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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Prayers to Macha

 A prayer I wrote to Macha, for strength in difficult times, when I was struggling to stay strong as a parent caring for a chronically ill child:

"Macha, warrior, queen, goddess, 
you were a mother too,
help me now to be strong
you ran against horses 
while laboring and won;
let me find the strenth to 
endure my own race
Macha, help me be strong
Give me the courage
to keep running"


An invocation of Macha:

"I call to you, Red-haired Queen,
Lady of sovereignty
I call to you, Woman of the Sidhe,
Who runs swifter than any horse
I call to you, Battle Goddess,
Who gathers heads as trophies,
Fertile plain, racing mare, battle crow,
Macha, be with me now."


A prayer to Macha:

"Macha, Druidess of the Tuatha de Danann,

Skilled in magic, great in power, full in knowledge,
Guide my feet on my path, as I honor the old wisdom
Guide my hands in offering, as I honor the old Gods
Guide my heart in strength, as I honor the old ways."


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Prayer for Eloquence

I wash my face
In the nine rays of the Sun,
As a goddess might bathe her child
In the rich fermented milk.

Honey be in my mouth,
Affection be in my face;
The love that Danu gave her children,
Be in the heart of all flesh for me.

All-seeing, all-hearing, all inspiring may the Gods be,
To satisfy and to strengthen me;
Blind, deaf, and dumb, ever, ever be,
My condemners and my mockers,

The tongue of Ogma in my head,
The eloquence of Ogma in my speech;
The composure of the Sun-faced Lord,
Be mine in presence of the multitude.


  - from By Land, Sea, and Sky
modified from a charm from the Carmina Gadelica

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Liminal Gods


  I read a blog the other day about primal Gods that grabbed my attention and has had me thinking ever since. I don't think I've ever read anything else that simultaneously made me feel so in agreement and also wanting to argue counterpoints. Maybe that's how it should be, as we each connect to these older natural forces in our own ways. It's uncomfortable for me to talk about them, especially here, because they are so personal, representing an intimate connection to the liminal place between the living green world and the timeless Otherworld.
  I have talked in my blog before about the Irish and Norse Gods I honor, but I haven't talked about the other Gods, the nameless ones who don't belong to any pantheon. Perhaps they are not Gods at all but rather are very powerful spirits of place, although they feel larger than that; often the line between deity and spirit or daoine sidhe can be a thin one after all. I relate to them as Gods and I suppose that is all that matters in the end.
     Most of what I do in my daily life and personal practice is centered on the daoine sidhe and land spirits, shaped by the Fairy Faith through a pagan lens, so maybe it was inevitable that I would eventually encounter these liminal Gods who straddle the gray area between Otherworldly spirit and divine being. I have never asked their names and they have never offered them, so I call them by titles: the Lady of the Greenwood, the Lord of the Wildwood, the Hunter, the Queen of the Wind. Not creative titles, but descriptive ones. There is something utterly foreign and achingly familiar about them that I cannot put into words. They are primal. They are wild.  They are experiential. I have no frame of reference for them outside my own experience, no myths, no folk lore, no ancient texts to rely upon to understand them or how to honor them. Worshiping them is, perforce, an exercise in intuition and awareness; I must trust my own intuition and I must let myself be aware - of their presence, of their preferences, of their patterns. I must let myself abide in that primal place within where these qualities, intuition and awareness, are a language of their own.
    These Gods are not tame or domesticated. They aren't Gods of computers, or the safety of the hearth fire. They live in the wild places of the world, in the heartbeat of animals that have never known a human hand, in the shadows of city buildings, in the endless mist and relentless tide. They dwell on the paths to Faery, in the music of the sidhe that haunts those who hear it, in bliss and in agony. They live in the perpetual twilight and the first rays of dawn, in the flood and the storm as well as the gentle rain. You can find them in the vast wilderness and in the twisting city streets. They are forces of change; they are unchanging. They are heartlessly brutal and unimaginably kind. They are grotesque; they are beautiful. They are all these things simultaneously and in harmony.
    These are my liminal Gods, my primal Gods. This is the heart of my worship, the bridge between my Fairy Faith practices and my pagan religion, the forces that are greater Powers than the daoine sidhe and more immediate than the Gods from known pantheons. I do not have to seek them out; they are here. I speak to them beneath the moon and in the wind, amid the forest's song and the music of the rushing stream. I offer to them, pray to them, and hear their voices in synchronicity and dream.
   Theirs is not an easy path to follow because it means letting go of the civilized expectations we hold with other Gods. It is a path through the trackless forests and the untouched wilds both within and without. It puts aside logic and rational thought and embraces instinct and emotion. And once you are on their path you cannot help but be changed by it. And once you are on their path there is no turning back.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Why I am a Syncretic Gaelic-Heathen Pagan

Patheos has been doing a blog challenge, asking people to answer the question of why they follow the path they follow in 200 words. This is my answer:
   I am a syncretic Gaelic-Heathen pagan because I have seen the Irish and Norse Gods calling to me in my dreams. I have heard the music of the Otherworld dancing on the wind. I have felt the pulse of my ancestors beating underneath my skin. And these things speak to my soul with poetry and mystery in ways that nothing else ever has and that I cannot live without. They are part of who I am.
 The mythology and folk beliefs of those two cultures resonate with me on an instinctive level. They form a holistic whole for my spiritual beliefs which is both comforting and challenging. The Gods, The rituals, the cosmology, the prayers, the magic, all of these are necessary and I cannot choose one culture over the other without losing part of myself in the choosing. In my heart, the two together make sense in ways nothing else does
   That is the core of my religion; reconstructionism shapes it, mysticism and magic create connection with it. It is experiential. It is immanent. It is fluid. Call me a witch, Druid, or seidhrkona - I am all these things - but underneath it all the core remains the same.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Yarrow Charms


      Yarrow is probably one of my favorite herbs to work with, magically. Lady Wilde tells us that it is an excellent magic herb and was sown into clothing (Wilde, 1991). She also mentions an Irish folk charm where ten yarrow leaves are plucked and nine placed in your sock for protection, with the tenth given as an offering to the spirits (Wilde, 1991). Yarrow can be associated with protection, love, beauty, healing; it's scientific name, achillea millefolium, is from its association with the Greek hero Achilles who was said to use it on the battlefield to treat injured soldiers.
    Yarrow features in two charms in volume 2 of the Carmina Gadelica which are intended to make the bearer more attractive and to protect from heart-ache. Interestingly in lines 7 through 10 of the first charm the woman associates herself with sea, land, sky and the tree, before declaring her strength and dominance. The following are my versions, based on the originals. 

The Yarrow 163

I will pluck the yarrow fair,
That my face shall be more gentle,
That my lips shall be more warm,
That my speech shall be more chaste,
 My speech will be the beams of the sun,
My lips will be the juice of the strawberry.
May I be an isle in the sea,
May I be a hill on the shore,
May I be a star in the waning of the moon,
May I be a staff to the weak,
I can wound every man,
No man can wound me.

The Yarrow 164

I will pluck the yarrow fair,
That more brave shall be my hand,
That more warm shall be my lips,
That more swift shall be my foot;
May I be an island at sea
,
May I be a rock on land,
That I can afflict any man,
     Yet no man can afflict me.
  
  Although large doses are toxic small amounts of Yarrow tea can be used for internal bleeding, indigestion  colds, fevers, and to increase appetite (Foster & Duke, 2000). Yarrow can be applied externally as a poultice to stop bleeding and has a long history of being used for this in both Europe and America (Foster & duke, 2000). The plant can be found wild in fields and near roads. growing about 3 feet tall with clusters of tiny white flowers (Foster & Duke, 2000). Yarrow can also be grown in gardens and is easily dried by hanging. 


References:
Daimler, M., (2010). By Land, Sea, and Sky
Wilde, L (1991) Irish Cures, Mystic Charms & Superstitions
Foster, S., and Duke, J., (2000). Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Book Review - Druidry and the Ancestors

  I recently read Nimue Brown's book Druidry and the Ancestors: finding our place in our own history. I was intrigued by the book's title but approached reading it with some trepidation as I have felt ambivalent about the work of other OBOD authors in the past. Generally my approach to Druidism is very different from OBODs and while I have great respect for the wisdom and vision of their organization the result is that books by their authors often leave me with strongly mixed feelings. I must admit I was quite pleasantly surprised by this book and found it thought provoking and more than worth reading.
  The author breaks the book down into a look at how we perceive history, the way that viewpoint shapes our ideas about ancestors, and a discussion of the ancestors themselves. She is refreshingly open about her own biases and viewpoints and uses anecdotes to illustrate her points to good effect creating a personal touch to the text. The author is also not afraid to tackle the more difficult or emotional issues of ancestry - including adoption, abuse, and invention - in a direct manner.
   After an initial chapter which defines who the ancestors were and are the second chapter delves into "history as story". I found this section to be profoundly thought provoking as it challenges the reader to look at what we know about history, how we know it, and how our view of it shapes our understanding at the most basic level. The book raises several points that I had never before considered but which will require some profound reflection long after I've put this book behind me.
  Next is a chapter on 'spotting the melons" which encourages critical thinking in reading and offers a list of basic guidelines to sort bad sources from good. The author feels, as do I, that paganism is plagued by bad source material and faulty or outdated facts and tries to educate readers about the pitfalls to be found. Although I felt that some of the examples used were a bit vague, overall the chapter was a great edition to the book. Particularly in Druidism sorting fact from fiction from fantasy is an endless process and discernment is essential.
  Moving on there is a chapter on the importance of ancestors and then several on individual types of ancestors, including ancestors of place and of tradition. I enjoyed the way that a variety of non-blood ancestors were included and that the author continues to challenge readers with new perspectives and ideas. The reality of ancestors whose stories we know well stand side by side with those who we have invented as part of our own narrative, and we are encouraged to value fact as well as myth in building practice. In this book knowing our ancestors is about knowing ourselves, and indeed one of the final chapters, "ancestors of the future", encourages us to look at ourselves as tomorrow's ancestors.
   This book is not a workbook or how-to of ancestor work; in its pages you won't find how to set up ancestor altars or what offerings to make to who. What you will find is an invaluable guide to connecting to your own past, healing broken connections, and how today's Druids are and will be the ancestors of tomorrows spiritual seekers. More than worth reading, more than once.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

St John's Wort

   St John's Wort is a well known herb with a long magical history. It grows in Europe and can now be found in the United States, often by the side of the road. The plant's yellow flowers bloom in the summer and the plant itself grows up to about 3 feet tall. For medicinal purposes prepared tinctures, teas, and suppliments of St John's Wort can be purchased or grown although for traditional magic charms the plant should be found wild. As with most Celtic herbal magic the plant is most powerful when found at a specific time, in this case on the day of a full moon, at noon in bright sun (Wilde, 1991).
   Medicinally it's main use is in treating depression. St John's Wort is so effective at reducing depression that in Germany it is by far the preferred treatment (Foster & Duke, 2000). Clinical trials have supported its effectiveness, although it is only used to treat mild or moderate types of depression (Foster & Duke, 2000). Be aware though that this herb interferes with the effectiveness of birth control pills and other methods should be substituted to avoid pregnancy. St John's Wort can also be used externally to treat ulcers, sores, bruises, and cuts as well as taken in a tea for bladder problems and diarrhea (Foster & Duke, 2000). As always, before using please consult a trained herbalist.  
   Magically St John's Wort is said to protect against fairy enchantments, and grant luck, prosperity, and blessing. In Irish tradition St John's Wort is one of the 7 herbs that cannot be effected by anything supernatural (Wilde, 1991). In Scottish tradition it should be gathered with the right hand, dried with the left, and kept to ensure prosperity (Carmichael, 1900).
  If you are fortunate enough to come across St John's Wort growing wild this charm may be recited while it is gathered. Finding it, reciting this, and keeping the herb is believed to bring luck and prosperity.

St. John’s Wort Charm 168

Saint John’s Wort, Saint John's Wort,
I envy whoever has you,
I will pluck you with my right hand,
I will preserve you with my left hand,
Whoever finds you in the cattle fold,
Shall never be without prosperity. (Daimler, 2010)

References:
Daimler, M., (2010). By Land, Sea, and Sky
Foster, S. and Duke, J., (2000). Eastern Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs
Wilde (1991). Irish Cures, Mystic Charms & Superstitions
Carmichael, A., (1900). Carmina Gadelica