A Scottish Hearth Druid response to the question of how to respond to the varying issues of Brexit, Trump and increasing xenophobia be?

The subject of this post is inspired by a topic of discussion the the Druid Network members’ message board referred to as “social_dot”.  Reading other responses on “social_dot” felt like a clarion call to me to start blogging again.

Following the Brexit vote in the UK I feel that uncertainties and fears have steadily increased.  Added to the issues in the UK, where I live, has been the impact of changes in other influential countries in the world. Trump has in his first few days in office as the president of the United States of America made a number of executive orders that are internationally unpopular (to put it mildly).  Russia’s parliament has approved changes in legislation that seem to set human rights in that country further and further back.  Wars are rife in the Middle East with many other countries across the world involved and yet we still don’t call it a “World War”. And it seems that many countries are choosing to pick on some group or another as the scapegoats for these problems and in doing so become increasingly violent towards that group.  I’ve never been so scared of what the future will bring and yet I recognise that I am in a very privileged position compared to all too many people in this country let alone the rest of the world!

So what can I do?

One of the things I think we have to try and do is help each other to listen without becoming overwhelmed with everything that is going on.  I doubt that I am the only person I know who is struggling against the desire to “bury their head in the sand” and wait for it to be over.  I know I must not do that but I also struggle with figuring out what I can do. I struggle emotionally to believe that my single voice can make any difference and yet intellectually I know that single voices joined together are very powerful.

I am afraid for the future of my country.  I’m afraid for the future of other countries in the world, I am afraid for my children’s futures within this often chaotic world of ours. I am afraid I can’t do anything to make a difference and yet also afraid of standing by and not trying. I am afraid of being alone in my fears and even more afraid that all too many of us share the same fears.

What can I do? One person, one voice.

I can raise my voice for others to listen to so they know they are not alone.

I can listen.

I can witness.

I can act, even if only to type a few words on a keyboard, sign a petition or refuse to let my fears overwhelm me.

An offering made Kemetic style

Well sort of Kemetic style anyway 🙂

A week and half ago I pledged an offering to the Egyptian Goddess known as Isis.  The details of why I did this are not important to this blog post. I had a slight problem though in that I had never made any offerings to any of the Egyptian deities and as a polytheist I wanted to do this in a manner fitting to what is known of the reconstructed Egyptian path referred to more properly as Kemetic.

First stage of preparation to fulfill my pledge was to do a bit of internet searching and reading.  I also asked for advice in the Glasgow Pagans facebook group and from a couple of individuals I know that are interested in or practicing a Kemetic path.

Key things I found out were that the ancient Kemetic name of the Goddess I had made this pledge to is Aset and that in the Kemetic path it is normal, and considered more polite, to consume any food or drink offerings you make.  That’s not something I am used to doing.  I’m more familiar with offerings being discarded after a suitable period of time once they have been dedicated.

From my limited general knowledge in Egyptian mythology I believe that the written word, especially when then spoken aloud, has a great deal of power.

Gradually I began to build up an idea of what I would do to fulfill the pledge I had made.  I decided to offer food and drink in the form of a meal using foods known to be important in ancient Egyptian times as well as things I felt would fit a special meal.  I also felt that while it would be fine to use the area I use for other devotions I should use a separate small table.

Today I fulfilled my pledge.  I purchased a couple of particularly nice seeded whole grain rolls and some maple and thyme hot smoked salmon.  I cleared and cleaned a small table to use and moved it to my shrine area and placed a flat pillow I use as a kneeling or meditation pad on the floor in front of it.  I went upstairs and changed into a lovely silk skirt I have and chose a jumper of a similar shade of blue to go with it.  Both items remind me of Lapis Lazuli and again I believe that colour and the gem stone had importance in ancient Egypt.

Before I began my meal preparations I lit a stick on Myrrh incense.  I then sat down and decided on the words I would use and wrote them down.  I placed the page on the small table and got the meal ready.  The meal consisted of the rolls I had purchased with the smoked salmon and five Medjool dates. I also made some peppermint tea in one of those  teapots with a single cup that I have.  I placed the plate, teapot and cup on the small table and knelt down before it.

After a short time in silent contemplation I spoke aloud the words I had chosen.  I then sat in silence for a little while and poured out a cup of the tea.

Mindfully I then began to eat and drink.

This experience of sharing a meal I had offered to a Goddess was something new and special to me.  I found it strangely relaxing.  I got the impression that those beings I usually hold devotions for were also interested in this process, in this different style of doing things and that they might wish to engage with me in this way themselves from time to time.

When I’d finished the meal I thanks Aset for this experience and then cleared everything away and changed back into the clothes I had been wearing before I started preparing.

 

These are the words I used to make the offering with names of those I was doing this for removed for privacy:

Hail Aset, Great of Heka, You who are known in the Redlands as Isis, Queen of Heaven!

I ask that you accept this bread, this fish, these dates and this mint tea as fulfillment of the pledge I made to you.

I offer this food and drink in thanksgiving for your protection over one who I believe holds you close to her heart. I know her as xxxxx,  Priestess, wife, mother, and friend of many.

I pledged an offering to you Mighty Aset and I ask that you accept this meal as fulfillment of that pledge.

 

Musings about Brigantia and Loki

I’ve written elsewhere about being a flame tender with Clann Bhride which means every twenty days I light a flame and look after it for twenty four hours as a devotional act.  During my last flame tending I found myself thinking about both Brigantia and Loki both of whom have fire symbology.

Brigantia and Her sister-self Brighid have many links to fire but it seems to me that the link is to a tamed and channeled fire.  The fires of the smith, of crafting tools and artworks; the fires of inspiration burning in our minds transforming imagery and emotion into words and pictures others can see; the fires of justice wielded with fierce discipline to forge a fairer community; the fires of the healer used to brew, to warm, to comfort; the long ago fires of a home hearth bringing warmth and security to our human homes.  She is not the fire itself but the one that wields, channels and tames the fire and in turn teaches us ways to use fire.

Loki is not one that uses fire, instead he is a fire.  He does not teach how to channel the heat, how to use the energy to craft and create.  He transforms. He changes. That doesn’t mean that he can’t direct and wield fire, he can because he knows what he is and so he can choose what to burn, what to transform, whether to be a single glowing ember that waits or a burst of flame that burns.

They are beings of different cultures, Loki and Brigantia, and yet I feel that there can be harmony between them, probably not always, but enough.

Neither being can be constrained into just one aspect of their identities and I’m in no way intending to give the impression that I wish to do that. This is just what musings have come to mind at this time where fire and flame symbologies are concerned.

Where I am concerned I feel they have in some way joined forces.  I need to change but I have a fear of loosing control, I fear the untamed burning and yet I know I need to be pushed forward.

 

An introduction to Loki

Back in January I had a few coincidences with names and images connected with Loki.  I began to feel quite strongly that he was prompting me for some reason so I started investigating.

My first instinct was to to go to an internet community I have been made welcome within UK Heathenry.  My initial contacts with them were via an email list but they are now more active on Facebook.  I have always been open about the fact that I do not consider myself to be Heathen but I do feel that Heathenry is a neighboring family of paths to my own.  In spite of a range of connections with Heathens I’d never felt that any of the Heathen families of gods and other assorted beings had been that interested in me.  Now that had changed so I asked the group for pointers to good articles or blogs.  I got a range of helpful and sometimes lighthearted responses so I started reading and learning.

(This blog post began with the above paragraphs four months ago, today it finally continues)

Loki is perhaps one of the best known and yet also most mis-understood deity among the Heathen families of beings.  Part of that is no doubt due to the fact that one aspect of his complex character has been used extensively in tales ancient and modern as an instigator of all manner of usually tricky situations.  Among his most recent guises is that of the “bad guy” in recent Marvel comics and movies.  From my reading (and I’m in no way an expert on this) it seems that even in Heathen circles the mention of his name can bring about extreme reactions and often negative ones at that.  But He also seems to be a being that has a collection of devoted followers, ones that accept that he is complex and sometimes very difficult to know.

Resources I was pointed to in January that I have found particularly useful are:

Loki’s shrine at: http://www.northernpaganism.org/shrines/loki/index.html

Eldar Heide: “Loki, the Vätte, and the Ash Lad: A Study Combining Old Scandinavian and
Late Material” Viking and Medieval Scandinavia 7 (2011) pp. 63–106. 10.1484/J.VMS.1.102616 available in last proof form at:

http://eldar-heide.net/Publikasjonar%20til%20heimesida/Loke-artikkel%20til%20nettsida.pdf

And Alexa Duir’s series of fiction books that have Loki as a central character.

Things went quiet in late January on the Loki prompts and I began to feel that maybe he had chosen to provide a bit of distraction at a stressful time for some reason and that was it.  Needless to say that wasn’t it.

In early March I started getting some other odd coincidences and prompts which led to me order the first of Alexa’s books (I hadn’t until that point) and also the book “Playing with Fire: An exploration of Loki Laufeyjarson” by Dagulf Loptson available from Asphodel Press. By mid March I’d read six of Alexa’s books and then the book by Dagulf Loptson.

Also in March in a personal front I went off sick from work again with anxiety triggering yet another round of assorted meetings which in the end resulted in my dismissal from work on capability grounds.  Throughout this process Loki has been appearing from time to time in the forefront of my mind and has been a much appreciated distraction from some of the more unpleasant aspects of what has been going on.

On Thursday 21st July I received the final dismissal letter in the post. On the 20th July Dagulf Loptson had posted a new blog post at Polytheist.com called Breaking Loki’s Bonds which I didn’t see until Friday 22nd July.  This post gives information and guidance on a nine day rebirth process and reading that post felt like a personal invitation.

Later that day I gathered the things I would need for this process and the following day, Saturday 23rd July I began.  I may write more about how that process went later but essentially having now completed it I found it to be both powerful and helpful.

Orkney part 3 – Echoes of Devotion

To me Orkney is a place in which the echoes of past devotions take on powerful and tangible forms.  I’ve already spoken of our journey to Orkney and some of the places we visited with our wonderful guides.  In this post I intend to talk about some of the other places we visited both with and without our guides.

Our guides were adamant that we should experience a few of the lesser known and more unusual sites before we would visit Maeshowe on Thusday 7th July so the day before they took us to visit the Tomb of the Dogs also known as the Cuween Hill Cairn, Unstan Cairn and Rennibister Earth House. Many people visit Maeshowe and go away feeling that it is a good example of tombs in Orkney, and so it is in many ways, but it is also very unusual.  It is one thing to accept this with your more logical mind but quite another to visit a wider range of tombs and see and feel the differences.

Our first tomb visit was to the Tomb of the Dogs or Cuween Hill Cairn. This is a small tomb a fair way up the side of a hill.  It’s called the Tomb of the Dogs because there were a number of dog skulls found in it as well as human remains.  To get to it you have to be fit to first get up the hill (which isn’t too bad) and then be flexible enough to get down and crawl thought the narrow passage way into the chamber beyond.  The chamber is large enough for a small number of people to stand in but it is pitch black inside so a working torch is a must. It is an example of a chambered cairn with four smaller side chambers. the side chambers are virtually at ground level and you can look into them fairly easily.  At Maeshowe the side chambers are well above the main floor level and would not be as easy to see into let alone access as the chambers at Cuween.

Personally I felt a sense of pressure while inside Cuween Hill Cairn.  It wasn’t frightening but after a short while I felt as if the spirits of that place were telling me I had seen enough and it was time for me to leave now please.  Definitely well worth a visit if you are physically fit enough to cope with the hill and crawling through the passage.

From there we visited Rennibister Earth House.  A totally different experience.  For a start it’s accessed via the yard to a working farm and via a metal ladder going down into the ground.  This ladder is not the original access, that would have been the long sloping passage.  Originally it would have been closed in and pitch dark but as it was discovered by a machine falling into the roof and now accessed that way it’s reasonably light inside. Human remains were found within the chamber but archaeologists are not certain of the original purpose of the structure.  Around the walls are built in alcoves, not large ones and they look a bit like the alcoves seen in the neolithic houses and in the walls of the older section of Kirbuster farm museum.

To me this place felt as if it had been used for ritual purposes of some kind.  I could see it being used for some sort of rite of passage perhaps.  The atmosphere there was much lighter but mysterious too.

Rennibister earth house

Rennibister Earth House

The last place we visited on that day was Unstan Cairn.  This is a much easier place to access but still requires a bit of flexibility as you do need to bend a bit to go through the entrance passage.  Inside it is a quite different style of structure.  It has some features in common with chambered cairns in that it has a circular shape and a side chamber but other features are more like rectangular stalled cairns such as the one at Midhowe (which we didn’t visit).  It is an odd place, very light because it has a modern concrete roof and unlike other tombs we visited very green from algae able to grow on the stones in the light.  The stalls also add to the unusual atmosphere making it feel to me a bit like an animal barn even though it was very much a tomb still.

Unstan Cairn

Unstan Cairn

The following day we visited Maeshowe.  This is a much larger tomb than the others we had previously seen and thanks to our guides we had a much greater appreciation for the design variations and the atmospheric differences.  For a start at the other places it had been just us and the places themselves were much smaller.  For Maeshowe you are in a tour group of about 25 people with a guide.  Even though the place is larger you somehow feel more compressed due to the people around you all shuffling round to get a look at whatever aspect the guide is pointing at and talking about.  It is an impressive place with a fascinating history both ancient and more recent.  The Viking graffiti in it is interesting as well. Maeshowe is special and very well worth seeing but for me, in terms of atmosphere I much preferred the experiences of the lesser known tombs.

I’ve called this post “Echos of Devotion” and so far spoken of tombs, cairns and mysterious underground chambers.  But if you think about the work involved in crafting these structures and the devotion to purpose the builders of them had I think you will understand why devotion is such a strong theme for me in reflecting about these places.

On Thursday after visiting Maeshowe in the morning we took a drive back towards the Churchill barriers and visited the Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm.  For anyone not in the know this is a chapel made using nissan huts and recycled materials by Italian prisoners of war during the second world war.  It is an absolutely remarkable testament to the devotion of those involved in all aspects of the modification and decoration of the nissan huts.  Although it was only completed just after the POWs were repatriated it has been beautifully preserved and cared for.  From the information present at the site I believe there are occasional services held there.  I absolutely loved this place! I found the atmosphere there highly sacred, a very special place and very accessible too.

Italian chapel exterior

Exterior of the Italian Chapel

Italian chapel interior

Interior of the Italian Chapel (the brick and stonework effects were all hand painted)

Devotion of a different sort was our next stop as we sampled some of the wonderful offerings of the Orkney Wine Company, unsurprisingly after trying a few samples we purchased a few bottles to bring home. Very impressive products!

That afternoon found us in Kirkwell visiting St Magnus’ Cathedral.  A wonderfully accessible venue for such an old cathedral.  St Magnus’ Cathedral is a place that shows a different aspect of devotion again to me.  In that place are the echoes of the devotion of craftsmen and women down the ages and the communities that have supported them as well as the echoes of the devotional use through many centuries.  It’s a lovely example of Christian architecture through centuries too as different aspects of the building date to different time periods.

St Magnus Cathedral 2

North Nave Aisle showing the back of a 17th century Mort Brod (death board) memorial to  a glazier, Robert Nicholson

St Magnus Cathedral 3

Pulpit and North Transept showing the Norwegian flag prominently displayed in honour of the many links between Orkney and Norway.

St Magnus Cathedral 1

One of two Green Man carvings in the St Rognvald Chapel area of the Cathedral.

The last place I am going to mention in this post is the remains of an usual round church at Orphir that we visited on Friday, our last day on Orkney. The Orphir Round Kirk is the last remains of a medieval round church and the only one surviving in Scotland.  It is found behind the Orkneyinga Saga Centre and the ruins of the Earl’s Bu.  Another fascinating little place to visit with echoes of the past also surrounding these unusual church remains in the well kept and still used graveyard.

Orphir Round church

Orphir Round Church

 

As always photos copyright and thanks to Neil Pitchford of Awen Photos.

Orkney part 2 -guided journeys

Breakfast at our accommodation was excellent and very good fuel for the day ahead.

At 9am our wonderful guides Helen and Mark Woodsford-Dean of Spiritual Orkney joined us. We hadn’t met them face to face before although I had known Helen online for a while. I’d contacted Helen while we were planning the honeymoon trip to ask if she had availability in her calendar for the week we were going to be in Orkney.  She did and we had an exchange of emails and Facebook messages to arrange things during which she planned an itinerary for us based on what I’d told her about the sort of things we wanted to see.

It is possible they might have shown us a couple of places if we’d asked out of friendship  but personally I would have felt guilty taking up their time and expertise during the peak tourist summer season when tour guiding is one of the ways they make a living.  Besides we wanted to see lots of places and having experts showing us around was something we wanted to do. And not just expert tour guides but fellow Pagans and people we knew a bit about.  I can not stress enough how delighted we both are that we went down this route.  Helen and Mark are lovely people and great guides.

Our itinerary for our first full day included the Stones of Stenness, Barnhouse Neolithic Village, Ness of Brodgar, Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae and a couple of hours on the Brough of Birsay.

As we journeyed around we were treated to a wonderful combination of archeological information, including from their own experiences digging at the Ness of Brodgar, and local folklore.

I’m not going to write huge amounts here about these wonderful places for a couple of reasons.  One is that so much has already been written about them, the other is that the experience of being at these places is unique to each person.  What I do have is a few of my husband’s photos to share as a picture can be worth a thousand words.

 

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Stones of Stenness

One of the more profound experiences for me visiting these places was that, thanks to Helen in particular, I could understand more about these places than I would have done otherwise.  Little details that helped me see something more of that ancient way of life that I’m pretty sure I would have overlooked without her explanations. Encouraged by Helen to really look at the houses of Skara Brae for example I could see not only the similarities between each structure but also the little differences that made me think of the way we all like to personalise our own spaces when we can.

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Skara Brae

On the Brough of Birsay (which is reached via a tidal causeway) we saw puffins, fulmars, razorbills and skuars flying from nests and resting places on the cliffs.  We also saw the Viking ruins there with their excellent drainage systems (again I’d never have realised what we were seeing without Helen pointing them out).  We also had the opportunity to scramble through a cave towards the top end of the Brough which Helen referred to a rebirth cave.  It was a couple of steps down to the entrance and then as you made your way through the cave it narrowed  until you came to the opening at the other end and had to crawl to get out.  While we didn’t have the opportunity to make a full formal ritual around doing this it still had that rebirth effect for me at least.

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Puffins on Brough of Birsay

Our second day was also spent with our lovely guides and on that day we visited the cliffs at Yesnaby, Kirbuster Farm museum, the Broch of Gurness, the Tomb of the Dogs, Rennibister Earth House, Happy Valley and Unstan Cairn.  Again I’m using some of my husband’s photos to help show something of our experiences but as there’s less written about some of these places I’ll try and write a bit more too.

The cliffs at Yesnaby are wild and parts of the landscape look like they have been transplanted from another world.

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Top of cliffs at Yesnaby

On the heath before the cliffs you can find the rare primula scotica. This is a tiny little plant and not easy to spot unless you know what you are looking for so it will probably be no surprise for me to tell you that Helen found them and once we had been shown them we were able to find more in that area.

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Primula Scotica at Yesnaby

Kirbuster farm museum is a fascinating place.  Part of the buildings date back to the 16th century and there are recognisable features from the styles of buildings at Skara Brae and the other neolithic sites that have clearly been continued through the ages such as the sleeping alcoves and built in wall niches.  This is also a free museum with very knowledgable and friendly guides – well worth a visit.

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16th Century aspect of Kirbuster Farmhouse

By a narrow margin I think my favourite part of that day was the visit to Happy Valley. This lovely place has very unusual gardens by Orkney standards that were planted by the former owner who was something of a recluse during his life. Luckily the building and gardens are being preserved and cared for by the Friends of Happy Valley group.  It is a beautiful place and has a magical atmosphere to it.  I wish we could have stayed there much longer but my need for certain facilities meant we had to move on as the house was locked up.

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Happy Valley Gardens

I think I will write a separate post about experiences with tombs, cairns and the Rennibister Earth House and bring this section of our Orkney experiences to a close.

All photos copyright Neil Pitchford, Awen photos.

Orkney part 1 – Arrival

My new husband and I were lucky enough to have an unexpected financial windfall the day after our wedding and the opportunity to have a proper honeymoon while the kids were at their dad’s place for a week in early July.  After a bit of discussion we chose the Orkney Islands as our honeymoon destination.

On the morning of Monday 4th July we set off from Glasgow in the car to travel north and get a ferry over to Orkney.  On the way up we took a little side trip to Chanonry Point. Chanonry Point is at the end of a peninsula extending out into the Moray Forth and it is the best place to see wild bottle nosed dolphins from shore.  We weren’t sure if we’d be lucky enough to see any as our arrival time was towards full tide and the best time to see them is on a rising tide when they come in to feed.  We were lucky though and saw one playing in the bow wave of a passing ship and a mother and calf closer to the shore.  It was a good start to our honeymoon.

Next stop was John O’Groats as we arrived at the coast with time to spare before needing to check in at the ferry terminal at Gills Bay.  It seemed silly to be so close and not to visit so we did although I have to say I don’t really think it was worth the stop.  It’s not that impressively scenic there but it is very touristy as you might expect.

We’d chosen Pentland Ferries from Gills Bay to get to Orkney, they were also recommended to us. The journey lasts about an hour and the Pentland Ferries service have a good reputation for reliability, cost and environmental awareness.  Our ferry journey was particularly smooth.  The sea was calm and the weather good. It was fascinating watching the eddies and currents in the sea as we traveled, we even saw a couple of small whirlpools.  The journey also takes you past the islands of Stroma and Swona before you reach the coastline of South Ronaldsay and arrive at St Margaret’s Hope which is the third largest settlement on the Orkney Islands.

Before you even arrive on the Orkney Islands you start to become more aware of the richness of natural environments and historic significance of these beautiful islands.  As you travel from mainland Britain across the Pentland Firth you see more signs of older, abandoned buildings such as croft buildings and World War II gun placements and lookout towers. Your eyes and ears are caught by the sights and sounds of passing seabirds.  And the land unfolds its wild beauty before you.

And then you arrive on the Orkney Island but unless you are staying in St Margaret’s Hope your journey is not yet over. It takes about another twenty minutes by car to travel over a couple of the smaller islands linked by the Churchill barriers to the Orkney mainland.  In our case once we reached that point we still had a bit further to go as we were staying in a bed and breakfast called Lindisfarne just outside Stromness.  Our hosts were a lovely couple with three small children and they made us feel incredibly welcome.  They had even brought us a bottle of champagne and put it in our room with a couple of glasses and a fabric red rose which was both lovely and totally unexpected.

Our room had a lovely view out over Stromness and the Island of Hoy beyond that.  The room was well decorated, comfortable, clean and a good size with a lovely ensuite bathroom.  My particular favorite bit of the decor was the carpets in all the main rooms, they just begged for bare feet and felt wonderful.  We had been given the end room upstairs with the guest lounge (or blue sitting room as one of our hosts children referred to it) beyond separated by a couple of doors and a small entry way to our room.

We settled in, unpacked and went to find some food in Stromness for our evening meal.  We decided on fish and chips for that first evening and ate them sitting on a bench on the main street before then having a bit of a walk along the main street of Stromness before returning to our bed and breakfast for the night.

The next morning our Orkney adventures would start in earnest.

(Photos copyright Neil Pitchford, Awen photos)