the darkest days of the year, at the Winter Solstice. The farming year now began in earnest, and in the areas where Germans and Celts lived in close proximity, people erected a specific pole in the village centers. The Germans called it TINPAL, which means ‘time pole’ or ‘light measure pole’. There is evidence that the Celts had something like that, too. Not so much hinting at the time when they were set up, but when they were taken down. We have several churches in the Alps which point at the Sun as it rises on October 13th. That is no arbitrary date, but exactly 40 weeks after January 6th, the day after the night the Great Goddess visits folks’ homes at the end of the Raunächte, the twelve magical nights after the Winter Solstice. (more about this here). The village squares where we find those particular churches are usually named after St. Koloman. COILOS was the ancient Celtic word for “thin, high”, and MEN was the term for “stone”. Like in DOLMEN or MENHIR. Thus, the COILOSMEN in the village center is believed to have been a thin, pole-like standing stone of particular length resembling the German TINPAL, used to “measure the light” (Resch-Rauter, 1999). From this it would be fair to conclude that the COILOSMEN had a similar function as the wooden TINPAL, and may also have been erected each year on or around what today is February 1st or 2nd.

But this just explains the reason for the German name of the festival. What’s more important is that this time of year, Imbolc, is a festival dedicated to the light. While we don’t need to measure it any more to know when our various farming activities should start, we could – and should, really – still acknowledge this fact of increasing daylight.

And what better way to do exactly that than through fire and ritual. Whether it is a full-fledged bonfire on the town common or in the back yard, or a small candle on your dining room table, the most important thing is to be aware of, and connect to, the light in a conscious way.

The ritual could be as simple as lighting a few candles, one after another, after having sat in a dark room for a while. That alone would manifest the awareness of what is going on in the world (the northern hemisphere, at least) in your own four walls. Or, you could kindle a blasting bonfire – wherever it is safe and legal – and package that into a larger Imbolc rite.
Bringing the light home, to your own hearth, from the central bon fire is a theme we find widespread in the area where the Celts once dwelled. In Styria, one of the nine provinces of Austria, such a custom has survived. There, folks carry the Lichtmess-fire from house to house to re-kindle the extinguished oven fires.

And then, in true Celtic fashion, you could drink and feast, maybe even on this typical – and simple to make – Alpine midwinter dish.

Read more about the Alpine version of the festivals of the year in my book “Mountain Magic – Celtic Shamanism in the Austrian Alps”, which is available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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Welcome, You Monsters and Witches

KuchlPerchtenIn my previous blog-post (Mom’s Home!) I have written about how the Goddess, the Great Mother, is welcomed to our homes in the Alps every year on the Eve of Jan 6th. Still, two thousand and sixteen years after the beginning of our current way to count years (at least many of us do so, and all the computers (remember the Y2K freak-out)).

The choice of date is not arbitrary, of course, but due to January 5th being the day when the magical time of the Raunächte end. At night, the Goddess comes for a last visit in the guise of Mother Perchta, until her return in Spring.

But who is this Percht? And why do we call parades of furry monsters with scary masks, usually taking place on January 5th, or the closest weekend, or sometime between the Winter Solstice and January 5th, Perchten-Runs? Why do we associate these fearsome creatures with the Goddess? Why is she often described as an old, ugly hag in the stories of not-so-old?

perchtenIt is exactly because she is the Goddess! Well, her crone-aspect, to be precise. As such she may not only have been viewed as old and withered already in pre-Christian times to begin with, but she certainly was made into a dreadful figure by the Church, to turn people away from her and her consorts, the Maiden and the Mother. She was called Borbet once, her name derived from the Indo-European/Proto-Celtic term BORM, meaning something like warm, but also womb. As the crone-aspect of the Goddess trinity, she was the psychopomp, receiving the bodies of the departed in her womb, and accompanying the spirits into the Otherworld. The association with death, which was just seen as a transition into another life back then, but in Christianity became the final destination with certain torture and possible doom, made is easy for early Christians to decry her as scary, ugly, if not plain evil.

But people clung on to her and her sisters for dear life even until the 12th century CE, which prompted the Bishop of the German city of Worms to decree that worshipping the old Goddesses is forbidden. It is somewhat ironic, though, that this happened in Worms of all places, because the settlement was known as Borbetomagus (“Borbet’s Field”) in Celtic times. In other words, this bishop’s residence was in actuality a place dedicated to this Goddess.

So, when you viewed the video attached to this blog-post and watched these furry creatures and those tree-like figures, even the witches – all together called “Perchten” – you were really looking at the Goddess. In a much distorted way, I admit. The term Percht itself may be a dialect corruption of “Borbet”, by the way.

HexeThe Perchten don’t run around bonfires just to show off their masks and costumes, however, for there is a deeper meaning of the Perchten coming to your village. When the Perchten-groups (called Pass) visit villages in the traditional way, they would enter people’s homes and the witches would sweep out “the old year” (i.e. the spirits of it) from the home. The rest of the group do their dancing and noise-making to expel such spirits that way, and some of the Perchten would hit the (younger) members of the households with horse-hair whips to induce or increase fertility. In at least one area of the Alps, such a Perchten­ visit it played out even more intricately. There, first the “ugly” Perchten­ storm into the house, do their shenanigans, and then they are driven out by “beautiful” Perchten,­ who then dance to ask the house to be blessed. And then they all drink some Schnaps with the folks of the house.

This is it, folks, about the crone-aspect of the Goddess. She’s gone (not really, though) until summer’s end at Samhain. Soon, we will be talking about ways we can awaken the Maiden to get ready to blanket the Earth with green and colorful flowers in spring with more dancing (and more Schnaps).

Read much more about the Alpine Goddess in my book “Mountain Magic – Celtic Shamanism in the Austrian Alps”, which is available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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