Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The War for the Christian's god

A man, orphaned from the beliefs and culture of his youth through the choices and experiences of his life stumbles, through the forests of doubt and the cities of shouting voices, into a small community of strange folks who speak the names of almost-forgotten spirits and gods.  These people, their ways and customs foreign yet somehow familiar, whisper of the voices of trees, the tears of the moon, the wheeling of the stars.

He abides with them awhile and is warmed by their stories.  They nurture and teach him as he teaches them, sharing his wonder, reflecting back to them their mythic delight and dark broodings in a way that warms them like the fires by which he sits.  He learns their tales, he sings their songs, he charms them with his boyish beauty and his far-off gaze.

And then one day, he decides to leave.  He's seen their gods but does not recognise them as his, their gods have seen him and not embraced him.

He hears another call, another god, the one he'd left, the one he'd fled from in his search for truth.

The people with whom he'd stayed, who'd given him their tales and their joys and maybe even some of their hope meet his decision with fear and worry.  They've seen what the god to whom he decided to return has become, a god of fury, a pillaging, raping, brutal god.  How could he go back?

Some worried that he'd been dishonest with them, returning their hospitality with coldness, taking but refusing to return.

Some were hurt he'd abandon them.  A small community in a world eager to pour concrete into their holy wells, blot out the stars, bulldoze their forests--losing one of ours against what might come seems too hard to bear.
Some, like me, didn't know much about him until about the time he'd started to decide to leave.  He'd been known and loved by many, but there were many, many more of us who hadn't spent time in the same places he had.  Some of us merely shrugged, rightly focused instead on the work and worship of their gods and the service to others.  At least one--me--delved as far back as he could through the stories to find what this man had seen, what this man had meant.

There's something that I think I should say, having known both the god to whom he's returning and known of another community, similar to ours.  Those people are also small in number, like us, and are trying to do something just as difficult as we are.

We are trying to re-awaken the gods into the worlds of mortals, to entice them back from their decision to withdraw from us, to convince them we can be again worthy of their presence and their blessing, worthy to world with them.

They are trying to wrest from the priests of their god control of his co-creation.

Terrifying thing about gods.  They don't always care who worships them.  Despite the monotheist's claim, the god they worship didn't create the heavens and the earth.  He is like our gods, but more popular, raised amongst others by force of sword and fire.

But he relies on the same processes that our gods do.  The christian god is like our gods and goddesses, relying on his manifestation and co-creation through his priests, prophets, mystics, popes, and worshipers.

That small community I mentioned, the one like ours?  They are people trying to liberate the christian god from a preponderance of his violent, bigoted and uncaring worshipers, just as we may have to do for our gods, just as we have already begun to have to do with some of the heathen gods to whom racists and bigots have offered their worship in return for power.

Just as I would do on behalf of my gods and on behalf of the people I love (the poor, the oppressed, the queers and freaks--the kind ones of the earth), many of them are also attempting to do.  It would even appear their current high priest, Pope Francis, is attempting to do this to.

So, charming kind-souled man who stayed with us, who accepted our hope and kindness and returned it in kind, has quit the forests of our gods, journeyed back into the land from which he came with its raping and pillaging god.  But he appears to have thrown his lot in with the resistance, many of whom are my dearest friends, many of whom would fight on my behalf as I would for them.

Because of my belief in my gods, I feel I must also support them, and if he sides with them, then I should support him, too. 

I can't help but not smile at this, having remembered what we're all on about, all up against.

If they succeed, our work to bring the gods into the world will be easier, and we'll have less to fear.

If they fail, the earth beneath our feet, the forests in which we have taken refuge, the streams from which our goddesses whisper, the temples we hope to build for their worship--all this may fail.

Gods help them, and gods help us against that day.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Crown of the North: Arianrhod, Part Six

I rarely talk of myself. 

This may not appear to be true on first glance.  I talk and write relentlessly of the things I've seen, the places I've been, the thoughts I've had, the things I've done, the people I've loved and dreamed. 

But not myself.

Synchronicity is the word many of us pagans use to describe a certain process where there's something we want to do or more specifically something important we need to do and the world appears to conspire to make sure we understand.  It's different from the pathetic new-age idea that thinking positive thoughts will make the universe yield to your requests, or the christian "ask and you shall receive."  It's worse, actually.  That is, it's more brutal.

The events which conspired to suggest I take up this writing devotional to Arianrhod were unmistakeable to my mind, as if being directed.  Simultaneously, I've been studying the training materials for the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, and am halfway through the section of deep-study on the element of water.

Unrelated.  Not un-related.

When Arianrhod first appeared to me in an obvious way, it was after encountering Dionysus.  He's a forceful, lusty sort, and I'd already made a specific vow to Bran, Brighid, and Ceridwen which I intended to make to any god who'd accept it on the terms I was offering.

Dionysus counter-offered.  Hard.

I've the sense that other people have experienced this.  He's a bit more all-or-nothing than many of the gods I've encountered, and it was with him I first started to understand the nature of Divine Trauma: that is, when a god appears to you in such an all-encompassing way that the rest of your world seems to shatter and you feel like you're going fucking mad.  And, well, Dionysus has been worshipped as The Maddener, so, well, yeah.

A friend of mine, who's experienced so much Divine Trauma that he seems to be done for awhile, hiding into the mundane (an utterly acceptable choice when you've seen what he's seen), reminded me that most gods are not utterly concerned about free-will.  That is, the slavish worshipper and the stubbornly free-willed both offer something to a god.

I'd made a decision that I wanted to be the latter.  The mere fact that I was encountering gods didn't diminish my desire to live my life as I'd always intended to, stubbornly independent whenever possible, being of service to others from a place of self-sufficiency, not of slavish need.

And then Arianrhod showed up, blue, silver, the sky reflected on the sea reflecting the stars, an owl, its wings dripping like that of a phoenix, clearer behind my closed eyelids than any other dream, memory or vision.   

Water is the hardest element for me.  I thought it'd be earth.  I flow only one way, and repress more than I release until, as if by Dahu's doing, I drown my world in emotions.  I'm best when I give counsel and sympathy, I'm my absolute worse when I need it and find it given.  I parch or I drown, I drought or I storm, I burn or I wield winter.  Like the King of Cups, far away from the sea of dreams, giving of his cup but forgetting to refill it.  So easily toppled because he's given everything that he no longer has anymore for himself.  That's too often me.

XVII: How Arianrhod may relate to other gods and Pantheons

Celtic:  I am near convinced that Arianrhod and Ceridwen are related.  Not aspects of the same goddess as the monists might suggest, but related as part of a triad including most likely Brighid whose collective title could possibly be The Morrigan.  I cannot prove this.  I'd never fight about it, and I'm open to being convinced otherwise.

An essay just posted gives me a little suspicion that I'm not the only one who suspects there's some relationship between Brighid and The Morrigan.  Within the essay, though, is the point of the daughter of The Morrigan being Nicnevin, a "queen of the witches."  Arianrhod has stated herself to be a Queen of the Witches to me (so I believe it, but again, I've got no evidence for this).  As Morgan le Fay is likely also Arianrhod, this backs up her relationship to magic, and I suspect Taliesin's mention of her sending "the stream of a rainbow...that scares away violence from the earth" seems also a magical reference.  But, again--I'm no priest, merely a bard.

Greek:  Alright, here it goes.
I don't think Ariadne and Arianrhod are necessarily the same.  But the placement of their constellations, the links to weaving (St. Catherine/Arianrhod/The wheel) and to labyrinths (one of the suspected names for Arianrhod's tower, Caer Sidi, means either revolving tower or possibly labyrinthine tower) means there's something else going on.  Also...who fathered Arianrhod's children?

I won't say Dionysus, but I'll also point out that Dionysus is said to have gotten around, and I believe it.  Furthermore, Arianrhod's relation to Desire and Dionysus's relation to Desire seem almost opposite or complementary.  And, finally, the fact that it was she who helped me not be overwhelmed by the advances of the god of lust, madness, the forests and liberation while still entertaining them suggests to me that, if they did not directly relate, they seem to now.

XVIII: Gender and Sexuality

Related, actually, to my experience with Arianrhod and Dionysus, and quite evident from the Mabinogion, I would posit that Arianrhod can best be described as the Queen of Swords.

For those unfamiliar with Tarot, here's what I mean.  The Queen of Swords often represents a fiercely independent woman who maintains a distance from lovers often in order to pursue herself and her own goals. A sharp, piercing mental certainty, a witch-like "maidenhood" (keeping in mind that the word for maiden used in The Mabinogion can mean both unmarried and virginal non-exclusive of each other).  She lives apart in a castle-island on the sea, has children that she does not keep, and seems from the story almost to be a poor mother.

But again, as I said before, there's something rather brilliant in her taking-of-everything from Llew.  It's akin to Ceridwen's choice to give her hideous son Afaggdu wisdom rather than beauty.

Anyone who wishes to experience love without ownership may find her myth resonates with them; more so, anyone who has loved and then chose to remain apart from their beloved may, too.  An unfortunate reality amongst the magically-inclined is that it's awfully hard to be in love without diminishing your practice.  I haven't found the balance yet, and I sometimes wonder if the balance exists. Which leads me to the next question:

XIX: Qualities I admire, qualities I find troubling

Just as Ceridwen demands a death and Brighid demands a re-forging, Arianrhod demands three losses.  In my case, the first was easy; the second much harder and the third I think I'm still attempting to comprehend.  Losing a name for some is hard, and harder still to gain another one.  Mine came in a dream, and I think it was only by a sort of Gwydion-esque trickery that I was there in the first place.  The second and third are much more complicated, and I'm not sure I understand them fully enough to write about yet.

This isn't quite troubling--more just intense.  More troubling is the apparent coldness of the Crown of the North, the Queen of Witches, and the confusions I have over her.  I've seen faces worn by Brighid and Ceridwen, but I have not seen Arianrhod's face except as a host of other women.  I've seen a circle of women several times, some of whom have become temporary guides for me.  I am never certain who they are, but they teach something in the way of magic.  There's suggestions that Arianrhod had nine sisters who lived with her until the drowning of Caer Arianrhod (and the sloppy and over-eager part of me wants to say Isle of Ys)--they may be them.  I don't know.

But the same things I find troubling I find I admire.  To be so secure in oneself, to need no-one, to walk away apparently unconcerned when shame and ridicule are made of one.  To withdraw to the sea, or the stars--I so often wish to retreat.  In fact, I've found precisely when I finally retreat from the world of fears and sorrow is when I learn more magic.  It would be much easier, I think, if I didn't need to retreat, merely instead to withdraw.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Crown of the North: Arianrhod, Part Five

Right, so let's see--where was I?

Actually, yeah.  Where was I?

Stone halls lit with torches and a light from windows I couldn't see.  I wish I could remember the walls--bare, I think, at least from my vantage.  Mostly, there were just lots and lots of people.  Drest strangely, or foreign though familiar.  That is, queer but not unrecognisable.  

The hall's crowded.  Enough space to move your feet a bit, not so pressed that your arms are pinned to your side.  Think of a performance about to take place in a medieval castle (and we've all been in how many of those? None, in my case), and you'll get the sense of the place. 

Everyone's standing, relaxed but alert for something.  Again, like the waiting for a performance. 
I know some of the people there.  Not by name, or not currently.  I did, or will, or do in that place.  

I'm a little nervous for some reason, not speaking to anyone, staring in the direction the rest of them are standing, towards a stone platform.  Not a throne, not even necessarily a dais; just some raised area.  We're all waiting in anticipation for something, and then there's a sound from the voice of one person, then another and another.  Not quite a chant, but a mere call, and people start looking around.  I do, too.

"Hey.  What's wrong?" asks a person next to me, a woman I think I've seen again in some dreams.

"Who are they calling for?" I ask.

Her expression looks a bit odd.  "You."

My turn to look confused.  "No they're not.  That's not my name."

She continues to look a bit baffled, and then her face softens a bit, suddenly looking wise.  "Oh.  You don't know it yet, do you?"

I got a bit frustrated, I'll admit.  I'm often frustrated in my dreams.  "Know what?  My name?  That's not my name."

She laughs.  "It is, or will be."  And, after I told her I didn't even know how to spell the word she called my name, she found some parchment and wrote it for me.

I didn't go up to the platform or anything else.  All I did was stare at the words written on the paper in my hand in this dream, and then woke, staring at my open, empty palm.

True story, as best I remember it.  The name on the page in my dream was long; I didn't think most people would call me that.  So I shortened it to the first four: Rhyd. About 14 years ago now, I guess.

Where was I?  Oh--

XII: Places associated with Arianrhod and her worship

Thresholds: I encounter Arianrhod more often in liminal times than any other.  The time between sleeping and waking is when I've had the most dreams with a voice whom I think has been her or someone representing her.  I've woken multiple times with some voice repeating in my head, reminding me to remember what she's said.  I try to write it down, but often times it's some magical practice; that is, spells.

[I'm not a very good witch, by the way.  My magic consists entirely of drinking some mugwort tea occasionally, sometimes doing something minor that comes to me.  I had the great pleasure of living with a rather adept witch who did lots of magic.  I once had to use Rue a little bit to undo some overflow or something, which contributed to him getting a bit ill for a few days (I didn't put in his food, don't worry). But besides the occasional spells I've gotten in dreams, I'm not much good at it.  I think this is important to her, though]

Water and Sky: Not just either, but both.  There's a...gate, I guess, that you can open by gazing upon the reflection of the sky on water.  I got a hint of this from the aforementioned witch and practice it as much as possible.  I'm not quite sure what happens here, really, except that the play of light upon rippling or still water, blue on silver on blue, is a way to find her.

Shorelines: I've heard this and read this from other people, and have done it once.  I think it's related to the Sky-on-Water gate.  Staring out to sea from a beach on a cloudy day near sunset, especially if the sun is behind you, seems to be something. 

The stars: Particularly when the moon isn't in the sky, or isn't very bright.  I know lots of people associate Arianrhod with the moon and call her a lunar goddess; I haven't found this to be true yet.  They could be right, I don't know.

The White Tower: I mentioned this at the beginning of the series.  Go find some still water.  Stare at the moon in it, while also looking at the moon above you.  See what arises between them.  This is part of her mystery.  It's said her tower revolves, or is a labyrinth.  If it's the latter, there's another goddess, a mortal raised to deity, who's familiar with labyrinths...
Fun thing about white towers?  The Marian cults in Europe represented her as a white tower.
Also fun thing?  There's a god who's head was buried at the base of one.  He's in the Mabinogian, too.

The Stars seen through the Needles of Pine: There's a mystery here that is related to why I link Arianrhod to Dionysus.  If anyone is on good terms with Dionysus and also Arianrhod and wants to try this, let me know how it goes.  Stare from the base of a pine tree at the light of the stars as they filter through the branches and needles.  Then, think about Desire. 




XIII. What Arianrhod Cares About.


Withdrawal.  Sovereignty.  Magic.  Desire. 

On a Sunday, at the time of dawn,
Between the bird of wrath and Gwydion
Thursday, certainly they went to Mona
To obtain whirlings and sorcerers.
Arianrhod, of laudable aspect, dawn of serenity
The greatest disgrace evidently on the side of the Brython,
Hastily sends about his court the stream of a rainbow,
A stream that scares away violence from the earth.
The poison of its former state, about the world, it will leave. 
From The Chair of Cerridwen, by Taliesin
From reading the story of Arianrhod in the Mabinogion, it would be easy to suggest that Arianrhod cares about women who reject their children.  This may be true; I don't know.  I used to have an obsession when I was younger about the stories of mothers who drown their children.  Strange obsession to have, yes.  But Ceridwen is said to have drowned or killed children, according to Robert Graves.  Graves, like all poets, including Taliesin, including me, should be shot.  And also listened to.  

The dreams about gods withdrawing into the sea which I had just before starting this series haunt me.  Arianrhod seems to have been among them, and possibly with other goddesses.  I don't remember any gods, but I do not dream vividly. 

I greatly suspect--actually, fuck that, believe--that some gods chose to withdraw from humanity while others, more powerful or more wily, according to their characteristics, chose to subsume the myths of saints (see Sannion's discussion of St. Martin of Tours and Dionysos).  Some have been active and blatant for quite some time (despite what the disenchanters tell ye'), while others chose, well--to withdraw. 

Arianrhod withdrew to Caer Arianrhod, now under sea and in the stars.  Some gods kick you in the face (again, Dionysos), others send an owl to you in a vision right after Dionysos has kicked you in the face (and just so we're clear, I did get enjoy getting off kicked in the face.)  A warning, a summons, a reminder not to get lost, a bidding to withdraw.

Sovereignty, like The Morrigan.  In fact, The Morrigan showed up apparently to test me on the whole sovereignty question with Arianrhod.  I didn't expect that (it's untidy...).  Did The Morrigan show up on behalf of Arianrhod? Is The Morrigan a title of multiple triple goddesses including Arianrhod? 

I'm gonna say yes to all of that.  I got no better answer.

Magic.  She just pretty much demanded that I start learning it.  Like, a few hours ago.  Actually, years ago, and then again and again.  I'm a lazy fuck.  Know when it all comes to you at once and you realise you've just been happily holding on the disenchantment because it's easier?  Yeah.  Like that.

Desire.  Read her story again.  She had two children, yeah?  One to the sea, one a king from whom she took everything.  Who'd she sleep with? 

Stare at her stars through the trees and ask her. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Notes on "Worlding the Earth"

This post will make more sense if you read it first.  I cannot overstate (and I never overstate--right?) how thrilled I am about getting to write there.

I'm also excited about the series I'm writing.  A question which has haunted me my entire adult life: where'd the magic go?  Once could almost say that I've spent a significant part of my life attempting to create gates for it to re-enter, and those gates have been equally within as without.

I will occasionally post stuff that didn't quite make it into my posts there (1000 word limit is...going to be good for me, I think), including this one.

More on Chakrabarty

The quote I reference from Dipesh Chakrabarty deserves more attention.  I'll quote it in full:

"One historicizes only insofar as one belongs to a mode of being in the world that is aligned with the principle of "disenchantment of the universe," which underlies knowledge in the social sciences (and I distinguish knowledge from practice). But disenchantment is not the only principle by which we world the earth. The supernatural can inhabit the world in these other modes of worlding, and not always as a problem or result of conscious belief or ideas. The point is made in an anecdote about the poet W.B. Yeats, whose interest in fairies and other nonhuman beings of Irish folk tales is well known. I tell the story as it has been told to me by my friend David Lloyd:
One day, in the period of his extensive researches on Irish folklore in rural Connemara, William Butler Yeats discovered a treasure. The treasure was a certain Mrs. Connoloy who had the most magnificent repertoire of fairy stories that W.B. had ever come across. He sat with her in her little cottage from morning to dusk, listening to and recordering her stories, her proverbs and her lore. As twilight drew on, he had to leave and he stood up, still dazed by all that he had heard. Mrs. Connolly stood at the door as he left, and just as he reached the gate he turned back to her and said quietly, "One more question Mrs. Connolly, if I may. Do you believe in the fairies?" Mrs. Connolly threw her head back and laughed. "Oh, not at all Mr. Yeats, not at all." W.B. paused, turned away and slouched off down the lane. Then he heard Mrs. Connolly's voice coming after him down the lane: "But they're there, Mr. Yeats, they're there."
As old Mrs Connolly knew, and as we social scientists often forget, gods and spirits are not dependent on human beliefs for their own existence; what brings them to presence are out practices."
(Provincializing Europe, p. 111-112)

Dipesh Charkrabarty is particularly important because of his (I think) successful attempts to describe why historians who attempt to write histories of people without including their religious practices and the deities they worship are really just attempting to write their own sort of history over the actual experiences of the subject.  That is: historians (and other social scientists) who ignore the actual existence of the spirits and gods that a culture worships engage in the project of disenchantment.

A hypothetical example will help: if a people performs a pilgrimage because they believe their god has told them to do, writing about it as if their god doesn't exist imposes a western, secular spin on their practice which speaks nothing to their experience.  If they experience their god as real, you cannot tell their history without acknowledging this.

This has many ramifications for debates within paganism that I won't go into right now, except to point out that overlaying a secularist narrative on the experiences of people who believe that gods and spirits talk to them is part of the process of disenchantment.

On The Other

The Other is the term I use to describe all what we term spiritual and sublime.  It need not refer to gods and spirits (though, when I use it, it does), nor to any specific theology.

The Other is also a term from philosophy and psychology to describe that which is not Self.  There are shades of this in my usage of the word, but I mean something more.  Take the phrase Experiencing the Other in an Other and the difference may become clear.

If you've ever been to an anti-globalisation protest, you'll have heard another usage of this term, and it's more clear in non-American discourse than in America (the U.S. is pretty much one big machinery of discenchantment...).  The chant: "Another world is possible" can and should be also construed as An Other world is possible.  One of the translations of the french word for anti-globalization is Altermondialism, or Other/Alternate-worlding.  The fact that so many anti-globalisation protestors were also neo-pagans, new-agers, and other spiritual "deviants" should suggest that there is a link between embracing The Other and fighting economic injustice. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Crown of the North: Arianrhod, Part Four

 [Part of a series called 30 Days of Devotion. This is the fifth entry.  Start  Here]

Once, I made a conscious choice to shut out the gods.  

Ste. Barbe, possibly another syncretization

I remember how it happened, both the beginning of something severely real and the conscious decision to say, "no.  Not now.  Maybe not ever."

Hosting a samhain party at my house, a bit of tension in the air from the spirits of the thresholds and my own poised step between multiple worlds and multiple others, between one work and another, between one lover and another.

She pinned me against the wall, an old friend, not a pagan, but certainly a dancer upon the winds of madness and the currents of the under-earth.  "It's coming, you know.  You're gonna have to confront her, the goddess, the goddesses, women as divine, as dark, as breathing from grave, from the womb."

She terrified me.  Goddesses terrified me.  Sometimes they still do, as they should. 

Sometime around Beltaine the next year, dreaming in a dark room, still straddling those myriad worlds, I tried to get rid of an image that wouldn't go away.  A white tower in the middle of the city near a lake, not quite in the city but more behind the city, underlaid or overlaid of the city.  Light between sky and earth connected it, but it was physical, forged from a sort of stone that wasn't stone at all, almost chalk, probably...bone. 

It wouldn't go away.  I couldn't sleep this night or any of the nights before it because it was there when I closed my eyes, sometimes there just before I closed my eyes.

And I remember saying aloud, finally--"no. Not now.  Maybe later, maybe not ever."


I may deviate from the list for awhile.  Structure is great, and it's particularly helpful, but so is deviation.  I am nothing if not my deviations.

Let me elaborate.  The story of Arianrhod, the story of my relationship to my gods is itself a sort of deviation, or a deviation back on a deviated path, away from a futile attempt to hold onto normality by keeping the Other in abeyance.

There's lots of sorts of pagans, and they don't always get along so well.  Sort of like how there's lots of sorts of humans, with all the accompanying complications of difference.  Normality is generally over-rated, certainly, but normality is one of the best ways to survive Modernity.  Deviate, and certain things are closed off to you.  Say, prefer the fierce and brutal erotic closeness of men while also being a man, and lots of doors are suddenly closed.  There are some ways of forcing those doors open, such as acting normal despite your deviation, or minimizing your deviation.  These require a certain sort of double-mindedness of which I am no longer capable. 

Live a deviant life, and many doors are closed.  But live a deviant life, and many more things are open.  Ever spent time with the homeless?  Try it.  Sit with them for most of a day on a street and listen to their stories, their difference in perception of the city or the world.  There's something terrifyingly alive in their stories.

I was born into near abject poverty.  It really could have been worse, though--being born white was still easier than another skin-tone, since it's America and this is a horrible place to be if you're not white.  Also, male.  Lots of privilege, but simultaneously lots of not-privilege.  Some in my position side with the dominant class (white, christian, middle-minded) in hopes of either becoming accepted, gaining access to privilege, or at least having an easier time of it. 

I never do.

What's this got to do with Arianrhod?

Go back to the story of her children.  What did she give them?


A goddess in a towered castle on the sea, a goddess in a towered castle in the stars has two children.  She's a maiden, but not in the virgin sense.  She's unmarried, single, powerful.  Two children, one a child from the sea, one a blob of flesh.  One returns to the sea, the other, hidden in a chest, becomes a man sooner than others of his kind do, perhaps fathered by a giant. 

A foolish sorceror-bard, Gwydion, whose meddling has already caused him to become an animal thrice and to live and mate as an animal with his brother, to give birth himself at least once, takes the child to Arianrhod.  She takes from the child everything that gives him access to society and sovereignty--a name, arms, and marriage.

As for as myths go, this is my fucking favorite one. 

X. Offerings and Worship

What do you give a goddess who strips you of a normal life, a normal existence, an ordered world?

A poetic, brilliant, deviant life.

There are several celtic goddesses of poetry and bards. Brighid/Ffraid is the best known one.  Arianrhod almost seems an inverse Ffraid sometimes, or if you worship her as part of a triad including Ceridwen and Brighid/Ffraid (as I do), she is a third expression or path towards wisdom and poetry.

All three are goddesses of poets and inspiration, and all three offer transformation.  Brighid, goddess of springs, flame, and the hearth/forge, presents what as I see as an alchemical transformation, rooted in the processes of life.  In the forge fire is the breaking down, the separation, Solve before the reforging, the remaking, Coagula.

The path of Ceridwen's transformation is different, but related. The boy Gwion, tending her Cauldron (at a hearth, interestingly) accidentally steals the Awen, the poetic inspiration, the sense of the Other when it spills out.  Ceridwen (who also had two children, one beautiful, the other ugly) hunts him and kills him and gives him birth again.  Hers is the sudden tranformation, the shapeshifting hunt through the realms, death and birth which are, one comes to understand, the same.

And Arianrhod?  Initiation.  "I have been three times in Caer Arianrhod" claims Taliesin (that is, Gwion-become-Taliesin).  Some people start with lots and lose it.  Some people start with little and have to earn it.  This is the transformation of Arianrhod, and it is also a path of desire and sovereignty, both of which I'll discuss again later.

Also, she seems to like Chamomile.  I don't know why.  I mean, I like chamomile too, but I don't know why she seems to prefer it on my altar.  Also, mirrors. And I have a glass owl which I sometimes use (another association I'll get to later).

XI. Holy Days/Festivals

These are both personal.  I have no proof that Arianrhod was worshipped on any particular day (though I've read several places that it may have been in April).  That being said, both Beltaine (or, more specifically, April 29th-May 1st) and November 25th seem appropriate days.

The first comes from my own practice and rituals.  Two nights before I initiated into OBOD, I had a really severe dream which I can still recall vividly, one I've discussed elsewhere and may bring up again.  The next night I found myself in an open field in southern Oregon at a festival, staring at the myriad of stars above me and felt them not only seem to wheel about me, but felt myself to fall into them, a brilliant vertigo of despair and wonder.  Furthermore, through Tarot and grove ritual, Arianrhod appears always in the place of the South-east; that is, the "gate of Beltaine."  Also, one of the St. Catherines are venerated on April 29th.

November 25th is another St. Catherine's day, the one specifically associated with the wheel.  I intend to venerate Arianrhod on this day, and I'll let you know how it goes.


These are coming slow for several reasons.
  • One: I write at least twice (and in this particular entry, three times) as much as I end up using.  Some of this has to do with clarity, but much of it is something else: I've got a responsibility to tell this correctly, and it's difficult to figure out where what I think I should write and what I think needs to be told begin and end.  
  • Two: I've made a specific decision in my mind and practice that is sort of undefinable, but also personally profound.  Understanding why certain gods and goddesses have been more important to me than others, as well as how important what others have to say about them has been a matter of great interest to me.  I find myself rejecting certain notions of "normality," even more so than what I'd already rejected.  This is both liberating but also jolting.  I've Dionysus to thank for this, by the way, as well as some very dedicated people who've likewise decided to embrace deviancy rather than walling off the Other.  
  • Three: I'll now be contributing every Friday on a blog at Patheos,  A Sense of Place.  I'm absurdly excited.  Also, it's more writing.  This is a good thing.
  • Four: I've just finished the last of a kilo of Ceylon I smuggled out of Europe.  This is concerning.  Rhyd-with-Tea is better than Rhyd-without-Tea. Ask any lover I've known.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Thoughts on fallowing, writing, and self-editing..


It's been precisely a month since I returned from my pilgrimage.  I picked up the journal I carried with me everywhere while in France and Germany and noted that I haven't touched it since returning.  It's a bit of a perfect metaphor for what's happened in my soul regarding the experience.  Five weeks of the most intense life I've ever experienced, more vivid and severe and dream-soaked than maybe entire years of my life--I've need to not look directly at it, to let it fallow. 

I mentioned I'd read The Art of Pilgrimage while on the journey.  I must recommend this to anyone who goes on pilgrimage, or also, anyone, who wishes to experience the Other more fully through travel.  It was a gift from a newly-met friend at my going-away party, rather timely and endlessly helpful, more so as guide to understanding the shifts of the soul on pilgrimage.  Similar to John O'Donahue's Anam Cara, the book serves as a sort of soul-friend, a whispering, kind friend who assures you that what you're undergoing is not only transformative and wonderful, but an ancient, oft-forgotten wisdom.

To honor certain memories, they must be left alone for a time as other memories are re-established, other patterns are set.  He retells another's sentiment as, "coming home means letting go for awhile so an opening is created."  He also mentions the concept of the 'threshold guardian,' who must be appeased upon return.  Both ideas have helped greatly in keeping at bey my tendency to excoriate myself for "taking it easy" occasionally.  


The current project I've been working on, a question-guided series on Arianrhod, has been expanding far out of what I originally envisioned it.  Arianrhod is an under-studied goddess, one whom plenty acknowledge and worship in practice but one for whom there's been scant recent writing.  It appears I'm attempting to fill in several gaps at once.  I'm pleased to do this, but I hope perhaps such a thing will be picked up by others. 

There is so much unsaid, and I wonder how much of this comes down to fear, both of reprisals from others and also that we are "not good enough" to have anything to say on the matter. Vehement reactions from internet communities don't help, but remember--it's just the internet.  We all forget our manners when isolated from the real people behind our words, and words chosen in frustration can cause alienation (as I was brought to remember today). My prose can be a bit thuggish sometimes.

This extends far beyond spiritual practice.  Silence is great if it is preferred, but silence borne of fear is tragedy.  Most writers are so-called "introverts" (I've never accepted the dichotomy, but it's useful sometimes), even though some of us talk and write too much (probably myself included), while others with important insight don't engage in conversation. Whole nations are run on the verbosity of just a few people.  This is not a good thing.

Also speaking of Writing

I got some very good news this week.  Those who like my writing and think maybe I should write even more will be able to read me in another place, weekly.  I'll provide an update once my first contribution is approved.  This endlessly excites me.

And also speaking of Writing

I'm starting to compile several of my series writing from this blog onto another site.  Which means I'm editing my stuff as I do this.  This is a very good and necessary thing, until I find a furry red-headed highly-literate bagpipe-playing man who'll volunteer to edit for me while I play his bagpipes and watch him edit, shirtless. 

That is, yeah...I should learn to self-edit.

Be always well. 

And watch this, because I can't stop being absurdly happy when I watch it:

The Crown of the North: Arianrhod, Part Three

"When coincidences pile up in this way, one cannot help being impressed by them – for the greater the number of terms in such a series, or the more unusual its character, the more improbable it becomes."
--Carl Jung

"I no longer have the luxury of co-incidence."
--Julian Betkowski

The poem I keep thinking of--who walked between...

Two nights ago, the stars seemed again to wheel.  I watched one fall, bright, fierce. I noticed, before I went inside again the reflection of light against a metal bike-gear I've kept as a pendant for no apparent reason, its 19 points later noticed as the same number of years the ancient druids required for training, the same number as Iolo Morganwg's ring of stones.

Yesterday, I performed a bardic ritual of water, as directed in the training materials for the Druid organisation I've joined. I sometimes do these out of order, sometimes read one, do the practices later in the week, or sometimes do them just before reading the next one, as today.  And there's the poem, who walked between..

Outside last night, owls called to each other from the trees in the misty woods not far from the house.

I returned inside, read Tarot for a friend of great affection. There, in the center, her wheel.

Dreams last night, the leaving of the gods from the world of mortals--not leaving, but withdrawing a gift, withdrawing something we need but have failed to earn.

Woke thinking about a question in my head about another goddess who appeared to me briefly, to test me I now realise.  She's appeared to others lately, maybe chasing one person far away.  Soon after, good news, and just as I respond to it, a massive bird-of-prey dances oddly outside my window, as if it to say "notice me. Notice us..."

Synchronicity, as conceived by Jung (a sometimes useful, but otherwise often restricting man), was relationship or meaning conceived between "acuasal" events.  Something happens, something else happens, they seem to be related even though they were caused by different things, and seem perhaps related to something meaningful.

Don't bother with that.  It's the same to say this: Try to find something out, open yourself up to knowledge, and it's all there.  Something or someone guides you when you ask for answers.

VI. Related Deities and Entities


I mentioned in my last post that the one character in the story of Arianrhod from the Mabinogion who is most important in understanding Arianrhod is Blodeuwydd.  Her names mean Flower-Aspect and also, later, Owl.  She's worshipped by some as a goddess of springtime and sometimes seen as the maiden aspect of a triple goddess, sometimes (but not always) including Ceridwen and Arianrhod.

Arianrhod's three denials of Lleu were of a name, arms, and a mortal wife. Gwydion aids Lleu in the procurement of all three by magic; first, by conjuring an elaborate illusion of inept shoemakers so that Arianrhod will leave her castle and witness Lleu striking a bird; second, he creates a vast phantasm of ships attacking Caer Arianrhod so that she mistakenly commands Lleu to be armed to defend her; thirdly, Gwydion and his uncle Math conjure a woman out of oak and plants so that Lleu can marry outside of Arianrhod's geas.

This third geas, though, is more than a mere denial of Lleu's ability to find a mate.  Woven throughout the stories and myths of multiple Celtic heroes and gods is the concept of Sovereignty, the right and authority to rule the land.  In almost every story of which I'm aware, this right and authority is derived not from the gods or brute force, but from a woman who stands both as the representative of the land and also the conveyer of the gods' will.  

In some stories, the woman who grants sovereignty is the queen; in some cases, she is a goddess represented by a woman or an animal (often a horse, and if you'd like a bit more of the mating-as-animals theme from earlier, you don't have to look far), and in one specific case, she is formed directly from the land herself.

You can think of Sovereignty another way.  If you are familiar with the Old Testament at all, you may remember multiple stories of how the god of the Hebrews repeatedly withdrew his "blessing" from them for breaking their covenant with him.  That is another kind of sovereignty, and this notion appears repeatedly in Celtic stories, particularly in one incredibly important to modern druids, the Battle of Trees.

In it, and similar variations, two armies are at war, one headed by a great warrior with a shield of alder (alternately depicting alder or actually made of alder); this army was the kingdom of Annwn, the Underworld (but not necessarily of the dead).  The other army, the Kingdom of Don (that is, Arianrhod's mother), has a great female warrior.  Neither of these warriors could be conquered by conventional means, but the bard, Taliesin, on the side against the kingdom of Annwn, was able to identify the great warrior as Bran the Blessed, a god of Alder (and also appearing in an earlier branch of the Mabinogion), and the army of Annwn is defeated. [Fun fact--Taliesin also is a companion of Bran in the Mabinogian...he gets around.]

The poet Robert Graves and others have pointed to the story of this battle (bloodless in most accounts, fought in words-as-weapons rather than metal) as another story of sovereignty.  Learn the name of the god behind an army (or kingdom's) power, and that power diminishes.

But also, piss off a particular god(dess) tied to the land, and the land turns against you, as we can learn in the stories of the Irish goddess, The Morrigan.

Arianrhod refused to grant not just sovereignty, but the means of gaining sovereignty, to Lleu.  Gwydion and Math attempt to get around her geas by summoning the land itself in the form of a goddess, and she rebels, too.  A line of kings ends, the magicians behind them fail (but have revenge upon the woman, having first turned her from wood-and-plant to woman, now from woman to owl).

But the matter of Arianrhod and Sovereignty is not complete, either, without discussing three other divine beings associated with sovereignty and related to Arianrhod.

Maelgven and Dahut:

You may not know these names, so let me tell you another story:

A King encounters a sorceress, a woman named Maelgven from apparently another world, a Queen from over Sea.  They fall in love, and she offers him her hand if he kills her husband.

A war ensues, the King and the woman succeed and then flee together on a sea-horse (not the undersea sort, but a horse which rides through the sea, a Morvarc'h, the same sea-beast from which the Merovingians--a French royal line--is said to be descended from ).  They have a daughter, Dahut.

Maelgven disappears at some point; perhaps she died, perhaps she went back to the north, or perhaps she wandered the forests of Bretagne. Before this, though, she asks King Gradlon what he sees in their daughter.

"I see you," he says.

"Then she will be ever thus," she answers.

The King, Gradlon, founds a city upon an island called Ys, ruling for an unmentioned time until the locks and gates which protected the city failed. In some tales, Dahut steals the keys to the gates and gives them to an enemy, in other tales she opens them herself; in every story that we have, it is Dahut whom is blamed.

As the gates fail, the city floods, King Gradlon mounts his sea-horse and rescues his daughter.  But his sea horse begins to fail under the weight, and Dahut leaves (again, either returns to the north or to the sea).

The "sunken city" motif is common in Celtic myth, enough so that it's almost impossible to argue that there wasn't some city of some importance in which a woman with some sort of sorcerous powers lived.  Some conflate this with Atlantis; I don't.

The Breton story of King Gradlon and the Queen from over the Sea is a founding myth of Bretagne.  There was a historical King thought to have been Arthur who sailed across the ocean from Britain to Bretagne (old celtic lands from before the migration into Britain/Ireland, re-settled by "insular" celts as the Anglo-Saxons invaded).  Gradlon doesn't seem to be Arthur, but an older king, who, in essence, earned the favor of the Queen of the North by killing her husband but then, later, lost that favor when his daughter (in the myths, exactly the same as the Queen) turned against him. 

Just because there's an island castle involved doesn't make them the same.  But there's another thing of great interest here.  There's been significant research on this story suggesting that Dahut is similar to the irish Li Ban or other spirits, or an other-world figure or goddess ("la femme d'autre-monde"), primarily by two french/breton authors. But interestingly, these same authors who make this case most strongly (Le Roux and Guyonvarch'h) also discount the existence of Maelgven, primarily because of their belief in the Irish origins of the myth and also later Christianisation. They suggest Maelgven was added later.

An aside on Christianisation:

Christianisation is a problem you'll run into all the time with questions of this nature; some argue that everything which has come through the christians is tainted, while others look to liberate the actual truth and the hidden gods and goddess from the christianized myths.  I'm of this second group.

Almost every myth we have of the Celtic gods and goddesses passed through Christian hands. Druids were slaughtered or went into hiding (there's a possibility that the Ovates survived as witches and then cunning-men), and the only other celtic "priest" class, the Bards, continued on as lorekeepers for the Christian kings.  And so all the lore, Irish, Welsh, Cornish, Breton and Scottish, can be said to have been "tainted."

More difficult, the oldest recorded myths were collected in the 12th century.  Lots of scholarship has shown the myths were older (anyone suggesting otherwise needs to explain why christian monks or christianized bards would conjure myths out of whole cloth full of pagan beliefs, being certain to face charges of heresy and death).  But there are epic arguments about parallels, etymology, and history which will "conclusively" prove that one god from one people (living 150 miles away over an easily-crossed channel) cannot possibly have been the same god as another remarkably similar one.

Thus, we'll run into a problem with this next association:

The Morrigan:

I am suggesting that Arianrhod and the Morrigan are related. I am not suggesting they are the same, any more than I am suggesting that the Morrigan and Morgan la Fay are the same (but, guilty by association, you'll see I think Morgan and Arianrhod are also related).

A good place for a Brothel.
Names are sometimes also titles.  Arianrhod's name means "Silver Wheel."  Is this here name or her title? Or are they both the same?  The Morrigan is both a name and a title.  We run into this problem often, particularly when gods seems to mix together.  For instance, take Maponus Apollonius; that is, Mabon/Apollo, shown to have been worshiped in what is now France.  Druids were said to have worshipped Mercury on top of a hill in what is now Paris, where a christian priest named Denis (Dionysus, actually) and his companion Eleutherius ("Liberator," an epithet for Dionysus) were both martyred and then spilled wine out of their necks.  Fun fact--that hill? it's now called Montmartre...you know, where the Moulin Rouge and all the sex is in Paris. As if it's a temple to Dionysus or something...

Sort that complication out and you've come close to understanding the very nature of divinity.  Good luck with that. Most might be tempted to use Jung here, or Neoplatonism, but I find this inadequate for a myriad of reasons I will explain another time.

Someone who's probably done more active work in the building of the cultus of Dionysus than anyone else alive once put it to me this way in an email "I don't know how this works, but sometimes the gods seem to inhabit each other."

This is the best explanation I've heard.  This also explains perfectly why, despite having had no experience with The Morrigan and having made no supplications to her, she appeared after a vision which I am certain (you don't need to be, by the way) came from Arianrhod.

To be clear, I didn't enjoy the experience.  The Morrigan is maybe the harshest goddess I've encountered, and sometimes I wonder if she's sorting us all out on behalf of the other gods, making sure we really mean this stuff.  After confronting two of the mysteries of Arianrhod (I'll get to this in another post), the third involved The Morrigan.  Not until beginning this series did I even understand the relationship to that mystery and The Morrigan, and--I'll be a bit honest--each time I write that name, I get chills.  I understand why some might flee to Christianity after meeting her.

St. Catherine

Speaking of fleeing into Christianity, remember that prophecy I mentioned in an earlier post, from the toothless madman?  "Cathedral steps, great place to fuck."

They're not, it turns out.  However, if you're ever having the trip of your life, wandering in the most vivid
waking dream you've ever experienced in a foreign city founded by the aforementioned King Gradlon, the city of three rivers, tell the hills I say hello.  I'll be there again, but maybe not for a little bit.

And when you go to the Cathedral of St. Corentin, the bishop who claimed to have drowned Dahut in the sea, go look at the gate leading north and stare at the statue of the only saint above that gate.  Stare at the wheel she holds and smile, thinking of the Queen of the North and her Crown.

Morgan la Fay

There is a very compelling case to be made that Morgan la Fay, Maelgven/Dahut and Arianrhod are related to each other. Morgaines are sea spirits and sometimes sea goddesses in both Breton and Welsh tales, Dahut was turned into a Morgaine, and, similarly, the sister of the irish sea goddess Fand, Li Ban, was in a christian baptism renamed to "sea-born," or Muirgen).   Morgana is a sorceress from an isle, sometimes called Avalon/Avallach.  Arianrhod is a sorceress on an island which later disappears under the sea.  If the same process happened in Wales as it did in Ireland, Morgan could be a diminution of Arianrhod.



VII. Other Names and Epithets

Depending on how you read what I've just written above, you might consider calling Arianrhod by the name of one of more of the aforementioned divine figures. I don't, as I see her distinct from them, and prefer Arianrhod.   No harm done (really) if you don't see it my way.

Instead, the following titles seem to work best in worshipping her.

Iniatrix: Arianrhod is often seen as the Iniatior of Bards and Mystics.  Taliesin mentions having been "three times in Caer Arianrhod," and this is taken as either reference to bardic initiation.

Crown of the North: This one keeps coming to me as meaningful, and is why I've titled this series as such.  Not only because of the stars of her constellation also being the Coronoa Borealis (Northern Crown), but also because of relationship to sovereignty.

Queen of Witches:  This title is already taken by Hecate and a few other goddess.  However, I call her this, as it is what she asked me to call her.  I do so.  You may do as you please.

Lady of the Stars, Lady of the Wheel, and Lady of the Tower: The first two are easy enough to understand.  The Tower refers to another name for her constellation and castle, Caer Sidi, the tower that turns.  Some take this to mean the zodiac, some to mean an actual turning tower, and a few to mean a labyrinthine tower.

VIII: Common Misconceptions

I haven't heard any, actually.  For being quite popular with Witches and Pagans, I've yet to hear anyone say anything about Arianrhod which sounds so off-base that I think she'd be offended.

There are priests and priestesses of other gods who will get awfully enraged if you say something that does not fit their (venerable) knowledge of their deity.  Many of them happen to also be worshiping some rather fierce gods known for cantankerous personalities.  But sometimes this is just ego.  If Arianrhod should ever choose me to be her priest rather than just her bard, throw that statement back in my face hard, please.  One of the biggest barriers to learning about the gods is the ferocity with which some people approach honest seekers.

What I will say it this, though. I'll happily harangue and harass anyone who dares suggest she, or any other celtic deity, should only be worshipped by celts.  You're racist, and they don't need you.  Nor do we.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Crown of the North: Arianrhod, Part Two

(Third installment in my series on Arianrhod.  

Want to embark upon a difficult, fascinating journey of words, an alluring tapestry of stories woven from tangled threads which glisten silver and blue in which stands a woman, sounding of the sea into which a myriad of stars have reflected their light?

Sure?  Okay.  I almost want to gnaw my fingers off, actually, both from the excitement and also the soreness of untangling so many threads...

Last night, lying in bed after my (sometimes neglected) greeting of the gods, I kept thinking of the meaning of thresholds.  Gates, liminal places between where one stands and where one is going.  Pass over that spot, that line, and you are no longer where you were.  Stay just on this side, and you enter nothing.  And in the middle, just at threshold, just over the rod delineating here and there, you are in a third place.

That place is the place of magic, of vision.  It's almost overkill that they used a wand to create it.

IV. Arianrhod of the Mabinogion

The only significant tale we have of Arianrhod is from the Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh bardic tales first verifiably compiled in the 12th century.

I love the written word.  I like it better when it's on paper, as opposed to typed on screens.  Ink on paper and all that.  But writing things down has a downfall; it becomes set, locked into an act of creation which cannot be undone, only destroyed or deleted.  Books are great (I mean this more than you suspect), but books do not live on their own.

Ever given much attention to the process of reading?  Your eyes scan a page or a screen, moving from one direction to another, following thin shapes which denote sounds.  Letters are symbols for sounds, glyphs, runes, an invisible sort of magic.

Those symbols, strung together in patterns create a sound in your head, a sound which represents a meaning, or a meaning we've identified with a sound.  The words lift from the page into your head through the gates of your eyes, shaping themselves into more complicated symbols which conjure, in the theatre of your mind, the things which those symbols represent.  I write "apple," you read the word, conjure an apple in your head by a process so quick, so seamless, so invisible that you forget you've done it.

I write "taco," and maybe you become a little hungry, identifying the physical experience of eating crisply-fried corn tortillas filled with well-seasoned meat or beans, the sharp but invigorating jolt of chipoltle-lime salsa, the almost exotic earthy-sweet smell of cilantro, the...

You see my point, perhaps. Or maybe you dislike tacos. Or maybe you're thinking what you're going to have for dinner, or the last time you made tacos with your lover and found yourself, despite the monotony of making dinner, feeling oddly close to him, his scent mixing with the spices in the kitchen, your feeling of warmth both from the heat of the stove and the proximity of familiar flesh.

Words are fucking magic.  I forgot I was talking about reading, or writing, and honestly forgot anyone else was going to be reading this.

The story of Arianrhod in the Mabinogi is the oldest written story we've got, and it's much newer than the written scriptures of the Hebrews or the countless retellings of the stories of Dionysus. And yet I worship her and not the Hebrew god, and I find myself currently more concerned with her cultus than with that of the well-attested god to whom she's related (I'm getting there, trust me).

This one goes like this:

A powerful sorceror king named Math was under a geas (these are like curses, but not; closer would be one of the older meanings of taboo): when he was not at war, or not preparing for war, he had to rest his feet upon the lap of a maiden.

One of his two nephews fell in love with the maiden, and along with the other nephew (Gwydion,his brother), conspired together so that the love-struck nephew could have her instead.  They start a war, pretending to be Bards in order to steal a herd of pigs from another kingdom.

Math leaves his throne, people are slaughtered, a solo combat ensues between Gwydion and the lord of the other kingdom.  Gwydion survives, the other lord is slain, the war is over, and Math returns to his throne, preparing for peace until finding the maiden had been raped.
 Enraged, Math (maybe the only nice guy in all of this), marries the maiden and makes her his queen, and then magically transforms his two nephews into paired animals. First, a set of deer, then a set of wild boar, and thirdly, a set of wolves. Two brothers becoming animals, one male, one female, sent off into the wilderness and returning each time with male offspring.

Three years of punishment (and three sons later), Gwydion proposes to his uncle, who has not yet found a new maiden, that Arianrhod, daughter of the same mother as the two nephews, be considered.  She's summoned from her castle, and King Math asks her if she's still a maiden.  Her answer?

"I know no other than that I am."
(That is, "Sure." Or, "what a strange question for you, my uncle, to be asking...")
A test is devised: King Math lays down the same wand that he used to transform his nephews into animals, Arianrhod is made to walk across it, and she has two...children.

The first grows immediately into a lad and returns to the sea.  The second is not really a child, more a thing, an ill-formed blob or perhaps a placenta, which Gwydion locks away in a chest at the foot of his bed.

Arianrhod returns to her castle and then the thing in the chest becomes a child.

Gwydion (having already been a mother at least once in animal form), adopts the child and takes it to Arianrhod.  She asks him if he'd name it, he replied "no," and then she places a geas upon the child so that he'd have no name unless she gave him one, and she does not.

Gwydion, now acting as both mother and father to the child, "tricks" Arianrhod into doing so by compelling her to leave her castle in order to meet a shoemaker.  While outside, she sees the disguised child kill a wren with a slingshot, remarks on his skill and his appearance, and the child earns the name Lleu from her description.

Arianrhod then puts a geas on the child, that he will not have weapons unless she arms him.  Again, Gwydion "tricks" her by disguising Lleu. This time he conjures ships upon the sea so that Arianrhod (who lives in a sea-castle), would believe herself under attack, and so she makes certain everyone is armed, including the disguised Lleu.

And finally, a third geas, that Lleu would have no human mate.  Gwydion and his uncle, King Math, create a woman with enchantment and sorcery from flowers and wood, naming her Blodeuwedd, and giving her to Lleu to marry.

And from her, Arianrhod disappears from the story.

One can summarize her tale in the Mabinogion in several ways:

  • Niece of a Sorceror King gets tricked into giving birth in front of everyone.
  • Half-sister of a trickster-mage abandons her two children; one becomes a sea-monster, the other a giant-king.
  • An isolated princess is shamed into revealing her infidelity and then seeks ineffective vengeance on those who shamed her.

I don't like any of these summaries.  I'll tell you the one that came to me last night, laying in bed, thinking about the threshold/wand, the one that suddenly made a lot of other things I'd been thinking about, particularly after my pilgrimage to Bretagne and some crazy dreams.

Magicians and kings interact with a goddess from an older time, a woman from an Other realm who appears repeatedly in multiple stories, and each time fail miserably. 

It's an old story, actually, and also a still-unfolding new one.

V. "Family."


You'll forgive me, perhaps, if I've never really quite understood how geneologies of the gods work.  I've always suspected that, since family is mostly a universal concept throughout history (we've all had mothers, whether we've known them or not), our human attempts to understand the gods reach for symbols from nature.  If you want to order things which are related, you can describe them as families--in fact, scientists technically still do this for all living things (taxonomies, etc).  I sometimes wonder if this is how we got stuck with heirarchies.  It's certainly interesting that, at least still, the common family branch name in taxonomies is still "kingdoms!"

In myths and legends (the "lore" of a god or goddess, as it's often called), there are often family histories.  Do gods marry, have sex, give birth, have parents, etc.?  I really don't know.  They are said to by some.  If you get into Monism or Neoplatonism, then you get some fascinating contortions (including the primal god-mother having sex with her first child in order to birth the world).  I don't delve much into this, and I'm not a fan of incest (unless, as in the story of Arianrhod's "brothers," this involves two men becoming animals and having children--that's something plenty of furry-friends of mine should enjoy greatly).


Several characters are mentioned in the Mabinogion as being related to Arianrhod.  Of them, three of them seem most important.

Dôn: The sister of King Math and the mother of Arianrhod, Gwydion, and several other people. I've never been able to find any mention of her mates.  Several people have suggested that she is equivalent to Danu, the Irish Mother-goddess of the Tuatha Dé Danann.  She may be, she may not be.  It really should be noted that she's got no husband, it's never clear if her children are "full" siblings or half-siblings, and it's particularly interesting that it doesn't matter.  Children now take on their father's family name; many of the Celtic societies seem to have been matrilineal.  Also, they had goddesses as well as gods--the monotheists only have one god, and he's male.

Gwydion: Two variations of his name have been brought up as important; Gwyddion, which means forest or trees; gwyddonydd, which means "scientist."  His actions and magics in the Mabionogian certainly lead one to believe that he possesses many of the talents ascribed to ancient Druids.  Particularly fascinating is his choice to pretend to be a Bard in order to steal the pigs.
There are all kinds of ideas that Gwydion is sort of a proto-Arthur.  This is very alluring, and maybe also distracting.  There is one linkage I'll explore later, but suffice it to say that I suspect the Arthurian legends, much like the Mabinogion and plenty of other tales (like the Hebrew scriptures), are re-tellings of tales for a specific purpose (for those familiar with Christianity, think of Jesus's parables--did they "actually" happen, or was he merely telling a story to prove a point? Maybe both). 

Blodeuwedd: The magically-created woman given to Lleu to marry as a way of getting around Arianrhod's geas on him.  King Math and Gwydion create her together, and then later curse her to live out an eternity as an owl because she chooses to love another king, betraying Lleu's secrets of invulnerability.
I think that Blodeuwedd is actually more crucial to understanding Arianrhod than Gwydion or even Arianrhod's "son," Lleu.  But this will involve more myth-telling.


I've been researching and writing this all day.  That is, I woke up, drank tea, started this, and now it's seven pm or some rot.
There was lots of tea in the middle of this, also some coffee, and I maybe ate after realising I was getting a little dizzy.  It's kind of exhausting...

...and so much fucking fun. There's much, more more to write, but I'll leave you with this for now, a greeting for Arianrhod.

Greetings to you, Arianrhod, Silver-Wheel.
Greetings to you, Crown of the North.
You who deny in order to fulfill, I greet you.
You, Queen of Witches, Initiator of Bards
May I remember my times in your Caer
And embrace the Stars that wheel around you.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Crown of the North: Arianrhod, Part One

(This is the second installment of my series on Arianrhod.  The first can be found here )

My last day at work as a social worker in a residential building for the mentally-ill, a rather traditionally "mad" client asked what I wanted before I left to Europe. I answered him a bit off-handedly, part-jokingly, "you have any advice?" 

This man, I should say, had passed beyond all recognition of sanity for years, babbling incoherently so often that any few intelligible sentences he did utter always took us by surprise.  Drug-addicted, severely schizophrenic, and relentlessly in a different world.

He returned, 20 minutes later.  He'd donned a dress, a wig, and some makeup, unusual for him.  Smoking with him on the front porch on break, he danced around a bit, and then said, laughingly, through his toothless mouth,

"Don't want to take a plane? The woman in the stars will come down to take you back with her.  Oh, and cathedral steps? Great place to fuck."

On the gods

I think maybe, before writing about Arianrhod, I should write about deities in general.  I'm a Pagan, or more specifically, a "polytheistic" pagan.  That is, I believe in the actual existence of multiple gods.

As opposed to, say, Monotheism (Christianity, Islam, Judaism), which believes in the actual existence of just one god, the best god, or one-true-god, or what have you.  I don't have a problem with them, only that I think they can be bit grumpy at times, particularly when they try to jail gays or burn pagans or silence scientists.

This is also opposed to Atheists, who believe in no gods at all, or no supernatural anything.  They make some great companions, though, and tend to read as much as I do.  And I've got no problem with them, except when they get so angry at the Monotheists that they support all kinds of bloody wars in the middle-east to liberate women from a certain form of clothing.

There are other ways to delineate my beliefs, but these get boring and technical.  Ever sat through a debate between a Leninist or a Trotskyite? Or, better say, a Pre-tribulationist versus Post-tribulationist argument? No?

Good.   Let's begin. (1)

I. Who's Arianrhod?

You maybe never heard of her.  I hadn't, much, except for a short passage in a collection of Welsh mythology call the Mabinogion.  The name would sometimes get stuck in my head--it sounds cool, is spelled awesome, and always felt a little familiar.

Arianrhod, in Welsh, means Silver Wheel.  (2)

That tells you little, except it sort of tells you lots.  There's a fun thing about myth and mythic language; like poetry, it unfolds over time.  Turn the phrase around in your head, look at it directly, say it a few times, and then forget about it completely until it suddenly appears in the theatre of your mind, seemingly out of nowhere.  You're staring at something, or thinking about something else, and Silver Wheel comes into your head and you're not sure why, but it somehow fits with what you're thinking about.  Like an off-handed remark uttered by a stranger 8 years before which startlingly takes on profound, severe meaning when you're in the shower, or kissing a lover, or bolting out of a crosswalk to avoid an on-coming car.

She's a goddess, it turns out, as appear to be many others in the Mabinogion.  Daughter of a King with a strange curse, mother of two children whom she didn't keep.  Said to live in both a castle and a tower, Caer Sidi or Caer Arianrhod.  Somewhere in the west, somewhere in the stars.

II. How'd I find out about her?

There's two histories here.  I'm not sure which one to tell.  Now that I think about it, probably three.  History is like this--it's all in the telling, like story.  The threads I choose to pull out and weave together create a tapestry which is a story, but I never seem able to use all the threads.  Ever try writing and finishing a novel? It's just like that.

I'm gonna try this question again. When did I first know her by name? That one's easier.  I was praying one day and suddenly blurted out her name, adding her to the names of the other gods I usually greeted.  By "praying," I mean, in essence, sometimes I merely say "hello" to gods, which I also sometimes do to birds, dragonflies, trees, and friends.  Again.  I believe they actually exist, just like I'm pretty certain trees and friends do, too).

Actually, I did that more often in the beginning.  I got maybe a little too playful with a god, or flippant, shall we say, but it turned out rather good at the end, and I'm glad he decided to see how serious I was, rather than just ignoring my childishness. And said god's got something to do with her, but we're not there yet, and I've got 30 questions to answer and at this rate, I might as well be doing National Novel Writing Month.

Back to that moment.  I just sort of blurted out her name, with an image of a woman and a wheel in my head (one of her most popular depictions), and then I got her attention.

No, that's wrong.   She had mine.

III. Her symbols and icons

I've already mentioned this.  It bears repeating.  Also, hey--did you try what I suggested earlier, playing with the english translation of her name?

What's a silver wheel, huh?

At night, if you stare at the stars in a place where you can still do such a thing, if you stare at the stars repeatedly over a period of time, you'll notice they move.  They don't, of course (thanks, science!), but they appear to.  Also, more fun, they appear to move around a specific spot, appearing to circle a stationary star.

Ever seen a time-lapse photo of the stars?  They appear to wheel.  In fact, there's a phrase, used much less often now that we don't read ink on paper, and I think it should be used more often. Wheel can be used as a verb, and I like it that way.  Stars wheel overhead.  You can sit out all night with a lover under the wheeling of stars (I recommend it, both to you and myself, as I've done much less than I ought to).

Another fun thing, except this starts to get messy.  There's a constellation close to the pole star, called in Latin Corona Borealis, or The Crown of the North.  This same constellation is reputed to be called Caer Arianrhod.  No problem here, yet, except Corona Borealis is already claimed not just in name but in myth to a certain mortal woman, elevated to deity by a certain other deity.  Her name? Ariadne.  And please note--the mere fact that they share letters doesn't mean they're related, anymore than Santa and Satan.  Still...I'll take this up later. There's some interesting stuff here.

So, a Crown is also a silver wheel.  The stars wheel, and are kind of silver.  And there's also another silver wheel around the moon, a lunar halo.  All these and a few other things have been said to relate to Arianrhod.

And...hmm.  There are other wheels, too.  The moon is sort of a wheel (more a disc, actually, so I tend to ignore this, and besides, Ceridwen's a bit better with the moon).  Also, there are other wheels (carts have them, as do cars now, I've heard), and there's one more wheel that's worth noting.

One of the fun things about Paganism is that, like other naturalistic philosophies (including Atheism, actually), it takes most of its symbolism from nature.  Interacting with nature and studying nature all of the time, rather than computers and celebrities (stars? really?), gives you this huge wealth of symbolism and also lots of oxygen, sunlight, moon- and star-light.  And noticing that certain things seem to repeat themselves (the first snow, the first flowering, the first really hot day) on a regular pattern makes one some look for symbols to represent this (this is where pagans and modern scientists tend to differ-scientists like to find ways to predict things and come up with workable and often-accurate theories to do so; pagans often stay with symbols).

Wheels turn.  So do seasons (from summer to autumn to winter, etc.), so do days (from light to dark), so does the month (which, when based on the silver disk's shifting in the night sky, is roughly a 28 day turning, a wheeling within a wheel), and years seem to do so.  So does the earth, making both its own turning around an axis as well as a turning around the sun, another wheel within a wheel (though that one's a bit flat, ellipitical, as it were). 

Arianrhod, then, symbolised by a wheel of silver, which is the meaning of her name...what does that mean?

I've got the rest of the month to go into that.


1. Though, for those who care, I'm equal parts Reconstructionalist and Revivalist, belonging not very well to either group.  The Celtic Recon's sometimes get stuck on their "back to tradition" beliefs that they miss how a god or goddess is currently being worshipped, and also sometimes get racist; the Revivalists tend to slip too much into Rainbow-Dazzle-Sparkle-Unicorn talk; I like Unicorns, I don't like Dazzle as much, though sometimes I do.

2. Arian, Ariannaid= Silver; Wheel, Orb, Ecliptic=Rhodau

The Crown of the North (30 Days of Arianrhod--Preface)

Several writers I follow have decided to take up a sort of writing/devotional challenge, the "30 Days of Devotion."  Essentially NaNoWriMo, except not at all.

I saw they were doing it, looked away from the screen and promptly tried to ignore the nagging notion that I should do so, too.

"But I'm new to all this stuff, and I'm hardly educated, and definitely not a good re-constructionist" I complained, and then tried to distract myself with the latest updates of my generally attractive friends' pictorial representations of their life on that blue-and-white site we're all stuck on.

Oh, right.  Blue and White. Back again to the thought. 

Then, I tried to distract myself by making lots of tea, and then I remembered a good friend of mine asked me for a Tarot reading.  I lost one of the Ogham fews he made for me, the one you'd prefer to lose because it means you probably lost it for a reason.  It's Koad, means Grove, and represents the "whole cycle/wheel of the year" and "central balance and possibility"  They were all made of a certain sort of wood sacred to one of my gods, and that wood doesn't grow around here, so I haven't been using said divination set. 

Thinking on this, I rolled a cigarette, walked outside to the oak tree to smoke and think before going back inside to do said divination, and then noticed that the bone, bell, crystal and wood fetish I'd made to honor the spirits of this place I'm living, strung together with the two wands I use, was moving slightly in the breeze (as I say, there was a breeze).  Staring at it and smiling, I remembered the wand I use most often, one of the two framing this charm, is of the same wood as my Ogham set.

No excuse. I cut off a piece, carved the line-and-x, and added it to the bag of the others.

"But I don't know enough," I complained to myself, throwing the Ogham fews to determine whether or not I should even bother with such a thing. 

The answer, in essence, "Yup."

"Which god/dess, then?" I said, expecting it to be the one I know most about, the one even Christians know plenty about. That's be fun and easy.

I got my answer. And then ignored it.

I then pulled the cards for my friend's divination, because I could use duty as an excuse to distract myself.  The aforementioned deity could almost be said to have sabotaged it, turning what was going to be a traditional wand-and-chalice spread into a Wheel spread.

 I don't know.  Like I said, I'm just some guy who--

Nevermind.  I'm listening.

So, over the next month (see the date? I'm starting late, but so are they), I'll be writing "answers" to 30 questions.  I honestly don't know as many answers as I'd like, or, better put, don't feel that I know enough to confidently speak about her in a way I can teach others about her. Unfortunately (or, rather fortunately), I've realised that's probably why she wants me to do it.  So I'll learn.

So, bear with me while an Anarcho-Punk, just-back-from-pilgrimage, tea-soaked Bard-in-Training with crazy dreams and way too many words attempts to answer the following 30 questions about the goddess he feels least comfortable talking about publicly.  See what she's on about?

(Also, I know most of my readers aren't pagan.  You may find this interesting anyway.  Or you may not. I promise to at least use some of my more interesting words.)

The Questions:
 I. A basic introduction of the deity
II. How did you become first aware of this deity?
III. Symbols and icons of this deity
IV. A favorite myth or myths of this deity
V. Members of the family – genealogical connections
VI. Other related deities and entities associated with this deity
VII. Names and epithets
VIII. Variations on this deity (aspects, regional forms, etc.)
IX. Common mistakes about this deity
X. Offerings – historical and UPG
XI. Festivals, days, and times sacred to this deity
XII. Places associated with this deity and their worship
XIII. What modern cultural issues are closest to this deity’s heart?
XIV. Has worship of this deity changed in modern times?
XV. Any mundane practices that are associated with this deity?
XVI. How do you think this deity represents the values of their pantheon and cultural origins?
XVII. How does this deity relate to other gods and other pantheons?
XVIII. How does this deity stand in terms of gender and sexuality? (historical and/or UPG)
XIX. What quality or qualities of this god do you most admire? What quality or qualities of them do you find the most troubling?
XX. Art that reminds you of this deity
XXI. Music that makes you think of this deity
XXII. A quote, a poem, or piece of writing that you think this deity resonates strongly with
XXIII. Your own composition – a piece of writing about or for this deity
XXIV. A time when this deity has helped you
XXV. A time when this deity has refused to help
XXVI. How has your relationship with this deity changed over time?
XXVII. Worst misconception about this deity that you have encountered
XXVIII. Something you wish you knew about this deity but don’t currently
XXIX. Any interesting or unusual UPG to share?
XXX. Any suggestions for others just starting to learn about this deity?

Answers to follow, possibly out of order.  There will be more questions than answers, too.  Insight welcome.
Also, want to know more about Odin, Eros, and Dionysos? Follow those links.  Cred goes to Ruadhán for initiating this whole thing.  And if anyone else is doing it and wants a link here, let me know.