Tag Archives: Folklore

The Hearth Fire

Appalachia has a strong Scotch-Irish history, many of the settlers that ended up in the Appalachian mountain range were from Gaelic colonists moving West as the solidification of the United States during the 18th and 19th century conflicted with their ideas of fair taxation and freedom to practice their trades without the interference of government regulations.

In the process of this migration they encountered other groups facing similar displacement;  indigenous cultures and freed slaves that had found refuge in the wilderness of Appalachia seeking to escape from the expanding horizons of the fast forming United States. This intermixing of cultures provides a place where ancient traditions and various lines of transmission came together to produce a potent folk life which unconsciously holds the seeds of gnosis.

In Gaelic communities the beginning of February is marked by the festival of Imbolc, Christianized as the feast day of St. Brigid. This celebration is held in the honor of the first appearance of spring, represented in Gaelic myth as Brigid, the Bride.

She is goddess of the household fire; her position is that of the hearth goddess Vesta, as much as that of Minerva, for evidently she is primarily a fire-goddess. Her name is probably from the same root as the English bright, Gaelic brco. The British goddess, Brigantia, is doubtless the same as the Irish Brigit Mr Whitley Stokes picks out the following instances in proof of her character as a fire-goddess; she was born at sunrise; her breath revives the . dead; a house in which she stays flames up to heaven; she is fed with the milk of a white red-eared cow; a fiery pillar rises from her head, and she remains a virgin like the Roman goddess, Vesta, and her virgins—Vesta, whom Ovid tells us to consider ” nothing else than the living flame, which can produce no bodies.” Cormac calls her the daughter of the Dagda. “This Brigit,” he says, “is a poetess, a goddess whom poets worshipped. Her sisters were Brigit, woman of healing; Brigit, woman of smith work; that is, goddesses; these are the three daughters of the Dagda.”

- Celtic Mythology & Religion, Alexander McBain

Fire is a potent traditional symbol of the eternal spirit, and the hearth fire is, in some ways, a continuation of this symbol in the domestic setting. Here the house becomes a temple to the eternal, an outward manifestation of the temple built within the believers, the faithful and the gnostics.

“When a traditional form is on the point of becoming extinct, its last representatives may very well deliberately entrust to this aforesaid collective memory the things that otherwise would be lost beyond recall; that is in fact the sole means of saving what can in a certain measure be saved. At the same time, that lack of understanding that is one of the natural characteristics of the masses is a sure enough guarantee that what is esoteric will be nonetheless undivulged, remaining merely as a sort of witness of the past for such as, in later times, shall be capable of understanding It.”

- Symbols of the Sacred Science, Rene Guenon

Appalachia, as the center point of migration for the remnants of so many traditional cultures, became a storehouse for these traditional forms. The manifestations of the Holiness Churches, of Hoodoo, and Deutsch Pow Wow among the Amish and Mennonite, show that even when these transmissions were weakened by forgetfulness, their manifestations still continue to hold the powerful impetus of true tradition, that “rock of ages” that can never be destroyed.

“Minerva is the fifth and last deity mentioned by Caesar as worshipped by the Gauls—their goddess of arts and industry. A passage in Solinus, and another in Giraldus Cambrensis, enable us to decide, with absolute certainty, what goddess answered among the Gaels to the position of Minerva. Solinus (first century A.D.) says that in Britain, Minerva presides over the hot springs, and that in her temple there flamed a perpetual fire, which never whitened into ashes, but hardened into a strong mass.

Giraldus (12th century A.D.) informs us that at the shrine of St Brigit at Kildare, the fire is allowed never to go out, and though such heaps of wood have been consumed since the time of the Virgin, yet there has been no accumulation of ashes. “Each of her nineteen nuns has the care of the fire for a single night in turn, and on the evening before the twentieth night, the last nun, having heaped wood upon the fire, says, ‘Brigit, take charge of your own fire, for this night belongs to you.’ She then leaves the fire, and in the morning it is found that the (ire has not gone out, and that the usual quantity of fuel has been used.” This sacred fire was kept burning continually for centuries, and was finally extinguished, only with the extinction of the monasteries by Henry VIII.”

- Celtic Mythology & Religion, Alexander McBain

By 1850 the U.S. census shows that there were 961,719 Irish living in the United States, stretching from Illinois to the east coast. By this time they had already spread into Appalachia, taking with them the traditions they had kept alive at home. Each time the secular authories (whether by government or religion) sought to divide the people quietly pursued the truth.

When the community temples are destroyed, the eternal flame is taken home by the faithful. The Divine presence in the famed European cathedrals exists in the very measurements used to create them, Pythagorean mathematics that contain secrets of the eternal fire.  In the most material understanding these are manifest in the allegorical and symbolic statues and stained glass that adorn the cathedral, but the heart of the secret lies in the very roots of the cathedral’s construction.

When these truths are displaced from the fine edifice of monuments like the cathedrals, something as simple as a hearth fire keeps the secret alive among the people who await the purification of the community.

Thig an nathair as an toll
Là donn Brìde,
Ged robh trì troighean dhen t-sneachd
Air leac an làir.

“The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.”

- Carmina Gaelica, Alexander Carmicheal (1900)

Alexander Carmichael collected the folk traditions of the Gaelic people of Scotland in the late 19th century, and discovered that despite institutional attacks from the organized church to stamp out “pagan” practices, in secret the people still carried many of their ancient traditions.

Brigit, the Bride, symbol of wisdom and fire, lived on in the people’s hearts, prayers and blessings awaiting the day when those would come who could hear her again. Just as her release from the Crone of Winter is celebrated in the first days of Spring, her memory sleeps in the Winter of a fallen culture.

“The mystical truth which is realized in the sage is virtual in the folk. If the folk are the field, the sage is the fruit of the tree which grows in the center of it, a fruit which, even as it takes its place in the eternal domain of God’s attributes, also cyclically returns to the field from which it grew, via its seed, to propagate wisdom. The folk correspond to the Aristotelian materia, that which receives the imprint of forms, and the sage to forma, that which shapes or “informs” the material which allows it to appear. And the tree corresponds to Tradition in the sense employed by French metaphysician René Guénon: that body of spiritual Truth, lying at the core of every religious revelation and a great deal of folklore and mythology, which has always been known by the “gnostics” of the race since it is eternal in relation to human time, representing as it does the eternal design or prototype of Humanity itself. A traditional culture permeated by half-understood mystical lore on the folk level is a fertile matrix for the full development of the gnostic, the sagacious individual, who, by means of his darshan, his willingness to allow himself to be contemplated as a representative of spiritual Truth, returns the seed of wisdom to the folk who venerate him.”

- “Fair Nottamun Town”: Mystical and Alchemical Symbolism in an Appalachian Folk Song, Charles Upton

In folk etymologies there are hidden secrets that dance around the investigations of scholars. In the Sanas Cormaic, a 19th century collection of Gaelic etymologies, Brigit’s Gaelic name, Breo Saighead, was said to mean “the fiery arrow.”  Academic etymologist’s scoff at such an attribution and miss the line of truth that it transmits.

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it…”

- Therese of Avila

We so often seek the flame in those that reflect the outward power of our culture. In celebrities and scholars, in political leaders and religious figures, our expectations are put to bring us some shred of truth to move forward with.  All the while, in quiet homes in rural Appalachia, and around the world in places where the tradition has been pushed to the wilds, the true fire burns bright, awaiting those who can see it to herald the Spring.

Confirming Craddock – Contemporary Anomaly Research & Victorian Spiritualism

Growing up I was fascinated with folklore, especially ghost stories. A trip to the library wasn’t complete without picking up some antiquated accounts of the unknown. As I’ve grown into a more mature understanding of my youthful interests I’ve come to discover that the books I really enjoyed usually came out of the Spiritualist tradition or were in some ways associated with the more esoteric end of Masonry, Theosophy, the Golden Dawn or the Psychical Research Society (and in so many cases the lines between these groups was, and is, rather blurry.)

It’s interesting to see that many of the books on “folklore” and “mythology” coming out of the 19th century were produced antecedent to the more practical implications of the work. The Psychical Research Society utilized past accounts to buttress their contemporary research, and so many of the historical works produced during this period were actually just case studies couched in the form of popular research. W.B. Yeats’ accounts of Irish fairy lore were fascinating, it took me years to realize that his research into folklore and myth were actually supportive to his esoteric practice. Things like that tend to be glossed over in the mainstream understanding of established authors whose actual intentions hold some embarrassment for the staid authorities of culture.

Vere Chappell’s recently published biography of the Theosophist and Spiritualist Ida Craddock gives an even deeper view of this process (For a more detailed review of the book itself see Freeman Presson’s literary review blog). Red Wheel/Weiser was kind enough to send over a review copy and the experience of reading it has attended a series of personal revelations on the nature of reality and cultural transmission.

Most of my readings from Vere’s biography of Ida Craddock have taken place on the train to and from Con trips to attend an alchemy lecture by Dennis Hauck and gatherings of like minded folks interested in some of the odder antecedents of culture. This fortuitous correlation has given me a contemporary view of the ideas that Ida addresses in her writings, and also a picture of how ideas about topics such as Spiritualism transmute, shedding and acquiring cultural bias, retaining their core value despite what seems to be great gaps in time.

One of the issues addressed in Ida’s writing is the subjective understanding of anomalous experiences. In her case this was focused on a relationship with a spirit or thought form that she considered her husband; to be more direct she experienced a physical relationship with a disembodied entity she believed was the spirit of a past acquaintance. By physical relationship I mean she felt that she was sexually active with a ghost.

To be absolutely honest as I read this account I was a bit put off by her direct assertions. They violated my credulity, and exploring her thoughts lead to conjectures on what value this kind of story might have to various groups or agendas keeping me from fully embracing the narrative; I was searching for the hook.

This is where the circumstances of my reading become important, and why I mention them. After an hour on the train and another hour on the subway (or EL as we call it in Chicago) attending to Ida’s account I found myself faced with the same questions while joining the company of people involved in the contemporary exploration of anomalous events.

It’s one thing to conjecture about the influences and intentions of a Victorian Spiritualist, but it’s another to have the same phenomenon addressed, face to face, by contemporary peers. To a skeptical mind it’s even more odd to realize that there are correspondences between the accounts and also to realize that the contemporary researchers are not involved or knowledgeable about the esoteric influences that attended Ida’s understanding of her experience.

There is still the lingering doubt that the contemporary researchers might be subtly influenced by such esoteric ideas simply through the culture of their investigations. This becomes less suspect when the accounts are from the perspective of those experiencing them, from the people that the contemporary researchers encounter rather than from the researcher’s own conjectures. It’s still possible to say that the idea has so perniciously infected society that it reaches even the mainstream understanding, but the farther the influence stretches, whether anomalous or not, it still becomes an object worthy of study, perhaps even more so.

If everyone is being honest there is a clear line of experience stretching from the 19th century (and much farther as the 19th century researchers were reflecting on much older accounts) up to this very day. If there is a difference in the interpretation it’s the sobriety with which these anomalies are addressed. Ida’s account is firmly protected by very sober and rational safeguards. To her such experiences become negative, not due to the anomaly itself, but rather to the subjective understanding of the individual.

What some might discount as Victorian prudery becomes invaluable advice to the modern researcher into anomalous activity. Disordered lives, addiction, mal-intention, sexual impropriety, each of these play a part in the contemporary narrative of negative anomalous events. To Ida this is self-evident, if one is not prepared to live an orderly life in society, one is certainly not prepared for the experiences that come with contacting the “borderland”.

From Ida’s work Heavenly Bridgegrooms:

“In the case of Spiritualist mediums, professional or amateur, where the phenomena assume some show of regularity, and are claimed by the medium to come entirely from the world beyond the grave, one always has to be on one’s guard against the subtle interpolation among otherwise truthful matter of fantastic or misleading statements made apparently by the communicating spirits themselves. Occultists in all ages have invariably assumed such statements to be the work of “lying spirits”. But it is noticeable that a medium of correct life and clearness of intellectual conception is less troubled by such lying spirits than is the medium of halting intellect or morals. This of itself should indicate to the thoughtful student of occult phenomena that the medium, and not the spirits, may be to blame when lying communications are made. Just as in Astronomy it is now found that the apparent movements of the sun and fixed stars are due almost entirely to our own planet’s motion through space, so, I think, when we explore the heavens of occultism we shall eventually realize that erratic psychical phenomena are due to our own shifting relation to the beings who produce phenomena. Not until people got rid of the Ptolemaic theory that the Earth was a permanent unmovable fixture in the heavens did they learn that the bewildering cycles and epicycles of the sun and fixed stars were caused by the movements of their own planet thorough space; and not until we get rid of what I may call the Ptolemaic theory of occultism, that the psychic is the one permanent, immovable factor in the apparently shifting phenomena about him, will we ever get at the true scientific laws of occultism that our own vibrations–or our own moral and intellectual ups and downs–are almost entirely responsible for the erraticness of Borderland communications. To blame Borderland intelligences for “lying” is as if in the proverbial London fog at noonday one should blame the sun for not shining. The sun is shining right along; but it is the smoke from one’s neighbors which returns upon one to shield the sun from one’s view.”

According to contemporary accounts, and Ida’s understanding, the crossing of boundaries requires great energy, and this can either be supported by self control and focus, or by the energy expended due to chaotic living. The neutrality of the experience separates it from the orthodox understanding of the sacred. It’s inconsequential to the contact whether this energy is positive or negative, these factors only come into play on the subjective experience that follows such contact.

Whatever the cause of such experiences, the continuity between what Ida recounts in her writings and what the current coterie of investigators encounter in their field of study shows that uncritical exploration can lead to disastrous results. I would recommend that everyone interested in anomalous activity, whether skeptic or believer, take a deeper look at their intentions and purpose. Whether it’s psychosis, skepticism or revelation that leads us towards the ‘borderland’, Ida’s rational and cogent advice is invaluable.

My account may seem pedantic, so let’s allow Roky Erickson, who has experience the extremes of positive and negative synchronicity, explain it  a bit more passionately…

When was the first time…

…you remember being introduced to the slippery slope of esotericism?

I’ve been digesting odd material since I was quite young. Jim Henson’s collaborations with Brian Froud on Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, along with his Storyteller series caught me early. By the time I was 7  I spent much of my allotted library time digging through the folklore section and breaking the spines on titles like Encounters With the Invisible World Being Ten Tales of Ghosts,Witches and the Devil Himself in New England, Myths and Legends of the Celts, and Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. Standard childhood fare…

This singleminded focus lead my parents to get me a 3 book promotional pack from the Time Life Books series Mysteries of the Unknown one Christmas. As I remember it, one book focused on ‘Mysterious Places’,  one on ‘Mysterious Creatures’ and one on UFO’s.  Pouring over every detail in those books I encountered a world that went far beyond the folk tales I’d been devouring.

Here was Aleister Crowley on his wedding night at the Great Pyramid, spiritualists with ectoplasm oozing and weird lights over distant hills. My youthful mind was glowing with possibilities.

All of this was brought back when Lisa Trudeau at Red Wheel/Weiser mentioned they had a cute YouTube promotional for their Field Guide series.  I can only imagine where my mind would be if the Field Guides had been around to add to my instruction.

If you dream of a dog and he bites you

Pythagorean theories on the harmony of the celestial spheres postulate correspondences stretching through the abstraction of number, sound and into light.

The difficulty for many has been crafting representations through art that encompass this process and remain comprehensible and communicative.

An Unfinished Substance: Cut-up#5 - Life Science Library ‘Matter’ 1963 - Zac Odin

Harry Everett Smith created hand painted films that were accompanied initially by jazz music. In subsequent screenings the music changed to fit the time period, Smith wanted contemporary music played with his films based on when they were screened, not when they were made. His visual explorations were meant to encompass universal themes that would remain current with each new iteration of music.

[open myth source] – “where the recombining of elements and the interactive process is more important than the product.”

A Bright Matter: Cut-ups - Life Science Library ‘Matter’ 1963 (Final Result) - Zac Odin

“Differing from other music, here soundscape is no longer the background but the foreground as the sound collage drives the experience; sound is now the story that we process and interpret individually and collectively.

A series of segways or glimpses into in the Sonic – Human Interface.” – Willi Paul : [open myth source] myth as soundscape

Pythagoras and his followers saw these correspondences through imaginal means. Mathematical relationships were concrete realities.  Philosophical epiphanies were arrived at through intense meditation, cementing the relationships in their minds.

The sounds and their direct relationship to mathematics were tied through ritual to corresponding emotional states. This, tied with image, creates a mnemonic device for encompassing a wider set of information. Allegorical stories along with music create a dynamic vehicle.

“I think that with music you can really accelerate dramatic moments because of the kind of ineffable shorthand of certain musical conventions, or musical innovations that just make sense, and bypass rational judgment in a way that writing can’t always do, or takes longer to do.” – Eric Lindley, Careful -Oh Light – A Conversation

“Over coffee and liqueurs we would sometimes listen to John Jacob Niles’ recordings. Our favorite was ‘I Wonder As I Wander,’ sung in a clear, high-pitched voice with a quaver and a modality all his own. The metallic clang of his dulcimer never failed to produce ecstasy. He had a voice which summoned memories of Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere. There was something of the Druid in him. Like a psalmist, he intoned his verses in an ethereal chant which the angels carried aloft to the Glory seat. When he sang of Jesus, Mary and Joseph they became living presences. A sweep of the hand and the dulcimer gave forth magical sounds which caused the stars to gleam more brightly, which peopled the hills and meadows with silvery figures and made the brooks to babble like infants. We would sit there long after his voice had faded out, talking of Kentucky where he was born, talking of the Blue Ridge mountains and the folk from Arkansas…” –Henry Miller, Plexus pp. 366-367.

The Royal Portion - Paracharattein to Nomisma

7687. If you dream of a dog and he bites you, you will have good luck – Harry Middleton Hyatt,  Folklore from Adams County Illinois

I decided to test the [open myth souce] idea and used two Willi Paul’s [open myth source] tracks and then layered guitar over them. I slowed down one of the WP tracks & messed with the stereo, Lft/Rt channels to build out the sound a bit.  Fiddle with it in Win Movie Maker and it’s a picture with sound that can be used to accompany the pictures and text in this post created from the elements at hand.

*this post is a collage of quotes from other sources, images from Zac Odin and  Paracharattein to Nomisma, along with text taken from discarded portions of an upcoming Alarm Magazine article on ‘audible color’. Another experiment with the open myth source concept.