Krampus And Other Social Aspects of Magic

December 5th is when he comes to your home. Krampus, the feared hairy and horned creature from the wider Alpine region, making its ways into homes an many parts of the world now. Unfortunately, Krampus is also widely misunderstood. He doesn’t, for example, hate Christmas. He doesn’t care about Christmas, for he’s long gone come December 25th. He is associated with the time around the Winter Solstice, announces its coming and the purging aspect of it. But Krampus couldn’t care less about what people do at Christmas; or about the presents. He is not the Grinch!

I have written about Krampus in a previous blog article (and more extensively in my book (see below)). Today, I want to carve out one aspect of the figure, and put it in the wider context of Magic.

As different folks in the Alps, who organize Krampus Runs in towns and villages, have told me a number of times when I did research for my book, tradition was that the people dressing up as Krampus created their masks in secrecy over summer. When they came to the town square in Winter and hit, with their horse hair whips or bundles of birch twigs, rich and poor, high and low born (as it were in the old days), powerful and powerless, they acted as punishers, as moral authority chastising indiscriminately and, equally important, with impunity. If that hadn’t be the case, who would dare whack the butt of the count or the duke looking on, with their security around them? But masked, amongst others also masked, it was those in power wouldn’t dare retaliate, mostly to not lose face and being called a coward and wimp by the cheering crowd.

So, what we have is a person becoming, for the time being, a magical creature. A young person shapeshifting into an otherworldly beast. With that they assume the role of judge and executioner in one, breaking a very profound ethical rule actually, that these two jobs should be separate. And with that comes a certain level of responsibility. Now, aside from the fact that these are mostly young men in their twenties, their spirit enhanced by a few rounds of Schnaps before the show starts, we still expect a certain level of responsibility, of restraint. Doesn’t always pan out, admittedly.

The core concept here is, though, that a usually powerless person suddenly gains power over the otherwise powerful through the magic of a mask and by assuming the role of a magical creature.

Fast rewind to the witch trials of the 15th through 17th centuries. Why? Because here, too, we learn much about the imbalance of power and what Magic had to do with it.
In a book dissecting 23 witch trials in one county in the Alps, the author, Peter Klammer, of the book “Daß sy der Rit schütt” – roughly translated “May the fever shake her” (a curse logged in one of the trial records) – comes to the conclusion that almost all of the cases have some or another connection to “beggars”. I.e. with the poorest of the poor, the absolute powerless.

“Beggars” might be a weird expression, but it has to do with the fact that back then, there was no safety net for the poor provided by the government. People who had lost their income and home, or never even had either, roamed the country and tried to survive on handouts by farmers and trades people. They, typically the disabled (physically as well as mentally and developmentally), widows, and war veterans, would wander from one farmstead the next, getting food, drink, and a place to sleep in the hey for a few days at each. They would knock on the door and beg, hence the term. While it was customary, and somewhat an unwritten moral law, to accommodate these beggars, the practice also meant that people had to share what little they had. And farmers usually had very little back then.

So people thought of ways to get rid of the  beggars. One way was to accuse them of witchery. Sometimes, the beggars themselves, fed up by their own fate and by the condescending attitude of the farmers, gave the latter, upon they depended, ample opportunity for accusation, for they would demand charity rather than ask humbly for it. And, if the farmers were reluctant, the beggars would curse them. One who curses – like “May the fever shake her” – could only be one thing: a witch.
The sense was, “I, one of the “good, hardworking people” give them milk – granted the oldest one I have, because I want the sweet, fresh one for myself – and they complain about it, even wish me bad? They must be witches! Only witches know how to turn the milk sour!
“A year with poor harvests, where I can give less to the beggars? If they complain, they must be weather witches.” And so on and so forth.

Now, there were some of these beggars, who actually did claim to know witchcraft.
Some were so mentally disturbed that they proudly recounted the times they fornicated with the devil, rode with him on oven pipes and wished bad weather upon the farmer who gave nothing.
Others claimed no such thing, but didn’t have the power to withstand the painful interrogation, aka torture, and told the drooling monks whatever they wanted to hear in their crazed madness. 
Some couldn’t even hold up in the “normal” interrogation, because they knew what was coming their way.
One woman ran a con-operation claiming she can see and find hidden treasures.

Off to the pyre they went.

Some women had to pay the farmers for their charitable gifts with sex, and were tried not only for devilishly seducing the otherwise oh so outstandingly devout Christian, but also for having sex with a married man, threatening his holy bond of marriage.  

To the pyre they, too, went.

But there were a few who were able to avoid the death penalty, often enough though not prison (where one of them died). They were accused of witchery by other members of the community as a form of revenge or in an attempt to get rid of them. But the accusations didn’t hold, and people went free.

And then there were a few, less than a handful, who actually did practice witchcraft, successfully as it were. One stayed free because he helped some superior nobleman with his illness. Another was hunted for decades, but never found. A couple died on the pyre.

In the end, Peter Klammer concludes that, from 1640 onwards, beggars were under the general suspicion of being witches. He also concludes that it seems that of those who practiced witchcraft only a few did it to help and heal (because they had the knowledge), while most others did it out of the desperation fueled by their poverty. In essence, a number of disenfranchised, poor social outcasts tried and claimed to be witches, to make a buck, and often enough to get back at those who had it all, who were in power.

Fast forward to today. A question discussed – a lot – in social media and in the blogger scene these days: is there, and should there be, a moral compass that pagans should voluntarily submit to?

Like the Wiccan “Rede”, the Law of the Harvest (Druidry), the Law of Threefold return (Witchcraft (TM)) or Karma (Hindu and by now pretty much everyone)?
If I were to evaluate the current situation based on what I read in social media discussions, things like

“I have been broke and treated unfairly so long that I have the right to hex… (fill in things like employer, ex-boyfriend, mother-in-law)”. 

“I don’t believe in the Rede/threefold law of return or what have you and if someone goes against me, I get back at them.”

“I hexed a guy who raped me, he died, and that way I made sure he can’t do it to someone else.”

…I would have to come to the conclusion: epic fail. Then again, if we in the pagan community can’t even decide whether or not there should be a moral compass in the first place, how could we ever hope that we could agree on what it would look like.

Nimue Brown, whose blog I follow regularly (she also writes impressively regularly), issued a number of posts vaguely linked to that question, albeit mostly for Druidry. Even so, what she writes in her article Responsible Druid:

The first thing that you do when you set out to become a Druid, is to take responsibility for your path.

…could be the first step if we were to at least agree that we should come up with something like pagan ethics. Because, if I compare some of these remarks with the witch trial court documents, I’d have to admit that we, as a community, are still deeply stuck in the stinking mud of the dark ages – also in the very literal meaning of that expression.

I think that it is permissible to defend life and limbs, even with Magic, in the very moment we face danger or someone else is. We are not bound to the Christian “present the other cheek” doctrine. But vengeful vigilante witchery? That is way off the moral compass not only by the standards of muggles.

There is no charter, no bill of right, that grants one the right for revenge.

At least not anymore. There was such a thing in one region of Europe for a time, but we have progressed from there a bit, thank the Gods. No more bond-slaves, thralls, and forced marriages either, so let’s not go back there.

Unfettered righteousness in the form of uttering curses left and right is something we, as a community, may want to stay away from. To keep each other safe from harm. If we ever want to have a chance of being an accepted alternative to the revealed Abrahamic religions; if we ever want to become a strong, responsible community.

Krampus is a little bit of a revenge creature. All within the framework of actual tradition. Responsible in a way that he doesn’t kill, or otherwise permanently harm those he calls out. He whips them a little bit.
Maybe we need Krampus to whack our arses once a year, too, just to keep us on our toes.


Read more about Krampus and other Alpine customs in my book “Mountain Magic” available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

 

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Making of Tinctures – Comfrey

This is my first attempt to record what is part of my Druidry in video format.

Please refer to this blog post for details about Comfrey (lat. Symphytum officinalis), and to this one to learn about a particular tradition  about collecting herbs in the Alps.


More on herbs and other Alpine traditions can be found in 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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Impractical Magic

AltarWhen starting on the path of Druidry, I was – how could I not have been – also exposed to Magic. So I began some research into my ancestors’ magical arts, which, just for the sake of distinguishing that from stage magic I shall not only capitalize it, but also call it Witchcraft. I do realize that this is an expression coined and defined by others (Gerald Gardner comes to mind), but in the context of this article I would like to use that term as the word describing the actual craft, the art of casting spells and ritual Magic of the witches.

Druid Magic is one thing. Different intent, different way of manifestation, sometimes in vastly more elaborate rites. The witch’s craft seems more direct, a momentary intent put into life through a spell maybe, or some purposeful ritual. Obviously, there is no clear demarcation line between the two, and as much as a Druid might cast a quick spell, a witch might stage an elaborate ritual with Coven and even guests.
As to the “how-to”, one can find a number of books on how to craft spells, volumes listing already created spells that one can use to manifest their intent. What’s beneficial about these manuals is that the spells and rituals in them do not, generally, raise too much of an eye-brow (except with radical religious people, but that should not be a topic here). Here’s an example of what I mean:

Breathe in and out slowly three time to clear your mind and center yourself. Just let your mind be clear and your energy calm. Chant the following:

Elements of the Sun, Elements of the Day,
Please come this way.
Powers of Night and Day,
I summon thee,
I call upon thee,
To protect me.
Do mote it be.

Beautiful. You don’t need any tools or gadgets, just a clear mind and intent, which you then manifest with these rhyming words. Only…that the witches of old may have done it a bit differently.

Mediaeval Spell Craft

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Practical Magic

RauchpfandlWith Samhain having passed, the Winter Solstice will be the next Station of the Sun we may want to observe. I say “may” because there is a good deal of evidence that folks in Old Europe may have celebrated the Quarter Days (known under their (Old) Irish names Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain) more than the Solstices and Equinoxes.

As a Druid from the Alps, though, where there is such an abundance of traditions around the seasonal marker of the Winter Solstice, I feel that this particular Station deserves particular focus.

Even though there is still some time until then, it’s never too late to start with preparations. And for what I’d like to suggest today, it’s important to begin with this project now so you are ready for the 12 days after the solstice.

The time between the Winter Solstice and the night of Mutter Percht (roughly what has  become to be known as the crone aspect of the Goddess) are called Rauhnächte in some, especially the southern, German speaking regions. Definitely in the Alps. While rauh in today’s standard German means rough, in Rauhnächte it is an old dialect corruption of Rauch, i.e. smoke. So, when we say Rauhnächte, we are actually talking about “Smoke (as in fumigating) Nights; the nights when we walk around homes and farmsteads and cleanse rooms, people, and life stock with incense. In my blog post “Smoking The House Clean” you’ll find more info on those traditions.

And it is one special ingredient to the incense mixture for which some of us might need to start preparations now.

If you read my blog regularly, you may have learned in last week’s article that I am researching Magic for a new book I am writing. Last week I was talking about how it is somewhat impractical to follow most of the methods admitted by folks accused of witchery in the 15th through 19th centuries, methods recorded in witch trial court documents.
But this week I would like to offer an absolutely usable suggestion.

As mentioned before, not everyone of us might need to follow the procedure laid out below. For, if you have a besom already, you’re all set until the nights of the Winter Solstice. You’ll just have to take your besom then and do what a miller’s wife — obviously knowledgeable in witchcraft — suggested in 1676 (see further below).

If you don’t have a besom, here is a quick guide to make one. First — and that’s why it’s important to know that now — you need to collect thin, flexible branches from a tree. Birch would be the one most likely to give you the best result. Hazelnut would make it very magical, but is much harder to bend. Willow is witchy, but might be too bendable. Just some suggestions, but in the end you can use whatever works and grows in your area. Be sure to gather the branches in a manner appropriate for folks with deep connection to Nature.
The essential thing to observe here is that the besom will hold up best throughout the years when the branches are collected during the waxing moon, as close to the full moon as possible. Next full moon is 23 November 2018, in nine days from when I am writing this. And the full moon thereafter is already during the Winter Solstice, 22 December 2018. Doable (for it’s “as close to the full moon”), but you might be occupied with a thousand other things then.

You will also need an about four feet long stick with a 3/4 to one inch diameter. That should not be made out of easily bendable wood.

When you have the thin branches collected, put them into water, the bath tub for example, overnight, so they soak up a lot of water. Prepare some twine and a knife or scissors. The next day, lay the four foot broom stick on the floor. Take the soaked branches and lay them on the floor (maybe on a towel to protect it) alongside the thinner end of the stick, with the ends of the thin branches pointing towards what will become the top of the handle of the broom. In other words, they would look up, not downwards.

hexenbesen

From Coven of Midnight

Let the lower end of the broom handle stick about four to six inches beyond the thicker ends of the thin branches. Now bind the branches tightly around the broom stick, at about four inches inwards. At this point it becomes clear why it was important to soak the branches overnight, because the next step is to bend them over into the other direction (180 degrees), so that they are now actually pointing down, where they belong. Bind the branches tightly around the broom stick again, one to two times with three to four inches in between the ties, and voilá, you have your besom.

 

Now, let’s have a look what the wife of Jörg Weiß stated at the county court Gutenhag on 4 July 1676:

The miller’s wife gave Jacob Reppa’s lass the advice, she should take a piece of a besom with which she swept the living room on the holy night [Winter Solstice] and should then fumigate with that and everything will soon turn for the better.

So, come Winter Solstice, take the besom and sweep out your home. This is generally a tradition in the Alps, on that and the following 12 nights. But for this particular purpose, you’d do it so you can cut off a few ends of your besom thereafter, or a sliver of the broom stick (or both) and add it to whatever incense you are using for cleansing and general healing purposes. Traditionally, we would use Mugwort (best collected at the Summer Solstice), Juniper, and dried sap of the European or Norwegian spruce for that purpose. We use small iron pans (see picture on top) for that, in which we put either a piece of ember from the fireplace, or one of these little coal disks and the incense on top.


More on traditional magical practice can be found in 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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End of Summer

IMG_1809Like the other Cross Quarter Days folks who observe the Celtic inspired Wheel of the Year celebrate, Samhain, too, is linked to agriculture. Imbolc was when the ewes, the female sheep, lactated; Beltane when the forces of fertility were at their peak and the crops began to grow for real; and Lughnasadh was about games and trade, but all that in memory of a Goddess giving her life for making Ireland a agricultural paradise. And Samhain, this fourth, or first, or both, seasonal marker is linked to … death.

In more than one ways.
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What Makes a Druid a Druid?

Druids Cutting MistletoeBrowsing through the Druidry related groups on Social Media, most of us have probably seen this question — in many variations — pop up every now and then: “How do I know whether or not I am a Druid?” This is a very important question, actually, one that shows that the one’s asking is not blindly running down a path, hoping that it is the right one. Rather, folks asking that do have the appropriate level of skepticism and self-doubt that is so important for seekers, to stay on track and not get lost.

It is equally important for those who have been on the path for a while to give actual, helpful advice. Yet, we all face the problem that there is no silver bullet, no one-and-only way to answer this question. I certainly don’t have this all-encompassing elevator-speech-length answer that explains it all. But I can offer food for thought.

Obviously, one limitation to giving a comprehensive response is that in Social Media, particularly Twitter, there is the inherent need to be extremely concise. Too concise in many cases, to be perfectly honest. So, here is the long(er) answer.
To make things easier, let’s first ask:

What Does One NOT Make a Druid?

Before we go a little more into detail, let me just give anyone new to Druidry this advice: There are typically two types of answers that should be taken with quite a load of salt (a grain is not enough).

There are the no, just no responses. You see them as “If you feel you’re called to be a Druid, then you are one” or “When you know your are” or something like that.
No. Druidy is a path. There are steps. And since it’s a long path, there are many steps. Some are harder than others; most of them require some level of learning. What that learning may be depends on a few factors, but let me assure you of one truth: You won’t become a Druid without work.

Then there are the yes, but answers. You spot them easily, because they are short and concrete. “Hug a tree.” “Seek the truth.” Or “Take a walk in the forest.” Well, they are not wrong per se, but neither single one of them will make you a Druid. I know many tree huggers who don’t even want to be Druids. They just want to hug trees, for whatever reason. Pretty much any person following any spiritual path (including religions) is seeking the truth. They may come to different conclusions, but their intent is just the same. Some of them might be offended if you were to call them Druid. My grandfather was something like a hunter-forester. He took walks in the forest almost every day, no matter the season. Not a Druid.  Yes, any  of these responses state something you most probably will do on your Druid path, but one single one of them won’t make you a Druid.

And finally there are the don’t even go there responses. When you read something like “You must have Celtic DNA” or “You must come from a direct line of Druids” just simply move on and forget these answers. Actually, don’t forget them, but research why that’s totally bogus and let anyone who posts such ignorant nonsense know what’s real.

So, How Does One Know?

Well, as with all Druidry, there is no straight forward answer. Which doesn’t mean that you can’t come to your own conclusion. It’s just that this, whatever it is, is your personal opinion. Yet, the more this opinion is based on knowledge and rational thought, the closer it’ll come to the truth.
One way to approach an answer is to consider the three major eras of Druidry and look for clues there.

Ancient Druidry: In “Druid antiquity” and early mediaeval times, very roughly 500 BCE to 500 CE, one would first become an apprentice of a Druid or a student in a Druid College (Anglesey comes to mind) and learn history (in form of hundreds of epic poems) and genealogy, music, law, brewing, the healing arts including herbalism, divination, how to tell and predict time with the Sun, Moon, and the Stars, how to conduct rituals, and how to teach all this stuff. All that learning took about 20 years. When your Druid teacher(s) deemed you ready and learned enough, they gave you the insignia of the Druid (certain clothes, a branch with bells) and sent you off to serve a clan, tribe, or kingdom. While it was very easy to figure out what made one a Druid, our problem today lies in the details of the “how”. They didn’t write down anything, and their Roman and Greek contemporaries weren’t nit-picky like the modern anthropologist. One of them, Claude Levi-Strauss for example dissected one single story from a Native American tribe into a mathematical formula and wrote a whole book about it with mindboggling details. Herodot, Caesar, and Pliny, to name a few, did not only have some ulterior motives and hidden agendas, but were just fine with writing down what they heard that someone heard someone say. Pliny, whose description of the ritualistic cutting of mistletoe might just be one of the most detailed accounts of Druid work we know, probably heard that from some travelling folks in what’s Marseille, France today, without ever venturing into Gaulle to see himself. When it comes to trusting Pliny, consider that he also reported in his pompous historia of some folks in the Sahara who have only one leg with one enormous foot. When the Saharan sun got too hot around noon, they would lay on their backs, stretch their one leg into the air and use their large foot as a sun umbrella. Fact checking? Not so much.
All that is to say that while we know what made one a Druid in antiquitiy, we have too little information on how one would go about this work.

There is much more meat in the mediaeval literature helping us figure out what Druids did and how they worked. Yes, the fact that Christian monks wrote it all down and threw a “Christ” and “Holy Spirit” into the text here and there makes those accounts not too reliable, but at least we know some details on the Insular-Celtic Gods and Goddesses, divination practices and so on. Again, still not in the detail we would like and are used to today, but more than what we have from the Greeks and Romans.

What remains is that becoming a Druid meant a lot of learning, and being a Druid meant providing an important service to their community.

The Druid Revival: If one were to determine what it means to become, and be, a Druid through the lens of the Druid Revival (approx. 18th and 19th century CE), one would get an entirely different picture. While folks back then did know about the writings of the Roman and Greek historians, the conclusions they drew from those sources where a bit different than those we think are the right ones today. For example, Pliny’s account of the Druid climbing the tree and cutting the mistletoe clad in white led to the well-known picture of the Druid as the bearded sage wearing a long, white robe with a sickle in his belt. As good an image as any, but it’s not like that we have an actual description of the white garment Pliny claimed to have seen; could’ve been a robe, could’ve been breeches and a shirt. All we “know” (with the limitations stated above) is that the garment was white.
The Druid Revival happened in the era of Romanticism, so much of the old reports was fantastically embellished and dreamed up under that somewhat bombastic lens (and as far as the the Welshman Edward Williams aka Iolo Morganwg was concerned, also under the influence of laudanum).
But Druid fashion was not even the focus of the Revival era, it was poetry. The Bardic arts were core and center of Druidry during that time, which is why the Welsh Gorsedd, the Olympics of the poets so to speak, was revived back then. Healing and the occult arts, like divination, played a lesser role, if at all, and the Druid jobs of old — judge, brewer, or counselor to the monarch — were already outsourced to normal, non-druidic people. The Revival Era Druids were for the most part Christians, despite some interest in Pagan life and belief. The service element that was so important to the Druids of antiquity was reduced to forming clubs in which they collected donations from the members; money that was either used for a member falling into poverty, of for charity.
One other component of Druidry next to poetry did flare up in that time: ritual. Especially ceremonial rituals, for larger groups, partly accessible to the public. Since there was nothing to be gathered from the accounts of antiquity, the new Druid-Poets borrowed a lot of ritualistic elements from the Free Masons. It worked for them, and if nothing else, the work the Druid Revival Druids built the base for us even talking about Druidry today. There is a good chance that without them, the idea of Druidry may have been lost completely.

Thus, if you were to define “Druid” from the vantage point of the Druid Revival, being an excellent poet, knowing masonic ritual, donating money to charity, and participating in some club would make one a Druid.

Contemporary Druidry: While some refer it to Neo-Druidry, I prefer the former expression. Neo would indicate that it is something new, an idea that wasn’t there before. Contemporary, for me, just indicates that “this is what we do now“. Even if you were a staunch Celtic re-constructionist, you live now, and act out your Druidry today. Since it might be somewhat difficult for you to slaughter a pig in public and divine the future from its steaming and still twitching entrails, even the reconstructionist would either have to adapt to today’s world as well or just don’t practice.
Contemporary Druidry is much based on the Revival, and somewhat on what the Druids of antiquity and of the early mediaeval era did. And it brought back an element that was missing at least in the early days of the Revival period: Magic. That was in part a direct result of the uprising of occult and magical societies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as the Celtic Golden Dawn, lead by figures like Aleister Crowley and Dion Fortune. Later in the mid 19th century, the very good friends Gerald Gardner (Wicca) and Ross Nichols (Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids) took this element of Magic and wove it into their respective spiritualities. With that, Nichols’s contemporary Druidry became a conglomerate of history (ancient and mediaeval Druids), masonic ritual, witchcraft and magic and the occult arts. All that within the framework of philosophy, ethics, and integrity, ensuring that, should such a contemporary Druid in fact offer their service to their community, this is done without harming people left and right.
Started in the 1950ies, this version of Druidry has developed manifold, not only in Nichols’s own order, but also by Druid Orders that were founded since. In essence, they are very similar, and is mostly their focus that distinguishes them from one another. One order is more into psychology, another into shamanism, a third has a more priestly orientation, and some are focusing on reconstructing their heritage, locally or often enough by emigrants in remembrance of their homeland.
In addition to these organized bodies, the Orders, there are the independent Druids, the hedge Druids, who derive their knowledge from a variety of sources; books, the Internet, or simply from Nature and Spirits.

Clearly, this wide spectrum in Contemporary Druidry makes it inherently difficult to define what a Druid is. This openness, certainly amplified by the structural culture change in the 1960ies and 1970ies, is why we find us confronted with this question in the first place. What was clear — yet entirely different — in antiquity and in the Revival Era, has become a bee hive of attempted answers in Contemporary Druidry. Granted, within the structure of an Order, things are much clearer. You have a body of work to go through and learn, you were initiated, and exposed to the order’s mysteries; at some point, folks invested with the power to administer your Order would check your work and hopefully deem you ready to go out and druid away. But for those outside any Order, how are we supposed to know, how can we trust that they are what they claim they are?

Putting it all together

Personally, I am always one who goes the middle path. I like some reconstructionism, and therefore the clear order of Druid antiquity; I also like the Druid Revival’s call for creativity (poetry or otherwise); and I like the freedom of Contemporary Druidry to practice in a way that helps me along the path, and supports my work for my community. If I were to define a Druid thusly, I would say:

  • They have to awake their creativity; become learned in the lore of the Celtic lands as much as in that of their own culture (if that’s different); embed themselves into the seasons and their cycle; and understand the basic elements of life.
    In other words, they would become a Bard.
  • They have to learn about the healing arts, including herbs and magic, and at least one occult technique of divination; they have to understand how time and death play into our lives; and learn the language of the trees.
    In other words, they would become an Ovate.
  • And finally, they would begin to understand the ethical implications of their work and study to some extent the laws of old; they’d learn about chronometry, based on the movement of the celestial bodies, and how to determine the time for celebrations; and they would dedicate their lives to serving their community, possibly as celebrants.
    In other words, they would begin the life-long journey of the Druid.

These are, of course, just the roughest bullet points, and they contain a myriad of detailed learning. Druid Orders follow these schematics, some switch the first two. But even for Druids outside any Orders, I would say that having touched upon, if not deeply studied these components of Druid learning, and, more importantly, having the will to delve ever deeper into these mysteries, is what makes a Druid a Druid.


The writer is also the author of the book “Mountain Magic – Celtic Shamanism in the Austrian Alps” on how to weave Alpine lore and customs into your own spiritual practice.

Available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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About the Very Old Gods

Brunner-5In this year’s East Coast Gathering of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (Autumn Equinox 2018) I held a talk and workshop about the Very Old Gods. I have thought about sharing it here for a while, but it wasn’t until one of the workshop attendees posted on Facebook that my talk inspired her to write a poem, and to publish it on social media.
I am utterly flattered!!!

The purpose of the workshop was not to give a lecture on names of, and details on, some old Gods we know of. Much rather, it was designed to offer a different angle in our eternal struggle to understand the Gods. Insofar, it didn’t matter that much if people thought of Gods us Jungian archetypes, ancestors embellished in story, entities of their own – or even non-existent. My hope was to give any one of those ideas additional food for thought. May that be to confirm people’s own thinking, or revise it.

The first exercise of sorts was to dot down five word associations to the question “What does God or Goddess mean to me?” I had the following pentagram mind map prepared for everyone, and asked people not to think too much, just jot down what came to their minds.

GodsMindMapThis was just for themselves, and particularly to revisit after the workshop to see if anything has changed.

Then I asked the audience to shout out some names of Gods and Goddesses they know of, worship, or are drawn to in any way or form. We heard the usual suspects (Dagda, Brighid, Cerridwen, Lugh, Odin, Thor, Zeus etc.) and some of Hindu provenience. One Mexican participant knew of the names of ancient Mexican Gods.
While I had to admit that I knew nothing of the latter two, we found that the common denominator of the ones of European descent was that we (or most of us) imagine them in human form. And they all have very human stories.

It is this very fact, their humanlike appearance and history, which makes them “new”. Not because the Gods and Goddesses are, but our human perception of them is new. Which means, we, as a human species, must have had a different, an older perception. It was this very perception that I wanted to explore with my fellow Bards, Ovates, and Druids.

A good example of a story that sings of a Goddess in both the old and the new way ist the first tale of the Mabinogi, Pwyll Prince of Dyved. Here, the prince (whose name means “caution”) observes a lady riding very slowly a white horse. He mounts his horse and rides after her, but she disappears. The next day, the prince sends one of his men from the hunting party to bring her to him. But as fast as the man rides, he is not able to reach to slowly riding lady. This goes on for days. Ever better riders on ever faster horses are not able to catch up with that woman, even though her pace is beyond slow.
This part of the tale is about Rhiannon being the Moon, who travels ever so slowly over the firmament, yet one will never reach it no matter how fast one rides. Although we have already a human form attributed to the Moon, this part of the tale is still about this heavenly body.
As the story goes on, though, the Moon, Rhiannon, assumes more and more human form and behavior. She marries the prince, has a child with him. Kidnapping, accusations, punishment, and redemption follow. Here, the humanization of the Moon in this story of the Goddess helps us understand ourselves.

But that wasn’t always how we perceived the divine.

Let’s rewind history a bit, say about 32,000 years. Back then, some artist sat on the bank of Danube River (this is made up, maybe they sat on the fence of the pig sty, who knows) and wanted to express something they didn’t have a word for. An abstract thought: fertility. When we study languages of present day indigenous people, we learn that some don’t have words for abstract things. And even the English language shows clearly, that the olden Anglo-Saxons must have lacked such words, because in English, they are mostly borrowed from Latin. In German, we have a similar situation, just more of Greek provenience.

So, what to do when you want to say something that is an abstract concept, and you don’t have a word for it? You borrow something from your immediate surrounding and use that as a metaphor. In our instance, the person wanting to express fertility, the magic of creating life, looked around and, lo and behold, half the tribe was able to do exactly that: create new life. In order to express that magical phenomenon, that person therefore carved a statue of a woman out of sandstone. And to emphasize the concept, they exaggerated breasts, buttocks and vulva manifold. But omitted a face. So its not a statue of an actual tribal member, but the artistic expression of something that is beyond human. Fertility. Lush and giving and faceless like the Land.

From here, it is just a small step to attributing that concept to the divine, to a source so powerful that it needs to be appeased, worshipped, and given a story. Gods and Goddesses.
In the next 30,000 years, that very basic concept was developed further. The core elements of the environment were understood as having an animus, their own spirit sparking their activity throughout the seasons. Next to the Land, the Mother Goddess, was the Sun, the Sky (really as the weather), and the forest (which we call Nature now). They were all larger and much more powerful than humans. We were dependent on them  – for food, shelter, rain and warmth, and game to have meat – but they were also uncontrollable. So we needed to develop a relationship with these forces. One step in this relationship building was to give them names of sorts. Some are really not names in the common sense, more descriptions. The Sun became “The Shining One” — Belenos. The Earth Mother was addressed as “The Eternal One” — Danu. The forest was named Cernunnos, and the Weather and Sky became Taranis.
Let’s talk about Cernunnos for a  moment. Back in those really olden days, Europe was covered with a dense forest. People lived in clearings, tilled the land there and had the cattle graze in the village common, in the center, to keep them safe from predators. Around the clearing was the forest, with the thorny bushes (bramble, hawthorn, blackthorn) as a natural barrier between the woods and the farmland. Going into the forest was a dangerous adventure. You go there to hunt, but as soon as you step into it, you become the hunted, too. The forest sings its own song of existence, and it is not necessarily a song that is welcoming to humans. That’s why you need to appease its spirit, Cernunnos. We call this idea no longer The Forest, but Nature. Everything else stayed the same.

And then there are two more core elements of human life that have to have an animus as well. One is The People, as a whole. While we have our chieftains and kings, who rules them, and all humanity. Well, that would be Teutates, the People’s God.
And then there is death. While the flesh stays, the spark of life must be going somewhere. Where that is we can only imagine, but surely there needs to be someone ruling that realm. We called him Esus.

Such was the pantheon a certain Gaul war chief Brennus knew, about 300 BCE, when he reached Macedonia with a large host of warriors. There he was shown most beautifully crafted statues of men and women. Upon his question who they were, he was told by the Greek that those were their Gods.

And Brennus laughed. Not because he thought that it was silly of the Greek to have and worship other Gods than him. But because the Greek obviously thought of their Gods in human form. How could they? For him, the Gods were still the Shining One, the Wild Forest, the Giving Land. Not a muscular Apollon or a beautiful Athena.

The interpretation of a Celtic story, probably by a Thracian artist, artfully driven into silver plates and then assembled into a cauldron that was later found in Denmark, in Gundestrup to be precise, shows further development of the understanding of the Gods by the Gaulles. Here, the Gods have already a human face. They are only faces and half their upper body, while the people on the cauldron are whole, yet rather small. But why? What was accomplished by this humanization of the Gods? When you look at the cauldron, you’ll see that the same Gods appear on several plates. How do you know? Because the faces have the same hair and beards, and one set of divine images has breasts. So we know, which God is on the plate we are looking at. And which images are that of the Goddess. That helps us understand the story.

With that, we come back to the one thing we get out of the stories of the Gods: the understanding of ourselves, of our human species. And since we are a complicated species, the Gods and Goddesses of old began to specialize. Were we content with the Sun, Mother Earth, the Sky, and the Forest in the beginning, we eventually needed the Smith, Poet, and Healer; not only the bright Sun, but also his ray, his arm coming to Tara and requesting to participate at the feast; the God of Love, the Trickster, the Seeker. We needed the Moon to be also a queen from whom we learn about our Angst of separation when the child leaves the household (As in kidnapped in Rhiannon’s tale). As our lives became more complicated, so did our Pantheons.

Still, we can, and should, build our own, personal relationship with the Old Gods as well, to better understand the new ones. For that, I sent the workshop attendants into a meditation, guided to a certain point. Before you go there — if you so choose — decide what you will ask. Do I want to meet one of the Old Gods? Or learn about them from a Guide?

As you sit down comfortably and quiet the chatter of your mind, you find yourself in the deep forest of old Europe. Walking along a large stream you come to a point where another river flows into it. You turn south and see, in the distance, the blue mountains you have heard from so often, the Alps. One of the mountains there, with a particular triangular shape that misses a piece on the top, sparks your curiosity. You start walking towards it. Soon, you notice, that your pace has become much faster, that you rush through the forest and leap over bushes. Your head has become heavy and as you stop for a moment to drink some water from a small well, you see the reflection of a mighty set of antlers on your head. You have become Stag. With renewed energy, you make your way towards that mountain. Eventually, a large boulder forces you to walk around it, and when you have, a beautiful wide valley filled with a turquoise lake opens up before you. You notice the sheer rock walls on either side of the lake and realize, that the valley was shaped by a glacier. This landscape was formed during the last ice age.
You walk into the lake and when the water has reached your chest, you start swimming. Ever faster you go, for you have become a swift lake trout, making your way to the pronounced rock wall on the left side of the lake. Once you reach it you look up and see a falcon hovering over its top.
Suddenly, you see the same scene from the falcon’s eye, soaring high over the rock, taking advantage of the updraft. With your keen eyes, you spot some movement on top of the rock wall. And you dive down there in neck breaking speed. Landing on the branch of a pine tree, you see a cloaked person next to a stone altar in the grove. Turning back into your human form, you jump down from the branch on which you were sitting, approach the hooded person, and they bid you to follow you into the deep forest.
Walking next to them, you ask your question…

Once you feel that there is nothing left for you to learn in this session, bid the guide – and the God or Goddess – farewell, thank them for their lesson, and draw your consciousness back into your physical body. Wiggle your toes, shake your hands, and be sure to write our insights down into your journal.


The writer is also the author of the book “Mountain Magic – Celtic Shamanism in the Austrian Alps” on how to weave Alpine lore and customs into your own spiritual practice.

Available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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