A declaration

Today I ask you who read this post to bear witness to my words.

I am known as Potia, a name given to me on a journey many years ago and linking me to my beloved Epona, She who is my guide, my guardian and my teacher. I am a daughter of the Great Mare and of the Herd Mothers. To the Herd Mothers, Epona and Rhiannon, I swear to do my best to follow their guidance and to trust them. I have sworn to do my best to serve Epona and I renew that oath.

Last month I was claimed again. To the name I have used for many years I now add another.

I add to my name Nighean a’ Chailliche, daughter of the Cailleach. I have sworn that I will serve An Cailleach to the best of my ability within the boundaries agreed between us. In honour of this oath I will now cover my hair with a scarf or hood when I am praying before Her or serving as Her priest.

I am Potia Nighean a’ Chailliche, sworn priest of the Herd Mothers and An Cailleach.

This is my truth.

Advertisements

Approaching Samhain

The following post began life as a first chapter for a book I began to write two years ago. I never finished writing the book and I have now decided to use what I wrote as blog posts instead.

Memories. They flood my mind at this time of year.

The clocks will soon turn back and the first frost of this season should soon be seen in my area. Winter approaches and as it does I continue to prepare for the coming months. The lavender bushes in my back garden will be trimmed back. I harvest some of the flower heads through the autumn but never all as there are at least three species of bumble bee that feed from the lavender. By the end of October though most of the flower heads are dead and I cut it back ready for the coming winter and the following spring.

This is a time of preparation and it probably always has been. Generations of ancestors will have finished their harvests and checked their stores. Did they have enough to see them through the dark times? Had they stored enough fuel to keep them warm in the cold months? Our lives are often removed from many of those concerns but still there are things we think about and organise at this time of year. Should we have a flu jab this year? Can we afford our possible heating bills? Is it time to check our stocks of cold cure remedies? Where’s that warm jumper got to? We still prepare for the cold, the dark and the coming winter months.

Each of us will have times of year that means more to us than other times. This time is one of my special times. I adore the autumn colours. And I love to kick about in fallen leaves when they are crisp and crunchy. Some will say that’s because I’m in touch with my inner child and there maybe something in that. I think it’s also the sensory pleasures or the colours and the crunchy sound – there’s nothing quite like it. Autumn is also a time of celebrations for me and mine though so the changes in this time of year also provide signals that it’s time to prepare for those celebrations.

And memories, those too are triggered by the changes around me. I took my first concrete steps into my Pagan path in the autumn of 1996. I’d been aware of Paganism for much longer than that but it wasn’t until 1996 that I started describing myself as Pagan. I had started a work placement with the University of Glasgow that gave me easy and daily access to the internet. I found a fair amount of material back then, enough to help me start creating my own solitary seasonal rituals. I already knew of the Pagan Federation but it was that year that I first became a member and that November that I attended my first Pagan Federation conference in London.

That first Pagan Federation conference was highly significant to my journey. I’d already come to feel that I wanted to learn more but that I wanted to be guided in my learning somehow. I looked at the various paths and Druidry was the one that interested me most but I still wasn’t sure. At that long ago conference there was a talk and I still remember it. I remember the title being “Druidry, Druidry, whose got the Druidry?” and the presenters were Philip Shallcrass and Emma Restall-Orr, at that time the joint leaders of the British Druid Order (BDO). That talk changed my life. It opened my eyes to the complexity of Druidry in a wonderfully light-hearted way. Afterwards I went to their stall and brought the BDO Druid Directory and at least one issue of the magazine “Tooth and Claw”. During that winter I read through things, thought about what I had learnt and although I loved the BDO I joined the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD). Back then the BDO didn’t have a distance teaching programme and most of their activities were in the South of England. I lived in Glasgow and still do. OBOD had, and still has, a very useful distance teaching programme. My own practices have changed a fair bit since those early days but I will always hold places in my heart for the British Druid Order and the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druid.

The other major influence for my memories at this time of year dates back to being a girl attending a Catholic convent school. Halloween was not something I remember doing anything about back then but All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s day made a deep impression. It is from this part of my childhood that the importance of ancestral remembrance at this time of year took hold within my mind.

There are some who will tell you that our ancient Pagan ancestors honoured their ancestors at time time or that it was the “Celtic New Year”. As far as I am aware there is no real evidence for either idea. There is plenty of evidence that this was a time where preparations for the coming winter were finalised including the slaughter of livestock that would be unlikely to make it through the winter.

Thus, there seems to be no doubt that the opening of November was the time of a major pagan festival which was celebrated, at the very least, in all those parts of the British Isles which had a pastoral economy. At most, it may have been general among the ‘Celtic’ peoples. There is no evidence that it was connected with the dead and no proof that it opened the year, but it was certainly a time when supernatural forces were especially to be guarded against or propitiated; activities which took different forms in different regions.
(Hutton, pp369-370)

In Scotland, my current home, popular traditions at this time of year include ‘guising’ and the making of ‘Tumshie’ (turnip) lanterns. Guising at this time of year on the surface looks very similar to the activities of ‘trick or treating’. Individuals dress up and until about a century ago their “object was to avoid being recognised by the spirits of their dead, who might possibly do them a mischief.” (McNeill, p24) I have been told on several occasions that guisers should differ from trick or treaters in a rather important way – they should entertain in some way for their treat and not just expect something. That’s something I try to encourage in my daughter who greatly enjoys knocking on other people’s doors. I have yet to brave making an attempt at a ‘tumshie’ lantern though as these traditional Scottish lanterns are made from a hollowed out turnip. I’ve been reliably informed that the effect of carving out the insides of turnips can be felt in the hands and wrists for quite a while afterwards. Coward that I am I’ll stick to carving pumpkins while my daughter is still young enough to enjoy such activities. Other popular associations are various forms of supernatural beings and bonfires but most of the later seem to have have moved to November 5th and the British celebration of Guy Fawks night.

A significant part of my pagan path is Brythonic so I have an interest in the Welsh folk traditions of this time too. The Welsh name for this time is Nos Calan Gaeaf which literally means ‘winter’s eve’. It is described as a ysbrydnos (meaning spirit night) and there were many rural folk traditions surrounding this time in Wales just as there were in Scotland. Again many of those traditions have gradually died out and been replaced by the more commercial halloween activities. Bonfires were popular as were activities like apple bobbing. There were beings to watch out for that were specific to Wales such as the fearsome Hwch Ddu Gwta (Black short-tailed sow) who came from the Otherworld and would chase those walking home or the Ladi Wen (White Lady) who was said to spin and weave by stiles and her very name was used to warn children against bad behaviour.

It’s not much of a stretch to go from being concerned about supernatural beings to thinking of the dead as ghosts are usually included when people think about the supernatural. It is likely that the link between this time of year and our ancestors was something that took hold around a thousand years ago due to the medieval Catholic church and festivals of All Saints’ and All Souls’. That’s a fair bit of time for an idea to sink into our cultures. Acknowledging the fact that it probably came from the Catholic church doesn’t bother me in the slightest but I am aware that some will prefer to cling to the idea that ancestral remembrance at this time is part of our ancient Pagan heritage. Certainly ancestral practices of some kind seem to have been important to our ancient pagan ancestors but we simply don’t know if there were commonly held specific times of the year that ancestors were honoured or if it was more a daily practice woven into the patterns of life about them.

What we can say with confidence is that within a large number of the paths within modern Paganism Samhain, or Nos Calen Gaeaf, has become THE time to honour our ancestors.

References:
Hutton, R. (1996) The Stations of the Sun Oxford University Press
MacNeill, F. M. (1961) The Silver Bough Vol. Three Beith Printing Co. Ltd

A little bit of local history

On Sunday Neil and I went for a walk round our local park/nature reserve as we often do on a weekend.  On this occasion we met a very friendly dog and her human.  While playing ball with the friendly dog we chatted with her friendly human, a very nice lady who had lived in the area most of her life.  We parted and walked on and later on our walk met up with them again and chatted some more while playing ball again.  We estimate she is now in her late seventies to early eighties based on the conversations.

From this lovely lady we learnt more about the local history of our area.  We learnt that this area had been part of a coal mine.  There had also been a brick and tile works and a hospital.  We had heard of the hospital before but not the  other aspects. And the lady said we could google it all if we wanted too.  Well naturally when we came home I did.

From online research I have found out that there were two separate coal mines in this area.  One is the Robroyston Coal Pit and according to the map links it seems that we are living right on top of that mine. It was only operational for ten years from 1880 – 1890.  The second was the Robroyston Colliery and from what I can tell this was actually under what is now the nature reserve which tallies with what the lady was telling us. It was operational between 1923 and 1932.  The lady told us it closed due to flooding from an underwater river.  That part I haven’t been able to find further information about but many of the coal mines in the Glasgow area were closed due to flooding.

Robroyston Colliery did not escape mining accidents resulting in loss of life.  The Scottish Mining website was a valuable source of information on the most severe accident in the history of that mine. Ther’s also an overview of the mining history in Lanarkshire which was once known as the “Black Country” of Scotland.

I’ve also confirmed the Robroyston hospital location and a few further details about it. There’s a bit of information on Wikipedia about it under the entry for Robroyston which includes mention of the colliery and brickworks.

The lady also mentioned three local burns which have since been swallowed up into drainage systems.  I’ve yet to do the research on those or the possible underground river but I am intrigued by the idea of so much hidden water in the area.

The nature reserve was essentially built on top of the remains of the Robroyston colliery and brickworks.  Apparently local school kids helped to plant all the trees in the park which would explain why there are not any really old trees in the park and why the older ones all seem a similar age.

All this from taking the time to play with a friendly dog and chat to her owner.

 

I got it!

As of Monday 21st October I will be joining the ranks of the employed once more as the part time volunteer coordinator for RDA Glasgow Group.  Needless to say I’m absolutely delighted and already thinking ahead to things I can do in that role to better support the many volunteers of RDA Glasgow Group.

The job is 20 hours a week with some flexibility for timing.  My initial plans, already discussed with my soon to be line manager, are that I will do most of those hours on weekday mornings with two to three hours each week for an evening or weekend on a rotational basis.  Riding lessons take place during the day and in the evenings so allocating some hours for evening work will allow me to get to know volunteers who are only there in the evenings.

I’m looking forward to this change in my life.  I already know all the other staff there and get on well with them and I already do some of the tasks I’ll be doing on a voluntary basis so that’s going to make life easier than coming into a new job without knowing anything.

It’s not the highest salary but I think it will probably be the most personally satisfying job I will have had.

Preparing

I’ve recently written about potential changes in my life and applying for a part time post with RDA Glasgow.  Well later this week I have an interview for that job.  Part of the interview includes doing a short presentation on growing the volunteer base.  I’m also doing the usual volunteering this week plus representing the group at a volunteer fair at the University of Glasgow with one of the RDA Glasgow board.  All this means I’ve got a lot of RDA things on my mind so not really focused on writing blog posts.  All going well I’ll write more soon.

A death, a rebirth, a claiming

A Death

Recently I chose to support a particular kickstarter project for “Tales of Hopeless, Maine” and I chose a level of support that included as a reward a Hopeless, Maine obituary by author Nimue Brown. When I first chose this I did so because I thought it would be unusual and fun (which it is) but not long before mine was written Nimue asked me what name I wanted to die under.  That’s not a question I expected and it got me thinking about my various names. My birth name is Pauline and many people use that name for me including my husband. My parents call me Polly, my brother sometimes calls me Pic (short for pickle), my children usually call me mum. And among many Pagans, particularly Druids, I have been known as Potia. I have also had several surnames in my life, Pitchford is my fifth. So I had a lot of options to choose from for my “death”. After some thought I felt that it was time “Potia” died.  Potia was a name I took up towards the beginning of my journey into druidry. I have changed a lot since then.  It’s also a name linked to Epona via a particular inscription. My love for Epona hasn’t changed but I am not dedicated to Her alone.

I had no idea how I might die on Hopeless, Maine. It’s an unusual place where death is not always certain, where bodies are not always available to be identified and buried. Perhaps I would be stabbed by knitting needles or poisoned via a pot of tea. I never imagined the death I got or the headline: “Potia Pitchford defies explanation“.  To be taken by surf horses was a beautifully significant way for Potia to die, to be taken into the depths by the very image of one of my most loved deities. And yet for my death to be uncertain too. No body to identify or bury, just gone. This death has a strong spiritual significance to me that I didn’t anticipate. It was also published on Friday 13th and Friday is the day I do my weekly devotions to the Herd Mothers, to Epona and Rhiannon.  It was also a full moon and I now do devotions on full and dark moons for beings of ocean, seas and rivers.

A Rebirth

The druid I was, Potia, has changed. What I am now has grown out of the druid that I was. I am a priest, a tender of a shrine, a servant of a group of deities and sworn to two deities in particular. I have written of some of this in a previous post “On being a priest“. I have felt since writing that post that I needed to take on a new name, one that to some extent reflects the changes in my life.  Until this evening what that name would be escaped me. This evening as I sat communing with An Cailleach I received some guidance.  I need to check my understanding and make sure I can write it correctly. I’ve also been led to believe I don’t need to stop using Potia, this new name will be more of a descriptive surname if I understand it correctly.

A Claiming

“You are mine” She said to me this evening. I acknowledge that claim with the understanding that I am also sworn to the Herd Mothers and that any tasks She and They would have of me need to be balanced against the needs of my children.

 

Potia Pitchford defies explanation

I’m dead! Wonderfully so!

The Hopeless Vendetta

By Frampton Jones

Potia Pitchford will no doubt be remembered for her kindness. She was a quiet person, too easily overlooked amidst the dramas of island life. The good she did will linger on.  It makes a rather nice change to imagine something lingering on in a non-sinister way and without distinct connotations of threat.

Hers was an odd departure, to say the least. Numerous eyewitnesses have largely agreed over what happened, and I will share their combined story to the best of my ability.

You may recall the most recent shipwreck was largely a washing ashore of bits of wood, with little semblance of boat and no apparent survivors. We haven’t even had any bits of bodies to bury from this one. There are however, quite a few extra nails, which is always a source of excitement.

Potia was in the party responding to the shipwreck. She usually has…

View original post 255 more words