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Aug - 19

Spirit alliances in Celtic sorcery

This post contains a couple of excerpts from the chapter on working with spirits and spirit alliances in my work in progress, the Celtic Sorcery book. I’m sharing an introductory excerpt, and a bit of the section on spirits in weapon sorcery. The full draft chapter was shared with patrons – I’ll be continuing to post excerpts from the work in progress here. It’s in rough unedited form, so reader beware.

Families and retinues of spirits

We often find spirits aligned into groups or families, and these collective relationships help direct how we work with these spirits. Some groupings of spirits are rooted in ordinary human relationships, such as the ancestors of a family line, clan, or tribe. Others may form around relationship to landscape and environment; such as groups of spirits relating to waters and rivers, sky and weather spirits, spirits in plants, stones, and other natural land features, and spirits of place. The tradition also strongly features collectives of Otherworldly spirits; such as fairies, sprites, Otherworldly creatures or monsters, and the “terrors” or battle spirits. Relationships with animal spirits are also prominent in the tradition and may be personal, familial, tribal, or shaped by a person’s role.  

Within the realm of spirits, the gods are also an organizing force. As with many polytheistic and animistic traditions, when we look at how spirits appear in the myths and folklore we find that Celtic deities tend to be associated with groups of assorted spirits who in some way share aspects of that deity’s nature and powers, or may represent a minor aspect of their presence or identity. There is indication that the human dead, in some circumstances, may become part of a deity’s retinue in the afterlife. In contemporary polytheist communities, these collectives of spirits are often referred to as the “retinue” of a deity – those spirits who are connected or aligned with them, tend to appear alongside them, and may help accomplish the work of that deity. When we enter into relationship with gods, these retinues of spirits often become available for us to work with as well. The Celtic spiritual traditions provide several fascinating and well-described examples of deities with retinues that we can study for knowledge of working with spirit collectives.

Animism and reciprocity

Spirit practices in the Celtic traditions arise out of an animistic worldview within which spirits are understood and recognized as living, sovereign beings. The model of spirit work here is distinct from the Western ceremonial tradition of conjuration, commanding, and binding spirits to do the magician’s bidding. Rather than dominating spirits, most examples of working with spirits we find in the Celtic cultures and literatures are built upon entering into reciprocal relationships. These relationships proceed from a relatively equal footing, and often arise out of long term bonds between practitioners and spirits. Offerings and sacrifices are a recurring theme whereby reciprocity is enacted, sometimes framed as payment or tribute that is owed to spirits. In other instances, we see dedicated service given to spirits, their associated deities, or the places they call home, providing the basis for relationship and the ability to call on those spirits. Relationships with spirits are not only reciprocal, but in many cases are contractual in nature, and these contracts with Otherworld powers form the backbone of many myths, folktales, and folk practices.

Weapon sorcery and enspirited objects

It should not surprise us to find within these animist cultures a strong interest in enspirited objects. The Irish literature has a great fondness in particular for warrior gear enspirited by spells or inhabited by “demons”. Even where weapons are not explicitly described as enspirited, they are often named, which is an indicator of being seen to contain a being with personhood. We also find some material evidence that aligns with the practices described in the literature.

Many passages in the literature describe spirits or demons residing in weapons and armor, such as this, from the Táin (First Recension): “Such was the closeness of their encounter that sprites and goblins and spirits of the glen and demons of the air screamed from the rims of their shields and from the hilts of their swords and from the butt-ends of their spears.” The beings seem to be not just present around the warriors in the story, but specifically inhabiting the weapons and armor. This reflects a belief that weapons, armor, and other gear could be inhabited by spirits and that those spirits involved themselves in the work of the weapon or the events taking place around those who carried them. In the above example, the particular type of spirits that are inhabiting these arms are spirits of the battlefield, showing a functional relationship guiding the type or family of spirits understood to belong to such armaments, or chosen to inhabit them.

Artifacts from across the Celtic cultures, particularly the exquisite metalwork for which the Celtic peoples are so famous, show that it was common to adorn valuable items with figures. Items of armor from early Celtic cultures, such as helmets and shields, are often found with animal forms sculpted on them – ravens, eagles, boars, etc. The great carnyces (war horns) were often fashioned with the heads of boars, serpents or wolves. And of course, the anthropomorphic sword is so common from the Iron Age that it is considered an archaeological type – swords whose hilts were sculpted to look like little persons, more or less stylized to show simple arms and legs and often also a face with human features. Other valuable items not specifically related to violence were also often adorned with animal or anthropomorphic features, such as faces on the handles and grips of cauldrons and drinking vessels.  Many archaeologists have interpreted these to indicate such an animistic belief in spirits inhabiting objects.

The Irish literature makes it clear that this is not a fanciful interpretation on the part of modern archaology, because the belief in spirits inhabiting objects is made explicit there. It also makes clear that this is not simply the base animism of believing that everything is alive – we are talking about a set of ritual practices by which objects were intentionally enspirited. Fragments of this ritual culture of object sorcery are preserved in various manuscripts and tales, and when we piece them together, a fairly clear picture of a system of spirit work emerges.

For access to the full draft chapter on spirits in Celtic sorcery (around 5,900 words), you can join as a supporter on Patreon.

What do you think about spiritwork in sorcery? Leave a comment or join the conversation in our Discord community.

New Orleans Witches Ball

Morpheus and Coru Priests will be traveling to the famed city of magic, New Orleans, to lead the Samhain ritual at the annual New Orleans Witches Ball. More details to come soon!

Coru Cathubodua Battlefield Devotional at GWW

At Great Western War, a medieval reenactment and armored combat gathering of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Coru priests will be leading a evening devotional to honor Cathubodua, the Battle Raven, and invoke Her blessing on the fighting, to inspire and protect the fighters, and to dedicate the battles in Her name.

Coru Lughnassa Games

A weekend of martial games and contests, traditional arts, fighting, feasting, ritual and bonfire, with the Coru Cathubodua Priesthood. More details to come!

Coru Cathubodua Battlefield Devotional at West-An Tir War

At West-An Tir War, a medieval reenactment and armored combat gathering of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Coru priests will be leading a evening devotional to honor Cathubodua, the Battle Raven, and invoke Her blessing on the fighting, to inspire and protect the fighters, and to dedicate the battles in Her name.

Meeting the Morrigan Workshop

She is called the Great Queen, the Phantom Queen, the Battle Raven: the Morrígan, Celtic Goddess of war, death, prophecy and Otherworld power. Who was She to the ancients, and what do history and literature tell us about Her role in ancient religious practice? Who is She to us today? Drawing on both history and personal experience, this workshop will give you the tools to begin connecting with the Morrígan, or to help you deepen your devotional practice.

Feb - 14

The Foundations of the Temple

In the soft glow of the lights framing the four Gates, the Gods breathe gently. Wave upon slow rolling wave of presence drips from the icons, the altars, overflows the offering bowls. We sit drinking presence. Time happens elsewhere in the rush and jostle of the event. Here there is only glow, presence, stillness, power, communion, memory. The prayer beads turn in my fingers. Sid co nem, nem co doman. Sid co nem, nem co doman.

A worshiper comes in, genuflects, turns to the largest shrine, catches her breath, reaches her knees. Her friend stops and stands, hand pulled to his heart. I sit in stillness, eyes half-lidded, one heartbeat here in this Temple, one heartbeat in its counterpart in the Otherworld, watching in both. Visitors come and go. A woman whispers urgently on her knees before the Great Queen. Another worshiper stands with the gaze of rapture, smiles, pours out whiskey. Another weeps achingly. I begin to sing.

This was the Coru Temple at PantheaCon last weekend. On Friday afternoon, we began building the Temple as soon as we arrived at the convention, first purifications in a nearly-empty room before building the altars. All afternoon and into the evening the priests gathered, swirling about the space, raising the shrines, laying out the regalia, preparing the offerings. That night with a room full of worshipers, we consecrated the Temple of the Morrígan and the Tuatha. We invoked the Gods, heroes, ancestors. Opened the Gates to the cities of the Otherworld. Poured out offerings, chanted, prayed.

I thought that night that the Temple felt full of holy and Otherworld power. I thought that night that the Gods were present, vibrant, alive, speaking.

But that was only the first night. As the hours and days slipped on, and further waves of machaworshipers came through the temple in singles, handfuls, groups; as offering after offering were poured out, the bowls filled to overflowing, emptied at the feet of the birch trees outside, and filled again; as prayers filled every shrine… The presences only grew stronger, brighter, more resonant. By afternoon of the second day, the Gods were so numinous I could feel the wave of responding presence wash over me as if the air itself moved whenever a fresh offering was poured. By the third day, They stood like pillars, outreaching the Temple itself, as tall as the whole building, it seemed.

Sleeping in there was an adventure, let me tell you. We drifted in and out of Otherworld shadows, Gods looming over us, listening to the muttered talk of heroes and ghosts. Yes, ghosts. It turns out that if you build a spiritual refuge in a busy crossroads place, wandering spirits will find it and take solace there. They too were greeted, tended, given hospitality, and sent on their way.

I like to imagine a time when being at a Pagan convention doesn’t just mean big rituals and big parties. I like to imagine a PantheaCon where there are Temples and shrines for all our various pantheons. I like to imagine a whole floor of suites where instead of just hospitality rooms and parties, there are Temples in every suite. I like to imagine visiting my cohorts in other devotional traditions, paying my respects in their Temples, priests introducing me to their Gods in a more intimate and personal way than a big group ritual allows for. How beautiful would that be?

One word to the wise, though. If this idea inspires you and you’re contemplating establishing a Temple like this next year – it may be a bit of a Devil’s bargain. Once your Gods have had a Temple of Their own and the opportunity to be bathed in offerings and worship in this way, They may not settle for anything less afterward. The joy and the burden of service.

The statues, icons and regalia have been carried back to the different homes of the Coru priests. My tiny bedroom is full of huge Gods now, every available surface converted into a temporary shrine until I find places to honor Them all properly. The vessel of earth that contains the foundations of the Temple is heavy, heavy, heavy. I carried it with awe as I unpacked it, acutely aware of what I held in my hands. The joy and the burden of service.

Runes of the Ancestors: A Journey to the Roots of Runic Power | PantheaCon 2014

In this ecstatic ceremony, we evoke the primal power of the runes through ancient guardian animals.

The Great Queens: An Ancestor Ritual | PantheaCon 2014

In this ritual we reclaim the ancestral power of the great Queens with Macha, ancient Lady of Queenship, as our guide. Join us as we invoke the ancestral Queens of all tribes and nations as we seek the strength they drew upon to do their great deeds; that we too may walk tall as sovereigns.

Sacrifice and Modern Paganism: A Panel Discussion | PantheaCon 2014

From offering the best wine and grain to the finest animal or tribal member to the Gods, sacrifice was a central part of many ancient cultures. But as modern Pagans we must ask ourselves: what is the role of sacrifice today? Explore these questions and others as we discuss the place of sacrifice within ancient and modern traditions.

Temple of the Morrigan | PantheaCon 2014

Please visit us in the Coru Temple and Hospitality suite: Rooms 269 & 271. Come and honor the Great Queen, and get to know us better!

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