Tag Archives: mysticism

Beltane, Fire of Life

Here we are the beginning of summer. The earth is waking up and her creatures are becoming active once more. The sun sets later in the evening. Flowers are blooming. Bees are pollinating the crops. Birds are laying their eggs. The mating season is in full swing. Life is abundant. This is the season of Beltane.

Beltane is an ancient festival traditionally celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. This holiday coincides with the Germanic festival of Walpurgis. It is traditionally celebrated on May 1st. Ancient Gaelic tradition, much like Jewish tradition considered the beginning of each new day to be at sunset. Therefore, May 1st on the Celtic calendar really begins at sunset on April 30th of the Gregorian calendar.

The name Beltane is thought to be derived from a Gaelic term meaning the “fire of Belenos,” referring to an obscure Celtic solar deity. This date is a celebration that officially kicks off the active summer season, fully separate from the dormant times of winter. It is the counterpart to and opposite or the season of Samhain.

Flowers and blossoms are especially symbolic of this date as the crops have set to full blossom, some even starting to fruit. For this reason, the Flower Maiden plays a central role in the theme of the season. Coming of age, the Lord in his guise as the youthful Green Man or Stag Lord regaining his antlers has arrived not only to court the Flower Maiden, but to consummate their relationship, in their symbolic roles of pistol and stamen. Here, the young maiden is transformed into a woman through the loss of her virginity.

Sexuality pervades the themes of Beltane. Ancient customs recall celebrations in which lovers met in the fields, the forests, or along the shores for sexual escapades. As the counterpart and opposite to Samhain, bonfires also characterize Beltane and many of these midnight trysts occur at the edges of the firelight. The Maypole was commonly danced at Beltane. Often times a new pole would be erected each year, while the previous year’s pole was burned as part of a bonfire. The new pole would be allowed to stand all throughout the year. In some cases a live tree would be used instead.

Amongst herders, two fires would be built close beside each other. Then they would drive their herds between them as a means of purification, protection and fertility. The people would in some cases themselves also pass between the fires. Jumping over the fires to secure good blessings was also a custom practiced in certain parts of Ireland. These festivities often continued all throughout the night and culminated with the participants observing the sunrise, and bathing or washing with water touched by the first light of the season.

The boar hunt was another traditional activity occurring this time of year, held with great ceremonial significance. Ham and other pork dishes are traditional Beltane feast items. According to Alexie Kondratiev, the mythology associated with this holiday is Maponos (the youthful male) slaying the boar that will later kill him at Samhain. The boar in this case represents the forces of winter and death which are keeping the Flower Maiden (the earth) imprisoned. The young warrior as the solar hero defeats the dominating beast, sometimes a hag or wicked parental figure, freeing the earth maiden, symbolizing the spring. The conquest of the beast frees the earth to be the bride of the sun. In some traditions the hero must conquer the boar to retrieve his tusks, or some other item to use as a weapon to defeat the beast which imprisons the maiden. Here we obsere a common theme regarding the quest for a weapon that deals both death and life. Examples of such stories occur all throughout Celtic literature such as in the Welsh Mabinog, and can be seen especially in the marriage of Blodeuwedd and Lleu.

This is the beginning of the Celtic summer.


Cannabis as Medicine; A Brief History


Cannabis is a genus of flowering, aromatic medicinal plant related to hops and native to Central Asia. Cannabis Sativa, the most commercially viable species in the genus is often known by its various pseudonyms; hemp, marijuana, ganja, and most unceremoniously “weed.” It is one of the oldest botanicals used medicinally, and religiously. It has been used industrially, medicinally, ceremonially, and recreationally for over 100,000 years, so long, in fact that our bodies are evolutionarily designed to make use of the plants organic chemical compounds called cannabinoids. Today we are only just beginning to really understand all the benefits that can be derived from its various uses.

In Ancient History
When we talk about ancient medicines it is important to realize that throughout the majority of human existence the concepts of medicine and spirituality or religion were not always the separate subjects they are to modern Western civilization. In fact, it was not until approximately 460-370 BCE that Hippocrates separated medicine from religion and philosophy in the Western tradition. With a 200,000 year history of modern Homo sapiens, that’s not much time. So, when we observe ceremonial and ritual uses of plants this is often due to the substance having been recognized as a beneficial medicine as well.

The earliest evidence of cannabis use by humans is a collection of seeds, resin and ashes from indica, a subspecies of cannabis sativa found in a 120,000 year old archeological site in the Hindu Kush Mountains. This proves modern Homo sapiens have been using the medicinal plant for more than half our existence.

Ancient Egyptian texts such as the 4,000 year old Ramesseum medical papyri list cannabis as a medicine alongside basil, and hibiscus.

Chinese Medicine from the Shang Dynasty as early as 14th-11th century BCE, over 3,000 years ago list cannabis as a medicine alongside ephedra and ginseng and recommended its use for treating gout and rheumatism among other things.

The “Holy anointing oil” mentioned in the Biblical Book of Exodus (30:22-23), contained over 6 pounds of kaneh-bosem, identified by experts in various fields as cannabis, extracted into olive oil with other fragrant herbs. This is the very same oil used by Jesus to anoint his disciples. Cannabis is mentioned in many other parts of the Bible as well.

Bhang, an edible concoction made from cannabis has been consumed recreationally and ceremonially in India since at least 1,000 BCE.

Cannabis, called Bhanga was also recorded as the first among 10,000 medicinal plants in the Zend-Avesta book Venidad, a Persian Zoroastrian text from 700 BCE.

The Scythians used cannabis smoke ritually as well as during steam baths to cleanse the body and spirit.

The Scythians introduced cannabis to the Ancient Greeks who by the 5th century BCE had created their own medicines and intoxicants from the plant such as potamaugis, a mixture of cannabis and wine.

Germanic people from the time of 500 BCE used cannabis and gave us the origin of the word hemp from the proto-Germanic hanapiz. Evidence of hashish, a resin made from cannabis has been found in archaeological sites from Halstatt where the Celtic cultures originate.

Medieval Arab doctors used cannabis and hashish from for a thousand years between 800 and 1800 CE.

In 1538 CE, William Turner published New Herball in which he wrote a very high opinion of hemp as a healing herb.

Hemp was brought to America in 1600 by Jamestown settlers and became an important part of the colonial era, both industrially and medicinally.

Modern Medical Cannabis
The Irish surgeon William O’Shaughnessy is credited for the pioneering of medical cannabis use as we think of it in the modern era with clinical trials. His research found cannabis to be useful in treating symptoms related to rheumatism, hydrophobia, cholera, tetanus, convulsions, muscle spasms, epilepsy, and menstrual cramps. By 1850 the US Pharmacopeia created hemp standards and measure for treatment of all sorts of specific ills

By 1937, after prolonged progressive prohibitionist campaigning cannabis was outlawed and virtually all legal medical use was halted, pushing the herb into the black market. This move was opposed by the American Medical Association. In 1942 cannabis was removed from the US Pharmacopeia.

Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System
Even after the criminalization of cannabis, research into the plant continued. In the 1940s cannabinoids, chemical compounds were discovered in the cannabis plant. There are at least 113 cannabinoids in cannabis, the most commonly known are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and Cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the compound which causes the euphoric feeling of “getting high,” but has also been found to have many therapeutic uses. CBD is a compound that has been recognized as having quite a lot of medicinal qualities from pain relief, anti-inflammation, anti-seizure and improved cognition just to name a few.

In the 1990s scientists discovered the human body, as well as all vertebrates have an endocannabinoid system. This is a system of cannabinoid receptors in the body which are involved in regulating numerous physiological and cognitive processes and the immune system. In short this means the human body is designed to work with and make use of cannabinoids in order to maintain proper physical and mental health.

Throughout all of known human history there is evidence of our use of cannabis for medical, spiritual and meditative purposes. Today we know that the human body is designed to make use of the chemical compounds found in cannabis to regulate of physical and mental well-being.

It seems that cannabis in not just beneficial to, but necessary for maintaining our proper health and wellbeing.


Samhain (Halloween), Harvest of Souls

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. The spookiness, the costumes, and the troops of kids and families marching through the streets, shaking down the neighborhood for candy has left an indelible imprint upon my Autumnal expectations. Like most traditional Western holidays, Halloween and the rituals associated with it are descended from ancient traditions lost on most of modern society.

The name “Halloween” is actually a contraction of the phrase All Hallows Eve, but that is the later Christianized name for the holiday that stretches back into historical obscurity. The earlier and more indigenous form of the holiday is of Celtic origin and was known as Samhain (Sow-un) in Ireland.

Samhain is a three day festival that begins sunset on October 31 and ends at sunset on November 2. Traditionally, it celebrates the last harvest of the season and is often regarded as the Gaelic (Irish and Scottish Celtic) New Year. It was the highest feast day on the old calendar. Samhain translates from Gaelic for “Summer’s End,” and it represents the end of the active season and the beginning of the dormant season.

As a harvest festival Samhain is full of deep symbolism. The warm season is over. The season of light is at its close and darkness regains its dominion of the land. The last of the season’s crops have been harvested. The fields, formerly lush and bursting with life now lay stripped of their bounty. The harsh autumn sunlight cast upon the barren fields creates an eerie atmosphere and a sense of dread as winter approaches. Amongst herding communities this is the time that traditionally concluded with the fall slaughters. This is also a time amongst many communities that kicks off the traditional hunting season.


Surrounded by dead fields, bloody slaughters, the turn toward hunting as a means of subsistence, the waning of the sun’s influence, and the impending frost which will kill off what is left of the season’s greenery makes the theme of death inescapable. These are often somber days, therefore it is important that this day is celebrated with much festivity and jubilation as things will only become darker and colder as times progress toward Yule.

The last sheaf of the harvest would be traditionally cut ceremoniously and fashioned into a corn dolly. The corn dolly is named for the corn mother and placed in a special location where she can watch over the household, hall, circle, or clan. She will serve to continue to bestow the blessings of the harvest upon the community all throughout the barren winter months.

Due to the spirit of darkness and death, Samhain is a time when the veil between this world and the Otherworld is at its thinnest. This time of year brings with it the highest potential for vision seeking and prophecy. This is a time for to meditate upon the subconscious powers of the inner cauldrons and the cauldron of Annwn.

There is much folklore associated with Samhain. Fairy mounds are abundant with the jubilance of the Shining Ones, the Fair Folk and the Sidhe. The Solar hero is slain in the boar hunt and lies dead until he is reborn at Yule. The Kernunnos archetype reigns from this time forward, leading the Wild Hunt through the skies and the countryside, herding the souls of those who died during the previous year and taken on animal forms. In Germanic tradition the Wild Hunt is lead by either Odin or Thor.

Traditional celebrations for this holiday are naturally enough centered on bonfires, torches, and lanterns. As the origin of the modern Halloween; masquerade balls and parades are also appropriate ways to celebrate Samhain. Revelers would march through the town streets from house to house singing seasonal songs. Soul cakes (little square cakes with currants) were given out to the roving bands, who would offer a prayer or song for the dead of that house. This is the origin of “trick or treat” in which young, costumed children venture from house to house collecting candy.

Harvest delicacies are abundant this time of year. Fresh fruits are traditional and symbolic. In Celtic countries apples are symbolic of the season. In America, corn and pumpkins are profound harvest symbols. In my celebration, all three are important. Corn and apples are paired as symbols of the old world and new world tradition and are the appropriate sacrifices for this day. Since Mabon is a traditional brewer’s holiday, by Samhain the beer is usually well prepared and properly aged. Ales and ciders are especially traditional at this time of year.

Halloween is a great holiday. Its roots run deep and its symbols have profound spiritual and practical significance that have been watered down by a civilization whose people largely no longer live in a seasonal and agricultural society dictated by the changing seasons, but within the preserved customs of Halloween, the real meaning of Samhain can still be observed.


Mabon, Harvest of Heroes

The Festival of Mabon is the second of three harvest festivals attributed to the neo-pagan and Western spiritual revivalist’s eight-fold Wheel of the Year. It is celebrated on or near September 21 and coincides with the autumn equinox. The festival has also been adopted by Revival Druidry as Alban Elfed; one of the four High Holy days.

Mabon is an interesting festival to write about. Although the date on which Mabon falls is astronomically significant, a festival by this name did not exist historically. Notable academic and occultist Aidan Kelly named the equinox festival “Mabon” after the Welsh legendary figure and member of King Arthur’s court, Mabon ap Modron. It’s positioned right next to Michaelmas, the Catholic Church’s Feast of St. Michael the Archangel who is said to be the most like God, and whose characteristics are perhaps the most reminiscent of the solar hero, complete even in archetype as a warrior and dragon-slayer.

Mabon is significant in that as the second of three harvest festivals it lies between two other significant historical Celtic holidays, Lugnasadh and Samhain (Halloween) and contains elements of both. The autumn equinox signals the end of the mythic cycle. With the sun’s height being at Midsummer, it has now begun to wane. Together with the spring holiday Ostara, Mabon is one of two days of the year when the daylight hours are of equal length as the nighttime hours.


To some degree Mabon is a time of mourning. The powers of light and darkness are balanced one final time, allegorically locked in combat. The hero meets his doom as either the hunter is slain by his intended prey, or as Arthur mortally wounded on the battlefield defending his kingdom against the forces of darkness and chaos. It could be a myriad of turns on this theme. The Solar Hero is dying, and the cold grip of winter begins moving in stealthily to rule the land.

Much like the other harvest festivals, this is a time to reflect on the past, especially the past year. What have your efforts yielded? What positive or negative results have you experienced as a result of your choices and behaviors? What did you do that has had positive results in your life that you could do more or again? What changes would you make for the coming year in order to have even better results? Give thanks for life and all the good fortune you have no matter how difficult the past year may have been.

Equinox time is also a traditional time to begin brewing. Consider that the season’s harvest of wheat and fruits is just now being gathered and distributed. The beers, wines, and ciders which are such a part of the Halloween and Yuletide traditions are begun at this time. Even as the summer’s project of cultivating the fields comes to a close, it’s time for the beginning of new projects.

A Critique of the Garden of Eden Story in Genesis

The “Garden of Eden” story in the Book of Genesis has always bothered me. It’s not a matter of criticizing this bit of religious legend because I disbelieve in it or the religions which claim it as their own. I’m pretty alright with most forms of the Abrahamic strains and the values they champion in society. I just find this to be poor story telling.

The Earth Always Required Tilling
In Genesis 2:5, God had created a barren Earth, with no vegetation because no rain had yet been sent and no man had yet tilled the soil. God then creates man (2:7), and then God, Himself plants a garden and causes every sort of good and edible plant to grow and then places man in that garden to “till it and tend it” (Gen 2:15).

God Knows He’s Dealing with Humans
In the middle of the garden, God placed the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:9). We can only assume that there was a purpose for God to place the two trees so near each other, but the document never explains if there is any reasoning for this.

God then says; “Of every tree in the garden you are free to eat; but from the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat; for as soon as (in the day that) you eat of it, you shall die (Gen 2:16-17).”

Context and audience should be of utmost concern in a narrative in order to understand the intent of God’s instruction. God was talking to a man, and the following verses where God creates a woman to be his companion assure us that it was a male human He was addressing.

And humans die. It’s just what we do.

Despite the standard theological stance that Adam and Eve were created immortal, the document of Genesis never actually makes this statement.

To a human; “If you eat that, you’ll die!” would logically be understood by a human to mean that it is toxic in some way and will kill them within a day or so.

It does not however coincide harmoniously with a statement such as; “I know I put that tree right smack in the middle of your smorgasbord, but if you eat from it I’m going to kick you out of the garden, make you work like a slave, and THEN after 900 years you’ll die.” So God is not quite being fully honest about his intentions or plans involving the man who is being expected to trust Him.


The Serpent is Punished for Telling the Truth
In Chapter 3 verse 1, the shrewd (arummim) serpent shows up, and asks the woman; “Did God really tell you not to eat the fruit from the trees in this garden?” And the woman explains that it is from the tree of knowledge of good and evil that the humans are not allowed to eat or even touch because they will die.

The serpent says; “You are not going to die, but god knows that as soon as you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will become like divine beings who know good from bad.” Once again it is a human being addressed here. It is a fact that death is a natural part of the human condition and Genesis does not suggest otherwise.

So with full consideration for the participants in the dialogue of the storyline we can address the statements being made in proper context.

First of all when asked if it was true that God had forbidden them to eat the fruit of the garden, Eve answered that if they even touch it they would die. This is obviously an inaccurate statement and the serpent informs Eve of such.

The truth turns out to be precisely as the serpent states it; the fruit does not kill them, it opens their eyes to the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, modesty from immodesty. These are all traits valued by civilization.

There is no evidence for a rational accusation of deception on which to indict the serpent. On the contrary, the only information we have on him is that every statement he makes in Genesis can be substantiated within the text.

The story does not tell us whether or not the serpent knew how God would react to their eating of the fruit. This seems like a vital plot detail to be left out if this was how the author intended it to be understood.

But God does react, doesn’t He? Upon finding Adam and Eve clothed in modesty because they ate from the tree of knowledge and now were wise like gods, the man’s integrity automatically collapses as he blames his wife.

God then confronts Eve and she alleges that the snake duped her. This accusation has no merit. All of the serpent’s statements have been solid, but God does not even take a statement from the serpent. Instead God just curses him.

Still there has been no explanation as to why God put that tree in the garden in the first place if he didn’t want humans to eat from it.

There is a mighty intelligent reptile in this story, though. Perhaps the tree was there for the animals to eat and learn good from evil, but not for humans?. How else could the serpent have been so wise?

Are the Curses Really Curses?
The next thing God does is curse the woman with painful childbirth and then the ground with difficult tending. Here we see elements from an ancient fertility cult. It’s fairly common in most indigenous religions and philosophies to see a connection between agricultural cycles and female reproduction, so it is a natural connection to make between more difficult childbirth and more difficult farming.

However, this unfortunate obstacle only requires human ingenuity to develop agriculture in order to overcome it. Tilling the soil is something that the ground required anyway (Gen 2:5) and something Adam was doing already (Gen 2:15).

The discovery or invention of agriculture is the main driving force for civilization and necessarily leads to food surpluses, vocational specialization, the market, economics and an overall higher standard of living. It’s difficult to view this as a bad thing. But then it’s also difficult to see acquiring knowledge of good and evil, morality and immorality as being a bad thing.

God says; “by the sweat of your brow you shall get your bread to eat until you return to the ground from which you were taken. For dust you are, and to dust you shall return (3:19).”

This curse does not really imply that death is anything new. It sounds more like the type of thing that might come during a breakup or a domestic dispute; “You’re going to work lousy job’s your whole life! You’re nothing but dirt anyway! You came from dirt and you’re always going to be dirt!”

Certainly none of this should be taken literally. I think it was never intended to be anything more than a deeply thought-provoking story to teach community values through proto-historical metaphor and allegory. It’s just poor story telling.


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)


Dr. John: Under a Hoodoo Moon, Review

The funky bluesman Mac Rebennack, otherwise known by his stage name Dr. John is a much-honored part of the cultural fabric that is 20th and 21st century New Orleans.  His autobiography Under a Hoodoo Moon chronicles Rebennack’s life from his time as a child coming of age in The Big Easy, through a young struggling musician’s career, and eventually building a legacy as one of America’s most treasured musical icons.

Under a Hoodoo Moon is written in a loose manner with a bit of Rebennack’s New Orleans vernacular, giving it a sense of authenticity and the playfulness that is characteristic of funk music in general and New Orleans music specifically.  The book for the most part follows a linear path, but it repeatedly backtracks to cover stories that Rebennack decided were more relevant at a later point in time. In some cases this seems like a less efficient method, but it does not detract from the overall presentation.

At times Rebennack’s story seems to focus more on the development of his career, business associations, projects and the politics surrounding the music industry, without any emphasis on the personal, philosophical, emotional and inspirational experiences that contributed to the making of the man.  Then he very candidly writes about his struggle with heroin addiction that plagued him for thirty years until he finally kicked it in 1989, but not before doing a stint in Louisiana “Angola” State Penitentiary.  In his writings, it seems Dr. John tended to compartmentalize his professional activities from his more illicit affairs. He introduces the reader to an assortment of characters, hustlers, and junkies along with the musicians he calls family.

In his early days, Rebennack paid the bills by gigging with racially integrated bands at a point in American history when such groups were technically outlawed, and by working as a session musician for countless popular acts. He paints a picture of a golden era of New Orleans music in the 1950s and early 60s before the musicians unions caused so many problems which drove national recording acts to take their business to other cities such as Memphis and Los Angeles.

In 1965, after Rebennack was released from prison, with the music scene dead in New Orleans he too set out for the west coast.  In California he made contact with several colleagues from back home and began working as a session musician with many of the top acts of the day.  These included The Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, Sonny and Cher, the O’Jays, Frank Zappa, and Iron Butterfly just to name a few. Dr. John offers some interesting and often humorous observations about some of these acts and his experiences working with them.

During his tenure in Hollywood Rebennack created and adopted the persona of Dr. John, a New Orleans hoodoo medicine man from the 1860s and recorded his ground-breaking Gris Gris album. This is a point in the story where more strictness toward a linear narrative would have improved upon this biography.

Though Dr. John rose to fame on the popularity of Gris Gris with all its voodoo and hoodoo imagery, there is very little in the first two-thirds of the book about his experiences with those traditions.  Up until this point what is mentioned amounts to a brief reference to making goofer dust, a companion burning a black candle to curse the police during a drug score, and more humorously a brief description of a joint ritual in California with another musician who practiced Aleister Crowley styled ceremonial magic in order to curse a producer who had screwed them both in a deal.  It’s not until chapter nine, well after he covers the recording of Gris Gris that Dr. John goes into any detail about his personal connection to a Voodoo temple, and his investment in a voodoo curio shop in New Orleans which really inspired the album.

Under a Hoodoo Moon is a great read, and also provides a fair bit of ethnographic gems covering the roots of the New Orleans musical tradition. He describes his first experiences with the Black Indian Tribes, Mardi Gras Krewes that competed for marching routes during the annual Mardi Gras festivities and pioneered second-line drumming that gives New Orleans music much of its uniqueness.  He also dedicates a significant chunk near the end of the book to speaking nostalgically and reverentially about his time playing with Professor Longhair, the New Orleans pianist who had more influence upon him than anyone else.

I enjoyed reading every page.

          


A Creepy Time at Austin’s Museum of the Weird

Something called The Museum of the Weird sounds just like the type of place I should visit.  And during my most recent trip to Austin, Texas that is just what I did.

It’s tucked away in an old building from the 19th century that was reportedly the residence of actor Johnny Depp during the filming of What’s eating Gilbert Grape.   Upon first entrance it’s just like any other curio shop that can be found in a historical part of town, selling creepy stickers, posters and books about a varied assortment of mysteries, and legends.  For twelve bucks you’re handed a receipt which acts as a ticket to get you through a turnstile in the back.

At this point you come to a couple rooms stocked full with a collection of sideshow pieces, from voodoo sculptures, jars containing preserved deformities, and movie props.  After some time spent to ponder the collection, further in the back our guide met us and delivered her brief introduction accompanied with a brief video describing the museums “prized” piece, the Minnesota Iceman, a sideshow exhibit from the 1960s.

The Iceman is the first stop on the guided portion of the tour where the body of something resembling a Neanderthal is kept incased in ice in an old deep freezer.  This was the only portion of the museum where photography was not permitted.  In the spirit of the fun that this museum is meant to be I’ll withhold any critical opinions at this point so the reader can make up their own minds when they visit.

The final leg of the tour is a dimly lit wax museum containing the likenesses of Nosferatu, Dracula, the Hunchback of Notre dame, King Kong and others.

The Museum of the Weird is a fun little stop for tourists and oddity enthusiasts in Austin, Texas.  It’s worth a visit just to see some of the aptly described “weird” displays and exhibitions of art, culture, cinematology, technology, and just plain creepiness.

Watch the video below for a glimpse at Austin’s Museum of the Weird.



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.