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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Wellspring 2014

 I returned home yesterday from my first national festival, Wellspring, an event put on by ADF.  This is ADF's 30th year, and although I've been a member since 2001 I've never attended an ADF gathering before. This year though I was asked if I'd be interested in doing a few workshops at Wellspring and after discussing the logistics with my Kindred sister, decided that it would be fun to go and bring the kids. I put in proposals for a selection of workshops and was set to do three: honoring the Other Crowd as a modern pagan, living Celtic Reconstructionism, and the Hidden Folk in Norse and Irish culture.
Thor shrine in the Runestead

   There was some point then were putting 5 children ages 10 through 1 in a car together for close to 9 hours was a good idea. In retrospect I don't know when that point was, but we did it, and after an epic drive through the night to avoid holiday traffic we arrived at Brushwood. We chose a campsite located strategically close to the bathrooms (5 small children, remember?) and also on the fringe where crying baby at 6 am was less likely to bother people.
  There were a couple downsides to the weekend. We had been warned to be prepared for cold weather; we failed to anticipate it getting down to the mid-40's (Fahrenheit) at night and so did not have enough blankets. The kids were okay, of course, but the adults did not sleep well - and teaching workshops on little sleep makes for interesting times. I may have done an impression of Fonzie from Happy Days in one workshop. We also forgot to pack our bottled water so its safe to say dehydration was an issue.
  That aside I can honestly say Wellspring was an amazing experience. Brushwood itself is a wonderful place with a permanent nemeton and runestead where people can go to worship. I attended a moving Morrigu devotional at the nemeton the first day; during a portion of the ceremony where personal omens were being taken the temperature suddenly plunged so that our breath was a visible plume in the air and then just as suddenly warmed again. Every morning we would walk to these sacred places with the children to do our devotional prayers, which was powerful not only for my friend and I but also for the children.
My oldest daughter especially found the experience to be profound, as there was a small shrine to Brighid she went and prayed at every morning. She feels a strong connection to Brighid, which was made stronger by this devotional practice. I suspect she's trying to think of how to make something like this at home now.
Brighid's shrine
 Speaking of children - Wellspring had a great kids program with lots of fun activities. We'd been a little worried about keeping the kids occupied and happy, but they all enjoyed themselves - enough that they are asking to go back.
   There was a potluck dinner the second night we were there and I have to say I have never had so much fun at a potluck before, even if I was wrestling tired kids most of the time. The food was great, the company was great - Stone Creed Grove kindly invited our rolling circus to sit with them - and the atmosphere overall was convivial. And after dinner the Dragon Ritual Drummers performed, which was amazing to listen to - even from a quarter mile away, in a tent, with a sleeping infant.
  I saw an old friend and was able to spend a little bit of time with her, met several people in real life that I had previously only known online, and made several new friends over the course of the weekend. I think my workshops went well, and I enjoyed the ritual I was able to attend. I certainly wish I'd had more time to spend talking with people but overall I think Wellspring was a successful experience for us, and I came home feeling physically tired but spiritually revived.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Interfaith and Workshop plans

  Today's blog will be a brief one, as my daughter has a same day surgery procedure tomorrow and I have a lot to do today, but I read an interesting blog by Jason Mankey discussing his views on interfaith work which he ended by saying that he prefers to focus on building within the pagan community rather than working on interfaith outside it.
  By definition interfaith work is rooted in looking for common ground between diverse religions. Ideally it goes beyond tolerance and nurtures acceptance and the acknowledgement of commonalities. For my own part I think understanding and tolerance are the first step we need to achieve before we start working on anything more grand. With so much work left to do in even getting people to understand what reconstructionism really is, I worry about putting the cart before the horse by emphasizing the common ground we share with other groups.
  Interfaith of all sorts is a something I find to be very important, not only so I can learn about other traditions but so I can give a voice to mine. I see interfaith work as a chance to educate others about my beliefs and traditions, whether those others are monotheists or other pagans. The goal of education is simply to spread sound information to dispel the fear and mistrust that comes from ignorance. Whether people like what I do, or agree with it, is inconsequential to me if they can come to a place of understanding and tolerance similar to what I have for them. And I think that interfaith work, sharing what I really do and why, is essential to the long term success of the both my own community and a wider, diverse pagan community.
   For reconstructionists, especially, I think its vital for us to get out there and have a voice. We are a minority within the minority, often misunderstood, maligned, and mocked, and that will only change if we actively work to change it.  Ignorance doesn't go away on it's own; ignorance must be changed through action, both the effort of the speaker to teach and the listener to learn. If we don't make that effort, if we don't try, and just remain within our own insular communities then nothing changes. As part of that we also have to work on being more tolerant of those we disagree with.
  As a follower of the traditional views about fairies, that viewpoint deserves equal time and respect too. Without a voice the old understandings are lost under the crush of new opinions and trends. And while it may be much easier to be silent, it is ultimately far more expensive.
  In the spirit of this, and more widely of my intent to serve my Gods and spirits, I am going to be fairly busy this year at events and conferences. I'm speaking at Connecticut Pagan Pride's Beltane event in April, at ADF's Wellspring event in May, a Morrigan retreat in Massachusetts in June, Connecticut's Pagan Pride Day in September and  the Changing Times Changing Worlds conference in November. I'm excited to have so many opportunities to meet people and talk about things I'm passionate about.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Spiritual Devotion and Small Children

   I remember the days, 20 years ago, 15 years ago, when spiritual devotion was an easy, flowing thing. If I wanted to stop and pray, or make an offering, or meditate on something I had the flexibility to do so. If I wanted to spontaneously drive out to a state park or to the ocean, I got in my car and went. If I was invited to attend an event or a group celebration I went. the only limitation I had was my work schedule. My focus when I prayed or conducted a ritual was to make it as perfect as possible. I had scripts to follow and high expectations.
   And then, ten years ago, I had my first child, and all that changed. My schedule wasn't my own anymore because there was no telling an infant to wait until I was done or finding that still meditative place in myself with a fussy toddler pulling at my hand. My previous approach to spirituality had been based around my own internal rhythms and patterns; what worked for me and when I felt pulled to do things. I had a very spontaneous spirituality, even in my set devotional work. When I planned things I had time to prep for rituals, to go over exactly what I was going to do until I was sure it could be executed perfectly. But all of that changed when children were involved.
  There was a time when I chaffed a bit at the feeling of restriction, especially after my second child, who has several chronic medical issues, was born. The way I did things - the way I had done things for years and years at that point - suddenly had to be completely revised. It was a challenge, to be sure, but I believed from the beginning that it was vitally important that my children be included and that what I was doing be something they could also appreciate instead of something they would see taking my attention away from them.
  We learned together how to form an organic approach to devotion and ritual. I had to accept that the idea of perfect prayers, recited with my full attention on worship, were right out the window; with small children you always have some small part of your attention on them and what they are doing. My offerings became more creative and also simpler, and I grew to understand that the Gods and spirits want our best efforts, but our best efforts in that moment not perfection. I re-read the Carmina Gadelica seeing it not as a simple prayer book but as a record of a living tradition practiced by people just like me, mothers praying their devotion within the daily round of feeding their families, bathing their babies, and worrying about the safety of those they loved.
    I learned that it was better to try than not to do at all, even if the result was comical or rushed or interrupted. My devotional work became a study in perseverance, a type of devotion in its own way. If my morning prayers are interrupted by a hungry infant I sit down and nurse him and keep right on praying. If my Lughnasa ritual falls on an especially hot day then we celebrate inside so that my younger daughter can participate too without getting sick. We adapt, we work with what we have, and we give the Gods our best effort in that moment. Because I am sure the Gods and spirits - and I know for certain my ancestors - understand about hungry babies, and sick children, about life and human limitations.
Beltane 2013
   My reward for adopting this approach is not only being able to continue my devotional practice no matter how chaotic my life may be on any given day, but more importantly inspiring my children to want to do what I do. My oldest daughter came to me of her own accord and asked if we could start saying my night prayers together, so now we do them as a family. They look forward to each holiday as something fun they will participate in, and they are proud to be part of the traditions we celebrate. I look back at myself 20 years ago and I see someone who was free to totally devote herself to her religion; I realize now that I still have that freedom if I choose to see my circumstances as a gift and not a burden.

   Fragment 216 (modified)
As it was,
As it is,
As it shall be
O Ancient Gods
Of Skill!
With the ebb,
With the flow,
O Ancient Gods
Of Skill!
With the ebb,
With the flow.
  - based on material from the Carmina Gadelica volume 2

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Recommended Reading for Irish Druids

Irish Druid's reading list:
The Mysteries of Druidry by Brendan Myers - a great book that discusses Druidism from a specifically Irish perspective including both history and modern practice
Celtic Flame: An Insider's Guide to Irish Pagan Tradition by Aedh Rua - a greta look at one person's attempt to create a modern Irish pagan tradition. Useful for an Irish Druid on several levels, including ritual structure and thought provoking ideas on theology
The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual by Alexei Kondratiev - not Irish specific but a must read fo rthe histrory of the different holidays; also full of important mythology and folklore
The Sacred Isle: Pre-Christian Religions in Ireland by Dáithí Ó hÓgáin - one of my personal favorites, a great look at the pagan Irish and Druids; the author does tend to look for a classical model for the Gods, so some of his ideas should be taken with a grain of salt, but overall very useful.
The Lore of Ireland: An Encyclopaedia of Myth, Legend and Romance by Dáithí Ó hÓgáin - essential quick reference for different Irish material, especially deities, heroes, places, and holidays
The Druid's Primer by L. Eastwood - again not Irish specific but an excellent look at the basic history of Druidism and a possible modern structure for it
Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain by Ronald Hutton - an in depth look at the history of Druidism, particularly the revival period
The World of the Druids by Miranda J. Green - focused more on the history of Celtic religion and Druidism, including archaeological evidence
Druids, Gods & Heroes from Celtic Mythology (World Mythology Series) by Anne Ross - a basic introduction to Celtic mythology
Celtic Heritage by  Rees & Rees - an indepth look at Celtic culture
A Druid's Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine by Ellen Evert Hopman - lots of herbal lore, but also tidbits of Druidic history and lore about the holidays
Druidry and the Ancestors by Nimue Brown - not specifically Irish, but an excellent look at how to incorporate ancestor honoring into modern practice
War, Women, and Druids by Philip Freeman - a concise collection of ancient references relating to Celtic culture including Druids and bards
Druids Sourcebook edited by John Matthews - a collection of a variety of early and later references and articles about Druidism.
I'd also repeat my Irish recon reading list as it includes a lot of the important mythology:
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
 The Lebor Gabala Erenn - the story of the invasions of Ireland by the Gods and spirits and eventually humans.
 Cath Maige Tuired - the story of the battle of the Tuatha de Danann with the Fomorians.
 the Year in Ireland by K. Danaher - an overview of holidays and folk practices throughout the year.
 The Silver Bough (all four volumes) by F. MacNeil - Scottish but extremely useful for understanding folk practices and beliefs
Fairy and Folktales of the Irish Peasantry by Yeats - a look at folklore and belief, important for including the Daoine maithe in your practice
 Lady with a Mead Cup by Enright - useful look at ritual structure and society in both Celtic and Norse cultures
 Celtic Gods and Heroes by Sjoestedt - discusses both the gods and tidbits of folklore and mythology
I'd suggest my own books as well, but that seems a bit self serving..

Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Family Imbolc

   This year's Imbolc was a special one for me, celebrating with the children, for two reasons. Firstly, because my oldest daughter, who is 10, has taken an active interest in participating over the past year. Secondly because I spent last Imbolc in the hospital recovering from a near fatal postpartum complication. This Imbolc I am home with my family, healthy, and have my children fully joining in with what I am doing. Life is truly good.
   Kevin Danaher in his book the Year in Ireland explains in detail about different Imbolc celebrations and I take some of my inspiration for practice from him. I start my holiday at sunset on January 31st, Imbolc eve, when it would have been traditional for families to prepare a big dinner, welcome Brighid in, make new Brighid's crosses, and set out a brat Brighid, Brighid's mantle, for the goddess to bless when she visited over night. In the morning omens were looked for to confirm Brighid's blessing on the home, athletic games might be enjoyed and the community would gather to celebrate.
   Last night we prepared the leaba Bhrighid, Brighid's bed, placing it in front of the fireplace. My oldest daughter took the Brideog (a small doll representing Brighid) outside and knocked on the door, announcing "Open the door and let blessed Brighid in"
  Holding the baby I opened the door with my younger daughter at my side and we said "Welcome! Welcome! Welcome! We welcome in Brighid to our home, your bed is ready."
  We all walked up to where the leaba Bhrighid was waiting and placed the Brideog inside, tucking her in and placing a small willow wand, the slat geal, in with the doll.

 We sang a little song we made up:
  "We welcome you in
   We welcome you in
   We welcome you in
   Blessed Brighid is here

   Your bed is ready
  Your bed is ready
   Your bed is ready
   Blessed Brighid is here

  Please bless our home
  Please bless our home
  Please bless our home
 Blessed Brighid is here"
  The children really enjoyed the pageantry of it all and especially the signing. I told them a few stories about Brighid and who she was and we talked a little bit about her symbols and the different things, like the leaba Brighid, that we were using. After getting the Brideog set up I placed my brat Brighid out on the windowsill, and we went to bed.

  This morning we woke up to bright sun and mild temperatures. We looked for omens of Brighid's visit and received several positive ones, including the sight of a rare Horned Lark; larks being birds associated with Brighid, and their song as an omen of good weather to come. I also noted the lack of wind, tying into another traditional Imbolc omen:
"As far as the wind shall enter the door
On the Feast Day of Bride,
The snow shall enter the door
On the Feast Day of Patrick." (Carmina Gadelica, 1900)
  Later today we shall make new Brighid's crosses, and tonight we will end our celebration with a dinner of pork and colcannon, and another Imbolc will have come and gone....

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Healing the Waters

   This ritual was designed and written originally several years ago for the Gulf oil spill, and was used again after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. With the current major chemical spill in West Virginia I thought I would offer a fresh water version of the previously ocean-oriented ritual for people who would like to use it.  It is meant for use by anyone of any tradition, but is designed from an Irish perspective, based on an understanding of the sacredness of water from that viewpoint and a belief in the inherent spirit of rivers.
stream at Devil's Hopyard, CT

   Go to a source of running water, if possible, and hold ritual as you normally would. If you can't physically go to any water then decorate your altar with a water theme using whatever most connects you to the river, lakes, or other fresh water sources. It may be best to invoke a  Deity connected to a river, or focus on energy that resonates with fresh water. At the centerpoint of the ceremony make an offering to the water symbolic of healing, something safe and biodegradable; if you are inside use a bowl of water to represent the living water and place your offering in there. Say the following prayers:

"O Gods of the waters,

 O spirit of the river
 give healing to the waters
put health in the flowing river,
to enrich the vast waters
to liven the dying river" *

(make your offering)

"I come here in prayer on this day,
Day to send healing on the vast waters,
Day to send health to fish and fowl,
Day to put right the web in the warp.

Day to put life in the moving river,
Day to place health 
in the spirit that inhabits,
Day to cleanse, day to bless,
Day to put right a great wrong.
Day to put life back in the river,
Day to send health to the life in the water,
Day to make a most effective prayer,
Day of power, Gods bless the vast river,
Day of power, may the river be blessed."*
Finish ritual as you normally would. If you were indoors try to take the offerings to a source of water to pour them out so that they can symbolically be given to the affected river. Visualize the water flowing into rivers, lakes, streams, larger rivers, and eventually the ocean, evaporating, condensing, falling back to earth as rain; connecting all water on earth together through the water cycle and allowing your healing energy to go where it needs to go.

* these are modified from prayers out of volume 1 of the Carmina Gadelica. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Ode to Caring for a Chronically Ill Child ~ for Paige

Sometimes I feel like the ocean
My waves fighting against
a relentless shore that refuses
to yield to my determination
High tide follows low in an endless
cycle of loss and gain and loss again
and you float upon the water, mo ghra
a tiny currach, without oars,
at the mercy of wind and wave
and the remorseless pull of land
blissfully unaware, you rest, held
up on the surface of my concern
What you are not able to feel, 
I will feel for you, mo ghra,
the heat of day, the cold of night,
the pain of injury and illness
your heartbeat, irregular as
my waves breaking on the shore
I will feel them all for you
As I feel each pounding wave
Do not fear the drag of land, mo ghra,
I will keep you from the jagged rocks
My surging sea will keep you safe
My waves will cradle you gently
And I will sing to you of stars and love
and if I cannot save you from the shore
then I will hold you all the way in