Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Intellectual and Personal Responses to the "Court of Brigid"

[Edit: After seeing a couple of the comments so far, I want to make it clear up front in this post that I'm not intending this post as a criticism of Ian's project, it's an observation of my own hypocrisy.]

I've been following Ian Corrigan's development of his "Court of Brigid" rites with a great deal of interest. He describes it as an "effort to develop a ritual spirit arte that applies the general principles of Euro-Grimoiric methods using the Druidic Order of Ritual and inside a pre-Neoplatonic, Indo-European mythic cosmos."

I've got conflicting perspectives on the whole thing. Intellectually, it's fascinating to see what he's doing and to read his results. I'm very interested to see what happens when he gets to the conjurations of the spirits of the "Courts" he's identified. In my opinion, the proof of his concept will be demonstrated in his results in that specific aspect of the rites.

But personally, I find the whole thing fundamentally distasteful. In the '80s and '90s, it was really popular to make up your own flavor of Wicca. Faery Wicca, Dancing with Dragons Wicca, Lord of the Rings Wicca, it didn't matter what theme you picked, you just took the basic novice-grade GD-derived rites and substituted the God-Names and Elemental Representatives with whatever you wanted. As recently as 2008, Raven Grimassi published a book on how to make up your own Wiccan tradition. It's a standard practice in Neopaganism, with roots going back to Gardner, as far as I know.

Ian's up to the same old mischief, only he's gotten rid of the GD stuff and went back further to the approaches of the grimoires. I'll admit it, I'm a bit territorial when it comes to the grimoires, and the appropriation of techniques I happen to use by others. I see in his list of published books a lot of the techniques and approaches to magic explored by Jason Miller, Jake Stratton-Kent, and Aaron Leitch. I see a neopaganized version of the kinds of things I've been blogging about for the last six years, and I feel a bit used, and uncompensated. (That may be code for jealous, but I'm not entirely sure.)

I don't know if my issues with the approach are based on anything valid or not though. We all adapt stuff to suit our needs and desires. I'm fascinated with Jake Stratton-Kent's efforts to revitalize the Goetic traditions of the past and turn the Magical Revival into a living tradition in our culture. I see my own work with Hermetics to be an effort in that direction, with less emphasis on the roots of Goetia, but still focused on practicing a practical living tradition that helps people today using the magical techniques that have been around for at least the last 10,000 years.

We're all creating new systems based on the old ones, to varying degrees, but never exactly as performed at any stage in history. We make adjustments, include pieces of different approaches according to our own personal intuition and input from our glorified spirit guides about what needs to go where. Frater Ashen is the most traditional magician I know and work with, and even he makes adaptations as he sees fit. His adaptations all come from traditional sources, and make sense, and look really good, but they are still adaptations.

Hell, I don't think any two magicians have ever performed the exact same rite, honestly. There's always variance.

But there's something about neopagan adaptations that rubs me the wrong way, in the same way that the worst kinds of Chaos Magic rubs me the wrong way. It just has an air of fraudulence, an aroma of flatulence. The Court of Brigid? Really? What Bardic epic points to Brigid ever having a court of spirit assistants that were ever conjured and worked with the way a grimoire magician works with the rank and file of angels and demons? Wasn't she a Warrior Queen or something? Boudica, the Celtic Warrior Princess? Trapped in a tower by an evil Fairy who used her hair for magical purposes, but it could never be cut with iron shears, and then one day she let an errant prince into her tower with her hair, and he raped her while she slept, and the twin babies were lost in a forest when the ravens ate their trail of breadcrumbs or something?

I'm not real sure what she did, but I'm pretty sure she never had a Court of Servant Spirits, or responded to any conjurations.

But at the same time, it's a logical conclusion he's made, Powerful Dead spirits who get worshiped after their death usually would, in theory, accumulate a gaggle of assistant spirits over time, as adherents and dedicants died and went on to whatever functions they might have in the afterlife. That's how several of the pantheons in ATRs came into being, if I understand the process correctly.

And as far as mixing systems in our adaptations goes, I've included Orphic Hymns to the gods of the Planets in my planetary rites with Archangels, Intelligences and Spirits. It's effective. It's powerful. It's an adaptation based on sound theory that has useful results.

So I just don't really know what to think about the whole thing he's got going on in the depths of that Mound he's always going into. If he managed a visible manifestation that changed his world entirely, and demonstrated the 16 or so sub-spirits of the system were at least as potent as the saints of the Catholic tradition in meeting the needs of the incarnate, it would go a long way towards convincing me that he's onto something real, something big, and something effective.

But ultimately, he doesn't have to prove anything to me. He has to prove its effectiveness and applicability to no one but himself. Regardless, I'm watching what happens because I want to delve into some of the stuff Jake talks about in Geosophia, and I want to do it using the Modern Angelic Grimoire techniques, talk to the Heroes and Sibyls in a Crystal like God intended.


  1. This is pretty interesting. I guess I'm working in similar territory recently. Definitely got me intrigued.

  2. Freakin' harsh man.

    Ian's work is by no means to be compared with the sloppy half baked quasi-wiccan crapola you'd have your readers associate him with. Those who know him well and have worked with him magically understand him to be a meticulous scholar, phenomenal magician, and, well... a gentleman. A quality apparently lacking in, at least, your last post. I'll stop now, in hope this may survive your comments-moderation.

  3. Earrach, I thought I presented my opinions as such, and noted my respect for his work throughout.

    If I thought he was a douche, I wouldn't be following his activities with the eagerness I am.

  4. Rufus, I take your criticism as coming from where you are, intellectually and spiritually. I'm as skeptical about the value of the 'Jesus' mythic construct as you are about the Goddess who has sustained my house these last 20 years.
    The difference is that the mythic material you work with was made up hundreds of years ago, by folks whose names are now legendary, while the work of Neopagans is being made up now. The proof of the pudding is surely in the eating, and time will tell as to its value. My work is to add richer flavor to the Neopagan pudding.
    I expect the western Pagan revival to produce polytheistic religions (that embrace occult practices) that will grow over hundreds of years. Maybe some of the things that our first generation will do will last, maybe they'll fade when some more successful prophet or thinker arives 300 years in. All we can do in the meantime is pitch in with our minds and hearts and hands, honor the Gods, and seek their inspiration.
    Fact is I'm pleased that you're watching (otherwise I wouldn't be publishing...). The intellectual path that leads from "There are spirits" and "there are Gods" to "There are spirits who serve the Gods" has been a longish one - see posts over the last couple of years on 'daemons' on the blog.
    I'll take your post and dissect it for a blog response in a day or three.

  5. Ian, I hope you weren't offended by this the way Earrach was, I'm honestly more interested in the internal hypocrisy I found in myself regarding the approach you're using. It's ok for me to conjure the Sibyls into a Crystal using Trithemian methods, but when a neopagan applies the same technique, I find it distasteful. What's up with that?

    I do NOT have an iota of skepticism towards your Goddess's ability to sustain your household. I don't know anything about her that I haven't read in passing in Conways "Celtic Wicca" when I was like 17 or 18. I don't even remember what I read.

    I work with the Greek planetary deities in Orphic Hymns regularly. I see them as a neoplatonist sees them, and I work with them as if they were closer to being human than the Archangels, but still not at all like a Mortal. They have spirit assistants in myths all the time. Eros is a member of the "Court" of Venus, if I remember right.

    Most Christians would burn me at the stake for my beliefs, right alongside you.

  6. "Most Christians would burn me at the stake for my beliefs, right alongside you."

    That's the irony, isn't it? Like you, I have a persona and a practice that's nominally closer to the "dominant paradigm", but I have no illusions about how freaked out and disgusted some of my more mainstream friends, colleagues and relatives would be if they really knew what I do and believe. I have nothin' against pagans (sort of kind of was one once myself), I just don't plan to join in their activities. Catholicism is pretty pagan when it gets down to it.

  7. Rufus - we're okay. A little snark from RO? what a surprise ;).

    On the intellectual honesty tip, (and as I'll expand in my longer post) my effort to meet and name spirits from Brigid's court is my alternative to attempting to conjure, say, Verum spirits or Olympic spirits using the Druidic conjuring methods I've devised. I'm at least trying to stay consistent inside the system.


  8. Ian, glad we're ok. I remember a bit of debate between you and Jake on the GV list, and I was personally in agreement with Jake's perspective, but at the same time I see what you're doing as the same kind of thing that he's trying to do, make a working system that is meaningful to the people using it.

    I'd like to see you blog about the class of spirits you're contacting too at some point, when you have time. I'm exploring the role of the Dead/Ancestors/Heroes in the spirits we work with. Jake postulates that more of the spirits we conjure as "angels" or "demons" were once humans than we think, and I'm fascinated by the idea. I'm still developing the theory, but at this stage of development, the spirits that responded to your call who were cataloged are more likely to be the spirits of the "powerful dead," humans who have done enough magical/spiritual Work in their lifetimes to make it to the next level and join the ranks of the Powers.

  9. er, in my working model, the spirits that responded would be the powerful dead, I meant. And I'd like to see your thoughts on the concept based on your subsequent experiences with them.

  10. See http://intothemound.blogspot.com/2008/11/daimons-an-deithe-and-kindreds.html

    I still vaccilate between the notions of 'elementals' by which I mean spirits of natural things who are not or have not been born as mortals, and the dead, by which I mean former mortals who may now inhabit natural things...
    Those of us working with the CoB stuff agree that many of the spirits who answered us are probably among the Dead.

  11. I've got it easy as a Hermeticist, it's "genius loci" for the nature spirits who were never born, and that covers the animistic tree and rock and stone spirits, as well the High Sidhe who weren't human.

    Then there's the Heroes for the powerful dead, though honestly I prefer the term Powerful Dead. As in, "That there's a Pow'rful Dead!"

  12. In a Gaelic vocabulary we have "The Gods and the Not-Gods", with that second category not very well defined by folklore.
    The theoretician in me wants more detail.

    In classical hermeticism are the Dead active agents as such? Do they 'become' daemons? I mean, I know they are active principles in Goetia and popular sorcery, but how were they retained in more highfalootin writings?

  13. That needs a post unto itself.

    A quickie version tho:

    From the Corpus Hermeticum, the Divine Pymander:

    To this Man-Shepherd said: When the material body is to be dissolved, first thou surrenderest the body by itself unto the work of change, and thus the form thou hadst doth vanish, and thou surrenderest thy way of life, void of its energy, unto the Daimon. The body's senses next pass back into their sources, becoming separate, and resurrect as energies; and passion and desire withdraw unto that nature which is void of reason.

    25. And thus it is that man doth speed his way thereafter upwards through the Harmony.

    To the first zone he gives the Energy of Growth and Waning; unto the second [zone], Device of Evils [now] de-energized; unto the third, the Guile of the Desires de-energized; unto the fourth, his Domineering Arrogance, [also] de-energized; unto the fifth, unholy Daring and the Rashness of Audacity, de-energized; unto the sixth, Striving for Wealth by evil means, deprived of its aggrandizement; and to the seventh zone, Ensnaring Falsehood, de-energized.

    26. And then, with all the energisings of the harmony stript from him, clothed in his proper Power, he cometh to that Nature which belongs unto the Eighth, and there with those-that-are hymneth the Father.

    They who are there welcome his coming there with joy; and he, made like to them that sojourn there
    , doth further hear the Powers who are above the Nature that belongs unto the Eighth, singing their songs of praise to God in language of their own.

    And then from the Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth, we see that the entities of the Eighth (who we join as Powers in the Divine Pymander piece) are all hymning to the Father:

    And I see the eighth, and the souls that are in it, and the angels singing a hymn to the ninth and its powers. And I see him who has the power of them all, creating those in the spirit.

    I've also conflated the idea of Heroes and the Issim in my personal interpretation of Hermetics, judging by what I'm reading now trying to figure out where my beliefs come from. Agrippa's Scale of the Number 10 lists the Issim as a rank of "angels," and Iamblichus talks about the Heroes as being sourced in life, but also in the Gods.

    Hmm, yeah, it would take a full post to trace it all through to my current beliefs, but you can probably follow it from these crib notes. We ascend through the heavens, become powers, and join in the silent hymns to the Father (or "Source" for pagans with Christianophobia). The silent "hymns" manifest below as the support activities we perform on behalf of those who conjure us. I don't see our residence in the Eighth/Ninth spheres as a blissed out eternity of singing halleluiah. I think our hymns are the tasks we perform at that point.

  14. I have a complex reaction to this.

    Firstly - Rapunzel? Gross. No. Not ever. Just don't.

    More to the point; most Irish deities of note could be said to have a house or court - medieval historians often took great pains to list their every bard and cook and seneschal, and whatever strange talents they may have had. The Biography of St. Brigid lists a number of sisters in her order with very pagan names ("daughter of Lugh" and so on), so I don't think it would be out of order to look upon them as daemons or demi-gods in their own right.

    However, something about this project seems...unnecessary?...in this cultural context. I don't know. Celtic polytheists often end up having to contend with the fact that many of these deities and spirits were so localized, often spoken of as being attached to particular sites or natural monuments. Sigils of summoning seem like a convenient solution if you feel like you're not making the contact that you want. But I feel like there's probably a more culturally authentic approach? I'll have to think on it more.

  15. To VVF: The CoB work is part of a complex of Celtic spirit arte that is developing. You're right - much, even most of Gaelic relationship with spirits would have been based on place and natural locale. Once spring comes we'll be working here on genius locus work based on the little patch of land we hold, and developing methods for modern Celtic Pagans to do that work at home.

    However, Druids were often a cross-tribal phenomenon, one of the classes of people, like bards, who might travel across tribal borders. It makes sense to me to have classes of spirits (among the many that must exist) that can travel with the mage, and not be immediately limited to stream or tree. Also, several whole categories of 'landwight', such as those of the rays of sun and moon, or of the wind, could be thought of as less connected with locale.

    As to the ascended Dead, those who come to serve in the Court of the object of their devotion, I don't especially see why they would be tied to place, assuming they've been 'promoted past haunting their graves.

    Anyway, your concerns are on our/my list of concerns about the whole model...

  16. VVF, I think it would be ideal for people to learn to establish relationships with local spirits, genii loci and ascended dead alike. Heroes in Greek culture were usually local Heroes, specifically, and they had a local shrine at their grave where you could bring your offerings.

    Modern people don't have the framework to start there though. Most of us are so far removed from the animistic mindset that we can't begin to understand how many spirits we work with every day. The spirit of my keyboard, for example, is not a spirit I honor nearly enough. I did clean it out the other day, taking the time to swab between each key and get rid of the accumulated detritus. I still wasn't thinking about the spirit when I did it though, you know?

    I think having the framework of symbols and spirit names, a conjuration technique and a reference book of anecdotes to compare your experiences against goes a long way to preparing the modern mind to be able to establish relationships with the local spirits. I see the potential for Ian's project to become a means for modern folks with a neopagan calling to develop the skills necessary to establish relationships with the local spirits.

    Like a bridge.

  17. Living with Jack, I can't help but know about the Greek Hero cults, RO. ;)

    I do think pagans can learn a lot of useful things from ceremonial evocation - I certainly have. I also think that there are cultural precedents that are worth studying and preserving in one form or another, such as in the realm of spoken spells (the recitation of names in "The Geneology of Brigid" seems like an obvious mechanic to borrow from for the summoning or invoking of her servants), or in the case of using liminal points in your own immediate landscape. Not that I think these points can't be found in your own house. (We have a spiral staircase that I know for fact serves quite well as a "shamanic ridgepole," for lack of a better term.) And as Ian says, the Celts obviously took the stories of their gods with them across many thousands of miles, making them relevant to wherever they settled down - so I'm not trying to suggest that this type of magic couldn't be done anywhere but Kildare. Just that, for me, the challenge of Celtic polytheism is remembering that it isn't necessary to draw circles if I want to make contact with the Gods and not-Gods.

    I do admit that I've had a long-standing bias against the idea the ceremonial magick could ever be compatible with animism. But I'm open to other opinions now that I don't have a huge stick up my ass about the subject. (Trust me - it's gone! I just have a leaf or two left to dislodge...)

  18. @VVF, splut-sputter-splut...

    Animism incompatible with CM? I don't understand how that could be a possible perspective. CM activities and techniques don't make any sense without some level of animism involved. How can we cause spiritual effects if the things we're waving about or drawing don't have a spirit? Without animism, the activities, techniques of CM are delusional.

    I guess that makes sense in the psychological approach of CM of the 20th century. But in Agrippa, animism is implicit throughout the work. CM needs to be animistic to make sense.

  19. Yeah, I'm beginning to see more and more that I've been wrong for thinking that, especially after being exposed to Agrippa. It's just one of those gross oversimplifications that gets repeated by pagans about magicians, or vice-versa - like the idea that Wicca is just completely, irredeemably retarded in every way. Y'know? I've gotten over most of these bugbears by now, but I know I need to readjust about this one thing.

  20. Ohhhh, I thought you got that from the CM crowd. I wouldn't be surprised if you did get it from the modern CM crowd though, it took a while before I became an animist. I feel like I was incredibly dense now.


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