Friday, April 21, 2017

A Few Words about Authenticity

I don’t generally attend Neopagan festivals these days—been there, done that, used the T-shirt to mop up a variety of messes—but I made an exception a few months ago for ConVocation, a midsized event in the greater Detroit area. It was pleasant enough that I’m seriously considering going back, which is saying something given my general experience of the species. That said, just as every rose has its thorns and every blog its trolls, there was one decidedly awkward moment.

I hasten to say that the moment in question was not the fault of the event, or of the harried and genial crew of people who run it. Rather, it’s something that every public figure in my end of the alternative spirituality scene gets to deal with on a regular basis. As I think most of my readers know, I’m a Druid—specifically, an initiate of several of the traditions of the Druid Revival, the astonishing rebirth of Western nature spirituality that emerged among circles of eccentrics in 18th-century Britain and hasn’t slowed down yet—and for reasons we’ll get to presently, some members (though only some) of a more recently minted brand of Neopagan spirituality seem to find it necessary to throw hissy fits in public whenever the Druid Revival comes within shouting range.

Yes, that’s what happened this time. I was one of the guests of honor, and there was a meet-and-greet scheduled with me as the designated target.  To this event came a certain person who’s something of a big cheese in the Celtic Reconstructionist movement, the freshly manufactured brand of spirituality just mentioned—those of my readers who are familiar with Celtic Reconstructionism will know his name, but it could have been any of several dozen others, and those who don’t follow the vagaries of that particular sub-subset of the Neopagan scene have probably never heard of him, so we’ll leave him his anonymity here. Of course he had to launch into the standard canned rant about just how much more authentic than mine he thought his traditions were, and did so at sufficiently great and dreary length that most of the other attendees were looking around in evident embarrassment by the time he finally got off his hobby horse and let someone else talk.

Under other circumstances I’d simply have rolled my eyes and gone on to the next event.  As already noted, you can count on facing this sort of tirade on a routine basis if you’re into the Druid Revival traditions and show your face at Neopagan events. Still, reflecting on that overfamiliar experience over a pleasant glass of scotch later that evening, I realized that there are actually a couple of lessons worth learning from it all.

To get to those lessons, it’s going to be necessary to take a couple of backward glances, first across the history of American Neopaganism and then across the history of American culture itself. I apologize to any of my readers who find this uninteresting, but there it is; across the board, whether we’re talking about the gyrations of alternative religious subcultures or the great arcs by which civilizations rise and fall, you can’t understand the present without getting some sense of how we got here.

In the case of modern American Neopaganism, “how we got here” starts in the 1960s, when Wicca—the brand new “Old Religion” that Gerald Gardner patched together out of a grab-bag of modern occultism, mid-20th century pop culture, and remanufactured medieval lore—leapt across the Atlantic to provide a more fashionable alternative to the traditions of American occultism then in circulation. Central to the rhetoric of Wicca in its early missionary days was the claim that it really was the Old Religion, the original Neolithic goddess cult of Europe, driven underground by a series of patriarchal religions that culminated in Christianity but passed down intact over the centuries by an unbroken sequence of third-degree grannies. Those third-degree grannies really got around; for a good many years in the 1970s and 1980s, everyone who was anyone in the Neopagan scene had at least one.

The difficulty with these ebullient claims was that they didn’t happen to be true.  As Wicca matured, and a new generation of initiates started asking for hard evidence to back up the historical claims made by Gardner et al., it became increasingly clear that the evidence in question simply didn’t exist.  Most Wiccans responded sensibly enough by recognizing that a religion doesn’t have to be ancient to be true, and kept on worshipping their goddess anyway. Some, by contrast, clung to their traditional history in the teeth of the evidence, in much the same way as those fundamentalist Christians who keep insisting that Noah’s flood must have happened even though all the geological evidence says otherwise.

There was a third response, though. Some people in the Neopagan scene responded to the disproof of Wicca’s ancient origins by deciding that they were going to find the real Old Religion and practice that instead of Wicca. It was out of that reaction, by and large, that the Reconstructionist movement emerged over the last decades of the 20th century.

There was, it’s worth noting, nothing whatsoever wrong with such a response. Returning to ancient roots, real or imagined, is one of the most common themes in American popular religion, and it’s among the creative ironies of our cultural history that most of our really innovative movements got their start from some such attempt to go back to one primal source or another. Most of the communities that emerged out of the Reconstructionist movement, for that matter, found their feet relatively quickly and don’t count any more belligerent bullies among their members these days than any other alternative religious scene. Unfortunately for the Celtic Reconstructionists, they discovered that the notional territory they wanted to claim for their own was already occupied.

Yes, that’s where the Druid Revival comes into the picture. Back in the 18th century, when nobody but a few British eccentrics interested in nature spirituality had the least interest in what little was still known about the ancient Druids—the priests and scholars of the Celtic peoples of Ireland, Britain, and Gaul—those eccentrics borrowed the label and a handful of surviving traditions and ran with them. Now of course the founders of the Druid Revival knew even less about pre-Christian Celtic religions than scholars do nowadays; nor were they particularly fixated on authenticity. They were more interested in having something that worked.

Two other factors made this latter detail particularly objectionable to the Celtic Reconstructionists. The first was the legacy of that force of nature, Edward Williams aka Iolo Morganwg. It’s not going too far to call Iolo the Gerald Gardner of the Regency era. He claimed to have inherited authentic ancient Welsh bardic traditions passed down straight from the days of the ancient Druids, and his claims, like Gardner’s, were broadly accepted in the counterculture of his time. It’s worth noting, in the light of what came later, that Iolo was in fact a Welshman, not merely in the sense of having been born in Wales of Welsh parents (which he was) but also in the sense of growing up speaking Welsh from the cradle and being utterly fluent in traditional Welsh culture from earliest childhood (which he also was).

He also studied traditional Welsh poetry with several elderly poets who had as much right to the title of bard as anybody did in 18th-century Glamorganshire, and even those scholars who critique him most harshly admit that he knew medieval Welsh language and literature as well as anybody alive in his time. That was exactly the problem, because he used his extensive knowledge to pass off his own very good Welsh poetry as the work of important medieval Welsh poets such as Dafydd ap Gwilym. The 18th century was one of the great ages of literary forgery, and Iolo was right up there with the best.

In the 19th century, when Iolo’s legacy was incorporated into the burgeoning Druid Revival, none of this mattered in the least. The extent of Iolo’s forgeries had not yet even been guessed, and a great many people took his invented bardic traditions at face value, as part of the heritage of the ancient Druids. That was only a small part of why the Druid Revival adopted his work, though. To 19th century Druids, what mattered was that Iolo’s inventions worked—that they made great raw material for ceremonies, meditations, and spiritual practices that furthered the Revival’s goal of a living spirituality of nature. To a sizable subset of the Celtic Reconstructionists, though, none of this mattered; the Druid Revival was using material that they considered inadmissible, and that was that.

The second factor referenced above fed into that reaction. Until the late 20th century, it was pretty much de rigueur for any alternative spiritual tradition in the western world to claim some ancient and romantic origin. When Gerald Gardner backdated his newly coined religion of Wicca to the Neolithic, he was following a grand tradition; in those days everybody, but everybody, had some equivalent of Wicca’s third degree grannies to provide them with a backstory. Sometimes the granny-equivalents were taken literally by the founders and promoters of newly minted spiritual traditions, sometimes they were simply part of the PR, but you couldn’t do without them if you wanted to find an audience.

A personal reflection may be relevant here. When I became Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA) in late 2003, one of the first things I urged on the other members of the Grand Grove—all of whom were much older than I was—was that we ‘fess up about the order’s real historical roots. They were horrified by the suggestion, not because they had any particular illusions about AODA’s origins, but because they believed that nobody would join it unless it had a putative ancient source. I got my way, and people joined anyway; times had changed—but I don’t think the older members were just shoveling smoke. As recently as the 1970s, they would have been right.

None of that mattered to a sizable subset of the Celtic Reconstructionists, though. As far as they were concerned, all  that mattered was that when they set out to revive ancient Celtic religious traditions, the territory was already occupied by a mob of horrible fake Druids, who had to be driven off or shouted down so that the Celtic Reconstructionists could take their place as the spokespersons for ancient Celtic spirituality. This a certain large fraction of them proceeded to do, or at least to attempt.

For a couple of decades, as a result, the sort of rant I observed in Detroit was something that pretty much everyone in the Druid Revival community had to put up with on a routine basis. Of course it was worst on the internet. When AODA launched its first-ever email list in 2004, we very quickly found that the mere fact of our online existence was enough to bring a steady stream of drive-by trolls, who wanted to join our list for the sole purpose of posting lengthy denunciations of us as horrible fake Druids. We ended up having to make our email list 100% moderated so that members of the order could carry on conversations about anything else. Elsewhere? A lot of people in the Druid Revival scene simply stayed off other Neopagan forums entirely because the bullying was so pervasive.

I’m glad to say that things have calmed down somewhat since then. Partly that’s because the Celtic Reconstructionist movement got over its early growing pains, and a fair number of its members seem to have realized that the mere existence of the Druid Revival doesn’t pose any threat to their adopted identity; partly, it’s because people began to notice that the campaign of denunciation had the effect such things usually do, and spurred a remarkable increase in membership among Druid Revival traditions; and partly, it’s because those Celtic Reconstructionists who chose to throw stones were doing so from within some remarkably fragile glass houses.

The awkward fact is that we know very, very little for certain about the religious beliefs and practices of the Celtic peoples before the arrival of Christianity. The ancient Druids themselves had a rule that none of their teachings were to be written down, and apparently kept it, since exactly nothing survives of their lore.  In terms of the broader popular traditions, what has survived is a very modest number of texts written down by Christians in the Middle Ages, some of which contain some material that may—scholars disagree about this—date back to pre-Christian times. Add to that the equivocal evidence of archeology and an assortment of folklore collected in various Celtic countries, and you’ve got the sum total of raw material the Celtic Reconstructionists had to work with.

Is that enough to build a valid spiritual path? You bet, and at least some of the Celtic Reconstructionists did so. The difficulty, though, is that they had to engage in a lot of creative interpretation, add their own personal experiences, and bring in material from other sources to do it. That’s not a problem if all you want is a meaningful spiritual path; it only becomes a problem if you also want to insist that your spiritual path is more authentic than someone else’s. That insistence became unavoidable, though, because of another factor over which neither the Celtic Reconstructionists nor anyone else had any control: the vagaries of a certain enduring theme in American pop culture—and this is where we leap from the history of American alternative spirituality to the history of American culture in general.

Beginning in colonial times, American culture has had a complex and problematic relationship with its more-or-less parent cultures in the Old World. Among intellectuals, that’s generally expressed itself in one of two ways. There have always been some intellectuals who focused on the unique elements of the American experience, and sought to distance themselves from the Old World, and others who went the other direction, and emphasized their participation in Old World cultures. Among the latter, it’s long been fashionable to take this to the extent of pretending not to be American, and adopting the manners and traditions of some older culture instead.

For a very long time—from colonial times, again, until the first years of the twentieth century—the usual target for such exercises among white American intellectuals was England. All through those years, you could find people in the United States who aped English cultural fashions, rhapsodized about Ye Olde Days when knights were allegedly bold, went to the Episcopal (that is, Anglican) Church, and put on their best imitation of an English accent whenever they thought they could get away with it. For a variety of reasons, though, Anglophilia lost its exclusive grip around the time of the First World War, and things got colorful from there, as an ever-expanding smorgasbord of faux identities became fashionable in the American intelligentsia.

Those of my readers who were around in the 1960s and 1970s will remember when the standard pose was Indian—at the time, this could mean either Hindu or Native American, take your pick. The avant-garde in those days produced a bumper crop of (mostly) young men in Nehru jackets who claimed to be mystics and brandished paperback copies of the Bhagavad-Gita and Autobiography of a Yogi, and another bumper crop of (mostly) young men who’d bought ersatz buckskins at the local Tandy Leather store and brandished paperback copies of Carlos Castaneda and Black Elk Speaks. I don’t happen to know what the Hindu-American community thought of all this, but I knew Native Americans then and thereafter who rolled their eyes in sour amusement and referred to the young men in question as registered members of the Wannabee tribe.

Cultural fashions change, though, and so do the targets for exercises of the sort just described. Over the last two decades, as a result, many American intellectuals who wanted to play at being something other than American chose the Celts instead. As a result, plenty of Irish people these days roll their eyes in sour amusement at the antics of what they call “plastic Paddies”—that is, Americans who didn’t grow up in Ireland, got any knowledge of the Irish language they may have out of books, and in most cases don’t have a single ancestor from Ireland, but ape the manners, customs, and culture of the Irish. The Scots and, to a lesser extent, the other Celtic nationalities have also had to put up with equivalent vagaries from our side of the pond. Again, the Celtic Reconstructionists weren’t responsible for any of this—but many of them were influenced by it, sometimes to an embarrassing degree.

That influence became as pervasive as it did for the same reason that the (mostly) young men just mentioned clutched copies of the books just mentioned:  the role of spirituality as a lifestyle accessory in modern American pop culture. The rise of the “plastic Paddies” was thus paralleled by the rise of “cardiac Celts,” people who “feel Celtic in their hearts,” and who adopted some version or other of Celtic spirituality in the mistaken notion that this somehow made them honorary Celts. Of course actual Celts—people who grew up in one of the six existing Celtic nations, participating in the cultures of their homelands and speaking a Celtic language—responded to this wholesale hijacking of their heritage with various degrees of annoyance and amusement. That’s where the fixation on authenticity came in; human nature being what it is, a good many of the “cardiac Celts” started giving themselves more-Celtic-than-thou airs as a way of shoring up their dubious claim to an assumed Celtic identity, and the Druid Revival was a comfortable and convenient target for such airs.

What all this made it hard for many people to grasp, at least for a while, is that authenticity doesn’t actually count for that much in a spiritual context. Every religion and every spiritual tradition changes significantly over time as the various currents of culture and history force it to respond to new conditions. Those Christians who like to sing “Give Me That Old Time Religion” would have a very rough time of it if they actually got their wish, and suddenly found themselves expected to follow the religious customs of Christians in the third century CE; in the same way, if the ancient Irish religion had survived to the present day—let’s say, as a result of the kind of forced political compromise that led to the survival of Shinto alongside Buddhism in Japan—the religion practiced in Dublin and Cork today would, to judge by historical equivalents, have next to nothing in common with the same religion as it was practiced at Tara in the second century CE.

As Richard De Mille pointed out some decades ago in a trenchant analysis, there’s an important difference between authenticity and validity. Authenticity is a matter of whether something has the source it claims to have; validity is a matter of whether it works. A spiritual tradition that fixates on authenticity at the expense of validity is usually slipping down the chute toward extinction, because people don’t generally practice a spiritual tradition because they want to feel more authentically (insert label here) than the next person; they practice it because they want results, and if they don’t get results, they’re normally going to head somewhere else in due time.

In a certain sense, Druidry—the spiritual tradition descended from the 18th-century Druid Revival—is a fine test case for De Mille’s assertion. Is it “authentic”? Depends on what you mean by that. It’s a wholly authentic example of early 21st century Western nature spirituality, and it descends—with a great many modifications, adaptations, and improvements, to be sure—from an equally authentic example of 18th century alternative religion. That’s all it is, and all it claims to be. You don’t become an honorary Celt by joining AODA, the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (OBOD), or any of the other Druid Revival traditions active these days, but then I trust nobody in those orders thinks otherwise.

The point that needs making, I think, is that the Celtic Reconstructionists can’t actually claim anything else—well, except that they don’t have a continuous heritage of three centuries to draw on, as we do. You don’t become an honorary Celt by taking up a Celtic Reconstructionist path, either; you simply become a modern American, or whatever you happen to be, who draws spiritual sustenance from a recently minted modern spirituality that draws some of its raw material from the fragmentary legacies of ancient Celtic tradition, as interpreted by current academic opinion. That’s an entirely valid choice, and it’s unfortunate that some people who make that choice are sufficiently insecure about it that they feel they have to go around trying to bully people who’ve chosen otherwise.

All of this, however, raises some crucial points about the relationship between tradition and personal spiritual experience. We’ll open that can of worms next month.

In unrelated news, I'm delighted to report that my first two books on occultism, Paths of Wisdom and Circles of Power, have just been reprinted in new, elegant, and corrected editions by Aeon Books. These are manuals of classic Golden Dawn occult philosophy and ceremonial magic; Paths is a comprehensive guide to the Hermetic version of the Cabala, the foundation of Golden Dawn practice, and Circles is a hands-on manual of ceremonial magic. You can order those direct from the publisher, along with my other Aeon Press books, here.


Patricia Mathews said...

Oh, yes. If you want a good laugh on the subject and feel like plowing through Steve Stirling's umpteen Emberverse novels, check out his Wiccan character Lady Juniper's exasperation with the same sort of True Believers .... among her own followers. Not to mention the manufactured family histories of the great families in another, pseudo-Medieval, post-Change culture.

It's interesting to note that the distinguished Norse History professor Dr. John Lindow, who was UNM's visiting scholar one of the years I took Viking Mythology, set himself to, apparently, tell the Asatruar some home truths out of their very lore. (I'm guessing about his motives, but if I'd been Asatru, I would have reacted like a flying saucer believer confronted with a learned astronomer.) He showed, frex, that Odin was a ratfink, among other things.

Pat, Wiccan since 1990, who has been thoroughly trashed (or trolled) in Circle for pointing out that the PBS Burning Times video was scholarship on the level of conflating the reigns of Henry VII and Edward VIII and omitting everything in between. And ascribing the deeds of Charles I to Our Own Dear Crown Prince c. 2017. Etc. Historians howl with laughter between bouts of throwing up.

Emmanuel Goldstein said...

Very interesting. There is a theme in US Evangelical Christian circles known as "The Early Church." The idea being that, whatever The Early Church did, back in the era where a lot of the Apostles were still alive, and there were many people still alive who remembered meeting and hearing Jesus speak, was the right way to do things--And if only we could get back to what The Early Church did, all would be well. Celtic Reconstructionists sound like they are taking a play from this book.

It might be possible to use Remote Viewing to get additional information on what the early pagans actually did; In his book "The Ultimate Time Machine..." Joseph McMoneagle describes remote viewing sessions in which he was able to observe the stone carving techniques of Egyptians who cut blocks for the pyramids. McMoneagle is retired now I believe, but used to do RV commercially. He might be able to refer to a reputable commercial remote viewer if anyone wants to pursue this angle--although the accuracy for verifiable remote viewing is only something like 30%.

Here are some links;

The book;

McMoneagle's website;

Even if someone could find more information about what they actually did back then, would it make a difference now? IMHO, probably no functional benefit to it.
Sounds like serious practitioners are getting good results with what they are doing now. Given the limitations we all have on perception of the real realities of spiritual worlds, "It works for me" may be the best we can do. :-)

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

To the best of my knowledge, the first American witchcraft tradition to be totally and proudly open about its modern origin was NROOGD, founded in 1967 in San Francisco. NROOGD never claimed witch ancestors or any direct precursors. An account written by one of the founding members was published a few years later in NROOGD's zine The Witches Trine under the title "How We Happened to Get the NROOGD Together."

Troy Jones said...

Hooray, JMG is still around!

John Michael Greer said...

Patricia, hmm! Most of the Asatruar I know of are entirely clear on the fact that Odin is not an exemplar of morality -- it's almost entirely an Abrahamic thing, as far as I know, to insist that the gods must be moral, and even there Yahweh doesn't always play along with that. More generally, though, granted -- there's a vast amount of nonsense in circulation about Pagan history, ranging from the absurd to the hilarious.

Emmanuel, exactly. Nobody alive today is an ancient Celt; we have different cultures and different needs, and so of course we have different spiritualities.

Deborah, that seems about right.

Troy, oh, I wasn't going anywhere. The new blog site is rapidly approaching ready-to-roll status; stay tuned for announcements.

Brigyn said...

Seeing all the changes the surviving ancient religions have been through, who knows what Ancient Celtic Druidry would be like today, had it too survived?

This is all speculation of course, but... Perhaps it might not differ that much from the Druidry we practice today? After all, there is a reason the scraps of information that remained of the Ancient Druids were so eagerly taken up during the Druid Revival. If living spiritualities are shaped by the needs of their time, Ancient Druidry seems like a good candidate to have slowly become a more ecologically-focused religion...

On that note, part of me feels that the Ancient druids never really disappeared, but were successfully assimilated in what later became Celtic Christianity.
For the sake of argument, if Celtic Christianity is an acceptable (if partial) successor to Ancient Druidry, then the Druid Revival would have at least some claim of authenticity as well, having taken teachings from both the Anglican Church as well as Celtic Christianity.

To me, that living lineage is more 'authentic' than any reconstruction of a static image of a religion in a singular point in time the ancient past.

Eventually, 'authenticity' becomes such an arbitrary notion. Revival Druidry is a tradition going back hundreds of years. It is incredibly deep, varied, and alive and growing. It fulfills me spiritually, and that is all that matters to me.

A Rat in the Walls said...

I wonder if the utter cultural poverty of late-20th century suburban life has anything to do with the flight from American identity. When I was much younger I became very interested in "Celtic" spirituality, most of my ancestors being Irish. I thought a out this recently, though, and I realized that in my youth I'd constructed a vision of an enchanted land of rolling green hills full of fairies and nature gods that I thought of as "Ireland," but that all of that imagery really came from... my own home in western Pennsylvania. Sort of like Randolph Carter realizing that the city of his dreams that he thought lay beyond Unknown Kaddath was really his home town of Kingsport.

I have noticed, though, that Europeans throw a lot of disdain at white Americans who identify with their Old World cultural roots that they would never think of in other cases. You won't find Europeans online abusing Asian-Americans for calling themselves Chinese or Japanese, for example, but you'll find plenty of examples of the same directed at Irish or Italians.

John Roth said...


Even putting aside the fact that knowing what they did would do nobody any good today, using remote viewing (or any other technique) runs afoul of the entirely unjustified assumption that there is a single, real past. The rather weird teaching I'm affiliated with suggests that there are a large number of parallels, which split, merge, split, get tied in granny knots and similar. I have a dozen different channelings and remote viewings on Jesus, for example, and they agree on very little, especially when you remove the ones that seem to have stumbled into the Infancy Gospel of James or similar known texts. And these are by channels and remote viewers who have reasonably decent reputations for accuracy. Most of them say he was a magician and that he wasn't crucified, which at least is refreshingly different.

Violet Cabra said...

I have something of a personal announcement which is somewhat relevant to parts of this essay. The debilitating chemical sensitivities that I mentioned on TADR have mostly gone away. Of course, I don't like exposure to toxic chemicals, but I have been finding (knock on wood) that I can mostly stride through it now.

You mention the Wannabee tribe and "cardiac Celts", as some of the identities that people who don't want to identify as Americans take on. For almost a decade I lived as a "woman" even though I'm biologically male. After leaving a thought policing SJW social milieu I almost immediately came to terms that I had been indoctrinated into something of a cult, that I am mostly and have always been a mostly gay man, and my self-deception was literally making me sick. Coming to terms with myself and my regrettable choices has been a source of immense healing.

I've written more about my experiences on my blog:

After having met dozens if not hundreds of trans people I find myself doubting the validity of gender identity; what I've seen is people who are suffering from marked mental illness trying to scapegoat their problems and/or young people caught up in a fashionable identity. Of course there are huge debates and soul searching about authenticity, which leads credulous young folk such as myself to take dangerous cross-sex hormones and mutilate themselves. I don't believe that this is a healthy and balanced choice for anyone I've personally met, although I don't want to generalize too much from my own limited experiences. I've found my own participation in this zeitgeist to be profoundly harmful, and want to come clean to this community since it is something that I've discussed with approval here and on TADR before.

Charles DeYoe said...

Excellent post. The parts about people pretending to be part of other/older cultures/ethnicities made me think of this interview from a couple days ago with Rachel Dolezal (the white woman who gained notoriety a couple years ago resulting from her claiming to be black) -
I think the interview does an good job of pointing out the problematic nature of her claimed identity.

I have a question about the new edition of Circles of Power: is there any difference between that and the edition that was put out by Salamander & Sons a couple years back?

Agent Provocateur said...

@ Brigyn

I think you are correct about assimilation. My guess is that as the institutions that supported iron age Druids died out, many found a new home in the Celtic Christian church as monks. If one was inclined to a life of learning, monasteries were really the only place to go at the time. Support for some cultural continuity are the nature themed prayers and traditions of that brand of Christianity. It may not really be Druidry as such but more a continuation of a nature centred culture and worldview the old Druids inhabited and sustained. Just a guess though.

John Michael Greer said...

Brigyn, good! To judge by examples of religions that have survived encounters with imported prophetic faiths -- I'm thinking here especially of Shinto and the indigenous Tibetan religion Bon -- it's tolerably likely that if the traditions of the ancient Druids had survived through the last two thousand years, they might well have ended up looking like the traditions of the Druid Revival. The one thing we can be sure of is that they would have changed a great deal.

Rat, the thing is, the same flight from Americanity was going on full bore more than two centuries ago; your imaginary land of rolling green hills full of leprechauns had countless equivalents in the imaginary Englands of Anglophile American intellectuals in the colonial and Federal eras. Thus I don't think it's suburbia's doing -- the phenomena was around long before suburbs.

Violet, I'm glad you're doing better! As for the other -- wow. Okay, fair enough; I know a certain number of trans people (my Aunt Becky used to be my Uncle Paul, for example) but, to be frank, not well enough to judge one way or the other, and as a moderate Burkean conservative my reaction has always been that the choices people make about personal issues aren't really my business anyway. That said, thanks for the insight!

Charles, thank you. With regard to Circles of Power, the new edition has a few additional corrections but it's fairly similar to the second edition. Were you actually able to get a copy of the latter? Most people who ordered one never did.

Roberta said...

I totally understand how ridiculous and destructive these esoteric disputes between small groups can become. I'm going to call it OSODD for Obscure Small Order Discord Disorder. Oh sod!

Is there a resource that you can recommend for assisting in picking out a Tarot card deck? As a textile and graphic designer I'm really attracted to that Rider-Waite-Smith deck. I'm a bit reluctant to decide to use it simply because I like to look at it, although that would be enough if it were any number of other items. Is there another good reason? I admit that it's the only one that I'm even a little familiar with.

For the record, I have been known to choose vintage items for my home when a plainer one of recent manufacture one would have worked as well or better. But sometimes what beauty brings to the use of an item IS really important.

Agent Provocateur said...


Thank you for your honesty.

In Ontario, our medical insurance pays for sex change operations. It has concerned me that, though well intentioned, these operations were extreme procedures that might not really be addressing the root issue. It seemed particularly ill advised for the young given their sense of self is certainly not yet very fixed.

But who would dare voice a contrary opinion? To do so invites strong criticism and accusations of bad intent. It is perceived as a personal attack versus part of just a search for truth.

Not having the basis to have as informed opinion as you do, one just has to let it go and wish everyone the best. If you are correct, and I strongly suspect you are, studies years from now will bear it out. By that time enormous damage will be done.

What I think is at the base of the medical response to this issue is a very poorly formed metaphysic (postmodernism specifically). Its amazing what harm bad philosophy can do.

Please accept my best wishes for you. If you don't mind my saying, after my 56 years on the planet, I don't think I've seen many people get as far in their self reflection as you just demonstrated. It bodes very well for you.

Agent Provocateur said...


The questions that next comes to mind are, "What makes a religion valid?" and "What makes a religion yield good results?"

I'd hazard a guess for an answer to the first question is that, "The religion helps create integrated, healthy, happy people."

The second question is tougher.

Emmanuel Goldstein said...

John Roth--
Wow! Multiple pasts that converge to a present-as-we-know-it? I never considered that as a possibility before. Does that theory have a name? It sounds interesting. I do think there is some evidence of feedback from what we perceive as "future" to what we perceive as "past."
I agree that accurate remote viewing of Jesus or other well-known historical figures is going to be very difficult. It's one thing to RV a foreign secret missile silo, for example--little bias, and what you see _could_ be verified sometime by a spy with a camera-- But just about everyone has a notion about what Jesus or Mohamed, etc, should have been doing. Even if there are no multiple pasts, the data you get are likely to be colored by expectations.
@Violet--wishing you well! May you find peace.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

A Rat in the Walls, a friend of mine remarked that the woods and hills of the northeastern states that were settled by Europeans centuries ago have an old feel that is different from western states, in part because a lot of the fairies and land spirits came over the water with the settlers and inhabit those lands.

If you had said that white *Americans* don't object to Asian Americans calling themselves Chinese, Japanese, Korean or what have you, I would have said that those white people are racists who don't believe people of Asian descent are real Americans even if they are third generation natives of this country. They will always really be Chinese, Japanese or whatever because of the shape of their eyes. Jeff Sessions who is the head of the Department of Justice expressed this sentiment in a veiled way today about Hawaiians. I don't know whether Europeans think that.

Judy said...

Violet, there is a substantial sorrow upon me to hear that's how it went for you. I would never deny it happens sometimes and its a tragedy every time it happens.

But I've witnessed the bitterness of male friends who feel female but don't even speculate about transition because they're not passable enough. I totally agree with them likely the cost of transition would be even higher than the cost of not transitioning.

But their bitterness doesn't seem to be frustration at some implanted fantasy being impossible. I've seen how that sort of process play out with how people in the furry community end up "kinky by osmosis". Then drift away from it whether they end up trying it out in a relationship, or never end up in relationship at all.

It might take a decade or so but hopeless fantasies that come from peer pressure or fads don't last the way I've seen the bitterness from not being able to transition last.

(Though, not every last person with those feelings remains hopelessly bitter. I know one exception, personally.n=20 or so)

When I first started transition, I was very very concerned at the prospect of misattributing my distress. And this concern deepened after the first two psychs I saw said the same thing "We believe it's vastly more likely your autism means this is just an eccentric notion of yours that you must be prevented from taking irreversible steps regarding".

But its worth noting the reason one of those psychs changed her mind (and she's the head of the transgender service program in my province) is because of a recent book where someone interviewed the earliest transwomen.

Every single one of them admitted they'd tailored the biographies they gave to the psychs to tell the psychs what they wanted to hear. So the psychs would advocate for hormones and surgery. So some of the main data that was the basis for the Standards of Care for gender dysphoria was absolutely inaccurate. Yet, those women had gone on to have successful careers and reasonably happy lives.

The psych in my province along with a great many of her colleagues threw up her hands and admitted "Okay, since we don't know what causes this, but we do know that treating people in this fashion very reliably improves their lives, we'll just take it as proof transition is a good idea if someone's life doesn't get markedly worse because of living as the gender they're claiming. Its not a perfect safeguard but it seems to do more good than harm."

It would be ten years before this happened. So during those initial years, I was very nervous. Since I proceeded with transition despite poverty and the reaction from the first two psychs. I did think to myself frequently "I'm sitting in the Siege Perilous. If I'm lying to myself, I'm going to so regret this later."

But around the four year mark I started accepting "Well, if I'm wrong, I'm wrong. I'll pay the price when it comes due."

It helped that my mentor at the time was the head by acclaim at the gamer house I lived in. We were a fractious lot but there were two things we strongly agreed on: Buffy the Vampire Slayer was awesome. And Dwayne (my mentor) was the most all around talented and definitely the most socially deft and insightful person any of us had ever met.

And this judgment was shared by his superiors at work as he steadily got promoted despite growing up on the wrong side of the tracks and having no connections. (And this was a government job: fighting forest fires during the summer season. He eventually got a full time position in the Forestry ministry.)

Judy said...

His opinion was that I became a much happier person after transition. That particularly after taking hormones and blockers, everything from the way I laughed to my body language changed for the better.

I had a job at a call center about that time and someone I met years before, pre transition who worked there said "I remember you. But I thought you were a lot shorter." "I stand up a lot straighter these days, I'm told.")

And then almost eight years in, I discovered Judaism. And I wanted to convert to strict Orthodoxy. And it turned out the only way that could ever be possible was if I stopped transition and identified as male. Orthodox Judaism does not accept the validity of transgender and does not even have a theoretical theology to permit it to and remain Orthodox.

All along I'd occasionally wondered if I was doing transition just to create the illusion of a meaningful, purposeful change in my life. There were few costs for me to pay because of my extreme alienation and personal factors.

I'd wondered if I'd stick with it if the costs became emotionally dire or if something I wanted more raised the opportunity cost steeply.

Here I was faced with that exact situation.

And I decided tentatively "Maybe I am. God doesn't demand this, but the prospect of being closer to God by doing this means that much to me. Not because I will be punished if I don't, but because that closeness is a primal, core need. And I can't imagine any other way of getting closer except this."

So I decided to detransition. I remember feeling shaky and kind of nauseous. I went to the store to get some junk food to bury my unhappiness and let the choice settle

Five minutes later I see my shadow on the ground as I'm walking through a park en route. The angle of the sun made my silhouette markedly more feminine looking than I am. And I just felt this spiritual (I don't use the word carelessly) conviction overwhelm me: "NO! This is me. God doesn't demand I give it up. I will be extremely sad if I give this up. I'm not doing this. I'll just have to accept that this is as close to God as I can get."

That was nine years ago. Since then, I've never regretted transition or had a doubt about it. Even when it turned out I had to stop testosterone blockers (and that I'd cut years off my life from wear and tear on my kidneys as a result.) (I have super high testosterone levels and the level of blockers I needed put too much diuretic pressure on my kidneys for too long.)

(I'm on the wait list for castration and I'm so looking forward to it. I remember how my emotions didn't feel muffled while I was on blockers.)

When I told Dwayne about this not long after, he had a very vehement opinion "Do not ever think of doing this again, please. I know you better than almost anyone." (He was basically my second father despite being only a couple years older. He taught me so many social skills I so badly needed, very patiently.) "Trust me: I doubt you would survive detransitioning. Please trust your intuition more. I know it's hard for you, but do it anyway."

(And I've only had a handful of experiences I'd call "spiritual" to the degree that one was. Six in total. And that one was only the second. And none happened before I'd become mostly at peace with transition. I'd never had a hint of any spiritual experiences pre transition.)

Judy said...

I'm sorry to go on at such length but this is relevant to the ultimate topic:
being honest when the pressure is on and major changes are stressful and there's a huge temptation to get stuck in the sunk cost fallacy...always remember you could be wrong.

Even at this late stage, if I had a series of spiritual experiences demonstrating I was wrong, I'd revisit my choice about transition. But it would take some epic experiences.

I've received healing from native spirits despite the fact the tribe the medicine man I've gone to does not believe trans as modern culture does it is a real thing. They believe in something approximating "non binary" but it stresses the birth gender as foremost. (at least in this group of natives. Even though the historical evidence is ambiguous and they have no reliable lore before this generation because of almost dying out.)

So I'd be really surprised to get late breaking data that reversed my judgment.

But it might.

I stopped believing in God a year after the Experience above. I've recently decided I don't care about the existence or non existence of God and started trying to do Judaism again as an idiosyncratic solitary path without conversion. I do what they do except where they do things specifically for "in tribe only".

Their Rabbis say the main concerns over non Jews saying their prayers was people pretending to be Jewish to get help from Jews or to spy on them. I'm doing neither, so I think my behaviour is acceptable.

I regularly get sensations during prayer as if I'm being given acupuncture. And on points on the body exactly matching where needles would go, on points appropriate to the emotions during those words in the prayers.

When I pray regularly, my physical and emotional health is better. I feel no guilt whenever I don't, because for me, Judaism has been the solution to Catholic guilt. But I am well aware as most Jews experience Judaism growing up, guilt is a huge thing.

Like this post says, authenticity can become a prize, a status symbol and psychodrama divorced from its practical, tangible effects.

This is related to how it is so tempting in general to buy into an opinion and then ignore all evidence to the contrary. That ego gets more invested in being right than in admitting how things are actually working out.

I don't always meet the challenge. I think it's very uncommon anyone is extremely adept at hurdling this obstacle. But I've gotten over it on a couple of big things. And I wouldn't have done it if I'd accepted other peoples theories grounded in their experience as being automatically and totally predictive of mine.

Which is why I'm not saying "oh, and so Violet's just an outlier. Disregard his opinion." I'm just taking issue that we don't know what's what here. This is the professional consensus now and that's been my experience, too.

Gender transition doesn't work out every time. Because it doesn't, everyone who undertakes it should be very cautious But it does work out some of the time. And a big part of doing this well is avoiding the temptation to regard the experience as a way to appropriate someone else authenticity to address a personal insecurity.

(And becoming beguiled and lost in the effort to elaborate on and amplify that authenticity instead of actually doing things to address the real needs driving them.)

There are times being trans is like being a "Cardiac Celt", times its like discovering a hidden heritage, and times it's like being a Jewish fellow traveler like me. (And many other things too I'm sure.)

As JMG says, the glass we're peering out through makes an image more characterized by dirt than light. We can't help seeking and using generalizations (including this one!) so being careful is always going to be an ultimately spiritual endeavor and learning to listen past our egos is an ongoing challenge.

Cherokee Organics said...


If it means anything to you I sort of feel a bit sorry for those Celtic reconstructionist people and their brittle ways. I salute your stoicism at having to endure such a pointless tirade because to my mind the person in question would have been an embarrassment to everyone. An outburst like that is a form of self-defeating behaviour. But that does not make it a pleasant experience to have. If he felt so Celtic, in your place, I may well have decided on the spur of the moment to test his true Celtic-ness by seeing whether he could withstand a proper Glasgow kiss!

On the other hand, it speaks volumes about your own power and status that the perpetrator felt that you were a worthy target for his own insecurities.

People believe such strange things (take the beliefs about progress for example!) that it is little wonder that people feel the need to double down on their beliefs. It is always about them, even if it is directed at you (which is an unfortunate thing for you to experience). I once had someone vehemently spit at me: "We can't all live like you do!" And I always took that to mean that they knew that their own life choices were ruining the biosphere and yet they resented me for trying something different and less destructive because it brought their own decisions into question. Of course it doesn't help that they were right too in their assertion, because in a couple of centuries all that will be left will be the subsistence farmers - and I don't make that particular claim about my own life! ;-)!

I'm Australian with all of the baggage that that brings and I don't claim to be anything else... It would be very strange if I did.

I hope that you and Sara are enjoying your time out and away from the interweb, and I really hope people aren't bombarding you with emails...

Cheers and warm regards,


Cherokee Organics said...


Forgot to mention that I listened to the recent CFPUP Summit which you attended and I enjoyed the discussion. You raised a point which was dismissed or largely ignored and I just wanted to say that I agree with your point. The point in question that you raised was that it is easier to live - for example - in the way that I do if you have access to resources. I was considering your thoughtful comment recently as I had to shell out $6k for a new wood heater. That is no small amount for me, but at this stage of things I can field the cost. I'm not necessarily sanguine that such an outcome is guaranteed in the future.



beetleswamp said...

Once again I am disappointed to find another even-tempered, honest, and illuminating response where most people would have been itching for the opportunity to tell the heckler where to stick it. This begs the question if the brand of Magic Sky People you are selling has some valuable personal development potential in it after all?

My failed attempts at humor aside, the phenomenon of Culture Vultures in America could probably be attributed to the fact that consumerism makes a lousy replacement for the traditional connections that our species craves. In a society that celebrates coming of age with a high school diploma and a car, kids seek to recreate ancient torture and self mutilation rituals that will grant them admission into something really worth belonging to. If any idiot with enough money can buy their way in, after all, then any benefits are purely transactional, temporary, and limited.

If there's any consolation to the cultures targeted for extermination that managed to hold on to some of their roots up to this point, it's that they have access to the kind of wealth that becomes even more precious when money loses it's value. Sadly it looks like many of us Westerners will be following the example of the Greenland Vikings who spent too much time fighting the Inuit when they should have been taking notes.

Bill Pulliam said...

Exactly the reasons why I don't generally claim to be anything. If someone is interested I might tell them some or even a lot, and of the highly eclectic sources it all comes from. I'll even use some general descriptive terms and categories. Overall though, it works for me, and it doesn't appear to need a name.

On a side note, we got to have the rare experience four weeks ago of being inside a tornado... the trees defended the house, so the house is fine (damage repaired within a fortnight), but the trees alas are not.

Brother Guthlac said...

“Authenticity is a matter of whether something has the source it claims to have; validity is a matter of whether it works.” ‘fess up about the order’s real historical roots’

Real novelty seems to be rare. Very little new under the sun. Perhaps recognizing the actual historical sources of a practice or systematization might actually facilitate finding and applying things “that work”. This in a world where to a great extent each generation of wizards and mages have to reinvent the wheel for themselves, discovering what from the vast, mostly forgotten heritage “works” in this time and place - making it their own.

Charles DeYoe said...

I somehow did get a copy of the second edition; I guess I lucked out!
I'll be ordering the Aeon Press version, along with Paths of Wisdom, for the public library I work for though.

Izzy said...

On phone, but: love & recommend Emberverse, especially later ones. (Female love interest in the first two cycles was awful, but there's nobody in G3 I want to slap! Yay!)

Know trans folks for whom transitioning is the best way to live psychologically healthy lives, but nothing's for everyone, and if another way works better for you, great.

Authenticity as a concept just gets on my nerves, whether it's the "Burning Times" idiots, the Guy Who Liked The Band Before It Was Cool, or the jerk who thinks etiquette and social standards are "fake" so asking how she's doing gets a half-hour ballad of woe.

If something works for people, where it comes from is really just a matter of academic interest.

(There was an obnoxious "oh Easter is a corruption of Ishtar you silly Christians" FB meme going around lately, and as a pagan I was like...stop making the rest of us feel bad, plus our religion as commonly practiced has as much to do with Victorians wanting naked ladies and BDSM fun times as historical whatever, so shut up and also shut up.)

Sven Eriksen said...

Whenever silliness and rage are putting in a team effort, the underlying pattern always appears to be some kind of herculean struggle to sustain an artificially created sense of identity...

John Michael Greer said...

Roberta, I'd make two points about choosing a Tarot deck. The first is that it doesn't matter that much which one you choose -- esthetics aside, a deck is a deck is a deck. The second is that if you like to look at a particular deck, that's probably a good one to choose, because you're going to spend a lot of time looking at it in the process of learning how to use it. Ergo, by all means pick up the deck you enjoy!

Agent, good! Validity is always a judgment call, relevant to some specific set of values. To my mind, one of the reasons there are so many religions is that there's no one goal toward which every religious person is moving, or for that matter should be moving; nor is there just one set of practices or teachings that will get them there. The world is far more intricate than that.

Cherokee, thank you. It didn't require any particular exercise of Stoicism, just boredom tempered by the realization that the incident would make a good blog post!

Beetleswamp, funny. Actually, it's because we worship magic earth fairies rather than magic sky fairies, you know...

Bill, glad you and your house made it through intact! As for the label, it kind of came with the tradition -- and it's entertaining to watch people react to it.

Brother G., certainly 'fessing up to the actual origins of a tradition makes it a lot easier to chase down misplaced material from that tradition -- instead of barking up the long-dead stump of pre-Christian Celtic lore, I was able to focus on the cultural and intellectual milieu surrounding the Druid Revival of the 18th and 19th centuries, and find all kinds of interesting and useful things that hadn't gotten handed down to the present tradition.

Charles, you're one of the few -- congratulations. (And thank you.)

Violet Cabra said...

@ JMG, you're welcome!

@ Agent Provocateur, Thank you for your blessing. I think that postmodernism is key - I believe that I acted as something as a priestess of postmodernism while I was living as a trans woman. Nature is however notoriously conservative, and I think that radical medical interventions are much more likely to cause long term harm. Of course you're right that time will ultimately tell.

@ Emmanuel Goldstein, thanks for the kind words.

@ Judy, There are important questions of etiology that I believe are largely unexplored. I believe that my trans was planted by postmodernism, and grew in the fertile soil of disassociation, narcissism and self harm. My sense is that is the most common narrative, but I freely admit that I have a limited perspective and will inevitably get things wrong. That being said, my limited perspective stands and I believe that as a social movement transgenderism has destructive and cult like features, and my personal experience is that it is inherently harmful. Nonetheless, I'm glad that you are happy with your choices and wish you the best.

Luna said...

As a European, this reminds me of something I've observed in the States. It was hard for me to believe at first, because it's so different from my own experience. But the evidence it's too obvious to ignore. This is it: The average North American has no idea about how to live in his/her own land. California is a poster child of this that makes a lot of sense to me, but I have reason to think it's the same everywhere. California has a Mediterranean climate. All the peoples living around the Mediterranean know a number of facts of life, relating to climate, droughts, etc. Clearly, the average Californian doesn't know them. I could give many examples.

I suspect many North Americans are dimly aware of this, and some try to compensate by adopting some sort of "old" identity. Of course, it doesn't help in the least. Adopting some kind of "old" identity from some set of histories and myths won't help you to learn to live in your own land, unless your own land looks a lot like the old land you are adopting. And, let's face it, some areas of the States look similar to some areas of Europe, but some areas of the States are just something else that don't look a lot like any place in Europe. So adopting an old European identity is unlikely to help you. Adopting a Native American identity just might, if the tribe managed to hold on to enough knowledge... and from what I hear about Native American reservations, only a few tribes have managed that.

This, of course, doesn't have much to do with following a spiritual path in the States, because spirituality in the States is mostly idealistic i.e. deals a lot with ideas and not too much with the facts of life in this particular corner of the world. Which is fine as things go. In Europe, spirituality is often a bit more intertwined with the particular history and facts of a particular country, but it isn't necessary to get very hung up on this. After all, the best bits of spirituality are the universal ones.

Still, I do feel that North Americans simply lack a kind of wisdom that is taken for granted in Europe. If you live, say, in a big island next to continental Europe, you know, because you've been told since your earliest years at school, that certain things might happen here, and certain things might happen in continental Europe, and certain things simply never happen here. But if you live in the States, you just don't know what is possible in your country and what isn't. And that cannot be incorporated in any way in your spiritual path, because you simply don't know.

Eric S. said...

One thing that I continue to appreciate about OBOD is that it takes something of a third option that neither the older Druid orders, nor the Celtic Reconstructionists took, in acknowledging and incorporating new information about the ancient Celts and Celtic mythology where it fit, without rejecting the order's roots, which means that the coursework makes way for reflections on archaeology, and incorporates the medieval myths and legends right alongside the Druid Revival lore. The older lore and occasional new discoveries that point towards how and where certain deities were honored, how certain rites of passage were treated, etcetera tends to be potent stuff that I don't think Druids necessarily have to ignore as part of a completely separate tradition since they are ultimately rooted in the same sources people like Morganwg were drawing from. If I recall, that was one of the tensions that led to the schism that created OBOD, with Nichols wanting to look to some of the wonderful Celtic mythology and lore that had been introduced to the public eye over the 19th and early 20th century and wanting to incorporate it into the way modern Druids operated in order to try to give it slightly deeper roots. I do think that there is some place for a balance between drawing on new information as it comes while still holding to tradition.

The weird thing with ADF of course is that they aren't technically a reconstructionist organization, they're Neo-druid and constitute an offshoot of the branch of Druidry that originated with RDNA, and were trying to take that approach and work it into a proper Druid religion rooted in Indo-European myth with less of a college fraternity approach, though they sometimes get referred to as liberal reconstructionist in their approach. One of the really interesting things that's happening in ADF right now is that the scholarship they built much of their tradition and ritual from has now been sufficiently outdated that they’re having to treat certain books on the reading list as foundational to the tradition rather than factually accurate and are getting their own reconstructionist trolls since they’ve now got their own traditions they’re clinging to. I think Corrigan's thing is a bit more generational than organizational, and is more rooted in his own quirks of personality than anything. At this point, the main difference between ADF and the Druid Revival traditions is that the Druid Revival traditions have started to settle into a role of esotericism and occultism with ADF taking on a more exoteric hearth spirituality stance. And ADF as an organization at this point has grown up enough that the antics and ideas of various authors and former Archdruids such as Corrigan don't tend to have much sway over how everyone else functions.

What's going to be really amusing is watching the latest batch of Celtic Reconstructionists facing an identity crisis in another decade or two once the things they base what they're currently doing on get left behind by the latest in academic fashion and a new batch is trolling them. It does seem though, that navigating the tension between the academy and the tradition is a part of the challenge of growing up as a spiritual movement that looks to the past for its inspiration in the modern world, some will grow roots and become vibrant established traditions in their own right, others, as you discussed above will die off. Even the ones that die off though, may wind up producing worthwhile material before they do. The one thing I respect even the most annoying of CRs for is a tendency to be able to produce good material for building hearth-based home devotional routines and incorporating Celtic spirituality into daily home and family life, and some of those ideas may wind up outlasting the movements that gave birth to them.

John Roth said...


I regard myself as mildly trans, for the simple reason that I don’t fit in with typical male culture. There was a time, long ago, when I had considered a sex change if I’d had the guts, but never did. If the name “Virginia Prince” and the campaign to remove laws against cross-dressing mean anything to you, that will tell you how long ago it was.

I agree; the current trans movement and non-gender-binary movement is definitely a social cult. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who don’t fit into the standard male-female dichotomy, because there are: we have a number in our UU congregation as well as a number in our UU neo-pagan group. The “personal pronoun” thing and using “singular they” as an epicene pronoun is part of it. (“Singular they” itself has been standard English as far back as Chaucer, but it was never used as an epicene pronoun until recently.)

Good luck and congratulations on getting back on your emotional feet.

@Emmanuel Goldstein

That’s an integral part of both the Seth Material and the Michael Teaching, although most students of either one that I’m aware of haven’t assimilated all the implications. (I’m not sure I have either.)

One of the sayings in certain parts of the New Age scene is that “time does not exist.” That’s both an exaggeration and gross oversimplification, but I do know of people who are in communication with one of their “future” lifetimes, as well as lifetimes in different parallels.

Most people, of course, would not touch this material with a barge-pole, and I don’t blame them a bit. The intention of living a lifetime here on the Physical Plane is to experience life here on the Physical Plane, and looking behind the screen to see the wizard isn’t part of it.

As far as validating this? I’ve run across some healing modalities that seem to manipulate someone’s personal history. Not to mention the Mandela Effect. Of course, this can all be explained away be a sufficiently well-motivate hard-core materialist.

William McGillis said...


Hope you and Sara are doing well.

I have a question similar to Charles'. I own a first edition of Paths to Wisdom. While I have read it a few times, I am hoping to soon start actively pathworking and meditating through the tree of life son. Wondering how much the third edition differs from the first. I've already suggested that my library purchase the new version, but wondering if it would behoove me to do so as well.



Rhisiart Gwilym said...

John Michael: Good to see that the kind of post-plus-discussion for which I would visit TADR when it was active is still happening here. I look forward to your new manifestation when its ripe. Violet: Sympathy for, and solidarity with, your struggles. Keep sluggin' cousin! :) Lwc dda i bawb yma! (Now how's that for authentic...:)

faoladh said...

As someone who has been involved in what has become known as "Celtic Reconstructionism" since the very early days of it, I'm always sad to hear of an incident like the one you recount here. It's going to be something that happens, because people who get involved are frequently searching for an authentic life, and they are frequently searching for an identity that is not as culpable in Empire and its horrors. On my end, I see it manifest more as an obsession with DNA tests and ancestry websites, something that I try to discourage because it serves as a distraction from, and frequently ends up as a replacement for, legitimate spirituality (not to mention the fact that, even if one were to accept that it has any spiritual value, as some wrongly claim, commercial DNA testing has a very poor accuracy rate; in some cases natural siblings have found themselves given drastically differing results from the same testing company). I wish that I could say that it was a minority in both cases, but I accept that there are a lot of them. In some part, I am personally culpable for the attitude you've encountered, in fact. Back in the early '90s, when we were starting to make our voices heard in the greater Pagan/polytheist/whatever conversation, it was difficult to have the pagan reconstructionist conversation at all, as any time (even in our own fora!) we would begin, people who were disinterested in those questions would hedge in and attempt to take over our conversations because they either thought that they already knew the answers to the questions we were asking despite the fact that no one other than a few of us at the time had any idea what questions we were asking, or else that the questions we were asking weren't interesting to them so they decided to change the conversation. It was a conundrum: we couldn't ask the questions because we didn't already have the answers so that we could politely shunt such people to the side, and we couldn't figure out the answers because we weren't able to ask the questions. Some of us, myself among them, chose therefore to stop being polite in our attempts to have those conversations, and to aggressively halt the disruptions (such as my series of replies to seven of those disruptive people that became known as the "Seven-part Shut The F--- Up"). It worked in the sense that we were able to chase off people who were disinterested and disruptive (or, in a couple of cases, impress on them the project we were attempting), but it left a tone that has echoes today, when we no longer have any need for it. (cont.)

faoladh said...

That said, I'd say that from the responses you get here, several of your readers have developed a misapprehension of what, exactly, Celtic Reconstructionism (and, by extension, all of the other pagan/polytheist reconstructionisms) is. The idea of authenticity is not really a central part of it. It is merely the idea that an intellectual rigor, to some extent, is useful in reconstructing (that is, in the forensic sense of "reconstruction") what was done in the past. It is not purely "scientific" in the sense that much of what we do would not necessarily be accepted by mainstream archaeologists or historians, as we admit evidence that would be dismissed out of hand by materialists, but it is scientific in the sense that we formulate hypotheses, check them against the available evidence, and constantly (at least, ideally) re-verify them. This makes what we do different from what, say, Druids are doing mainly in the fact that we don't stop at "there's only A, B, and C evidence available", and we have consequently found quite a bit more useful than people who simply accept such statements at face value might think.

As for the "why" of doing it, that answer varies from person to person. For myself, it's mainly because I think that there is much that we can learn from European polytheistic traditions outside of the Classical ones. I suspected that there were legitimate traces of them in the extant materials, and I think that we have justified that suspicion at this point, even taking anti-nativist arguments into account. But demonstrating that is a whole series of arguments that are largely irrelevant here.

Pseudorandom said...

I also got the paperback second edition of Circles of Power from Salamander & Sons. I posted a comment here by the time they were liquidating their remaining stock. The book is over my table right now.

By the way, what is the status on the new edition of the Sacred Geometry Oracle?

Barrabas said...

Cant help wondering if youve become a political target due to the wide ranging reverberations of the material discussed over several years in the ADR . At the very least "they" may want to repackage and re-present you in the occult circles in a format more amenable and acceptable and controllable to " them". Whoever is seen as the embodiment of these 'ancient celtic' motifs certainly wields a lot of power, in some circles !
But i think youd know this already , given the fraught state of things . Hope you are well ,

Rob Rhodes said...

I wonder if the need of so many N. Americans to adopt an identity is a result of so many of us having been so recently uprooted. Most of us have been here just a few generations and even then many people do not live where they grew up. I don't, though I liver closer to where my mother was born than to where I was. None of my 4 siblings live in our home town, nor did my parents and their 6 siblings. My son is half a continent away, I am delighted that sometimes my daughter spends her off season here.

I expect there were always some wanderers among humans but perhaps N. America has an explosion. Between depopulation, repopulation, overshoot and a continuing fossil fuelled stirring of people around the continent, perhaps it's no wonder that so many grasp for some people to be of, some where to be from.

John Michael Greer said...

Izzy, thank you for slapping the silly meme. It's inaccurate as well as silly -- Easter comes from Old English, not ancient Babylonian, and there's a wee bit of difference between the two.

Sven, nicely summarized!

Violet, I notice that you've taken your blog post down -- I hope you didn't field too much hate in response to it.

Luna, nicely summarized, and of course you're quite correct. We're in the same position with regard to this country that the Anglo-Saxons were in, say, 800 CE, when they'd only been on the land for a couple of centuries and still had no clue how to live there. They learned, I note, only after the treatment they dished out to the former inhabitants got dished out to them in turn by the Danes and then the Normans. I suspect a similaly hard school waits for us.

Eric, of course it's always an option to learn from the past -- from any relevant corner of the past, in fact. The difficulty, to my mind, emerges when people become so fixated on the past that they lose track of the fact that they're living in the present.

Pierre, the third edition of Paths of Wisdom has a few corrections, but not many -- the first edition in that case is perfectly usable. That's less true of the first edition of Circles of Power, as the original publisher garbled the bejesus out of the Hebrew words.

Rhisiart, of course! I expect to host equally lively discussions once the new blogging platform is entirely up and running.

Faoladh, I certainly don't mean to imply that there's anything wrong with following a Reconstructionist path if that's what your heart tells you to do. I'd point out, though, that the whole business about authenticity isn't something I or my readers cooked up. It's something that people who proclaimed themselves to be Celtic Reconstructionists -- and not just a few of them, either -- ranted about as they bullied the rest of us, for years on end. If authenticity really isn't what the CR movement is about, I'm not sure how well you've communicated that to a large, loud, and rather authoritarian subset of the movement

Pseudorandom, congratulations -- it's quite a decent edition, and I'm just sorry that the publisher finked out so completely. As for the Sacred Geometry Oracle, it's been delayed a bit but I've just been reassured by the publisher that it should be out this coming summer.

Barrabas, oh, I'm fine. If anybody in power got offended by my political comments, they don't seem to have gotten around to mentioning the fact to me!

John Michael Greer said...

Rob, that's wholly plausible.

BTW -- with regard to Brigyn's earlier comment about what Druidry might look like if it hadn't been driven out of existence, I was amused to find this post on that very subject going viral today...

faoladh said...

John Michael Greer: I definitely get that, and you were very careful to note your intent and how it was not to say that Pagan/polytheist reconstruction was in any way wrong. I didn't mean to imply in any way that I have any idea that it is a nonexistent problem, and tried to take pains to note that I am, and others are, aware of the issue, including how it manifests from my end. I intended to equally note that it was because of our failings that so many who are following along have fallen into such bad habits, and to apologize for that (I may not have been as express in that last as I hoped to be). I also wanted to give some historical perspective on how those attitudes came to be, especially for those of your readers who weren't there at the time.

It doesn't help that we have no central authority, so it's mostly some of us who have been around for a long time trying to moderate these forces that we set in motion. That's not as easy as just saying it, but I think that we've made some strides in that direction. Occasionally (the last weekend most recently), I find myself overwhelmed by the issues and intransigence of the people who are the worst offenders, but we have a pretty strong network of people with similar ideas and ideals who offer support, and of course the gods give me reason to press on.

Avery said...

Luna, in my opinion, your observation about Americans not being comfortable or familiar with where they live is at the core of much of what JMG has written about on his blogs as well as the best American literature. You can find that theme in immigrant literature, in Lovecraft, and in Philip K. Dick. It lies at the heart of the confusion in American politics, best expressed by the absurd claim of libertarians that if you don't like the laws in your particular region then "you can just move."

It would surprise me, therefore, if this observation did not resonate at a spiritual level as well. I like Deborah Bender's comment that the fairies and land spirits came with the early English settlers. Something definitely came with the Spanish settlers as well. You can feel a Quixotic energy in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and it creates a haven for irrational and frequently intense New Age syncretism, that feels like what would happen if someone tried to perform the magic realism of South American literature as actual ceremonial magic. That mystic intensity also resonates with the local traditional religious communities. Boston, by contrast, is full of people like me, seeking spiritual shelter but unable to accept phenomena we can't describe with scientific precision, and the traditional communities of Boston reflect that as well.

I think to really get in rooted in a place, as Luna describes for the case of Europe, takes more than a couple of decades. It is more like several generations before you can speak with confidence about your place, and maybe hundreds of years before you can accurately articulate its spirit. And what of the place you left behind? Beowulf was still set in Scandinavia, and Shakespeare was still rooted in Denmark 1000 years after his ancestors came out of there. What is going to happen in America, after the age of plenty ends and we are released from the comforts of the virtual world, will be a chaos unlike anything else in history. I haven't read JMG's Weird of Hali series yet, but I am confident that Lovecraft foresaw this. But maybe 3000 years from now, when the ice caps are melted, the ocean is reduced to jellyfish, and the dust of wars is settled, we will finally get a proper ode about the great migration from the Old Countries.

Violet Cabra said...

@ John Roth, thank you. The singular they as a pronoun is interesting and I wonder if it will catch on. My understanding is that personal pronouns are a closed linguistic category and thus not subject to change, and it would be profound if there was a shift.

@ Rhisiart Gwilym, many thanks!

@ JMG and others, I took my blog post down because a large platform published my piece on trans and the cult of gender and I fear the antics of SJWs and especially trans activists. I've done some meditating on the SJW/trans cult and I believe that there are many striking parallels to the slowly shifted myths of Artemis to Artemis of Epheseus to The Great Mother Cybele. As such I'm being perhaps overly cautiously as I don't feel quite ready to face the hounds.

From D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths (1962, p. 44):

"Artemis, as a newborn goddess, went to her father, Zeus, and asked him to grant her a wish. She wanted to remain forever a wild young maiden hunting through the woods, and she asked him to promise never to make her marry. Zeus consented...

When the moon's magic light shone over echoing hills and wooded valleys, Artemis hunted with the nymphs and her hounds. After a wild hunt, the goddess loved to bathe in a quiet pool. Woe to the mortal who happened to see her then!

One night, quite by chance, a young hunter whose name was Actaeon came upon the pool in the woods where Artemis and her Nymphs were bathing. He should have taken to his heels and run for his life, but instead, he stood spellbound by the sight of the goddess. Artemis was furious! While the nymphs flung a tunic over her shoulders, the goddess dipped her hand into the pool and threw a handful of water at Actaeon. The moment the silvery drops touched his forehead, antlers sprouted, and rapidly all of Actaeon changed into a stag. His own hounds leaped at him, and, to his horror, he could not utter a human hound to call them off. They brought him down, never knowing that the deer was their own master.

'No mortal shall live to boast that he has seen Artemis bathing,' said the goddess, and she picked up her bow and arrows and went on hunting with her nymphs. Artemis was a cold and pitiless goddess."

And so I am proceeding very, very (and perhaps overly) cautiously. Here is a link by a different author who elucidates many of the points I made sans my personal experience:

A Rat in the Walls said...

@ Violet-- Typing this on a phone so grammar may be weird. I have some experience of the trans movement, an a very great deal of experience with the larger radical community in which it is embedded. (I was an anarchist, involved in the primitivist wing of the movement, Occupy, and so forth. I lived in collective houses, wrote screeds for the internet... you know the type) And, like you, I have had the experience of apostatizing publicly, being purged and having to fear for my safety. I know two other people to go through the same experience. One is my partner; the other I met quite by chance when a letter she'd written was published by Rod Dreher at the American Conservative (as was one I wrote on the same subject). If you'd like someone to talk with about the de-radicalization experience, please get in touch with me. I will post my ordinary email address in a message here marked "Not For Posting"; if you do the same I am sure our gracious host can put us in touch.

Jeffrey Kotyk said...

The need to validate authenticity through some past culture or figurehead is a feature of the many Asian religions that I research, especially Buddhism. The monastic ordination lineage has to be traced back to the Buddha himself, otherwise it isn't authentic, even though it is impossible that a "pure lineage" could have existed historically for long. Early Tantra, which was evidently new to Indian Buddhists in the late seventh century, had to be validated by saying it was taught to a certain monk named Dharmagupta by a powerful bodhisattva named Vajrapani, even when it is clearly a system pieced together from earlier Buddhist and pan-Indian ("Hindu") practices (as well as the zodiac signs and seven-day week which curiously come from the Near East, not India!).

I wonder if this need for validation isn't produced from the human desire to validate one's identity through pointing to parents and a broader tribe? "I do what my father and father's father have always done." This seems to be a universal tendency among humans.

Izzy said...

@JMG: Also very much that! Linguistic evolution was like one of the five college courses I actually woke up for most sessions of (two of the others were taught by Robert Mathiesen, who also posts here) and I find it really interesting how sometimes you can trace a word's derivation through similarity to other words, but sometimes that similarity is just a weird coincidence.

In re: ancestry and spiritual practice, my family mostly comes from Ireland and England, with a bit of German. I would have thought any gods-or-whatever* I ended up with would be either Celtic or maaaybe Norse--but when the time came, the images I got were of Hermes and Aphrodite. On the other hand, my mom taught Latin and Greco-Roman mythology for most of my life (one of the first board games I remember playing was By Jove), so hey. :)

On transness: having a bunch of friends come out as trans has inspired a bunch of conversations about gender around here, and it's been interesting. I'm comfortably cis, myself--I think societal gender roles are BS, and fortunately I'm in a time and society that mostly recognizes that as well, so being a woman and doing what I do is no hardship--but if I was magically turned into a guy overnight, the only thing I'd be sad about is that most of the guys I'm into are straight. For me, my body is entirely functional--it doesn't feed into my identity at all, as far as I'm aware. If someone were to mistakenly call me sir, it wouldn't bug me except in situations where I'd worry consequently about the attractiveness of my figure.

Obviously my trans friends felt differently, but what interested me was that so did a friend of mine who's also cisfemale: she really connects to Being a Woman in both a personal and spiritual sense. So maybe in addition to the Kinsey scale, social roles, and what gender you are, there's a bit of wiring-or-whatever for how strongly you feel about being one gender or another.

Which to me sort of ties in to authenticity: a lot of the people I know who feel strongly about gender also really want to present their authentic selves whenever possible, want partners who "see who they really are," etc. Others of us (me, for instance) are more comfortable with concealment, or with putting on various identities as suits the occasion and our mood, and so gender identity only matters insofar as it gets us where we want to be with society, work, people we want to bang, and so forth.

Neither is a bad way of being, to my mind, though both have pitfalls. And it might be the same with spiritual practice or identity--if someone came up with a new religion that worked, I wouldn't care how they did it. (My objections to Scientology are different, and largely though not entirely that I could write a better origin myth after two bottles of vodka.)

* I like to hedge my bets and never be certain about both sex and spirituality, as I know myself very capable of wishful thinking in both cases.

faoladh said...

Violet Cabra: Singular "they" has been a standard part of English since before Shakespeare. A few people with less than perfect command of the language have tried to prescribe "they" to a solely plural purpose, but such prescriptions are mere peeves, and have no bearing on the language as she is spoke. Also, on personal pronouns, ask yourself the last time you used "thou" or "thee" in regular conversation. Do you know the proper usage of "thine" as compared to "thy"? Probably not, because language changes, and personal pronouns change as well. While all of those examples are cases of losing pronouns, other pronouns have been changed to fill the missing categories, such as when the previously solely-plural pronoun "you" was pressed into service to replace "thou" - and "they" has never been solely used as a plural.

John Roth said...


Closed grammatical categories are not immutable; it's just that they change very, very slowly. The last change to the pronouns in Standard English was dropping thee and thou and shifting you into both singular and plural. That happened a few centuries ago.

A few centuries ago a number of linguists decided that they, being a plural pronoun, couldn't have a singular antecedent, completely ignoring minor authors who used it, like Chaucer, Shakespeare and the authors of the King James Bible. It's coming back into use.

Whether they is going to go into common usage as an epicine pronoun is debatable. It's being pushed hard by a lot of people, including a lot of academics. As far as I'm concerned, I've got my own epicine pronoun that I use when I need one, and if anyone objects, well, they can live with it. I'll use they when "they is" becomes standard.

John Michael Greer said...

Faoladh, fair enough and thank you. As I see it, there are three major currents of more-or-less-Celtic-inspired spirituality in today's America -- I foresee a classic Welsh triad coming out of this -- which we can call, conveniently enough, the Revival, the Reform, and the Reconstruction. The first is the stuff I do, the second is the movement that came out of the Reformed Druids of North America and includes ADF and its offshoots; the third is the stuff you do. They aren't in any way, shape, or form the same thing, but I'd suggest there's ample room for all three; not only that, there are people who participate in both the Revival and the Reform -- I'm a properly initiated Third Order priest of Dalon ap Landu in the RDNA, for example! -- and I look forward to the time when all three get along comfortably, and people can participate in any or all of them as they see fit.

Avery (if I may), Lovecraft was a classic example of the anglophile intellectual I discussed in my post, and his own vision of the future was typically xenophobic and bleak. The Weird of Hali is going in a rather different direction, not least because it seems unfair to me to end a sprawling Lovecraftian epic fantasy without Great Cthulhu rising from the sea... ;-)

Violet, fair enough -- thanks for letting me know. (And thank you also for the offlist comment.)

Jeffrey, it seems especially common among prophetic religions of the kind that trace their inspiration back to a single messianic figure, but yeah, it's pretty widespread.

Izzy, if you could beat Scientology's origin myth after two bottles of vodka, you have a stronger liver than I do. After two bottles of vodka I'd be lying under the table babbling nonsense words like "Xenu." ;-)

faoladh said...

John Roth: Do you plan to stop using "you" in place of "thou" because "you is" is not seen as appropriate grammar? ;) There is a complete functional equivalence between "you are" and "they are", so there's no need for a conjugation "they is".

faoladh said...

John Michael Greer: Absolutely. There are also some minor efforts in that direction to add to those three (Celtic shamanism, Celtic Wicca, etc), though most of those seem to me to be less interested in the "Celtic" part than the three major currents you mention. In addition, there is certainly quite a lot of cross-fertilization going on between those three currents. For instance, I know that quite a few ADF people are avid CR proponents, I am constantly pushing Cei Serith's Deep Ancestors as a functional framework in which to place the reconstructions, and I know that Philip Carr-Gomm, at least, was interested enough in what was going on in CR to travel all the way to the PNW for Erynn Laurie's CR retreat a couple of decades back (which is where I met that distinguished gentleman). Further, I am at this point pretty well convinced that not everything that Iolo published was forgery, with some of it clearly supporting information derived through other means (which is not to say that I accept his Enlightenment-era Deism or his idiosyncratic pantheon, so there still remains a difference in approach!)

Maxine Rogers said...

Dear Violet,
I just read your first post and am feeling all protective of you. I too am a gay man but I was born in a woman's body and just dealt with it. It made sex with men considerably easier in any case. What I have learned from my own journey is that I am who I am and I have to appreciate my body as it is. I hope you will look in the mirror and tell yourself that you are a lovely and worthwhile person just as you are. I find that helps a lot.

Hugs from Max Rogers

Sister Crow said...

JMG, your experience at ConVocation reminds me that I never reported back on Paganicon. I also caught a bit of Iolo-bashing, at the Sisterhood of Avalon panel. The presenter admitted that he'd done a bit of good work with the eisteddfod, but otherwise was a liar and a scoundrel, and we've now discarded all that unscholarly rubbish, hurrah!(perhaps I exaggerate a bit, but you get the gist). At least that panel helped me finally make up my mind to grab Magus Book's single copy of the Weiser "Barddas," in spite of the price tag.

I am sad to say that the gentleman who has been presenting panels rebutting the Long Descent scenario for lo these many years did not appear on the schedule this time. He did send me quite the glare when he noticed my AODA t-shirt! :-D

Eric S. said...

On the subject of reconstructionists, I thought you may find a small excerpt from the first conversation I ever had with any other Druids back in 2007, shortly after I had finally joined OBOD for the first time and decided to check out the local scene in search of in person community in Lubbock Texas (At the time I didn’t know what a reconstructionist was and still naively thought a Druid was pretty much a Druid). For context, I had briefly introduced myself and my background, the nature of my interest in Celtic myth and spirituality and in Druidry, and so on and they had recommended a book which according to them “illustrates their core beliefs, if I disagreed with any of it, the group isn't for me.” (I later read the book and it turned out to be a rather dry archaeological survey of Iron Age Ireland), I had responded expressing some apprehension at the idea that agreeing or disagreeing with a set of teachings was something that they expected of people, having just left behind a fundamentalist religion that believed exactly that. Needless to say, I er… did not become involved in the group, and it was such an ugly first experience I nearly gave up on the whole Celtic Spirituality thing altogether, and to this day reconstructionists kind of give me the willies just because of that experience. Their response to my introduction and inquiry, (spelling and grammar errors included for your amusement). It's an e-mail I still pull out from time to time to chuckle at:


“We are a recontructionalist/ traditionalist druid grove and look at more of who the Celts actually were than what the Enlightenment movement wanted them to be. I think you are better off staying with OBOD, which focuses much more on the celtic spirit and the elightenment view than on facts. It believes that one can be any religion adn be a druid. (though i find that to be blasphemy. My religion, though it has a philosophy, is so much more than that!) I find fault with the fact that last time i looked at the training from there, most of it came from a manuscript that was since been debunked as a fake. I prefer OBOD to ADF because ADF allows people to become members without even studying the lore and I think that that is totally wrong.

We do not think that everyone belongs to our order, not do we believe that there are not other viable paths. We are polytheists and therefore there are many people who serve many gods. All are ok. However, you asked to join our group, and that is a different matter entirely. You are under the false preconvieved notion that we are an open and supportive learning community. We follow the celtic dogma ( and yes i meant dogma) that we feel is correct. It is not for everyone nor should it be. there are many sects of druidism and we are only one. There are other sects with their own beliefs that i do or do not believe in or agree with. But they are perfectly correct and right in their own belief structures.

Personally i think that you really love the celtic philosophy so dictated by the movements in the past two centuries. Most of which is at best loosely based upon fanicful ideals, records from enemies of the celtic people and the fervor of the time. I do not fault them. I am mearly stating a fact.”

Phil Harris said...

JMG & all
I am seeing a curious flurry of references to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and not just online or in the media, or here. The first reference was in a 1930’s ‘historical’ story for children that my daughter gave me to read a few days ago that explored English Tudor times. Subsequently I read an academic discussion of the plentiful Shakespearean references to Ovid’s myths.

I wonder, given this powerful legacy of pre-Christian imagination, whether this was one of the Renaissance strands that later morphed into the Enlightenment. I am thinking not least, for instance, of the Druid revival (smile) and the Romantic Movement and that curious juncture when Burkean conservatism and romantic idealism came together during the bid for independence and the writing of the Constitution of the USA. Given that Post Modernism according to Wikipedia (I had to look it up) suggests that PM was pretty much an inversion of Enlightenment thought, it seems not surprising that it has played havoc within the US, not just among academic philosophers. As usual as a Brit I value Americans bringing these matters to the fore for discussion.

BTW can anybody recommend a good translation of Metamorphoses? I am not as well educated as Shakespeare who read these in the original.
Phil H

Christopher Kinyon said...

Others have said the same thing, but Americans of European descent haven't been here long enough to feel the proper connection to our own land. I feel like it is starting to happen in New England and the South, but we westerners (Washington state, here) have some catching up to do. That said, I wonder if some Americans would be spiritually healthier if they just moved to the European nation with which they feel the most affinity and stayed there.

I will add to the recommendation of Stirling's Emberverse series, though the "all religions are true, even when they contradict each other" theme makes my head hurt a little. With a connection to your other blog, the stories are set in a post-collapse society, albeit a collapse that was rather sudden and catastrophic.

I love traditional Irish music, and the country itself is quite beautiful. I had the privilege of visiting it a few years back. However, I don't call myself Irish, unless it is in reference to a percentage of my ancestry (shared with quite a few other European nations). I think fake Irish pubs are rather silly, though the real thing is great. The American equivalent, for better or worse, is probably the dimly lit dive bar with the jukebox and pool tables.

In regard to religion, one could argue about whether a Catholic (with his liturgy and Easter and Christmas and festivals and fasts) or a neopagan (with his liturgy and Solstice and Equinox and festivals and fasts) is the true heir of the ancient Celts. I think the honest answer is both are. God or the gods know who is more correct, and hopefully they are not too judgmental when it comes to those who get it wrong.

S.M. Stirling said...

One thing that became abundantly clear when I started doing research on Western occultism and esotericism back in the day is that back-dating and just making stuff up and then telling porkies about its origins was absolutely endemic. Gardner is simply a well-known example(*). OTOH, all traditions have to start somewhere. Joseph Smith, for example, was a frontier con-artist of a well-known sort who like power, money, dressing up in fancy uniforms and lots of women at his beck and call; but the Mormon church is as valid and sincere as any other and played a valuable role in American history.

(*) the actual theology that came out of Gardner's movement is as much a Buddhist-Hindu mishmash with the serial numbers filed off as anything, which is reasonable enough given the amount of time Gardner actually spent in the east, and his links to groups originally part of the Theosophist stream.

I think I pretty much nailed it when Juniper says there are two possible explanations for Gardner's liking for "skyclad" rituals: one, the Goddess told him so, and two, he liked to prance through the woods with nekkid ladies, but being a Victorian Englishman by birth, he had to come up with a religious justification...

S.M. Stirling

Phil Harris said...

JMG & all
We often read remarkable stories here, some from Bill Pulliam. I propose following his latest, a vote of thanks to the trees round his house. Some Grove!

Phil H

Dammerung said...

The elegant thing about wielding horrific cyberpunk dystopia magic is that few people ever seem to want to scrap over the territory.

Shane W said...

be gentle on yourself. As JMG has said, repeatedly, us humans are just social primates with a few good extra tricks up our sleeves, and we're certainly prone to mass stupidities and mass hysteria. Heck, over half the American population smoked cigarettes in the mid-20th century! Take the time you need to heal, and, remember, you live in a very sick society. I've had my own experiences with totalist groups like the ones mentioned in your article. I lost 8 years of my life to AA after a particularly traumatic episode, and it's taken me 4 years to venture back out into society and trust myself around others. I'd discussed my experience there on comments on the ADR, so I won't repeat them here, but, needless to say, I found out I'm not an alcoholic, I don't have an obsession of the mind coupled with a phenomenon of craving, and my life is not unmanageable. While I've never gone as far down the trans path as you, I should relate that when I was living in a shelter in LA and going to AA meetings I was circulating with some trans folk and questioning my own gender identity. Friends referred me to the trans clinic for hormones, and I could have probably gotten on hormones just like that. I'm glad I paused and had second thoughts, but I DO know how easy it is for someone to go down the path you went down. Honestly, I don't have enough experience with the trans community to validate what you are saying, but I DO know that a lot of women who would have been "butch girls/dykes" 20 years ago are now FTM. I also know that trans is now all the rage amongst the liberal salary class now, and I'd imagine that that is all about the "rescue game" and avoiding the "hate that dare not speak its name". Regardless of the truth of what you are saying about the trans community, there are certainly way more pressing issues to focus on right now that affect a lot more people. My guess is that the liberal salary class is using trans to avoid focusing on those pressing problems...

beetleswamp said...

If taking the time to converse with earth fairies helps strip away some of the confusing and contradictory social survival conditioning and lets a more authentic version of the self shine through then I'd say it's worth the investment. A tangible goal was the one key ingredient I was missing, so thanks for the reminder.

Shane W said...

it surprising just how many problems can clear up once you realize they're a result of "sick society syndrome". I fully believe that the reason we have so many problems here in the US is that we're taught to take personal responsibility for things that we're not personally responsible for at all, and a lot of our social ills are the result of "sick society syndrome"

John Michael Greer said...

Faoladh, delighted to hear it. Iolo was a *very* odd duck, but yes, there are some things in his mishmash that he could have invented only if he'd somehow known about modern Indo-European comparative mythology two centuries in advance -- I discussed that in an article in the first issue of AODA's annual journal "Trilithon," on the off chance anybody's interested. I'd also raise another question, though: Iolo was an inspired Celtic poet by any definition. Since when did the visions of inspired poets stop being relevant to Celtic spirituality?

Sister Crow, on both counts, delighted to hear it!

Eric, well, at least they admitted that there were other valid paths! That's almost refreshing, given some of the nonsense I've had to deal with from time to time. (There are good and sufficient reasons for the Frequently Thrown Tantrums page on the DOGD website...)

Phil, true enough. The US is basically an invention of Enlightenment neoclassicism -- look at our government architecture -- and so, yeah, add Postmodernism and you get a festering mess pretty quickly.

Christopher, I grew up in the south Seattle suburbs, and the sense of unrootedness that pervaded my childhood was really pointed up by my first visit to Europe. We've got a very long row to hoe before we actually become native to this land.

S.M., true enough, but Juniper was apparently too polite to mention the other factor, which is -- ahem -- the "English vice." Gardner liked to be flogged by underdressed young women, and enjoyed doing a little flogging in turn, which is why that's an element of trad Gardnerian rituals. Your broader point stands, though. I was astonished to discover, for example, that Juliet Ashley, the mid-20th century American occultist who's credited with writing the rituals of the Druid order I used to head, actually did exist -- after a lot of digging, print references to her turned up. I'd more or less assumed that she was our Old Dorothy!

Dammerung, sure. By the same logic, though, have you considered moving to one of those abandoned counties in Kansas? You won't get many people contesting your right to a house there, either... ;-)

Beetleswamp, it does seem to do the trick!

John Michael Greer said...

Oh, and an off-topic note to S.M. Stirling, which I hope won't be out of place -- did you get the copy of my novel Star's Reach I tried to send to you, and if so, what did you think about it? Several of our mutual fans thought you'd like it...

Izzy said...

@JMG: Hee! It's true that "Teegeeack" is reasonably good onomatopoeia for the sound I'd be making a lot. :P And the gods in said origin story might end up being very porcelain in composition. Still better than Hubbard, though, I bet.

@S.M. Sterling: Indeed! And as an English major (well, nominally), I discovered that it's pretty easy to spin a plausible line about how Feature X means whatever-it-is is actually connected to Ancient Egypt, or Atlantis, or whatever. We're pattern-sensing creatures, and people who need historical stuff to feel legit will seize on any half-likely semblance thereof.

Also, loved Prince of Outcasts! Orlaith is seriously the best, and I really enjoy the mysticism/horror elements of the series.

John Roth said...


That horse escaped the barn a long time ago. To make a long story as short as I can, when you (which was originally plural or polite) replaced thee and thou, there wasn’t another 2nd person singular pronoun, so it took its verb with it. There are three other 3rd person pronouns: he, she and it, so having they take its verb with it in the transition to being a real singular pronoun has additional difficulties in introducing yet another irregularity into English. Unless, of course, we decide that “he are”, “she are” and “it are” are now standard English. Or abolish he she and completely, which I see there are already some advocates for.

Even though it is undoubtedly a lost cause, I am going to continue using a real epicene pronoun where I think it’s appropriate.

faoladh said...

John Michael Greer: I am interested in that article. I was going to ask where to find a copy, but Google is my friend. That is volume 1, yes? I presume that the article in question is "The Myth of Einigan". The other two volumes also seem like they might have material of interest to me.

As for your question about Iolo, that's obviously a matter for individual conscience, but my own rejection of a lot of his material lies, largely, in a distaste for Enlightenment-era Deist theology, but also because a lot of what he wrote simply doesn't ring true for me (or, to be pedantic, didn't ring true for me at the time that I read it). I know that, for a lot of people, the reverence for truth* evident in Irish, Welsh, and other Celtic spiritualities precludes accepting Iolo simply on the basis of his forgery. I'm not so sure that this is necessarily a violation of truth, myself, I simply report the opinions of others with whom I've discussed the Matter of Morganwg.

* Fírinne in Irish, or Gwirionedd, I am told, in Welsh, which seems right. In any case, it is apparent from various sources that this was considered to be a cosmic ordering principle on the order of Wyrd in Germanic spiritualities or Ṛta in Indian ones. See, for instance, Irish coír "justice", from proto-Celtic *ko-uero "in accordance with truth". I am not certain about the cognate status of *Uero (and thus Fíor and Fírinne, as well as Welsh Gwir and Gwirionedd) compared with Wyrd and Ṛta, but it seems plausible on the surface. That Wyrd and Ṛta are cognate with each other is well-established, of course. The PIE root seems to be *H₂r-to- "properly joined, right, true", which in Ceisiwr Serith's PIE gives Xártus (or Khártus for those of us who think that 'kh' makes a better orthography for the voiceless velar fricative).

Scotlyn said...

This is a very interesting discussion! Violet, thank you for your words, and I want to tell you that the "heart" of you that traverses the page and reaches the "heart" of me, from ever your first post, always centres around a sense of growing connectedness to plants and their healing spirits, to the land, and the care and attention to your own growing spirit of healing.

I believe the experience of being "uncomfortable in our skins" is common (though it can take many forms and be more or less severe). To me it signals some disharmony, discord or lack of fit between ourselves and the social/cultural/world/"wearold" we seek to grow into, find our place in.

Shane, I believe, is right in referring to an illness called sick society syndrome, and part
of the nature of this illness, for me, is the Procrustean nature of all the permitted "cures". We may not ask if the bed is the right size, we may only ask which part of ourselves we can bend, spindle or mutilate until we "fit".

Overweight? Diabetic? Metabolic syndrome? Don't wonder about a disconnect between soil, food and people, or about the loss of sacred food traditions, because it's you. You just have to implement personal austerity measures and lose weight!

Depressed? Suicidal? Don't wonder about a disconnect between people, or about the loss of meaning, or of sacred traditions. It's you! So, just take yourself for a walk, or take a pill.

How about a gastric band, some cosmetic surgery? You want to see the "new you" don't you?

It seems to me you are right Shane, we are now profoundly disconnected, and so barricaded within our skins as to be unable to commune with the rest of the world - people, animals, trees, soil, water - and it sickens us.

But, it turns out, none of solutions an individual can bootstrap for themselves "under their own skin" will fix what's gone wrong in the "wearold"...

Violet, you've found that out.

And in different ways, so have many others.

There is a "wearold" to re-enchant, a communion to reestablish among us and between us and the rest of the living world, and the healing will not be bootstrapped, nor bought and sold.

Be well, all.

John Michael Greer said...

Izzy, too funny -- and too true!

Faoladh, that's the one. Trilithon is shaping up to be a very solid magazine; the fourth issue is in process right now, and scheduled for publication in June, and the earlier issues are permanently in print. Those less adept at Google fu can find the details at

With regard to Iolo and the concept of truth, that latter's frankly more complex than some modern writers have made it out to be. The same Irish who are supposed to revere truth so profoundly are the people who made famous the concepts of "blarney" and the "Irish bull"; the Welsh, similarly, were notorious in the Middle Ages as the worst liars in Europe -- Geoffrey of Monmouth, who was as Welsh as they come, admitted as much in his book on Wales. (Granted, that's practically a restatement of the Cretan paradox: if a Welshman says that all Welshmen tell lies, is he telling the truth?) Or take the famous Irish story about the bad king who spoke three false words, and the buildings of Tara started sliding down the hill; somebody else spoke three true words, and they slid right back up into place, so the people made him king instead. Tell me this: in sober historical fact, do you believe that those events actually happened?

The Welsh language is a useful guide here. You've quoted the word "gwirionedd," which does indeed mean "truth, verity, actuality." Some of its close relatives in Welsh are "gwirionyn", which means "idiot," and "gwiriondeb," which can mean either "innocence" or "silliness." That is to say, when a nation's traditions hammer over and over again on the importance of a given virtue, that doesn't necessarily mean that the nation in question is naturally overflowing with that virtue -- quite the contrary, in fact...

That said, if Iolo's symbolism and teachings don't appeal to you, then by all means go ye henceforth and do something else. I hope to heaven that Druidry never becomes stupid enough to insist that it's the One and Only True Way, or anything of the kind!