Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners

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Cover Art by Carl Fairweather, Design by Armi Dee

 

 

 

(This is the Home page because we obviously want you to buy the book. However, there’s a blog with all sorts of posts like the Northumbrian Runes in context of The Old North, how the book helped a transwoman who survived rape in prison start her PTSD recovery process, little known Germanic deities, and much more. The Menu has information about supporting incarcerated Pagans- especially donating books on (almost) any topic, Resources for Pagans in Prison, information about Gullveig Press, tips on writing incarcerated Pagans, and Contact. Please explore!)

The first release from Gullveig Press is now available! We’re proud to announce that the Celtic Paganism “all-in-one” book Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners has already become a well-loved treasure trove for Pagans on the outside and in prison alike. At 556 pages and 8.5″ x 11″ (21.59 x 27.94 cm) in size, you’ll be reading and rereading these essays, performing these rituals, and admiring the art for quite a long time. (Want to read some of the book just to make sure? Visit here for excerpts and check out our awesome contributors!)

Price for people in prison, Pagan Prison Ministries, and prisoner rights organizations: US $7.52 plus shipping and taxes. US $12 in continental USA. BULK RATE: 5 copies for only $46.50 in continental USA.!

Buy a copy for an incarcerated Pagan and receive a free pdf of the book! $12!

If you are buying a copy for someone in prison, a Prison Ministry, or to donate to a “free books to prisoners” organization, please contact us. Let us know the address of where you want the book shipped so we can calculate shipping costs and taxes. We will respond by email with the price including shipping and our PayPal account information. Copies for incarcerated persons or established “free books to prisoners” organization will be mailed directly to them once we receive payment. (Either choose a program here or we can choose for you.)

If you would like to share information about ordering Steel Bars, Sacred Waters with people in prison, thank you! Please let them know that they can send a MoneyGram to Gullveig Press, PO Box 126, St. Johnsbury, VT 05819. Continental USA price plus shipping and taxes: $12. Remind them to include their full name, prison ID number, and address.

News Update! 28 Copies in Prisons Already!

(I asked someone who published a book for incarcerated Pagans years ago at a very low price how many they had in prisons. Two. Aside from what I bought and sent. It’s not enough to write and publish books for Pagans in prison – we have to be sending them free copies! Please buy a copy for $12 and get the PDF for free!)

For Prison Ministries (and other organizations helping prison in prison), we also need your mailing address for calculating shipping, along with the following information: who you are; what your organization is; what you do involving prisons; what prisons you serve; why you want a copy of Steel Bars, Sacred Waters; and a link to your website, so we can verify that you actually are working with Pagans in prison.

Price for people neither in prison nor involved in Pagan Prison Ministries or Activism: $27.99 (and whatever shipping fees and taxes apply; $4 in the continental United States). To order, contact us or visit Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Amazon UK, and other European Amazons. ALL PROFITS GO TOWARDS PROVIDING COPIES TO PAGANS IN PRISON.

Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners

Authored by Heather Awen, Rev Donna DonovanViducus Brigantici filiusErynn Rowan Laurie, Hester Butler-Ehle, Eddie MarssonEmma Restall Orr, Armi Dee

An “all-in-one” pan-Celtic polytheist resource of cosmology, deities, virtues, history, rituals, meditations, magic and the future of Celtic Paganism, rooted in scholarly research.

One of only three full-size books for incarcerated Pagans, Steel Bars, Sacred Waters also fulfills the need for a historically accurate guide to ancient Celtic religions that many have sought.

Highlights include:

  • rituals for 11 traditional holy times and seasonal changes based on Gaelic, Gaulish, Welsh and Manx practices;
  • information about (and invocations for and prayers to) 160 Celtic deities;
  • the Other Life/Otherworld;
  • daily practices for the Celtic Pagan;
  • Celtic virtues and how they can be lived today;
  • exploration of different Celtic cultures through time and space;
  • Iberian Celtic deities never before included in a Pagan book;
  • neglected Gaulish deities;
  • how Celtic tribes adapted Roman religion to existing cults and created new ones;
  • the cultural intermixing between Celts and Greeks, Celts and Germans, Celts and Norse Heathens;
  • the “horse, head and hero” cult;
  • modern and traditional meditations;
  • documented Celtic magic;
  • known teachings of the Druids;
  • ogham divination guide;
  • Celtic mythology in context, with explanations of how political factors from the times they were written affected the versions we have today;
  • proto-Celto-Germanic-Finnish words used by some Indo-Europeans 4,000 years ago and the Gaelic, Germanic and Norse deities, rituals and magic that continued from them;
  • common practices among Celtic peoples worldwide;
  • sacrifice and hospitality;
  • maps of the Celtic world, with cities, tribes, temples, rivers and other places of interest mentioned in the essays on history and deities;
  • The Oran Mor (Song of the World);
  • moon rituals;
  • working with ancestors;
  • animism and land spirits, especially in lands new to Celtic Paganism;
  • the connection between Lugus and Woden;
  • Celts in a multicultural society of many polytheist cults;
  • land, sea and sky cosmology;
  • 5 directions of Ireland cosmology;
  • Gaelic and Welsh mantras;
  • the file (poet-prophet);
  • Celtic heroes and heroines;
  • the Fianna (hunter-warrior band);
  • saining (Scottish purification);
  • devotional polytheism, the community and the environment;
  • root meaning of Norse seidR and its ancient link to Celtic magical religious practices;
  • the king-making ritual;
  • the British Old North, a unique mixture of Britons, Angles, Gaels and Picts, home to “Merlin”, ancient poetry, and Hiberno-Saxon art;
  • pathworking (guided meditations) to different deities;
  • cloud scrying and other forms of divination;
  • the Neolithic roots of the swine cult;
  • instructions for making a St Brigid’s Cross;
  • why Anglo-Saxon and Brythonic magic is so similar;
  • making and working with prayer beads;
  • the role of ritual music and improvising ancient Celtic instruments;
  • Celtic funeral practices;
  • the importance of ecological issues in modern Celtic Paganism;
  • journaling questions about essays;
  • pronunciation of deities’ names and important terms;
  • shrines;
  • the political, legal structure of kingdoms;
  • Fairies;
  • Celtic openness about homosexuality;
  • Celtic astronomy;
  • explanations for why Celtic Paganism cannot be Folkish, racist, homophobic or limited to Ireland and the British Isles;
  • visions of Celtic Paganism’s future;
  • Celtic Paganism and the 12 step program and CBT, DBT and ACT therapies;
  • forming and maintaining a diverse Pagan group;
  • drawing and creative writing exercises;
  • recipes for “make do” crafts including papier mache, print making, and the 6th century paint glair used in medieval manuscripts;
  • around 100 drawings or photographs of archeological finds, depictions of Celtic deities both ancient and modern and Celtic culture;
  • crossword puzzles;
  • resources for incarcerated Pagans;
  • and much more.

Although written for Pagans in prison who are possibly alone with only paper, pencil and tap water, “outside” Pagans are provided with the background information to expand their own practices. A valuable tool for Pagan Prison Ministries, volunteers and penpals, Steel Bars, Sacred Waters was partially shaped by communication with Pagans in prison. Their needs were generally no different than those of frustrated Pagans on the outside seeking an accurate education about the Celts. The main difference was lack of access to books, services and especially the Internet, where so much research is scattered. Both communities needed that research organized, including the recent Iberian, Balkan, Gallo-Roman and Celto-Germanic discoveries. The result is a book that explores the ancient Celtic peoples and their religions from Ireland to Turkey, Portugal to Ukraine, and their role in over 1,000 years of European history. The Celts influenced the cultures with whom they interacted and were changed by those near them – including other Celts.

All profits go to supplying Pagans in prison with copies of the book. The U.S. incarcerates 1% of its population, more than any other nation. Most convictions are connected to addiction. The American prison population is 8-12% Pagan. This means that 1 in 1000 Americans are incarcerated Pagans! Providing low cost, high quality information to Pagans in prison is the goal of Gullveig Press.

Please note: The content by Laurie, Restall Orr and Butler-Ehle have been published elsewhere or are available online.

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Domnu: Cornwall’s Underworld Goddess of Mining? (or, Annwn, Celtiberians and Erecura led me astray)

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Minack Theatre near Porthcurno, Cornwall, England

Domnu. Perhaps the most important Goddess in Cornwall yet rarely mentioned. According to famous Celtic scholar John Koch, She is the Goddess of the Dumnonii tribe. In Steel Bars, Sacred Waters (SBSW), I stated: “Dumnonii means “People of the deity of the deep or earth,” with Domnu sometimes considered a Goddess of deep waters or soil – the Celtic Otherworld.” A little common sense has caused me to reevaluate that.

As I wrote in SBSW, “A recent theory suggests that Celtic origins start with the Atlantic Bronze Age. This is around the same time as the Hallstatt culture, but is along the Atlantic coast of Europe. From Portugal to Scotland, we know the coast was linked by seafaring trade and a shared culture. This culture was connected for 6,000 years. They built the same type of stone tombs and decorated them with similar symbols. Cornwall had tin, the metal necessary to combine with copper to make bronze. (Cornwall is the very southern end of Britain.) Bronze was stronger than copper and in demand. Bronze moved from one coastal community to another from 1300 to 700 BCE. The Phoenicians brought the Atlantic bronze to the Western Mediterranean. The Greeks became connected to the trade at the city Massilia (modern Marseille).”

Cornwall had the tin. All that bronze, and Cornwall had the tin. This is the most important information that we have on the insular Celts from the Greeks. It’s also important information about human history. Without tin, we’d have no Bronze Age.

Celtic Pagans are aware of the great wealth of the Hallstatt culture, which had deep salt mines. Recently I watched a BBC documentary on the Celts that went into these mines. Archaeologists have studied the remains of the famous site for so long, I doubted that I’d learn anything new. Actually, I did – The sort of social history I appreciate that allows me to imagine a culture better. The bone development of the people of Hallstatt revealed men with weak legs and great upper body strength. As miners, the men did not walk long distances, but they did use their arm and torso muscles for hours every day of their lives. Meanwhile the women had an imbalance in their shoulder alignment. All those heavy bags of salt the women carried from the mines caused an imbalance in their bodies’ development, because they apparently never changed sides when carrying the large sacks.

(Whenever people romanticize the Bronze and Iron Age (or any culture, honestly) I wish they’d keep in mind the reality of the culture. “The Golden Age” so many, including myself at times, yearn for is actually the world we need to be creating today. Every religion and political movement has its own “Golden Era” for inspiration, and instead of false nostalgia for things that never were, I would love to see people working on creating those values in themselves and in their relationship with the world. I’d like to be part of ushering in a Golden Age of ecological health, true equality, and the healing of deep wounds that have held my species back.)

Anyway, I’d worked on a bead shrine for Domnu, using some Underworld ancestral and ocean imagery. “Deep” I thought may have been about the importance of the ocean. Cornwall, at least on a map, looks like it is never far from the sea. Also, it was a major Bronze Age port. Its tin was in very high demand, for while copper was relatively easy to find, the other ingredient in bronze was not. The entire economy for many people – not just the Dumnonii, but merchants and artisans along the entire Atlantic coast and along the Mediterranean Sea – depended upon the tin of Cornwall. It and other goods were traded from port to port, perhaps uniting the Atlantic coast in a proto-Celtic language of economics. (I highly recommend reading famous Celtic scholar and Eurasian archeologist Sir Barry Cunliffe’s book “On the Ocean: The Mediterranean and the Atlantic from prehistory to AD 1500″ for much, much more!)

Where was this “deep” place Domnu resided? I now believe it was the mines. The deities are responsible for the gifts we humans receive. They push us to evolve. Today we know much more about the dangers of mining especially when it’s mountain top removal or fracking, and I firmly know that the deities don’t want us to continue actions that are destroying our own lives and those of 96% of other species. But at that time, the deities were allowing us to explore. Today we have far better, safer technology available then ever before in history like Living  Machine systems , ecological sewage treatment designed to mimic the cleansing functions of wetlands, and the reclaimed ancient science of permaculture. All we need is for them to be funded so we can move into a saner future.

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Living Machine systems, actually purifying sewage

In Her own time Domnu was the most prominent deity in Cornwall. The entire tribe was named after She who brought them wealth and prestige. She was the mother of the people, a Queen bestowing tin upon Her faithful followers.

It’s rather obvious, but it took seeing inside a tunnel at Hallstatt to help me understand. Too often we hear Earth Goddess and think of a deity who coaxes the fields to give a generous harvest. Earth to us usually means soil. The Ancients didn’t have a name for a deity of this entire planet. If they did it would probably be an ocean deity, not soil, considering that Earth is a blue planet mostly covered in salt water. Or perhaps something completely synergy related, aware of the plurality of forces at work. Oh, wait, that’s polytheism. 🙂

Studying Celtic cultures other than Gaelic (which focuses more on an Other Life filled with islands), “deep” tends to automatically connect with the Welsh Annwn, which the Gauls also knew. From SBSW: “In medieval times the word Annwn meant “very deep” in Welsh. It probably comes from a much older Gallo-Brythonic word *ande-dubnos that literally means Underworld.” To read Koch say Domnu was “a deity of the deep or earth” while submerged in studying the Celtic Underworld, I suppose it was only natural to think “deep = Underworld.”

In SBSW I discuss a group of Underworld Goddess from Spain, the Duillis. “Duillis means “Goddesses of the Underworld. These Goddesses are Celtiberian, worshipped in temperate northeastern Spain, near the Pyrenees Mountains that separate Spain from France. The title comes from a Celtic root word meaning “dark” from an older term “burning dark, dark flames.” It is also connected to the Latin word for “tranquility” and the Old Norse word for “resting place.” These Goddesses probably take care of the peaceful Underworld home of the Ancestors.”

(I would LOVE to see artists depict the Duillis! “Burning dark, dark flames”??? Combined with a tranquil Underworld resting place? Are the flames connected to the pyre, where most dead Celts went after birds had picked the flesh off their bones? Are these Goddesses anything like the Matres? Why do I envision the nine maidens blowing on the flames under the Cauldron of Annwn, like a medieval memory of the Goddesses of the Underworld?)

Plus we have Erecura, so popular in Southern Germany and Slovenia, but also found in Switzerland, Italy, Britain and France. Along both the Danube and the Rhine we find this Goddess, who was associated with the Roman Proserpina. Erecura often appears in statues with the Underworld God Dis Pater, especially in cemeteries. “On a monument from Salzbach, Dispater is accompanied by a goddess called Aeracura, holding a basket of fruit, and on another monument from Ober-Seebach, the companion of Dispater holds a cornucopia. In the latter instance Dispater holds a hammer and cup, and the goddess may be Aeracura. She may thus represent the old Earth-goddess,” according to J.A. MacCulloch in “The Religion of the Celts.”

Julius Caesar commented that the Gaulish people believe that they came from the God of the dead. Caesar referred to this God with the Latin name Dis Pater, pater being related to paternal. There have been many guesses as to who the Celtic Dis Pater might be, but the most popular are Cernunnos and Sucellus. It’s entirely possible that both (and other tribal deities whose names we don’t remember) were/are Dis Pater. It’s a basic Proto-Indo-European myth: the first person of the tribe to die becomes the Lord of the Realm of the Dead. When a member of the tribe died, they returned to the Ancestors, watched over by the first. The Irish Donn is a good example.

With all that Celtic Underworld information clouding my mind, the obvious “deep earth = tin mines” was lost. I’d like to apologize to Domnu for overlooking the specifics of Her bioregion and role in history. Of course, She may easily also be an ancestral Goddess in the Underworld. Celtic cultures rarely limited their deities into mere functions. I’ve begun to meditate with Domnu and feel that the importance of the safe ocean voyage was part of Her blessings, but really, what couldn’t a member of the “People of Domnu” pray to Her for?

I’m curious if others have relationships with Domnu. In a world where fracking is the Oil Junkie’s desperate Spoon Wash, causing earthquakes and flames to fly out of faucets, does She have solutions? Is She a Goddess who helps humans with responsible technology? International trade? The Mother of Cornwall still? Is She found in caves? Do miners pray to Her for safety? Does She rule over the metals tin and bronze?

If you are Her devotee, please contact me through the Gullveig Press order form and share your experiences. Debating is a high school class focused on “winning”, not being right or finding the best, long term community solution. Debating means there will be no listening. It’s politicians yelling sound bites and attorneys manipulating the emotions of juries. Discussion is for humans who respect what the other has to say. Your practices matter. I’d like to read about them. I’d like a polytheism where the more educated in certain areas are kind to those seeking reputable information, innocent questions are not taken as threats, gossip is not treated as fact, and personal experiences and belief are not fodder for arguments. adrienne brown in “Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds” constantly reminds us that in any group of people there is an important conversation that no one else could have, if we’re willing to have it. All religions have sects who demonize each other. Let’s move into something better.

 

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Happy Samhain and Trinoxtion Samoni!

If we go by the older Roman calender used in Irish medieval times, October 31st becomes today, November 11th. There’s been arguments about how many people would have known the date, but I am now inclined to agree that most did in Christian Ireland. The Christian Church has a strict liturgical calendar. In the 7th century, when the first written reference to Druids in Ireland are mentioned (as having the same worth as any other ordinary citizen, showing that the title merely meant sorcerer), Ireland celebrated Easter on a different day than Rome. This complicated things greatly because all Christians were meant to worship the same things at the same time. It also meant that the entire year was different than the rest of Western Christianity’s.

Steel Bars, Sacred Waters discusses how this caused chaos for the Anglo-Saxons. The Angles who ruled over Northumbria were, from an early time, raised in Dalriada, the Gaelic speaking kingdom of the Scots. More specifically, they were educated at the monastery at Iona, which was founded by an Irish prince and 12 followers. As the early British Angles practiced Gaelic Christianity and the southern Saxons were converted by  Christians following the Roman calender, Britain was split into two different calendars. When a Saxon woman married an Angle man in the North, their household would be split in half, with some people fasting for Lent while the others celebrated the resurrection of the Christ. While this was fixed in Britain by everyone following the Roman calender, Ireland continued its own “Celtic Christianity.” Which means that the date of Samhain is thrown off by that as well.

The common belief is that Samhain means “summer’s end.” The year is divided into a Dark Half, which begins now, and a Light Half, starting at Beltain, May 12th. Samhain was around the first frost when most fruits and grains would be ruined, hence the rush of September’s Harvest Moon in bringing in all the grain. As a young teenager I read that the Devil had the blackberries after Samhain. I couldn’t understand this, but when 18 in Galway walking to a friend’s parents’ home in November I tried a blackberry still ripe along the road. It was sour from the frost. That probably taught me more about Celtic Paganism – and how many people understood the Devil – than any dozen books. Replace the Devil with Fomorians and you understand half the Irish Mythological Cycle.  At least in Ireland, Britain, and Iberia, this is an agricultural, pastoral religion. (The Gauls had a much more urban culture, even before the Roman invasion.)

Scholar Brendan MacGonagle believes that early linguists misunderstood the word Samhain, and its true meaning is “Assembly.”

“The traditional interpretation, first put forward in Medieval glossaries, and still held by many, is that it means “summer’’ being a combination of Samh “summer” and Fuin = “ending, concealment”. This is obviously a later folk etymology, since we know that the earliest form of the word (Samon-) had a different meaning. In fact the original Celtic meaning of “Samhain‟ comes from the Proto-Celtic *samoni- = assembly ([Noun], Goid: MIr. samain “assembly on the 1st of November‟; Gaul: samon – (Coligny), from the PIE: *smHon- “reunion, assembly‟ (also in Skt. samiina- “together‟, Go. samana “together‟).

This works, too, as Samhain is when there was a weeklong feast at Tara. Divination was performed to determine what the next year would bring. Questions focused on war, famine and plagues, issues that affected entire kingdoms. Assembly makes sense when we consider the return of the young men who have been in the summer fields watching over cattle, and perhaps raiding the cattle of other kingdoms. As the Celts spread East from Gaul, one way for an ambitious young man to form his own tribe was to gain cattle (ie wealth) with some friends by raiding other people. The more wealth a leader had – and shared in feasts and gifts – the more followers he attracted. In Iberia and Ireland we know that young men were sent to summer pastures with the cattle, and their return would correspond with Samhain. The people were assembled together.

 

If you seek mythological events to celebrate, there are two from Ireland that stand out. Aengus is with his love, Caer Ibormeith, the swan maiden, and before Second Battle of Moytura the Dagda mated with the Morrigan. Most people focus on the Morrigan, for she is giving the Tuatha De Danann her power as a battle Goddess, guaranteeing their victory over the Fomorians. There is much more to this Goddess than most Pagans think. The only prayer found to a Pagan deity in Ireland was to the Morrigan for more cattle. As protector of the land, she holds its wealth as much as she gets involved with its battles. Part of protecting the land is to make sure that the right person rules it. This is a major theme in the myths we do have, including those of other horse Goddesses like Aine and Rhiannon. For Celtic polytheists in prison worshipping with Wiccans, the mating of the Morrigan and the Dagda is usually an easy ritual compromise.

The “veils are thin between the worlds” has to do with the liminal nature of being between years. Beltain also is liminal time, another new year, into the Light. The Anglo-Saxons seem to have continued this belief in two years within one solar year, although they had a lunar month, solar year calendar. It quite possibly is a general Germanic calendar. Looking at the rune that means “year” (whether Anglo-Saxon or Norse), it shows two halves. Unlike other Anglo-Saxon names for months, October does not end in month. October is “Winter Nights”, also one of the three celebrations which we know the Norse celebrated along with Yule and  February’s Disirblot. The emphasis on Nights reminds us that the northern lands, which include the islands of Britain and Ireland, have long nights during winter.

Any liminal time is considered to be not one thing, not the other. Times of magic and danger were dawn (before sunrise) and dust (after sunset) when the world is filled with grey shadows and more active wild animals. Neither day nor night, medieval folk spells and times for divination usually state dawn. As a girl of feminist parents (women can have careers and attend University, don’t have to get married, should not endure domestic violence or rape, have all the rights and opportunities men have –  crazy stuff, huh?), I often wondered why so many divination techniques focused on the occupation of a girl’s future husband. Until very recently, a woman’s lot in life was completely dependent on her husband’s income. Her status would be determined by his class. The amount of back breaking labour she had to do to keep the household running was in his financial hands.

Dusk seems to often be more about communicating with spirits. The Welsh had 3 nights when speaking to the dead was easier called tier nos ysbrydio: October 31, May 1, and June 24th, St. John the Baptist Day. This was another form of divination. For religious people, divination normally means a way to communicate with the divine, be they ancestors or deities.

Modern folk magic watched the clock, and midnight – neither today nor tomorrow – became the new liminal time, the “Witching Hour.” Hoodoo takes that farther, with the minute hand moving down as a time for decreasing or banishing something, and the minute hand rising being a time for magical increase.

There’s nothing bad about the Dark Half of the year. For the Celtic people, life begins in the Dark, in the Underworld. It may be the beautiful kingdom of Annwn, the Plain of Apples, Avalon, or the Isle of the Young, but it is always filled with feasts and games, astonishing music, and all our loved ones who have passed on before us. The day starts at sundown, in the incubation of sleep. In the Dark half of the year, people literally turned within. Visits were extremely rare. Although in dark, smoky close quarters, people knew how to give privacy to those with them. As the lack of sunlight meant less vitamin D, the fat lost over winter released stored vitamin D. Some symptoms of depression, often triggered by lack of light, may have evolved to help us with the long stretches of “down time” by sleeping more which conserved calories.

Families stayed home, often with the remaining cattle and sheep sleeping with the human family. The smoky Walpurga and Beltain fires that the cattle were driven between had many herbs with insecticide powers. The fires jumped had the same. (In 16th century Scotland most people only bathed once a year, in May. Due to having no trade cities, modern ideas like soap and art skipped over the struggling farmland.) I used to be confused by old English herb books. What was the difference between a strewing herb and a potherb (which I pronounced poth-erb)? A potherb goes in your broth for its amazing vitamin and mineral content (parsley being the best example), while a strewing herb was strewn across the floor for the lovely smell it produced when crushed by feet. Traditionally strewing herbs also repel disease-carrying insects.

I’m really pleased that Steel Bars, Sacred Waters has a ritual for the ancient Gaulish ritual of Trinoxtion Samoni (“tree-NOKH-tee-on sa-MOE-nee”) written by Viducus Brigantici filius. The focus is on Dis Pater. As he poetically writes, “Dis Pater was the god who ruled the land of the dead. We all came from Dis Pater’s land, because before we are born, our spirits lived in the Otherworld. And we will return to him one day. And after that … we will return here again.”

Dis Pater could be Cernunnos or Sucellus. There’s no reason to assume the various Gaulish tribes had the same pantheons. The ritual chooses Cernunnos, along with the Gaulish Goddess Erecura associated with Persephone, plus the Greek-Kemetic Isis and Serapis. I personally feel a much stronger connection to the Gaulish deities than the Gaelic, so I feel personally blessed to have had Viducus write this ritual, as well as the Epona Day one, the Sucellus and Nantosuelta harvest rite, and a monthly devotion to Rosmerta. It was very important to me that Steel Bars, Sacred Waters focus on the cultural exchange that was happening all over Europe. Whether it’s the Atlantic Coast Celtic culture meeting with the Phoenicians, the Indo-European people around the Czech Republic who began the Celtic and Germanic religious traditions around 4,000 years ago, the influence of Greece on the Southern Gauls (and vice versa), Norwegian Vikings who became medieval Irish Kings, the Celto-Germanic Belgae territory, or the diversity of religion in the Roman Empire and the response of the Celtic people – we cannot pretend that there were any static, xenophobic people in Europe who didn’t share ideas and trade material goods.

Reading a little about the history of Roman religion, at first I was more intrigued with its earliest times. Viducus told me that the wide variety of religions both native and absorbed from other peoples fascinated him more. After studying the Nova Roma website and a few Roman Reconstructionist books, I was genuinely impressed. The Mystery Religion of Isis celebrated the festival of Isia at the same time as Trinoxtion Samoni. I wonder how many Gauls joined this cult and how it might have influenced the Celtic Samhain. The Roman Christian church could easily have created All Souls Day based on Isia. Our knowledge of Samhain is Christian, and the ancestor reverence part of Samhain could easily be from that important holiday. All Souls Day could have merged with Samhain into what we see in Paganism today: dumb suppers and contacting the Beloved Dead.

Strangely, it IS Remembrance Day. A day to remember the horrors of World War I, the most convoluted, insane war people can remember. It’s a call for sanity. Do you know why the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ottoman Empire, Russia, France, Germany, England and the United States were fighting? Most soldiers involved didn’t know either.  Nerve gas, trenches and fields of blood where poppies bloomed – that’s why we wear the red poppy. To never forget the war that was meant to be the last war, a war that created the Lost Generation, where politicians were distrusted, the Spanish War proved anarchy and socialism work, and the peace movement was rapidly growing. But due to the terms of the punitive Treaty of Versailles that destroyed the German economy, the stage was set for Hitler, with his promise to make Germany great again. Still, the German pacifist art movement made of WWI veterans depicted their internal horrors by creating a new genre of film: horror and psychological thriller. Alfred Hitchcock himself studied with these shell-shocked veterans whose films focused on sanity: does the man in power or the individual know what is real? Today we’d call it gaslighting, from a movie of that very same genre.

The Isia focused on the death and resurrection of Serapis (Osiris). Along with a huge procession of initiates and musicians, there were private rites of ritualized grief and joy. Like the longest running Mystery Religion, the Kidnapping of Persephone by Hades of the Realm of Underworld Dead and the grief of Persephone’s mother Demeter who stopped all the plants from growing, which lasted for 3,000 years, I’m certain that Gauls participated in the Isia. Statues of Erecura stood in Gaulish cemeteries along the territories following the Danube River east, as  She held baskets and plates of sweet fruit like apples, reminding everyone of the Otherworldly Afterlife and the rebirth in our world that comes every spring. Also associated with Persephone is the Celtic Goddess found in Iberia, Ataegina, whose very name means “rebirth”. As the Celts often choose for themselves what deity from the Roman Empire their own deities were most like, and Ataegina’s name is Celtic, these were almost definitely Celtic seasonal Underworld and Renewal Goddesses before the Romans became involved.

I suppose that all people had myths and deities focusing on the death in winter (or perhaps the dry season in other climates) and rebirth in spring (or the returning rains). Maybe they focused more on the migration of elk or moose, or the returning fish and birds each year. We acknowledge the powers larger than us, upon Whom we depend. Many Pagans say that we have moved from that sacred, embodied knowledge of deep need and trust because we no longer are responsible for our own food. Even if we do not farm, we usually rely on imported foods, barely aware of our bioregion’s food cycles. We can buy delicious blackberries after Samhain. The Fomorian threat is far from our minds.

What I have noticed is that people who live with a chronic illness often feel this dependence on the deities and their cycles in a very visceral and emotional way. As plagues were so common, perhaps chronic illnesses bring us closer to the older ways of experiencing life. I believe this is especially true for people with the “can’t help you” diagnoses like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, MCS, seizure disorders, many auto-immune diseases, etc. A decade of Lyme disease and, worse, babesiosis taught me how much I need my deities. We may not fret over not getting the hay in on time, praying that the rains will wait, but we do often pray to make it through the day in a world hostile towards people with disabilities. Will insurance cover this? How will the dishes get done? What can stop this pain? Being sick is a full time job.

In prison there’s nothing to note the cycles of time. The lights go out at the same time, the diabetes-inducing, low calorie “meals” arrive (or don’t, depending on the guard’s mood) at the same time, and the mask worn to keep privacy stays in place. Like the Treaty of Versailles proved, punitive justice only destroys people, leaving them vulnerable for great evil. After WW2 Germany was nurtured by the victors and became a strong economic nation within decades. Germany is one of the most eco-friendly nations in the world. They’re certainly not a perfect place, but when compared to Hitler, we can see how on a global scale punitive justice does not work.

Lucumi in Prison

I’ve been lucky enough to have a pen pal who knows a ton about African Diaspora Religions and we’ve shared loads of papers, books, art and information. It’s really hard to find someone well educated but not dogmatic about these religions with whom to discuss them. There’s an Ifa reading Priest from Cuba also in the prison, but he speaks Spanish, we speak English, so I only get bits and pieces of how he practices in prison. He’s also teaching us how to tell the many conmen online claiming to be trained but just wanting money from the real deal. His father was involved with different Palo traditions and said what I thought after reading a couple books about it: “no good!” (Does anyone worship Kongo spirits as beautiful powers like the lwa or Orishas without mixing them with the Orishas as if they’re interchangeable? Seriously looking for Kongo based religion!)

Prison doesn’t really allow anything. It’s a soul crushing, dead end world of its own and anything you own can be taken just out of spite. Some Chaplains do their job of meeting the legal needs of inmates, but when you took a vow as a Pentecostal Evangelical Christian Minister to covert as many people as possible, you are not going to do your job as a prison Chaplain. Most Pagans in prison have never seen photos of altars or art of deities. That’s why Steel Bars, Sacred Waters has about 100 images. It’s hard to envision a future if you literally can’t visualize one. With even juice banned (it could be fermented into booze), what do incarcerated Pagans do?

O.K. Mojo gave me some examples of how he practices Orisha worship.

Blue Gatorade Yemaya Bath and Floor Wash

Leave the blue Gatorade on your Yemaya altar for 7 days for Her to bless. Mix the Gatorade with tap water. Use to wash your floor and door for Her blessings. Do a hand bath from feet to head if asking Her to bring something into your life. (A  hand bathe is like a sponge bath except you have no sponge.) Do a hand bath from head to feets to have Her remove something. Wash your head in it to purify your ori. (You can use Orange soda for Oshun.)

Milk Obatala Floor Wash and Bath

This comes from the Cuban Priest. Wash your cell floor with the milk finishing at the door, while praying to Obatala for purification and wisdom. Then wash your body with the remaining milk. Wrap your head in something white like a T shirt. Go to sleep and let it dry overnight. In the morning rinse yourself off the best you can. (You are supposed to get a daily shower, but it’s more like every other day in these chaotic prisons. Meals are similar – You might get one; you might not.) Wash your floor again, but with water.

Chapstick Candles

If you have no way to get candles but need a white one, let’s say for honoring your egun (ancestors), buy a stick of Chapstick. Twist the bottom until the entire stick is out. Cut it off at the base. Cut a vertical line along the Chapstick to push your wick into. (The wick can be any string that will burn.) Charge it with your prayers. Put the candle on your sink for safety and light it. Praise your ancestors. It will burn quickly and might be smoky depending upon the wick. The sink might hide it from the guards, but you could go to the Hole – no mattress, no clothes, no blanket – for this. This depends on if the guard is paying attention, “phoning it in”, flirting with another guard or inmate, or selling illegal cell phones or drugs. Knowing the temperament and goals of the guards is highly recommended. (It’s a low pay, long hour job. The Grey Market is different but usually well established at every facility.)

The ingenuity of Pagans who are not allowed any items that their religions require continually impresses me. On the outside I have met Pagans who for years say they’ll make a shrine when they have the money to hit up Michael’s, place a few Etsy orders, and buy half the supplies available at an online occult shop. My experience is that these Pagans are procrastinating because they are afraid that the deities are real, or they don’t know what they actually believe so they don’t really have a religion. With all my limitations from having Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, Pagans in prison inspire me to keep looking far out of the box for ways I can celebrate my deities!

 

Host a Party, Decorating Holiday Cards for LGBTQ and HIV+ Prisoners!

I know that a lot of people don’t agree with the US policy of incarcerating more of its population than any other nation, including Russia. 80% of people in American prisons are there because of addiction related activities and laws from Reagan’s failed War on Drugs. American sentences are far longer than in other nations where many imprisoned Americans would just be on probation. Prison punishes the 1 in 27 American children who have an incarcerated parent and their impoverished single mothers or other care takers. There’s no rehabilitation provided in prison, although there is a lot of torture and then people are released, unable to find work, housing or help adjusting to a society with social interaction between different genders, Internet, and a prejudice against felons. Prison is a very different world and the more interaction people in that chaotic, ambiguous world have with those on the outside, the less chance of recidivism. Including what may seem like a small thing: a holiday season card.

You probably are going to be invited to a lot of holiday-related events in November to January, many that you won’t want to attend but feel obligated. In the consumerism frenzy, fake work laughter and family grudges why not do something meaningful? How about gather together the good hearted people you know and color around 130 little cards, write a note of support on each, and put them in the provided envelopes addressed to LGBTQ and HIV + prisoners? Play good music, break out the markers and colored pencils, and maybe make this an offering to a favorite deity or your queer ancestors (you do have millions) or – you’ll find something.

If you have invited spiritual people, maybe pray over the cards or raise energy and ground it in them. Visualize the recipients as safe, healthy, happy – and given real opportunities for recovery, personal growth and education that will allow them to become their best selves. You’re not making them do those opportunities or defining what a “best self” is, so you aren’t messing around with their free will. What you will be doing is making an actual difference in this time when so many of you are feeling frustrated, anxious and depressed about the current political climate. That actually cures the blues more than arguing with strangers who don’t care what you say on Twitter. And did I mention it’s a party?!

from Black & Pink:

As you can imagine, the holiday season is often a really rough time for folks inside prison. Whatever holidays you may or may not celebrate this time of year, our incarcerated members are often denied the ability to celebrate their traditions in the ways they choose, whether their desire be to celebrate the returning of light for Solstice, the miracle of Hanukkah, the birth story of Jesus, the tradition of Kwanzaa, New Year’s Day, or something else. All too often our members do not have family and friends to reach out to them with cards or visits, making this time particularly isolating. The cards you will make bring moments of joy, connection and kindness to our members while telling prison staff that people on the outside are watching.

Last year, our community rallied together, hosting over 300 holiday card parties across the US, and several other countries and we were able to send a card to each of our incarcerated Black & Pink members. This year, we have nearly 14,000 prisoners to write to!

Check out this beautiful letter that went out in the December 2014 newsletter highlighting the huge success of that year’s card parties and exploring important liberation stories in several of these winter traditions, and how they connect to our goal of prison abolition.

Lastly, but most importantly, the holiday card party you are organizing is about planting a seed of hope. There is strength in hope, and when we fight together, we can win. We do all of our work knowing that once there were no prisons, and that day will come again. We hope you will join us and register to host a holiday card party today!

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Brythonic Polytheism Sacred Space & Shrine Direction

When researching for Steel Bars, Sacred Waters, I noticed that in Celtic Roman Britain the temples were all built with a southwest entrance. Future research may of course find others with a different orientation, but this is a large, consistent pattern and obviously not random. This seemed to have important implications for Brythonic polytheists, and perhaps other Celtic Reconstructionists. In the book I didn’t have time or space to delve deeper into this, but hoped those who read it would notice and put the information in context with current, fashionable theories about how the Celts adapted to Roman religion. Here I bring the ideas together and perhaps may add something to the practice of Celtic Reconstructionists. (If you have read Steel Bars, Sacred Waters, then you know much of this, often in greater detail, but the orientation of Brythonic polytheist ritual space was never “spelled out” directly.)

The Romans did not just appear and take over the local religious cults. They had uprisings, political intrigue and road building keeping them busy. Except for the Roman Civic Cult that united all Roman citizens, the Romans didn’t really get involved with the local religion. The stone statues of Celtic deities look like Roman deities because Roman craftsmen were hired to make them. (As Thracian artisans put animal designs on most art, the importance of the cauldron image most Pagans use for Cernunnos – and from that image of him surrounded by animals have wrongfully named him “Lord of the Animals” – should be carefully reviewed. The many Celtic images of him with the snake are a better way to study him. All the Celtic deities on the famous cauldron have animals surrounding them!)

In one British region a Celtic God may have been associated with Mars, in another with Mercury. This is true in Gaul and Iberia as well. Celts seem to have often made that choice, not Romans. Or, based on different Celtic ideas about the same deity, Romans in different regions choose the Roman deity who seemed to fit best what that particular Celtic person was saying. With Celtic religion being so decentralized and tribes having their own ancestral and bioregional deities, no group of Celts was instructing the Romans. The Druids had already been destroyed, but they were not religious leaders then, as much as an educated, powerful elite in a culture that did not separate religious from secular life.

In the same spirit, there were no Roman Priests running about trying to control Celtic religion. For the most part, the Romans didn’t bring Priests with them. Much of Roman religion is actually quite bioregional to the city of Rome. What the Brythonic people learned about Roman religion came from discussions with whatever Romans they met (like a merchant, a Syrian or Gaulish soldier, or a Roman official, ranging from a tax collector to a General) and what Brythonic people who had actually been to Rome reported. This is like asking random Christians of many denominations in the world  and someone who visited Vatican City for a week on business “How do you/they do Christianity?” A Utah Mormon, Nigerian Pentecostal Christian, Scottish Presbyterian, Haitian Catholic, Greek Orthodox, etc are going to answer differently, not only because the form of orthopraxy (how you do religion) is different, but because each person has a different level of official education and training.

Due to this, Celts in different regions learned different parts of Roman religion and mythology, just like southern Gauls did centuries earlier with Greece. Those Gauls were not conquered by Greece and maintained their independence. They just saw the Greeks had some good ideas and powerful deities they included in their culture, like Apollo, sometimes Hermes, which may explain the ease in which the Gauls later took to Mercury. During the start of the Roman occupation, it was obviously much more traumatic, with war and chaos everywhere, and freedoms lost. The Celtic people were struggling with where they fit into the new world. A new political structure was forced upon them, but it did not directly affect the native religion. The ideas about religion, especially the Civic Cult, were suddenly available and the Celtic people had a tendency like any other people to love imported goods. (Like the Swedish woman buried in the 10th century with many luxury items, including a statue of the Buddha. Did she know anything about the Buddha? Probably not, except he was a rare foreign item, thus showing her wealth and status.)

At least in the beginning, Celtic leaders were making choices about what from Rome would be paid for and included in their own tribe’s religion. A Gaulish merchant in the new Roman Empire may have commissioned a large statue of Mercury, thus creating the religious center of a local Celtic Mercury cult – whatever that looked like! These local “mish mash” cults were one important way Celtic people were choosing what from Roman religion to incorporate. Celtic cultures seem to have always been flexible and open to considering changes, within reason. An important example is art. They were always introducing different art styles into theirs, and art until recently was always religious. The Southern Gauls adoption of Apollo and Hermes/Mercury show that the Celts were never against the deities of other cultures.

At the same time, a new cult of the Hero Ancestor with self-consciously Brythonic Iron Age religious elements briefly appeared. Folly’s Lane, described in the book, is a wonderful example of how Brythonic religion changed over the years of Roman occupation.

Three generations later, Britons probably had a better understanding of Roman religion, as it developed where they lived. Temple theaters produced Greek and Roman plays that focused on mythology, and scholars and merchants learned Latin. Gradually, the Brythonic people, especially in the southern areas of Britain, began to think more like citizens of Rome. Ideas long accepted by Gauls such as cities are for living, not just trade, never really were accepted and of course the Brythonic languages continued. As language contains a way of thinking that can’t ever be easily translated, Celtic concepts stayed alive with phrases and also traditional folk tales.

For some, especially in the northern parts of what we call England, life, including religion, probably didn’t change very much aside from who collected their taxes. Hadrian’s Wall, where many Gaulish and German soldiers were stationed had several temples and gives us many names of Gaulish and German deities, was in that area. When not fighting natives or trying to stop their cattle raids, these soldiers traded with the locals, sometimes even marrying them. (That was not formally allowed but we have records of a Syrian solider marrying a British woman. Obviously no xenophobia.) So, even in remote areas there still was interaction, which much of Briton came to economically depend upon for survival. When goods are traded, so are ideas.

Some may say “The Romans killed the remaining Druids because they were so powerful.” That’s true, but let’s remember what the organized Iron Age Druids did. Those Druids were far more than Priests. Remember that they were the PhD elite who guided society, including the Kings. Judges, historians, astronomers, mathematicians, political advisors and much more, the term wasn’t specifically about magic until medieval Irish law and other writing like the Mythological, Ulster and Heroic cycles centuries after any organized Celtic Pagan religion existed. (The Anglo-Saxons took to word Druid and made it their word for sorcerer, the common meaning at that time in Ireland.) The Romans were dealing with political leaders who would not comply with Roman rule, and Druids were part of that political resistance. Many Celtic leaders did comply, happy to have a strong ally against enemies like other Celtic tribes. (Germanic tribes sometimes did the same.)

As all this kept the Romans very busy in Britain, a lot of the religion seems to have been brought over by Gaulish soldiers. The two cultures, plus the Celto-Germanic Belgae territory, had been trading goods and ideas for some time before the Roman invasion, but these deities were brought specifically by Gaulish Roman warriors. To say that Britons worshipped Maponos is not exactly true. Maponos was worshipped by Gaulish soldiers stationed at Hadrian’s Wall. This is something that Brythonic polytheists need to consider. For example there is nothing Celtic about the design of the temple at Bath for Sulis Minerva. Some scholars believe that her name is a reference to Athena as “The Eye of Minerva” and whatever original deity was worshipped there (if any) has been long forgotten. Because the local people adopted the Classical curse tablets to Sulis in such large numbers, while the Romans did not, we know she at the least became important to the Britons. Their changes to the curse tablet structure (all of this is covered in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters) give a fine example of Celtic people making new Roman ideas fit a Celtic cosmology. The Celtic British temples that have been discovered that were native without any known outside influence (although we can be sure new ideas did spread) have no names of deities.

As the Britons were hiring Romans to build temples, it’s odd that they don’t have the doors where they’d be in Rome. Depending on the type of temple, Roman temples had different orientations. In Indo-European religions the deities (“shining Celestial ones”) are in or come from the East, so we face East to welcome them. Statues of them look at us, facing West. If you watch the sun and night sky, all the lights in the Heavens appear over the Eastern horizon, moving across the sky in a Southern half circle, with all of them setting in the West. This changes in different linguistic “daughters” of proto-Indo-European culture, but generally is still found as a rather common orientation for temples and ritual  movement. Deities about death or the Underworld often have a different orientation.

All  the Celtic temples found in Britain have the person enter from the Southwest, facing the Northeast side of the temple. They  already had the usual porch circling the temple, like in Gaul, for walking/dancing the typical ritual circle around the holy object, so we can safely assume that at the heart of the ritual – going face -to- face with the deities – Britons were used to facing them looking Northeast. After all, they paid for these temples. As walking the Celtic circle(s) around the sacred space would have occurred before entering the temple, there’s no reason to assume they did any other movements when in the temple where the deity statues were kept.

I believe other Celtic peoples may have used the same ritual layout. As the Gaulish soldiers were an important part of the stone religious remains that have been uncovered, at least some probably were used to this orientation. Ireland was never cut off from Britain. Roman coins found at Newgrange show that even then Ireland already had a tourism industry. The Irish also were raiding and settling the coasts of Wales and the Gaelic speaking Dal Riada kingdom straddled eastern Ulster and western Scotland. Irish people in Wales probably were the first to bring Christianity to Ireland. And for a thousand years a trade route with similar art, tomb design and language, possibly proto-Celtic, culture connected Ireland with Britain and the Atlantic coast of Europe. There’s a 6th century BCE inscription to the pan-Celtic God Lug written in Phoenician script in southern Portugal. The Celts in Iberia may have also faced Northeast in ritual.

I propose that when setting up a Celtic shrine, especially to deities known to be worshipped in Britain, that it be in the Northeast, facing Southwest. That way when you approach it, you are facing Northeast.

This gives us a framework for Celtic ritual movement and shrine layout:

1. Circle the sacred space if possible. (As the sunwise/ clockwise direction is so common in Celtic ritual acts for thousands of years, that would be the correct direction.) Whether walking in a meditative state or dancing, there probably was the sort of ritual droning music as described in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters.

2. Everyone enter the interior space from the Southwest and face the shrine, which would be in the Northeast.

Every bit we recover is a priceless connection to the cosmology of our religion. I hope this helps others in their religious relationships with the deities.

Hail, Freya! She DID honor Her vow! I’m Lyme-free! Cured!

freyja_newwatermark
Freya by Alexandra Rena

A few years back I learned that the reason I was so sick wasn’t just a Christian church carbon monoxide poisoning my family because the Vestry never checked the furnace in the home where my mother was a Priest. (The building inspector’s report was a toxic nightmare including arsenic.) That caused the severe MCS, but I was already sick with “fibromyalgia”* which was actually Lyme disease and babesiosis (malaria like parasites eating my red blood cells).

(Lyme causes MCS, too, BTW. It’s all probably from Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, something you are born with and have hassles like allergies and GERD, but then get Lyme disease or a different physical or emotional trauma and WHOOSH gasoline on the fire. Yeah, I have MCAS, which according to top researcher Dr Lawrence Afrin is probably responsible for the rise in all the new or once rare poorly understood diagnoses that tend to come in clusters such as: fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, migraines, generalized anxiety disorder, reactive hypoglycemia, asthma, allergies, Celiac disease, autism spectrum “disorders,” Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, GERD, type 2 diabetes, auto-immune disorders especially RA and MS, medication sensitivities, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, fertility issues, and more – the stuff that tends to pile on to people and make doctors hope you won’t come back. Treat the MCAS, things improve. There’s a zillion peer-reviewed medical journal papers on MCAS, and since everyone has completely different triggers (like cold temperature, bee sting or fragrance) that can cause any response including death, doctors are nicer about accommodations because technically anything I inhale, touch or ingest could kill me. You don’t mess with the little understood mast cells – which cross the brain blood barrier.)

Yep, it’s been a time of breakthroughs!

In my Hell of sickness, wondering how they’d treat the tickbourne diseases when my body is weird with medication and especially herbs, I made a pact with Freya.

She already was guiding me hardcore and kicking my ass when I didn’t listen. For me, She’s always right. So I said “Take everything over (as if She hadn’t) and make me better. Let me live. No more palliative care, no more insane fevers and terror, no more death!”

She said, “I want a book. It’s about your ancestors’ deities and make sure you include how they’re related to my Vanir family. Honor us.”

I thought “Oh, maybe 50 pages of bad poetry devotional. I don’t even understand poetry, but OK.” And, wrapped in organic linen, She received presents, including organic leeks, a found crow’s wing, amber, jewellery and grains, buried by my awesome mother, because I have been too sensitive to car fumes and smoke to go outside for a few years. (This is why I get along with folks in solitary confinement probably.) She also did it because unlike terrified narcissist Christians who actually need everyone else to validate their faith by joining it, she doesn’t think Christianity, especially Christendom, has any monopoly on Truth.

Then I was asked to write information about the Mabinogi and Gaulish deities for a book people were doing for people in prison. I think, process and write information really fast (tested faster than the machine for reading speed could go when age 7, fastest reporter at the Toronto Star, and a nifty Aspie photographic memory), so I kept going, doing various exercises, an Ogham guide –

And everyone else dropped out of the project – oddly because of severe MCAS -issues. (Not known then, but now it’s obvious.)

The book, Steel Bars, Sacred Waters, became over 900 pages because I know that in prison you can’t use the Internet or buy more books. So anything from the 3 days for talking to spirits in Wales to the newfound importance of Iberia was recorded.

Then THOSE papers came out. The linguistic ones that find a sudden change in Proto-Indo-European language about 4,000 years ago probably in modern day Czech Republic. Words, especially about religion, that would centuries later turn up in proto-Celtic, proto-Germanic and often proto-Finnish, burst into use. Many refer to Lug/Wotan. The German Nerthus who becomes Njord, and Macha, Badb and other Gaelic deities come into existence. Before there even is a Gaelic language.

The word prija (the root of Freya’s name) changed from “beloved” to “free one” ie a noble. As Frey and Freya are titles Lord and Lady, this is a very ancient link. The root word that became seidR, Freya’s magic, was already alive, shared with the Celts. It comes from “string” – hence the importance of knot magic in both cultures. (Viducus experienced someone possessed by Matronae telling people to pray to Her while tying and untying knots. We ARE getting our religion back!) The sacred groves with horses, the crow Goddess with the Battle husband, angelica and holly become important plants, and words that combine into variations of shamanism, prophecy and poetry – plus new words for wagons, roads and other Vanir-type things appear. (All this is covered more in depth in the book.)

Instead of making the book smaller, we made the dimensions bigger – 8.5″ by 11″ – and left no blank space. Art and writing from amazing people was donated.

I had to learn how to publish, make contracts (thank you, Erynn Rowan Laurie), figure out the financial logistics of an always -in-the- red project and how to not have it affect my $800 a month SSI and food stamps (thank you, accountant and attorney, neither of whom charged me), WHILE drenched in sweat, semi-conscious, crying in pain. Oh, yeah, and getting emails from Pagans who all hated each other more than they cared about their deities and people in prison. (I am trying to erase the gossip from that photographic memory.) And my partner in this, the amazing artist and designer, Armi Dee, was diagnosed with cancer.

Out of nowhere, Alexandra Rena (remember her name, because she’s going to be a Big Deal artist whose Oracle deck you’ll be buying) took over the CreateSpace part. I didn’t even know her. She just wanted a book about these Gaulish and British Celtic deities for so long, she made it happen. Because, honestly, there’s been nothing for the not-Gaelic Celtic Pagan published. It’s the book I wished I had years ago.

The time while Ms Rena was finishing up with CreateSpace (the 100+ images made it a hassle), I did a 10 day Lyme antibiotic treatment and Mepron for the babesiosis. People bitch about Mepron. I didn’t feel as bad as babesiosis made me at times. Babesiosis puts people in wheelchairs and I couldn’t find one nontoxic enough, even though walking was no longer safe. Compared to that, Mepron was nothing.

Because MCAS is a hyper -reaction of the mast cells, antibiotics and anti -parasite medication are dangerous for long periods of time. I did the treatment for people with low immune functioning, specifically chemotherapy patients and those with HIV, to blast the bacteria and parasites. Then I stopped before my own immune system jumped in for no good reason, which would cause all the MCAS inflammation which people often mistake for still having Lyme.

(Now there’s finally an affordable, good test for Lyme and co-infections, by Mercy Labs, usually covered by insurance, but sometimes just $20 if you are undercovered or have no insurance. Better than iGenex’s $800 test which has a much longer results turn around. Don’t assume your Lyme came back based on symptoms – get the test! Too many antibiotic, antifungal, and antiparasite treatments with MCAS might be why after lengthy Lyme treatment people develop RA!)

The book came out as I finished treatment.

You have to wait 3 months before testing for Lyme disease after treatment. I stopped having mood swings from Hell, cognitive impairment, waking nightmares, seizures – and was bored and in pain because I just wanted to keep DOING stuff. I had energy, but a body ill prepared for that.

My results are back.

There’s nothing living in my body that shouldn’t be. No Candida overgrowth, no Lyme bacteria, and no babesiosis parasites.

Hail, Freya! I dedicated the book to Her. “Willingly and deservedly” keeping my vow. I didn’t know if She had done Her part, but I believed. And She did.

I’m testing MCAS medication and getting ready for reconditioning. Years lying in bed has messed up my myofacia in a major way, and I’m weak with terrible cardiovascular strength.

But I got my health back on track and learned all about the underlying problem, and found myself. I was able to put all my weird life experience, skills, and special interests into something that helps humans and deities and the land. I’ve made some really wonderful, close, real friends, in and out of prison, and celebrated the changes in their lives. I’m doing what a job, even with honors degrees in Community Organizing and constant “woke” training for actually doing things off of Facebook, wouldn’t let me because  that paying job doesn’t exist. I’m a person with severe disabilities and I have compassionate community. I’m creating art again and engaged in much deeper conversations about Paganism with people in prison than I ever found on the outside, while discussing other parts of my “Celtic Vanatrur” ideas with someone on the outside without an ax to grind. I’m even getting to discuss Witchcraft, Wicca and Druidry all with the same person!

I’m also providing the most desired resources my friends in prison want: psychological. The mindfulness meditation, radical acceptance, CBT and value-based living in the book wet their appetites. I’ve collected ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) information and CMT (compassionate mind therapy) information and watched them change their lives. The past makes sense; the present is tolerable and better decisions are made; the future finally feels hopeful. I spend about $40 a month of my own money sending people psychological health resources. And then I am accountable for doing my values, my defusion practices, and treating myself with compassion. I even have an African Diaspora Religion book club! Think it’s easy to find this stuff if you are unable to leave your room? It’s not.  Shoot, I couldn’t find it when I lived in big cities – everyone flaked.

Also penpals in prison value honesty because they never get to be honest in prison – it’s never safe to be real. They value human contact and ask questions about their concerns instead of attacking unlike people online, who will just freak and not discuss. People in prison don’t run from reality. And they want it to be a better place. Those are two things that are hard to find on the outside!

I’m a much stronger person now than I ever was before – Before people called me strong because I survived horrible things for long periods of time. Now I’m strong because I have so much more confidence in all aspects of myself, including my body. I learned what to leave and what to accept as mine.

Thank you FREYA!

 

* Fibromyalgia definitely exists. A good DO (MD with extra training in the body’s muscles, myofaciamyofacial, bones, etc) can feel it. People who have fibro and get flares occasionally like from lack of sleep don’t test positive for MCAS. They also don’t  have other MCAS related issues. People with chronic fibromyalgia that needs narcotic  pain relief – they test positive for MCAS.

Oh, yeah, there’s blood tests for MCAS.

Seattle, Portland, Olympia, Spokane Pagans! You’re needed!

A friend of mine in a crappy Texas state prison where the Christian Chaplin was busted for bringing in prostitutes told me about Seattle’s Books to Prisoners. Naturally I had to send them some copies of Steel Bars, Sacred Waters from the Amazon sales royalties. (Thanks everyone for buying copies and for your 5 star reviews as polytheists/animists on the outside in the US and UK! While we love you buying the book from anywhere, we actually make a lot more royalties if you buy the book directly from us, if you want a copy!)

This is what they told me:

 “We are always looking for resources for pagan and wiccan prisoners. As you may imagine, we rarely get wiccan/pagan book donations so any that do arrive will be sent out very quickly.”

Actually, no, I can’t imagine that. I lived in Seattle in the 1990s and it was all DIY. My family is all over Oregon and that state begs to be noticed as a leader in ethical issues. I have friends in conversative Spokane rocking the joint. I’ve visited friends at Evergreen College in Olympia and hired graduates from there. The whole Pacific Northwest was a Pagan activist crowd. Riot Grrrl was there. Now there’s other musicial, political and Pagan-y, festivals! Portland is home of all the white hipster liberals! It had a TV show about it and TV does not lie! The Pacific Northwest was home of Erynn Rowan Laurie’s Celtic Paganism group, it’s eco-Pagan activist and artist Lupa’s stomping grounds, and home to the Marxist creator of Gods & Radicals and the Polytheism West Festival! It’s supposed to be freak flag, justice for all!

WHAT THE HECK, PEOPLE?

I know we hold onto books we didn’t get much out of – Many people have written about the hoarder traits in Pagans. We never know when that book we got for a dollar or our well meaning but clueless step-father gave us will come in handy. It hasn’t for 10 years, but we really might need it one day. Or we changed traditions and it’s three years later and we feel no connection to the ideas in many of the books about it now – but… they’re on our shelf. Books we bought when depressed hoping they’d be helpful and were not. Authors who we’ve outgrown. All the books we bought again in Kindle version that are covered in dust.

If a book isn’t doing you any good, if you haven’t opened it in a year, I want to ask you to just think about how your life would change if you gave it to someone who has NO books. I understand keeping reference books and “they connect me to my core self” books.

And, oh Gods, I understand the weird feeling of comfort, looking at a huge bookcase overflowing with occult, history, religious, spiritual self help books, even if half of them were really revamped versions of stuff you already read 10 other places. I so understand that feeling! I loooooove reading. I played librarian as a child – by myself. Yeah, I stamped cards I made for all my books with due dates and moved them across my room. I’m pretty sure I charged myself a nickel late fee if I didn’t move them back to the book case by the date stamped on that card. (Asperger’s can be fun!)

Yes, I’m Heather and I am a bookaholic. And it’s gotten easier with all the cheap Kindle versions and decent websites to find information, so maybe you’re 18 asking your mother what a book is. You’re renting e-text books for college, not standing in line for 4 hours concerned your arms will break from holding massive tomes, and going to the college bookstore shelf and finding an empty space where your Anthropology 225 book should be. But maybe your mother has something cool she’d donate about spirit guides, or Grandma might have something from the 1970s on creative visualization.

You might be like “I don’t want to send crappy books to anyone! This book is the worst of the New Age “it’s all your fault” garbage and totally inaccurate historically!” But, if it’s not saying “Attack people based on skin color” I promise it’s doing some good. That book helped someone think differently once and let it do that again! Write a tiny note in pencil on a page well hidden that says “We now know a lot of this isn’t historically accurate and don’t turn creating your reality into shame and blame. Good luck!”

Also, you don’t know what that person needs to read. You don’t know what the Goddess or deities or ancestors want them to learn – and you don’t know what message they might get from it. Prison is a really different world. Do you read body language 24/7 to determine if a race riot is about to begin? Do you masturbate for a guard everyday to get lunch? No? Then you have no idea how this book – how knowing someone cared enough to donate it – will affect someone in prison. Even that worst- Wicca- 101- book- EVER.

So, please Pacific Northwest Pagans! Live up to the hype! Please? You’re the liberal DIY weirdo coast! We need that! We need you! Please please please please please?

If my groveling didn’t convince you, maybe some facts will about these awesome people and their AWARD WINNING program. (Yep, they know what they’re doing! Winners, people! You don’t have to worry about the books going into the Negative Zone or sold on eBay.)

“Books To Prisoners is a Seattle-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to foster a love of reading behind bars, encourage the pursuit of knowledge and self-empowerment, and break the cycle of recidivism. We believe that books are tools for learning and for opening minds to new ideas and possibilities, and engage incarcerated individuals with the benefits of reading by mailing tens of thousands of free books to inmates across the country each year. In 2015, the City of Seattle recognized Books to Prisoners as a Human Rights Leader. We receive 1,000 to 1,300 requests for books each month. In 2012, our volunteers received a Light a Fire award in recognition of their immense dedication.

“As one of the largest and oldest prison book projects in the country, Books to Prisoners works in partnership with other groups that support prisoner literacy and promote social justice. Though our headquarters are in Seattle, we have three associate organizations – Portland Books To Prisoners, Books To Prisoners Olympia, and Books to Prisoners Spokane – who offer opportunities for volunteers and donors outside of Seattle.”

Prayer to Brigantia for Ruling Yourself (for PTSD recovery)

This is the prayer that began the PTSD recovery process for a transwoman raped in prison. Learn more here.

 

Prayer to Brigantia for Ruling Yourself (for PTSD recovery)
by Heather Awen

Brigantia, heavenly Goddess most exalted,
Please grant me memory of this primal truth:
Everything between here and here* is under my own sovereign rule.

I am territory in my own possession
Where the past is merely a phantom procession,
One no longer my obsession.
My mind is my own, and my thoughts are free.
Nothing done to my body makes it less holy.

Whatever torments my spirit had, have now released me.

I’m responsible for my behavior.
That’s a truth I shall not belabor.

Who I am is within my own control,
I am owned by none within my soul, and
My psyche is mine, still and always, pure and whole.

Hail, Brigantia, heavenly Goddess most exalted!
* Put one hand under your butt if sitting on the floor, feet if sitting in a chair or squatting, or knees if kneeling. Put the other above your head. If you have only one hand, swoop it around your body. If you have no hands, move your eyes from the top to the bottom. Always adapt all ritual actions to any physical impairments or differences. No gets left out!

 

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Transwoman Rape Survivor Finds Help in Book, or, Ally is the New 4 Letter Word

A Pagan transwoman in a men’s prison was raped about a decade ago. She’s been since transferred but writes “I’m terrified of men. I’m not safe. The men think I am a whore. I like men, but I want someone I can trust.” This woman has been doing hormone therapy for two years. She gets up to shower by herself at 4:45 am. After that she’s with men who have not had a touch from a woman in decades, many of them convicted of sexualized violence.

She doesn’t have a support system. No transgender penpals. Family isn’t accepting.

She received a free copy of Steel Bars, Sacred Waters, and began practicing the Brigantia Prayer for Sexualized Violence Survivors. Something began to change for her. She realized, really realized, she was not alone. Others throughout time and all through our rape prone society (where 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are raped) have experienced the soul violation of having your Sovereign control over your SELF destroyed. Transgender people have the highest rape rates in prison. There’s a very good reason for why she’s in fear.

She began the PTSD breathing meditation. It actually turns off the hormonal flood that causes the fight flight or freeze reaction. She felt better. The “Truth” essay, with instructions for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Radical Acceptance, the most popular and effective therapies along with mindfulness meditation (which her breathing meditation is), taught her how to determine what was happening now and what was her own feelings.

Because these things worked, she joined the prison PTSD group. She likes it. Federal prison is often considered “Club Med” compared to most state prisons. If she was not convicted of a federal crime, she probably wouldn’t have a PTSD support group. (That it’s minimum security doesn’t hurt either.)

She wrote to say thanks. That without the book she would have been to afraid to get help. And having someone write for imprisoned Pagans, especially including transgender Pagans in prison, made her feel like some cared.

I put together a little list of resources that are free for people in prison. She makes $5.25 a month, so using the money for stamps really cuts into her meager income. If she sends me her list with one stamp, I’ll go online and order the free resources. Plus I’m collecting rape recovery and PTSD recovery information to send her. I’m hoping that a transgender Pagan who said they’d write her actually does.

We need solidarity in our actions. I read this a lot. Saying you are an ally like it’s your identity is considered bullshit. Either you are taking (often emotionally painful) action to support people who don’t have the option to take a break from “the issues” or you’re not. Ally is the new four letter word.

 

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Germanic Deities

Hludana by Heather Awen
Hludana by Heather Awen (I was experimenting with drawing on my tablet with my finger while meditating on Hludana, which I find to be helpful – drawing these deities as I worship them.)

While researching the rarely mentioned and recently recovered Gaulish, Belgae and Iberian deities, I came across several ancient Germanic deities. This makes sense, as Germanic and Celtic peoples have a long, shared history, detailed in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters. During the time period I researched, the 1st to 4th centuries CE, German and Celtic soldiers were stationed together at Hadrian’s Wall, leaving a record of deities worshipped. Other deities were mentioned by the Romans or later had names left in stone. Many of these deities, especially in the Netherlands, probably were known to the remaining Celto-Germanic tribes of the Belgae.

Why don’t we worship these deities?

As someone who is much more interested in when polytheist, animist religions were thriving than the Christian conversation, I have a loyalty to these deities. Some may worry “I can’t worship a deity whose mythology I don’t know,” but it’s very hard for me to believe that the pantheons of Edda or the Irish Mythological Cycle (both written by Christians) were ones  that the ancient Norse and Gaels would recognize. These were people who resisted centralized government, isolated on farmsteads, rarely with a bard. What these ancient Heathens knew of the deities who we think we know had to be different. Regional differences in bioregional deities and their stories would have been normal. So, we actually don’t have accurate, ancient myths for Celtic and Norse deities.

However, the study of linguistics, different bioregions during the time of worship, historical needs, and records by other people can give us an understanding of who these deities are and were 2,000 years ago. The essay on the Northumbrian Runes names several from Hadrian’s Wall, with what information I found, which I’ll reproduce here. First are a few others I researched more in depth.

Note: I really suggest that you read Hester Butler – Ehle’s beautiful invocations to many of these deities.

(The Alci, once thought to be North Sea Germanic horse twin Gods, have recently been found to actually be a Celtic name for those deities. The horse twin boys are ancient, going back to the Proto-Indo-European people. There’s a Celtic Iberian name for them recently recovered, but the Alci are found in Celtiberian place names and personal names. This shows us more evidence of the cultural and religious intermingling  of the Celtic and Germanic tribes. As they are further discussed in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters, as is Nehalennia, they won’t be included here.)

Hludana

Hludana is known to us from five inscriptions written in Latin at the beginning of the 3rd century CE. These are from the lower Rhine River and Frisia. The one from Beetgum, Frisia, had a statue of a seated Goddess and was an offering from a group of fishermen. Hludana’s name is connected to an Old Greek word meaning “rough waters, high waves” and the Biblical Euroclydon which means a fierce northeast wind. She doesn’t appear to have a relationship with Holda as was once believed, but Jacob Grimm thought she may be the Norse earth Goddess Hlóðyn.

To me, Hludana seems to be a Goddess who protects fishermen from the harsh storms on the sea which paradoxically she herself embodies or creates, as well as being a primal, ancient earth Goddess.

Hariasa

Hariasa’s name was inscribed in Latin on a stone in Cologne, Germany and dated to 187 CE. Unfortunately the stone now is lost. Her name could mean two different things: that she’s a Goddess of war or “Goddess with thick hair.” The root of her name may be the same as the root of the name of one of the Norse Valkyries.

I felt her as a fleet-footed protector of her city, her people. And it’s possible to be a shield maiden with thick hair!

Sandraudiga

An altar stone from North Brabant, the Netherlands, has the name Sandraudiga inscribed in Latin. Her name probably means “she who dyes the sand red” or “Goddess of the Sandland” or “the truly wealthy one.” (The sands there actually have a reddish color.) It’s possible that from her name comes the names of the Dutch cities of Zundert and Zandrode.

I think it makes sense that she’s a local Sovereignty Goddess whose blessing allows her people to flourish.

Baduhenna

Baduhenna is a Frisian Goddess after whom the holy forest Baduhennawald was named. Baduhennawald was where the Frisians won an important battle against the Romans in the year 28 CE. It was such a devastating blow to the Romans that they tried to cover it up. Baduhenna’s name means “battle mother.” She has linguistic connections with the Matres, who watch over different tribes and places. Her sacred woods were possibly located in the modern Dutch province of Noord-Holland, north of the city of Velsen.

(As an ancient Frisian Goddess, would she have connections to Forsetti?)

Personal experience with Baduhenna is that she is passionately in love with her warriors and fills them with her own strength to overcome any odds. Today anyone who chooses to be included in her tribe can expect a fierce, loving protector. She seems to be very attracted to people who have killed in self defense or defending family members or the vulnerable. Her relationship with a man who has killed in self defense or defending others from attack may be passionately sexual. She dislikes the homogeneous culture of multinational corporations that would engulf and destroy the diversity of peoples, small businesses and local autonomy. (She associates multinational corporations and the political and military organizations that support them with the Roman Empire.)

Garmangabi

Her name was carved on a Roman altar, probably by Suebians serving in the military. The Suebians were quite large and some believe were more of a federation of tribes than just one. They helped one Gaulish tribe in battle against another, and were among the tribes who worshipped Nerthus. (More detail is given in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters.) “Gabis” probably means “gift” and it’s possible she’s connected to the Goddess of Zealand Gefion or Freya in her name “Giver” Gfen.

I don’t believe that they would probably be the same Goddess, but regional deities who are worthy of worship as independent entities.

At Hadrian’s Wall

Here the Matres Germaniae (German Mothers) were worshipped with many other Germanic, Celtic or Roman Matres. One was the Matres Campestris, the Mothers of the parade ground or campground, who were Germanic Goddesses often worshipped with the Gaulish Epona. (Gaulish and Germanic warriors often were the most important members of the Roman Imperial Calvary, making Epona important to the Empire.)

The Alaisagae are also Germanic Goddesses found at Hadrian’s Wall whose name may mean “sending fears.” Other Germanic deities include the Goddesses Ricagumbeda (probably something to do with ploughing fields) and Viradecdis (who also had a Roman Germanic altar in modern Belgium; “dis” signifying an important female, often an ancestor), and the God Mogons (“Great One”), here called the plural Dis Mountibus.