Category Archives: Religion & Spirituality

What is the Name of God?

Naming God can be one of the most challenging ideas to the religious mind. The Spirit from which all things emanate, the creator of everything is truly an unfathomable force in the universe. It is beyond gender and similar terrestrial attributes, but everything that is male and female exists within It.

This Supreme Being is the most exalted of all things in creation. It is also the most misunderstood simply for its incomprehensibleness. Due to the limitlessness of this Being and the limitations upon human understanding, this Being cannot even truly be imagined or thought about. The limitations on human understanding and imagination make it impossible to even construct an accurate thought of this Being therefore any thought directed toward It is in fact about something else, something less. Consequently it can be said that this Being is equally impossible to worship since to worship requires the ability to conceive of the object of worship which as stated is inconceivable. And this is the problem that is faced when trying to name God.

This force within the universe is the source of all things and the container in which all things are held. According to the Hindu scholar and former President of India S. Radhakrishnan in his commentary on the Bhagavadgita “God includes the universe within Himself, projects it from and resumes it within Himself, that is, His own nature.” This is the force in the universe which has been given many names.

The Hopi Indians of North America know Him as Taiowa the Creator of the universe whom in the beginning existed in endless space. Muskogees call Him Ofvnkv, the One Above or Hesaketamese; the Breath-maker. The omnipresence of Wakan Tanka in the Oglala-Lakota tradition is a central idea to the recognition of Him as the four quarters of the world. As Joseph Epes Brown noted from his discussions with the Oglala holy man Black Elk; “The message ‘Be attentive!’ well expresses a spirit which is central to the Indian peoples; it implies that in every act, in every thing, and in every instant, the Great Spirit is present and that one should be continually and intensely “attentive” to this Divine presence.”

To the Maya, divine unity was recognized in their supreme deity Hunabku, which translates as One-State-of-Being-God. Peter Tompkins explains; The Maya believed that their supreme divinity functioned through a principle of dynamic dualism, or polarity, active and passive, positive and negative, masculine and feminine, by which, through the agency of four prime elements, air, fire, water and earth (symbolizing space, energy, time and matter) the whole material world was engendered.

This Allfather figure was credited with dispensing all form of measurement and movement and the mathematical structuring of the universe, i.e. the divine laws of creation. In the simplest terms this One Being is the source that set the universe in motion and gave humans our most basic but most vital verb “to be.”

Rabbi Arthur Green describes the name YHWY as a verb artificially rested in motion serving as a noun. “A noun that is really a verb is one you can never hold too tightly. As soon as you think that you’ve “got it,” that you understand god as some clearly defined “entity,” that noun slips away and becomes a verb again.” Rabbi Green goes on to explain that a more proper translation for this Name should be “Is-Was-Will-Be.” The implication of this translation suggests that God the Almighty, Most High Creator is in fact the very essence of existence and a truly eternal state of Being. Green continues to say; “God is Being. The four letters of the Name, taken in reverse order spell the word H-W-Y-H meaning existence.’ All that is exists within God The Name contains past, present and future.”

Rabbi Green also notes that another possible conjugation of the Name is Ehyeh or “I shall Be” and says this is the deepest name of God and to listen to the God who calls himself “I shall be” is to surrender the illusions that we are masters of our own fate. Green continues to say that “when Moses needed to give the slaves an answer that would offer them endless resources of hope and courage, God said; Tell them “Ehyeh sent you.” The Timeless God allowed the great name to be conjugated, as though to say: “Ehyeh. I am tomorrow.” Even when pressed for a description or definition of God the Father,’ the Catholic Church claims His two names are Being and Love and describe Him as; “He is who is, as he himself revealed to Moses.”

The fullness of God has been assigned many names throughout the centuries, none the less which is the title “Supreme Being.” And perhaps that is it in the end; the incomprehensible fullness of God is simply the most perfect and complete state of being which propels the universe forward through existence. God is Being, both noun and verb, the substance of the creative principle of existence.

Sources;

Radhakrishnan, S., The Bahgavadgita, Indus, New Delhi, 1994, pg 215

Brown, Joseph Epes, The Sacred Pipe, Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux, University of Oklahoma, Norman, 1989, pg 65

Tomkins, Peter, Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids, Harper and Row, 1976, New York, pg 283

Green, Arthur, Ehyeh, A Kabbalah For Tomorrow, Jewish Lights, Woodstock, VT, 2004, pg 2

Flannery Austied, O.P., Vatican Council II, Vol. 2 Costello, New York, 1982, pg 389


Indigenism and Native Revivalism (2018)

 

The middle of the twentieth century saw an upsurge in Native Revivalism in western countries.  Although exploration of ancient Western religious traditions had existed in Europe and America since at least the 17th century, it was mostly practiced by eccentrics in secrecy and never had the wider popular appeal we see today.

With the ‘back to nature’ trend sensationalized by the 1960’s Flower-Power generation many doors were opened in the realm of altered-native religion.  Many hippies, realizing the difficulty of being accepted within Native American communities began a quest for connections with their own roots religion, leading them into exploring occult practices which over time progressed into the modern cultural revivalist movement.

Primarily, there are three wings within this movement.  I name them as such; Paganism, Heathenism and Indigenism.  On the surface, they all share many similar qualities, but represent three very different attitudes and beliefs concerning roots religion.

Paganism

This subcategory is the most common in the West and represents some of the most freeform and New Age spiritual ideas.  In this group we have modern witchcraft, Wicca, the Faerie traditions and eclecticism.  Typically the primary political interests of Pagans in general are those concerning freedom of religion issues, gender rights and ecological concerns.

Heathenism

Heathens are more geared toward recreating or revival of older and usually extinct religions.  In this category are groups such as Asatru, Imbas and other reconstructionist organizations.  Politically, heathens are often concerned with preservation of indigenous European cultural traditions, historical sites and language.  Generally speaking it’s also very important for Heathens to distinguish themselves from the more popular Wicca-oriented Paganism.

Indigenism

Indigenists represent living indigenous traditions of the world.  These are usually people somehow connected to a traditional native or aboriginal community.  This subgroup can easily stretch a bit to include communities such as the Vodoun, true Roots Rastafarians the Basques and certain Irish and Welsh communities of Europe.  Indigenists are politically tend to be involved with Native sovereignty struggles, land claims issues, ecological activism and cooperative communities.

Many individuals in the movement for Native Revivalism somewhat begrudgingly accept being labeled as a ‘pagan,’ though inside they feel more drawn to heathenry’s reconstructionist goals.  This yearning for an authentic connection to their indigenousness coupled with the goals of building and maintaining cooperative communities based on this separates them from the vast majority of the revivalists.  But it is when all these values become strongly aligned with and guided by the concerns and struggles of indigenous people in the world that they truly become Indigenists.

Indigenism is a little known term because in North America most Indigenists are Native American or “Native Hearts.”   Few if any people that are not directly involved in indigenous rights movements have ever even heard of the term.  There are many dynamics and complexities involved in this philosophy.  Indigenism is a spiritual perspective wrapped in a socio-political movement.

             

The socio-political dynamics of Indigenism and its relationship to Aboriginal people of the world is the driving force behind the movement today.  This is perhaps the most rational and revolutionary perspective in circulation today for the manner in which it flies in the face of both global Capitalism and Marxism, confronting colonialism and imperialism from both camps in many parts of the world.

Spiritual Purpose

When we take notice of the similarities between Indigenous religions we are often prone to question from whence they came.  Was there an original religion?  The question has in many ways been a significantly motivating factor in a lot of my earlier religious pursuits.  It makes for a great approach with solid, steady footsteps.  It can also represent a sort of red herring.  The answer to the ‘real’ question here just may be more in the modern Indigenist movement rather than in a quest for the ‘original religion.’

A particular Indigenist view on the origin of religion is such; that there is in fact only one Truth, one reality.  This Truth or reality is essentially the “Sacred Mystery,” the “Great Spirit,” or the “Creator.”  The ‘Creator’s’ reality is and has always been (to the indigenous) interpreted to us through our geography, ecology and community.  In essence, the creator’s ‘words’ are interpreted to us by the Earth or regional ‘divinities’.  Through the regional variations (or nature’s dialect) concerning the manifestation of these ‘truths’ and from our communities’ organization in coping with them we established our traditions and our religions.  This accounts for the similarities as well as the differences in indigenous religion.

Example; we must have water to survive.  Water is sacred.  This is a common theme in most religions.  But there is a very different practical and therefore spiritual perspective regarding the type of emphasis placed on water by desert peoples than by tropical islanders or swamp-dwellers (in most cases) even though the basic thematic construct is the same.  Naturally, this paradigm carries over into even deeper realms of religion.

Indigenist religion is as much about physical and social action as it is about faith and philosophy.  And the truth it follows is the unobtainable truth that must be pursued continually through our lives.  The ‘Red Road’ doesn’t really have an end to it.  It is a way of life, not just a belief system.  If one gives up the pursuit, one effectively gives up the path.  You put your arrows down, leave the wild hunt, succumb to stagnation and lose all the ground you’ve gained, resorting to crude methods to deal with a sophisticated life.  This is why it is the ‘Way OF enlightenment’ not the ‘Way TO enlightenment.’

Political Purpose

Indigenism in America is heavily influenced by the work of The American Indian Movement, Russell Means, John Trudell, The Zapatistas, and to a lesser degree Che Guevara brought “back to the fire” (as Creeks say).  It is centered on ‘tribal’ communities and around Native struggles from the Americas to Africa, Scotland, Russia, Japan, Hawaii and anywhere else the Indigenous are oppressed, disenfranchised, or dispossessed.

The Indigenist perspective stresses social decolonization, and localism rather than assimilation and globalism as a means to our survival as a species.  Differences between culture and religion are to be respected because the Creator gave us different cultures and religions the same way we were given different landscapes.  Indigenism stresses more self-sufficient communities, ecologically sound commerce, and gentler kind of warfare.  These ideas also cut deeply into national boundaries, especially those of a colonial nature.

Importance of Indigenism

In the old days survival and self reliance was of the utmost importance to our ancestors.  And in a way this should still be a core concept in our religion today.  We never really know when we may be separated from the ‘tribe,’ when we may become lost in the forest, stranded on an island or a survivor of a major cataclysmic event.  If an individual’s core philosophy and ‘religion’ is based on survivalist concerns and his relationship to his environment, he’ll be more prepared to face his obstacles with the heart of a warrior rather than the ass of a couch potato.  Couple this with an indigenous commitment to your community and you have the foundations of true indigenous religion, the heart of the ‘original’ religion – ‘paganism’ at its core.

Indigenism is a practical philosophy and way of life respecting human nature and its response to the modern world.  It is not a utopian dream.  It’s not for everybody; it’s for indigenous people and those with indigenous spirits.  Colonial people and their respective governments will have conflicts with this perspective, being that there is too little emphasis on control of the individual and of the land.  But this is our way of life.  This is our faith.  And this is what motivates us to act.  We live as natural people gifted with our own freedom and ingenuity, keeping our roots as firm as our branches and remaining One.

(Originally written and published in 2005, now revised for 2018)


Lughnasadh: Harvest of Life

The Irish Celtic Festival of Lughnasadh is traditionally celebrated on August 1st but extends throughout much of the month. It is the first genuine harvest festival of the year and it coincides directly with the Anglo-Saxon holiday of Lammas.



The holiday is named for Lugh, the Irish hero of light. His name derives from the word for lightning and illumination. Amongst Germanic peoples, this day was sacred to the god Thor: the god of thunder, storms and agriculture. Thunder and lightning are obvious signs of rain and storm which are naturally an important ecological phenomenon for agricultural societies.

Lugh is of course more than a simple agricultural deity. As a patron of light, Lugh is the embodiment of all things light represents: intelligence, knowledge, wisdom, enlightenment. Science and artistry are also considered to have been invented by Lugh. Considering his close association with the Roman god Mars, Lugh is a patron of martial prowess, which is perhaps best exemplified through his son Cuchulain. All of these attributes, whether agricultural or innovative attest to Lugh as a god of wealth, the guardian and benefactor of the tribe’s prosperity.  It is probably more than mere coincidence that this time of year in Anglos-Saxon tradition, bondsmen would pay their rent.

This holiday, along with Imbolc, Beltane and Samhain represent the four main festivals of the medieval Irish calendar.  As the first true harvest festival in the seasonal cycle, Lughnasadh has certain associations with death.  In fact, the name itself translates roughly as “the wake of Lugh.”  Whereas holidays in the earlier seasons coincide with increasing life, harvest festivals are the first signs of the summer’s demise.  With the summer day’s becoming noticeably shorter at this time, it becomes quite obvious that winter’s grip is only a short way off.  Although the theme of a wake is a significant part of the festival, the overall atmosphere is generally one of joy and revelry.

The legends tell us that Lugh established the harvest fair of Lugnasadh in honor of his foster-mother Tailtiu at the Town of Teltown in County Meath.  Tailtu’s death was a necessary component in establishing the growing of the crops and the abundant harvest that follows.  These celebrations quite often resembled today’s Scottish Highland Games. Lugnasadh often involved horse races, and martial arts displays or competitions.  Competitive games such as chess were also a part of the festivities, representing Lugh’s victory over the Fomorian King Bres who previously controlled the powers of the Harvest, establishing the Irish agricultural tradition.

                     

Lugh is the hero of Light. For this reason he is often compared with the Sun, since the Sun is the greatest source of light with which humans and earthly crops interact. As a hero of Light, Lugh is also called Samh-ildánach, “the many gifted one,” because of his multiple skills in all the arts and trades.  Just as darkness represents ignorance, Light represents knowledge, and in this case knowledge of many, if not all things. In the old legends we find that Lugh (representing the Sun) conquers the Fomorians (representing darkness, ignorance and oppression). When this is done, Lugh wrestles from the King of primitive darkness the knowledge of cultivation and the harvest.

This is a celebration of the Harvest.  On this day families gather together to give thanks for the bounty of the Harvest and to reenact the mythological event that brought the Ancestors from a life of oppression and into a life of abundance with the knowledge of agriculture. It must be remembered that it is only with this knowledge that humankind has managed to not only survive, but to thrive in even inhospitable environments. It is agriculture that has allowed human beings to settle lands, build defensive structures and over all make life safer for acquiring food. This has allowed civilization to flourish and become specialized, developing art, literature, economics, and other remarkable aspects of material culture.

The Medicine Wheel

A prayer from the Oglala Holy Man Black Elk;
“Hear me four quarters of the world, I am a relative.
Give me the power to walk the soft Earth, a relative to all that is.
Give me eyes to see and the strength to understand that I may be like You.
With your power only can I face the winds.”

The Medicine Wheel symbol is a central spiritual and philosophical device used by many Native American communities.  It consists of an equal-armed cross placed inside a circle.  This is also a universal symbol that can be found throughout the nations of the world from the ancient days to today.  It has been called by many names; the medicine wheel, sacred hoop, solar disk and sun circle, just to name a few.  This symbol is central to Muskogee philosophy and is the basis for the layout of traditional ceremonial dance grounds.

As a symbol, the Medicine Wheel is made up of two symbols; the circle and the compass cross.

The Circle

The circle is the most basic symbol for life and divinity.  It is also the most perfect metaphor for God in geometry.  The circle, like the Creator has no beginning and no end and therefore it represents eternity.  Geometrically it is the essential symbol of balance and equality.  And as the perfect symbol of the Creator, you could expect it to be apparent in creation.

The circle is also the perfect metaphor for Nature, which is the manifestation of the Creator.  We find the circle everywhere in nature.  Natural things tend to be round or function cyclically.  The most obvious examples are the sun, the moon and the earth, all which are round.  The earth and other planets revolve around the sun in a circular motion.  On the earth, the circle can be seen like the signature of the Creator in the rings of a tree or the fruit growing upon it.  The seasons of the year follow a cyclical pattern with winter turning into spring, summer, autumn and then returning to winter.  The Oglala holy man Black Elk explained the meaning of the circle in this manner;

You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round.  In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished.  The flowering tree was the living center of our hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it.  The east gave peace and light, the south gave warmth, the west gave rain, and the north with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance.  This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle.  The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are the stars.  The wind, in its greatest power, whirls.  Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours.  The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle.  The moon does the same, and both are round.  Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were.  The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.  Our tepees were always round like nests of birds, and those were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.[1]

The Pawnee Indians regarded the circle with much the same philosophy.  According to one Pawnee priest;

The circle represents a nest, and it is drawn by the toe because the eagle builds its nest with its claws.  Although we are imitating the bird making its nest, there is another meaning to the action; we are thinking of Tirawa making the world for the people to live in.  If you go on a high hill and look around, you will see the sky touching the earth on every side, and within this circular enclosure the people live.  So the circles we have made are not only nests, but they also represent the circle Tirawa-atius has made for the dwelling place of all the people.  The circles also stand for the kinship group, the clan, and the tribe.[2]

The sun which we depend on so directly in our lives has served as another great metaphor for the Creator throughout history.  It is round and therefore the Medicine Wheel is also symbolic of this solar enlightenment.  For this reason the medicine wheel symbol is often displayed within a solar motif with the rays of the sun extending outward in eight directions.  With the sun circle and compass cross both being direct metaphors of the divine nature of the earth and the celestial respectively, the Medicine Wheel as a spiritual and philosophical tool is therefore an unparalleled tool for use in coming to knowledge of Nature and of Nature’s God.

The Cross

The cross is a four cornered compass.  Each one of the four arms of the cross is attributed to a particular compass point, which is in turn associated to a particular philosophical or spiritual principle.

In contemporary society the four directions tend to be taken for granted and with little regard.  But to the elder ancestors they represented the very survival of the people.  Our ancestors did not have the crutch of a GPS on which to rely.  Instead they watched the sky, the path of the sun, moon, stars and even the shadows in order to keep track of the directions to avoid becoming lost or disoriented in the forest or on the prairie, something that could quickly result in death.  In fact the very meaning of the word ‘disoriented’ is to be incapable of locating the east.

Living in tune with the directions, the seasons and nature in general kept the elder ancestors alive, so naturally a system of philosophy developed about life and the hereafter as demonstrated through that symbolism.  Each direction is thought of as a separate land, world or dimension, symbolically if not literally.  Therefore each direction has its own natures, associations and inhabitants.  In some ways each direction is thought of individually as separate Heavens and their inhabitants are spiritual beings like angels, ancestors and medicine powers.

While the specific associations of each direction can vary greatly from people to people and from age to age, the following cardinal directions and their associations are based heavily off those that are most commonly encountered in native circles, with special emphasis placed on associations identifiable within Muscogee, Yuchi and Cherokee traditions.

                  

East — place of the sun

The east is associated with light and knowledge, because the sun comes up from the east and travels across the sky.  The sun is the source of life on earth and its light removes the cover of darkness, revealing what was previously hidden from view, therefore the east is associated with revelation, illumination and enlightenment.

In Muskogee lore it is the Hawk which flies highest of all creatures.  He is the messenger of the Creator, like an angel delivering prayers to Him and knowledge and revelation from Him.  It is traditional in Muscogee as well as many other traditions to face east when praying.

North—place of wind

The north is the land of wisdom, the breath of life and inspiration.  This is a land of elders, the source of ancestral wisdom and so the north is sometimes referred to as the “place of the white hairs.”  It is associated with the buffalo and the deer who live closely to nature and know her ways intimately.  The bald eagle is said to be stationed here, guarding the health and cleansing wind.

In the Creek Migration Legend, the people took the red and yellow fire from the north and mixed it with fire from the sacred mountain and this is said to be the fire that Creeks use to this day, which sometimes sings.

West—place of earth

West is the place of darkness and introspection.  The sun sets in the west and therefore this direction is associated with sleep and the subconscious.  The spirits of departed are said to travel to the western world and so it is associated with death and the afterlife.  The nature of the west’s earth association also connects it to the underworld caverns from whence tradition tells us the Muskogee people emerged.  This is the womb of creation as well, and therefore represents life at its most primal state and incubation.

The black bear is associated with this direction as is the panther.  The bear’s penchant for residing in caves and sleeping through large portions of the winter make him a skilled adept of navigating the womb of creation and the world of dreams.  Black Elk taught that the west is the home of the Thunderbird, which in Muscogee tradition is the Thunder being who brings the rains and lightning.

South—place of water

The south is associated with warm purifying waters and virtue.  These waters are specifically the deep bodies of water aside from the storm and rains.  For the most obvious reasons water is the element of cleansing.  Not only is it essential in daily hygiene but it is also vital in the human body’s natural process of purification and detoxification.  Water also represents change over time by the process of erosion which reshapes old landscapes and renews the earth.

Water is also intricately connected with the underworld.  Muskogee tradition tells us that the Great Snake guards the southern waters.

 

Together, the sacred circle and the compass cross portray the divine in both the ethereal and the physical sense.  It is important to understand that these are considered to be integrated and whole, not separate perceptions.  Each person must come to fully understand and integrate the teachings of each direction, one by one until they have traversed the entire compass in order to attain a life of wisdom and fulfillment.  All together it teaches us balance and provides us with the tools to build a healthy spiritual life.

The integration of these attributes and principles into a person’s spirit is achieved by diligent efforts in meditation, contemplation and daily application of these principles.  When we consider our relationship on the medicine wheel, we truly consider our circumstances; literally where we stand inside the circle.  These efforts can be heightened by living close to the earth and taking part in our native traditions.  This Medicine Wheel philosophy is a root philosophy which has influenced the lives of native people for centuries.  It is practical, logical and metaphorical.  It connects us to our time and place, instills our perception of the world with wonder and provides us with a basis by which we can contemplate our own nature and that of all creation.

[1] Neihardt, John J., Black Elk Speaks, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 1932-1961 Pg 195-6

[2]Alice C. Fletcher, The Hako: A Pawnee Ceremony (22nd Annual Report, Bureau of American Ethnology, part 2; Washington, 1904), pp. 243-244. Cited by Joseph Campbell, Hero With a Thousand Faces


Finnegan’s Wake, a Glance at Irish Mysticism through Lyrical Satire

 

Finnegan’s Wake is amongst my favorite traditional Irish songs and it has been a staple of the Irish balladeer’s repertoire since the middle of the 19th century. Over the past several decades it has been covered by great and legendary Irish bands like The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, The Dubliners, the Pogues, and most recently the Massachusetts-based Dropkick Murphys.  However, like much of Irish lyrical tradition stretching back to the ancient bards “Finnegan’s Wake” is in reality a work of deep esoteric value cleverly disguised as a silly drinking song that only the initiated were likely to fully comprehend.

At Face Value

The story tells of Tim Finnegan, a poor construction worker with a love for the liquor who drank a bit too much before work one morning, fell from a ladder, broke his skull and died. Upon the eve of his wake his friends and relatives arrive at his home to mourn him.  Biddy O’Brien begins crying loudly and is essentially told to shut up by one Paddy McGee.

Once Maggie O’Connor gets involved in the exchange telling Biddy she’s wrong, Biddy punches her in the mouth, leaving her ‘sprawling on the floor.”  Then all Hell breaks loose as the entire house becomes engaged in a brawl “woman to woman and man to man,” brandishing their shillelaghs, the classical Irish club.

A bottle of whiskey is thrown across the room, just barely missing Mickey Maloney, and instead landing on Tim Finnegan’s bed with the whiskey scattering all over his body. At that point Tim revives and “rises from the bed,” and delivers the punch line of the ballad; “Whittle your whiskey around like blazes, Thanum an Dhul![1] Do you think I’m dead?”

 

The Mystery Unveiled

While this ballad is typically considered a comical drinking song, it actually gives us a glimpse into an old Irish and western mystical tradition.

Tim Finnegan is a construction-worker. Although this was a common vocation amongst Irishmen throughout the 19th century, there is much more being said here than meets the eye, or ear.  As the lyrics clearly tell us “to rise in the world he carried a hod.” A hod is a tool used for carrying bricks and mortar, telling us that Mr. Finnegan was, in fact a mason. Since no later than 1717 AD the repository for esoteric wisdom in Western countries has been the order of Free and Accepted Masons who trace their historic origins to the medieval stone masons guilds, and from there symbolically to the ancient builders of Greek, Egyptian and Israelite temples.

Let us also take note that Tim Finnegan carries his hod “to rise in the world.” In Freemasonry, it is said that a candidate is “raised” to the degree of a Master Mason. Freemasonry also makes use of the symbolism of death and resurrection through the allegory of the architect Hiram Abiff.

Architecture, construction work and craftsmanship have been metaphors for mystical knowledge going back thousands of years. In ancient Irish mythology the three brothers Luchta, Goibniu, and Credne are known as the Trí Dée Dána (the three gods of art).  Each represented the respective trades of carpentry, blacksmithing, and silver-smithing, and they crafted the weapons which the Tuatha Dé Danann (Irish ancestor gods) used to conquer the Fomorians (Irish beings of chaos and darkness).

In ancient Egypt, the god Ptah was the patron of craftsmen and architects, and he was closely associated as an aspect of the dying and resurrecting god Osiris.  Both of these deities were incorporated by the Greeks into the god Dionysus, well known as a patron of wine and spirits.  It is more than coincidence that Jesus of Nazareth, perhaps the most well-known dying and resurrecting god is often cited as having been a carpenter before he began his spiritual mission and he, much like his forebears also had an affinity toward life-giving and preserving drink.

A further look at the lyrics of this ballad reveals that at the wake of Finnegan they placed a gallon of whiskey at his feet and a barrel of porter at his head. This sentiment is echoed in the Irish ballad “Jug of Punch” in which the balladeer requests upon his death “just lay me down in my native peat with a jug of punch at my head and feet.”  This is a particularly Irish rendition of the tradition found amongst the world’s cultures of making sacramental offerings to the dead.  The making and pouring of libations is well documented in European traditions.

As mentioned previously, Jesus, Osiris and Dionysus are not only associated with death and resurrection, they are all three also closely associated with drinking rituals. Amongst other things, Dionysus is a god of wine. Osiris is said to have taught the world the art of brewing.  Jesus turned water into wine. Similarly, the Irish craftsman-god Goibniu also brewed the beer of immortality.

The English word whiskey is derived from the Irish Gaelic uisce beatha which translates as “the waters of life.” So when the whiskey scatters across the corpse of Tim Finnegan, it literally, magically and sacramentally imbues him with life; a spiritual conception which stretches back through centuries of esoteric tradition.

Conclusion

The dying and resurrecting god is not just a rhetorical device for dramatic affect. To ancient civilizations death and rebirth are symbolic of the annual cycle, the dying and rebirth of the summertime, the growing season and of the sun, so often symbolic of divinity. This symbolism has been revised, reincorporated and redistributed as a multitude of myths, legends and doctrines throughout the world in order to teach each civilization or cult’s particular perspective on the meaning of creation.

A creator god’s primary attribute is creativity, and this trait has been imitated through the creative works of humans whom are believed to be made in the divine image. Art, music, agriculture and most especially architecture has long been associated metaphorically if not literally with godliness, and enlightenment.
Finnegan’s Wake is far more than just another drinking song. It is a humorous retelling of an ancient initiation myth.  Tim Finnegan is not just a drunk construction worker who died and came back to life.  He is the personification of the mystery of the dying and resurrecting god represented in the form of Irish lyrical satire.

[1]d’anam ‘on Diabhal. a common curse: your soul to the Devil, from the Irish D’anam don Diabhal


Midsummer

Midsummer is a traditional holiday celebrated throughout many of the world’s cultures, with ancient origins.  It is the celebration of the summer solstice, an important astronomical date on the annual cycle.  It is celebrated on or near the 21st of June. In many Celtic communities it is commonly celebrated on June 24th.

Due to its connection with the agricultural cycle, Midsummer is most often celebrated on the 21st of June by modern Heathens and neo-pagans as one of the eight sabbats. In Revival Druidry it is called Alban Heruin and is one of the four high holidays.

The summer solstice is the longest day of the year, with the sun at its strongest, therefore Midsummer represents the triumph of light over darkness.  The solar hero born at Yule and celebrated as the child of light is now at his peak.  He overthrows the oppressive king of winter and takes his rightful place upon the throne of the earth.  Just as in our time today, in ancient days marriages often occurred at Midsummer.

                    

As an agricultural holiday, in many parts of the world this is the earliest time that a harvest can be made since the springtime sowing; therefore it is a festival of first fruits. Traditional Midsummer rites are often centered on bonfires.  New fires would be kindled and offerings of flowers were made to them.  In many communities an effigy of a person would be burned in the bonfire.  Similarly to Beltane, cattle would be driven through the smoke of the fires as a means of blessing, protecting and enhancing the livelihood of the tribe and community.  Torches were lit from central bonfires and carried home where the hearth was lit.  Participants would dance around these fires and tend them throughout the night.  This all-night affair was commonly called “the watch,” and it was an integral part of the festivities.  Near the early morning when he fires had died down some, some of the revelers would jump over the flames for good luck and to encourage the crops to grow.

Midsummer Bonfire in Freiburg im Breisgau

Similar traditions are found on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  Native American communities such as the Creeks, Seminoles, Cherokee, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and many others of the Eastern Woodland traditions celebrate the Green Corn rite: the new fire ceremony, the New Year, the greatest fast culminating in the first feast of the year.

At this time in the environment, the wild flora is also at its peak, especially of the medicinal variety, so this holiday also has a focus on gathering and honoring medicine.  Blackberries and wild plums are also ripening, making for natural symbols of this season. On the Muskogee calendar, June is Kvco Hvse or “Blackberry Sun.”

In many Germanic countries the Maypole is celebrated at Midsummer.  In some communities the Maypole was left up from Beltane and burned at Midsummer. Midsummer is the height of the spiritual year.  Medicine is strongest at this time.  Spirits of nature and of the ancestors, both good and malevolent are very active on a Midsummer’s night which inspired one of Shakespear’s most classic works; A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Imbas Fire

I got fire in the head!

Imbas on the inside, so red!

A cauldron of poetic frenzy brewing the content of the universe

Translating, melding it down, an inspired stew-in-verse

More than a measure of grammar, meter and rhyme

Through head, heart and gut, universal space and time

Twisting like a whirlpool spinning mastery of words

Spitting reddening satire – the kind that really burns

But it’s just prophecy in motion, the wisdom of a bard

Passing judgments with clarity till you know who you are!

(This poem was originally written in 2004 as a final exam for an undergraduate anthropology class. – I got an A. – I was looking through some old writings and it just felt relevant again.)

These Woods

On a quest to find my healing rock. #river

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These woods are like home to me.  Whenever I return it is as if I have come back to my spiritual center.  This is where it truly began for me.  I was a misguided youth full of angst and hostility, disillusioned by the world, and spiritually injured. But these woods are a place of healing and renewal, and they changed me. Over the years I’ve seen other people changed by these woods as well.

The medicine is strong along this creek.  The waters are crisp, clear and purifying, and I swear I can hear the voices from generations of spirits echo through the clay-bank valleys, enticing me to release the stresses and pains of my mortal existence, bringing my spirit back to light.

I had my first powerful vision here, where I was healed and transformed into something that could be of better service to my people; something I’m ashamed to admit I had strayed too far from over recent years.

I have experienced giving, sharing, and loving in these woods that is too rarely found in the outside world.

Fairy Altar in the deep woods. #woods #spirit

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We’ve had gatherings of great souls, teaching circles, solstice and equinox festivities.  Barefoot hippies, country kids, urbanites rediscovering themselves and an assortment of other wanderers have met here as family to share in each other’s good graces.  Bonfires and drums, maypoles, and moonlight dancing bringing people together in love and laughter.  Here, we are free.

         

I remember a stew once made.  A dozen camps contributed to it.  The missing ingredient to tie it all together, an onion was nowhere to be found. Then down the trail came some new arrivals for the evening, and packed in their gear was just such an onion which they gladly contributed. “I don’t even know why I packed it.” He said. “I just grabbed it and threw it in my cooler because I thought it might come in handy.”  So into the stew pot it went, to simmer over the open flames.  A dozen camps were fed from this stew and there was an abundance that never seemed to end.  It was like a true “loaves and fishes” story.

Here we were free to be in our spirits, and the only law was love. Not a law to be rigidly enforced, but simply lived. This is where I learned to love openly.  I felt the darkness I carried with me lifted and I was made new.  It was beautiful.  It is beautiful. And it is where I learned to see beauty in this world that I had for so long been so cynical about.

Still is still moving to me. #river #woods #nature

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This is why these woods and this river are the place I return to when my spirit needs healing, or if I just need to get away from the noise and distractions that cloud my visions and confine my inner light.  Meditation is stronger here.  Prayers become reality and love can be embraced.

Though I have experienced many great lands and beautiful environments, I’ve never known another place quite like this.

 

We all need something like this in our lives.

 

This is sacred space.

Sunset through Blackwater Forest #nature #October #woods

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Yuletide and the Real Reason for the Season

Candle on German Christmas tree. Creative Commons, Wikimedia

Yule is an ancient Germanic midwinter celebration better known today by the name Christmas.  Being associated with the winter solstice, Yule is traditionally a twelve-day festival centered near the days of December 21st.  Although Yule is a holiday of Germanic origin, the traditions and symbolism associated with it have been absorbed by the Christmas holiday and practiced in variations throughout the world.  Similarly the Romans celebrated the Saturnalia: a festival of great significance on December 25th, the date that was adopted as the official date for Christmas.  Due to Christianization, these similar holidays are now united throughout most of Western society as Christmas, but many of the traditions associated with it are of pre-Christian, and Heathen origin.

Over the centuries through colonialism, missionary infiltration, and technological development unrelated and often foreign mythologies were grafted onto the significant dates so that the original meanings and reasons for our oldest holidays have been all but forgotten in popular culture.  It’s not just coincidence that the Yuldetide falls at the solstice time.  That is precisely the point.

Solstice time is significant to human society for a number of reasons.  Since the beginning of autumn as the earth has tilted on its axis, the sun’s rays have begun to hit the earth’s northern hemisphere less directly causing the air to cool off and the seasons to change into winter.  Winter in Northern Europe was a perilous time for the ancient tribal peoples of Northern Europe with average daily temperatures consistently below freezing.  Crops will not grow. The herds are thin and wild animals that were so abundant in the summer are scarce.   The grass is brown with death and trees stand naked, stripped bare save for the evergreen which has taken on the symbolism of everlasting life.  For our ancestors, the people fared little better.  We have a term for this time of year, “the dead of winter.” Since the harvest, death has seemed to surround the tribe.

During winter the daylight hours appear dimmer and get progressively shorter and the nights longer and colder.  Winter solstice is the shortest day of the year.  It is the longest night and symbolically at least, the coldest of the winter nights.  It sounds depressing doesn’t it? For a lot of people it is. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real winter-induced condition that has otherwise been colloquially called the “winter blues” and has been documented in Northern Europe since the 6th century.  Recommended treatments include Light Therapy, exposure to bright light.  And what is Christmastime without Christmas lights? These LED bulbs that we cover our houses, yards and Christmas trees in are easily traced back to festive Christmas candles and most anciently and significantly the hearth fire, the social and spiritual center of the traditional Western home.

          

Notice the Yuletide is the annual time for good cheer. Why the middle of winter instead of any other time of year?   Because during no other time of year are people in need of such uplifting sentiment and behavior than in the dead of winter in Northern Europe.  Of course it is the darkest and often most depressing time of the year that the people would choose to lighten the mood with shimmering lights and “making spirits bright.” This ages old Yule tradition of decorating the house with lights, wreaths, ribbons, and shiny, joyous symbols is a wonderful way to lift the mood when it’s needed most.

And these festivities center and culminate around these particular dates in December for specific astronomical reasons.  At this point the Earth begins to tilt on her axis in a manner that allows for more of the sun’s rays to shine directly upon the northern hemisphere, allowing the days to grow longer and the frigid nights to grow shorter.  These are the first stirrings of the coming summer.  In contrast with the atmosphere of death that has surrounded the people through the autumn, we can now look forward once again toward spring and summer, the time of life and abundance.  It is almost as if the new year has been born again and we are saved.

Joseph Campbell took great effort to document the depth and breadth of the solar hero motif in its various forms from the divine child to the dying god, and metaphorically, poetically it’s a powerful image. This distinct relationship between the earth and the sun is likened to a procreative act that bares life and provides the conditions for abundance. The winter solstice bares the New Year sun like a child who will grow into a hero and eventually die before being reborn over and over again.  The hero’s life is a personified metaphor for the annual cycle.  The birth of the solar hero, the sun god, the god of the tribe is the first step toward the fulfillment of an annual prophecy: a divine promise that the summer will come again, that life will flourish once more on the earth.  The passing of these last days of the most deadly time of winter is celebrated with revelry at the birth of the sun, the personification of the sacred year.

Over thousands of years the prominence of one mythology over another distanced the people more and more from the astronomical significance and the agricultural affects associated with the winter solstice.  Depending on the region of the world different characters are associated with the holiday. For many people today Christmas is about the birth of Jesus.  For others the central figure is Santa Claus, a popularly marketed fusion of an old Christian Saint Nicholas and Odin, the Nordic Allfather.  In other countries there a witches, demonoid monsters, and logs that represent the winter holiday.  Otherwise the oldest and most traditional symbols of the Yuletide remain pretty consistent with their seasonal significance.

When we consider the Yuletide and are faced with deciphering the meaning of it all, or the reason for the season it’s important to remember it is the astronomical relationship between the earth and the sun which has caused the northern hemisphere to experience conditions antagonistic to survival.  It’s cold. It’s dark. It can be depressing.  So we light up and try to spread good cheer to each other during these times.  At the worst part of the year is the winter solstice and for the most part the worst of the winter is behind and we have the joys and abundance of summer ahead.  That is something worth celebrating.


Thanksgiving, Legend, and American Indians

the_first_thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of the United States’ most significant national holidays. It’s probably second in popularity only to Christmas. Like most Americans, I grew up with it. There’s really not much to it other than cooking a lot of food and having a feast in the middle of the day, during which we are supposed to express our appreciation for all our good fortune as Americans. It has a slightly religious tone to it, but that is overshadowed by its more nationalistic implications.

Along with Columbus Day, and the Fourth of July/Independence Day celebration, the Thanksgiving story has served as one in the series of origin myths to help establish European roots in North America. It’s ritualistic like any holiday as we loosely reenact the nation’s “First Supper.”

The myth tells that in 1621 after the pilgrims came to America they failed to properly work the land and were in danger of suffering famine. The local Wampanoag Indians took pity upon the new arrivals and taught them how to work the land and most importantly how to grow corn. I seem to recall as a child I learned that the Indians taught the Pilgrims to plant their seeds with a fish and this insured a strong and healthy crop, but I haven’t encountered this part of the myth as an adult. After the Pilgrims had a successful harvest they invited the Wampanoag to a great feast to celebrate. The two peoples partied and had a Kumbaya moment. The Pilgrims made this an annual tradition and this became Thanksgiving. There isn’t much truth to this story, but it seems harmless enough.

Of course Thanksgiving has taken some flack in recent decades for its usage of Native Americans as props in a story that seems to essentially justify the usurpation of American Indian title to the North American continent by colonial society. Now there is even a video circulating on TeenVogue that uses teenage girls to try to convince us that Thanksgiving actually has its origins in feasts that white people celebrated after fighting and extinguishing a Native community. It really comes off as the type of faux-outrage you’d expect from half-educated adolescents with angst. I’ve been there. I think the real shame is that it’s lazy, shallow research. Myths and legends are one thing but this is almost a crime against history.

Thanksgiving is in reality a part of a long tradition of Anglo-Saxon harvest festivals that were celebrated every fall going back into historical obscurity. These were like any of the similar harvest celebrations held by agricultural communities throughout the history of the world including North America. It is essentially a part of the European wheel of the year, a vestige from the white continent’s indigenous and tribal past, but that’s true of most holidays.

         

Some people think Indians shouldn’t celebrate Thanksgiving for political reasons. I could never get onboard with that idea. Overall I don’t have any real problem with the holiday or its symbolism. I can get annoyed by the stereo-typical white-man’s Indian play-acting, redface, and other embarrassing behaviors it encourages in non-Indians from time to time. I am left feeling bereft at the sense of equality and brotherhood it depicts between whites and Indians that rarely if ever really existed, especially when today Native communities are still being deprived of rights, and resources by the colonial governments, and the dominant society seems so unmoved and so unconcerned by it. Considering how little attention Indians get in American history and modern social and political discourse I guess we should be glad we get to be the second most significant part of the country’s second most significant holiday.

At the end of the day I am an advocate for all people returning to their roots and their native traditions adjusted to their modern geographic and political circumstances. In large part that requires a meaningful celebration of the seasonal cycle for all people. Thanksgiving is a day, or an entire weekend for some folks to take time and celebrate the earth’s bounty and to strengthen our bonds with family, clan, tribe, and nation. I see a national harvest celebration as part of this ancient tradition kept alive in modern America with a uniquely American symbolism.

Some people will choose not to celebrate Thanksgiving for reasons they attribute to their values, and that’s cool with me. For me Thanksgiving is a real time of gratitude, reflection, and preparation for the road ahead. I’ll get back to work after the festival.

Happy Thanksgiving.