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Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Reflections

 Today is New Year's eve and like last year I am spending the day reflecting on the past 12 months. Later tonight I will honor Frau Holle and see the old year out while welcoming the new in, but I find that the best way to let go of the past year is to really look at what it has taught me. Often it seems that there is an underlying theme to each year; in 2011 it was loss and endings. Fittingly 2012 seems to have been about both beginnings and limitations.
   I am not a patient person - once I set my mind to something I tend to put all of my energy into it and I want to see results. This has usually been a good quality, but this past year I found myself repeatedly being in situations were I was forced to go slowly or which took longer than I wanted. This has, overall, been a good thing as I have learned to take life slower and enjoy the experience more while anticipating the end result less. Learning to see limitations in a positive light has definitely been a good thing and I think I am less concerned about other people judging me by what I do or produce, and more concerned with making the most of what I can do.
  This year has also brought several great opportunities related to my writing. I have been putting more energy into this blog, and have also started blogging for a local ecumenical website, as well as being offered an opportunity to blog once a month for another site. I wrote several books this year, from my own poetry book to a children's book on the Fairy Faith, and have a book on Druidism coming out within the next few months through Moon books. I'm definitely proud of all these accomplishments, and I feel that writing has helped me focus myself as well as sharing different views and information with others.
   Spiritually this year's challenges have helped me better understand my own views and faith. Whereas in 2011 I felt rather adrift and lost spiritually I think that has been resolved this year, although it took me being willing to go back to the very beginning of my spiritual path and really take a hard look at not only what I believe and why, but what is the most spiritually fulfilling for me. I had drifted into a place where I was letting other people's expectations and needs direct where I was going rather than following what made me happy. That was a mistake, and while it took some serious misery in 2011 to make me see that, in 2012 I have channeled that in a positive way. It isn't just that I accept my own liminality now, but also that I embraced it.
    I went out yesterday, after my area was gifted with 8 inches of snow from Winter Storm Freyr, and looked up to see a rainbow shining directly above me house. I feel that this can only be a good omen for the year to come and I am excited to see what 2013 will bring.
   What has been the theme for your year? Are you ready to move forward into a new year?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In Memorial ~ Christine Winkler

 On Sunday, December 23rd, one of the strongest, most intense, women I have ever known passed from this world to the next after a hard fight against cancer. In the past four years she had fought and beat cancer four times, but this fifth round proved insurmountable. My life will forever be poorer without her in it, and I miss her very much already.
   I met Christine, affectionately nicknamed "Herb Lady", about 7 years ago through my friend's store. There is no one else quite like her, with her ascerbic opinions and take-no-prisoners attitude. At first I couldn't tell if she liked me or hated me but over time I learned that being blunt was her approach to everything; if she liked something she said as much and if she didn't like it then she made that clear. You never questioned where you stood with Christine or wondered if she was being honest with you. Over time it became an endearing quality and I learned to appreciate her unique approach to life.
   Christine, who was an excellent herbalist, taught me to identify plants, especially herbs, that grew wild in Connecticut. Because of her I know Woody Nightshade when I see it, and can identify Mullein and Mugwort. She also taught me ways to use the things I found, especially for healing and magic. At random intervals she would appear with her arms full of Wormwood, Mugwort or Sage from her garden and talk to me about how to dry and use them. Every year she would bring me homemade smudge sticks, sometimes plain Sage, other times Sage mixed with Rosemary or Lavender, insisting that the plants from her garden were better and  stronger than any sold commercially. Several times she brought me cuttings to try to root out - Black Nightshade, Wormwood, Mugwort - and would hover over me as I tried to properly wrap the cut stems in wet paper towel. Sometimes I could get them to grow for me, and sometimes I couldn't, but she never stopped helping me try.
     Christine was a witch and Hecate-woman. Her recitation of the Witches Rune would raise the hair on the back of your neck and she knew her spellwork like few other people I've ever met. Although I did not always agree with her I had an immense respect for her and learned a great deal about the practical, hands-on, magic she practiced. She could make incense, powder, and spell candles like no one else, and she taught me how to use these things in new ways. Because of Christine I began to think out what I was doing more and make my own ingredients and components, instead of flying by the seat of my extemporaneous pants all the time. In 2006 Christine, who followed a blend of modern Wicca and her own family style witchcraft, asked me if I wanted to be initiated as a priestess of Hecate; this was an enormous compliment from her, as she might occasionally offer to initiate someone she had taught into witchcraft but rarely acknowledged that a person was already a witch; deeply honored I said yes. Although I have no other connection to that pantheon and my own focus is firmly elsewhere, I have never regretted that decision and it led me, eventually, to co-creating a Witchcraft Tradition at Hecate's direction. The ceremony itself was deeply moving and, like Christine herself, not quite like anything else I'd ever experienced.
    Christine made jewelry and spell candles, among other things that were sold at the store. She also often made special things just for me, bracelets and necklaces of stone beads, a ring, and a spell candle dedicated to Macha which she later gave me the recipe for. These tangible reminders of her will be cherished now, as I cherish the memory of every conversation and every kind thing she ever did for me.
    No one else I've ever met had the same inherent concern for helpless or outcast things. When she found a cat, dying from an infected wound, she took him to the vet, even though he was half wild and she had no money to spare on a stray. When she was out of work she began caring for two elderly sisters who needed someone to check on them and handle able bodied tasks around their home. When her ex husband became sick and needed somewhere to stay she took him in, caring for him in his own final days. And she took my friend and I under her wing with a tough love mothering that was impossible to resist.
    In many ways Christine was more like family than a friend. When I had a cold she would pull out a mix she called "nose oil", splash some on a tissue, and make me hold it under my nose - and it never failed to clear my sinuses out and let me breathe no matter how stuffed up my nose was. When I sprained my wrist in an accident she appeared with a quart-sized freezer bag full of powdered Comfrey and not only explained how to make a compress out of it, but insisted I do so immediately and wasn't satisfied until I had my wrist slathered and wrapped to her specifications. Every Sunday that I was at the store she would bring me the newspaper and, usually, something to eat, and we would chat about life and magic. Every year she sent my children cards on Halloween and made them gifts for Yule. For many years now we traded witchy-themed novels back and forth, discussing the plots the way some people talk about popular TV shows. Sometimes we chatted about sewing and where to get the best prices on material; Christine was a talented seamstress who sowed some of her own clothes and made everything from dolls to small bags to use for charms. She talked about her past, her husband, her children, as I shared stories about mine. The night her ex-husband died after his own fight against cancer she called me and told me that she felt that Hecate had come and helped him cross, at the end.
    I and another close friend went and visited her a few days before she passed. She was in pain and on a constant morphine pump, but she was happy to see us. She held my hand and wouldn't let go and tried several times to say something, but we couldn't understand what she was trying to say. We sat with her, watching Dark Shadows on a laptop because it was one of her favorite shows. Several times she dozed off, but we stayed until she woke again. She asked a couple times if I was there, and I reassured her I was, all the time holding her hand. Despite it all when she did speak she retained her unique sense of humor and was obviously still herself; I was glad for that. When we finally  left I knew it wouldn't be much longer, but the news of her passing was still a shock in a very visceral way. I can't imagine life without her there offering advice, lending me witchy novels, and showing me the herbs that grow all around us.
  She was a teacher, a mentor, and above all a friend, and I am a better person for having known her.
   May Hecate hold her; may the Goddess's torches light her way.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Yule 2012

Happy Yule and a merry solstice to all!


  
    Yule is always one of the busiest times of year for me; as I mentioned last year I have usually approached Yule form a strictly Germanic/Norse perspective but have recently started trying to incorporate more Irish and Druidic aspects. Since the heathen Yule celebration lasts for 12 nights its been hard to work in anything else - which is complicated by the very limited Irish folklore and practices. This year I am going to attempt to juggle four different types of celebration.
   Last night I helped run an open neopagan Yule ritual. We gathered and focused on sending loving energy to any who are suffering, to help heal those who need healing after the tragedies of the last week. We also wove bracelets for ourselves while focusing on goals we want to nurture in the coming months as the light of the sun grows. And of course we lit candles on a Yule log in honor of the solstice.
  Because last night was also Mother's Night in Heathenry my family and I also lit candles for the disir and our female ancestors. We held a small blot to Frigga, offering milk and water to her. We do this in thanks for their protection and also to ask for blessings in the new year. I drew a rune for divination and pulled Othala, which I believe is a good sign of connection to the ancestors, in this context.
  Today, on the actual solstice, I will honor Grian, in a Druidic ritual. My family will light our Yule log at home, and we will hold our annual holiday movie night, which the children are very excited about. The solstice itself tends to be very family oriented for me, which is a nice break in the otherwise hectic schedule of the holiday. For the ritual to honor Grian we will bake a sun cake, as we do for Aine at midsummer, and offer pieces of it to her and to our ancestors and the daoine sidhe. We will also offer her sugar cookies and spiced cider.
     It's my Kindred's 6th anniversary this year so we are planning to hold a Yule blot on the 23rd. this is always a very festive meeting with lots of food and good converstaion after a blot to honor Odin as the Julfather. Each year we choose different Aesir to focus on ; last year it was Freyr, and the year before it was Odin and Frigga together. After the blot we each pull a rune to see what our omen for the year to come is, and I pull one for the Kindred as a whole. My Kindred sister, Mel, is an exceptional cook, so feasting is always something to look forward to, and its fun to watch the kids play and enjoy the celebration.
    In our home this year Santa is arriving on the 23rd as well, with present opening occurring very early in the morning, so on the evening of the 22nd we will be honoring the Julenisse (with porridge). We decided it was important for the kids to have the joy of waking up to presents under the Yule tree and find the idea of Santa very pagan, but we can be a bit flexible on when he comes, looking at a day close to the solstice that we will all be home together. I know that some people who have Odin, as Julfather, come with gifts riding Sleipnir, but by the time I heard of that idea my oldest was already invested in Santa, so we have stuck with what she initially grew up with.
   After this, leading up to New Year's eve, I will also blot to Frau Holle, Freyr, and Thor, as well as make offerings to my ancestors and the land spirits. And of course I will celebrate a secular Christmas with my extended family on the 25th. On New Year's eve, the official end of the 12 days of Yule celebration, I smudge the entire house with juniper, and at exactly midnight I open the front door to let the old year out and welcome the new year in. I also leave out a small loaf of bread, asking for abunadance and prosperity in the year to come. It will be a hectic couple of weeks, but it is always filled with fun and good food.
    I hope your Yule is just as much fun, and wish you all a good New Year.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Rosc - Spoken Spells in Druidic Magic

  In studying the Druids and wider Celtic folk magic one particular type of magic is commonly found - the rosc. Rosc is defined as a rhetorical composition or chant, although the electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language (eDIL) suggests that the original term in Old Irish may have been rosg, because rosc cannot be traced further back than late medieval documents (eDIL). It appears in early manuscripts as rosg catha, referring specifically to battle magic, and later as rosc catha with the same meaning; interestingly rosc also means "eye" (eDIL; O Donaill, 1977). The plural of rosc is roisc, although in modern Druidic vernacular it appears as roscanna; roisc do not generally rhyme but rely on alliteration instead (eDIL). Examples of roscanna are usually seen as battle magics, where the speaker is in a conflict and is using the chant to overcome the enemy in some way; however there are also examples of roscanna used for other purposes such as blessing or sleep. In mythology Druids are said to be able to create illusions, heal, find the truth of a situation, advise, interpret dreams and curse with the use of roscanna (O hOgain, 1991).
   Reciting a rosc may be accompanied by specific actions, such as when we see Lugh reciting a rosc for his army, while circling them with one eye closed, one arm behind his back, and on one leg, a type of ritual pose known as the corrguineacht. The corrguineacht itself is usually associated with cursing, perhaps relating the pose to the Fomorians who are sometimes described as having one leg, arm, and eye, although the name corrguineacht is sometimes translated as Crane Posture. O Tuathail translates it as Crane Prayer (O Tuathail, 1993).
   Rosc are also generally spoken in the present tense, a clear difference from most modern magical chants which tend to use the future tense. Generally the speaker of the rosc states what they want as if it already is. When a rosc does use the future tense the person speaking is not asking for something to come to pass but stating that it will come to pass. For example when Amergin invokes the bounty of Ireland he says:
    "Fishful the ocean,
     prolific in bounty the land,
    an explosion of fish,
    fish beneath wave
    in currents of water
    flashing brightly,
    from hunderfolds of salmon
    which are the size of whales,
    song of a harbour of fames,
    an explosion of fish,
    fishful the sea." (O Tuathail, 1993).

    This demonstrates not only the use of tense but also two other qualities of roscanna: the emphasis on descriptive terms and the repetition of the first line, or a variation on it, as the final line. The descriptive nature of roscanna works with the alliterative pattern; along with the repetition of specific lines this reinforces the poetic nature of these chants. Some roscanna, such as Amergin's Invocation of Ireland also follow a pattern of repeating the end of one line as the beginning of the next line (example below).
   Roscanna also rely on the speaker's own personal power, rather than appeals to higher powers or forces. Someone reciting a rosc is using their own energy and will to enforce their words. We can see this in an exerpt from the rosc Mogh Ruith recites against the King's Druids:
   "I turn, I re-turn
    not but I turn nuclei of darkness
    I turn verbal spells, I turn speckled spells,
    I turn purities of form,
    I turn high, I turn mightily,
    I turn each adversity,
    I turn a hill to subside...." (O Tuathail, 1993)
O Tuathail suggests that "turn" in this context means transform, which seems logical. We can see the same pattern of invoking personal power in the "Song of Amergin" whose opening section begins each line with the phrase "I am". Although a rosc can also be used to invoke the power within an object this is still generally done with an emphasis on the speaker's own personal power calling to what they are invoking. Several examples of this are:
  Amergin's Involcation of Ireland
 "I request the land of Ireland
  coursed is the wild sea
   wild the crying mountains
   crying the generous woods
   generous in showers..." (O Tuathail, 1993).

  Mogh Ruith's Magic Stone
"I request my stone of conflagration.
 Be it no ghost of theft.
 Be it  ablaze that will fight sages
 ...My fire stone which delves pain
 Be it a red serpent which sorrows..." (O Tuathail, 1993)
 There are examples of roscanna that rely on invoking a higher power as well, but these appear to be less common. It is possible that the folk magic charms we have today are based on the same principles as the Druidic roscanna, although the modern folk charms more often invoke higher Powers.
  In a modern context a rosc can be used for any purpose needed by the speaker. The generally rules of forming a rosc should be followed: alliteration, highly descriptive terms, repetition, and speaking in the present with personal power. If desired or required specific actions can be included as well. An example of this for protection would be:
   "I am safe, secure, and protected,
    Protected from injury and ill-will
    From danger and destruction
    From all hurt and harm
    My magic is an armor, impenetrable,
    that turns away all attacks
    Turns them to the encompassing earth
    Wide and deep, she takes them
     transforms them from harm to healing
     So that what is sent against me
     Becomes a blessing and boon
     Protected from injury and ill-will
     I am safe, secure, and protected."

References
O hOgain, D., (1991). Myth, Legend, and Romance
O Tuathail, S., (1993). The Excellence of Ancient word: Druid Rhetoric from Ancient Irish Tales
http://www.dil.ie/
O Donaill, N., (1977). Focloir Gaeilge-Bearla

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Prayer for Sandy Hook Victims

  Yesterday my state was rocked by one of the most horrific school shootings this country has ever seen. As I followed the developing news story I found myself trying to comprehend the horror that the victims and their families were dealing with. As a former EMT and a mother of elementary age school children I was heartbroken by the entire situation, and like many people I wanted to do something. All over the state there were prayer vigils held last night, and maybe prayer is a normal reaction to the sadness and grief of such an event because I also felt like prayer was the best response I could give in that moment. As the days unfold and we all try to come to terms with what has happened, as the debates ensue about why it happened and how it could have been prevented, I hope we all remember to keep the victims and their families in our thoughts and prayers. While the nation argues over the inevitable issues, 20 families are burying their young children, lost to senseless violence in a place that should be safe for all children, and 7 other families are burying their beloved relatives who died next to those children.
    This is the prayer I said when lighting a candle for the victims and their families:
"Blessed Brighid, goddess of healing,
First to keen in Ireland when your own son died,
You know the pain of losing a child
You know the sharpness of mourning,
Be with those who were killed today
That they might find their way to peace and rest
Be with their families as they weep
That they might find comfort in their grief

Blessed Brighid, exalted one,
Gracious Goddess and saint
you are a light in the darkness
May you light our way today."
 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sacred Symbols

  In my experience many pagans have a sacred symbol that represents their belief, if only to them. These symbols may be somewhat mainstream, like the pentacle, or less well known, like the irminsul, but they all serve as a touchstone of the religion or beliefs the person holds.
Assorted religious jewelry, bronze, at Pandora's Box, Norwich CT
   This past summer the Huffington Post site asked the question What religious jewelry do you wear and why? and asked for readers to submit pictures of their religious jewelry with stories explaining why that symbol was significant to them. After much thought I submitted what might seem an unlikely image, coming from me -
with a short note saying that I have had this pentacle for over 20 years and that to me it represents the interconnection of all things. The picture and explanation appeared in the slideshow accompanying the main article.
    After submitting it I questioned whether it was the right choice; should I have gone with a triskele instead to represent Irish paganism and Druidism? Should I have used an image of my Thor's Hammer to represent Heathenry? Both of these images are very significant to me, and each has a special meaning. The triskele is something that I feel I earned by going through the fostering process with my Druid Order and symbolizes the connection to sea, earth, and sky; the Hammer was a gift from my Kindred sister and reminds me of my connection to the Gods. So why, I asked myself, did I choose as I had? In the end I believe that I picked the symbol I did because it was the first symbol I ever connected to, the first image that was more than just decoration. I bought this necklace with money I saved up babysitting and I wore it every day through high school. It saw me through some very difficult times, and did indeed always remind me that all things are connected. After I moved beyond the religion that it is commonly used to represent I still wore it sometimes for that feeling of connection. In short this pentacle ceased being a piece of jewelry that stood for one faith and became a personal emblem to me of my own inner strength and the comfort I found in something that kept me from feeling all alone even when in many ways I was. Even though I don't wear it often anymore it is still special to me.
    I have a beautiful Thor's Hammer that I wear, and I have a triskele - each is important to me and holds a special meaning. Each symbolizes my faith in different ways. But there is a connection to my first religious pendant that has endured even through changes in spirituality. It's just a simple piece of silver, shaped like a star within a circle, but it is one of the most precious things I own, because to me it will always be a representation of that ineffable connection to the things that matter to me.
  Of course I also have a hammer that I wear as well. The Thor's Hammer appeared historically around a thousand years ago, likely to give heathens something to wear besides the Christian Cross. In modern contexts the Thor's Hammer, or Mjolnir, is a symbol of those who follow the Norse Gods, as well as symbolizing protection and fertility (Thor's Hammer, it's said, was used to bless marriages by being placed in the lap of the bride). Mine is a very modern design and was a gift. Heathens can also use the irmunsul, a Germanic world tree image, as a symbol, or the valknot a triple interlaced triangle design often associated with Odin (the word valknut means knot of the slain and since one of Odin's names was Valfadr it does seem to be a logical connection; there is a joke in modern heathenry that the valknut is the "insert spear here" symbol)
I also often wear a triskele or a tree to symbolize Irish Paganism or Druidism. Both of these are modern symbols, not having been used historically to represent a pagan faith that we know of, but are great representations of those faiths for modern practitioners. The triskele is seen in ancient Irish art, although its true origins are debated; some believe it was adapted off of the Norse valknut, while others think it is an older Celtic symbol. I also tend to favor wearing a tree emblem as it represents Druidism to me and also encompasses the concept of the bile (sacred tree or pole) and world tree. In this way the tree symbolizes both sides of my faith, the Irish and the Norse.
one of the tree pendants I sometimes wear

another tree pendant I sometimes wear 












 It's worth noting that I have gotten tattoos of the symbols I find important including the Thor's Hammer, Valknut, and Triskele, so in some ways wearing them as jewelry is redundant, but I still like the jewelry. In a world and culture were what symbols we wear around our necks are often a subtle - or sometimes not-so-subtle - way to declare our faith publically I tend to appraoch wearing mine as a matter of pride in my spirituality.
  I tend to choose the symbol I wear based on what I feel most in tune with that particular day, and my spirituality being what it is I often wear more than one symbol at a time. What sacred symbols do you wear? What makes that symbol special to you?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Reflections on Life and Legacy

 I awoke this past Tuesday morning from a very strange dream, most likely rooted in seeing too many previews for the new movie the Hobbit. In the dream I was traveling with a group of dwarves and an elf - picture the ones from the movie and you'll get the idea - when suddenly there was some sort of attack and everyone was knocked out. The earth began slowly growing over each inert form, seeming intent on pulling them down completely, but before the process was complete another elf appeared and woke his sleeping/enspelled kinsman. In the dream I heard a voice saying "They are never forgotten who have family to search for them, and so this one will be reborn again." Then I woke up, but with a strong feeling, not only of the importance of the ancestors to us, but of our importance to those who have passed. This was something of an epiphany for me, because I had previously tended to see my relationship with the ancestors as one where I looked to them not one where they depended on me.
    My first clear thought on waking was "If I died today how would my children remember me?". I have spent much of the day thinking about that, and about something my husband said to me in a conversation the night before; when I expressed concern about the way I decorate our house being too overtly pagan (being worried that his family and friends feel uncomfortable) he told me not to be a "closet witch". I had never thought before that I was or would be any sort of closet anything; in fact I had prided myself on how open I was with my spiritual choices. It was a wake up call to have him point out, in a supportive way, that I needed to be proud of who I am.
   So I have been thinking about all of these interconnected things, about the way our ancestors need us, about how my children think of me, and about how I change myself for other people. I truly believe these are all related thoughts, because each comes back to the idea of leaving a legacy worth being remembered for. I can even divide them up by past, present, and future - what my ancestors did to earn a place in my memory and devotions, what I am doing with my children and how they will remember it, and what I am doing and will do to shape my life according to what other people expect my life to be. What my ancestors have done cannot be undone or changed, and it does affect how I feel about them now and who I focus more on. What I do now with my own children becomes that same set-in-stone past tense, and I am suddenly aware of how precious each moment with them as they grow is. And I realized that it truly is my choice to live for my own happiness or to live to meet other's expectations. I am weaving my own legacy, strand by strand, from my choices and actions.
   When I look at the past several years I see a life out of balance. I went to college and am within 6 degrees of earning a bachelor's in psychology. I wrote six books. I started blogging and have tried to post 2 to 3 blogs per week, and now I also blog once a month for a local faith and values website, as their only neo-pagan blogger. Two years ago I was teaching at local and regional events, and this past year have been teaching locally. I've been a guest on 2 blog radio shows. I am raising two children, one with special health needs, and am married, as well as participating in or running several spiritual groups. I am clearly a very driven person and I have absolutely no idea how I find enough hours in the day to get this all done.
    But what legacy does it leave? I have no interest in being well known, only in sharing what I know with those who might gain from it, so am I achieving what I want to achieve? Am I giving my children childhood memories of me that are worth cherishing, or am I just getting through each day? Am I doing what I want to do, being who I want to be, or trying to please others? The reality is that I am pushing myself way too hard to meet the perceived needs of other people, rather than simply enjoying my life. In the past several weeks I have been struggling with some health issues that require me to rest; I am failing miserably. I no longer remember how to rest or relax, or simply not do anything. I fill every moment with something, and not always something that is good for myself or my family. And this is not the legacy I want to leave my children at all.
   I am starting, right now, to change how I do things, what I do, and to get my personal priorities in line with my actual desires. I am seeking balance, trying to remake my life - now - into what I want it to be, something that will be personally fulfilling and worthy of remembrance and honoring when I am gone. In short I am trying to live in the moment, knowing that this moment is only a breathe away from being the unchangeable past and deserves to be spent in the best possible way.
    What will your legacy be? Will your life end with satisfaction with how you lived it, or regret for focusing on the wrong things?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Children's Yule Songs, Parodies of Traditional Songs

This first one is a children's version of a parody I did several years ago....

The 12 Days of Yule-tide for Children

On the twelfth day of yule-tide, my family gave to me
twelve holiday movies             
eleven gingerbread houses
ten tumbling tomte
nine dancing disir
eight knitted hats
seven Yule-tide stories
six kinds of stollen
five chocolate coins
four solstice songs
three cups of cocoa
two yule bucks
and a glass pickle in the tree

This next one is dedicated to my 5 year old daughter, who is now officially a drummer...

Little Drummer

Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
The old Gods to honor, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we'll give, pa rum pum pum pum
Best blessings to recieve, pa rum pum pum pum

So to honor them, pa rum pum pum pum
We gather together, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to give, pa rum pum pum pum
Except to play my drum, pa rum pum pum pum
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

So I'll play for the Gods, pa rum pum pum pum, on my drum

Offering music to them, pa rum pum pum pum
Playing from my heart, pa rum pum pum pum
Giving what I can to them, pa rum pum pum pum
The best I have I offer, pa rum pum pum pum
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum

I've done my best for the Gods, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum

This last one was inspired by my oldest daughter, who last year mis-heard the lyrics to "Come All Ye Faithful" and was singing instead "Oh come we'll honor Odin" in the car. I've taken her idea and expanded it to the full song.

Come All The Faithful

Oh, come, all the faithful,
Joyful greet the Solstice!
Oh, come now, oh, come now
to honor the Gods;
Come and offer to them
Who bless our lives each day,
Oh, come, let's honor the Gods,
Oh, come, let's honor the Gods,
Oh, come, let's honor the Gods,
Together we sing

Allfather and Oski,
Wisdom and inspiration,
Great gift-giving God,
Wandering the world;
Friend of skalds and kings,
Grant us guidance each day!
Oh, come, let's honor Odin,
Oh, come, let's honor Odin,
Oh, come, let's honor Odin,
Kind Yulefather.
 
God of peace and plenty,
Gullinbursti's master
Sing we all together to him!
May Gerd's husband
Grant abundance to us:
Oh, come, let's honor Frey,
Oh, come, let's honor Frey,
Oh, come, let's honor Frey,
The Frithful Lord.

Thunderer, we greet you,
Midgard's defender;
Mjolnir's mighty weilder!
Shield us from harm,
Grant us strength each day!
Oh, come, let's honor Thor,
Oh, come, let's honor Thor,
Oh, come, let's honor Thor,
Wise and brave!

Friday, November 23, 2012

An Dagda

  One of the most well known Gods of the Tuatha de Danann is the Dagda. He can be found under many variations of the name and under many by-names, such as Daghdae, Dagdai, Daghdo, Daghdou, Dagdae, Dagdhua, Dagdhae, Dagda Mor, Dagda Donn and Eochaid Ollathair, Ruad Rofessa, Aedh Alainn, Aodh Ruadh Ro-fessa; usually the definitive article "the" is added before Dagda (Gray, 1983; O hOgain, 2006). The name Dagda itself is an epithet which means "Good God", implying a God good at all things. This name is gained during the second battle of Maige Tuired when he promises to do as much as all the other Tuatha De have said they will do in the fight (Gray, 1983). His by-names tell us a great deal about him as well: Eochaid Ollathair "Horse-lord Ample Father", Ruad Rofessa "Red man of Knowledge (specifically Druidic or Occult), Aedh Alainn "Fiery Lustrous One" (O hOgain, 2006). People inclined to look at the Dagda as a more neopagan type Father God should bear in mind the actual connotations of "Good God" as well as the more restricted translation of Ollathair, as there is no direct evidence that he was previously seen as the literal father of the Gods, but rather as prolific. In fairness to that view, however, O hOgain does suggest that the Dagda can be connected to the "Dis Pater" father deity that Caesar claims the Gauls believed they descended from (O hOgain, 2006). Additionally the text of the Cath Maige Tuired provides a long list of names for the Dagda, after he is challenged to give a ride to a Fomorian princess and replies that he has a geas preventing him doing so unless she knows his full name. She asks him three times for his name and on the third request he replies: "Fer Benn Bruach Brogaill Broumide Cerbad Caic Rolaig Builc Labair Cerrce Di Brig Oldathair Boith Athgen mBethai Brightere Tri Carboid Roth Rimaire Riog Scotbe Obthe Olaithbe" (Gray, 1983). O hOgain suggests tha the name Dagda comes from the root Dago-Dewios, a cognate with other Indo-European sky gods such as Zeus, and also through this and  his imagery to the Gaulish Secullos (O hOgain, 2006).
    In some sources the Dagda is said to be the son of Elatha and married to the Morrigan, although he is also known to hve fathered at least one child with Boinn. His children vary by source but are usually  given as Angus mac Og, Cearmait, Aodh Caomh, Conan, Midir, Bodhbh Dearg, Ainge, and Brighid; in one later example Dian Cect is also said to be his son (O hOgain, 2006). His sons often die after trying to obtain a woman who is not available; only Angus successfully marries the literal woman of his dreams Caer Iobharmheith. This may connect the Dagda to the concept of passion or of sexual envy, as he himself fathered Angus on another man's wife. He is also sometimes said to be the brother of Nuada and Ogma (O hOgain, 2006).
   The Dagda is generally described as being a large man, sometimes comically so, with a tremendous appetite and immense capacity. It was said that to make his porridge he needed 80 gallons of milk as well as several whole sheep, pigs, and goats, and that he ate this meal with a ladle large enough to hold two people lying down (Berresford Ellis, 1987). Some modern sources describe him as red-haired, possibly relating to the name Ruad Rofessa, and describe his clothing as a short tunic, sometimes obscenely short. He is considered to be generous, wise, and bigger-than-life in his appetites (O hOgain, 2006). He is often described as immensely strong and able to complete great feats such building a fort single-handedly or clearing 12 plains in a single night.
   The Book of Lecan states that the Dagda ruled for 80 years as king of the Gods after the death of Lugh, but other sources state that he was killed fighting Ceithlinn at the second battle of Maige Turied (Smyth, 1988). This is later explained with a story saying that he took a wound in the battle that took 80 years to kill him, but that is clearly an attempt to unify the varying tales into a coherant whole (O hOgain, 2006).  He was said to be a master of Druidic magic and to possesses several magical objects. It was the Dagda who held the cauldron of abundance brought from Murias, one of the four treasures. He also owned a great club that was so large it had to be dragged on wheels behind him; it is said that one end of the club could kill 9 men with one blow, while the other could heal (Berresford Ellis, 1987; O hOgain, 2006). His horse was Acein (ocean) and the Dagda possessed a harp whose playing changed the seasons. This harp was stolen by the Fomorians and the Dagda along with Nuada and Ogma had to journey to recover it, possibly indicating its importance to maintaining the order of time and the seasons.
   The Dagda is associated with Brugh na Boynne and also with a site in Donegal called Grianan Ailigh as well as Leighead Lachtmhaighe in Clare, Cnoc Baine in Tyrone and O Chualann in Wicklow (Smyth, 1988; O hOgain, 2006). It is said that it was the Dagda who delegated each of the sidhe to the Tuatha de after their defeat by the Milesians, possibly at Manannan mac Lir's suggestion (O hOgain, 2006). The Dagda originally lived at Newgrange (Burgh na Boynne) but was tricked out of the site by his son Angus. He is also particularly associated with Samhain, when he was said to unite with the Morrigan; this is also the time that he united with the Fomorian princess, also gaining her assistance against her own people in the battle.
   In general the Dagda is associated with leadership, wisdom, strength, abundance, fertility, generosity, and Druidic magic. O hOgain posits that the descriptions of him as swift may indicate that he was believed to be a God who responded quickly to his followers, and he also relates him to the sun and solar imagery (O hOgain, 2006). In some modern groups he is associated with the Norse Gods Thor or Odin, with valid arguments for both connections, and as mentioned he may also be associated with Secullos or the Roman Dis Pater. When I honor him I prefer to offer dark beers or ales, and I have also recreated a version of the porridge described as his in the Cath Maige Tuired (although in much smaller quantity). Although I dislike the modern way that authors describe him as "the God of the Druids" I do tend to associate him with Druidic magic and, tentatively, see a symbolic connection between his club and the Druidic staff. I have also come to believe that his comic appearance is a balance for his immense wisdom and power, on some symbolic level.

References:
 Gray, E., (1983). Cath Maige Tuired.
 O hOgain, D., (2006). The Lore of Ireland
 Smyth, D., (1988). A Guide to Irish Mythology
 Berresford Ellis, P., (1987). A Dictionary of Irish Mythology

Friday, November 16, 2012

Kids and Faith

There are certain questions that are commonly asked within the pagan community, and one that I see repeated at least once every few months is about raising children pagan. The exact phrasing of the question may change, but its always expressed in two core ways: should I raise my kids in my religion? and how do I teach my kids my beliefs?
   My answer to the first question is a simple yes. Of course you should raise your kids with your faith; if its important to you why wouldn't you want to share it with them? Now I'm obviously not talking about situations where there are legal reasons, such as a messy divorce, or extenuating circumstances, such as a pre-existing agreement with a non-pagan spouse, involved. But if you are actively practicing your religion and have children who you can include I really think you should, for several reasons. First of all it will create valuable family traditions around holidays that your children can cherish even if they grow up to believe something totally different. This will also create opportunities for family bonding and spending time together that, sadly, in our modern lives we often don't have much of. Secondly children generally like being included in things they know are important to you, at least in my experience. Thirdly it gives them a good understanding of your religion that will allow them later to make a decision about their own faith; related to that if you keep what you do and believe secret you may inadvertently teach them that your religion is something to be ashamed of or not good enough. Its entirely possible to raise your children in your religion without making it feel restrictive or forced, or teaching them that what you believe is the only option. I raise my daughters with my faith but they are free to go to other people's religious services or to study other options. I've never understood the idea that we should not raise our kids with our own religion because it will somehow take away their ability to choose for themselves. Finally, teaching your kids what you believe does, in theory, pass on the morals and guidelines for life that you have learned from your religion. Certainly this can be done in a secular way, but if you base your life on the 9 noble virtues, for example, why wouldn't you want your kids to have that same guideline to live with? Also if you love your religion enough to practice it, why wouldn't you want to share that with your children and give them that same opportunity to enjoy it?
    As to the second question, that one is easy - just include them in what you do and give direct answers to questions. My kindred is child-friendly and we have always had a policy that the kids are welcome to wander in and out of blot and participate if they want to. By myself I always give the girls the option of joining in with me if they want to. Rather than feeling forced or not wanting anything to do with it my kids would have me doing ritual every night if I let them talk me into it! They love hearing stories about the Gods and Goddesses as well as the other spirits and our ancestors. They enjoy celebrating our holidays. If anything I have trouble keeping up with their interest, which is bottomless. I have never gone out of my way to teach them about my faith, I just include them when I celebrate and I answer their questions. The closest I've ever come to intentionally teaching them anything religious is buying the children's books, like Kindertales, to read to them. I don't think as parents we need to try to teach it if we are giving them living examples to follow and learn from.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book Review: Mysteries of Druidry

  Since yesterday was a holiday I'm doing my weekly book review today instead. I decided to review one of my favorite books on modern Druidism, Brendan Myers' "the Mysteries of Druidry". This book came out in 2006 and presents an interesting blend of modern mysticism and solid research. I like to recommend it to anyone who is interested in Druidism, especially of the Irish variety.
  The book includes a forward by Isaac Bonewits, an introduction, 7 chapters, an epilogue, notes, index, and brief about the author page. The introduction begins with an imaginative envisioning of a meeting between the young Cu Chulainn and the Morrigan, and then segues into an introduction of the concept of Celtic mysticism and modern Druidism.The chapters look at different core concepts of modern Druidism including 9 concepts that the author identifies as key to Druidism, sacred space, magic, Druidic tools, and outlines of meditations. The epilogue offers a view of what Druidism could be as a viable spiritual path.
   What I like most about the book is the author's engaging writing style and way of discussing difficult or complex subjects in accessible ways. He tackles the often problematic concepts of mysticism within Druidism in ways that are easy to follow and provide food for thought for the reader. He also provides a selection of actual ritual ideas and suggested meditations which allow a reader to experience the ideas being discussed firsthand. One of my favorite parts of the book is a section in chapter 6 that lists and describes 12 qualities of a modern Druid, which I think are well thought out and good criteria for anyone to apply who is interested in this path. The book also includes some lovely artwork and a thorough index.
  One of the only criticisms that I have with this work is that it is formatted using two columns of text on each page rather than one, and I find this a bit distracting. Otherwise I feel like the author has done a very good job of accomplishing the apparent goal of the book, to discuss mysticism in modern Druidism and also supply useful guidelines for actual practice. Mysticism is a hard topic to successfully discuss and I feel that many authors either avoid it or fail to handle it well, so it is nice to have at least one solid resource on the topic.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Animism and Neopaganism

  I am an animist. This is not an uncommon statement in modern paganism (including reconstructionism) but like so many other things it is far more complex than it may appear. What I mean when I say animist, and how that worldview shapes my life, may be very different indeed from what others mean when they use the term, because in modern pagan usage it is a somewhat nebulous and often poorly implemented idea. Part of this, I think, is rooted in a poor understanding of the original term, and part in people trying to graft what can be a very foreign idea onto the worldview they were raised with.
   So what is animism? Well, to start the term itself originated in anthropology in the 19th century as a way to categorize the beliefs of indigenous peoples. It is based in the Latin word "anima" which means spirit or soul. In effect animism is the belief that animals (including people), plants, natural objects and phenomena, and sometimes man-made objects have a spirit. An animistic world view can be found in all cultures at varying points and psychologist Jean Paiget theorized that animism is the natural state of belief in children. Unlike pantheism, which sees all existence as having a unified spirit, animism sees each spirit as unique; my soul is not the same soul as yours, nor is one oak the same spirit as another oak. Another thing that makes animism different from some other viewpoints is that to an animist all spirits are generally equal in significance (not, however, in Power) so that a human spirit is no more or less important in the universe than a Maple, or a squirrel, or a river. Animism does not see humans as superior or inherently more worthy than anything else. This does not mean that to an individual human or group of humans that their lives mean less but rather that they do not interact with the world with the idea that they are privileged, rather the spirits around them must be treated with respect in order for the humans themselves to succeed.
    When I say I am an animist I mean that I perceive the world as being populated by spirits, in the sense described above. Material existence cannot be separated from spirit, because spirit is an integral part of all things and is manifest in the individual spirits that inhabit the world. My cats have spirits, just as I and my family do. The oaks, maples, aspen, and cedars in my yard have souls, as does the swamp behind my house. I also believe my car has a spirit as well, so I suppose I am a modern animist. Animism also shapes my belief that spirits are eternal, and so just because something has died doesn't mean it's spirit is destroyed (and Irish paganism shapes my belief in reincarnation, or "spirit recycling"). I believe it is important to live in right relation with the spirits we share the world with, just as much as we should live in right relation with our human neighbors and coworkers (and for much the same reason). This can be done by showing respect and gratitude, taking only what we need, and using everything we take. It also means that I look at the world around me as full of living spirits that are just as important as I am. I have a certain horror at the wanton, purposeless, destruction and death that is so common in a world that will clear an area of land to sell and then let it all sit and rot waiting for a non-existent buyer, or pollute and poison an area for expediency.
     Now to be a bit critical. When I hear other neopagans talking about being animists I tend to see some common flaws in the way it is being approached. Some people who use the term animist actually mean pantheist, that is they believe that there is one, unified, spirit in all things not individual spirits in all things. There is nothing wrong with pantheism, and in fact you can be both a pantheist and an animist, but confusing the two terms shows a basic lack of understanding of what animism is. Other people take animism to a personalized extreme, where instead of understanding that humans are no better or worse than other spirits they elevate all spirits to the privileged status humans tend to accord themselves in non-animist views. Not only is this perspective difficult to really apply to everything but it also makes life a guilt ridden experience, when you are seeing every rock, tree, and animal as having the right to life, liberty, and happiness that you see for yourself. Animism respects all spirits, but also contains the inherent understanding that all spirits have a place in the natural order which means some are used as firewood, building materials, or food - with appreciation for the use they offer to support other life. It is offensive to waste and to take for granted what others give for us to live, but the use itself is not offensive. Life is predicated on death, in a perpetual cycle; an animist understands and honors this, and our own place within it. In contrast others take what I might call a selective animism approach where they say they are animists but only credit certain things with spirits, generally based on their own fondness for the animal/plant/object in question or desire to avoid guilt about using others. And of course, as with all things, there are those who give the idea lip service and nothing more.
    I think neopaganism - indeed all religions - would benefit greatly from an animistic viewpoint. Animism in many ways gives us the best understanding of the true beauty and value of life - all life - and teaches us to honor what we need to live. It takes nothing for granted, but appreciates the cooperation needed between all things for life to continue. Animism avoids the dichotomous thinking that says a thing is either good or bad, or the view that all is good; it teaches us that there are good spirits and bad spirits, yes, but also that most spirits are simply spirits that will respond based on how they are treated. And most importantly animism disabuses us of the idea that we are privileged or special; whether we like it or not we are as valuable as everything else in the grand scheme of life.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Book review: Trance-portation

Trying to get back to my Monday book reviews, I've decided to review Diana Paxson's 2008 book Trance-portation: Learning to navigate the inner world. I was excited to read this book after it was released because I feel that there is a distinct need for this type of work. There are many books on the market that are intended to address guiding people through the beginner stages of trance and spiritual journey work, but I often feel that the subject is not handled well. Too many times the basics - grounding, centering, shielding, discernment, and such - are either over emphasized to the point that nothing else is addressed, or else the basics are glossed over in favor of more advanced material. In this work, however, there is a good balance between the essential basics and the necessary advanced steps that creates a very functional and useful manual for trance work.
    The book includes 13 sections: travel planning, crossing the threshold, getting started, trance-perception, there and back again, native guides, getting along in the culture, mapping the inner worlds, fellow travelers, destinations, your place or mine, going nowhere being everywhere, and road hazards. There are also three appendices: notes for the tour guides, guidance systems, and journeys to find allies. Each section follows logically from the previous one so that it works as an instruction manual or can be used as a reference by skipping to the section needed.
    This is an excellent book for those who wish to begin using trance and journey techniques and have no practical experience, but it is also useful for people who do have experience. The author does a thorough job of explaining the principles behind this type of spiritual work, but what makes this book such a good resource for practitioners of all levels is the practical advice. The book touches on common problems people face, includes cautions and protection ideas, as well as how to connect to Otherwordly spirits and deities, and what to expect. The tone of the book is very practical and full of anecdotal advice that illustrates the points in ways that are easier to understand than simple dry facts would be. I also really liked that while Diana's own approach is largely Norse the book is intentionally aimed at a general audience and can be applied to almost any spiritual path; a seidhr-worker should get as much out of this as someone coming from an Irish (or Celtic) view, or a modern neopagan.
   I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in beginning this type of work; this book will give the reader a firm foundation to work from. It includes suggestions for how to do trance work and also what to do trance work for, which was nice, as it includes ideas that might be new perspectives for some readers. Trance work is more than just wandering around the Otherworlds for personal enlightenment or seeking answers to questions and the book provides some good suggestions for other uses. I also very much liked the way the author encourages people to be safe and to use discernment both in the Journey and with anything gained form the Journey, as this can be an area that beginners fall into bad habits with.
    Overall I think this book is essential reading for anyone who does spiritual journey work, both as a great place to start and also as a good refresher for more experienced people. It is certainly the first book I recommend to those asking where to start and also one I re-read whenever I feel I need to. There isn't anything else on the market that is quite like this book.

Friday, November 2, 2012

the Third Day of Samhain - Life without electricity

  So hurricane Sandy has come and gone and my family is left without electricity. I spent the first day trying to take the romantic view and imagine that I was getting a feel for what life was like for my ancestors, but around the second day reality set in - my ancestors lived in homes designed without electricity, heated by fireplaces, with hearths to cook on. I do not. I am still trying to make the best of the situation, such as it is. As I have only random internet access when not at home I'm not in a position to put up any in depth blogs, but I will share how I have spent the first two days of Samhain and my plans for today.
  My town canceled trick or treating, as 90% of people have no power, and rescheduled it for next Monday. My children were very disappointed so I decided to make the best of it. We bought some candy and the girls trick or treated from room to room, which they enjoyed very much. Then we huddled around my laptop and watched It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown as a family, which was also more fun than anticipated. Finally we held a small but meaningful ritual for the first night of Samhain were we honored the wandering dead and the daoine sidhe. A small food offering was left out and the girls went to bed. I stayed up and held a second ritual to renew my oath as a Druid of the White Oak, a yearly practice since my initiation. This year I found myself reflecting more on everything that has come to pass in the past year, the things that have changed and the accomplishments and personal challenges that have filled my life.
   Last night, the second night of Samhain, we celebrated especially in honor of the Dagda and the Morrigan and their joining on Samhain before the second battle of Maige Tuired. I told the children stories about the Morrigan and the Dagda and talked about who each deity was and why we honor them. The girls shared that their "favorite" goddess is Brighid and we ended up talking about the Tuatha de Danann at some length, with me telling stories about different deities. My oldest daughter asked if there was a goddess associated with deer because she said she had dreamed about one, so I told her what I could about Flidias. We lit candles for the Gods and a special incense blend that I had made for the holiday as well and all in all had a very nice, if casual, ritual.
   Today is the third day of Samhain, the time when Irish folk belief tells us that our beloved dead come back to visit. Tonight we will set out an extra plate for any who visit and an extra chair. We will light the candles on the ancestor altar and I will tell my children stories about each of their family members who rest there, as many as I can remember for as long as they will listen. The dead never truly leave us until they are forgotten.
 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

After the Storm

  Hurricane Sandy is being described as one of the worst - possibly the worst - in history for my area due to extreme flooding on the shoreline. Long Island Sound created a bottleneck effect for the storm surge, which was amplified by an unusually high full-moon driven high tide. My family lives in an area that borders a town on the coast and it was disconcerting to here that the neighboring town had mandatory evacuations - something that has never happened before in my memory. Nonetheless we made it through all right, with no damage on our property. Others in the state were not as lucky and my heart goes out to the families of those killed and to the people dealing with massive property damage.
  Before and during the bulk of the storm I prayed and did what I could both mundanely and magically to secure my property and protect my family. All day yesterday we watched the wind increase and waited for the storm to make land fall. The day took on an anxious energy of its own as we waited for something dramatic to happen, and nothing did. We did not lose power, and while our neighbors' weeping willow fell, nothing in our yard was damaged, beyond the usual leaves and small branches coming down. As darkness fell everything intensified, until around 9 o'clock last night, when it began to slowly lessen.
    With my children in bed I decided to hold a full moon ritual, using the energy of the moon and storm to bless several objects. I could have done this in several different Druidic or recon styles but instead I used ritual style that blends witchcraft and the fairy faith; I used to do things this way often a long time ago, but now I very rarely use this approach. Although I have not done things this way in a long time, it is more organic and less structured and somehow felt right under the circumstances. So I went out in the wind and rain and called on the Lord and Lady of the Greenwood, the people of the Sidhe, as well as the spirits of each direction, and my ancestors, and I focused the enrgy of the storm, of the moon, of the tide, to charge certain talismans. There was something primal and beautiful about it and at the height of everything the clouds cleared away from the face of the moon, which shone down more brightly than I have ever seen it. It was a transcendant experience that I cannot possibly put into words. I am glad I followed my heart and didn't force myself to use a more formal ritual structure.
The full moon shining down after my ritual before the clouds returned
 
 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Prayer for Protection

 Well it looks like my area is going to get a late season hurricane, nicknamed "Frankenstorm". It seems appropriate now to post a prayer for protection. This is one of my own, based loosely on the style of the Carmina Gadelica.

   Prayer of Protection Against Storms
Protect, O mighty Gods,
Myself and everything near me,
My family and my home,
May we be safe through the storm,
   may we be safe through the storm
From every gust and gale,
From every flood and downpour,
From every tide and storm surge,
Through the day and darkest night,
   through the day and darkest night.
From every tree whose roots give way,
From every branch that breaks,
From every danger seen and unseen,
Shield us and keep us from harm
  oh, shield us and keep us from harm!

(if desired this can be added as well)
The keeping of the Gods of Power on us
The keeping of Danu always on us,
The keeping of Lugh and Dagda on us,
The keeping of the three Morrigan on us
And the keeping of Nuada the silver-armed on us
  King Nuada the silver-armed on us
The keeping of Brighid and Airmed on us
The keeping of all the Gods of Power
The keeping of the People of peace
The keeping of land, sea, and sky
And the ancestors watching over us
  and the ancestors watching over us.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Living Druidism and Self-identity

"Do réir a chéile a tógtar na caisleáin."

  I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to me to be a Druid, a title that for me represents a bridge between the ancient and the new. How does it shape my life? How does it affect me?
   This may seem like a simple question, but I've struggled to grasp it now for a while. It's like asking how does being a woman shape my life; it influences so many aspects of my being that it is, in its own way, an intrinsic part of who I am. I tend to favor seeing the word Druid as a title, but in some vital ways it has ceased to have that meaning for me - or rather has gone beyond that - and become part of who I am. I am a Druid. If I never held another ritual, if I never taught another class, if I never sought imbas, if I ceased every action that defines the word Druid for me, I would still be a Druid because the external actions have become only a reflection of the inner process. I do not know when this happened, or how, but I know it is true.
   So, how do I feel that my life reflects my religious path and role? I feel a driving responsibility to help those that need help. I teach. I run rituals for the public when I can. I care for the world I live in so that it will continue to be able to support all of us by recycling and living as best I can with nature. I try to be knowledgeable so that I can answer questions when people need answers. I hone my skills, be they magical or mundane, so that I can use them when they are needed. I do my best to serve my community when and how I can. I pass on what I know to my children and my students. I strive, not to live in harmony, but to nurture that which creates the best outcome for myself, my family, and my community. I actively use what I know and what I can do, magically, when I think it needs to be used. I pray to the Gods and spirits, make offerings, and do everything I can to nurture a strong relationship with them. But do my actions make me a Druid?
    Being a Druid is judged by others based on external actions; either I fit that individual's perception of what a Druid is or I don't. My actions are judged as a if they were my beliefs, yet they are only a reflection of my beliefs. I do not live an honorable life because its what's expected or to fulfill a standard, I live an honorable life because I know that is the best way to live. I know that everything has a spirit and so I honor those spirits. I know the beauty and fierceness, power and vastness of the Gods, and so I honor them in word and deed. I know that my ancestors are with me still and so I talk to them and include them in my life. I know the might and mystery of the daoine sidhe and so I respect them. I know that energy is endless and so I have learned how to understand magic as a tool and use it when I need it. I know that all things are connected and how to read those connections under certain circumstances. I know the paths and ways of the Otherworld. I can read the sky where I live, and understand the trees and plants. I know that great wisdom lives in the old stories and folktales, myths and legends. I listen and hear the song of the aos sidhe, look and see the flow of energy, feel the potential of life. I know these things in my heart and my mind, and I live them in my spirit; my actions are a reflection of this knowing. That is what makes me a Druid.
   There was a point in my life when I acted like I thought a Druid should act because I thought that was what made someone a Druid. I understand now that acting like a Druid and being a Druid are wholly different things. One is based only on action. The other is rooted in the soul.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Use of Stones and Crystals in Celtic folklore - part 1

  
In modern neopaganism and the new age movement using crystals and stones for healing is an almost ubiquitous practice. This can lead people who focus more on reconstruction to wonder what place this practice held, if any, with the ancients, in my case specifically the Irish and closely related Celtic cultures. When we look at the oldest sources, the accounts of the Greek and Roman writers all that is found is a reference to the fabled "Druid's Egg"*, an object that may or may not actually be a stone, said to be formed by the spit of snakes. On the otherhand when we look at slightly more recent folk practices from Ireland and Scotland we can find evidence of the use of stones and crystals for several purposes.
   Archeologists excavating Iron Age graves in England have found balls of "rock crystal" (clear quartz, I think) wrapped in bands of silver, or less often gold or bronze (Fraser Black, 1894). It is unknown what these were used for, whether they held a magical significance or were purely decorative, however similar balls of crystal were used in later periods in the belief that they could ensure victory in battle or bring healing. In Glenlyon there was such a wrapped crystal that was called either "Clach Bhaui" (powerful stone) or "Clach Buaidh" (victory stone); similarly another such stone is called the "Clach-na-Bratach" (stone of the standard) (Fraser Black, 1894).  The Clach-na-Bratach belongs to Clan Donnachaidh; it was found by the clan chief in 1315 on the way to battle and was believed to be a good omen, as such it was consulted before every following battle and carried into the fray until 1715 when an internal flaw noted (Fraser Black, 1894). After it was retired from battle it was noted that this stone also had healing powers especially for catle. There is also a named stone in Scotland called the Clach Dearg (red stone) which is reputed to have the ability to charge water with healing power, following a certain ritual process (Fraser Black, 1894). Some say the Clach Dearg was originally part of the wand of an arch Druid, while others believe it was imported from the east (McNeill, 1956). In Keppoch the MacKenzies are said to possess a healing stone associated with the holy well of Brighid, which would be dipped into the water from the well for a healing charm (McNeill, 1956). The majority of these stones range in size from one inch across to an inch and a half, and most are mounted with silver bands.
   When used for healing purposes we see both the above described crystals and also references to similarly sized but more oval or egg shaped crystals being used. Cure stones might be used in one of two ways, either dipped in water which was then drunk or otherwise used on the afflicted perosn or animal, or rubbed directly on the injured or ill body part. When used in water the stone was often wrapped with silver bands, usually four, with a loop for hanging or wearing; the crystal would be dipped into water, while the person chanted:
   "Let me dip thee in the water
   Thou yellow, beautiful gem of power!
   In water of purest wave,
   Which Bridget didn't permit to be contaminated.
  In the name of the Apostles twelve,
  In the name of Mary, Virgin of virtues,
   And in the name of the High Trinity
   And all the shining angels,
  A blessing on the gem,
  A blessing in the water, and
  A healing of bodily ailments to each suffering creature." (Fraser Black, 1894)

 For my own purposes I prefer to use a slightly different version:
 "Let me dip you in the water
   You beautiful gem of power!
    In water of purest wave,
   Which Brighid kept pure.
  A blessing on the gem,
   A blessing in the water, and
  A healing of bodily ailments
  to each suffering creature."

 Besides these crystals there is also a history of the use of other types of stones for healing. Generally the type of stone didn't matter, as they appear to be simple river stones or pebbles, but often the color seemed to be significant, with white as the most common, and black, green, and red also described. While color is the most common descriptive point there are specific examples in Scottish Charms and Amulets of certain types of stone used for certain purposes:
    "Iron stone" (possibly hematite or iron ore?) - cure all, held
    Basalt - healing horses
     Jet - curing diseases
    Shale/Coal - holed, protecting animals from witchcraft
    Fossilized shells- arthritis
    Flint - general ailments
    Amber - general healing, cure for snake bites, used for people and animals
    Quartz - heal all, victory, cures infertility
    Both saints Columba and Fillan were said to possess "curing stones", all white, which could heal when dipped in water which was then consumed. Saint Molio also possessed such a healing stone, but that one was green and was rubbed on the afflicted area to effect a cure; interestingly this stone is also said to grant victory in battle and is alleged to have belonged to Clan McDonald. Many churches had healing stones on their altars, and some could be found next to holy wells; these might resemble the body part they were best used to heal, such as the eye or heart (McNeill, 1956).
    In Scotland there are also accounts of several named curing stones: Clach Leigh (medicine stone) was a green tinged stone, Clach Ruaidhe (Red stone) was used for healing cows by rubbing it on the udder, and the Clach Spotaiche (spotted stone) was a piece of black basalt that was used in healing horses (Fraser Black, 1894). Whenever these or similar healing stones were used by rubbing  a charm might be said at the same time, such as this one from Strathspey:
  "Gu maith an diugh, 's fhearr am maireach;
   An deigh sin gun dad ach 'n larach."
 (This day well, next better,
  After that nothing but a scar) - Fraser Black, 1894

A similar use can be seen in Irish lore, but instead of a known curing stone, all the person needs is to find three green stones in a running stream, after midnight but before dawn, and in silence. These stones are rubbed on the afflicted body part, from the top down towards the feet, while the person  chants:
   "Wear away, wear away,
    There you shall not stay,
    Cruel pain - away, away" (Wilde, 1896)

   Less commonly curing stones might be used for other purposes. A type of curing stone was one used for curing infertility. One example from Scotland is an egg shaped quartz that was passed from one "wise woman" to another upon death, and was used by placing the stone in running water (preferrably south-flowing) in which the woman would then wash her feet (Fraser Black, 1894). Stones of rock crystal would also be drilled to create a hole and then worn to protect against the evil eye (McNeill, 1956). The famed stone of the Brahan Seer was a white stone with a hole in it, said to be a gift of the fairies, through which he could divine the future (McNeill, 1956).
   These stones are described as being worn and carried in the pocket, but may also recieve special care. One curing stone was said to be kept in a locked chest, wrapped in linen and then wool (Fraser Black, 1894). Another was said to be wrapped in cloth, kept in a silk bag, and wrapped in a napkin (Fraser Black, 1894). In many cases they were passed down in families as an heirloom, and if they were well known people might come from great distances away for the offered healing.

References:
Fraser Black, G., (1894). Scottish Charms and Amulets
McNeill, F., (1956). The Silver Bough, volume 1
 Wilde (1896). Irish Cures, Mystic Charms & Superstitions

*McNeill does reference "clach nathrach" (serpent stone) also called  a Druidical bead said to be created in the same way, by snakes, but found in Scotland on the ground, possibly referring to a common type of stone of an unknown (to me) type. This stone was used to protect against enchantments, for healing, and for childbirth.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sacred Tattooing

 I have always seen tattooing as a sacred process, a way to permanently embed images and symbols into the flesh that have a transcendent meaning. All of my tattoos contain this level of meaning and are first and foremost for me spiritual and secondarily art work. Even the proces of being tttooed has spiritual implications for me, and I have often approached the experience as an offering to the gods and spirits. There is, so far, no concrete evidence of the Celtic peoples using tattooing but there is evidence of tattooing in similar cultures, including the Picts which made me want to explore the concept of tattooing in the ancient world, specifically in Europe.
 

The earliest know tattoo work found was on the so-called Ice Man, a preserved body found in the area between Italy and Austria. This body was dated to 3000 BCE, making it over 5000 years old(Lineberry, 2007). The body displayed tattooed patterns on the lower back, knee, and ankle which led researchers to conclude the tattoos were mostly therapeutic in nature, being placed on areas with signs of degeneration (Lineberry, 2007). From this it would seem that the earliest tattoos could have been used in a medicinal fashion, although exactly how can only be guessed at.

   Additionally tattooing was believed to have been used among the Scythians and Picts. Several preserved Scythian bodies have been found dating as far back as 2400 BCE and both the male and female bore tattoos, in some cases very elaborate, depicting animals and mythic images (Lineberry, 2007). In his writings Herodotus remarked that among the Scythians "tattoos were a mark of nobility, and not to have them was testimony of low birth.”.  This could indicate that by the time Herodotus was writing - around 450 BCE - tattooing had become a sign of social standing. The stylized images seen in the Scythian tattoos are the same as those seen in other Scythain artwork, indicating that the tattoos reflected larger social concepts and symbolism (Kromarik, 2003). In the case of the Picts less is known with certainty because no preserved bodies have been found. Writings from secondary sources indicate that Pictish tattoos, like the Scythian, were a symbol of status and that they included images of animals (Lineberry, 2007). Herodian, writing around 200 CE says that the Celts  'draw figures of animals or symbols on their skin by pressing hot iron onto their limbs, causing great pain, and over this they rub the sap of a plant'. (Green, 2012). While this account is questionable because the writer never traveled to any of the Celtic lands and was likely repeating another person's experience there are other Roman sources that mention the use of iron implements to create permanent marks, which means it was either a widespread belief by the Romans or may have been the actual practice. As late as 600 CE a Christian bishop noted the practice of tattooing among the Picts, mentioning a process similar to that cited by Herodian, except pricking was used in place of hot iron (Green, 2012).

   Other cultures that used tattoos included the Egyptians, Nubians, and some areas of the Americas. Tattooing would later spread to the Greeks and Romans, initially as a way to mark a person as being dedicated to a temple or as a slave (Lineberry, 2007). However the advent of Christianity slowly discouraged the practice of tattooing which was seen as defiling the body, although it is seeing a modern resurgence.
   The true meaning behind ancient tattoos in many of these cultures will never be known, but we do know that tattooing was a common practice among some ancient cultures. The evidence also supports the theory that these tattoos, particularly among the Picts and Scythians, were more than mere decoration. Whether the Irish Celts tattooed or not we may never know. I am comfortable with my own view of the sacredness of tattooing and will undoubtedly continue to add spiritually meaningful tattoos to my own body.



References:
 Lineberry, C., (2007). Tattoos. Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/tattoo.html
 Kromarik, K., (2003). History of Tattooing. Retrieved from  https://www.msu.edu/~krcmari1/individual/history.html
 Green, T., (2012). Ancient Celtic Tattooing. Retrived from http://www.tattoosymbol.com/celtic/ancient_celtic.html

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Child's Eye View of the Faery Faith

My newest book - a children's book about the fairy faith and its modenr application for pagans - has just been released in its electronic edition here https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/243674 . It's intended for children between the ages of 8 and 12 and includes activities and vocabulary relating to the topic.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Thoughts on the Testament of Morann


     The Testament of Morann is the advice given to a king on how to rule well. At first glance this piece may seem simple and may also seem like something that doesn't apply to anyone not planning to rule, but in fact much wisdom can be gained from studying this text. The first section discusses the power of reciprocity and the benefits gained from holding to the ideal of Truth. The second section teaches the new king how to judge well and by what measure to judge all things. The final section discusses superior things and the four types of kingship. When taken as a whole these sections help us to see the right order of the world and how to maintain it.
     It is important to understand why the first section looks at both the power of reciprocity and the power of Truth, because although these two concepts are often viewed as separate, in reality they expressions of one ideal. Reciprocity is the universal balance that is maintained; when we give, we get in return. Truth is the equilibrium of the universe, it is the pivot point on which reciprocity rests. Each one exists as an expression of the other and neither could exist without the other. Within the text this is expressed through lines such as “Let him exalt mercy, it exalth him” which teach us that the characteristics we embody will in turn be drawn to us and “It is through the truth of the ruler that milk-yields of great cattle are maintained.” Which shows us that is through the manifestation of Truth that reciprocity yields positive things for the king's subjects. On a smaller scale this can be found to hold true within the lives of each individual and each Druid; when we speak and live Truth our lives will reflect blessings and we will draw to us the things we embody.
      The second section focuses on the king’s judgment of all things within his kingdom. At first glance this may seem superfluous to many of us but in fact much wisdom is hidden in these lines, for the king is urged to judge all things by their own produce as we can see from lines like “Let him estimate the earth by its fruits”. This is good advice for anyone, because it urges us to judge anyone or anything only by the end product, surely a method to reach a fair and impartial judgment. If we seek to judge not through emotion nor based on the item or person themselves, but only on the result or product, then we will judge fairly and well.
     The final section is the most poetic of the piece, opening with the lines
     “Darkness yields to light
       Sorrow yields to joy
       An oaf yields to a sage
       A fool yields to a wise man
       A serf yeilds to a free man
       Inhospitality yields to hospitality”.
    These also contain deep wisdom if studied. The first two lines set up our understanding of the rest of the wisdom we are shown, for indeed darkness yields to light and sorrow to joy by their own nature and just so does a fool yield to a wise man. This is not a statement about the intelligence of men or about the choices people make in different situations, but rather it is a commentary on the natural order of the world and how one condition or person yields to another. This segment then segues into a description of 15 characteristics that the king should have, followed by a list of ten things that “extinguish” the rule of a bad king; when studied closely we can see that these ten are reciprocal benefits of the 15 things listed in the previous line, reinforcing that to exemplify certain characteristics is to draw blessings to our lives. The writer then proclaims that the king “may die” and “will die”, and “may depart” and “will depart” but that what matters is how he rules for that is how he will be remembered. This is important advice for us all to remember, because we will all die one day and it is by our actions during life that we will be judged by those who come after us. And final this last section discusses four types of rulers: the true ruler, the wily ruler, the oppressive ruler, and the bull ruler. We can also look at this in broader terms as describing four types of people in general; the one who lives by truth, the one who lives by doing what is in their own best interest, those who live by force and outside control of others, and those who are in constant conflict with others.
    The Testament of Morann holds much wisdom for living as a good king, or as a good Druid. It shows us how to live in Truth, judge wisely, to seek the natural order, and describes the four types of rulers.  Knowing all of this it is up to us to choose which of the four “types” of people we want to strive to be. If we want to be a person who lives by Truth then this work gives us many of the tools to find that path and master the wisdom needed for it; in the end whether we seek to be a good ruler, a good Druid, or a good person all of these tools will be needed.

Monday, October 1, 2012

the Good Neighbors

  
I've written before about how I approach honoring the ancestors and various Gods, and I have written before about some of my thoughts on the spirits of the Otherworld, but I've never really discussed directly how I percieve those spirits or honor them. Since the Good Neighbors comprise a huge aspect of my own personal practice I feel like I really should discuss it here. Or perhaps I am just feeling brave today, as it is said that one should not discuss one's own personal experiences.
   First off I cannot emphasize enough that my view of the Fairies is very different from most other modern pagans, at least in my own experience. I have what I call an "old school" approach to them that is perfectly in line with what you'll find in Irish folklore and writing from 100 years ago by authors like Yeats and Wilde but is generally at odds with the belief in modern paganism. For me the term "fairy" is something of a catch-all that can describe any being that is not a human nor clearly catagorized as a deity, angel, or the like. Fairies can be or appear as animals or as giants, as tiny people or as very human seeming. Fairy beings often seem mercurial to humans because they operate on an entirely different culture and ettiquette system than we do. They can be cruel and vicious, or generous and kind. Some of them are helpful. Some are indifferent. And some of them think we make a very tasty meal indeed. And all of them take being insulted or disrespected very badly.
   To quote the movie Labyrinth:
Sarah: Ow! It bit me!
Hoggle: What'd you expect fairies to do?
Sarah:  I thought they did nice things, like... like granting wishes.
Hoggle:  Shows what you know, don't it?
   Pretty much like that. Except sometimes much more frightening. It always surprises me that people want to have close dealings with fairies, as its a risky thing at best for most and if you study the Celtic Fairy Faith it becomes clear that most of the honoring was done to avoid mischief or as appeasement, not to draw them in. In fact many people avoid saying the word fairy or naming a specific type of fairy for fear of drawing their attention; instead a nickname is used that invokes a pleasant image, such as Mother's Blessing or the Gentry. Fairies can cause madness, can torment a person or animal, and can cause seemingly invisible injuries, called elfshot, which might manifest as sudden unexplainable pain or cramping in a leg or arm. Strokes were once even thought to be the result of elfshot.
   Why would anyone choose to offer to them or deal with them? Well on the one hand some of them are capable of doing great harm and its not a bad idea to be on their good side to avoid that, when possible. On the other they can bless a person with great luck or fortune, or even (as in the cases of the old Fairy Doctors) with knowledge of healing and magic. And for most pagans and magic workers its probably a good idea to have some knowledge of the Fey and to be respectful, to maintain good relations as it were.
   Me personally? I have been aware of them for so long that they are simply another part of my life, thanks to what the Irish call the second sight. I also have what can best be described as an ancestral connection in that area that shapes how I approach the subject. By the time I was old enough to start reading the written material that's out there like the Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries or Yeat's Celtic Twilight I found that it was only reflecting my own experiences, and that became not only my measuring stick to judge other books by but also a guide as I grew older on how to behave properly towards them. And yes I have had real world experiences, some good and some not so much. I've been pixie-led, I've seen fairy hounds both black as night and shining white, I've encountered land spirits of various sorts, and more. For me honoring and interacting with the Fey is done as much out of inevitability as choice, but I can honestly say that it's never been boring.
      So who, exactly do I offer to and how do I see them? The Good Neighbors (the Gentry, the Fair Folk) look much like Tolkein's elves but without the pointed ears and seem to be a kind of cousin of the Norse alfar.  Some of them take an interest in a person or family and will offer help and guidance, even when the person doesn't listen or goes against the helpful advice. With the Fair Folk either they like you or they do not, there is no real influencing it, although they can certainly be angered by anyone. Land spirits often take the form of an animal and sometimes of a person, but seem more primal in their nature than the Fair Folk with their structured culture. In my experience land spirits have amore territorial feeling to them which immediately sets them apart from other types of fairies, and they seem to prefer more natural offerings. And of course there are also house spirits that can be offered to, and who may appear in diverse forms, usually smaller, and can effect the luck of a home.
   Now that I have explained my perspective on Otherworldly beings in general and the Good Neighbors, land spirits and house spirits in specific, on to how I honor them. I have two places I leave offerings, a hawthorn tree in my yard that has been made into a kind of clootie tree and an indoor altar created expressly for the purpose of honoring the aos sidhe, et al., Indoors I will light candles and offer food; they seem to like candy and baked goods, although for the Good Neighbors I sometimes offer jewelry. They also all seem to like milk, cream, and alcohol, with milk and cream being traditional offerings. Outside I will leave baked goods like bread or cakes, and will tie things into the branches of the tree as offerings, such as bells. I make at least one offering each week on a certain day, and additional ones on holy days and special occassions. I also do my best to remember to pay attention and listen, and I have recieved many useful messages this way; additionally of course I interact with them during spiritual journeys when I am traveling out into their space, so to speak.
    I follow the belief that we should not say "thank you" to any being of Faery as it is dismissive and they don't seem to appreciate it, so when I call them in ritual, which I do, I always end by saying "May there be peace and friendship between us." I always make some sort of offering. And I always do my best to follow the various geasa associated with working with the daoine sidhe and the personal ones I have accumulated. I could not fairly say that I am closer to the daoine sidhe than the ancestors or Gods, but I can say that while the others wax and wane in interest and attention the Otherworldly spirits are a constant for me. There is probably some irony in that somewhere.