Sunday, April 12, 2015

Mysticism With Structure

Recently I've been reflecting on when I began the process of switching from a neo-pagan worldview to a Gaelic Polytheist (Reconstructionist) and how that affected my religious experience overall. The first shift began when I was 14 and discovered, for the first time, the term Celtic Reconstructionism. I remember quite clearly finding it in Christopher Penczak's The Inner Temple of Witchcraft that listed a number of religions that he described as neo-pagan. While much of my experience was in neo-pagan witchcraft, I had some exposure to neo-Druidism through really terrible books (one I remember being Douglas Monroe's The 21 Lessons of Merlyn, which....just don't...) until I came across the term and googled it which subsequently led me to the CR FAQ. I remember I had initially had a hard time adopting a hard polytheistic worldview. Much of my understanding of the divine had been influenced by duotheistic sentiments found amongst many neo-pagans, especially Wiccans, and my mother's odd and unorthodox duotheistic understanding of Christianity (which she derived from Sylvia Browne and translations of the Nag Hammadi texts). I can't really remember when the real shift in understanding happened, it was a gradual process and formed through my experience interacting with the gods and recognizing them and honoring them as separate entities in their own right. Perhaps they had decided to reveal themselves more to me as such when I made that approach. Either way, much of my early years delving into Gaelic Polytheism was taken up by researching, researching, and researching some more, which (in my opinion) is essential for Gaelic Polytheists today. I have seen a number of blogs and posts around the internet, most from neo-pagans though a number also from self-described Celtic Reconstructionists, over the years criticizing Celtic Reconstructionist groups and individuals for putting so much emphasis on research. This is one of the issues found in the Celtic Polytheist communities that I would like to address in this post. It has been so repeatedly elsewhere, I'm sure, but this relates directly to my religious experience and how it has changed and is changing.

Most of my spiritual experience pre-GP consisted of magical/divinatory practices that I dug up from my collection of neo-pagan books, mostly published by Llewellyn and purchased at Barnes & Noble, otherwise stuff I found on the internet. It wasn't structured and when I was really young it was more for the thrill. I am and always have been attracted to mystical practices, but my experience in neo-paganism had me feeling left short and lacking in sincere experience. The tone and language often found in neo-pagan religions and amongst neo-pagans rarely felt real or sincere for me and I often felt that the folks I would interact with didn't really believe themselves. I've always considered myself rather skilled at reading people and the few neo-pagans I had met gave me the impression that they were just playing pretend. Videos of rituals gave me the same impression. So, I think it was a bit of a relief for me when I came to Celtic Reconstructionist groups and they didn't emphasize skill in magical practices or meditation. Frankly, to an extent, I was getting sick of it. Not that this ever affected my desire for spiritual experience, I was just done with Wiccan-esque spellwork and the various practices that I didn't feel was enriching my spiritual life. So, when I began to dedicate much of my time to forming my Gaelic Polytheistic worldview I left much of that behind and focused almost entirely on researching and building a way of life within a Gaelic Polytheist framework. However, there have been times over the years where I felt lacking in spiritual experience within Gaelic Polytheism and it was all reading and reciting prayers and giving offerings. Just doing it isn't enough, in my opinion, one must feel it and mean it. This may also have been a holdover from my neo-pagan practices. It still didn't always feel real. Over the years this has changed and I've learned less to seek out intense experiences and more to listen to what's already being told/shown to us. I think I was missing out on this a bit before as some of it was too influenced by neo-pagan perceptions that ended up being inappropriate for my newer worldview. I've become used to noticing and interpreting omens, which has been the majority of my experience in divination, though I was not actively seeking them out as I was before, except for folk practices that I have adopted for festival days when divination is commonplace. The place that divination and other mystical practices have in Gaelic Polytheism have differed overall, though we are not necessarily lacking in that respect. Rather than seek out, we listen more. And rather than conjuring spirits, we invite them and give them hospitality. We aren't always trying to make change happen around us with magical practices, rather we are trying to establish mutually-beneficial relationships. This last, in my opinion, has now laid out the groundwork that I think I sorely needed before I was a Gaelic Polytheist. While its far from complete; we are always studying, discovering, reviving, reconstructing, and adopting; it has formed a more solid worldview of multiplicity with endless possibilities, but offered guidance and structure from the lifeways of our ancestors.

With this framework I have been working on a number of devotional rites, that often change, particularly for Brigid and Manannán Mac Lir. They have been long in the process of formation, but get better and I think will move more and more smoothly and eloquently with time and practice. I began developing them when I was craving spiritual experience and felt I was in a dry period, though I am learning to find the value merely in interacting with them and presenting myself as an honorable and respectful individual who will work with them to promote our worldview. Again, this framework is necessary in my experience. Establishing a relationship before seeking out knowledge through mysticism simply makes more sense to me now and has worked better than when I resorted directly to mysticism with the desire merely to experience the presence of the spirits for my own selfish reasons. I have finally arrived at the point where I again wish to experience mysticism, but to also do so in order to learn more about and from the Gods and spirits so that I may pass on knowledge that I gain to others for the benefit of my religious and cultural community, as well as my family and friends/family who have similar understandings of the spirit world, or are at least willing to listen. While I have been doing more lately, my travels here to Colorado have hindered me somewhat due to the foreign nature of the local area. I have been so used to Minnesota for so long that this place feels as different as any, so establishing relationships here would take years of study and interaction. I do leave offerings here and pray, though I have put my mystical practices on hold until my return home here at the end of April. Much of my spiritual practice here has been limited to my daily rites and our celebration for Lá Fhéile Bríde. I did collect some juniper for saining here in Colorado, though I haven't used it yet as I still have some from home and I'm not sure what variety of juniper this is quite yet. Speaking of, I am planning a future post in cahoots with my partner Luke where we compare local varieties of plants and their relation to similar or near identical plants in the Gaelic lands. He has a much better understanding of plant life from a scientific perspective and works for Minnesota Native Landscaping back home and therefore has a much better grasp of what exactly we have available back home. He's also busy with a lot of his own projects, so we'll see when he actually gets to that...

Soooooooooo, the plan for when I get back home, aside from getting ready for the growing season, is to further develop more mystical practices starting with formally introducing myself to the land we live on and then listening, praying, giving, and singing. I wish to do so within a Gaelic Polytheist framework, so I have also been in the process of translating more of the prayers I have collected into Irish as I have dedicated a lot of my time here learning more Irish and getting a better grasp of the language. I also have some physical projects planned for the summer that I would like to dedicate to Brigid and Manannán Mac Lir, but I'll explain more when the time comes. Until then, I have a couple weeks left in Colorado that I am going to make the best of. As strange and different as this land is, it is beautiful and if I do return I would love to learn more about the gods and spirits here. Yet I have so much to learn about the spirits of my home state!


  1. Really enjoyed reading this. It sounded so much like my own spiritual path. I was raised a fundamental Christian. In my early 30's I found paganism by way of Wicca. After just a little research I soon realized Wicca was not for me. Shortly there after I came upon neo-druidry via ADF & OBOD. However, it was upon purchasing the CR-FAQ book that I found Gaelic Polytheism/CR that I felt like I had finally found what I was seeking. I am still learning and have a long way to go but feel as if I am now on the right path.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post! It's a constant learning process and there always seems to be too much to do, but its worth it!