Tuesday, October 30, 2007

More pledges for Tara

Since my last post, we have continued to receive messages from those committed to participating in the "I Stand with Tara" Samhain ritual. Many will be lighting at whatever local time coincides with the fire-lighting in Ireland (8pm Irish Time on the 31st, which is 3pm on the East Coast of the US), and leaving the fires lit into the night. Others will be lighting at sunset or after dark, local time.

We have now received confirmation from ten countries and eighteen US states. The Irish coordinators have heard from six countries and nineteen areas of Ireland. The age of participants ranges from children who will be included in the ritual to an officiant who is eighty years old.

Our current list:
  • Countries: Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Netherlands, Germany, Brazil, Portugal, the Russian Federation, Canada and the United States
  • US States: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington
Current list from the Irish coordinators:
  • Areas of Ireland: Antrim, Armagh, Cork, Down, Dublin, Galway, Kerry, Kildare, Laois, Leitrim, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Offaly, Roscommon, Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford, and West Meath
  • Countries: Canada, the US, Wales, New Zealand and Venezuela
We are especially pleased with the international cooperation that's been taking place, and the new friendships being forged.

BTW, it looks like the natural fires, rituals, and sharing of traditional songs and poetry will be the main event. We haven't heard much about the electric beacons idea lately, but one can watch the reports on Irish Indymedia, Tarapixie, Save Tara or the YahooGroup for updates.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Religion - what we make public, what we keep private

As members of a reconstructed, work-in-progress religion, Celtic Reconstructionists, and Polytheistic Reconstructionists in general, are in an odd place. I believe our ancestors had many of the same attitudes about privacy as are found in contemporary indigenous religions: You don't share ceremony, or details about ceremony, with outsiders.

From ancient Celtic formulas like "I swear by the Gods by Whom my people swear", it seems clear that people probably didn't even share the names of their deities with outsiders, let alone the details of their religious practices. In other cases, we know that collections of traditional prayers and poetry such as the Carmina Gadelica are so valuable because, while a practice may have been fairly common knowledge, the actual prayers that accompanied that practice were usually a well-guarded secret. So much so that in some families where the practices may have survived, the prayers did not.

Fast-forward to my childhood in the seventies. The lines that passed down our ancestral, earth-honouring spiritualities have been broken. Bits and pieces - some of them rather substantial - live on in folklore, some customs and beliefs survive in our families, but no contemporary individual has inherited a completely intact, fully polytheistic tradition that covers all the needs for rites of passage, healing, seasonal ceremonies and other cultural rites that were lost or subsumed by Christianity. Misinformation about our ancestral traditions is so common, even the sincere can rarely get a foothold in anything authentic.

Some of us, perhaps many of us, were raised in families where religious experience is something private. Pre-Christian customs that survived - such as blessing the fields with fire, holding bonfires on the holy days, reciting charms for healing or other forms of folk magic, or even performing divination and leaving offerings for the spirits - have usually been stripped of religious meaning. In order to survive, these customs generally had to be Christianised or secularised. If we're really lucky, a deity will be still attached to a practice, though usually now remembered as a saint, ancestor, or "fairy" - this is the way aspects of polytheism survived into the present day, even if those aspects were generally minimized enough to not be threatening to monotheists. In other cases, something that was once an offering to a spirit or deity is now just done "for luck". In most cases that I've seen, surviving Celtic customs are "just the way we do things," without a lot of analysis or religiosity connected to them. It's more cultural than religious.

As I grew older, I hooked up with others who wanted to rebuild something more authentic, and we were able to start putting together the various bits of folklore with the pieces in manuscripts, along with the personal religious experiences we were having as we worked with the traditional material and experimented with reconstructed forms. By combining the manuscript traditions with the folklore, things were fleshed out a great deal. But then the choice we had to make, the only way to rebuild something that worked for more than one person (or small group of people), was to overcome that natural sense of privacy and discuss things more openly... even to the extent of publishing some details of our practices in articles, books or on the Internet. This has created a certain tension; one that is not going to be resolved in the near future.

Mystics have always been rare. I think that even among our ancestors who routinely noticed the intrusion of the Otherworld into this one, or who attended the cultural/religious festivals and left offerings for the spirits, there were only a minority of the people who were really connecting deeply with the spirits and deities. While we can get some hints about their degree of openness from what was recorded in the old manuscripts, and from what people were willing to reveal to those who recorded the folklore, we don't know for certain how much of the deep information they chose to share with the community at large.

It's possible that the modern hesitation about discussing personal religious experience has always been there, and the tendency for many modern spiritualists to gush publicly about their experiences is an anomaly... so much of an anomaly that it drives outsiders away - even those who may be sympathetic to spiritual work or even a variety of practitioner themselves. It's also likely that the knowledge that some things were kept private has led to the tendency for some people to fill in perceived gaps with pure fantasy or things stolen from other cultures, rather than doing the hard work of looking deeper into the actual cultural practices. Just because not everything can be found in the books or family lore doesn't mean it wasn't there; but neither does it mean that what was hidden is going to bear no resemblance to the more well-known practices and beliefs of the culture.

There is also the tension between wanting to share our deep, personal religious experiences with a wider group, and the vulnerability that comes along with that. Sometimes I, and others, have really wanted to not share, and to have newer people work it out on their own. When people work it out on their own, there is more of an opportunity to see if they're really keying in to the spirits, as well as to tell if they're going to pull their weight in community. But not everyone can work it out on their own. This is at the core of some of the ambivalence I've had about teaching. I've found for myself that if someone is really enthused and working on their own, I love sharing with them. But it does take mutual trust to be able to share the really personal stuff, and I have to feel like it's reciprocal - that they're also being vulnerable.

We're at an odd point with CR. Sometimes (often, actually), there can be stuff I would really prefer to keep private, but I sometimes take the risk of making it public in an effort to help people get an idea of how to build their personal or small-group practices, and in the interest of helping CR grow. We do have a lot of things we keep private, but if we keep everything private a lot of people will have a much harder time finding their way.

At times, I have been surprisingly neutral about whether I want this tradition to grow, and how much. If CR can help people live their lives in a more honorable manner, if it can spiritually nourish people of Celtic heritage so they don't feel the need to rip off the religion of other cultures, if it can lead people to treat the Earth and her creatures with respect... Yes, I want CR to grow. But I'm also not interested in pushing it at anyone, and I care more about quality than quantity.

And I care deeply about making sure that people don't co-opt CR as just another term under which they can promote their fantasies, lies, or cultural appropriation. We started CR to avoid all those things, so imagine my horror on the occasions where I get an inkling that some people might do that.

We will probably always have our solitary mystics, our outsiders, our people at varying points on the social/family spectrum. Our private sorts and those who are comfortable sharing publicly. But ultimately, the future of CR is in rebuilding home groups and extended communities where people feel nurtured and supported on a group level, and the religious and cultural practices of CR are inseparable from the rest of their lives. Some of us are lucky to have that on a small level, whether with intentional families or our families of origin, but to truly be a living, vital tradition again, we will need to reach a point where that is the norm, rather than the exception. I see us heading there; all we need is time.

The tension between private practices and public sharing is a situation that won't be resolved until CR is more established, and we have more groups and experienced teachers who can work with people who've earned their trust. Ultimately, some of the resolution will only come when we have another generation or two who have been raised in the religion, learning these customs in an organic way, but now with the religious aspects re-attached. At that point, I think we will be back to a more natural state - where extended families (of origin and/or choice) will have their private practices, and you will have to work with people in person to join the tradition. We have some of that now, but I believe it will grow as we have more people who belong to stable, in-person groups. I look forward to that time, and I hope I live to see it.

*** *** ***

Read this post in Russian: Кэтрин Прайс. Религия - о публичном и приватном

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Samhain at Tara: Ritual Fires vs Photo Ops - collective actions and compromises

A bit of, shall we say, spirited discussion has been going on about how to do both ceremonial fires and media-grabbing beacons during the Samhain event in Ireland. Understandably, the traditional fire and ritual crowd is not too happy about any electric lights being involved. Also understandably, those who want a big media event in order to mobilize more support for fighting the roadway want to use at least some high-powered electric lights in order to create a headline-grabbing photo op.

The compromise so far is to have a reduced number of electric lights, which will only be on briefly, for the photo op. Organizers who want the electric beacons are promising not to interfere with the more traditional fire ceremonies. Discussions are continuing. Updated plan here: http://tarawatch.org/?p=545

Thursday, October 18, 2007

I Stand with Tara - Samhain Ritual

On Samhain night, Oct. 31 2007, people all over the world will be uniting in a ritual to help protect and preserve one of the most sacred sites in Ireland, and indeed the world: The Hill of Tara and the surrounding Skryne Valley, in County Meath, Ireland.

As many of you know, the site is still threatened with destruction. We are working together with activists in Ireland to help stop this, both with this-world activism and with a ritual we've written to help support the activists spiritually.

In the time of our ancestors, Tara was the center of a ritual complex, where signal fires were lit to mark the holy day, and whose light spread out from hilltop to hilltop across the land. Now, the center has been neglected, so much so that some think it is no matter to desecrate it. So we meet on Samhain to add our energy and prayers to revitalise and resacralise Tara.

In the past, the signal and sacred flames were taken from Tara; but on Samhain we will all unite to send the power and blessings back to Tara, to rebuild the source. We will light our individual fires on hilltops and in fields, and in homes around the world. We will have people climbing the surrounding hills all across Ireland, and in many countries the world around. We will unite our flames with the center. We will unite to protect Tara.

Read more at http://www.paganachd.com/tara

At the end of the pre-ritual briefing we've posted information on how to help physically - by writing letters, sending money, calling with moral support, or going and standing in front of bulldozers. Our other offering is this ritual, which I wrote together with my friend and colleague, Raven nic Rhóisín, after we both got some heavy requests from the spirits.

Note - I will be adding more graphics and smoothing out the visuals of the site a bit more in the coming days, but all the info should be there. We welcome your feedback! If you plan on participating in the ritual, please consider letting us know. We may be posting a list of participants on the site. If you write us, let us know how you'd like to be named. We suggest using one of the formats in the ritual, explained in under the "Introduce yourself (threefold) and Lighting the Signal Fires For Tara" instructions on the pre-ritual briefing page (http://www.paganachd.com/tara/pre-ritual.html).

cross-posted to a handful of other places. feel free to re-post this message and link to the ritual on the website.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Hill of Tara - Samhain

In a few days Raven nic Rhóisín and I will be posting a Celtic Reconstructionist Samhain ritual we've written for the protection of Tara. We were hoping to have it live on paganachd.com before the weekend, but we're still putting the finishing touches on it. We weren't going to announce it until it was done, but today we found out a few other people have also come up with a very similar idea, using the same imagery. Major Shared Gnosis is at work here! We were already co-ordinating efforts with folks on the ground in Ireland, but now it seems there's going to be lots more of us.

The idea is for people all over the world to re-light the signal fires for Tara, but this time we are sending the energy back - focusing the light and protection back at Tara, from wherever we are in the world.

There's been a bit of synchronistic discussion about it here: http://community.livejournal.com/cr_r/254906.html
and now some folks are going big-media with the concept, as seen here: http://tarawatch.org/?p=536

More links to get hip with what's going on on Tara, and why this sacred site, and the people there fighting to save her, deserves our help:

* Send money to the fund for an independent archaeological survey of the site (http://www.hilloftara.info/)

* Sign the online petition to save Tara (http://www.petitiononline.com/hilltara)

* Write letters to Irish government officials (addresses here: http://globalartscollective.org/acf/act_now.htm with guidelines on how to write a good letter here: http://globalartscollective.org/acf/sample_letter.htm However, please note that John Gormley is now Minister for the Environment, not Dick Roche.)

* Write polite letters to Irish and Irish-American (or Irish-Canadian, etc.) newspapers about the issue.

* Send supplies and letters of support to protesters on-site. Tarapixie seems to be doing most of the coordinating on the ground. Reach her and her crew via http://www.tarapixie.net/. Cell phone numbers for the protesters: 086 1758 557
086 1537 146
(they've put these numbers all over the net, so calling should be ok). If you're calling from America, the code you need to dial is 011 + 353 + number.

We'll post again when the ritual is live. The URL will be http://paganachd.com/tara Hope to "see" you on Samhain!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Help needed to get Gaelic language film to Oscars

The makers of the Gaelic-language film Seachd: The Inaccessible Pinnacle are trying to get the film submitted for Oscar consideration. However, BAFTA is refusing to submit non-English films, despite protests.

The film makers also have a MySpace page, with info on where you can see the film.

This is from their blog:


It's working! BAFTA are coming under pressure from all sides. The Director and Producer of Seachd appeared on news programmes on TV and radio last week, questions have been raised in the Scottish Parliament and hundreds of individuals have begun to petition BAFTA to overturn their decision to neglect to put foward any non-English British films for the the Best Foreign Language category of the Oscars.


Here are a few articles published around the world in the past couple of days: Variety, The Guardian, The Sunday Herald, Scotland On Sunday


Of 18 Western European countries invited by the Academy to put non-English language films forward for the Oscars, the UK is the only one to fail to do so.

BAFTAs decision is sensless and really could not have been made on some measure of the "quality" of the film, given the strong early reviews we have had (“excellent” The Sunday Times, “breathtaking” BBC, “tender, graceful…gorgeously-realised” The Herald, “worth shouting about” The Scotsman, “dramatic, funny and spectacular” The List, and “an astonishing production” Eye For Film). And surely they wouldn't have put forward such obviously English language turkeys as they have in recent years if quality really was the issue?

BAFTA is an institution designed to promote British film - in whatever language - and their decision feels dangerously close to censorship and it will mean - ultimately - that less people will get to see the film in the UK internationally.


We have been able to gather a great deal of support to help overturn their decision within the film industry in the UK, and also from the Academy who have written to BAFTA asking for an explanation. And we have just learned that this issue is on the agenda to be debated in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday this week.


Finola Dwyer is the Chair of the BAFTA committee that neglected to put any non-English language British films forward. Her email address is: finola@finoladwyerproductions.co.uk

Amanda Berry is the Chief Exceutive in BAFTA. Her email address is: amandab@bafta.org

We invite you to email Finola and Amanda to let them know IN YOUR OWN WORDS what you think of BAFTAs decision not to any non-English British film forward for the Oscars.

I have received many emails asking when the film will be on release in America, Canada, Europe, Australia and all over the world. If you are able to email, we'll have a far greater chance of getting to you!


The cast and crew of Seachd: The Inaccessible Pinnacle

cross-posted a bit

Thursday, October 04, 2007

UUs, Pagans, and UU Pagans

This post on The Wild Hunt Blog got me thinking, and my response is a bit long for just a comment. The post is about a recent video released by the UUA, and what traditions are or are not mentioned in it.

It sometimes takes newcomers a while to understand the baseline eclecticism inherent in Unitarian-Universalism (UUism). The tone and content of services, and the beliefs of congregations (and clergy) can, and often does, vary widely from church to church and region to region. What gets put forth as official Unitarian-Universalist Association (UUA) materials can also vary significantly, depending on who is currently employed at 25 Beacon Street (the UUA headquarters). While certainly influenced by various national committees and decisions made at GA (the yearly General Assembly of UUs), it's not surprising that groups who often consider themselves part of the UUA might wind up feeling left out when the official materials come out.

Having worked at the UUA in '80-'81, I was bemused when Pagans "discovered" the UUs in the mid '80s. Some Pagans of my acquaintance actually believed they could, and should, "take over" the UUA. Some of them actually believed that the UUs, by showing interest in Paganism and being welcoming to Pagans, were expressing a desire to become Pagans. The thing is, UUs are welcoming of everyone. Basically, if you don't come in firing weapons or raping and pillaging, they'll be happy to see you, pass the coffee, and engage in conversation about what you believe. But UUs are, well, UUs. If they wanted to be Pagans, or Buddhists, or Christians, they'd go and do that. But they don't. So people who expect part of religion to be commitment - commitment to a specific religion - are generally going to be quite disappointed with the UUA.

I have to admit, I'm one of those who wound up disappointed. I was briefly a UU as a teenager, when I got involved in Liberal Religious Youth (LRY) (a group of us who were more often radical than liberal, spiritual than religious, but yes, we were youth). But after a few years of that, I really wanted something more traditional. I became frustrated with the UU blender - the insistence that all religions are basically equal and come down to the same principles. I found it was a happy home for liberal intellectuals who weren't particularly religious, but not for me. And in recent years I've also become dismayed with how the UU omnivorous approach has at times led to cultural appropriation. For instance, while I think it's great if UUs want to sponsor a local Native American elder or group to give a talk about their culture, hiring shameons and white poseurs to present "Native American" ceremonies at UU events is really, really not cool. The thing is, the UUs have an odd paradox going on - there's a general support for social justice (albeit in a Liberal manner), but there's also the omnivorous religious approach that can turn into consumption. So it's ironic to me that when I was with the UUA we marched in anti-racist demos and supported actions called by First Nations activists, yet now it seems so many of them really don't get it when it comes to respecting the wishes of First Nations people to have their ceremonies protected.

While I still have some friends who are UUs, and I think it's great they let everyone from the local AA meeting to the Pagans use space in their churches, I think maybe the Pagans are starting to realize that being a UU is a specific religious approach. It's an approach that may at times include some forms and aspects of Paganism, and other religions, to a certain extent, but it will never be the same as those specific religions. It's not meant to be.