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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.

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."

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 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.

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

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 . It's intended for children between the ages of 8 and 12 and includes activities and vocabulary relating to the topic.

Monday, September 17, 2012

book review - the CR FAQ

   Today's book review will focus on the single most recommended book for Celtic recons, the CR FAQ. This really is one of those "must read" books for anyone interested in Celtic recon, and is the product of the collaborative efforts of some of the founding members of this approach to Celtic religion. It was published in 2007 in print and appears free online at
     One of the best things about this book is its flexibility. It can be read straight through or used as a reference with a very thorough table of contents and in depth index making looking up anything simple. The format itself is a typical question and answer FAQ style allowing for the reader to identify a printed question that is similar to what he or she is curious about and then read the answer. However, as I stated earlier, the book also lends itself well to cover-to-cover reading.
    The book begins by defining CR, Celtic, and reconstruction, giving someone new to the concepts a basis to understand the concepts. The next section looks at basic questions like whether Celtic ancestry is necessary, whether there is a particular "holy" text, solitary versus group practice, clergy and lay people, etc., This is followed by a section of intermediate questions, including a look at the place of UPG, and then sections on misconceptions, theology, ritual, ethics, druids and druidry, the difference between CR and other religions, how to get into CR, as well as a reading list and pronunciation guide. All of the topics touched on are common questions about CR and make reading the FAQ a good idea for beginners. Even after years of practice and community participation I still re-read it regularly just to re-connect with certain ideas within it.
   Generally I like the book and I like that it is willing to tackle difficult issues like cultural appropriation. If it has one drawback it is the nature of the book itself - it is a FAQ and not a definitive guide to practicing CR, but then again, there is no definitive guide (nor could there be with the diverse nature of CR itself). Also each answer is fairly short and concise; there are no in depth essays on CR beliefs or practices. A person looking for a detailed explanation of how to practice will be disappointed, but for anyone who is curious about what CR is, or  looking for a place to start creating an individual practice, or even someone new to the online or real world CR community that is just looking for an understanding of how it all works, this is the best place to start.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Miscellaneous Reflections

 This week has been one of those weeks, the kind that is simultaneously excellent and horrible, the kind that almost forces me into deep reflections on life that are both painful and freeing. Looking back over the last week I am left with some good insights but no surety about how to implement or integrate any of them.
Hawthorn in the rain

  I have been saying for awhile now that I need to pull back, do less, and remember how to relax; instead I scheduled this past week to the limit. The universe, with its epic sense of humor added in a comic series of car problems and computer issues to spice things up. In pushing myself to the extreme of commitments it really drove home to me that I have got to make some changes in my life. It's been so long since I relaxed and just had fun that I really can't even remember what those things are like, beyond a few minutes here and there. I value the concept of fun, yet I am a horrible example of embracing it. This past week of utter scheduling madness drove home to me that something has to give and I need to get the fun back. I realized that I have made doing things for everyone else a priority and I let every day go by telling myself that tomorrow I will do the things I want to do...except, that "tomorrow" rarely seems to arrive.
   This reflection is no doubt influenced by the news that someone I knew had died, losing a sudden fight with cancer. I had not even known he was sick, so the news that he was gone was truly shocking. He was the sort of person that made you smile and enjoyed making other people happy. The world is a poorer place without him in it.
  Thinking about his death did emphasize my own way of spending all my time on others and none on myself. I am horrible at making myself a priority and I am just as bad at relaxing and enjoying my time. It also made me realize that I should be more grateful for the good things I have in my life, when it is so easy to let the negative overwhelm everything else. To this end I have begun starting every day by acknowledging one specific thing in my life that I am thankful for. I spend at least a few minutes really thinking about what that means to me and for me and how I can make sure that I am honoring it in my life. This morning's focus was gratitude for a women's spirituality group I co-run with a friend and the insights that are gained by having a peer group to meet with and talk to. I am truly grateful to have the people in that group in my life and to have the group itself as a resource and support.
   That group met last night and discussed energy, energy work, how we manifest positive or negative in our own lives, and good and bad experiences we have had. In the course of talking about one of the worst experiences I have had I gained a profound insight into what drives me to want to know how to handle any situation or answer any question. When I was 16 I accidently got a friend possessed by an angry ghost during a very ill-advised late night attempt at a seance (my idea); at the time I had no idea how to fix it and was very, very lucky that it ended well when it could have gone very badly. People in my life now tend to see my knowledge and willingness to find answers to their questions as a positive, but I realize after last night that it is driven largely by fear of letting other people down or of failing them. I am still unsure how exactly this knowledge will play out in my life, but I think that it does contribute to the pressure I put on myself. I need to learn to relax, and perhaps part of that is also letting other people be responsible for themselves instead of playing out an 18 year old guilt driven by this feeling - this burden - of trying to make up for a long past mistake.
  In other good news my oldest daughter turned 9 and I had an absolute blast on the New Normal podcast. I saw several friends I have not seen in far too long. And I have, maybe, started to really understand where my priorities need to be in life and what actually matters.
    I encourage everyone to do some reflecting on your own lives and how your time is spent - what you find might surprise you.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Faeries - on the New Normal

I'm very excited to say that tonight I will be on the blog radio show the New Normal tonight discussing Faeries. I met Tchipikkan at the first Changing Times, Changing Worlds conference in 2010; she was one of the organizers and teachers, and I was teaching several classes, including one on Faeries and the Celtic Otherworld. Last year she and I were both at CWPN's  Harvest Gathering and she sat in on my Faeries class there. When she contacted me about speaking on the show Faeries seemed like a great choice of topic and I can't wait to discuss it with her and to hear from anyone who calls in.

Here is the announcement from the show:
"I do believe in Fairies!"
Join me, Tchipakkan, and my guest Morgan Daimler as we talk about the Fair Folk, Good Neighbors, the Fae, Sidhe, pixies, brownies, or by many other names. We'll be talking about their history, stories about them, as well as our interactions with them. ("Where are my keys?!") You can listen on your computer at and call into the show at 619-639-4606 with questions, or to share your own experiences with the fae. The show with Morgan will be live: Wednesday, Sept. 12, between 8 and 9 est. (or find podcasts of the New Normal on blogtalkradio/liveparanormal)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Artio, Germano-Celtic Bear Goddess

  Sometimes the deities we feel drawn to worship are fairly well known in mythology or can easily be read about in secondary sources material, but other times we are drawn to deities that are obscure. This is the case with one of the main deities I work with, a Germano-Celtic goddess named Artio; in practical terms it means that I have a scant few references to work with and must make up the difference with personal gnosis and experience. I have hesitated to write too much in the past about Her because I knew that it would mean talking about personal practices that were developed through inspiration more than research, but it seems only fair now to offer what I know and my own experiences. Perhaps it will help others who feel drawn to or called by this particular obscure deity to feel more connected to Her.
     Artio is also called Dea Artio and Andarta all names that relate to or directly mean "bear" (Monaghan, 2004). One of the best known pieces of evidence relating to Artio is an engraved statue found near Berne, Switzerland. The statue depicts a seated female figure, generally thought to be the goddess, holding a basket of fruit, facing a bear who is standing in front of a tree; an engraving on one side of the statue says: "to the goddess Artio" (Green, 1992). A second find with in inscription was found in Bollendorf, Germany, and other evidence was in France (Green, 1992; Monaghan, 2004). While the areas Artio has been found in could be considered Germanic, the name is Gallic, and She is generally described as either Germano-Celtic or Romano-Gaulish (I favor the former myself). Although the imagery of the statue is obscure and there is a lack of literary evidence, most agree that Artio was likely a goddess of fertility and plenty, and possibly a patroness of hunters as well as protector of bears (Green, 1992; Markale, 1986). Some also theorize that She was a more general goddess of the wilderness and wild things (Monaghan, 2004). Sources agree that She was also seen in the form of a bear, with Sjoestedt placing her in the category of zoomorphic goddesses alongside Epona (Sjoestedt, 1949). It seems likely that the bear goddess, Artio, was eventually replaced by a bear god, Artaios who was synchretized by the Romans to Mercury (Markale, 1986).
     My connection to Artio comes through my seidhr work. When I first seriously began to practice seidhr I decided I needed to find out who or what was willing to act as a guide and protector for me. I already had a close working relationship with my Fylgja and with certain plant and animal spirits, but I suspected that taking this sort of spiritual work in a new direction would involve new Powers, beyond Odin and Freya who were already involved. I undertook a spiritual Journey and encountered a bear who was also a woman, simultaneously. She told me that she would be with me for any seidhr or spae work that I did and that her name was Arto. I had never heard that name before, but I knew that Art meant bear so I didn't think much of it. I was also told that when I did oracular spae work I should wear a bear skin instead of a veil. I assumed she was some sort of powerful spirit, and was happy that I had someone willing to be with me in this work.

    By coincidence (or synchronicity) shortly after this experience I came across a fossilized cave bear tooth for sale and I bought it and made a necklace from it which I have since worn whenever doing any seidhr or spae. The bear fur was, suffice to say, much more difficult to find but did come to me in due time and I use it as I was told to.  I even recently had a dream where I "won" a bear skull and was instructed to feed it by blooding it; I'm waiting to see if such a skull finds its way to me in the real world or not. I later found out that Artio was an actual historic Goddess, although there is nothing in the scant records to indicate a definite connection to any type of oracular or magical work associated with Her. I don't know why I was surprised that I ended up contacting an obscure Germano-Celtic goddess, since, in retrospect, that makes perfect sense as the sort of deity for me with my dual-trad ways. I can comfortably honor her in either a Celtic or Norse (Germanic) context, which is nice. This connection has always worked for me and I feel very protected by Her in seidhrworking and also very connected to the bear. Although I will say that my personal experiences with Her show that She can be both tender and protective and also very intense. I have encountered Her in the Spiritworld and been dismembered, for example, but I have also been healed; I have had Her in bear form charge at me roaring so that I was literally too terrified to move or even think, but She has also been very gentle with me.
  I have a small shrine for Her with a collection of carved bear statues and the best image I could find of a goddess and bear. I also honor Her especially on the equinoxes. In the spring I celebrate the awakening of the bear on the spring equinox with a ritual for her that includes offerings of honey and bread. In September I celebrate the dreaming of the bear on the fall equinox with offerings of fresh fruit and vegetables. This is purely my own invention, although my kindred has adopted the practice along with me. We all practice seidhr together and have adopted Artio as a group, which seems to be working well.
   Honoring Artio has forced me to trust my own intuition more and to be willing to follow my gut as I find ways to connect to a deity where there is very little existing historic information to rely on. I have also learned a great deal about bears as I worked on learning about the animal most strongly connected to this deity. Bears are amazing animals, and I have found female bears particularly interesting; they are devoted mothers and excellent teachers, verstaile and intelligent. Bears have several biological quirks, not only do they hibernate, but a female bear can delay pregnancy after fertilization through a process that scientists are still trying to understand. I encourage anyone drawn to Artio to begin studying bears as well (I've focused mostly on black bears because they are native to my region).

Sjoestedt, M (1949). Celtic Gods and Heroes
Markale, J., (1986). Women of the Celts
Green, M., (1992). Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend
Monaghan, P., (2004). Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

book review - The Nature of Asatru

 Time for another book review. This time I decided to update and share a review I did 5 years ago in the journal Idunna for a book by Mark Puryear called "The Nature of Asatru". If you have read and liked this book don't even bother reading this review, because I can summarize it concisely by saying that I feel this is the Asatru equivalent of the 21 Lessons of Merlin.
   Looking at the back of the book it seems like it should be an ideal beginner's book; Puryear has almost 20 years experience in Asatru and is a member of a group, the Asatru Nation, which is an American offshoot of Australia's Odinic Rite. The book is touted as an  introduction to the core values of Asatru, yet it quickly becomes apparent when reading the text that instead of describing widely held universal beliefs of Asatru the book is actually focused exclusively on the beliefs of Puryear's particular group, which are not in any way universal. Exactly the opposite in fact - the book is full of controversial theories, misinformation, and foreign elements. The author is also insistent that Asatru has no subgroups or denominations, despite the wide range of modern practices, and lumps all Asatruar in with the Asatru Nation/Odinic Rite. This by itself is a serious problem.
   The book's tone is both racist and homophobic, reinforcing the stereotype that Asatruar are all like this. Puryear blends a bizarre sort of political correctness in with his bigotry, encouraging tolerance of other people's choices while strongly condemning miscegeny and homosexuality. He describes children with mixed heritage as having no ancestral roots and miscegeny as genocide and stops just short of encouraging people of Northern European descent to breed together to save their "race". He does flatly state that the "white race" is failing due to being outbred and not keeping the bloodlines pure. The attempts to make this more palatable with politically correct buzz words fails, at least with me. Personally as someone of mixed heritage I found it repugnant and offensive, and his wife's essay in the appendices about a woman's place compounded it by adding misogyny into the mix, albeit cleverly disguised.
   The book includes many elements that seem to me to be foreign to Asatru, although I profess a very minimal knowledge of the Odinic Rite; it is possible that this is the norm for that group. Puryear says that the gods meet daily to judge the souls of the dead and assign them a place in the afterlife; not something I've heard anyone else supporting. He also very strongly divides Norse magic into "good" galdr and "evil" seidhr, going so far as to say that Gullveg was burned by the Aesir as a punishment for teaching evil seidhr to humanity. (Apperantly he ignores Freya teaching seidhr to Odin). He describes Helheim as a land of bliss. He adds nine vices to the accepted 9 noble virtues and these vices appear to be an odd mix of the Christian 10 commandments and deadly sins. He describes the Aesir and Vanir as nearly-archetypal deities of goodness, with Loki as the opposing force of pure evil He also inaccurately claims that there are no modern followers or cults to Loki. The author's ideas about orlag seem to me to be closer to the Wiccan concept of the law of 3 than the common heathen views, with his belief that orlag is about what we put out coming back to us. He also divides offerings into four catagories based on the four classical elements of earth, air, fire, and water, which struck me as being very odd.
   The book's mythology was heavily influenced by the writings of Viktor Rydburg, who attempted to homogenize all Norse and Germanic mythology into a single system, with predictable results. Rydburg is not widely accepted in mainstream heathenry, yet the book presents his theories as facts without any explanation of the source material or normal views. Puryear describes Frigga as the sister of Njordh and mother of Freya, Frey, and 8 others with him, for example, which is not a widely held belief in heathenry. He equates Gullveg to Angrboda and lists Gullveg as the mother of Loki's children; in turn he says that Hel is not Loki's daughter but rather that Urd rules Helheim with Loki's daughter, named Leiken, as a minor servant. He describes Baldr as the most popular heathen god and relegates Tyr to the role of warrior and son of Odin, while denying his role as god of justice and god of the Thing which are the widely accepted views of Tyr. He describes Skadi, who is normally viewed as giantess who married into the Aesir, as the daughter of Volund (the smith) and Idunna. In his book Sunna and Mani are alfs and their mother is Nott (or Nat) who he claims is actually Ostara. I could go on, but hopefully that is enough to demonstrate the odd material presented on the gods, the majority of which is not widely accepted by the larger community. I think presenting it as if it were fact or accepted lore does a great disservice to beginners who will not realize that these are not popular beliefs.
    Facts that should have been easily checked are wrong, such as the authors assertion that the most common modern and ancient method of humane animal sacrifice is beheading the animal - this statement is followed by a rambling discussion of the guillotine. The book itself is inly 127 pages long, follwed by an equally long appendices which include an essay by the author's wife about a heathen woman's place (in the home caring for her family) and a cobbled-together version of the Havamal.
    In short this book is the last thing a beginner should read as it is often off-putting, offensive, confusing, and factually incorrect. While it is always best to start with the myths themselves - the poetic and prose Eddas are generally recommended - both volumes of Our Troth and Diana Paxson's book Essential Asatru would also be good for those just developing an interest in Asatru.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Book Review: The World of the Druids

  I haven't done a book review since last month so I thought it was about time to do another. This review will look at Miranda Green's book The World of the Druids, which was published in 1997. The book is divided into 10 sections that cover everything from what we know about ancient Druids to the Druidic revival and modern Druids. Of particular interest may be the sections on Celtic cosmology and theology, female Druids, and evidence of ritual sacrifice. At 192 pages the book is fairly short and very easy to read, with an impressive selection of images (291 to be exact) that support the text.
    Green's strength is archeology so it should come as no surprise that she spends more time discussing archeological evidence than many other similar books do. This is something of a catch-22 in a book on Druidism as there is very little definitvely "Druidic" material that can be identified from ancient sites, leaving much up to guess and supposition. The advantage to the reader however is the material covered that relates more broadly to Celtic culture and can provide insight into dress, jewelry, and lifestyle as well as religion (broadly) while remaining in an easily accessible format. Unlike books that are intended to focus on archeological evidence this book largely avoids being dry or overly complicated, and is fairly easy to read and follow.
     I also liked that Green is very clear about the difficulty with many of the sources, including archeology, before offering that material. She doesn't downplay the issues that we have with the sources available to us that provide the only real information we have about the Druids. She is also clear that even defining who was and wasn't "Celtic" historically is complicated, saying, "...defining the world of the ancient Celts depends upon three categories of evidence, all of which need to be used cautiously because they are incomplete and sometimes ambiguous." (Green, p 11, 1997). She does provide a solid amount of literary references from Greek and Roman writers, as well as native Celtic myth.
     Green approaches defining the historic Druids by establishing who the Celts were at that time and what their beliefs were, and then uses that context to describe the Druids and their role in soceity. She uses archeology, Greek and Roman writings, and Welsh and Irish myths to do this. I can appreciate the value of this approach as context is vital to understanding any group functioning within a larger society, such as the Druids. The book is honestly worth reading just for the insight into Celtic culture that Green provides, but she does do a fair job of explaining the Druids' place as well.
    The book finishes up with chapters on the Druid revivial and modern Druidism, both of which are fascinating. Although not nearly as in depth as other works, of course, it does provide a good overview of more recent Druidic history and would serve as a good introduction to the topic. The focus here is on Druids in England specifically, so anyone looking for information about the Druid revivals in other areas will have to look elsewhere.
     I think that as a book on Druids this one is of moderate value, but is a better resource on Celtic culture. I can think of other books on historical and modern Druids that I would recommend first, but this one is nice in its brevity and inclusion of both historic and modern practices. I would, however, recommend it more highly as an introduction to ancient Celtic culture and religion, which is more of the book's strength than strictly Druidism. For someone just venturing into this area of study this book is a good place to start.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Feeling crafty - an alternative Lughnasa

The Lughnasa wreath experiment

 So it's getting close to Lughnasa again and this year I am trying something a little bit different. Usually my Lughnasa involves a family picnic and either some hiking and plant collecting or some age appropriate physical games. This year though we are facing health problems on several fronts that make an active outdoor Lughnasa much more complicated so I decided we needed  a back-up plan. I noticed several people talking about Lughnasa as a time for both the traditional activity of bread baking and also of crafting, and I thought maybe this would be a good direction to go in.
   I am researching how to make my own bread from scratch and plan to make some for Lughnasa. My friends have had several great suggestions about how to approach this new project and I truly appreciate all the advice I've gotten, from recipes to how to properly get the dough to rise. Also - great advice indeed - to have several trial runs before cooking for the actual holy day. I'll be sure to post after Lughnasa to let you all see how it goes.
   Another inspiration I had was to try embroidery, after a good friend suggested it was an easy sowing craft to get into. I went to the store today to look for supplies and I admit I lost my nerve; the array of options was a bit too overwhelming for me without having a certain idea of what I was doing. But when I saw a set of grape wreathes I had a bit of an inspiration for a craft I have done before which can be time consuming but is easy and fun - making my own decorated wreath. I decided to pick up some basic supplies and give it a go today to see how it was and get a better plan for what to do with it on Lughnasa next week. The children wanted to make one too so we purchased a large wreath and a small one, ribbon, and assorted fake flowers. The easiest shape I know how to make on such a wreath is a basic star, so that is what we did, although I am now trying to figure out how to do a more complicated shape, perhaps a triquetra. The project was fun and not too difficult and the girls enjoyed it, so I will definitely start planning a more intricate version for the holiday.
The children's wreath

    Since I had the ribbon I also decided to decorate a blank book, as the one I have for keeping notes on my Druidic material is nearly full and needs a second volume. This is something I have done many times before and something I enjoy doing; I had never really thought of it as crafty, per se, but as I was working on it I found myself reflecting on the different ways that Lughnasa crafts can be expressed. Perhaps there is something appropriate in making decorative wreath to bless my home and a book to write about my spirituality in on a holiday associated with harvesting; certainly I found myself reflecting on the year and what I have harvested in my own life. I think next week on the actual holiday I will intentionally work this retrospective aspect into the craftwork, perhaps as a discussion with my children where we can all share our thoughts on the past few months.
The cover of the new book - the image is from a greeting card

The inside cover of the new book - image is also a greeting card

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Book Review: Through the Faerie Glass

  Yesterday I read Through the Faerie Glass by Kenny Klein, a book I had high hopes for and very much wanted to like. Unfortunately it didn't live up to my expectations. I decided to review it here to share my thoughts on it with everyone.
   This book is a truly mixed bag, with good material and points side by side with bad. One of the most frustrating things when reading it is that the author often states information without any references of sources, leaving the reader unable to track down how factual something is, or what an idea is based on. His bibliography is extensive but random, with everything from the Rees's Celtic Heritage and Yeats to the Bible and modern fiction novels. It is also difficult at many points to follow what the author is saying as he will make one statement at one point and then a contradictory statement later; he goes around and around about the Fey being human folk memories of people meeting more primitive peoples, or being Gods, or being supernatural, for example, intermixing theories together and stating them each on their own. He is particularly set on the Faeries being the ancient Picts who were driven into the hills, he says, by the Celts and their iron technology, although he also says the Picts themselves may be Otherworldly, magical, shamanic, etc.,. This theory was a pet one of Gerald Gardner and featured in the novel The Mists of Avalon but there is absolutely no evidence, archaeological or folkloric, to support the idea.
  Looking at the good points first the book starts with a warning against the Victorian view of faeries, and advises that the Fey are more complex and potentially dangerous than little garden sprites. The book also includes excerpts of many traditional pieces including the Ballad of True Thomas, Tam Lin, and other traditional folk songs or poems about faeries. The book also includes some good genuine folklore and belief that can often be ignored in other modern books, like the Selkies marrying human husbands or the Fey stealing children and brides.
  Now intermixed within the good we see the bad. I've already mentioned his belief that the Picts were the Faeries and this becomes the crux of several problematic points. He says the words fairies and pixies are directly from the term Picts, which is just not etymologically sound. Pict is from the Latin for painted; pixie is of unknown origin, and fairy is from the Latin for fate.He states that the Irish word Sidhe means mound dweller (it means fairy hill) and is derived from the name for the Picts who lived, he claims, in underground homes. He states that iron is a good protection against faeiries (true) but he says its because the Picts would have feared the strange new metal or else associated it with death and warfare. He also claims that the reported time difference between our world and Fairyland comes from Celts who visited with the Picts and ingested psychogenic plants that distorted their sense of time, creating a false sense of being in another world; because, he says, the Picts were shamans who used psychotropic plants and apparently gave them out to untrained visitors.
   Getting away from the Pictish nonsense, he also is very fond of the idea that Gods are actually fairies, a reverse of what many fairy faith and Celtic pagans believe. So instead of the gods being reduced into fairies, or put into the category of the aos sidhe, he says that the gods are fairies themselves along the lines of traditional pixies, selkies, etc., He says that  Rhiannon is an underworld horse fairy. Cerridwen is a bird fairy because in her myth she turns into a bird twice, and the Sumerian/Hebrew goddess Lilith is an owl fairy. Surprisingly Llew is not a bird fairy, but a Sun God, so maybe its especially goddesses? Although he does say Odin is a fairy (and that Tyr is Odin), so, I don't know. Which sums up a lot of this book.
   His section on Samhain is comic, with a very interesting discussion about how the Celts believed that Death (capital D) was wandering around on Samhain and could freely take anyone It felt like. So, he says, the Celts dressed up as ghosts to trick Death into thinking they'd already kicked it, and they placed lit turnips in front of their homes to signal that Death had already been there. Because apparently he thinks that Death leaves a glowing turnip as a "Death was here" marker; I assume so that It isn't wasting It's time going back to the same houses It's already been to. I found this extremely funny.
   The author also mixes in a lot of Middle Eastern and Hebrew material with the Celtic and talks a lot about Greek Nymphs and Dryads in a Celtic context which I thought was a bit odd, but neither good nor bad. Alright the bit about Druids sleeping by streams to receive inspiration from naiads was bad, and that bit about "Cailleach bheara" being the title of the banshee when she takes the form of a, yeah, that was kind of painful.
  Anyway, I wouldn't recommend it. There are good points but not nearly enough to outweigh the awful. I'm not going to bother with the second book about Fairy Tale rituals. I'm kind of surprised there is a second book, but I guess people who don't know better can't discern the quality of the material. Or they just don't care.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Random Spritual Update...

I promise to get back to my regular style of blogging soon - I have ideas to blog about the Colloquy of Two Sages, Manannan mac Lir, Brighid, maybe Badhbh, wands, and some other assorted fun things - but I wanted to keep everyone who has been following my rambling spiritual quest up to date. So, here is a random update.
   This past week has been turbulent on several fronts. I found out a very dear friend who has just started chemo again is in the hospital with complications, and I am very worried about her. My youngest daughter, who has chronic medical issues, cut her foot at the beach and now we are infection watch. Personally, I have been fighting repeated migraines as I try to switch from one medication to another and also found out that I am anemic. It has been one of those weeks were everyday seemed to bring more and more challenges.
    I always try to find some good in everything, and if nothing else this past week has helped me to better understand my own need for spiritual fulfillment and, more importantly, what I need in a religion. I have missed the daily routine of my CR Druidic practices and when I have been at my lowest I have sought comfort in the natural world and in the spirits I feel closest too: Macha, my father, my great-grandmother, the spirits of the land and the spirits of certain plants. It's an interesting mix, to be sure. I also had time to really reflect on the ways that Wicca does and doesn't work for me, and I think I've accepted now that, while it will always hold happy memories for me, its just not right for me. From a purely intellectual perspective modern Druidism, specifically ADF, makes the most sense and would allow to me to incorporate my diverse interests and pantheons. Of course I've been a card carrying member of ADF since 2001 and have never done anything with it, having been drawn immediately into more specifically Celtic approaches, but I have decided that the next logical step in this self exploration is to give a fair shot to neopagan Druidism.
  I may find out that, in the end, I will be walking alone on my own path that is a blend of what I like best from all the religions I have experienced. But over time I have forgotten or lost the little bits of joy in each of them, and I am determined now to reclaim them - already I have valuable lessons from Wicca to bring forward, things that I enjoy or make me happy but that I stopped doing because they didn't fit into a new approach. It's time to see what Druidism holds for me.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Midsummer in transition

 So the summer solstice was on Wednesday and this year I found myself feeling very challenged on how to celebrate. I have only just decided to refocus my spiritual practice, well more accurately my religious structure, and I was actually at a bit of a loss as to what to do. I'm still feeling my way slowly into what works best for me but its also very important that my children have a sense of the holiday and get to enjoy it. I also had a very bad experience with a Midsummer ritual last year that I am still working to overcome, so this holiday is especially challenging for me on a personal level - which is probably why it ended up being the first one to come along after my major shift of focus. Life is anything but subtle sometimes when we need to face our issues....
   We have had a family tradition of baking cakes on the solstices for many years. At the summer solstice we bake the cake for the daoine sidhe and Aine, who may be a fairy queen or may be a goddess; and at the winter solstice we bake a cake for the Sun's birthday. In previous years with a more recon based approach we would bake the summer cake and leave pieces as offerings but otherwise we didn't do too much to mark the day. From an eclectic Wiccan perspective I would have done a full circle to the Lord and Lady of summer, the God and Goddess of the Greenwood. Last year I did a public ritual in a more neo-pagan/Wiccan style that honored the fairies, spirits of the land, and Lord and Lady - this ritual will go down in infamy for the disapproval that resulted from some people* so I may be a little gun shy about jumping right in to do something similar again, despite its overall success.
  In the end I settled on a hybrid compromise, which is, perhaps, the best approach anyway. Combining holiday fun with necessity I gave the gift of new summer shoes to the girls (and my husband) something I might keep as a tradition in the future. We baked a vanilla cake with butter cream frosting and the girls decorated it with candy sprinkles from the store.  The cake came out very nicely, and after dinner when everything was ready we sang a Jana Runnall's song called "Graine" that I learned from Kellianna; then I cut a piece of cake for the fairies and another for Aine. The cake was left outside by our little Hawthorn tree and then we went back in and enjoyed some cake ourselves. I read the girls a book about the Summer Solstice by Ellen Jackson that includes folklore and traditions from around the world.
  Later that night I had my own ritual, more along the lines of a Wiccan circle. Perhaps next year I can find an even better way to celebrate everything together; maybe I will finally get over my feelings of Midsummer inadequacy. But this year went well anyway, it was fun, the girls enjoyed it, and the fairies got their cake.

Cake recipe:
  1 cup white sugar 1/2 cup butter 2 eggs 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Grease and flour a 9x9 inch pan....
In a medium bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Combine flour and baking powder, add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Finally stir in the milk until batter is smooth. Pour or spoon batter into the prepared pan.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes in the preheated oven

Frosting recipe:
 1/2 cup butter, softened, 4-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 5 tablespoons whole milk
In a large bowl, cream butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the confectioners' sugar, vanilla and enough milk to achieve desired consistency.

 * Long, messy backstory. Shortest possible version is that what one person feels is an acceptable offering may not be seen as such by others. Also I am a tangental ritual leader and not everyone likes my style of ritual. Lesson learned the hard way.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summer Introspection

  I am not a summer person. While everyone else might be out at the beach, at barbecues, hiking, or otherwise enjoying the outdoors I'm avoiding the bright sunlight and heat by holing up inside. I've always been like this; I was the kid in high school who spent my summers staying up until 4 a.m. reading and watching re-runs of classic tv shows and bad b-movies. Each year I dread the returning heat, the oppressive humidity, the bugs and glaring sunshine. Winter is my season, my time to get out and explore the world and enjoy nature - summer is something to be endured. However I have always tried to force myself to go along with the general expectations, the wider view of summer and the season's energies. People talk about summer as a time for planting and growing, and despite my own desire to do the opposite for many years I pushed against my inclinations. I planted when I wanted to harvest. I nurtured and grew when I wanted to withdraw and contemplate.
  I've been thinking about this a lot the past two days as I celebrated Midsummer and as my area experiences a heat wave that has rendered the outdoor atmosphere into something reminiscent of an oven. Online people are talking about the time of year as a time of activity and exploration, in contrast to winter as a time of introspection and withdrawal. What I've come to realize is that for myself these cycles are reversed;   to me summer is a time of introspection, when the pace of everything slows down and I look within to sort through what to keep and what to let go of. Fall is a time for returning to the world, for setting new goals as I wait for the leaves to turn and seek the scent of woodsmoke in the air. Winter is when I get out the most, walking, hiking, exploring; a time to begin new projects and add effort to old ones. And spring is when things begin to slow down, although there is a rush to finish up what's been begun.
   I'm moving into that time of introspection now, assessing and reviewing my life, trying to decide what is worth keeping and what needs to be let go of. One thing I've already come to realize - no surprise to anyone who has been reading my recent blogs - is that I need to start appreciating and honoring my own cycles and patterns instead of trying to fit myself into other people's preconceived cycles. What works for other people may not work for me, but there is no reason I can't find value in my own natural rhythms and learn to appreciate what does work for me. As I move back into an American Wiccan framework I can appreciate the larger concepts of the accepted cycles of the year while simultaneously honoring my own energetic cycles. 
  I am not a summer person, and that's okay. I will spend the next few months in introspection and emerge in the fall ready to move forward with renewed energy and purpose.

original pencil drawing, M. Daimler, copyright 1999

Friday, June 1, 2012

recommended reading

  Well I finished writing my newest book and am back to blogging. There are several pagan recommended reading lists floating around including one at Patheos and another at Huffington Post so I thought I'd offer my own suggestions here, but I'm limiting it to 10 each to keep myself from going totally overboard:

Heathen Recommended Reading List
1) Essential Asatru by Diana Paxson - a good introduction to the basics of belief and practice, particularly useful for those coming from a neopagan background
2) The Prose Edda - I suggest reading multiple translations to get the best understanding of the material
3) The Poetic Edda - multiple translations are your friend
4) Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland - Modern language retellings of the Eddic myths
5) The Road to Hel by H.R. Ellis Davidson - an essential look at beliefs about the dead and afterlife
6) The Well and the Tree by Bauschatz - discusses cosmology from a heathen persepctive
7) Our Troth, volumes 1 and 2 - a very thorough look at everything from belief to practice, and a wonderful reference to have on hand
8) Elves, Wights, and Trolls by K. Gundarsson - a look at the heathen belief in Otherworldly spirits, often not emphasized in american Heathenry but very important to understsnd
9) Living Asatru by Greg Shelter - short but useful look at living modern asatru
10) We Are Our Deeds  by Eric Wodening - a very in depth look at modern heathen ethics

Irish Reconstruction Reading List
1) the CR FAQs - the best basic start to understanding recon from a Celtic viewpoint
2) the Sacred Isle by O'hOgain - discusses Irish religion from pre-christian times through conversion.
3) Festival of Lughnasa by Maire McNeill - an in-depth look at the historic and modern celebration of Lughnasa, including a good deal of folklore and mythology
4) The Lebor Gabala Erenn - the story of the invasions of Ireland by the Gods and spirits and eventually humans.
5) Cath Maige Tuired - the story of the battle of the Tuatha de Danann with the Fomorians.
6) the Year in Ireland by K. Danaher - an overview of holidays and folk practices throughout the year.
7) The Silver Bough (all four volumes) by F. MacNeil - Scottish but extremely useful for understanding folk practices and beliefs
8) Fairy and Folktales of the Irish Peasantry by Yeats - a look at folklore and belief
9) Lady with a Mead Cup by Enright - useful look at ritual structure and society in both Celtic and Norse cultures
10) Celtic Gods and Heroes by Sjoestedt - discusses both the gods and tidbits of folklore and mythology

What books would you recommend?

Monday, May 7, 2012

manuscripts and life

  So I am behind on blogging this past week - I will very likely be very minimally blogging this month as I am under contract for a book and the deadline is the end of this month. I'm very excited about the book itself and I think it's coming along really well, but at this point it's taking as much free time as I have after family and school. I plan to get back to regular blogging as soon as the manuscript is completed.
  For anyone who is curious the book is part of a series for children being put out by a small pagan publishing company. My contribution is a book on the modern Fairy-Faith, its beliefs and practices, for children ages 8 through 12. (Although I think it would be just as useful for adults) Writing for children in this age group has proved the most interesting challenge so far as there is a need for a balance in being age appropriate without pulling any punches or soft peddling the information, but I have had my own in-house expert helping - my oldest daughter, who is 8 and a half. I'm very excited about the project, as someone who has taught classes on the Celtic Otherworld and Fairies (Daoine Sidhe) for over a decade and honored them all my life.
                        Beltane candles burning on a small fairy altar at Pandora's Box

 Happy Bealtaine to everyone! May your summer be blessed.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

St. Patrick's Day, snakes, and Irish-American pride

  Next week is Saint Patrick's feast day in the Catholic church, which is probably an odd thing for me to blog about, but the past couple years there has been quite the controversy among some pagans about this day. This year there are anti-Saint Pat's day events and such on Facebook created by people, very sincere people, who believe Saint Patrick to be some sort of super powered anti-pagan figure that drove out the Druids of Ireland and broke the back of paganism there. The general consensus by the people who share that thought seems to be that March 17th every year should be a day of black-clad mourning for Irish paganism or a day of protest against...well, against something. Now I have absolutely no issue with the way anyone wants to spend their March 17th, I generally favor wearing black, and I certainly agree that by and large Saint Pat's day in America is a hideous neon green tourist event, however I am something of a stickler for history - as some of you may have noticed - and I don't like seeing false history becoming mainstream, nor do I like my own actions on March 17th being judged as wrong because of someone else's views, as I have been told previously that my celebrating the day is offensive and disrespectful. So the last few years I have tried, in comments here and there, to point out the history and the Truth to give people a better understanding of how things really happened so that they can move forward and decide what to do with some solid information instead of emotion. This year I am just going to cut to the chase and dedicate a whole blog to it. I am not trying to change anyone's opinion or start a fight - I am only offering the history of who Saint Patrick really was, what he really did, how he interacted with the Druids, and what the bit about the snakes was about. I'm also going to talk a little about why and how I celebrate March 17, and what it means to me.
   So let's begin with a little history. Back somewhere around the end of the 4th century in Britain - no one knows exactly where, except that it was likely on the coast - a boy named Maewyn Succat was born to a wealthy Roman official named Calpurius (Awesome Stories, 2012). Maewyn was born into a Christian family but he didn't consider himself especially devout. When he was 16 he was kidnapped, along with many other people from his father's household, and taken into slavery in Ireland where he was made a shepherd (Saint Patrick, nd). Among the hills and sheep Maewyn found solace in his father's religion, before eventually escaping after 6 years and making his way, eventually, back to Britain where he joined the church (Awesome Stories, 2012). At some point Maewyn took the name Particius, later anglicized to Patrick, and decided that he had a calling from his God to return to Ireland to preach to the people there (Awesome Stories, 2012). Unlike the common belief though, Patrick wasn't the first Bishop in Ireland - there were several previous bishops including Pallidius who was sent by the Pope in 429 (O hOgain, 1999). At this point in the early 5th century Ireland already had a small but settled Christain population complete with churches, monasteries, priests and bishops (O hOgain, 1999). In any event Patrick returned to Ireland and traveled around trying to establish himself. He claims to have had some success and baptized "thousands" of people - of course he also had many difficulties including, apparently, being accused of accepting money for baptisms and other bribes as well as being beaten and robbed and repeatedly threatened with death (Saint Patrick, nd). Unlike the other Irish Christians of the time Patrick was an evangalist and did seek to convert people, but in his 30 years of ministry in Ireland he did not seem to have had any stunning sucess; probably because the Irish did not seem overly concerned with or threatened by Christianity and may have initially just incorporated it along with their pagan beliefs (Da Silva, 2009). After Patrick's death, most likely on March 17th 461, very little was written about him for several hundred years.
     Ireland remained pagan for another 8 or 9 generations before the population became mostly Christian - and that was when the tale of Patrick really took off. In the 7th century, about 200 years after Patrick died, his hagiography was written, the Life of Saint Patrick by Muirchu maccu Mactheni, and the Patrick of Muirchu's story was very different than the historical Patrick, so much so that modern scholars now differentiate between the two (Da Silva, 2009). Muirchu's Patrick was a bold, vindictive, confrontational wonder-worker who preformed mircales and was said to have destroyed the Druids in Ireland (O hOgain, 1999). This mythic Partick - unlike the humble historical Patrick who authored the Confessio - lost no opportunity to curse those who defied him or kill those who opposed him. In one of the stories in the Life of Saint Patrick, for example, the saint uses his God's "power" to crush a Druid's skull and calls an earthquake to kill many others (Da Silva, 2009). In another tale Patrick was said to have turned himself and his entire retinue into deer to escape pursuit. It should be pretty obvious that this is pure invention, something to appeal to a 7th century audience looking to hear about wonders and drama on par with the other Irish myths but not anything relating to actual events. In fact some scholars have pointed out that had Patrick actually gone in and tried to convert by the sword he would have ended up matryred for his trouble. To quote the excellent article by  Da Silva "It is clear that the pagan Irish would not have tolerated the behavior of the mythical Saint Patrick. There was no way Patrick could use coercion or the threat of force as part of his strategy to convert the pagans. E. A. Thompson writes that "the pagans were far too powerful and menacing . . . . And he was doubtlessly aware that if he gave any sign of trying to impose his views on the Irish pagans against their will, his mission would come to an abrupt and bloody end" (90)." (Da Silva, 2009).
  The point to all of this is that the Patrick we are familar with today is mostly a mythic figure, created by a great PR department. The historical Patrick didn't actually do very much and it wasn't until hundreds of years later, when politics in some of the churches he founded meant the need for a powerful figure, and the Church was looking to complete the conversion of the remaining pagans, that he was reinvented as the super-saint we know today. Many aspects of saint Patrick's story seem as well to involve the saint being inserted into older mythology, such as in some of the stories surrounding Lughnasa where saint Patrick takes over the role of Lugh in fighting off the forces of darkness and chaos to secure the harvest (MacNeill, 1962). This would have been a logical substitution over time as the new religion replaced the old. Beyond that I have my own idea about how a British born Roman ended up as the patron saint of Ireland, but that probably falls into the realm of a conspiracy theory so I'll leave it off this blog.
    Why does all this matter to me? Well, for one I have always felt strongly that bad history does paganism no favors. For another thing I can't see any purpose to feeling outraged today over something that didn't even actually happen 1560 years ago, or for that matter demonizing someone who didn't actually do very much. I just don't see any point in buying into another faith's mythology in a way that creates feelings of anger and negativity in my own. I am an Irish-focused pagan and I am a Druid and I know from studying history that both Irish paganism and Druidism went on well after Patrick, that his life as we know it today is just a fancy story made up to replace older myths, and that in the end Patrick has no more meaning to me than what I give him. Why should I give him power over my life by believing he was greater than he was? I admire his devotion to his own faith and his courage in going back to a country where he had been taken by force as a slave, but beyond that he's just another historical figure in a sea of historical figures.
   Now on to the snakes. Another big aspect of Saint Patrick's day for pagans is the idea that the story of Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland was actually an allegory for his driving out of the Druids. This idea is pretty well integrated into media and common belief; many people repeat it and there are even modern celebrations of "All Snakes Day" in honor of the triumphant return of the modern Druids. Now,  I am all in favor of the snake as a modern symbol of Druids - plenty of wonderful symbolism there since snakes are energized by the sun and "reborn" each spring out of the earth after hibernating, eat little fluffy things, often are passed by unseen, not to mention the more obvious associations with wisdom and the historic Gaulish Druid's eggs -  and I think the idea of a modern All Snakes Day is pretty cool. The history though just isn't there for any connection either of Saint Patrick with snakes or of the story being about Druids. Firstly, Ireland hasn't had snakes since before the last ice age, so there never were any snakes to be driven out by anyone (National Zoo, n.d.). Second of all, and more importantly, the actual legend says that he drove out the snakes and toads (toads being very rare and snakes as we've established being non-existant) (Banruadh, 2006). For people living in Ireland after Patrick this story would have been a great explanation of why those animals weren't in Ireland, because there is no reason to think the 7th century story was an allegory. Quite frankly the rest of Patrick's hagiography has him dueling Druids right and left, killing those who oppose him with callous righteoussnes, so why would the story suddenly get cryptic about him driving the Druids out? Every other page was proclaiming it proudly! No, this particular tidbit - which is suspiciously exactly the same as a story from the life of a French saint - was always meant to be literal. The earliest reference I have found to anyone thinking the snakes meant Druids (and thanks to the friend who helped me find it) is in the Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries from 1911 where someone states that he believes based on a story that because a certain place was where the Druids last stronghold was and also the place Saint Patrick drove the snakes that the snakes must represent the Druids, but it's just faulty logic (Evans Wentz, 1911). The snakes in the story were just meant to be snakes, just as the toads were toads and Saint George's dragon was a dragon.
    So why do I celebrate Saint Patrick's day? Thats' a good question, since I am certainly no Catholic. But the truth is that I have celebrated a secular version of St. Patrick's day for my entire life; in my family it was a celebration of our Irish heritage, a day when we told stories about the family, ate traditional Irish-American food and enjoyed each others company. I have been pagan since I was 11, but I never questioned the validity of celebrating my heritage with my family. Sure my heritage is what it is every day of the year, but that was one special day when the whole family celebrated together. My father and I would go out and enjoy a show together, the Wolfetones one year, the Irish Tenors several times, a wide array of different Irish step dancing groups. When I was young we would go out to dinner and after my grandmother moved up here we would go to her house and she would cook for everyone. I have so many wonderful, happy memories of all the Saint Patrick's days I've had with the people I love and that is why I celebrate it, and why I will continue to - because its a family tradition. One I hope to pass on to my own children. We're Irish-Americans every day of the year, but March 17th is the one day when we are most aware of it, of our roots, of our history. Of our traditions.
   This year my family, my husband and daughters and I, will be going to eat corned beef and cabbage at my grandmother's house. She is 94 now, but she still cooks on St. Patrick's day all the same. We'll tell stories about the family and about past celebrations, and when we get home my daughters and I will light candles on our ancestor altar in honor of the family that isn't with us physically any more. And on the 18th I will go with my oldest daughter to see Celtic Woman in concert (the first time since my dad died I've gone to a show for Saint Patrick's day, but that's a tradition that needs continuing). It may be a weird Irish-American thing to do, but it's something ingrained in the diaspora, outside of any religion.
  Now in a modern setting we have All Snakes Day as a pagan alternative to St. Pat's day; I don't generally celebrate it only because it tends to emphasize the snakes=Druids idea, although not everyone who celebrates it believes that, to be fair. Another alternative that is gaining popularity is to call it something like Irish Heritage Day becuase the emphasis of the day to Irish pagans is to celebrate that and that certainly captures the spirit of the holiday for most Americans. I rather like that one, and sometimes use it myself. Finally there has been a movement - and I'm sorry becuase I've had no luck finding any links from last year - to celebrate the 17th of March in honor of great Irish mythic heroes like Cu Chulainn. I find that idea intriguing and intend to look into it more.

Saint Patrick (n.d.) Saint Patrick's Confessio
 B. Da Silva (2009) Saint Patrick, the Irish Druids, and Ireland Conversion to Christianity
D. O hOgain (1999) the Sacred Isle
M. MacNeill (1962) The Festival of Lughnasa
W. Y. evans Wentz (1911). the Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries