EXCERPT: Our Plow, It is Made of the White Quicken Tree

EXCERPT - Our Plow, It is Made of the White Quicken Tree:

An Interview with “Paganistani” Poet 
Steven Posch

by Johnny Deer

Introduction

Photo of Steven Posch

Steven Posch

I met with “Paganistani” poet and scholar Steven Posch in his Minneapolis home one blustery morning in early December 2012. As I've come to expect in polytheist cultural discourse, our conversation was far-ranging, but we kept returning to the concept of the Received Tradition, the inherited corpus of lore that functions as “scripture” for virtually all traditional religion.

Posch discussed the legendary Seven Hundred Sacred Songs of the Welsh and the similar body of songs, known humorously as the “Devil's Psalter,” that serves the same function among Old Style witches. “The old ways weren't just handed down informally by granny at the kitchen table,” he said, “the prime mode of lore transmission in oral cultures has always been through the passing down of songs and poetry.” The ingathering of this scattered corpus has been Posch's life work.

“Over the course of our 30+ years together, we have amassed almost 200 Yule carols, both old and new. What strikes me most about the Received Tradition is that this is no closed canon. We're adding good, new material all the time.”

He sang for me his most recent composition, a carol with a deeply archaic feel to it.

“My friend and colleague Bruner Soderberg once said to me 'I love things that look old and new at the same time,'” Posch told me. “That's our cultural touchstone, the aesthetic of this entire movement -- old and new at the same time.”

Interview

Johnny Deer: Steven, anyone that's ever heard a Christmas carol is familiar with the word “wassail,” but where does it come from and what does it mean?

Steven Posch: Isn't it interesting how holiday lore so often preserves the really ancient stuff? “Wassail” is the modern reflex of a 1500-year old Anglo-Saxon blessing: Wes hāl, literally “Be hale!” Haleness—the term rings pretty archaically on the ear these days—means physical health; to be “hale and hearty” is to be both physically and emotionally sound. It's part of a whole constellation of related words from the same Old Germanic root: heal, health, whole, hail (as in “hail and farewell”), even holy. That all these concepts are etymologically so closely related tells us a lot about how the ancestors thought. Every word is a story.
By medieval times, “wassail"....

Continued in Issue #43 of Keltria Journal.


Cover of Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick -- Issue #42

Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick -- Issue #43

Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick, Issue #43 -- The Heroes Issue. Is available in its entirety from MagCloud.

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Keltria Journal #43 – From the Editor

The following is the complete text of "From the Editor" from Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick, Issue #43 -- The Heroes Issue.  This issue is available in its entirety from MagCloud


From the Editor

Photo of Tony Taylor

Tony Taylor, Editor
Keltria Journal

When I was young, my ideas regarding heroes were ill considered. Micky Mantle and Roger Maris were great ball players, but they really weren’t true heroes. By the time I reached the “age of reason,” I realized that a hero is someone who lives with integrity and teaches with both words and actions – not merely a celebrity.

The character that came the closest to fulfilling my idea of a hero was Paladin of the series “Have Gun Will Travel.” He had a classy, even an aristocratic air; and yet, he was never condescending. He always distinguished right from wrong, and was never mean or spiteful. Snobs and bigots were distasteful to him and he always helped the exploited or downtrodden. Paladin’s religious proclivities were decidedly nebulous, although he demonstrated knowledge and acceptance of all religions. First airing in the late 1950’s, this program’s scripts were conceived long before the era of “political correctness,” and yet Paladin quoted Kahlil Gibran even though I noted Gibran was a personage of the 20th century and not the 19th. The fact that Richard Boone, who played the part, had a physical resemblance to my much-admired grandfather impressed me as well.

When I began on the path of Celtic spirituality and Druidism, I found that many of the Celtic heroes and heroines share characteristics with Paladin. They often displayed their human aspects in that they didn’t always act heroically. When they didn’t it was usually because some sort of geis has been laid upon them. The ancient Celtic heroes’ actions should demonstrate how to act and react to situations with honor.

Read the heroic stories in Celtic mythology, particularly Cú Chulainn’s and Finn’s stories, and consider whether they behave as true heroes or are they acting without honor? Do the gods teach them lessons? Would Paladin be proud of them?

About this issue

Cover -- Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick -- Issue #43

Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick -- Issue #43

Welcome to Issue 43 of Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magic. The theme of this issue is Celtic Heroes and Heroines.

I have often read stories of the Bards of old satirizing kings and royalty effectively destroying their reputations. Although clear examples of that skill are few and far between, Jenne Micale draws our attention to the stories of Briciu, an ancient anti-hero. Bricriu may certainly be thought of as the original “jerk” as Jenne shows us in “Just Saying: Satirists as Catalysts and (Anti) Heroes.”

Jenne’s poem, “Leborcham lies to Conchobar,” pairs well with her article illustrating that what may seem to be lies are really truth.

Sharynne MacLeod NicMhacha encourages us to understand the many roles of women in Celtic society in her article, “Druidess, Priestess, Poet & Seer: Women’s Historical Roles in Celtic Religion.” From the treacherous Cartimandua and the fierce warrior Boadicea, to the gentle herbalists, “Druidess, Priestess, Poet & Seer” provides insight to Celtic women and their place in Celtic society.

Cover - Keltria Journal #42

Keltria Journal #42

Steven Posch is a well-known storyteller in the Midwest. I have known him Steven since the mid 1980’s. When I received the interview, “Our Plow, It Is Made of the White Quicken Tree,” I was pleased to include it in this issue. This interview was originally submitted for inclusion with our “Storytelling” issue (#42); however, because the interview is so focused upon Yule and “wassail,” I decided to wait until this issue, which is much closer to Yule. Johnny Deer is Steven’s alter ego and fulfills the role of interviewer. Steven, like Jenne, also has included a poem, “Plowman’s Wassail,” which can be sung to a traditional tune.

Cú Chulainn and Finn are, arguably, the greatest of the Celtic Heroes. Saigh Kym Lambert leads us through a comparison and a contrast between these two heroes in “The Heroes Betwixt and Between.”

Please send your thoughts and opinions regarding this issue, future themes, or other comments to letterstotheeditor@keltria.org.

-tt


Cover of Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick -- Issue #42

Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick -- Issue #42

Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick, Issue #43 -- The Heroes Issue.  Is available in its entirety from MagCloud.

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Keltria Journal: White Ravens and Druid Birds

Excerpt: White Ravens and Druid Birds:

Wisdom, Power and Prophecy in Traditional Celtic Bird Divination

by Sharynne MacLeod NicMhacha (Sharon Paice MacLeod)

Photo of Sharon Paice MacLeod

Sharon Paice MacLeod

Receiving guidance from the appearance, movement and sounds of birds and animals is one of the oldest forms of prophetic divination, and is found around the world in both ancient and indigenous cultures. In traditional societies humans are understood to be part of the natural world, not separate from or above it. The other living beings who inhabit our world – animals, birds, fish, and insects – are perceived as having wisdom, power and blessings which they can share with human beings, as long as they are honoured and respected.

For those involved with the study or practice of Celtic religion, there are many options to choose from when learning how to understand and interpret the movements and wisdom of our partners in the living web of life. One method is to connect with other living beings and interpret their arrival according to your own personal spiritual or mythic symbolism. Certain animals may appear in dreams, meditations or journeys, and accordingly will have special and perhaps very personalized significance for you.

Photo of a White Raven

White Raven

For example, for one person the owl may be a wonder to see but not evoke a sense of connection. For another the owl who appears in dreams and then on the branch of a tree outside your window will constitute a very different experience. Keeping track of the content of dreams, meditations and other personal workings helps track the appearance and potential symbolism of animals, birds and other creatures.

Another option is to learn about the traditional symbolism of animals in the area in which you live. Someone living in Maine may see different animals than someone in Texas, as might someone living in the south of Britain and the north of Scotland. People following Celtic spiritual traditions in Australia experience a very different natural world than the homelands of their Celtic ancestors, and may not see any of the animals described in Celtic mythology or folklore. Respectfully learning about indigenous traditions associated with birds and animals in your region is another way to connect with the wisdom of the natural world.

For those people practicing Celtic spirituality in Ireland, Britain and other parts of Europe, the indigenous beliefs of their own ancestors are available to them, and are present in the landscape around them. The traditional symbolism associated with divination in Celtic traditions may also be practiced in other areas as well, where many of the same animals may be seen (parts of the north-east and north-west of the United States and Canada, for example). Similar animals may be found in other regions, and some associated symbolism can be connected with those creatures in the area you live in.

Continued...

[This five-page article was published in Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick, Issue #41.  It is available in its entirety to members of the Henge of Keltria via the Members Home page.  It is available to non-members of the Henge via Mag Cloud.]

Keltria Journal 41Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick #41

Yule 2012-Imbolc 2013

Includes:

White Ravens and Druid Birds by Sharynne NicMhacha
Against Over-interpretation by Nimue Brown
The Visit by Tony Taylor
Birds of Ill Repute by Jenne Micale
The Pelegian Heresy by Brendan Myers

Find out more on MagCloud

Hotfoot from the Gods:

Resistance and Ritual

By Jenne Micale 

Jenne Micale

Jenne Micale

“I hope Brighid isn't angry at me,” I fret.

My husband smirks. “No, Brighid is laughing her ass off,” he replies.

It's Meán Geimhridh, and yet again I've swallowed my inherent dislike of snow and darkness to organize an appropriately solemn rite, one that has us pondering our blessings, rolling around on the metaphysical floor in abject gratitude and making fervent vows to repair the inherent brokenness of human culture. No sublimation of guilt there, no, not at all.

And the mishap happens, right on cue – just as it does virtually every midwinter, in one form or another.

This time, it's the mysterious chimney damper, which floods the entire house with woodsmoke. Then there was the year the candle flame shot up four inches high, refused to be doused and cracked the glass; I had to drown it in the sink after the rite. Then there was the time I set my sleeve on fire during the ceremony and a fellow priestess patted it out.

While I've had my share of ritual faux pas, I usually put on a meaningful ceremony for the Kindreds and the Druids in attendance. Meán Geimhridh, however, eludes me every year.

Oddly enough, it's the unsuccessful rituals that offer the deepest lessons. One-time failures can point to gaps in the planning process, the organizer's knowledge and skill, or the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Repeated failures, however, are signposts of another type, pointing the way to truths that the group or the individual priest or priestess refuse to face.

Repeated failures needn't involve an actual holy day, in the case of Meán Geimhridh, although that's fairly common. They can involve practices such as meditation, daily worship, even particular types of spellwork. Addressing the situation comes down to a few simple questions: What am I resisting, or refusing to see? What really turns me off, whether it's rational or not?

In my case, I've long had a marked resistance to the winter solstice. In part, it's the connection with what we know as Christmas traditions: gift-giving, greenery, silly music, feasting. The winter holiday is all shiny joy, something that I tend to interpret as shallow. Instead, I'm trying to steer us back into the darkness in all its Gothic glory and atone for the commercialism of the season. Coupled with that is a thirst for something ecstatic: drawing us outside the boundaries of our own beings, to drink at the well of cosmic truth.

No matter which way I slice it, Meán Geimhridh -- Yule, Winternights, whatever name you choose -- is as sweet as a slice of fruitcake, which makes perfect sense.

Merriment -- the gathering of loved ones, gifting, feasting, song -- truly is key to the meaning of solstice. In winter's depths, a community requires some levity to survive. Laughter lightens the darkest night. Companions warm the cold road. You don't survive the winter alone by denying loved ones, silliness, or cake in favor of a dour utilitarianism. By the same token, you can't just ecstatically trance the winter away; you need planning and grounding in the cold realities of the storehouse, whether that's finances in a down economy or the actual food in your root cellar.

Solstice is a dance between survival and celebration, seriousness and joy. After all the preparations for winter's rule, the balance starts to tip on the darkest night. Yes, the coldest months are ahead -- but so is the light.

Celebration is a kind of ecstasy -- the kind that draws you out of yourself, cracking a smile from ear to ear as a loved one rips through colored paper. Solstice is a liminal time when we forget our rules: the social rules of master and servant, the eggshell-walking boundaries of family life and power dynamics, the rules of diets and propriety. We act like children, rejoicing in food, fun, ridiculous songs.

Which is why Brighid laughs at me in this season and sets my sleeves on fire, “You're so damned serious. Lighten up!”