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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Believing in Santa – a Pagan’s perspective

Today I'm linking to my blog over on Hartford FAV's where I discuss Santa Claus in today's world. Personally I believe Santa plays a huge role this time of year - as he should - and deserves to be honored. Of course I also think if you squint really hard he resembles a certain Norse God...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Alfar and the Fair Folk

 I've mentioned before that the main focus of my practice are the spirits of the Otherworld and I honor both an Irish and Norse/Germanic cultural paradigm. I thought it might be helpful to explain a bit more about how those two cultures' views on both the spirits of the land and on the Otherworldly spirits are similar and different, specifically how the Norse alfar (elves) are like and unlike the Irish  daoine sidhe. I'll handle the land spirits part in a separate blog. I'd like to get into the actual comparison of the alfar and aos sidhe here; this should help illustrate how I can honor both the alfar and daoine sidhe.
   Both the Alfar and Fairy People, the daoine sidhe, are described as tall, beautiful, and shining, although in later folk stories they are also seen as looking like ordinary humans except with an Otherworldly aura about them. both were later said to have diminished in stature and are often conflated with smaller Otherworldly beings which may be called by the same name but appear distinct in folklore. The Irish use euphemisms, such as Good People, Fair Folk and Gentry when speaking of the people of the sidhe to avoid offending them and in the same way the Icelanders call the Alfar Huldufolk (hidden folk) because its believed that it offends them to be called Alfar (Sontag, 2007).
     In Ireland the daoine sidhe live in the hollow hills, mountains, and lakes; in Iceland the Huldufolk similarly live in natural features like boulders and cliffs; both cultures believe that construction which destroys a place belonging to the these beings will bring great misfortune. In the Irish it is believed that the Fair Folk live within the fairy hills but also that they make their home in the Otherworld, while the alfar similarly live in natural features but also have their own world, Ljossalfheim. Both worlds have a different flow of time that can affect those who visit.
  Both groups are known to ride out, the alfar in processions, the daoine sidhe on fairy rades, and both are connected to the Wild Hunt. Arguably the Irish Fairy Rades, encomapssing the Slua sidhe, are more dangerous, although it is never safe to cross paths with an alfar procession either. Both groups are known to ride out especially on certain days; however the Irish Fair Folk are believed to be most active on the quarter days of Beltane, Lughnasa, Samhain, and Imbolc, while the Norse alfar are most active on or around the solstices.
  In the Norse material we often see references to the Gods and Alfar (example from the Voluspa: "48. How fare the Aesir? How fare the alfar?") and in the Irish we have the phrase "deithe agus an-deithe" (Gods and not-Gods). I tend to see parallels between these two concepts, with both cultures seeming to have an idea of the Gods and the alfar/daoine sidhe as related but separate groups. this separation is more clearly defined in the Norse material than the Irish which shows a much less firm delineation between gods and daoine sidhe.
   Both the Alfar and the Aos Sidhe are intricately bound up with the dead, and it is not uncommon in stories to see the dead, especially the recently dead, among the ranks of both cultures' Otherworldly beings. In the Norse and Germanic cultures the dead might join the alfar in the mounds and conversely the alfar were believed to have many similar abilities to ghosts or spirits. In the Irish the dead often appear among the daoine sidhe, usually explained as people who did not die but were taken. In both cultures the ancient burial mounds are believed to be supernatural homes of these Otherworldly beings.
   Both groups are known to steal certain types of humans and to mix bloodlines with people. In both cases brides and newborns are considered tempting targets for abduction, but in the Norse it is also possible for a human to win their Otherworldly lover as a bride (most often) by casting iron over them (Gundarsson, 2007). In the Irish it is more likely for the human to be taken, with a changeling left behind to wither and die, although there are a few stories of men who took fairy wives, something that usually didn't end well. Both culture's hidden folk are prone to taking midwives as well, and the Norse may take wet nurses, while the Irish may also take musicians. The Irish daoine sidhe are also known to take horses, cattle, and steal a family's luck by borrowing or tricking a family member out of milk or fire from the home.
    Both the Alfar and the daoine sidhe are offered to by the common people, usually to earn their good will or to avoid strife or ill luck. In both cases milk is found as a traditional offering, although otherwise offerings can vary.  Generally offerings are left outside, usually in a place associated with the alfar, such as a boulder with a depression in it or a hill, or with the daoine sidhe, such as a fairy hill, lake, or solitary tree. A positive relationship grants blessing, luck, and prosperity. With both groups the consequences of angering or offending those powers is very similar and can include illness, madness, and death. Interestingly, while both groups have alfshot or elfshot (invisible projectiles) the Irish version are more mild, causing cramping or inexplicable pain, while the Norse version is thought to cause far more serious maladies like arthritis and cancer.
   While the gifts of the Irish daoine sidhe are often not what they appear to be in a negative way - a fistful of gold might be revealed at dawn to be worthless leaves - the gifts of the alfar go the other way, with leaves turning into gold. Generally speaking the alfar are also more generous and benign in nature than the Irish sidhe (Gundarsson, 2007). Similarly the alfar seem slightly more forgiving and more willing to overlook human faux pas than the daoine sidhe who operate with a rigid etiquette that accepts no excuses.
   Iron and rowan are good protections against both groups, although exactly how the iron is used varies slightly. The Norse also see sulphur and juniper as  good protections, while the Irish see hazel as having some protective qualities along with several other herbs, including Saint John's Wort and Mothan. There are numerous charms in both cultures to defend against these beings; in the Irish there are specialists called fairy doctors or bean feasa as well to help people afflicted by the daoine sidhe.
  The best way to get a firm grasp on the qualities of the hidden people - of either culture - is to read the mythology and folklore relating to them. While it is largely true that both groups have many things in common they also have key differences which make it clear that they may be closely related but are not identical in nature. Someone choosing a blended or syncretic approach would do well to carefully study both sides of the supernatural aisle in order to best honor these important spirits in their practice; similarly someone honoring only one culture should realize that while they have much in common they are not entirely the same and should be careful not to assume that what is acceptable or viable with one would be the same for the other.

Further reading:
  Grimm's Teutonic Mythology
 Yeats' Celtic Twilight
Briggs, Katharine (1978) The Vanishing People: Fairy Lore and Legends.
Evans-Wentz, W. Y. (1966, 1990) The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries.
Sontag, K (2007). Parallel worlds : fieldwork with elves, Icelanders and academics. University of Iceland. pp. 13–14.
Vincenz, M. (2009) To Be or Not to Be
 Gundarsson, K., (2007). Elves, Wights, and Trolls
 Kirk, R., (1893) The secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies
Croker, T., (1825). Fairy Legends and Traditions
Assorted Norse mythology

Friday, November 15, 2013

What is Service?

  I've talked a couple times now about the idea of service and I've realized that maybe I need to clarify what I mean by that.
   Most people who honor the Gods and spirits* do so as the equivalent of what might be called laymen: someone whose religious activity is a part of their life but who would look to others to lead or for specialized help. Some people, in my view, end up being called by the Gods and powers to serve the role of being those leaders and specialized helpers. This is a logical process and its how most things work, really. I use a computer, but I look to a more tech savvy person when I need help with my computer, whether that's getting my pc and printer to talk to each other, removing a virus, or updating something. In the same way religious communities naturally are mostly people who are content to practice the religion without wanting the responsibility or hassle of having the specialized knowledge. Now obviously not all leaders in paganism are leaders because they are called to it by higher powers, but I do think many are.
  So, I've talked in my last blog abut how people who are called by the Gods are called to serve - what does that mean? I would say that it means to serve that God or those Gods within the community, either directly or indirectly. How this will actually work will be different based on each person's skill set, but some people may be called to be ritual leaders, some to write prayers (or books), some to teach; all iterations though on the theme - re-building the worship of that particular God, or more broadly that religion, in the world. Even the people who end up with a more reclusive approach tend to contribute to the broader community in some way, usually through their writings.
   Those who serve fill a need, one that is painfully present in our modern community - call it Deity outreach. Because someone has to do it, has to be out there rebuilding the broken connections and teaching the new generations how to interact with the Old Powers. Someone has to step up and create community; someone has to be a guide for beginners seeking something they don't fully understand; someone has to teach us how to connect to our own roots; someone has to bring back the honoring of Gods and Powers almost forgotten. And that is, I think, ultimately the types of service I see people being called to.  When the Gods find a person suited to serve their purpose they push, nudge, poke, inspire - aka call - that person to that work. It isn't fancy or glamorous, its mostly just hard work, and I often wonder why anyone would do it if they didn't feel called to do it.
   Now, having said all that in my own cynical, it-must-be-done, way, I'll add that it isn't all hard work and no play. There is plenty of joy and just plain fun in doing what needs to be done. There's moments that are absurd and ridiculous, particularly if - like me - you do much with the Fey. There are beautiful and moving experiences and there are indescribable moments of Mystery that are invaluable. The Gods are all about reciprocity; it isn't all just giving, giving, giving on our end and nothing back. I can honestly say that I would never have personally chosen to do many of the things I've done in service, but I have truly enjoyed the experiences I've had along the way and I'm glad I took the road less traveled by.

* really this could be Gods, a God, daoine sidhe, ancestors, anything like that but for simplicity here I'm just going to say "Gods" and you can switch in or out whatever specific term you want to.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Why None of Us are Special Snowflakes

This blog should probably have a blogging while ill warning label. So you've been warned.

      There's an expression in modern pagan communities: special snowflake. It's used for people who are very vocal about having a strong connection to the Gods, or who claim unusual knowledge, power, or authority or otherwise seem to be trying really hard to get attention. It's based, of course, on the idea that all snowflakes are unique while simultaneously being uniform but the special snowflake believes they deserve extra attention and praise for being themselves. In paganism there's a wide array of ways that people fall into special snowflake categories, but the one that I probably see the most often, and hence that annoys me the most, are the ones who feel that they have been called to some unique service that deserves automatic, unquestioning respect.
   You know what though? Many of us, myself included, are called to serve; service doesn't make you special, it makes you useful. The fact that people don't like to acknowledge is that we are all extremely temporary to the Gods and spirits. Our mortal lives are moments in their far broader reality. Do we have value to them? I 'm certain we do, even on an individual level, but that value is not eclipsed by their wider need to accomplish certain things and keep an eye always to greater goals. I won't ever pretend to understand the wheels within wheels of Odin's plans - I know I have a value to him and serve a purpose, but I am also keenly aware that when I am gone someone else will take my place. We are none of us special in the grand scheme of things because we are all ultimately utilitarian. We serve our purpose, either well or badly, and when we fall to time's inevitable limits the next one will come along to serve the next step. No matter how knowledgeable, how powerful, how skilled, or how well a person serves the Gods their time is limited and the importance of their power, knowledge, skill, and service in their life is not measured by how special they think they are, but by how they effect the lives of other people and how well they serve their purpose. And that, ultimately, is only truly measured and judged with time.
   Special snowflake syndrome annoys me because it distracts from the important issues. The things that matter, that we should be discussing as a community, don't revolve around cult's of personality and one individual's (or many different individuals') need for special attention. As a community we waste far too much time and energy encouraging or fighting special snowflake syndrome when we should just be ignoring it. There is so much work to be done and we need to focus on doing it, not trying to prove how much more important we are to deity X or spirit Y, or conversely that some other person isn't. If a person is actually a special friend in that way to a God or spirit then it is the God or spirit that will make it plain, not the person - that's how its always worked in mythology and folklore and I don't see any reason why the internet would change anything. In fact if one were cynical, which I clearly am today, one might point out the many prohibitions in some cultures, like the Irish, about talking or bragging about special consideration you receive from the daoine sidhe, for example, lest you lose that friendship...
   None of us are special snowflakes, and we need to stop encouraging people to try to be.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Nation Novel Writing Month

 I am doing Nation Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year for the first time. The past few years I have sat and watched many of my friends do it and felt rather envious of how much fun they seem to be having. All the talk of word counts and plots; even the wailing over blocks and rewrites seem like a great time. Me, I write non-fiction or on occasion poetry. I enjoy it, but its definitely more work than any kind of fun.
   This year I am going totally out of my own comfort zone and writing a novel. I haven't written fiction in almost 20 years and my own taste runs to an ultra niche genre that isn't likely to interest a huge audience. So I decided not to write it for anyone but myself; I'm doing it just for the pure joy of telling the story. I'm not worrying about how well or badly I'm doing it or whether other people will like it. I'm not planning to publish (although I think I will take it all the way through to a final draft) so I'm not writing it with an eye to marketing it or making it appealing to the public. After talking with a few friends I even stopped my own inner critic who automatically tries to write for what I think others want to read.
   So far I've found it to be an amazingly liberating experience. I'm remembering why I used to love writing, why I have so many notebooks from high school full of tediously handwritten stories. I'm telling a story I want to read, and its fun.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Celebrating Samhain

   I've blogged about this before, but several people have asked this year so here is how I celebrate Samhain:

  For my family Samhain is a three day holiday which begins on October 31st. Although I tend to favor the idea that originally the holiday was agrarian based and timed depending on environmental signals which would have brought the herds in from summer pastures, I chose a set time for convenience and so my children could look forward to the date. Since generally the four fire festivals are dated on the kalends of the month, which would make Samhain on November 1st, I start my celebration the day before and end it the day after that date.
  The first day of the holiday is dedicated to the daoine sidhe and wandering ghosts. Since we also celebrate secular Halloween with trick or treating my children give the sidhe a tithe of candy from their take at the end of the night. Porridge is offered as well, left out near the woods and I tell the kids fairy-stories. After the kids go to bed I also re-swear my oath to my Druid Order because this is the anniversary of my dedication as a Druid in White Oak.
   The second day is dedicated to the Gods. Usually an Morrighan and an Dagda, but this year I am honoring Macha and Nuada instead. As part of this I tell my children stories about the Gods or spirits and things that happened on Samhain, of which there are many to choose from in Irish myth. This year I'm planning on talking about the second battle of Moytura and the Tuatha De overcoming the Fomorians. As part of my ritual I extinguish all the candles on my altar and relight them to symbolically re-enact the Samhain fire lighting at Tlachtga. We have a small ritual feast as well, of pork and apples with seasonal vegetables, some of which is offered to the Gods, spirits, and ancestors. 

   The third and final day is for the ancestors. I light candles on my ancestor altar and tell my children stories about the family members who have passed from this life. We set an extra place at dinner and leave out a plate of food for the dead. I also often talk to my children about the turning of the seasons and the approach of winter now. We take our Halloween pumpkins and offer them to the woods to feed the deer and other wildlife. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Taking of the Sidhe

 Why do we offer to the Gods and daoine sidhe?
  Not hard to say. When the sons of Mil defeated the Tuatha De Danann the land was divided between the two, with the Milesians taking what was above the earth and the Tuatha De taking what was beneath it. But soon the Gaels found that their cows would not give milk and their crops would not grow, because the Tuatha De destroyed all the produce. The sons of Mil reached an agreement with an Dagda that they would offer a portion of their harvest in exchange for the friendship of the Tuatha De. After that time offerings of milk and grain were made to the Gods and later to the daoine sidhe as well, to ensure a good harvest and abundant milk. Today we offer to receive blessing and luck in our lives.
   Who divided the Sidhe?
 Not hard to say. When the Tuatha De went into the sidhe, the hollow hills, it was necessary to decide who should go to live where. An Dagda was the High King over the Tuatha De then and it fell to him to divide up the sidhe; with Manannan advising him, he chose a hill for each of the Gods. In this way each of the Tuatha De found a home within the sidhe.
  How did Angus Og come to posses Brugh na Boinne?
 Not hard to say. When an Dagda divided up the sidhe he took several places for himself including Síd Leithet Lachtmaige, Oí Asíd, Cnocc Báine, and Brú Ruair; and  Brugh na Boinne was also his. His son Angus Og came to his father and asked what place should belong to him, but an Dagda said that all the sidhe had been claimed and none were left for Angus. So Angus asked if he might have a night and day in Brugh na Boinne and, seeing no harm in it, an Dagda agreed. 
    After the allotted time had passed an Dagda came to Brugh na Boinne and asked Angus to leave as they had agreed, but Angus replied, "Is not all time divided into a day and a night? So that is how long I have been granted this place." 
  Then an Dagda left and the Brugh belonged always to Angus Og.

The Book of Leinster version
The Book of Fermoy version
Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Patrons and Priestesshood

     Recently I was reading John Beckett's essay "Hearing the Call" and I think he raises several good points about the way that modern pagans approach the ideas of patron* deities and dedication. Obviously I can only speak about this from a more Reconstructionist-flavored viewpoint, but I do think its a valuable discussion to have. I want to say up front though that this is a topic that I'm very ambivalent about. Despite being dedicated to a Norse God and Irish Goddess, and having a relationship with the daoine sidhe that is very similar, I am not a big advocate of patronage or dedication.
   Firstly modern pagans do tend to immediately assume everyone should have a patron. One of the most common questions I see asked on discussion groups and in classes is how a person can find their patron or know who their patron is. The common perception seems to be that all pagans have patrons or are dedicated to a specific deity and that, therefore, finding and declaring yours somehow makes you more pagan. Of course that isn't true; many polytheists don't have patrons, some don't even believe in the concept, and whether one has one or not has nothing to do with how pagan a person is or isn't. 
   Secondary to this is a pervasive idea that a person's patron is simply the deity they happen to like the most or, in some cases, feel is the most impressive. I think this comes from a common misunderstanding because people who have patrons do tend to talk more about their patrons than other deities they may honor, giving an impression that their patron is their favorite deity. In this case though it isn't a case of choosing the one you liked the most, but rather that a certain one is the closest to you and so gives the impression of being a favorite. It's also not as simple as choosing your own patron in some cases, unless you are choosing one based on a career or specific activity; there are some people who choose to permanently or temporarily oath to a patron of a certain activity that they participate in, usually with a formal ritual contract. Outside of that though many people believe that you should not choose your patron they should choose you; I can say that I did not choose mine, nor was I looking for patronage of any sort. I believe that, ideally, patronage should be something that grows organically as a person develops their personal practice, rather than a matter of selecting deity x from column b. It's also important to remember that the choice to enter into patronage requires agreement on both sides. Just because you want a deity to be your patron does not mean that the deity will actually be, anymore than asking a famous person to show up at your house means they will be knocking on your door. Of course the flip side to that is sometimes you can enter into such a situation blindly or without enough thought, the deity will accept the offer, and you may regret your impetuousness.
   The reality is that polytheism does often have general patrons for trades or careers, but the idea of personal patrons is more complex. Does it happen? Yes - historically as well as now - but so often the modern view lacks the understanding of service that goes along with it. Patronage, like so many other things, is a reciprocal relationship. To have a personal patron means to be give something back to that deity. Patronage can also be either temporary or permanent, and it is generally a good idea to clearly specify which one you intend. 
    Beyond patronage, and something that is often confused or conflated with it, is dedication. To me dedication is the choice to enter into the service of a deity; in modern pagan terms this might be described as being the clergy - the priestess or priest - of that deity. In my experience many people who talk about having a patron deity are not actually talking about having a deity that is a special guide or protector, but are actually talking about being or wanting to be a priestess of that deity. It is true that patronage can and sometimes does evolve into dedication, and perhaps this contributes to the confusion between the two, but whereas patronage (in my opinion) is like having a good friend among many casual friends, dedication is like joining the military, at least in as much as you are turning part of your life over to the service of that deity. 
    Being dedicated to Macha, and Odin, makes my life very very complicated and means that I serve their purpose as best I can. Being dedicated to a deity on a personal level, to me, means acting as clergy for that deity, especially. It means making offerings, conducting rituals, prayers, and generally being willing to fill whatever role ultimately serves that deity. I have done many, many things in service I never would have done otherwise, from writing and teaching certain subjects, to officiating weddings and founding groups, to helping total strangers. Service has been about literal blood, sweat, and tears at times. Its part of being a Druid in my opinion, beyond serving the community as clergy, but it isn't simple or easy. Its not something to choose lightly and it changes you. There's a price to be paid, and its hard to understand what that price will be until you are living it. I don't think its possible to fully understand what it means to be dedicated (just like you can't know what its like to join the military) until you're on the other side of it. Its always, at best, a leap of faith. Some people take that leap with as much preparation as possible. Others do it on a whim. The one's motivated by whim baffle me, in a way, especially when its purely human motivation - no "calling" from the God, the person just decides it's super cool - because whatever the motivation is the offer can be accepted. And sometimes it is. 
 Quite frankly I don't know why anyone would want to do it, except that obviously it has to be done. The idea that its glamorous or makes a personal special (or should I say Speshul?) just strikes me as ridiculous. I am not special; I am utilitarian, serving a purpose in the world. It's work, and the work never ends.

*Patron: 1 a :  a person chosen, named, or honored as a special guardian, protector, or supporter This is the definition most closely in line with the modern pagan usage of the term; a deity who is believed to have a special connection to a person through the person's dedication or oath which forms a reciprocal relationship

Thursday, October 17, 2013


  I was reading a blog by Nimue Brown that discusses uncertainty, something which for me is the only constant. I believe that the quest for truth, the search for spirituality, is always a matter of questions and not answers. I don't mean so much the experiential side of it, which is a solid thing to me, but the philosophical side, the questions we ask that can never be answered except with guesses and theories. I know my Gods exist, but I will never have certainty that Nuada is Elcmar, for example, or whether Odin really is Wodan. I have my own imbas about these things, but there is that endless thread of uncertainty that keeps my belief flexible instead of fixed. There are some things which are rock solid, but everything else is a matter of faith and perpetual questioning.
  Reading Nimue's words reminded me of a poem I wrote almost 10 years ago, which I'd like to share.
My inconstant heart yearns
for the solidity of truth
for firm ground beneath me
What seems certain today
I doubt tomorrow
and yet I long to believe
I search for light in the dark
but see nothing except shadows
Where is the sure path to follow?
where is the clear truth to believe?
I have faith that these things exist
yet all my evidence is faithless,
I tear to shreds my own belief
yet cannot stop believing

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Flidais with Me

I signed on to contribute to an anthology about Goddesses and I had wanted to write about Flidais - I had actually begun thinking about what I would say and how, and had decided to tell the personal details of my experience with Flidais earlier in the year - but someone else had already asked to write about her and I was assigned a different Goddess. After more thought though I have decided that my story of experiencing Flidais in a time of need is an important one to share, so I am going to blog about it here. Because the Gods really are with us still, if we let them be.

While I was pregnant with my son I had done some mediation work where the Goddess Flidais appeared to me. I saw a stately woman in a white dress emerge from the woods with a doe walking on one side and a heifer on the other. She didn't speak but held out her hands and I felt this overwhelming sense of comfort and reassurance. Somehow I just knew who she was. It lasted for what felt like several minutes, and then I snapped out of the meditation suddenly. But the feeling stayed with me.

Months later I had been discharged from the hospital three days after my son's birth and the first day home went well, except that I was very tired. Not that unusual, so not worth worrying about, but I was still struggling with severe edema in my legs. The doctors had told me that would slowly go away though, so I tried not to think too much about it. Then the night came. I could not sleep. I could not lie back, even a little, or I could not breath. As the night wore on I began to feel a growing sense of panic, as my breathing worsened, and I started having a hard time getting a breath even sitting up. By morning I faced the reality that I could barely get enough breath to speak and there was no choice but to go to urgent care. My mother in law, a former EMT, drove me, and the entire ride was an agony of sucking air in and pushing it out again. I focused on each inhalation and exhalation, each moment, and thought of nothing else.

When we arrived we were rushed back to a room and I was put on oxygen, which did not help very much. My blood pressure and pulse were very high. A CT scan was ordered and because I'm allergic to the contrast dye I was given Benedryl, so that now I was exhausted, couldn't breath, and was struggling to stay awake. I wondered, if I fell asleep, if I would ever wake up again and hated the Benedryl. I prayed desperately to Odin, God of breath, but felt no response, no presence. As I waited in the room for the CT scan results, gasping for breath, I wondered if I would die. I thought of my children. I thought of my husband. I looked at the hives on my hands from the contrast dye and thought that maybe the Benedryl was a good idea after all. And then the doctor came in and said my results looked exactly like someone in congestive heart failure; I had what he thought was a large amount of fluid in my lungs and around my heart. He wanted me transferred as soon as possible to the hospital I'd just been discharged from, he wanted me on a high dose of Lasix, to force the fluid out, and he wanted me on a mask that forces oxygen exchange because its been shown to push fluid out.

They brought in the oxygen mask and tried putting it on my face; it was like sticking my head out a car window going 60 miles an hour. I panicked, thrashing my head away. I wept and begged the nurses not to make me wear it. They talked about sedation and I cried harder, because nursing my son was very important to me. And then, in that moment of pure desperation a wave of calm washed over me and I heard  a female voice telling me "Be still. Be calm. Breathe." My whole body relaxed, and the mask was lowered on and fastened. Claustrophobia rose up again and I reached out to that ephemeral presence; it was like a gentle hand on my shoulder, reassuring, radiating calm. The voice said "Focus on each breath. In. Out. Nothing else." I did exactly what the voice said and somehow it was bearable.

As soon as an ambulance could be found I was transferred to the hospital. I did not know how long I would have to stay but I knew that I was desperately ill. Being as sick as I was didn't matter to me; all I cared about was being separated from my 4 day old baby. It was agony, and I found myself thinking over and over of the story of Rhiannon and how she lost her son. I could not even say the word "baby" without crying. Finally, late that night I decided to be as pro-active as I could, under the circumstances, and make an offering to Flidais who is, after all, associated with healing and nurturing. I had nothing to offer, but I had been pumping and saving breastmilk for my son. I took all that I had and hobbled into the bathroom. I poured my offering, more precious than any other I'd ever made, out into the bathroom sink, thinking of it eventually finding its way to the sea, and asked Her to help me regain my health and to reunite me with my child. I did not know how either would or could be accomplished, as things were looking rather grim at that point, but I needed the hope that prayer can give us when we have nothing left to look to.

The answer to my prayer came the next day, on Imbolc, and in a way that I had never anticipated. I was still too sick to leave the hospital but through a series of inexplicable misunderstandings and a minor miracle the hospital arraigned for me to be transferred to the labor and delivery floor so that my child could join me. This was the only way we could be together, and only if both my obstetrician and the L&D charge nurse agreed to the re-admission because the hospital was on a visitor lockdown due to a flu and norovirus outbreak. Yet somehow everything aligned so that it could happen. And I spent the next 3 days of my hospital stay with my child, and my husband who had to stay as well to help care for the baby.

When I was finally released I had lost almost 40 pounds of fluid in the course of 4 days. My lungs were clear. My heart was not permanently damaged. I had my little son with me, and I was still nursing him despite all the challenges. 

Beannachtai Flidais duit

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Message of Dian Cecht and Miach

"In that battle, moreover, Nuada's hand was stricken off—it was Sreng son of Sengann that struck it off him— so Dian-cecht the leech put on him a hand of silver with the motion of every hand; and Credne the brazier was helping the leech."  - Cath Maige Tuired
"Now Nuada was in his sickness, and Dian-cecht put on him a hand of silver with the motion of every hand therein. That seemed evil to his son Miach. He went to the hand which had been struck off Dian-cecht, and he said ‘joint to joint of it and sinew to sinew,’ and be healed Nuada in thrice three days and nights. The first seventy-two hours he put it over against his side, and it became covered with skin. The second seventy-two hours he put it on his breasts. The third seventy-two hours he would cast white [gap: meaning of text unclear/extent: one word] of black bulrushes when they were blackened in fire. That cure seemed evil to Dian-cecht. He flung a sword on the crown of his son's head and cut the skin down to the flesh. The lad healed the wound by means of his skill. Dian-cecht smote him again and cut the flesh till he reached the bone. The lad healed this by the same means. He struck him the third blow and came to the membrane of his brain. The lad healed this also by the same means. Then he struck the fourth blow and cut out the brain, so that Miach died, and Dian-cecht said that the leech himself could not heal him of that blow." - Cath Maige Tuired
   This is the core of the story of Dian Cecht and his son Miach, healers of the Irish Gods. Many people read this story as one of jealousy and petty retaliation, but I tend to see it differently. To me this is a story about the natural order, the right order of society, and the consequences of defying that order. 
   Dian Cecht is the premier physician of the Tuatha de Danann, called the God of health and Healing Sage of Ireland; he possesses a healing well or cauldron (O hOgain). The first question I asked myself when contemplating this story, is why couldn't Dian Cecht heal Nuada's arm? Of course we could assume that he lacked the skill, but that seems unlikely to me - rather I think it is more likely that the arm was not healed because it was not meant to be. Nuada had been king for 7 years when his arms was lost, meaning he had to forfeit the kingship as only the physically perfect could rule, and then Bres became king. Nuada being restored by Miach allowed the Tuatha de Danann to rebel because Nuada was fit to rule again; however it is worth keeping in mind that Dian Cecht's grandson by his son Cian is Lugh Lamhfada who was also destined to be king, and would indeed take the kingship from Nuada later on. Perhaps - and this is purely my theory - it was not jealousy that motivated Dian Cecht to attack Miach but the knowledge that healing Nuada had changed what would have otherwise happened, which likely would have been Lugh showing up to take the throne from Bres himself. It was Lugh who won the battle for the Tuatha de, and Lugh who killed Balor of the Evil Eye, Balor having - so the story goes - killed Nuada and his wife Macha in the battle. Nuada could not overcome Balor and win the battle but Lugh could and did  - a fact Nuada seems to acknowledge to some degree as he allows Lugh to lead during this time. But, Gods never really dying, now the Tuatha de Danann had Nuada as king and Lugh as destined-king. I can see how, if Dian Cecht had any inkling of this, he might see healing the displaced king as a bad idea, something that disrupted the natural order.
   Miach looks at his father's replacing of Nuada's arm with one of silver and declares that the cure seems evil to him - perhaps because he knows the arm could be restored - and so he sets out to heal it as he believes it should have been done. Dian Cecht sees the arm restored and declares that that healing seems evil to him - perhaps because he knows it has thrown off the natural order of the kingship - and attacks Miach, wounding him four times with the fourth time being fatal. No worries though as his death is only as permanent as any of the other Gods, and he shows up again later healing the wounded with his sister by his father's side. When I look at the story of Miach and Dian Cecht I see a father who allowed a wound to heal a certain way because he was taking the long view, and a son who stepped in and through arrogance healed the same injury, not because it was right to do so, but to prove that he could do it. 

The Lore of Ireland by Dáithí O hOgáin
Cath Maige Tuired

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How To Be Heathen

 In taking on a month of blogging about Heathen topics I asked my friends several times what they would like to see me write about and several mentions were made that boiled down to "how to be Heathen". This is one of those difficult subjects that can either end up as an overly specific guideline that will only apply to a small group of people or a broad overview that usually doesn't really help anyone. It was a daunting proposition to think about writing a blog about this topic so I've been putting it off. After much thought though I decided to offer my own attempt at an outline of how I think a person - any person - should go about getting started in Heathenry. So, here you go, my personal advice:
  Morgan's Guide On How To Be a Heathen

  1. Read the mythology, folklore, and stories to become familiar with the Gods and Spirits (alfar/dawrves/assorted wights) of the Heathen culture you are drawn to. Use this to get to know these Powers and to start to understand the worldview and cosmology. You can't read too much of this stuff, ever, but always keep it in perspective for what it is and avoid the trap of fundamentalism. 
  2. Learn about your own ancestors and connect to them, whoever they are. The dead never truly leave us unless we forget them. Tell their stories, honor their memories, ask them for guidance and help in your life. 
  3. Respect the wights of the land and your home. Learn about how the wights were and are understood and honored by the Heathen culture you are drawn to - be it Norse, Germanic, or Anglo-Saxon - and find ways to do this in your own life. 
  4. Be an honorable person. Live a life that reflects the values you want to embrace, including honesty, trustworthiness, loyalty, and courage. If you give your word, keep it. If you commit to something, see it through. Take responsibility for your own life, the good and the bad; be proud of your accomplishments and be willing to make amends for your errors. 
  5. Embrace reciprocity. Give as much as you get and seek balance between what you take and what you give. 
  6. Following along with part 5 - offer to the Gods, ancestors, and wights to create reciprocity with these Powers. Offer in thanks and celebration, for blessing and protection. Offerings create a relationship between us and the Powers we honor that is important in our spirituality.
  7. Connect to your spirituality regularly by celebrating holidays, reading, and essentially living your faith. Heathenry isn't an occassional religion that you practice once in awhile or a hobby, its a way of life. 
  8. Set aside some space, no matter how small, in your home to honor the Gods. Think about who the Gods are to you, and what part they play in your life. Which gods do you connect most strongly to and why? Who do you honor most often? While each Heathen culture has its own pantheon you will find that within that pantheon there will be a selection of deities - perhaps as few as three or four, perhaps as many as a half dozen or more - that you are particularly drawn to for a variety of reasons. Over time these Gods will be the ones who you form the strongest connections to, much as each historic community had specific Gods within the wider pantheon that they honored. 
And there you have it. You can add seeking community in real life or online as well, but I think that the heart of Heathenry starts with you and your own life. If you aren't a Heathen in your own life then all the community participation in the world won't make you one. That isn't to downplay the importance of community, which is a wonderful source of support, but if you can't be a Heathen without a community then you are missing the point altogether. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Prayers to Eir

 Prayer to Eir for Healing

Eir, greatest of healers,
Let me be healthy and hale
Let me be well and whole
Let me be fine and fit
May illness leave me

May wellness find me

Prayer to Eir for a Chronically Ill Child

Gentle goddess of healing
Be with my child (name)
I offer you this (name offering)
That you will help her
Give her strength
Give her hardiness
Give her vitality
As she fights for health
Gentle goddess of healing
Eir, be with my child

Prayer to Eir for Herbal Medicine

Eir, goddess of the mortar and pestle
As a mix this medicine, 
as I blend these herbs,
May they be blessed 
May they bring healing
May they bring health
In your name, Eir
May it be so

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

CD Review: Kellianna Traditions

 I'm doing something a little bit different today and offering my first music review. Yesterday I bought a copy of Kellianna's new CD Traditions, and after listening to it I decided it would be the perfect CD to review here.
   This is Kellianna's 5th release and a departure from her previous albums in several ways. Firstly, half of the twelve songs were recorded as duets: 1 with Kenny Klein, 2 with Wendy Rule, and 3 with Jenna Greene. Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, every song on the album - as the CD title suggests - is a traditional song, including a range of Celtic and American folk songs and even a few Gospel songs. The tracks are: She Moved Through the Fair, Early One Morning, Scarborough Fair, Danny Boy, John Barleycorn, Oh Shanendoah, The Ash Grove, Amazing Grace, Greensleeves, Ave Maria, Oh Tannenbaum, The Parting Glass. 
    Fans of the previous albums who enjoy Kellianna's original pagan folk songs may be hesitant to try something so different from her but, believe me, its more than worth listening to. These folk songs are perfect choices and show off the beauty of her voice and range. The duets are well done and interesting; from the haunting rendition she and Jenna Greene sing of Scarborough Fair to the fun John Barleycorn she sings with Kenny Klein. My personal favorite is her acapella rendition of The Parting Glass, not only my favorite on the album but my favorite version of that song out of the dozens I've ever heard.
   I have enjoyed Kellianna's previous albums, but honestly I always preferred her chants to her songs; this album though is the perfect balance, showcasing her amazing voice with a range of songs that keep the listener engaged. Even the songs that I didn't expect to like, such as Greensleeves, were pleasant surprises. I believe that fans of Kellianna will enjoy this album just as much as fans of  folk music looking for something new, who are in for a delightful surprise when they give this album a try.

You can find the CD here:
And the digital music here:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sigdrifa's Prayer

"Hail Day!
Hail sons of Day!
Hail Night and her daughters!
Look on us here
With loving eyes.
Grant to us victory.
Hail to the Gods!
Hail to the Goddesses
And all the generous Earth!
Give to us wisdom
and goodly speech,
And healing hands, all our lives."

Friday, August 30, 2013

Racism and Cultural Appropriation

   American paganism in many ways reflects the contemporary trends of American culture: in the 60's and 70's it was feminism and women's empowerment, in the 80's and 90's it was individual empowerment. In the last ten years, and more so now, I've seen an increase in the focus on the ideas of ethnicity, race, and cultural appropriation within paganism.
   Issues of culture and race are complex and this is no less true in paganism than it is in the wider culture. On the one hand people often seek, through spirituality, to reconnect to their own history and roots, to gain a sense of belonging, and this can sometimes lead to a focus on culture. Certainly this is the case with most reconstructionist faiths which often emphasize both specific culture and ancestral connections and veneration. Feeling connected to ancestry through religion teaches us to be proud - proud of our ancestors' trials, struggles, and successes. Generally this is a good thing; we should be proud of our ancestry and our cultural history. This can become a problem though when that pride and the desire to feel that sense of belonging becomes a sense of possession, as if that religion belongs exclusively to any one group or people. In Celtic paganism I see this when people are dismissed as not really Celtic, as if their opinions have no or less value if they don't live in a Celtic country, speak a Celtic language, or have recent Celtic ancestry. In Heathenry it can be less subtly expressed in outright racism* and exclusion of non-Europeans from groups. I've heard of it in other faiths as well, from Wicca to Hellenismios, when one person tells another that they have no right to that religion because it belongs to another culture. It's all rooted in the idea that these beliefs are ours and we must protect them by keeping out the unworthy or those who might threaten the quality of what is ours. It's not always expressed that way, but that's the core idea behind it; we have something special that belongs to us and we must keep it safe from anyone who isn't us.
   The big, obvious problem with this is: who gets to decide who owns the culture? Who can say what amount of heritage is enough? Oh people try, certainly, but it all comes down to personal opinion and assumption, no matter how prettily they attempt to dress it up as the will of the Gods. How far back does someone's ancestry have to go for it to be enough? Can skin color really be a measure of heritage when it tells you nothing practical about that person's ethnicity? My heritage, like many Americans, is complex, including both European and Native American, so what cultures am I entitled to? What cultures am I excluded from? There are Heathens who would say that I cannot be Heathen because I am Cherokee on my father's side; there are tribal members who say I cannot follow tribal ways because I'm too fair skinned, despite the fact that historically none of that mattered in either culture. Belonging to a culture, sharing its beliefs, was based on far more than skin color and birth. History tells us that the Vikings intermarried with the Irish, that our ancestors, as they moved into new lands, intermarried with the people already there. The Gods were your Gods because they were the ones you honored, the ones you prayed to and offered to, not because you passed some litmus test of color or ancestry. The culture was your culture because it was what you lived, valued, and passed on. This was true in the past so in a modern multicultural, multi-ethnic society what place could racism possible have?
   Or, to summarize, racism is stupid and has no place any where in any thing.
   On the other hand we have cultural appropriation, a very popular term right now that is often horribly misunderstood and misused. Taken from sociology, cultural appropriation - also called cultural borrowing - is a natural and normal cultural process wherein one culture adopts beliefs, practices, or items from another culture usually with modifications. The western idea of karma is a cultural appropriation from the east, for example. Cultural appropriation, in and of itself, is not inherently a bad thing, however it can be so when the culture being taken from is a minority culture and the one doing the taking is a dominant one. In such a case appropriation can often lead to the loss of the original culture's belief or practice as it is subsumed and eventually discarded in favor of the dominant culture's version. The fear of that happening is often cited in cultural forms of paganism, including Irish and Norse, as grounds to speak out against or reject concepts taken from a specific culture and redefined by more popular modern pagan traditions. For example a reiki practitioner took the Irish Ogham and created what they call Celtic reiki, something that is seen as appropriation by some Irish pagans and some traditional reiki practitioners. The taking of the four Celtic fire festivals for use in the neopagan wheel of the year is often viewed as appropriation. James Arthur Ray's appropriation and misuse of sweat lodges is another, more tragic, example. Cultural appropriation is a very complex subject though because it is a natural cultural process and can occur organically - the incorporation of food, for example - so that not all appropriation is necessarily bad. In academia cultural appropriation may be divided into different categories which can include exchange, dominance, exploitation, and transculturation (Rogers, 2006). Exchange and transculturation are positive while dominance and exploitation are negative. Culture itself is built on a process of interaction with and reciprocal appropriation of other cultures which over times creates cultural exchange (Rogers, 2006). Generally when Cultural appropriation is discussed in paganism what is actually meant is cultural exploitation, the taking of aspects of a minority culture by a dominant one for the advantage of the dominant culture. This is a touchy issue for me as someone who regularly sees both my Native ancestral culture and Irish culture exploited. But as modern pagans we cannot simply say that we will not ever use or include anything that isn't originally from our culture or that no one else has a right to what we consider ours, particularly since, as I already discussed, it can be very difficult to decide who has a right to what; certainly the ancient pagans freely incorporated material from others in what would be seen as cultural exchange. On the other hand we should be respectful of other cultures and do everything we can to avoid what amounts to cultural plagiarism. My personal rule of thumb is to look at the context of the original and then how it is being applied outside that context; if it seems to be respectfully done then I am okay with it, if it seems to be done superficially, without respect, or understanding then I am not okay with it. We can use Samhain as an example: in modern paganism some people have begun to incorporate genuinely Irish pagan practices including a food offering to the fairies. I would not have an issue with this when the person researchers it and understands why it was done and historically how, even if their version is different from mine - candy instead of caudle, perhaps - but if the person simply hears that it was a practice to offer to the fairies, doesn't bother to learn anything about it, and offers something that would traditionally be offensive - spoiled food or leftovers, perhaps - then I would see that as inappropriate.  When you come across genuine appropriation the best way to fight it may be to educate people about the real beliefs and practices and the history, the roots, from which they have come.
   We are all, ultimately, seeking the same thing. As human beings we all want to be happy; as religious practitioners we all want to find spiritual fulfillment. The differences between us are, literally, only skin deep, and yet culture can shape us in profound ways that go far beyond outward differences and do deserve to be honored. Be proud of who you are and where you've come from and respect the journey that's brought you this far, but always respect those who are walking along with you as well by honoring the things we have in common as well as our differences.
   Ní neart go cur le chéile

* racism is the belief that different races have different abilities and characteristics and race can also be used to describe ethnic groups, including the Irish, English, etc., While we might most often think of racism as the division of people by skin color, it applies equally to the division of people by ethnicity. The infamous "No Irish Need Apply" signs of 19th century America are examples of that type of racism. 

Rogers, R., (2006) From Cultural Exchange to Transculturation: A Review and Reconceptualization of Cultural Appropriation. Communication Theory, vol 16, issue 4

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Prayers to/for the Faeries

 Prayer to Honor House Fairies

"I offer this to the spirits of my home,
Spirits of place, I honor you
Spirits of peace, be welcome
May there be friendship between us"

Prayer to the Daoine Sidhe

"Ancient Ones of the Otherworld
Wise People of skill and power
I offer this to you as a sign of goodwill
Honey and cream, sweetness and life,
May there be peace and friendship 
always between myself and the daoine sidhe"

This next one is modified from Lacnunga CXXXIV-CXXXV and is meant to be used to cure elf shot, the sudden cramp, pain, or illness believed to be caused by an invisible fairy arrow.

For Elf-Shot, or any Sudden Stitch

Mix Feverfew,  nettle that grows into a house, and Plantain; boil in butter. Spread over the afflicted area and say:
"Loud were they, loud, loud, when they rode over the mound,
they were fierce when they rode over the land.
Shield yourself now that you may escape this evil.
Out, little spear, if you are here!
Stood under linden, under a light shield,
where the mighty women readied their power,
and screaming they sent spears.
I will send back to them another,
a flying dart against them in return.
Out, little spear, if you are here!
A smith sat,  he forged a knife,
little iron; strong wound.
Out, little spear, if you are here!
Six smiths sat,  they made war spears.
Out, spear, not in, spear!
If a bit of iron is here,
witch's work, it shall melt.
If you were shot in the skin, or were shot in flesh,
or were shot in the blood, or were shot in bone,
or were shot in a limb, may your life never be torn apart.
If it were dwarves' shot, or it were elves' shot,
or it were witchs shot, now I will help you.
This your remedy for dwarves' shot, this your remedy for elves' shot;
This your remedy for witch's shot; I will help you.
It fled there into the mountains. . . . no rest did it have.
Be whole now! Gods help you!"

This final one is modified from the Carmina Gadelica:

Bless, O gods 10

Bless, O generous gods,
Myself and everything near me,
Bless me in all my actions,
May I be safe for ever,
     May I be safe for ever.
From every brownie and bansidhe,
From every evil wish and sorrow,
From every nymph and water-wraith,
From every fairy
-mouse and grass-mouse,
     From every fairy-mouse and grass-mouse.

From every troll among the hills,
From every siren
 hard pressing me,
From every ghoul
 within the glens,
Oh! save me till the end of my days.
     Oh! save me till the end of my days.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Children's Prayers

Prayer During Storms

Thunder, thunder
In the sky
Thor's loud chariot
Pass us by

Meal Prayer

We give thanks
For this food
To the Gods
To the land spirits
And ancestors too

Sleep Prayers

A general version for all the pagan parents of little kids out there:
"Now I lay me down to rest
I pray that my home and kin be blessed;
ancestors guard me through the night
Gods watch over me by starlight
Guardian spirits are always near
and keep me safe, no need to fear
Loving spirits will dance and sing
Happy dreams they always bring
And when I wake to a new day
The shining sun will light my way"
An more Irish version:
"Now I lay me down to rest
I pray that my home and kin be blessed
ancestors guard me through the night
Gods watch over me by starlight
Guardian spirits are always near
and keep me safe, no need to fear
Goodly spirits will dance and sing
Happy dreams they always bring
And when I wake to a new day
Aine's bright sun will light my way"

And a more heathen one:
"Now I lay me down to rest
I pray that my home and kin be blessed
Disir guard me through the night
Aesir watch over me by starlight
Guardian spirits are always near
and keep me safe, no need to fear
Goodly wights will dance and sing
Happy dreams they always bring
And when I wake to a new day
 Sunna's bright sun will light my way"

Friday, August 23, 2013

Meal Prayers

Meal Blessing 

May this meal be blessed,
May those who eat it have 
health and happiness,
May we be grateful for this abundance,
In name of the Gods and spirits

This is a longer prayer from the Carmina Gadelica to be said over food. I would suggest saying it either while cooking or while serving the meal, as opposed to after serving it. Interestingly the prayer contains a line referencing asperging those about to eat after they sit at the table, especially the children. There is a reference as well to several herbs, which might be seen as bringing blessing or luck based on the context; it would be worth considering placing a tiny amount of each, or several, into water to use for sprinkling on the family and guests. I would not recommend drinking or otherwise consuming the water or herbs without carefully researching each for safety, but external application should be all right. Someone seeking to reconstruct a meal practice might work out a system, particularly for ritual meals or feasts, of saying this blessing over the food, serving the meal and then asperging the gathered people with blessed herbal water before the meal commences. Below is my own version based on the original.

Meal Blessing 78

Every meal beneath my roof,
They will all be mixed together,
In name of the Gods
     Who gave them growth.
Milk, and eggs, and butter,
The good produce of our own flock,
There shall be no untimely dearth in our land,
     Nor in our dwelling.
In name of the Gods of life,
Who bequeathed to us the power,
With the blessing of the land,
     And of the goddess of the land.
May we appreciate what we have,
And may You be a sanctuary around us,
Ward from us every spectre, sprite, oppression,
     And preserve us.
Consecrate the produce of our land,
Bestow prosperity and peace,
In name of Danu
 the Mother of the aos sidhe,
     And of the three gods
 of skill.
Dandelion, smooth garlic,
, woad, and butterwort,
The three carle-doddies,
     And marigold
Gray 'cailpeach' plucked,
The seven
-pronged seven times,
The mountain yew
, ruddy heath,
     And madder
I will put water on them all,
In the name of Lugh
 of the Long Arm,
In the name of Daghda
 the generous,
     And of Macha
, sovereign queen.
When we shall sit down
To take our food,
I will sprinkle in the name of the Gods

     On the children

Shorter Version -  Meal Blessing

Every meal beneath my roof,
They will all be mixed together,
In name of the Gods
     Who gave them growth.
Milk, and eggs, and butter,
The good produce of our own flock,
There shall be no untimely dearth in our land,
     Nor in our dwelling.
In name of the Gods of life,
Who bequeathed to us the power,
With the blessing of the land,
     And of the goddess of the land.
May we appreciate what we have