Books, Neodruidry

Let’s Read: A History of Pagan Europe

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Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick’s A History of Pagan Europe was originally recommended to me years ago, and I pretty much just read it for the fun of it. When it popped up on the approved reading list for the ADF dedicant path, I realized it’d probably be a good time to give it a closer look. It’s a rather dense read (though still an enjoyable one), and, considering the subject matter, it takes a couple of passes to really absorb all of the information presented.

paganeurope

Jones and Pennick do an excellent job of connecting dots between disparate cultures, explaining each area’s stages of religious development in easy-to-understand terms. (The convergent evolution of the concept of sacred wells/trees/etc. between Mediterranean and Celtic cultures was especially interesting.) I particularly enjoyed the analysis of Celtic culture pre-Roman contact. There’s really a dearth of information available on this period — it seems like a lot of what we know is via the Roman conquest itself. Because of Rome’s relatively relaxed attitude toward outsider religions, many aspects of Celtic religion were preserved (albeit in an altered form) through syncretism with the dominant religion of Rome. The Druids disappeared. Their symbols, deities, and sacred sites, however, survived.

(Ultimately, it was this attitude that led to the persecution of monotheists — Rome didn’t particularly care what religion anyone was, so long as every citizen honored the ruler’s personal deity. It was believed that this helped preserve the state itself, and thus failing to do so was tantamount to treason.)

A History of Pagan Europe is a bit dry, as many books of this nature are, but it’s a book I find myself returning to now and then. There’s a lot to take in, and, as a Pagan, I feel that sources like this are important — simple, factual, without a lot of the editorializing you find in books geared toward a new-age or Pagan audience.

 

life, Neodruidry

… And this is why I shouldn’t rush.

I celebrated Mabon the other day. Like most of my celebrations, it was small, short, and simple — lighting candles at my altar, sitting quietly, giving thanks, remembering the meaning of the season.

All of which are actually super difficult to do if I’m feeling anxious.

I have a tendency to try to push through things when I’m not feeling well. (Let’s be real, though. If I waited until I felt well, I’d never get anything done.) I’ve long held that rituals are not necessarily for me — true piety is observing them even when I’m not personally getting anything out of it. Prayer does not always have to be a refreshing, uplifting experience to have value. Sometimes even meditation is difficult work, but it’s work that I have to do.

The thing is, the ritual structure I follow has a kind of built-in way to tell if I’ve completely effed it or not. Tripped over my words too badly? I’ll get told. Unacceptable offering? Oh, I’ll hear about it. This isn’t something that’s been a problem before, luckily — even when my offerings have been small and simple, I’ve always been given signs that they were good enough.

It doesn’t help that it’s a structure I’m not entirely familiar with yet. It’s a bit more complex than what I used for most of my life (read: winging it), and the formality of it trips me up on occasion. To be honest, if you had come to me a little over a year ago and said I’d be doing things this way, I probably would have asked what you were smoking.
I digress, though. That’s a story for another time.

Anyway, for this ritual, I was confident! I had these fancy little cakes, I placed them in the offering bowls, I sat and said the words… and I rushed through them because holy butts anxiety sucks super hard and I felt like I was about to die.

And then came the divination.

I use tarot cards for the divination portion of my rituals. The particular deck I use (the Animalis Os Fortuna deck) is pretty helpful here. In addition to standard tarot meanings, the animal imagery of this deck gives it extra layers of meaning that allow the cards to be interpreted in a way that’s more conducive to this particular type of ritual divination.So I shuffled, drew, and…

Not only did I get called out, I got called out with The Moon. The warning, anxiety-indicating Moon, of all things. Like a big, black-and-white finger pointing right at my clenched hands and racing heart and going, “WTF?”

Crap.

I concluded the ritual, now wondering what I’d done. Sure, I had tripped over my words, but corrected myself. I’d said the wrong words at some points, but corrected that, too. But, while I’d been willing to offer fancy cakes, there were two things an impending anxiety attack kept me from offering — my attention, and my time.

I ate something, drank a little water, and waited for the feeling to pass, resigned now to having to repeat the ritual. I had no cakes to offer this time, just clean water and some sweet oil. But I took my time, I spoke well, and I let the anxious feelings dissipate.

And this time, even with my offerings as simple as they were, it was accepted.

There is no physical offering valuable enough to make up for an unwillingness to give my time and attention.