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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Being a Priestess of the Daoine Uaisle

  This month has been one of contemplation for me, as I look at how the last year has gone since Ireland. I've written about it, probably more than some people care to read about, because it's a big thing for me and because it's probably the overriding thing in my life this month. No matter what else has been going on my mind always spins back to the same thoughts: what does it mean to serve, what does it mean to be a priestess of Themselves, what does it mean to deal with them, and what does it mean to have this level of connection?



I want to be clear on a couple things as I begin writing this. What follows is my own personal reflections and thoughts, and while I'd hope it may resonate with other people I don't expect it will with everyone. Acting as clergy for the Gods is a highly personal and varied thing and I suspect that doing so for beings like the OtherCrowd who are not-Gods is even more so. Also it must be kept in mind that there's a huge array of beings that people may think of under the English term fairies, or any of the related non-English terms, and individual experiences with some of those will vary widely. A person who focuses on one specific kind of being may find their approach to working with or speaking for those beings vastly different from everything I'm about to say, and that's fine. While I can and often do use general terms and euphemisms I'm actually pretty specific in who and what I deal with and am in service to - the Irish Aos Sí, the people of the fairy hills.

The first thing that this dedication seems to clearly mean is writing about them. A lot.
Since coming back from Ireland last year, since that unexpected initiation, I've written two full length non-fiction books focused on Themselves (Fairies and Travelling the Fairy Path) as well as committed to a Pagan Portals book on the Fairy Queens. My blog has taken on a decidedly fairy-themed focus. I do still write about other things, but I feel more strongly compelled than I did before to try to get good information out there and to work on both preserving the folklore and older views as well as showing that modern beliefs do exist.

publication date september 2018
Secondly it means accepting that my focus now is on serving Themselves, not the human community. This has been a massive shift for me, because previously I did follow the more traditional approach of viewing priest/essing as a service to a human community, and I saw that as a duty that was important and even pleasant much of the time. I had always known there were those whose service focused more on the Gods, for example, but my understanding of that was still that it worked through a lens of human community. Now I see that in some cases service can be divorced from the human community and focused entirely elsewhere. It is a very different lens and that took me a long time to truly understand. I think before this experience I couldn't really have understood it at all except in the most abstract way.

It also means accepting and even embracing that this is something I need to be willing to publicly claim and discuss. This one has been the biggest struggle for me and it still is. Even after a year it feels strange and almost hubristic to call myself a priestess of the Good People and I do not like using that title, even though it's one I know I need to use and need to be willing to own. Oddly enough, given the change in focus for me, this is a title that was given by the human community not the Other One. The sorts of titles I get from them are very different and far more humbling - I think at this point I have been called 'servant' in at least three different languages. I suppose on the bright side at least I don't have any fear of getting too full of myself or forgetting my place around them.

Being a priestess in service to the OtherCrowd is hard work and it can be messy and unpleasant. It can also be amazing and full of blessing. But whatever it is, it is never easy. And unlike other things I have done or spiritualities I have practiced, this is not something that can be undone or changed later. There is no going back from this, and if that doesn't scare you then you aren't paying attention.

This isn't something I went looking for, although it's also not something I turned aside from either. If you really feel pulled to this, maybe look at the other path, at serving the human community by dealing with the Other not at serving the Other. Walking on this side changes a person not just figuratively but literally and that's a hard thing. I had previously had experience as a priestess to the Gods but I had never felt like I lost my sense of autonomy, like I wasn't making my own decisions. Now I feel utterly given over in ways that I could not have anticipated, and in ways I can't control. Keep that in mind, and don't forget that the cost of anything with them is equal to the value of what they are giving.

For anyone who finds the idea of this kind of path appealing, I'd warn against it. Practice Fairy Witchcraft, certainly, or whatever aspect of the Fairy Faith - or witchcraft - appeals to you. Become a priest or priestess for the human community if you feel called to as that is a vital and necessary thing. I found a lot of joy in my years of service to the human community in that capacity. But I wouldn't recommend priestessing for Themselves unless you have no choice or feel truly compelled to. It's a consuming thing, the way fire consumes, and like fire it transmutes what it consumes.




Part of why I'm writing this today is because I'm still working it out for myself, still trying to understand these changes and what they mean. The other reason I'm writing though is because I see so much out there that seems to glamourize (no pun intended) the idea of fairies and of connecting to them and I want to be sure people understand that it isn't all glitter and rainbows. It's literal blood, sweat, and tears. As much as it's alluring its also terrifying, and there's no part of it that's safe.

If you are going to do this, do it with your eyes open and keep your wits about you.

Friday, November 24, 2017

What Comes in Dreams: a Healing Charm

I've mentioned a few times before that I sometimes am given things in dreams. Sometimes these things relate to herbal knowledge and sometimes they are more complex, such as when I was told how to make Cáca Síofra. I can't always share these things, but when I can I do try to, not only so that other people can make use of them but also because I want to encourage other people to trust in what they might be getting in dreams or journeys.

One night a few weeks ago I had a dream and was given a healing chant. This happened around 1 am and I woke up afterwards but as I was very tired I didn't get up to write it down. I did remember it the next morning and had to try to figure out how to write it out properly. This was a bit more difficult than you might think because, as sometimes happens, it was given to me in modern Irish and while
 I have some modern Irish I'm much better with old Irish. When I'm given things in modern Irish I don't always know what all the words mean or how to write them out from hearing them spoken but can usually suss it all out afterwards. I do this by writing it down based on my best guess for what I think it should be and then asking my friends who are Irish speakers to help me smooth it out. In this case the next day several people helped me with the spelling and grammar (go raibh maith agaibh Caoimhin, Lora, agus Fionnuala!)

This is the healing chant as it was given to me:
"Gruaig le gruaig
craiceann le craiceann
cnámh le cnámh
feoil le feoil
fuil le fuil
casadh an chneá"

In English, roughly:
'hair with hair
skin with skin
bone with bone
flesh with flesh
blood with blood

turning/twisting the wound'

Anyone who wants to is welcome to make use of this. It's new as far as I know but it's similar in style to several other older healing chants for injuries, including, 'Charm of the Sprain' from the Carmina Gadelica and the Second Merseburg Incantation, so it's fine for me to share. It would be used by holding the hands over the injury and and chanting the words three times.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

That Time I Unseelied a Tree, and Why You Should Too

So first a story.
I have a fairy tree in my yard and I had the idea at one point to start tying ribbons on it, in the spirit of the rag tree tradition. Now usually a rag tree is by a healing well and the ribbons or bits of cloth tied on it represent prayers for healing of either the person or someone they are praying for. I knew this but still felt drawn to put ribbons on my own tree, and I don't deny I did it badly, because I simply used store bought ribbon. I can say here that my intentions were good, but I've never been a big believer that intentions mitigate harm caused. After a time the tree had quite a lot of ribbons on it, and after a time I started feeling strongly that I needed to take them off - I was even dreaming about it. But I really, really didn't want to remove them. It seemed counterintuitive and sacrilegious to do so, to remove what had been place with prayer and its own little ritual. Yet in the end it became a compulsion, and one day as I walked past the tree on my way to my car I found myself stopping, unable to go on until I removed the ribbons. I went back into the house, found a pair of scissors, and spent enough time that I was late to work taking all the ribbons off. Afterwards I felt a blend of relief and horror at having, effectively, 'unseelied' (unblessed) my tree.

Here's the thing though, as upsetting as it was for me to take those prayer ribbons off that tree, and as much as I felt like I was doing something wrong - was in effect unblessing the tree - what I did was important and necessary. The ribbons I'd put on were synthetic fibers; they were not rotting away with time but instead were strangling the branches they were tied on. In several places when I managed to get the ribbon off there was a clear indent in the branch where the ribbon had started to grow into the tree, and it was obvious to me the harm my actions had caused. I had made a critical mistake in not using natural material and in not tying it loosely so that it would either fall apart naturally or be pulled off by the wind. My well meaning actions would have killed my tree eventually, and removing the ribbons, as much as it pained me to do it, saved it.

That said, there are two main points I want to make here, first about participating in rag tree practices and secondly about removing things already tied to trees at sacred sites. 

Many people today either want to emulate the rag tree practices or look at participating in it while visiting Ireland (or other countries that have the practice) and I am urging everyone to please seriously consider what you are tying to these trees. Recently there have been some good discussion of the importance of proper rag tree practices online both by the Tara Skryne Preservation Group and other travel pages. If you want to tie a rag on a sacred tree you need to be aware firstly that rag trees are very specific trees, usually by a holy well as I've mentioned, and that you can't and shouldn't tie just anything onto the tree. Every tree you run across is not appropriate to tie things to, and just because it's at a sacred site doesn't make it a tree to tie prayers to. Also if you are going to tie things to a tree please use natural, degradable materials. And please don't push coins in o the bark, that will poison the tree. 

When you visit sacred sites and holy wells you will see many strange things tied to rag trees. Some people believe it best to leave what is already tied there alone; others advocate for removing what is and will harm the tree. This is a complicated subject because there are issues with people removing all rags from rag trees, and even cutting the trees down, in protest against the practice itself and I am by no means advocating that. However as an animist and pagan I do think we have an obligation to put the health of the tree before the symbolism of the plastic and synthetic material that is tied to it and slowly killing it. Natural material is fine and should be encouraged, but what amounts to rubbish if left there will only kill the tree that people claim to find sacred.

The reason I began this with my story was to make a point. I was deeply reluctant to take those ribbons down, even though they were my ribbons and I was being told repeatedly to remove them. There was a discussion on a sacred sites travel group I belong to recently about whether it's ethical to remove other people's ribbons from sacred trees, and in my opinion you should, even though I understand the reluctance to remove other people's prayers. Understand it on a deeply personal level. There is an almost atavistic aversion - in my experience - among spiritual people against interfering with other people's spiritual devotions. Yet ultimately we need to look beyond the intention of what have been tied on the trees and to the spirit of the trees and land itself. If we are seeking to respect those spirits, seeking to truly be blessed by these holy places, then we must act in ways that are aligned with that concept. Doing things that kill the sacred trees, ultimately are unblessed - unseely - actions. Removing plastic, non-biodegradable, metal items, no matter what sacred intent was behind their placement is ultimately a blessed, or seely, act because it saves the life of the tree. I titled this post 'the time I unseelied a tree' because that was how it felt, and it was a terrible conflicted feeling. But sometimes we must do what feels wrong in order to ultimately do that which is right.

Removing those ribbons felt like unseelie'ing the tree but in the end it resulted in an increased blessing, and much happier spirits. And I don't regret doing it at all.


Thursday, November 2, 2017

In Service: Ireland a Year Later

 This Samhain has been an interesting and intense one for me on several levels. It has been busy in purely mundane ways and it has been just as busy in spiritual ways. But more than anything I find myself reflecting whenever my mind isn't set on anything else on being in Ireland this time last year, on my experiences there and the initiation I underwent that I had not expected. I hear the water of Ogulla well, feel it cold on my skin, feel the sandy bottom of the well under my feet. I remember the feel of the mud of Uaimh na gCat under my hands and on my face, the sounds of the cave wrapping around me. When I close my eyes I see in the distance the smoke from the fires on Teamhair rising up in the darkness of a moonless Samhain night, the fires of Tlachtga at my back. Water, and earth, and fire, they all still seem immediate and present.

Uaimh na gCat
So much of life is what we plan it to be, especially spiritually. We have goals, we set intentions, we move forward towards a destination, whatever we perceive that to be. Things may not always work out the way we plan or go as we intend but more often than not we do have clear intentions. Or maybe that's wishful thinking on my part. Certainly my own spiritual life as much as it has wandered and sometimes faltered had always felt like it was in my control. And then Ireland.

Nothing that happened in Ireland was what I had anticipated or expected.

And here I am a year later and I feel like I am the same person I have always been and I am also irrevocably different. I don't know how to feel about that even now. I'm not sure that I know how to put that into words, even now, and that's a truly strange feeling for me who uses words as a tool of expression every day. But how do you explain the way a series of small events, small choices, each built on the other can lead a person inevitably to something that is both entirely predictable and entirely unexpected?

the path to Tlachtga, Samhain night, 2017
So many things in my life up to that point led me there, and yet I never saw that end result coming. I had grown comfortable, complacent, with the way things were, and maybe even a little bit arrogant. Funny how quickly that is washed away when circumstances change and you are moved from feeling like you have some status in the human community to a position where you feel like you have very minimal status in a spiritual context. As I told Lora O'Brien during a recent interview* I feel like prior to that point I served the human community but since that time I have served Themselves, and my connection to them is very much one of service. That shift alone is enormous, and I still don't know for certain where it is taking me. I'm not sure it matters on a personal level. That's one lesson I've learned in the last 12 months, not to be concerned so much about myself and my own ego but to focus on what I am supposed to be doing here for Them, at least as best I can.

For all of that if I had known what I was moving towards, what was going to happen, I would not do anything differently. I would still take that first step forward into initiation and I would still accept the role of priestess of the Daoine Maithe. Like the pull of gravity there was such an inevitability to it all that I don't think I could have chosen differently unless I went all the way back to my childhood and made myself a different person from then, and if it meant losing myself entirely what would be the point? Maybe that's inevitable with them as well, for they are known to consume people one way or another, but to quote Bukowski (probably anyway) "For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it's much better to be killed by a lover."

I chose to accept each step of the way when I could have refused or turned aside, and that has since meant a complete restructuring of things, and at the same time not. I have parted ways from Odin, and am no longer his priestess. I am still connected to Macha but it is not the same. I have been forced to look deeply into what it means to be a priestess when the role I am fulfilling is one of service to the Othercrowd not the human community. And yet at the same time so much has remained the same, changed only in its intensity.

There was a cost, of course, because there's always a cost and because it involves the Daoine Maithe that cost is layered and complicated and still playing out. There have been blessings as well, and I try to remind myself of those as often as possible.

Rathcroghan
Life goes on apace and I am standing now a year out from that pivotal dark moon. This year there was a nearly full moon shining down on me as I went out to make my offerings and celebrate the holiday. That seemed very meaningful, but in my mind the memories linger of the darkness and fires and smell of woodsmoke on the air.


*you can listen to the recorded version by joining Lora's mailing list here http://loraobrien.net/community/