Why A Formal Contract With The Deities

So I’ve had people ask me WHY would I want a formal contract with the deities?  Haven’t I been making offerings to them already?  Weren’t they already my household deities?  The answer to the second and third questions is yes.  The answer to the first one is not so easy.

The idea for a formal contract just came out of a few things that I read in a couple of books.  The one book that is a representation of all I had read was The Horse, The Wheel and Language by David W. Anthony in it he says that an Indo-European speaking patron could accept outsiders as clients without shaming them or assigning them permanently submissive roles, as long as they preformed the sacrifices properly.  Praise poetry at public feasts encouraged the patrons to be generous and validated the language of the songs as the vehicle for communicating with the gods who regulated everything and therefore spreading the language. (p.343) He also said that The Proto-Indo-Europeans sacrificed sheep, cattle, and horses to a troublesome array of sky gods, and fully expected the gods to reciprocate the favor. (p.98) Putting the two pieces of information together gave me the idea of the formal contract.  The fact that the Celts had household gods that they worshipped other than the ones that the tribe prayed too also helped me make this decision.

I am not saying here that this is attested too in any literature, but it does make some sense to me at least.  So this is my UPG on this instance.  Here is my ritual:

Purifying Self:

Dip your hand into water, touch your forehead and say: “May I be pure that I might cross through the sacred.”

Dip your hand again, touch your lips: “May I cross through the sacred that I may attain the holy.”

Dip your hand again, touch your heart and say: “May I attain the holy that I might be blessed in all things.”

Petition Ritual:

Sit or stand in front of the deity Altar/Shrine and say a blessing for the three realms:

The Waters support and surround me.

The Land extends about me.

The Sky reaches out above me.

At the center burns a living flame.

Light the candle or flame at the center of the Altar/Shrine.  Say:

I light this fire to carry my prayers to the Gods of my ancestors.

Now you ask the gods, nature spirits and ancestors to join you.

I ask the gods of my ancestors to join me in my ritual, I ask my ancestors to guide me, and I ask the land spirits to aid me.  I ask all to be a witness to my endeavor.

Now insert a prayer for the gods you want to petition.

Morrígan, great warrior goddess, prophetess, and sorceress, I raise my voice in praise of you with wonder and awe.  I sit in your presence, oh great source of terror and comfort.

Lugh Lamhfhada, great warrior and god of many arts, I praise you.  Bright and shining god and flaming spear out of the chaos I honor you.

Next state the purpose of the ritual:

I would like to formally ask you to accept me as a client. I will make offerings to you daily and dedicate all my rituals to you and in exchange I ask for your guidance, blessings, fighting strength and prosperity in my life.

Now it is time to make the offerings:

Pick up the offering for An Morrigan and raise it above your head and say:

To the Morrigan, I honor you.  My Queen, I offer you my hospitality and give thanks for your blessings and protection!

Now place the offering in the place designated for the Morrigan.  Pick up the offering to Lugh and raise it above your head then say:

To Lugh Lamfhada, I honor youSamildananch, I offer you my hospitality! The Voice of Thunder, I give thanks for your blessings and protection!

Now place the offering for the place designated for Lugh.

Now thanks the gods, nature spirits and the gods for listening to you.

I thank the gods of my ancestors for joining me in my ritual, I thank my ancestors for guiding me, and I thank the land spirits for aiding me.  I thank you all for being a witness to my endeavor.

Listen carefully to your dreams or divination to see how the ritual went.

From my journal:

I woke up today to a feeling of peace and when I performed my daily offerings for the first time I not only felt peace but also I felt power, as if I was infused with it.  I’m guessing that my contract was accepted.  Another thing that made me feel that were my dreams from yesterday.  I dreamt of ravens and crows giving me bread.  They would also land on my outstretched hands to take food from me without scratching me or harming me in any way.

Bibliography:

Anthony, David W.  The Horse, The Wheel and Language.  Princeton University Press, New Jersey. 2007 p. 98, p. 343

Serith, Ceisiwr. A Book of Pagan Prayer. Weiser Books, San Francisco. 2002. p. 36

The Apple Branch: A Path To Celtic Ritual by Alexei Kondratiev

This is one of the very few books out there that discusses how to walk a Celtic rituals in a well thought out structured manner.  It is not Celtic Reconstruction. It is however, a great book to read if you want to start performing your own rituals. I’ve read this book a couple of times and now I am reading it again to review it, and I expect as time goes by I will read it again.

Chapter One: The Tale of the Celts

This first chapter gives you the history of the Celts from their first emergence as a distinct culture to the time they split into the Celtic countries of today.  The author admits that it is his view of the history of the Celts.  There is nothing incorrect in the history per se but he does view it from the viewpoint of how the culture behaved rather than the economic or in the time line sense.  Still it was a great survey of the history in such a small space.  He also discusses how the western world has ignored their environment to their detriment and that perhaps reclaiming this old/new spirituality is the way to bring our selves back to an eco-centric worldview rather than an egocentric one.

Chapter Two: Drawing The Circle

This chapter has always been a little difficult for me to read.  Not because I didn’t like what I was reading but because it took me a while to get my feet grounded in mythology enough to know what he is talking about.  The author does have some ideas on the people following the Celtic path.  He tries very hard to answer a lot of questions that might come up for people who want to follow this path but are scared somehow.  For example he has a lot to say about genetics, mainly that being Celtic is a cultural association more than a blood related one though having “Celtic” ancestors is certainly a plus.  He stresses that it is important to learn at least one of the Celtic languages, and I know that that has disgruntled a lot of people, but I have to agree on that point.  Having a working knowledge of a culture’s language gives you a great insight into their thought process and their way of living.  Plus whether it is Welsh or Irish or any other of the Celtic languages, they are beautiful in their own right and deserve to be preserved.  He does also think that in order for the Celtic culture to survive all the Celtic countries should unite I’m not sure how viable that is.  In his enthusiasm it does seem like he is trying to lump all the Celtic countries together but he isn’t, he does say that they are each distinct in their own right but should be associated wit each other.  Seriously though, if the ancient Celts couldn’t unite, how can the current Celtic nations with all the history between them?  The author also points out that when studying the Celts and taking in their spiritual traditions we should not dismiss the influence of Christianity, it is after all one stream in the long history of the Celtic countries.  He describes the importance of tribe and land to the Celtic spirituality and how you can incorporate that into your life.  The rest of the chapter goes on to describe the sacred space and how to set it up and how to associate direction with function.  I think it is here that most people will say that he has strayed into Wiccan territory but I disagree.  His associations are just as valid as the Sky, Land and Sea associations.  He does pick them from known parts of mythology like the stories in the Book of the Taking of Ireland and The Settling of the Manor at Tara and if you know a little about the Indo-European cultures you know that some of what he presents in this chapter also jives with them, for example, facing east to pray.  Archeologically, even in the Indo-European times worship enclosures if available were mostly square or rectangle with only some being circular so having four directions is just as valid as having the three of Sky, Land and Sea.  Still this is a tough chapter and I guess what you take from it is your own choice.

Chapter Three: The Cycles of Earth and Sun

This is the longest chapter of the book.  In this chapter the author argues that even though the ancient Celts may have originally celebrated only Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasadh and Samhain (which are connected to the earth), the other four festivals associated with the sun were later incorporated and became part of Celtic tradition.  Some people now a days (he calls them purists) and I’m one of these people, only celebrate the four festivals mentioned above.  He goes on to describe each of the eight festivals in detail and give the associations of each.

Chapter Four: The Cycle of the Moon

In this chapter the author outright tells you that the association between the 13 moons of the year and the lines of Amergin’s Song are his own creation though he has tried to stay true to the spirit of Celtic tradition.  Though I do not use these associations myself I thought it was an interesting chapter to read.

Chapter Five: The Cycle of the Tribe

This chapter is one that I’m going to guess will make pagans a little angry because it involves the dates ascribed to saints.  I think though that I know why the author included them here.  We cannot erase the Christian history of the Celtic countries, and we cannot completely ignore it.  These days represent important events in the lives of the Tribes we have chosen and though we do not have to celebrate them we can’t be ignorant about them.  When you are a part of a tribe everyone has to be included.

All in all I think this is a book that everyone should at least read.  You may not agree with all of it, but it does have some interesting ideas on the structure of ritual and a lot of good information for the person or persons hoping to follow a Celtic path.

Celtic Flame: Insider’s Guide to Irish Pagan Tradition by Aedh Rua

This was a hard book to review, and after careful thought I decided to look at it on a chapter-by-chapter basis.  So this will be a VERY long review.  I had bought this book on the recommendation of a friend and because I had seen some of the author’s posts on one of the Celtic Pagan groups (who are very strict) I belong to and liked what he had to say.  Almost around the same time two other friends of mine whom I respect the opinions of in matters of Celtic books said that it was a horrible book, so I thought okay, the book either was full of wrong information or the author was touting something as authentic when it was pure UPG.  I postponed reading it for a whole year.  This month I decided to bite the bullet and read it.  So here are my thoughts on the book.

Reading the acknowledgements and introduction I learned a few things.  The author is not a Celtic Reconstructionist though he was influenced and had interacted and communicated with people who actually began the CR movement.  The book is about Irish Paganism as HE has been practicing it for the last 20 or so years.  So basically this was his UPG and if you choose to go on you (and I) should judge the book on the premise of it and how well he was able to defend his views.

Chapter One: A Living Tradition

This first chapter gives you the aim of the book: an introduction to Irish Paganism as the author has practiced it for the past 20 years or more.  Then he gives you his version of Irish Paganism in six points.  The only point I have a problem with is the one about the Fomoire (more will be said about this later).  He considers these six points the basics and adds other elements to them (another seven points), which have to do with the Gaelic culture and language.  All these elements I also consider important when studying Celtic Paganism of any kind.

Next in the chapter he discusses his sources for his version of Irish Paganism.  All the sources are ones that most people in the CR community cannot argue with.  He also gives the qualifiers for each of these sources.  Then he goes in to the Irish Paganism worldview.  I agree with most of what he said in that section except for what he says about the Fomoire again.  Also he is just a bit idealistic about Irish Paganism and I don’t really blame him for that everyone wants his or her path to be idealistic.

Here is my problem with this chapter, aside from the Fomoire issue, which will be discussed later.  I’m not sure if it is his choice of words that put up my hackles or just my own sensitiveness on the subject.  When he talks about his aim he also says that this interpretation of Irish Paganism is “authentic”, but authentic as compared to what exactly?  And should a word like authentic be used with interpretation.  The very use of the word “interpretation” means that it is his opinion and his vision of the lore and mythology.  So why use “authentic”?  Also when discussing the elements that complement his basic practice his uses the word “correctly” to say that the book correctly identifies these elements as the ONLY ones that are purely pagan and predominately religious.  Again I think this is open to interpretation and the use of the word “correctly” implies that perhaps someone else’s ideas are not.

These things might seem minor especially as they are only mentioned once so far but they rubbed me the wrong way.

Chapter Two: Gods and Spirits

Chapter two was an interesting and hard read for me.  His descriptions of the Tuatha De Danann correspond with some things I’ve read and were better than most people’s descriptions of them, but I just felt like there was something wrong there and up until the writing of this review, I can’t figure out what it is.

The information he provided on the Gods was okay.  In some instances I know he was wrong but they are mistakes made by many.  For the most part on this section I would say do your own searches.  Most times your search will correspond to what he wrote but not all the time.  His classifications of the Gods and the Daoine Sídhe I found a bit confusing and in some cases I completely disagree with him.  I guess though the classifications are a personal thing and which gods mean what to you are completely up to you after all (I don’t see the need for classifications myself).  One other thing that bothered me was that he seemed to be saying that the Spirits of the Land were not as important as the gods, and that they were on the same level as we are.  I’m not sure how to take that.  I’m not sure where he got his vulnerabilities of the ancestors when he talks although I’m assuming he has taken them from the ones he says the Daoine Sídhe have.

I did find the section on how to determine the gods or spirits of the land you currently reside in a very useful section.  It takes into account the folklore associated with the places and history as well as the person’s intuition.

All I can say about this chapter is that you should do your own research.  There are some bits in there, which are really good (the section on how to determine the gods or spirits of the land you currently reside in and some of the information on the gods).  I came out of the chapter with mixed feelings.  I wish he had explained a little more WHY he chose to classify the deities like that.

Chapter Three: Fírinne

I thought chapter three was a wonderful chapter on the ethics and morals of both the individual and society.  Some of it I recognize from Alexei Kondratiev’s article “Celtic Values” and the author does acknowledge that he based his ideas on that essay.  I think this is a very important chapter and one that is not seen often in this kind of detail.

Chapter Four: The Otherworld

Chapter four is about the Otherworld again a good chapter with a lot of good sound information though the author sometimes talks about something he concluded as if it was a fact.

Chapter Five: The Fomoire

Chapter five is one that I felt uncomfortable reading.  His comparison of the Fomoire to demons, in my opinion was not a good one.  He portrays them as enemies of the Gods and as demonic spirits of darkness.  I think here the author is forgetting the concept of balance.  For order you need chaos, and for light you need dark.  The Fomoire are just as needed as the Tuatha De Danann.

Chapter Six: Íobairt

Chapter six was a delight to read for someone like me who wants to learn some prayers in Irish.  Also his ritual outline is very good (though a bit elaborate).  I find that I could incorporate some of the elements of rituals he discusses into my own very well.

Chapter Seven: Death and the Dead

A very brief chapter and yet a very informative one.  The author discusses briefly the different ideas on life after death.

So what do I think of this book?

  • It is one practitioner’s interpretation of Irish polytheism and he freely admits that at the very beginning.
  • The author is not a Celtic Reconstructionist and should not be judged on that platform, however, he does show a high level of research in his book whether one agrees with his conclusions or not.
  • He tackles subjects that are hard and for the most part does them justice.
  • He puts a lot of effort in the specifics of what he sees as the Irish practice of polytheism.  Discusses the components of religion, which are belief, sacred writings and oral traditions, rituals and ceremonies, and ethics.
  • I very much enjoyed this book, warts and all (and by warts I mean his opinions about the Fomoire and a few other niggling things that I told you about).

Beginnings in Ritual Studies (Revised Edition) by Ronald L. Grimes

Beginnings in Ritual Studies is a book that is made up of fifteen essays.  These essays look into the various approaches to the study of ritual in order to find method and theory to define the field of ritual studies.  The essays are influenced strongly by symbolic anthropology, hermeneutics, and dramatic sociology.

The author out right tells you that he has not covered everything and that he is trying to invite criticism and conversation of the field.

Part one of the book is about the interpretation of ritual action.  There are four chapters in this section and each chapter presents basic assumptions and methods in ritual studies.  Pat two looks at different ritual process, from masking to sitting and eating to the ritual systems surrounding Zen.  Part three discusses theories of ritual.  The first chapter talks about the theories of Gotthard Booth, a psychiatrist and a physician and the second chapter is mainly about Theodor Gaster and Victory Turner.  Part four is all about understanding ritual by looking at theater.  They are distinct domains but share many of the same features.

I really enjoyed reading the book because of the case studies it provided they were all examples that I could relate too and understand.  Some parts of course were of special interest to me; especially the parts dealing with the components of ritual and a very interesting chapter on parashamanism (what we call Neo-Shamanism).

This is a great book to start the studies in to ritual mainly because it is a non-intimidating book that is easy to read.

Religion Explained by Pascal Boyer

Religion Explained uses cognitive psychology, anthropology, linguistics, and evolutionary biology to explain to us the evolutionary origins of religious thought.

The interesting approach used by the author is unique.  He describes how the brain receives and organizes information to explain to us how religious thoughts came to be.  He believes that the explanation for religious beliefs and behaviors is to be found in the way all human minds work, not just the minds of religious people.  The author tells us that we have a brain that is prepared to acquire religion and transmit it.  That doesn’t mean that we have to have religion, just like having a respiratory system prepares us to have a cold but we don’t have to have it.  I thought this was a very interesting point that he made.  Boyer also makes the point that when trying to give a definition of religion we should make sure that it is general enough to apply to outside our own understanding of what religion is.  His chapters seek to answer questions like what is the origin, what supernatural concepts are like, what kind of mind does it take to see this, why gods and spirits, why do gods and spirits matter, why religion is about death, why rituals, why belief, and why doctrines, exclusions and violence.

The chapters are extremely informative in an easy layman manner.  It encourages slow reading because as simple as the concepts and ideas are they are also very complex.  They challenge the reader to think outside of their comfort zone.

This is a book that might anger a lot of people who believe and if you are brave enough to read it then please keep an open mind at all times.  The author asks a question and answers it in a manner that you may have answered the same question (sometimes his answers were verbatim what I answered) and then he goes on to tell you why these answers though comfortable are wrong.  He does not ridicule anyone nor is this the object of the book, but some people might view it as such.  This book is a challenge that will change the way you think about religion.  I know that I have a lot to think about now.