Archives For Gods

Dark Night (interlude)

December 22, 2014 — 7 Comments

Pilgrimage Journal 4, a brief interlude

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Metaphor’s End

December 18, 2014 — 16 Comments

strean caer arianrhod

The past was all metaphor, right?  Myths just ways of encoding knowledge about nature, something easy to remember and something never more than it appears to be.

Let the metaphor escape its imprisonment and it’ll wreak havoc on the mind, the soul, the world.  It’s safer without magic, and gods, the fae and the dead.

Which is why I found myself clinging to the side of a mountain to talk to a giant.


When They Pull Your Beard, They Mean It

December 14th

Which story do I tell?  The story inside my head, the story around me, the story of the places I’ve been, the story of the dead in the dream pulling my beard?

The story you need to hear, the story you want to hear, the story I want to tell you, the story I think I should tell?

There’s no end to the stories already, and I’ve only been in Wales for four days.  They’re weaving, threading, pulling, carding out bits and spinning and smoking like the gleaned wool gathered off the fence and offered upon the candle in the trunk of the tree, flames of–

Sorry.  I’m not there yet.

I’m here, at a table in a hotel bar, an old stone building not much older than the United States, I fear, sipping coffee (the tea’s terribly weak ’round these parts) trying to figure out what I’m going to tell you about everything I’ve seen which is suddenly making my hands tremble as I type all of this.

I may not make sense, because I’ve given up on metaphor, because metaphor’s exploded all around me and now none of those things you hope can hide in symbol–to stay put there in signification, tied to the safe sigils of our representations–are willing to be put back into the prisons we’ve made for them.

Oh, oh, I know why poets go mad.

Have a photo.  It’s mostly safe.

tower treeIt’s just a tower and a tree on a hill overlooking the Strait of Menai across the way from the city of Caernarfon.  Nothing else, no metaphor, no additional meaning except for the part where you couldn’t stop looking at them from the medieval city walls and really, really had to go up there.

But oh!  I haven’t told you that I’m in Caernarfon yet, have I?  Sorry.  I’ve slipped out of…oh, you know.

I boarded a ferry from Dublin to the port of Holyhead on the Isle of Anglesy.  The ferry’s a bit more a miniature cruise-ship than what you might consider when you think ferry, and most definitely nothing Stygian, unless Charon decided to install a theatre, cafe, Bureau D’exchange and a small convenience store to distract you from the difficulties of your passage into Hades.  Oh, and wireless internet, which did not afford me the opportunity to do any writing on account of my website being blocked through the local filter for “alternative beliefs.”

So I slept, and dreamt a bit until the ferry approached, anticipation jarring me awake.   I was going to Wales, you see, and also, well, this guy.:Nick blackwhite

Best friends are great people and should never be gotten rid of, or forgotten, or let to roam off into foreign lands without an occasional visit or perhaps a jaunt together through the lands of your gods.

Name’s Nick.  Taught me how to feed crows, and had dreams of Druid Rhyd long before I got around to even thinking about being a Druid.  When you tell a stranger that his glasses make him look like a bike cop, he may punch you in the face, or may, some 12 years later, help you find Caer Arianrhod and Dinas Affaoron and nod when you mutter half-sensical things about the divine figures showing up in your dreams, and the wild colors behind your closed eyelids, and he may even give you cookies.

He moved to Wales more than a year ago; in fact, a week after I left Seattle on my last pilgrimage. And he was waiting for me at Holyhead, once an ancient Druid stronghold, now a ferry-port.

What do you really say to someone after so long when you’re finally standing in front of each other?  Not much, really, except “well–you’re here,”  and, “hey.  You too.”  ‘Cause more than that’s just extra words to fill a rather contented silence.

All the other words come later, mostly laughs and grunted assent when he’d hear me gasp and groan and try to hold back nauseated ecstasy staring at the countryside of Anglesy and Gwynedd.  Nausea–yes, because it seemed almost my body revolted against the ancient landscape, the way you want to vomit because you’re so in love or want to tear off all your flesh because it’s limiting the movement of your soul, anchoring your spirit a little too heavily to all what is trying to comprehend what it’s seeing.

One moment you’re elsewhere and another moment you’re brutally here and want to break apart, disintegrate, return into the elements from which you were hewn, become tree and grass and bacteria and star and cloud and stone again.  Sentience is suddenly a prison as the streams rush past you, the gnarled trees stare back, beckoning you to join them, trees your recognize, trees what are kin.

The Alchemists called this nigredo, the blackening, the moment you are dis-membered, unmade.  The mystics called it The Dark Night, where you are left raw, broken and unpieced just before you can be put back together.  The Alchemists used alembics, the mystics prayed in cells, and both are much more preferable containers than a train compartment.

castleUnderslept, we napped, woke, roamed the city a bit.  It was all a bit much to take in too quickly, castle walls and a nearby holy mount and a gentle rain and the horrid, nagging, impossible-to-shake feeling I’d known this land before.

Standing Stones and Sheep Shit Aren’t Just Symbols

December 15

I don’t think I can tell you about the dreams.

I’m certain I can’t describe the colors to you, because they don’t exist: fierce golds hewn of green tinged with copper, violets both blue and white and crimson, browns breaking apart into all the colors which comprise them.

I’d never seen such colors, and they made it a bit hard to sleep.

Also, the voices–a myriad of them all telling me things I needed to know, or what they thought I needed to know, the dead, but a different dead, dead with faces, dead with faces I thought I recognized until I saw their faces and knew I knew them from another time-out-of-time.

I woke, exhausted, the way you wake when you’ve dreamt those dreams where you’re elsewhere, not in bed any longer.  Mostly, those dreams come and I do not remember them–but wake exhausted and know I was elsewhere and then someone mentions I was in their dreams.

This often felt a betrayal, my untethered soul roaming widely, unhappy to remain close to the body it went to bed with.  I’ve found it much easier to laugh off a lover out with others as I sleep than to find my soul’s been out teaching people to do things I don’t even quite know how to do yet, handing them flowers to eat or warning them about impending trials to which I myself remained utterly ignorant.

I mind a bit less, like one becomes accustomed and even warmed to a lover’s night-rovings, comprehending that he brings back new patterns and ferocity he’d not have learned otherwise.

Souls and lovers go elsewhere–this must be embraced if we’re to have any sanity at all about the world.  It was on one of those roving nights I got my name, so I can’t really complain.

Oh.  That was here, or there’s a gate here, anyway:

Sunset over Caer Arianrhod

Sunset over Caer Arianrhod

Nick and I took a bus along the coast to the wet moors where, on old British Ordnance maps and on some tourist maps is marked a sunken island, visible only at low tide, called Caer Arianrhod.

Perhaps you do not know the story, and so I will tell you the story.

A wizard-king had an odd geas put upon him: he could only rest when his feet were lain upon the lap of a maiden, lest he always be at war.  One of his nephews desired the particular lap-maiden of the king and asked his brother Gwydion to help him gain her.  Through trickery, she is “gotten” (actually, brutally raped), and when the king finds out, he compensates the raped woman and turns the two nephews (the rapist and the accomplice) into mated pairs of animals to “get” upon each other for three years.

But the search remained for another maiden for the king to rest his feet upon, and Gwydion, now human again, suggests his half-sister Arianrhod, who lived in a castle upon an island.   When the king uses magic to verify her maidenhood, she has two children, one belonging to the sea and the other a misshapen thing which grows quickly into a man.

That man was Lleu Llaw Gyffes, and this was said to be his home:

Dinas Dinlle

Dinas Dinlle

It’s what’s left of a 2500 year old ring fort, about a third of which now taken by the sea.

To get there, you can take a road.  That’s the awfully easy way, and that one poet said something about how glad he was about going the way less traveled and anyway it was pretty, so we didn’t take the road but instead–well.

Okay.  Look.  When you walk into a field with a standing stone and everything you know and hear is telling you to go up to it and see if it wouldn’t mind if you pass through, don’t do what we did and decide we’d be all mannish and just sort of wave hello at it while all the sheep are staring at us in amazement at our audacity.

Caer Arianrhod mountains

In Bretagne a decade ago, a lover and I traipsed merrily up to a really interesting-looking standing stone and then found ourselves running in abject terror for about 20 minutes until we were fully out of its view.  I should know better.

So, shin deep in mud and sheep shit and our path blocked in the most intriguingly absurd ways, barriers which seemed to spring from the earth itself and the whim of some rather put-out yet bemused community of who-knows-who, we finally admitted our mistake when about to ford a small stream.  The mud went much deeper than it should have, and the plank I offered my friend to help him ford landed as far from his sinking body as possible while still managing to blind him with mud.

It was Nick who remembered the standing stone first, and as he said it we both knew what we’d gotten ourselves into, and there was nothing else to be said.

We said our apologies as sheep stared, unblinking, and returned to the road.

We stopped for coffee and tea at the foot of Dinas Dinlle and my soul started untethering.  I write this all now, despite its beauty, with what I can only describe as dread.  Not terror, nor fear, not even anxiety, but sacred dread, the moment you know you go to meet gods closer to where they’ve been known, by greater gates than the ones you’ve uncovered or created elsewhere.

It’s one thing, I guess, to meet a god in a tiny woodland or at a shrine you’ve tended, a different thing altogether to go to where many others have found them.  Back in Seattle, or in Eugene, or elsewhere in America I could approach them still with the veil of metaphor.  No matter how real they are, relics of defensive symbolism still trigger, screening, shaping, and shading them from the full dread of their existence.  You can alter a shrine, re-arrange an altar, leave a grove and pretend for a little while that you are untouched.

No matter how thoroughly I’ve convinced myself that they are real, I still ask myself constantly if they are, and here is Njord walking awfully close to me along the shoreline as I go to sit as close as I can in sight of Caer Arianrhod and I’m breaking into pieces even as I find a sea-soaked Alder wand wash up near a stone where I sat and fuck every metaphor I’ve ever held up as a shield against the Other.

You can find the sunken island without looking when you learn to give attention to those things you fear are your imagination. And you can tell yourself it’s just a sunken reef and she was just a character in a Christianized story and you can try to forget everything else you’re seeing as all the images flood in to drown your mind like the opened floodgates of the Isle of Ys.

Or you can just listen and let those waves wash over you, listen to what they’re telling you and not fight them.

This is a good land to learn to do this.

The earth is heavy here, so green and sodden and strong.  Sleep is deep here, and the throngs who speak to you as you dream may be brusque, but they’re telling you something you need to know, and it’s all metaphor when your soul goes roaming only because that’s how you speak.

Otters Are Also a Bit Much

December 16

I can’t tell you about the dream this day, except that I couldn’t stop thinking about it until I finally slept again.

Know that feeling where someone who doesn’t exist is making love to your soul?

And then he tells you he’ll wait for you, because he knows you’re on your way?

And as you go to find him, there are all these other people who know you, because they were there when you got your name because that’s probably how they all got their names too, and the markings on their faces tell you more than you remember to know about them?

And the man who pulls your beard and so you pull his harder because you know what he’s on about and is speaking without speaking, telling you who you’re gonna have to hang off a cliff-face to talk to?

And you wake and you’ve almost had too much, so you go take photos of trees and towers and watch an otter with your best friend because, fuck, really, it’s all a bit much, isn’t it?

dark tree

So you go see trees but you’re thinking of that figure who’s waiting for you.

ravenAnd you take a photo of a raven by a castle wall and remember what you’re on about.

Castle cityAnd you try to take a distracting photo of a castle and the city and a hill but it only does good for a little while because that hill reminds you of another hill where you were told stuff to do.

And so you just go to bed, because there’s really no escape but sleep, and he’s there again but this time it’s much easier because you’re starting to guess who he is.


Unfortunate Disclosures

December 17

So, I’m hanging off the side of a cliff-face talking to a giant, right?  And it’s kinda fucking scary because I’m this puny little man hanging onto the side of a mountain above a slightly-less-than-sheer 100 foot drop, and above me is the stone I’m trying to get to because it’s white and carved and shouldn’t be either of those things and actually, I’m kinda terrified remembering this stuff right now.

You do some crazy stuff when they tell you to, but you know what’s crazier than climbing when you’re no good at climbing and you made clear to your friend you had to do this yourself so you’re all alone?  Asking them for help. 

And crazier still?  Them saying ‘yes.’

Nick took this photo of me down from the cliff.  I'm carrying a cedar tree because I was supposed to, and I gave it to a nymph.

Nick took this photo of me down from the cliff. I’m carrying a cedar tree because I was supposed to, and I gave it to a nymph.

We went to Beddgelert, a small and brutally picturesque village in Snowdonia.  We’d originally planned on hitting the dark ford path of Snowdon (“Rhyd Ddu”), but a quick Ogham reading made me change my mind.

sheep churchBeddgelert looks like what Thomas Kinkaid and the maker of every medieval fantasy video game tries to conjure on canvas or screen.  In fact, you can play Skyrim, or go to Snowdonia.  One’s cheaper and soul deadening, the other gets you a little rainy and wet and has real giants.

bedd1If you ever go, the story of Gelert (a dog mistakenly killed by his owner after saving a child from a wolf) is a bit of a ruse.  Look underneath you when you go to his grave, and make sure you say hello, ’cause you’ll need their permission.

stream wellAnd then you walk, or we walked, along the river’s course.  The wrong direction turns often enough into the correct direction if you’re giving attention.

There’s a nymph there in the water; I don’t know what they’re called in Welsh, but she likes cedar trees from cliff-faces. I’d say, “Fuck with her and I’ll get quite angry,” but she’s hidden by her metaphor, which is how they all hide, yeah?

But if you ever go and want help finding her and are on about the right things, I’d help you find her.  But the giant thing?

Oh, the giant thing.

Fuck metaphors.

A few months ago I was told what I’m on about.  I mean, besides the Anarcho-Anti-Capitalist poetic musings that I thought I was on about.  I’m also on about that, you should know, but there’s this other thing that I’ve been on about and I had to ask a giant (well, several, as I suspect word gets around with them quite well) if they’d help me.

They already have, I should say.  Last year there was one rummaging through my head; another strode above me and then there were wild boars rummaging through my tent.  And then another one punched someone for me.  All metaphor, sure, if you need it to be because I don’t need it to be any longer.

And they said yes, which is pretty damn cool of them.  Giants are freaking awesome, even as you’re pretty certain you’re gonna lose your grip on the tree you’re hanging on to and fall and then your best friend will find you with a broken neck.

But I didn’t, because I’m writing you.

Have another photo:

Llyn Dinas

Llyn Dinas

This is Llyn Dinas.  Nearby is a place called Dinas Emrys, another 2000 year old fort said to be where Merlin released two imprisoned dragons.  Another place is rumored to be nearby, the city of the Fferllyt (Druidic alchemists) from whom Ceridwen learned how to brew the potion of Awen.

So, pretty much kinda hardcore magic everywhere.

What I did there will unfold, who I met I’ll get to know, what I carry I’ll learn to use.

But what I’ve seen’s been seared kinda deeply on the soul, like tattoos inked in wyrd.  That’s probably a metaphor, but probably not.

And I love you all.


Previous Pilgrimage Journals:

A Marshland Hearth

In The Time of The Dead



The Sighted and The Blind

October 11, 2014 — 12 Comments

Some things cannot be unseen. But why would you want to?

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Gods and Radicals

March 6, 2014 — 17 Comments

I’m a part of what weaves my story, but there are sudden bursts of searing insight which remind me that I am not the only who weaves it, nor are my choices ever only my own.

Shall I explain? How can I, really, except to impart fragments just as I view them–not shattered, but patch-work glimpses of glittering reflections strung along by fascinating threads.

First of all, did you know gods-worshippers are a fantastically radical lot?  Not just strange or queer, but good gods do they seem to exist with a burning fire ready to torch the darkness.  And funny, as I forgot this of myself, that what I want to tear down is a hedge between here and Other.

I met a particular person today, an occasional Pagan writer, a gods-worshipper, and a ferocious activist whose whole form and persona vibrated with what could only be called a sort of divine delight.  Her work is known to many, including enough people where she lives to find her personal life and impending move to another city mentioned in the local alternative paper.

This person, Alley Valkyrie, mentioned the same goddess had demanded social justice from her as who has done so for many others.  A goddess who demands those who worship her go out and fight injustice, particularly related to the homeless.  That is, a radical goddess.

Against the (Paralyzing) White Light

A topic in our conversation particularly fascinated me.  We’d spoken of a certain passivity within Paganism when it comes to matters of environmental damage, war, and other human calamities.  That is, “meditating” for peace or carbon reduction; similar to another thread of thought that suggests “changing oneself” will change the world.

I read a post by another Brigid-worshiper awhile back regarding how certain tendencies within Paganism are not only unhelpful but actually tend to result in harm to victims of very real things.  There is a kind of optimism which isn’t optimism at all, but rather a denial of human suffering which sustains injustice.

I intend to track a bit more of this in my book, but this sort of thing isn’t Pagan at all, but rather a colonization of a certain Capitalist/Liberal logic within Pagan which cripples its revolutionary potential.  It’s parallel to why certain folks find discussions of tolerance revolting, which makes them sound unfortunately reactionary.  It’s also why our discussions of privilege are going nowhere.

Liberal discourse defangs radical acts and discourse by offering itself up against a great void, presenting itself as our only hope against the throngs of witch-burners, fag-haters, fundamentalists, and totalitarians, and it does so by giving us inadequate tools to understand our oppression and un-freedom.  Amongst these is one of the more preciously-held tenets of Paganism, an inherited Universalism that we’re all, essentially, out for the same truths on our own individual paths and therefore all worthy of respect and affirmation.

The defense contractor, the multi-national banker, the polluter, the small-minded local business tyrant, and the gay-basher aren’t worthy of respect, affirmation, or tolerance.  Nor is meditating for world peace or an end to homelessness anything more than a pathetic masturbatory exercise.  I say “may there be peace in all the realms” during my druid rituals, but I’ve no illusion that my words alone change anything, anymore than voting changes anything.

This is why the position of so many gods-worshippers is a radical one, a severe one, an awfully serious one.  Sacrifice and actions matter more than words or intent.

Radical Gods

Some might know of an earlier dispute between some gods-worshippers on the necessity of social justice, and now that enough time has passed over the issue I feel it’s worth mentioning something that didn’t seem to get addressed.

Some gods are out to save the world.  Some aren’t.  But I think both sorts of gods benefit greatly from the acts of the followers of each.  It’s seems so obvious that it’s probably awfully easy to miss: both sorts are doing precisely what their gods demand of them.

Those of us who worship a gods and goddesses who demand we do stuff in the world for them need the ones who worship those who demand contemplation, ecstatic worship, and ponderous ritual.  It’s from them that we even have any clue what other gods are up to in the world, and they’re the ones developing for the rest of us tools and oracles and methods to interact with our own gods and the spirits around us.  They’re the mystics (whether they see themselves as such or not) who sacrifice an awful lot of their time to the gods so the rest of us learn how to.

And on the other hand, the mystics need the ponderous intellectuals who are working on the larger implications of what this means, or the valiant and whimsical street-warriors to bring the gifts, given by their gods to them, given then by them to us, to wreak upon the realm of the material and social the will of the gods we all revere.

If gods are real (and they are), then they affect the world.  And what’s particularly fantastic about their effect is how they do it, how they wield some of the most glorious, fantastic tools to enact their wills into the world.  Some tools are pretty useless at some things but perfectly suited for others.  I’ll a pretty decent writer, but I’ve got a two-beer limit before I take my clothes off and really can’t get ecstatic for the life of me, so my mystical communions are pretty limited to walking myths and occasional visions.

But I’m okay with this, as there are others doing it damn well and teaching methods to help the rest of us.

Likewise, I’m pretty good at politics and fighting on behalf of others, but good gods I’ll never quite be like the fantastic person who bought me tea this afternoon.

Neither of these are excuses for not trying, and trust me–the folks I know whose devotion is staggering do nothing but inspire the fuck out me, be they the activists or the mystics.

I mostly bring this up to point out that us gods-worshipers are a pretty fierce, burningly radical lot, are united by our physical, very-real actions for our gods, and are rather likely to reforge the world, precisely as our gods intend.

And this makes my radical, god-worshiping heart pretty damn thrilled.

The night before I left Seattle, my brother-in-law brought me two glasses of mead which we’d brewed together, a Methyglyn, an herbed-mead brewed with herbs sacred to my gods of which the majority-part was Chamomile, sacred to Arianrhod.

“I brought you two,” he said.  “One for Dionysos.”

There’s much to say regarding this matter, but to have people who grew up Christian, living in a suburb in central Florida, “get” what I do as a “devotional” polytheist is pretty fucking profound.  That they are my family (and an absurdly wonderful one at that) and in a place where American Christianity is the norm and there is no talk of Paganism, let alone Polytheism, is, well–hope-infusing.  One of the general arguments against what folks like myself have found ourselves doing is that no-one would even get it in this world where the Secular and “Science” are the norm, a world no longer full of gods.  We’re doing something ridiculous and unnecessary and anti-science and mentally-destabilizing et cetera and ad nauseum.

Such arguments make me want to laugh, now.

But I was talking about Dionysos, actually, right?  I had this understanding, in that moment, that the hiatus between us would soon fade, that the time during which I focused primarily on the four other gods whom I worship (Ceridwen, Brigid, Arianrhod, Bran) was coming to a resolution.  I offered some of the mead to Arianrhod, and another portion to Dionysos (there is a Mystery between them, by the way, one I’m still attempting to unravel), and smiled, knowing I’d be seeing Him again shortly.

So, it was amusing to me yesterday when a stoned sex-pig muscle-daddy, the sort who enter a gay bar and even the most confident of attractive men find themselves suddenly weak-willed (and weak-kneed), was waving his cock in my face while I was attempting to write my next Sense of Place post, rubbing it across my recently shaven scalp.

We need some context here, perhaps.  I’m in the living room of some friends, typing at a laptop while others cook dinner in the kitchen, and then there’s this, “out of nowhere,” which is usually how Dionysos introduces his arrival to me.  I’m not in some gay bar or even private space, but in what could be called “semi-public,” and his brow is furrowed in a way I recognize, the way a man’s does when Dionysos is around, riding not precisely the human but the desire betwixt, an overlay and inherent subtext to the interactions of mortals.

I kept typing, but smiled, knowing I’ll be seeing a bit more of this.  And said muscle-daddy, remembering all of it the next day said only “it just happened–out of nowhere,” and all I could do was laugh and say, “of course it did.  It’s like that, huh?”

I’ve seen such things more often amongst the spiritually-inclined, or “sensitive.” Said man’s partner found the matter amusing, remarking that others have noted his sensitivity to such matters. A rather powerful witch was the first I’d seen it happen to, and he’d been equally unsurprised.

But it also happens frequently otherwise, and I think the question is less “innate ability” and more a matter of knowing where to look.  And it reminds me, particularly, that one mostly just has to “look” in order to see it happen.  That is, giving attention to the existence of the gods and how they interact with us not just in Nature or in Ritual or Meditation but on the realm of the Social is precisely how we world the gods into the earth and our lives.

I’ve much more to say on this, but I’d like to draw your attention instead to a piece of writing rather trembling in its quaking, delicious beauty.  From Anomalous Thracian:

In an age of complacency and comfort-seeking blindness, my gods have shown me just how versatile and exceptional human-formed beings and tenacious Will can be, when circumstances are shifted from comfort. I am sometimes mis-perceived as a “doom and gloom” Thracian, which is not necessarily untrue; but from this vantage in the gutters and burial mounds and wind-swept wild ditches, I see only hope in humans, and a flickering thing which can and should and must be rekindled to roaring light to move forward in our lives, our devotions, and our communities.