All Snakes Day 2011

I’m not Irish–I’m not even really a Druid–but I’ve had a lot of Irish folk (ok, mostly men) in my life. I was married to one, handfasted to two others (waves at J.D. Murphy, A.A. Kelly, and the other guy–never mind him, he’s in jail) and of course married to an (only partly Irish) ArchDruid. Kid Sister is married to an Irishman. I listen to the Thistle and Shamrock, and can phonetically (if haltingly) sing the Irish words to Isaac’s Hymn to Bridget. I used to watch out my office window when city workers dumped the green dye into the Chicago River (it’s orange going in) and even once–near fifty years ago–marched in Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Oh, yeah, Big Sister was born on St. Patrick’s Day,* which meant that we had a legit reason to throw a party anyway.**

So, for a Polish/Austrian gal, I got at least a little Irish cred. Which is all I need, I guess to acknowledge St. Patrick’s Day.

Which is a day about which Isaac had mixed feelings. As a certified (some might say certifiable) Erin-ophile, he loved celebrating Irish heritage. But St. Patrick is connected (however erroneously) with expelling Pagans and Druids from Ireland. So he used to call St. Paddy’s day All Snakes Day, with the slogan “Bring Back the Snakes!”

I’ll leave it to those with more dogs in the fight than I have as to the historical accuracy of anything about St. Patrick, or the appropriateness of American celebratory traditions . However, I really liked Galina Krassova’s idea for celebrating the day: pick a Celtic deity to honor with song, ritual or prayer. Isaac would have liked that.

At any rate, in honor of Himself, here’s Isaac’s All Snakes Day anthem (which was sung quite memorably at his memorial service by none other than Margot Adler}:

Be Pagan Once Again!

“This was one of the very first Pagan songs I ever wrote. The tune is Ireland’s unoffical national anthem. I was enormously proud a few years ago to find out that a pirate radio station in the Irish Sea had been broadcasting this song into Ireland for ‘St. Patrick’s Day.'”

© 1972, 2001 c.e., words by Isaac Bonewits
music Irish trad. (“A Nation Once Again”), Key of F

When childhild’s fire was in my blood, I dreamed of ancient dreemen,
Against the Church who boldly stood, as Pagans and as Heathen.
And then I prayed I yet might see, the Druids in the glen,
And Ireland long the churches’ toy, be Pagan once again!
?Be Pagan once again, be Pagan once again,
And Ireland long the churches’ toy, be Pagan once again!

The Old Gods only sleep you know, although betrayed and slandered.
?They guarded us from every woe, and blessed each crop and fine herd.
Then Patrick, he drove the snakes away, and brought the churches in.
‘Twas a bloody poor bargain, I would say — let’s be Pagan once again!
Be Pagan once again, be Pagan once again,
‘Twas a bloody poor bargain, I would say — let’s be Pagan once again!

And ever since that wretched day, when first Ireland went Christian,
We’ve suffered woe in every way, with our freedom made the worst “sin”.
?They set us at each other’s throats, to murder kith and kin.
Too long we’ve been their starving goats — let’s be Pagan once again!
Be Pagan once again, be Pagan once again,
Too long we’ve been their starving goats — let’s be Pagan once again!

Both Catholic and Protestant, led us round by our noses,
Distracting from the deadly scent, of England’s bleedin’ roses!
Kick every preacher ‘cross the sea, burn out their golden dens.
It’s the only way we’ll ever be free — let’s be Pagan once again!
Be Pagan once again, be Pagan once again,
It’s the only way we’ll ever be free — let’s be Pagan once again!

And a picture of Isaac from his one and only trip to Ireland, back in 2000:

Isaac Bonewits @ Brid's Well in Ireland, 2000

Isaac at Brid's Well in Ireland, 2000

___________________________________________________________
* Mom once said her strongest act of will was refusing to name my sister Patricia. (waves at Beverly).

** I have a picture of Beverly at her 13th birthday party wearing a dress of the most beautiful emerald green. But I’ll bet she doesn’t want that posted.

*** “We brought a couple of cases of Guinness to the office this morning and by 10:30 [AM] I was already throwing up!” Michael Cullen, March 17, 1978 [or so]

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Back in the Kitchen

After a very successful supper the other night, I decided to resurrect my food blog, Home Cook. Hope you’ll visit there, too.

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The Druid in Me

Ok, this is really hard to say. I am not a Druid. Not me. Not really.

Isaac was the Druid. He was a Druid his entire adult life, and a Famous Druid at that, what with the RDNA and the NRDNA and The HDNA and the SDNA, founding ADF and all that. A veritable alphabet soup of a Druid was my late, beloved husband. Me, I was along for the ride.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I adore the Druids. The ADF people are amazing. I know if a ritual is being done by an ADF grove, it will be amazing, and will be worth attending. (Over my many years of Pagan wanderings, I have attended many sad little rituals. Sometimes they have been very grand but still sad little rituals. I would say, “You know who you are,” but, sadly, you probably don’t.) ADF also values scholarship, with a strong streak of “let’s get this right.” I find that sexy. Maybe that’s why I fell for the founder so hard.

Before I ever met Isaac, I was introduced to his work as a magician through his iconic work, Real Magic. In Chicago back in the day (1980s-90s), we called ourselves Magicians. We were definitely Pagan, but we tended to work with the Greco-Roman, Egyptian, Mesopotamian all-around-the-Mediterranean deities, all in a magico-religious context. The Celtic deities, not so much. I would venture to say, really, not at all. I was a bit put off, in fact, by some of the Celtic-focused folks I met, because they did not seem to have a clear grasp of their Gods. You know those books that were so popular for awhile (maybe they still are): Celtic Wicca, Norse Wicca, Whatever Wicca? They were pretty much the exact same book, but with the names of the Gods changed. That’s kinda how I felt about the Celtic Tradition Witches/Wiccans that I met.

(Before you go crazy on me, I am sure Chicago was crawling with Celtic Reconstructionist scholars plus RNDA, proto-ADF and ADF practitioners in those days. Those weren’t the people I was meeting.)

I think it’s because we were focused on a Pagan expression of the Western Mysteries, or the Western Esoteric Tradition, or however you like to describe the current. Everyone (my crowd, not necessarily your crowd) was at least familiar with the Golden Dawn, Aleister Crowley and Dion Fortune, not to mention Franz Bardon, Francis Barrett and Eliphas Levi. We were in the lineage (intellectual if not initiatory lineage) of classical Western European thought, which included a strong sense of the Classics, Greek and Roman.

Studying the classic myths (Edith Hamilton was required reading in 9th grade English) gave one the idea that stories about the Gods were coherent, that they had a beginning, middle and end. I could tell you stories about the Greek Gods, but the Celtic Gods confused me. There were cattle-rustling stories, there were attributes to the Gods, but not the kind of linear tales to which I was accustomed.

(I came later to understand that Hamilton was not concerned about religion, but with giving summaries of ancient plays and other literary works that draw upon mythology. To use a crude analogy, I shall explain the history and practice of Christianity to you by summarizing Ben-Hur.)

Of course, in my years of being consort to the ArchDruid, I’ve expanded my understanding of Celtic deity, and extended my comfort zone to Deities with attributes rather than dramas. Without a doubt working with Isaac at the end of his life gave me insights into Brigdet as healer. She came to me memorably during a ritual in our living room presided over by ADF’s current ArchDruid and other ADF clergy. She was there. She couldn’t help him as much as we wanted ( I’m sure all the magic done extended his life, but nothing could save it), but She was there for him.

So, though I sought out Isaac because of his work on magic, what I found was not a magician but a priest. His true calling was Priest, a role that elevated and transformed him. Just to see him in a Bardic circle singing his Hymn to Bridget or Hymn to the Morrigan would give me chills. He gave himself to his Goddesses and Gods.

But in all the years we were together, I did not participate in many Druid rituals with him. We were not a formal part of any group. Though we had our private magics and devotions, I was rarely able to travel with him, so I pretty much gave up my own public priesthood. The few times we did Druid ritual together, I would joke that he needed to poke me in the ribs when I was supposed to do something, so I could come up with something appropriate. (I’m a good enough improviser that I doubt many people ever knew I didn’t feel as if I knew what I was doing.)

Now, after Isaac’s passing, I feel a little uncomfortable with the Druid mantle on me. People invite me to do workshops on Druidism, or to lead Druid rituals. I can talk about Isaac and his Druidism, and I can participate in Druid rites, but there are many others out there far, far better qualified than I to lead either. I honor their skills and knowledge.

I went to a Bardic Circle last night in Greensboro, the first Bardic I’ve been to without him. I decided to sing the Hymn to Bridget in phonetic Irish. He always sang it at Bardics. He would sing the Irish verse, then (if I was able to be there) we’d sing the English together, then we’d sing the two languages together for a third verse. I remember his clear, strong voice and the look on his face when he sang. I doubt if I will ever sing it with the strength and confidence he did. I’m not much of a singer. I hope, however, to grow to do so with the devotion he did. I will sing it in his memory and in Her honor. That much of a Druid I can be.

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Bridget, phonetically

My dear friend Bill Seligman has reminded me that he did a phonetic transliteration of the Hymn to Bridget from Irish to English.

As he said, now we can all mispronounce the Irish together!

A Hymn to Bridget
© 1983, 2001 c.e.
words by Isaac Bonewits

    A Bhrid, ár gcroí, an-gheal Bheanríon;
    lo de thoil é beannachta sinn.
    Is sinn bhur leanaí, is tu ár mamaí;
    bí ag isteacht dúinn mar sin.
    Is tu an coire, anois inár doire;
    a Bhean-Feasa tinfím orainn.
    A thine ghrá, a thine bheatha;
    lo de thoil é ag teacht Bhrid dúinn!
    Ah Vreed ar gree, on-yall Vahn-reen;
    low de hoil eh ban-ach-ta sheen.
    Iss sheen vur lah-nee, iss too ar mam-way;
    bee ogg ish-tacht dween mar shin.
    Iss too an keer-eh, ah-neesh ee-nar deer-eh;
    ah Vahn-Feysa tin-feem ah-reen.
    Ah hin-eh grah, ah hin-eh vya;
    low de hoil eh ogg tacht Vreed dween!

Transliteration by Bill Seligman; derived from the Gaelic pronunciation guide at http: //www.standingstones.com/gaelpron.html and listening to Isaac’s performance in “Be Pagan Once Again.” Note that the “ch” is always pronounced as in “Bach” or “chutzpah.”

Thanks so much, Bill.

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Bridget, Come to Us

Beth Owl’s Daughter tipped me off to something I surely should have known about, or that Isaac surely should have known about, because he would have loved, loved, loved it.

For the past six years, there’s been an informal poetry slam dedicated to Bridget on Internet blogs. It’s even got its own Facebook page. The idea is that in honor of Bridget, whose feast is today, you should post a poem to her on your blog.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written any poems, and never specifically to Her, but Bridget was Isaac’s special matron Goddess. He was devoted to her to the end. He loved doing bardic circles in honor of her at this time of the year, and always sang his Hymn to Bridget. He used to sing the Irish verse, then we’d both sing the English, then we would sing a third verse, he in Irish and I in English. It was so beautiful, one of my favorite memories.

Well, I don’t know if I’ll ever master the Irish (though others have) but I will sing the English again for Her, and for him.

If you’d like to hear the tune, it’s on his Be Pagan Once Again tape and CD (rare critters to find these days). ADF sang it at his memorial service, too . I think it is a fitting gift for Bridgid today.

A Hymn to Bridget
© 1983, 2001 c.e.
words by Isaac Bonewits

    A Bhrid, ár gcroí, an-gheal Bheanríon;
    lo de thoil é beannachta sinn.
    Is sinn bhur leanaí, is tu ár mamaí;
    bí ag isteacht dúinn mar sin.
    Is tu an coire, anois inár doire;
    a Bhean-Feasa tinfím orainn.
    A thine ghrá, a thine bheatha;
    lo de thoil é ag teacht Bhrid dúinn!
    O Bridget, our heart, o brightest Queen;
    cast your blessings unto us.
    We are your children, you are our mother;
    so hearken unto us.
    You are the cauldron, now in our grove;
    Wise Woman inspire us.
    O fire of love, o fire of life;
    please Bridget, come to us!

Blessed Imbolc to you all!

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One for the Books

I got a new library card the day before yesterday. This one is for the Chatham County Libraries. I can add it to my collection of North Carolina library cards: one each for Guilford County, Forsyth County, Wake County and Durham County. I also have cards from Jackson County, Oregon, from when I lived in Ashland, from Putnam County, Illinois, from when I lived in Granville, and the granddaddy of them all, my card from the Chicago Public Library.

It’s like a little history of where I’ve lived, all those little cards in the drawer. The only ones missing are from Pensacola, Florida (I know I had one; maybe it will turn up) and from Winthrop, Massachusetts. Winthrop, just outside of Boston where I only lived a few months, may be the only place I ever lived where I didn’t get a library card.

Libraries have always been important to me. I have loved books for as long as I can remember. We read books, but I don’t remember being a household that bought all that many books. Books were expensive. We went to the library a lot. For a time, when I was quite small, a bookmobile would stop on our street. Book delivery! I thought it was wonderful. Our elementary school classrooms each had its own little library, two shelves of age-appropriate books, mostly lives of the saints. I’d read them all. Dad would drive us to the big library on Kedzie Avenue, and we’d return with armloads of books. When I was older, we could walk the mile and a half to the smaller branch across from the high school.

In those days–I don’t know if they still do it–children’s library cards had restrictions on them. We could only check out books from certain sections. I remember a parent would have to come with me if I wanted to get a book from the Adult section, to assure the librarian that I had their permission to it check out. Oh, the power, oh, the excitement I felt to go into the stacks of the adult section! The books were harder, but there were more of them, and I never knew what treasures I might find.

I’ve always relied on books. They have been my entertainment and my comfort. Whenever I’ve been ill or depressed, I have reached for books, armloads and armloads of them. Mystery stories are especially good when I’m down. I think it is the idea that complex problems can be solved, the wrongdoers can be brought to their just rewards, that brings me comfort. Isaac used to reach for The Lord of the Rings when he was ill. He read it again during his last illness; we were reading The Hobbit aloud to him at the end, until he was too ill even to concentrate on that. I left it unfinished; I think I will have to finish it soon for myself.

I’m even writing this in a library. The Pittsboro branch has a new building, not even completely finished yet, on the campus of the Central Carolina Community College. It’s beautiful, with a soaring ceiling, walls of windows, a huge computer lab, and lots of cozy seating. There are power outlets built into most of the tables, so I can perch with my laptop, use the wireless, and enjoy the peace and power of being surrounded by books.

The day before yesterday, I checked out three books. I’ll return two today; the only reason I haven’t finished the third is that I am insisting to myself that I do some writing as well as reading. But I will check out a couple of more today, too. That half-a-book left won’t last me long.

When I hear of so many libraries being forced to close for budget reasons, it chills me. Books are our treasures, our gifts to each other and to those who come after us. Few children will curl up under the blankets with an e-reader. Fewer still could afford one. But a book! A library book! One that’s gone from hand to hand, one that a parent passes to a child, or a friend to a friend, one among thousands I could not hope to own but can get, anytime from the library, to lose our libraries would be a sad, sad loss for us all.

Now, as I push myself to write, I remember myself as a little girl. That little girl reading books could not imagine a better thing to be than someone who wrote books. Now I know how very hard that is to do, and how even harder it is to do well. But I still cannot imagine a better thing to be. I hope the libraries will still be around to hold my books.

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What is Neopaganism?

One of the projects left unfinished when Isaac passed away was a book on Neopaganism. He and I had discussed my finishing it for him, and after talking to the publisher, I’m ready to go ahead with it.

As I look over the material he and I accumulated, it’s clear we both knew/know a lot about the history of Neopaganism. However, I’m beginning to wonder if old-timers like us really grok what that word means to people today.

Being of a modern turn of mind for all my grey hairs, I suspect crowdsourcing the answer is the way to go. (In the olden days, we called it “research.”) So I’m asking you, my readers, friends and fans, are you interested in giving me your perspective? With permission, I might quote you in the book.

Tell me in brief, say, give or take 100 words, what Neopaganism means to you. What is important for other people to know about *your* Neopaganism? What do you want people to understand about that word?

You can leave a comment here, or e-mail me at phaedrahps @ aol.com (it’s not a link; copy, paste and take out the spaces). If you e-mail, put “Neopagan Book” somewhere in your subject line. If you’re really pithy, tweet me.

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Ask what you can do for your Community

As I was riding home in the car this afternoon, I heard the piece on NPR about today being the fiftieth anniversary of the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. What makes this anniversary special is not so much what happened that day, but what was said.

This was the speech when Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

I felt almost teary as I heard his voice on the radio, much as I had first heard it. We were inspired and galvanized by that statement. I was just a little girl, only nine years old, but I knew something important was going on. There was a war, but there was also the Peace Corps. People put their lives on hold to help other people. It was important to care.

And it wasn’t just government-sponsored programs. Four college students cared enough about injustice to stage the first sustained sit-in at a lunch counter in Greensboro, NC. Second-wave feminists shook the boundaries of the personal and the political. Thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, then millions of people cried out for peace in Southeast Asia. (Contrary to legend, we did support the troops; we supported their right to come home in one piece.)

It was during this time of service and caring and commitment to social action that the American Neopagan movement gathered momentum. The Church of All Worlds started in St. Louis in 1962. Ray and Rosemary Buckland brought Gardnerian Wicca to the States in the same years. Carlton College students in Northfield, Minnesota dodged the chapel requirement by inventing the Reformed Druids of North America in 1963.

Is it too much to say that the spirit of service that Kennedy invoked in 1961 profoundly affected the forms that contemporary American Paganism took? I don’t think so. We came from a generation that was challenged to care and to serve. And so, so very many of us have.

On this day, I challenge you to ask yourself, what are you doing for the Pagan community? What acts of service have you offered? So many people have given so much, have you?

RIP, JFK. Here’s to tomorrow, my fellow American Pagans.

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