Posts Tagged ‘aidan kelly’

Recently read:

  1. Magical Knowledge Book I: Foundations by Josephine McCarthy
  2. An Encounter with Venus by Elizabeth Mansfield
  3. Witchfather: A Life of Gerald Gardner, V. 2: From Witch Cult to Wicca by Philip Heselton
  4. The Witches’ Sabbats by Mike Nichols
  5. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Currently Reading:

  • The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Theodyssies and Paradoxologies, collected poems of Aidan Kelly
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker (have not tried reading it since I was a teenager; like it better now than I did then)
  • an inordinate amount of Sherlock fanfiction

Currently watching:

  • the first five episodes of series seven of Doctor Who (verdict: Good so far, but I’m gonna miss the Ponds!)
  • series five of Merlin (verdict after one episode: Pretty, stupid, lovable as ever)

Recent events of note:

  • My dear stepdaughter got married, with vast quantities of High Anglican ceremony and the performance of the Time Warp at the reception.
  • A dear friend came down with a serious infection and spent a good deal of her recuperation in our back bedroom.

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  1. The Spirit Cord by R.J. Stewart
  2. Goddess Murder by Aidan Kelly
  3. Witchfather: A Life of Gerald Gardner, V. 1: Into the Witch Cult by Philip Heselton
  4. Drawing Down the Spirits by Raven Kaldera & Kenaz Filan
  5. Dealing with Deities: Practical Polytheistic Theology by Raven Kaldera
  6. OakWyse Utters an Ogham Charm by Walter William Melnyk

I’m still reading volume two of Witchfather and Stalking the Goddess. I’m also reading Merlin’s Mirror by Andre Norton, a noted children’s/young adult author whose work I somehow missed as a child. I got this title for free on Kindle and am enjoying it very much.

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I hate to admit it, but I suck at writing book reviews. Whenever I finish a religion- or magic-related  book, I make enthusiastic resolutions to review it… just as soon as I think it over. And then I think about it for six or eight months, and the review never gets written.

So I’m going to try a different approach here. I’m going to give you progress reports on some books of interest that I’m still reading. I offer this disclaimer: I haven’t finished reading any of these books, but I’m not at all the sort of person who feels obliged to finish a book just because they started it. If I’m mentioning a book at all, chances are very good that a) I will finish it eventually and b) I will have positive things to say about it.

Here we go!

I’m on the second volume of Philip Heselton‘s Witchfather, a biography of Gerald Brosseau Gardner. Heselton’s book is written in a chatty, informal style, but it is extensively researched and annotated, with lots of references to primary sources such as Gardner’s correspondence with friends and the author’s correspondence to people who knew Gardner. I don’t think I ever really grasped before that Gardner’s whole involvement in what he initially called “the witch-cult” began after his retirement, when he was in his fifties. He spent much of his childhood abroad because he was asthmatic and sickly and warmer climes were considered the only cure; he spent most of his adult working life abroad because he had no resistance to English weather. He continued to winter abroad for the rest of his life. He becomes a typical eccentric Englishman by spending very little time actually living in England.  In addition, his peripatetic childhood deprived him of any kind of formal schooling. I don’t think one needs to speculate that Gardner was dyslexic to explain his bad spelling; I consider it sufficiently explained by his never having had a teacher who insisted on good spelling.

Sadly, the Kindle edition of the book is very clumsily formatted. Instead of compiling all the citations into one list with links in the text, as most e-books have, the little blocks of footnotes appear on their own separate pages within the run of the text, so that you “turn the page” on your Kindle and find, instead of the rest of the sentence you were just reading, three or four footnotes, and you have to “turn” again to pick up the thread of the text. There was also a section from which semicolons were entirely absent, and I’m pretty sure Heselton had been using them correctly for a whole volume, so I attribute their disappearance to the editor rather than the author. Notwithstanding, Witchfather is a very entertaining book, which I recommend to anyone interested in the history of 20th-century witchcraft.

Closely connected with Witchfather is Mark Carter’s Stalking the Goddess. Other biographies of Gerald Gardner have been published, and other histories of Wicca, but I don’t think anyone else has attempted what Carter does in this book. He takes one of the crucial texts of 20th-century witchcraft and paganism, The White Goddess by Robert Graves, and slowly, carefully, takes it apart–so slowly and carefully that his analysis is almost as tough a read as its subject.

I’m only about a third of the way into Stalking, but I’m determined to read the whole thing. The White Goddess is, I think, as important to 20th-century Druidry as it is to 20-century Craft, if only because of its extensive use of the Ogham alphabet and of certain poems associated with the legendary (and also historical) Welsh bard Taliesin. While more Reconstructionist pagans tend to dismiss Graves for his treatment of Celtic topics, Aidan Kelly recommends that anyone who takes the Craft seriously ought to read Graves as theology, and I would tend to agree. Carter looks carefully at what Graves’s argument is, what he says about the origins of his own book, and what are his (mostly not specified) sources for his facts. He wrote a guest post on his work for the Wild Hunt recently–check it out.

And now, two titles from Raven Kaldera. The first, which I purchased as a PDF from Lulu.com, is Dealing with Deities: Practical Polytheistic Theology. I have actually skimmed this once and am now re-reading it with greater attention. I wish devoutly (pun intended) that I had had this book to refer to when I first began to make contacts with deities (and yes, I did promise to write about them and have not done so yet). Kaldera is one of the clearest, most straightforward writers in Pagan publishing; he writes clean prose, pulls no punches, and never muddies the distinctions between his experience, shared experience, and scholarly opinion. Best of all, this is not just clear thinking but, indeed, practical thinking: Given that we have this theology about multiple deities, now what do we do with it? Just to have it spelled out that one’s relationship with the gods may range from a novice who’s just learning about them, through being a regular devotee or even clergy, to being a god-slave, a horse for spirit-possession, or an actual embodiment of a deity–and that it’s not necessary to try for a gold medal in God-Botheredness, it’s okay just to be a worshipper–is immensely helpful to me, and probably to a lot of other readers.

Kaldera’s collaboration with blogger Kenaz Filan, Drawing Down the Spirits, is sort of the graduate-level text, whereas Dealing with Deities is the 101 book (or even the remedial textbook). Drawing Down the Spirits is about possession, carrying deities or spirits in one’s body, being a “horse” for their presence in the world. While this is not something I think I am called to do, beyond maybe “assumption of god-forms” in the Hermetic sense, the book is fascinating and makes me want to read other books by Filan and to anticipate the authors’ forthcoming collaboration, Talking to the Spirits: Personal Gnosis in Pagan Religion.

I’m coming to terms with what should be a very simple idea: That just because I call myself a Druid, and think of my path as Druidry and Druidry as my path, does not mean I am not going to be interested in other paths, other religions. I can be interested in just about any religion if someone writes a book that grabs me. Frankly, I can be interested in just about any topic if I pick up the right book. So there’s my progress report.

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I’ve been reading a lot of Aidan Kelly lately, ever since Jason at The Wild Hunt linked to a post on Aidan’s recently inaugurated blog. I’ve read every post on the blog; in addition, I’ve read Hippie Commie Beatnik Witches, his book on the formationof the NROOGD and his short novel Goddess Murder, in which he does what Dan Brown was trying to do in his most famous work, only better.

In HCBW, he records some of a group conversation amongst himself and the other people most closely involved in researching and writing ritual for the group. In this discussion the group talks about “having an intuitive sense of what our pattern is, or we couldn’t have looked at all the bits and pieces of traditional information and figured out which ones would fit into a pattern for us and which ones wouldn’t.”

This rang a bell with me, a bell which chimed again when in a recent blog post Aidan discussed  the intellectual discipline which advancement in the Craft requires and said, “You must read Murray and Graves and Gardner, for starters, as theology, not history.”

This work, the seeking that Aidan describes the NROOGD doing as a group in its fledgling years, the picking up of pieces from a pattern, the fragments of a jigsaw puzzle, the shards of a vase, is the work I am doing right now. It’s the work of creating a system of philosophy and practice, a system which will probably only ever be mine and mine alone, but which will be tested by experience and have enough internal consistency and practicality to be shared with other people. This system need not have a name, except “what Mam Adar does”. It will include magic and devotion and creative work; it will owe something to Wicca, Druidry, Buddhism, Feri, Northern traditions, hermetic magic, and the Prayerbook and Hymnal that taught me what religion and liturgy should look like and sound like.

One way that I am doing this work is by exploring the practices of one of R.J. Stewart’s more recent books, The Spirit Cord. The book teaches methods of working with one of the simplest of all magical tools: the Cord. I braided three strands of hemp thread together, good tough vividly dyed thread bought at my local bead shop, knotted off the ends, dripped a bit of beeswax on the knots, and I was ready. I have not so far done much formal sit-down work, except for the three rounds of three different dedications which Stewart prescribes as preliminary to the work, but as I have carried it on my person and slept with it under my pillow, my dreams have strengthened, my daily practices have stabilized, and I’ve begun to see, feel, and sense (to borrow one of Stewart’s favorite phrases) the pattern which belongs to me and into which my pieces fit.

The joyful part is that things are working, things are fermenting. The frustrating part is that I was clued in to this pattern some twenty years ago, and I got distracted from it, repeatedly, by a lot of different things. Stewart’s books are part of the pattern, and so are the works of John and Caitlin Matthews; the Druid Revival is part of it, but so is pre-Christian Celtic religion; Wicca has some pieces of it alongside Druidry, Buddhism has some pieces alongside Christianity (and Buddhism has been invaluable in giving me a picture of what an intact, complete religious/magical system looks like and how it works).

Is that eclecticism? is it syncretism? I don’t know and I actually don’t care. What I do care about is following the thread of this pattern, like Theseus in the labyrinth, and not getting distracted again, whether by my own fears and doubts, or by other people’s critiques of what I’m doing. The five feet and four inches of my slender hand-braided cord are my vow not to get distracted or derailed again.

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Lately we’ve been hearing a lot about Jesus in the Pagan blogosphere. Maybe that sounds strange to some of my readers, or maybe it doesn’t. Whether or not you are a Christian, Jesus looms large in the American cultural landscape, like a mountain with a tunnel through its heart. Are you going to go around the mountain, will you drive straight through, or will you try to pick a destination that will allow you to avoid it completely? Complete avoidance may be hard to manage.

Star Foster is still trying to convince her Evangelical Christian relatives that no, she really doesn’t have a significant relationship with Jesus, or indeed any relationship with him, any more, and that she’s really truly okay in spite of that. Aidan Kelly, from a Roman Catholic background, is certain that the Jesus Christ of Paul’s letters and subsequent Church councils is not the married Jewish rabbi of history (and for what it’s worth, I tend to agree with him). Meanwhile, I have a recent book called Jesus through Pagan Eyes in both paperback and Kindle formats and am trying to get around to reading it, as soon as I finish with Aidan Kelly’s books and a largish biography of Gerald Gardner.

Pagans are talking about Jesus as much as Christians, it seems. Some people are sympathetic to that; others point and laugh, wonder why Pagans should bother at all with the teacher/godform of a religion they’ve rejected. Speaking for myself, the truth is that my ongoing engagement with Christianity, Anglican variety, has very little to do with Jesus and quite a lot to do with Anglican music and poetry and with Julian of Norwich, to whom I have a greater devotion than I’ve ever felt for “The Lord”. (And I would think that Pagans would understand that position much better than Christians, or at least than Protestant Christians.)

But I have a theory about why the world’s most popular dead Jewish guy is stirring up trouble amongst Pagans. (Besides the fact that so many of his self-professed followers are ignoring what he’s supposed to have actually said.) I think it’s because the Church is dying.

I really believe this. I say this as someone who’s been actively involved with Lutheran and Episcopal churches in the last twenty years, as someone who used to work in a Christian bookstore and had a lot of contact with Catholic and Protestant ministers, with religious sisters, and with all kinds of laypeople. The Church is dying. The very existence of all kinds of Pagans, and of Buddhists who weren’t born in Buddhist cultures, is proof of that. There is no more “Christendom”, and there hasn’t been since the eighteenth century. No matter how hard the fundamentalists in the U.S. lean on the GOP to convert the U.S.A. into the Republic of Gilead, Christianity is never going to regain its total hegemony over Western societies. Ain’t gonna happen.

The mainstream Protestant Churches have ceded their moral authority to the Evangelicals by dithering over whom to ordain and whether gays and women are really people, while the Evangelicals are doing their damnedest to control who has sex with whom and, at least in the U.S., to restrict real citizenship and human rights to a certain type of white people (the ones who will listen to and obey them). Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church is frittering away their moral authority defending and covering up for predatory pedophiles, trying to sweep decades ( or centuries?) of abuse under the rug and hold on to the hierarchy’s power and prestige. If I am dubious about Paganism producing officially trained, professional, state-recognized clergy, it’s because I am dubious about the possibility of creating different results with the same system that produced the above abuses.

It may take another few hundred years, but I think the Church is dying. It will cease to exist. But I also think that Jesus, his teachings, and other things that are adaptable in Christianity will be absorbed into Paganism and other religions, just as early Christianity absorbed so much from the Pagan religions among which it grew. Maybe Joshua the wandering rabbi with no fixed address is on the lookout for friends who will let him crash on the couch when the churches are all closed.

*With apologies to all the Buffy fans to whom I’ve just given a massive earworm.

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Recently Read:

Current Reading:

Current Listening

Current Viewing:

(including movies I’ve seen this summer)

  • The Avengers
  • Iron Man
  • Iron Man 2
  • Men in Black 3
  • Farscape
  • Life on Mars, the British series with John Simm about a police detective who wakes up thirty years into his own past after being hit by a car

Current Obsessions:

  • The BBC’s Sherlock and its lead actors, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman
  • the writing of Aidan Kelly
  • ice cream, lots of ice cream
  • the two red-eared slider turtles we’re housesitting this summer, Beatrix and Matilda, the Shell Sisters


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