Monday, 28 April 2008

Hard vs Soft polytheism

There have been some discussions about soft vs hard polytheism before, and as in all philosophical matters, it’s difficult to put rigid boundaries about what is one thing, what is another.

First, we shall take into account that speaking about deity (or deities) we only hope to understand a little, and that there’s plenty of interpretations of what, at the end, we can’t fully understand, prove or deny with absolute certainty anything.

Most of the ancient people that inhabited Europe were polytheist, as many others around the world (like the American inhabitants, for example) that kind of polytheism take into account personal and independent deities, with different characteristics, they may have a common genealogy, but equal status, comparable powers and even they tend to fight each other.

These entities were very local and they pick some people and tribes in their protection, and some ask for some forms of henotheism, that certain tribes only address to them, or mainly address to them. So there were cities, tribes and even nations dedicated to the veneration of one god or goddesses as their patron. We have just to remember the war of troy to see an example.

As time passes, these concepts were merging with a concept of one God (or Goddess) superior to the others, most of the times, they tend to refer to the top on the genealogy and give that attribute to the Father God or the Mother Goddess, as the king or queen of them all, with enough power to control every other god, and even attributes of creator of both, man and gods. That happened long before Christianity arises, so it was a natural evolution in pagan societies and philosophy.

The Celts were not the exception, and we can find that at different stages there was a king of Gods, or leader, that receive special veneration, as well as a Mother Goddess.

How ever, the speed on which the Mediterranean Pagans (Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, etc) merge to the idea of one God above all others, without question, was slower in the evolution of the religion of the Celts. But then, the invasions take place. First the Vikings, then the Romans, after that the Saxons, etc. and that obviously change in a certain way the cosmology of the Celtic people of the Islands, France and Spain.

But still, there are basic differences between the Mediterranean, Nordic and Celtic pantheon. One of the most significant is that the Celtic Gods are not limited to one mainly attribute, as for example, Mars God of War, Apollo God of the Sun, Athena, Goddess of the wisdom, or Aphrodite Goddess of Beauty. When first approaching the Celtic pantheon, as we have as reference the Greco-Roman pantheon learned in the schools, we tend to ask “who has the god of war for the Celts?” but there’s no answer to that, because there are various gods and goddesses associated to war, and battles, and the sun, etc.

Of course there are main attributes, and as in other religions as the Hindu and Egyptian, there were figures that merge in triads, with triple Celtic Gods and Goddesses.

Another great difference is that Celtic people view the Gods as their ancestors, they were all descendents of the mix between the Gods and the Men, the Thuatha dé Dannan and the Milesians, for example, and not created by them with only special characters know as demigods, as Heracles.

But even with the influence that invasions, commerce, etc give, one thing remains, every god has its individual and independent characteristics, personality and were separate entities. Even if the acknowledge of one above the others, one almighty and creator, their sons were creations but not parts of him/her, as we are different from our own parents.

Christianity take this concept from the beginning and early Christians had a pantheon of angels, demons and saints to address in specific occasions, all created by One God, even if that god take the form of a trinity, remains as an inseparable entity, and also separated of the other saints and angels, and of course of the demons, that were originally also angels.
Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Churches today still keep that idea, meanwhile most of the Protestant Churches, some sects of Judaism and Islam, see this as a form of polytheism (which in my opinion it is) that has to be avoid.

But then, as time passes with the advent of the Christians and Christianity spread over Europe, there was a merging, as all we know, between the ancient gods/goddesses and the Christian Saints. But there was one figure that originates a new concept. Mary, the Virgin.

And this is a important entity, since in the form of Mary, many pagan Goddesses were put into the Catholic faith, usually the Mother Goddess, as Danna, Minerva or Coathlicue (in America) but, how the Catholic Church explain that they were all but the same, Mary, the mother of Jesus the Christ? Simply, they include a philosophical idea that it was risen by that times, no matter how many virgins there are, and their different attributes, they are all but different faces or manifestation of one, “the Mother of us all”.

When time passes, and the revival of pagan faiths, now know as neo-pagans, begin; that concept was introduced and extrapolate to the Gods also, so, the statement that “"All gods are one God, and all goddesses are one Goddess, and there is one Initiator” emerge. How ever is my understanding that the first published book that use that sentence is by the Sea Priestess by Dion Fortune, and it has been taken as a part of the teology of many pagan religions.

This concept is know as soft polytheism, where at the end all merge to just one male and one female principle, and all others but manifestation of that. Then, some neopagan faiths keep that concept and extrapolate it to One single entity, the Uncreated, The One, that has the male and female attributes merge in one.

Under this concept, even if we address to different names of gods and goddesses, we are addressing but to one (or two) entities, and just appealing to one of its (their) qualities.

My personal view is stick to the hard polytheism, but in its later form, I mean, I believe in The One, the creator, beyond and above all other gods, but independent of them, and the other gods, or powerful spirits of the universe (that’s my name for them) as independent entities, with their own area of influence, powers, characteristics, behaviour, and personality, never as faces of one single (or dual) entity.

Now, came the problems and questions. Myths talk about the relationship between this deities, and their areas of influence, as an example, Isis interact with the gods of mount Olympus, as well as Epona enter the Roman pantheon. Now we have another gods in other parts of the world, in America, in the near East and the far East, etc. How they interact? Is it okay to address to some in the area of the other?

I think, that some may have different names but are the same in different cultures, but others, shall be independent and local, how can we know the difference?

Well, these are my two pence about Hard vs Soft polytheism.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Three Realms, Directions & Winds

I have cover this topic before on THIS POST, but now I return to it, since I see great importance in understanding the Celtic Cosmology to difference it from other eclectic pagans paths as Wicca, and some forms of modern Druidry.

I will not go into details of the four element concept and its relations with the quarters (directions) winds, etc. since, most of the eclectic pagan paths, follow this interpretation and there is plenty of information available, and the purpose of this blog is to cover the Celtic point of view, not the Greek one or any other.

The Celtic interpretation of the Universe was that it was formed in three basic realms, there’s also mention of them as the Three Legs of the Cauldron of the Universe.

The Cauldron called the universe is supported by the three legs of sea, sky and land. The Cauldron called the sea is supported by the three legs of water, moon and spirit. The Cauldron called the spirit is supported by the three legs called intent, plenty and emotion.

The approach is less abstract and more tangible. We can physically being in the three realms, and as a modern analogy, we can relate them to the three basic states of matter on which science has classified the physical reality. (Yes, I know that there is a fourth one, plasma, but that’s a recent discovery not known even by our fathers and just to make it clear, plasma is not fire)

I previously explain the associations of these realms and there we can find the importance of three (and odd numbers) by the Celts, whose cosmology find balance in the third part; there’s no concept of good/bad, male/female, etc, as in most of the religions, but there’s always a third one that brings balance to the opposites and “their continuous fight”. That’s why, when I address to my conception of The One, I said that I conceive it not as male or female, but neutral, as the result of the conjunction of the two concepts. Since there is not a Celtic myth of creation, as for example, with the Nordic (Viking) people, we can only imagine how they view that concept, and that is my personal interpretation based on the Celtic concept of balance.

The concept of elements, or an elemental system, near to the Greek one, is what we call the dhúile, there are from seven to eleven, elements, but most of the text speaks of nine. This elemental system is meant to be a way to understand the relation between the person and the cosmos and the other way around.

One of these elemental systems is:

Cloch (Stone)
Cré (Earth)
Uaine (Plant Life, literally green)
Uisce (water)
Gaeth (Wind)
Gealach (Moon)
Grian (Sun)
Nel (Cloud)
Spéartha (the skies or Heaven)

Here we can see that these elements can be found in the realms, but are not limited to them, we can find fire in the sky, earth and ocean; as well as water in those three, etc. We are so used to classify everything under the Greek concept, that even is thought in the school (at least I first learn it on the primary school) that we tend to believe that all cultures refer to this elemental system, but the Celtic people, as others around the world, did not limit the elements to those four.

The elements where part of the realms, they are all interwoven and connected, much like a Celtic knot.

As far as I know, there’s no an agreement among the scholars about how many and which where the dhúile, but only an agreement that the ancient Celts, refer to them as the element of which the cosmos and the person is formed.

There are various texts when we can find this references, as for example in some text of Tailesin, as this:

I was made from the ninefold elements -
From fruit trees,
From paradisiacal fruit,
From primroses and hill flowers
From the blossoms of trees and bushes,
From the roots of the earth was I made,
From the broom and the nettle,
From the water of the ninth wave.
Math enchanted me before I was made immortal,
Gwydion created me with his magic wand.
From Emrys and Euryon,
From Mabon and Modron,
From five fifties of magicians like Math was I made -
Made by the master in his highest ecstasy -
By the wisest druids was I made before the world began,
And I know the star-knowledge from the beginning of Time.

Taliesin, Chief Bard of the Britons (circa 600 CE)
as found in the Cad Goddeu

Also, in the song of Amergin that you can find HERE in a previous post

Or this Incantation of the Celtic Lorica, attributed to St. Patrick, but that reflects a Druidic and pagan way of view the cosmos. (This was shared to us by Beith, thanks!)

Atom-riug indiu
Neurt Nime
Soilse Gréne
Étrochtae Éscai
Áne Thened
Déne Lóchet
Lúaithe Gaíthe
Fudomnae Móro
Tairismige Thalman
Cobsaide Ailech

I bind myself this day
With the power of heaven
With the light of the sun
the brightness of the moon
with the splendour of Fire,
the swiftness of lightning
the speed of the wind
the depth of the sea
with the stability of the earth
with the firmness of rock

Fire and water were important for the Celtic rituals, and cosmology, as previously stated. Fire was a transformation force, as it’s seen today by even the science when we need fire (or heat) to transform the matter from one state to the other, and to put into motion a lot of thermodynamic forces. The Celts were aware of this, but not limited to the physical reality, but also in the spiritual one. Fire transform and give us the Imbas (or Awen) the inspiration we need to that transformation.

As for water, it has a strong and obvious association with Muir, the Ocean, and that’s why this realm is also associated with the Other world. Mannanán Mac Lir was the keeper of the gate to the other world, the sacred wells were passages to that world, etc. So in bringing water to a ritual, we are bringing the otherwordly associations to us.

Now, regarding the directions, they were not limited to four (NSEW) but there are indications that were at least five, or even nine.

One indication of this five-fold division is reflected in the five provinces of Ireland - Ulster, Munster, Leinster, Connacht, Míde – that correspond to NSEW and centre, being the centre the place where the high king was crowned (Tara)

Another system speaks of nine directions

Thuaidh (North)
Faoi (Under, About)
Amach (Outwards)
Ior, Siar (West)
Air, Oithear (East)
Isteach (Inwards)
Deas, Deis (South)
Thrid (Through)
Os Cionn (Above)

The Greek system of directions is interlink with the winds, and their gods (Boreas, Eurus, Notus, Zephyrus), how ever, there’s no indication that the Celtic pantheon had such things as four wind gods, and the winds, as understood by the Celts, are lack of the attributes that the Greco-Roman tradition give. Wind was only a force of the air.

The Celtic people of the Islands, interact a lot with the sea and as sailors, they refer to the different currents that surround the islands. There are some text that speaks about 12 winds, four main, four sublevels and other four sub-sub-levels, how ever, it’s important to take into account that this texts were written by Christian monks that were influenced by the Christian and therefore Neo-platonic cosmology. Here
Saltair na Rann (again, thanks to Beith translation)

45] Ri roordaig ocht ngaetha (The king had ordained eight winds)
torgaib cenlocht lanaeba, (raised without loss of full beauty)
cethri primgaetha cotngaib, (four chief winds..)
cethri fogaetha feochrai. (four subwinds...)
49] Cethri fogaetha aile, (four other subwinds)
rádit auctair ergnaide, (discerning authorities count)
bidhi an-arim fírchert (the correct number)
dogaethaib dagaeth deec.(of the winds is 12 winds)
53] Ri rodelb datha nangaeth (the king arranged the colours of the winds)
rosderb frisratha slanaeb, (he fixed them to [their] streams of grace/beauty)
iarclechtaib rith roratha , (following the customs of course [of] virtues)
combrechtaib cachilldatha. (with varieties/categories of every colour)
57] Ingel, incorcarda glan, (the White, the clean/pure purple)
inglass, induaine allmar, (the blue-grey, the mighty green)
inbuidi, inderg, derb dána, (the yellow, the red, a certain gift/offering)
nisgaib fergg frisodála. (they are not wrathful in their good assembly)
61] Indub, indliath, indalad, (The Black, the grey, the piebald/variegated)
intemen, inchiar chálad, (The dark/dusky/gloomy; the hard murky)
indodar, doirchi datha, (the dun, dark colours)
nidat soirchi sogabtha. (they are not bright or easily grasped)
65] Ri rosordaig oscachmaig (The king ordained them over every plain)
na ocht fogaetha feochrai, (the eight fierce/untamed subwinds)
rodelb cenditha, dín saeth, (He formed without faults, sheltering hardship/distress
cricha nacethri primgaeth. (the boundaries of the four main winds)
69] Anair incorcra glanbda, (From the East the pure purple)
andess ingel gle, amra, (From the South, the wonderful bright white)
atuaid indub gailbech, grach, (From the North, the tempestuous ugly/rough black)
niar indodur engach.
(From the west, the noisy/shrieking Dun)
73] Inderg, inbuidi 'male, (the Red, the Yellow..)
eter gil ocus corcrai, (between the White and Purple)
indúani, inglass, croda lir, (the deep Green, the Blue-grey, valorous/crimson?)
eter huidir isglegil. (between the Dun and the bright white)
77] Indliath, inchiar, grainne anguir, (The Grey, the the Murky ugly, evil-painful?)
eter huidir iscirduib, (between the murky and the gloomy black)
intemen, indalad tair, (the dusky, the variegated easterly)
eter duib ocus corcair. (between the black and the purple)
81] Coir rocoraiged acruth, (Their form had been rightly arranged)
doronad an-orddugud, (their order had been made)
fogaessaib glessib cenchlith (under intelligent contrivances (or under 'bright widsoms')
without concealment)

iarsessib, iarsuidigthib. (after (ie in manner of/ in) ranks and placements)
85] Na da gaeth dec, tolaib tress, (The twelve winds, with wills/abundance of contention)
tair ocus tiar, tuaid istess, (East and West, North and South)
rii roscuibdig cotagaib, (the King who harmonized them
roscuibrig fo secht nglassaib. (harnesses them under seven fetters)
89] Ri dosnarbair iarsessaib (The King who bends/yields them in their ranks)
imthalmain con-ilglessaib, (around the world, with many-arrangements)
cach digaeth dib imglés ngle (each wind of them around a clear purpose)
isoengles foraib huile. (and One purpose over all of them)

Monday, 21 April 2008

For pilgrim it's a long know who you are

I have been a Pilgrim from some years now, a pilgrim in a spiritual search, a pilgrim now, also in the physical form.

The pillars that keep my beliefs up, on one side what I was, on the other, what I am.

For many years I have been looking forward for this, to visit Ireland. For me, that country was the most Celtic one in the world, and after been there I can confirm that.

It was a lifetime experience without a doubt, I went there as a pilgrim, as a man looking for the spiritual roots of his believes.

The first thing I did, once I arrive, was to touch the Ireland ground and thank the spirits of the land to allow me, finally to go there. Now that I think about it, it had to be odd for the people around me see me kneel and praying after leaving the airport.

And the first stop was, of course, New Grange. As you probably know, this Neolithic monument is the most ancient monument in the Island, and one of the most ancient ones in the world.

With a perfect alignment to the rising sun in the winter solstice, the internal chamber lights up with the first light beams of the morning; that chamber full of secrets and forces, of lives, dead, mementos echoing in every breath. I went inside and must say it was a powerful experience, I could feel the power of the chamber, I could feel part of its history, and could imagine the feeling of being there on the winter solstice.

But that was only the beginning, the experience grow as I was driving along the Island, watching its landscapes, breathing its air, knowing its people.

Finally I get to Donegal county, on of the Gaelic speaking areas of Ireland, I could hear the language of the Celts, and seeing that people I could understand more about the Celtic Cosmo vision. One ancient Celtic Triad says: “Three things all should have on hand for a guest, expected or not: open door, un-dry cauldron, warm bed”; reflecting the importance that the Celtic ones put on being good hosts, and open in friendship to the foreign. I could see that the Irish people still believe on that, since they are friendly and open, joyful and always smiling.

As in other times, the connection with this land was deeper in a spiritual way, more than in any other, in walking through the beach, collecting some shells, I could dream awaken about that, about what I have wanted to live and already had lived.

After that beautiful experience, that was bigger and deeper due to the company of a person too much important for me, my greatest and dearest friend, that allows me to share with him this experience. Then, we return to England, to celebrate the spring equinox, the Alban Eilir, the middle of spring.

The celebration of the balance between day and night, the celebration of the balance of the forces of nature, so we went to Stonehenge, to get the first lights of the incoming sun, it was my second time in Stonehenge, but the first inside the stone circle, I have to say it’s such an experience to walk through that impressive stones, and to see the world from inside.

After that we held a small and very intense private ceremony at the Kingley Vale yew forest. The experience was very deep, like a sharing of souls in front of the ancient nature. There are few events that can’t be described with words, since words are limited, this is one of them. I feel very grateful with life for every and each experience I have been living during this journey, but this one is one of the greatest and happiest I had.

Another stop was Glastonbury, to taste a little of the experience of the mists of Avalon. As usual the Tor welcome us with a fierce wind, and the challice well with its tender and paceful gardens.
We spend a time there, meditating and we also bless some special objects to us with the waters that lead to the healing pool.

After visiting the sacred places of the Celts, we have the opportunity of go to another sacred place, this time one that is special to me, the Vatican City.

I was rise as Roman Catholic, but for many years I have been apart of the Church, but not from my believes, I could call myself a may be Christian Celtic Pagan, where the adjective "Christian" modifying the type of paganism I follow, if a label has to be applied; since Christianism and Celtic Reconstructionism, as well as Druidry, have been unify in me as a whole, as a single pillar that supports what I am now, hic et nunc.

Then even I not consider myself as part as the Catholic Church, I have a great respect for it, since it had shaped what I am now; but St. Peter’s Basilica is not only a sacred place for Catholics, but a special place for every Christian, and a sacred place for the human kind as a whole, since the spirit of the One God is venerated there, with great devotion.

Therefore, I was a pilgrim in the more special and sacred places for me, all in one month, all in one travel, all with a great company.

That doesn’t mean that my spiritual pilgrimage is over, but this important experience has given to me and I have a lot to meditate, a lot to think, feel, and integrate to my personal growing.

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