Tag Archives: Oghma

Fan the Flames

The gods of our ancestors are everywhere around us, though we barely know them.

Their sacred places have vanished, or become ruins, overgrown and crumbling curiosities of a bygone age.  Their sacred names are misremembered and mispronounced, uttered without the reverence and caution that should attend the power which those syllables invoke.  Their sacred stories…,

The stories we have, the myths, the legends, are but fragments of a once rich tapestry, burned almost completely away now, by time and forgetfulness.

For those of us who are driven to seek out the old ways, there is but scant evidence of the gods left to be found in this world.

We pour over the bits that we can still find, while sifting through surviving folk traditions and songs, looking for anything we might have missed.  We speculate and we argue about the fragments we do uncover.  How do they go together?  What do they mean?

And still, for all that effort, we seem to know more about the lives of the Dinosaurs, who at least had the courtesy to die and leave their fossilized remains for us to dig from the Earth.

Let us speak now, of one such nearly forgotten god.

Oghma

Sometimes called Oghma the Honey-Tongued – because he is a god of eloquence, a master of poetry, and the father of writing.

Sometimes called Oghma with the Sun’s Countenance – because he is a solar deity, or because he exhibits a divinely radiant aspect, or because he likes to cause trouble in academic circles and he knew that taking on a Sun related nickname was a sure way to get people writing papers.

We know that he is the brother of the Dagda, the husband of Étan, and that he has at least two sons.  We know that he is one of the Champions of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the gods of Ireland, and that his strength is second to only one among their number.

We know that he fought in the Second Battle of Mag Tuired, and that he died there, or that he didn’t.  The stories have it both ways.

The Irish gods do have a nasty habit of dying in one story and showing up again in some later tale.  Which may have something to do with the impermanence of death when it comes to the gods.  But more than likely, it has to do with the fact that these stories were written down by Christian monks who were trying to…,

…who were trying to…,

…we really don’t know.

We haven’t a clue as to exactly what these guys were trying to accomplish.

We do not know their true motivations or what they may have changed along the way.

We don’t know how well they knew the stories themselves, or why they chose these particular stories to preserve.

Is Oghma really just a flagstone flipping superman with a sunny disposition and a way with words?  Can that possibly have been all that the mythology of the ancient Irish had to say about him?  Or were there stories upon stories, now lost and forgotten because they didn’t fit whatever criteria the monks used to determine what should be saved and what should be let go.

Or were they written down and then lost again.

We may never know.

We owe these unknown monks a vast debt of gratitude, but that doesn’t mean we should put too much trust in them.

Let us take a side trip out of Ireland and into the ancient forests of Gaul where another god, or maybe the same god, named Ogmios, once roamed.

He too, was a god of great strength, usually portrayed as a Gaulish Heracles.  But, unlike the Greek Hero, Ogmios is also said to have been a god of great eloquence, who’s power of persuasion was so strong that silver chains dangled between his wagging tongue and hooks embedded into the ears of his every listener.  As a consequence, every mortal within the range of his voice would joyfully gather close to do his bidding.

The little we know of Ogmios comes to us through a handful of Gaulish inscriptions and from a brief description by the 2nd Century Greek satirist Lucian, a fellow who lived long after the Gauls had been conquered, and one not overly sympathetic to the gods of his own people, much less those of long dead foreign barbarians.

Oghma.

Ogmios.

As I said at the start, his holy places are gone, his name misremembered, and his stories are, at best, the stuff of rumor and speculation.

His priesthood however…, his priesthood is as powerful as ever, and it has never waned.

Just don’t look for them among the folks who actually believe in him.

His priests and priestesses are those who write and who speak in a voice we can still hear long after we are parted from them.  They speak to us across the depths of time (think of Shakespeare or Clemens), and they move us with their words even today, when words seem to have so little value.

Only a few nights ago, as I sat with a few hundred others, and listened to Neil Gaiman reading from his stories and poems, and answering questions in a thoughtful, ever friendly manner, I could see in my minds eye, those thin silver chains growing link by delicate link, could feel the hooks sliding deep into my own ears, and I knew that, though he believes the Gods are things created by story, he is every bit the vessel of their power.

Later, reading through his introduction to his latest volume, a retelling of selected myths of Norse Mythology, I found this bit:

“We have lost so much…I wish I could retell the tales of Eir, because she was the doctor of the gods, of Lofn, the comforter, who was the Norse goddess of marriages, or of Sjofn, a goddess of love.  Not to mention Vor, goddess of wisdom.  I can imagine stories, but I cannot tell their tales.  They are lost, or buried, or forgotten.”   —Neil Gaiman

We who believe in the gods of our fathers know that particular feeling all too well.

We were born to find the stories, to tell them, to share in their wisdom, and to bask in their glow.  These things are as much a part of worship as any ritual or prayer.

But the previous generations have not been kind to us, and all that are left to us are the last fading embers of a once great fire.

And yet even that can be light enough, if we are careful.

We must learn what we can from the old stories.

But we must be willing to play with them as well, to prod and poke them until the hint of fire within begins to glow stronger through agitation and exposure to the air.

And we must be open to invention.  It is through Imbas that we allow the gods to speak through us, to fan the flames of creativity and to tell their stories in our voices, for new generations.

It is long past time to fan the flames.

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Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Culture, Mythology, Religion, Spiritual Journey, The Gods

Beg Not the Gods!

“Oh Jesus, give me strength to clean this floor,” she muttered, for what may well have been the millionth time in her seemingly miserable life.

The first job I ever held, when I was in my teens, was feeding cattle at the neighbors ranch.  The place was owned by two spinsters, a mother and daughter, and though the ranch had once thrived, by the time I was hired, the twenty odd head of cattle that lingered there had become more pets than livestock.

So, for a few dollars a day, I was more then happy to make the daily quarter-mile trek from our property to their feed barn.  There, I would climb up into the dark loft, break up bales of hay, and kick them down into the feed-trough below.  When the noise of impatient bellows was replaced by the steady crunch of contented chewing, I would slip down the ladder and past the distracted bovine throng.

For several years the routine was the same.  Come rain, snow, or blazing summer heat, I’d make my way across acres of tall grass, steer clear of the rocks where snakes sometimes liked to hide, up the steep hill, past the mob of oversized quadrupeds who would start to bellow and crowd the moment I came into sight, and then after maybe fifteen minutes in the barn, it was “home again home again jiggety-jig.”

Once every couple weeks I’d have to make the trip earlier in the day, while the herd was out roaming, away from the barn.  My task, on these occasions, was to scrape as much cow-shit out of the barn as possible.  Those were the days when I really earned my money.

Later, as the health of the elder of my two employers declined, they moved out of the old ranch house that sat next to the barn, and into a little apartment in town.  With a dollar bump to my weekly wage, I agreed to make a daily stop in their house, to feed and water the cats which had stayed there in their absence, and to make sure everything inside was in good order.

Thinking back on it now, I think maybe they just didn’t trust the house keeper they’d hired to keep the place tidy in their absence.

And I really couldn’t blame them.  She seemed a grousing old woman, always complaining and doing as little actual work as she could manage.

Actually, I don’t think she was really that old, not in actual years, but she seemed positively geriatric in spirit.  A dark cloud seemed to follow her, wherever she went, and on those days when our visits coincided, I sometimes thought I’d rather be outside shoveling crap, than inside listening to it.

She’d mutter, “Sweet Jesus, give me strength to dust these shelves!”

And on another day, “Help me wash these dishes, Jesus Lord.”

I wondered, sometimes, why she needed aid from Jesus for every little thing she did.

And on one occasion, I did my ‘wondering’ out loud.

“ ‘Cause mister, we ain’t nothing without Jesus.  Nothing!”

Her angry reply sounded so very wrong to my young ears, though I could not have told you exactly why.

Van Gogh Woman Sweeping

I knew little about this woman, aside from the few minutes a week during which our paths crossed.  I can’t know what hardships she may have suffered.  And I don’t know if she experienced any victories in her life, but if she did, I think they were precious few.

Yet even if she had accomplished something, what of it?  She was, by her own testimony, “nothing without Jesus”.  Anything good that came out of her life, anything at all, was only (in her eyes) due to the intervention of her God.

No wonder she seemed so broken to me, so very unhappy.  I don’t understand how people can live their lives believing that they will never accomplish anything except through the grace of some outside force.

What an unhappy, self-defeating philosophy – and I see it daily.

I come across so many people, who attribute every good thing that happens to them, every trivial task accomplished, and every moment that passes without personal calamity, to the intercession of their supreme being.  It has been my understanding that the term “personal savior” had less to do with helping the Christian faithful to avoid falling into open manholes while walking down the street, and more to do with redemption from the taint of ‘original sin’.  In retrospect, it would seem that I have been misinformed.

It is sometimes hard for me to believe that we have advanced so far, with such a large segment of our population embracing this idea, even in its less extreme manifestations.  And then, I look around at the chaos brewing just under the surface, and the underlying despair of an entire culture seems painfully clear.

“We ain’t nothing without Jesus.”

No ma’am, someone told you a lie.

We are great.

We are creatures of power and strength.

We do not achieve by the grace of God, but rather we strengthen our bonds with them through our own accomplishments, however small.

If, by way of example, the words I write and speak should move you to joy or anger or even curiosity, than I have borne my own small share of a gods great duty.  Oghma, who my ancestors called the Eloquent, the Honey-Mouthed, and the Shaper of Letters, will share his burden, his gift, with any who find pleasure in a carefully crafted turn of phrase.  I do not beg for his aid.  I need not cry out for his attention.  He will not come to me, yet I need only form my words with care and I will be in his presence, I will have entered into his house.

Our lives are filled with the presence of the gods.

When we work, when we join each other in games, when we open our doors to a neighbor, when we care for the sick, when we plant and harvest and teach and learn, when we love and make love, when we share news and tell stories, when we age, and finally, when we die – in everything that we do, the gods are there with us.  We wander among them constantly, and whether we carry a sword, pencil, hammer or broom, even without knowing their names, we are doing their work.

We are FAR from powerless.  We are not puppets through which another agency acts.

Those lies have been a burden and hinderance on our culture for far too long.

I see the shadow of this belief even among my fellow Pagans.  How often I have read in some online forum, words of despair and frustration because the gods have not shown themselves to some seeker.  “Other people say that they hear the gods or see them, but no matter how much I pray, or how many rituals I attend, nothing ever happens for me!”

And maybe that’s because you’re doing it wrong.

Do you make friends in the mortal world by sitting in a darkened room and muttering over a candle that you picked up in the clearance bin at Pier 1?  No, you do it by meeting people with common interests while taking part in activities related to those interests.  Why then, should it be any different with the divine?

Our gods, the real gods, exist, I think, as much in action as they do intent.

If we stop looking so hard for the gods and start doing their work, the great deeds and the small, we may just discover that they’ve been with us all along.

The effort, along with its success or failure, is ours to make.

Don’t squander it, and never beg.

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