Keeper of Secrets

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Image of badger hand carved from driftwood

New life I have been given
Carved and shaded
Shaped with delicate detail
Spirit reborn from dreams

I grew tall in a forest
Whispered with my siblings
Felt the rain and sun
Breathed deep

I fell into a river
Tumbled and bounced along
An otter played with me
Then left me to the sea

I soaked in the waters
Felt the sun’s warmth
Was swept into currents
Travelled with the tides

Washed up on a shore
I waited…

Found and taken
I waited…

I dreamed and waited
Mysteries of the land
Secrets of the sea
Wonders of the star lit sky

I dreamed of a cub
Grey in the night sky
Snuffling at the roots
Buried beneath me

I dreamed of a badger
Walking the land
She felt my dream
And I took form

I whisper to another
Of mysteries and wonders
For I am reborn
As Keeper of Secrets

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Second image of badger hand carved from driftwood

Badger beautifully hand carved by Of half imagnined things

Words by me.

Spring Equinox

Spring Equinox is an odd time of year really. The very name implies that it should be spring and a time of daylight and darkness in balance and in reality neither are the case fro more than a fleeting moment. The actual point of 12 hours daylight and 12 hours darkness is not usually on the actual date of equinox in spite of its name because the equinox is actually an astronomical marker of the point at which the earth’s axis is not tilted away or towards the sun. The underlying axial tilt remains. It is latitude on our planet that determines our length of daylight so while there are days around the astronomical equinox that are very close to 12 hours they vary from place to place so the common understanding of equinox as equal day and night is an approximation.

The other aspect of the name is “spring” and some years sprig seems further away than others at this time of year. Two years ago Scotland had a widespread red alert for snow for the first time in many years just before the spring equinox. Many schools in the central belt of Scotland were closed for three days with various areas suffering from power cuts and being cut off due to snow drifts. This year we’ve had a very wet winter but recent days have finally seen a bit more sunshine. Today is gloriously bright and sunny at the moment if a bit on the cold side.

What about our ancestors? Did they celebrate the spring equinox? There are a couple of ancient monuments that have equinox alignments in the UK and a small number in Ireland so there is a little evidence that the equinoxes were observed in some way by our neolithic ancestors. Our iron age ancestors seemed to have focussed more on other festivals and there’s nothing in the way of ritual survival information connected specifically to the equinox available in either Professor Hutton’s “Stations of the Sun” or F. Marian MacNeill’s “Silver Bough”.

So what do we make of this festival today? I struggle with it. I know many refer to the spring equinox as Ostara and link it to the Germanic spring or dawn goddess Eostre. There’s no evidence to suggest that the spring equinox is the time that those ancestors that would have known more of Eostre would have come together to feast and honour Her. We do have evidence that it would have been some time in the spring but not necessarily at the equinox. Adrian Bott has written a number of pieces of the years published in the Guardian and on his blog about this time of year and in one of the more recent blogs writes:

“Eostur was the fourth full moon of the Anglo-Saxon year (which began with the first new moon after Modranecht, Dec 25th)”
(from https://cavalorn.livejournal.com/591576.html)

Nothing to do with the spring equinox there.  I’m not saying we can’t use the equinox to honour Eostre but I feel strongly that we should be aware that this is a modern development. Likewise using the symbols of eggs and seeds for the equinox is a modern growth of symbols that are associated with the spring generally.

A symbol associated with this time of year that I have only recently learnt about is the Easter Fox. Again this information comes via Adrian Bott and in particular an interview with him carried out by the author Yvonne Aburrow published at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sermonsfromthemound/2015/03/move-over-easter-bunny/

“Until the mid-20th Century, according to older literature, it was mainly the Easter Fox who was responsible for the eggs in the Easter tradition. Gradually this was then displaced by the Easter Bunny. A note of 1904 from the Schaumburg area states quite specifically that the eggs were laid not from the Easter Bunny, but the Easter fox. Traditionally, on Holy Saturday the children would prepare a cozy nest of hay and moss for the Easter Fox. They also made sure that the Easter Fox was not disturbed during his visit – for example by shutting up pets for the night. Furthermore, the Easter Fox was described in a Westphalian document of 1910.”
(from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sermonsfromthemound/2015/03/move-over-easter-bunny/ question 5)

Adrian goes on to state that there is no evidence that this is a survival from pre-Christian times but a lovely idea to work with anyway.

We each of us have festivals that mean more to us than others and this is one of the festivals I feel least connected to. This year many face to face celebrations are being cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis but there are online options for those that do want to celebrate.  I don’t mind if I miss celebrating it although in past years I have usually given the younger kids in the family that I see regularly something seasonal between the spring equinox and Easter.

The spring has long been associated with new beginnings, growth and making new starts for various things. This year I guess it’s also going to be linked to unprecedented change!

 

 

 

Ink

Inspired by a post a friend wrote on his blog a while ago I have decided to write about my tattoos.  Most people choose their tattoos for particular reasons and most of mine have meanings that link into aspects of my spiritual path, some were done as acts of devotion.  I currently have eight separate tattoos with more planned although I didn’t expect to get hooked the way I have been.

About ten years ago now I got my first tattoo.  I picked something that I couldn’t imagine ever not liking and that’s a horse.  I added to this fairly small stylised horse a six spoked wheel above it like a sun.  This six spoked wheel was the symbol of the Brythonic community I was part of at that time, Dun Brython. Dun Brython faded as an active community but the website and much of the material developed lives on. I included that symbol because Brython meant to much to me at the time but the most important aspect of that first tattoo was and still is the horse.

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Image of my upper right arm with stylised horse rearing up towards a six spoked wheel.

It was several years before I got my next tattoo and that one is on the inside of my left forearm.  I choose my next tattoo for mental health reasons.  The meanings of the Ogham symbols I choose are a reminder to me of the challenges of change.

The first Ogham Fid I chose is Uath or Huathe.  This Fid has a meaning linked to terror, fear and horror. It’s also linked to the tree hawthorn. I suffer from anxiety.  Social anxiety is the main aspect of this but I sometimes feel a more generalised anxiety.  Anxiety at it’s core is fear.  The tree hawthorn has sharp thorns and in the UK at least it’s often used for hedging and field boundaries. This symbol reminds me to recognise my own limitations and boundaries.  I can either work with these limitations or ignore them and let things overwhelm me and send me spiralling into fear and anxiety again.

The second Fid I chose is Ruis which is linked to reddening of faces caused by intense emotion and in modern druidry it is linked to the elder tree.  The elder is a lovely little tree frequently the first to come into leaf in my area its flowers are delicate and its berries are rich. It’s a tree that grows easily in neglected ground. The lore around it is full of magical links and stories connecting it to fairy queens and witches. It is a tree of protection if treated well and a potent symbol of change. I chose it to remind me of both the need for change and the beauty that can be found in change (even if the changes are challenging).

The third Fid I chose is Beith which has the meaning of birch. Birch trees are known as a coloniser tree. Birch twigs have been used for both brooms to clean and switches to beat people with in the past, they are still used for brooms now.  Birch sap can be gathered and used to make syrup and wine and the bark has a range of used from the outer peeling layers being used for fire kindling to thicker bark strips being used to make containers. It is a tree linked to cleansing and new beginnings and I chose it to remind me to look forward for new beginnings.

This second tattoo looks fairly simple but it’s layered with meaning for me and it a constant reminder to me to take care of my mental health.

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Image of my left forearm with three Ogham letters or Fid; Huathe, Ruis, Beith

It was this second tattoo that seemed to open the gate for me to wanting more tattoos done and although at one stage I thought that third or forth one would be the last I now know I am hooked. My next post about my ink will introduce my first coloured tattoo and my growing love of colour.

Being nudged or not?

How do you know when you are being called to a deeper relationship with a deity? If you are really lucky you get some nice clear messages. Getting those nice clear messages though is rare, very rare. It does happen sometimes but more often there are the feelings of something being not what it should be now. Feelings that it is time for a change of some kind.

Hints are dropped. Maybe a series of coincidences, maybe something in a dream. Something in you takes notice and you begin to be consciously aware that you are being nudged. Someone wants something from you, perhaps more than one being wants something from you and it’s likely that it’s something more than what you already do.

Do not make hasty decisions! Think it through carefully. Do you have the energy to offer more? Do you think you know what is being asked of you? Be careful what you commit to.

Some deities will make stronger calls than others will. Most will allow you to say no. Most want you serving them willingly. Some make demands. Take your time, think carefully about what you can offer. Be clear about your limitations, your boundaries. Most deities will respect that.

Your deeper service maybe a form of priesthood, it maybe a deeper form of personal devotion. Maybe you are being asked to do something more often than you do at present. Maybe you are being asked to deepen your relationships by more than one being.

Be aware that as a polytheist once you deepen your bonds with one of those you honour others might want you to step up with them too. The choice is still yours but be wary of not honouring their call. If you say no, you may never be asked again. Asking for more time to think, more time to decide is usually acceptable, deities work on a very different timescale to us after all.

Divination may help you decide.  Ask someone you respect if they can help you if you aren’t confident of your own skills or if you want another perspective. If you know someone dedicated to the deity you are feeling nudged by you might want to discuss what you are feeling with them. The decision though is still yours.

Take your time. What you commit to should be thought out carefully and can include whether it a short or long term commitment.

It’s not easy to know if you really are being called.  In the end you have to make a decision and then act on it as best you can. The gods usually forgive mistakes and rarely turn down service offered in my experience. Just make sure you are making your decisions for the right reasons.

Know that if you are wondering if something really is a call, wondering what you should do about it, you are not alone. You are not alone in thinking about what the next step could or should be. And if this is something that you want to talk about to someone else, anyone else, I will listen.

Brigantia

I stand at the sink doing some washing up and thinking about how I can find the right words, how to describe the Brigantia I see and my mind slips sideways…

I walk into a room with a fireplace ahead of me, a few flames dancing across a bed of warm coals and burning wood. The scent of woodsmoke reaching me. In the soft light I see a woman seated in a recliner to one side of the fire place, her feet up in comfy looking socks, a wine glass in her hand. She looks over to me and gesture to an armchair on the other side of the fireplace, “take a seat” she says. I sit down and look at her, this middle aged woman. She has shadows under her eyes, a smudge of dirt or dust on one cheek and her hair is a mess. She’s wearing loose clothes that look like they’ve seen better days but are clearly comfortable. As I look at her so she is looking at me. Our eyes meet. “Drink?” she asks and gestures towards the bottle and another glass, “help yourself” she adds. I get up and pour a glass, bring the bottle over to her and top up the glass she holds out. I put the bottle back and then sit down again glass of wine in hand and take a sip. It’s rich and warming, a fruit wine or a mead, I’m not sure. It’s good though. She looks at me again. “Here to talk?” she asks. I shake my head “Not really” I reply. She nods. We both turn and gaze into the flames.

I blink and reach for the plates that need washing up. The images burnt into my mind.


This wasn’t the first time I had been given glimpses of a different goddess to ones often pictured. I have seen Her standing beside a motorbike dressed as a paramedic with short curly reddish hair. I have seen Her in oil stained overalls in a workshop with a large tool box behind Her. I have seen Her dressed brightly with short straight greying hair walking in what looks to be a University building and carrying a leather satchel with papers peeking out. This time She looked tired other times She has seemed full of energy. In two of these images She has looked like a fairly young woman perhaps mid twenties. In the other two She has looked much older. I have no idea why.

The gods have taught me not to rely on physical imagery. I still use it but I understand that the image I may use is like a suit of clothes for them, they are not tied to these things. They have taught me to look beyond what my eyes see to recognise them. I don’t always know who I see or feel but I know Her, Brigantia.

Brigantia is known of from inscriptions and imagery that have survived from the Roman occupation of Britain. Nothing of Her original mythology has survived so what we do know is what can be pieced together from the imagery and associations from the Romans. It is important to remember that the Romans didn’t link deities up without good reason. They were a polytheist society and veneration of the many gods was an important part of their culture and society. This means that if they linked a British deity with a Roman one they had a strong reason for doing so both in text and in imagery. This in turn means we can learn a great deal about the attributes of these British deities from the attributes of the linked Roman deities.

We know Brigantia was the tutelary deity of the Brigantes tribe, the home area was even called Brigantia. Written records of the Brigantes start during Roman times but archaeological records suggest that the area was continually occupied for a considerable time before the Romans which would indicate a powerful and stable tribe. The heartland of the Brigantes was in northern England and maps showing their territory show it stretching from east to west coasts. It covered the majority of the land between the River Tyne and the River Humber covering much of what is now Yorkshire, Northumberland, County Durham, Lancashire and into Cumbria. They were a large powerful tribe, territorially the largest Brythonic tribe or kingdom of ancient Britain. They would have had a wide trading influence and chances are that their deities would have been known of and probably worshipped in neighbouring tribal areas. We also know that there was a Brigantes tribe in Ireland in what is now the Leinster area, very likely to have been related to the one in what is now north England but exactly how is unknown.

There are not a huge number of surviving inscriptions or imagery for Brigantia but what there is tells us quite about this Goddess. A search of the online version of Roman Inscriptions of Britain using “Brigantia” as a search term results in seven different inscriptions. In two inscriptions She is linked to the goddess Victoria who is the Roman goddess of victory, one is from Castleford and one from Greetland. The inscription from Castleford is for an altar dedicated solely to Victoria Brigantia. The Greetland inscription is for an altar dedicated to Victoria Brigantia and “the Divinities of the two Emperors” (RIB 627). On an altar found at Corbridge Brigantia is given the title Caelestis meaning heavenly or celestial, that altar is also dedicated to Jupiter of Doliche and the Goddess Salus, a Roman Goddess of safety and wellbeing. That title of Caelestis is a rare one among the inscriptions found in Britain and marks Brigantia Caelestia as a powerful goddess. The Caelestis title is also given to the African goddess Tanit and I will mention more about the significance of that later.

On an altar found on Hadrian’s Wall in the neighbourhood of Brampton, Brigantia is referred to as the goddess-nymph Brigantia and the altar text also gives a significant amount of detail why it was dedicated which I find very interesting. The text reads:

“Deae Nymphae Brig(antiae) | quod [vo]verat pro | sal[ute et incolumitate] | dom(ini) nostr(i) Invic(ti) | imp(eratoris) M(arci) Aurel(i) Severi | Antonini Pii Felic[i]s | Aug(usti) totiusque do|mus divinae eius | M(arcus) Cocceius Nigrinus | [pr]oc(urator) Aug(usti) n(ostri) devo[tissim]us num[ini] | [maies]tatique eius v(otum) [s(olvit)] l(aetus) l(ibens) m(erito)”

Which is translated as:
“This offering to the goddess-nymph Brigantia, which he had vowed for the welfare and safety of our Lord the Invincible Emperor Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus Pius Felix Augustus and of his whole Divine House, Marcus Cocceius Nigrinus, procurator of our Emperor and most devoted to his divinity and majesty, gladly, willingly, and deservedly fulfilled.”

(RIB 2066 https://romaninscriptionsofbritain.org/inscriptions/2066)

I find this particularly interesting for two reasons. The first is that it is an inscription describing Brigantia as a nymph and nymphs were thought of as spirits associated with a particular location. It doesn’t necessarily mean a source of water however as in Roman terms there were many different types of nymph. As many of the nymph type inscriptions and imagery found in Britain are linked to water there is a strong possibility that Brigantia also was connected to water in some form and if so these may well have been considered healing waters. The second reason I find this inscription is that of all the possible deities that Marcus Cocceius Nigrinus could make a vow to for the safety of the Emperor he chose Brigantia. I think that says volumes about Her popularity and perceptions of Her power.

Of the remaining three inscriptions two are for altars dedicated solely to Brigantia with no other title and one is for a carved statuette. The two altars with no other descriptions or titles for Brigantia were dedicated by individuals bearing Celtic names so they may well have been locals, one of whom was also probably female, Cingetessa. If they were locals then they probably saw no need to add descriptors to their inscriptions. The carved statuette was found in the ruins of a building at a fort outside Birrens and it’s now housed in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. The text is very simple but without the identification as Brigantia the statuette would almost certainly been identified as one of Minerva. The imagery shows Her with many of the symbols of Minerva. It is described as follows:

“In high relief standing in a gabled niche. The goddess Brigantia is winged, has a Gorgon’s head on her breast, and wears a plumed helmet encircled by a turreted crown. In her right hand she holds a spear, in her left a globe; to her left stands her shield, to her right an omphaloid stone. Her attributes equate her with Minerva Victrix.”
(RIB 2091 https://romaninscriptionsofbritain.org/inscriptions/2091)

The wings may be a link to the goddess Victoria as She was normally depicted with wings in Roman imagery. The omphaloid stone is a sacred conical object used to mark to mark the centre of the earth, which could be a link to Juno Caelestis, who in turn was linked with the African goddess Tanit mentioned earlier. These links to the African goddess Tanit are significant because Tanit was a very important deity to the Empress Julia Domna, wife of Emperor Septimus Severus one of the few Roman Emperors to set foot in Britain and they were in Britain for a significant part of their lives. It is thought that all the inscriptions and imagery for Brigantia found so far date from that period in history when Septimus Severus lived in Britain. This does, of course, lead to the suspicion that Brigantia was made more popular at that time for political reasons but if so I think She must have already been very important to the locals to make it worthwhile for the Romans to adopt in this way.

Most of the other imagery is very much associated with Minerva, the Roman Goddess of music, poetry, medicine, commerce, weaving, wisdom and strategic warfare. Her best known attributes today probably being those of wisdom, knowledge and strategy. The turreted crown symbolises a turreted wall around a town or city and is the sign of a tutelary and protective deity.

Brigantia’s name, like that of Brigid, comes from the root -brig, meaning high or exalted. From the various Roman inscriptions and imagery preserved and discovered we can see that Brigantia was almost certainly considered to be a powerful goddess. She was almost certainly linked to a particular area, probably that of the Brigantes tribe, which would make sense. It’s possible that She had links to healing water of some kind given the nymph title, it’s also possible that She was linked to the heavens in some way given the Caelestis title. Her links to Minerva suggest attributes of knowledge and wisdom and with the links to Victoria suggest some warrior attributes.

Many of these attributes are shared with Brigit of Ireland. My current feelings are that Brigit of Ireland grew and developed out of shared Goddess of both aspects of the Brigantes tribe, Brigantia. In Ireland She was able to grow and develop and then be remembered both as part of the Tuatha de Danaan and in becoming a Saint. In Scotland and parts of England She reaches across time as Bride or Bridey. And She calls me in one of Her oldest guises, Brigantia, sovereign lady of northern England, Keeper of wisdom and knowledge, Defender and Protector of those who turn to Her.

My own relationship with Brigantia has been one of gradual growth. It began really with being aware of Her as Bridget but owing to an unfortunate memory of a particular Bridget I had known many years before I was never very comfortable with that name. I saw Her as protector of learning and it seemed fitting that I should feel Her presence as I walked around the University I both attended and later worked at for many years.

When I developed and carried out lunar devotions it was first as Brigid I honoured Her on the night before the full moon with offerings of warm milk with honey and oats or oatmeal.

In time I found Her ancient name of Brigantia and through a series of coincidences came to join the flame tending cill (or group) of Clann Bhride at Imbolc 2015. From my lunar devotions I then moved to the twenty day cycle of a flame tending cill and that remains my pattern of devotion for Brigantia. Each year I learn more and deepen my relationship with this ancient Goddess. Each year She reveals another fragment of Her beautiful and complex personality to me.

When I first started flame tending I developed a version of one of the prayers to Brighid from the Clann Bhride Book of Hours which I use with the prayer beads my mum made for me of three sets of nine beads and three starting/finishing beads. This prayer has changed a little since I first wrote it and I share it with you here.

Hail Brigantia of poetry and healing!
Hail Brigantia of the forge and of justice!
Hail Brigantia of hearth and home!

Brigantia of poetry, I praise you.
Brigantia of healing, I praise you.
Brigantia of the forge, I praise you.
Brigantia of justice, I praise you.
Brigantia of fire, I praise you.
Brigantia, Nymph of water, I praise you.
Brigantia of fire in water, I praise you.
Brigantia of the shinning stars, I praise you.
Brigantia of hearth and home, I praise you.

Brigantia of poetry, I honour you.
Brigantia of healing, I honour you.
Brigantia of the forge, I honour you.
Brigantia of justice, I honour you.
Brigantia of fire, I honour you.
Brigantia, Nymph of water, I honour you.
Brigantia of fire in water, I honour you.
Brigantia of the shining stars, I honour you.
Brigantia of hearth and home, I honour you.

Brigantia of poetry, please help me appreciate the poetry in the world about me.
Brigantia of healing, please fill my heart with your healing that I may radiate it out to all in need.
Brigantia of the forge, please help me to forge my way in the company of all beings.
Brigantia of justice, please let me hold the flame of justice in my heart and act with it
Brigantia of fire, please fill my heart with your fire that I may radiate your warmth.
Brigantia, Nymph of water, please cleanse my mind with your waters, that I may speak with truth
Brigantia of fire in water, please fill me with your inspiration.
Brigantia of the shining stars, as you sing with the Universe, please help me to sing in harmony with those about me.
Brigantia of the hearth, please protect my home and my family.

Brigantia of poetry and healing, I thank you.
Brigantia of the forge and of justice, I thank you.
Brigantia of hearth and home, I thank you.
References

https://brigantesnation.com/ (accessed 31 January 2020)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigantes (accessed 31 January 2020)

Daimler M (2016) Brigid: Meeting the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Forge and Healing Well Moon Books

Green, M. (1995) Celtic Goddesses: Warriors, Virgins and Mothers British Museum Press

McGrath, S. (2015) Brigantia: Goddess of the North Boreal Publications

Clann Bhride (2013) Book of Hours for Daily and Seasonal Practice

Imbolc

Another post using material from my incomplete draft book.

Something changes. Maybe it is the first tips of green coming through the earth from bulbs dormant over the winter. Maybe it is the quality of sunlight and the fact it lasts that bit longer. Maybe it is the first snowdrop you see. Or perhaps, like me, it is that hard to describe smell or the earth warming, a fleeting sign that something is changing.

Imbolc, Imbolg or Bride’s Day is often referred to as the first of the spring festivals although spring may still be far away. For me this time of year is more about the promise of spring than spring itself. My garden still looks pretty bare but bulbs are beginning to send up their leaves and my rhubarb is beginning to come through again. And yes, the snowdrops are beginning to come out too.

Imbolc is usually dated as the 1st February although some do celebrate on 2nd February. The meanings given to the word itself seem to be unclear. One of the more popular meanings is “ewe’s milk” but my understanding is that among scholars this is generally thought to be drawn from folk lore and not accurate. Certainly if you have sheep in your area and they are due to lamb quite early in the spring the ewes might be coming into milk but milk doesn’t really come in fully for mammals until the young are born. Udders or breasts do begin to swell before young are born but you don’t get much out of them until after the birth takes place.

One more accurate meaning of the word Imbolc or Imbolg (which is the modern Irish spelling I believe) is “in the belly” referring to the pregnancy of ewes. If you have been around pregnant ewes at this time of year the pregnancy is now becoming more obvious to the eye as the lamb grows within the ewe. Another possible meaning dates to Old Irish and is linked to cleansing or ritual purification.

Regardless of the exact meaning of the word it is a time linked to the first signs of spring and also more importantly to Brigid, Goddess and Saint. Whether you are a polytheist or not this is one festival where you are given a very clear pointer to a particular being. Brigid, Bridget, Brighid, Bhride, Bride, Brid and Brig are just some of the names given to this incredibly popular being, a being that is as loved as a Saint as She is as a Goddess. There have been several books written about this being and there is no way I can do justice to Her here. As a very light overview I will say that She is sometimes thought of as a single being, sometimes as three, sometimes as a Goddess, sometimes as a Saint. The three connected beings are Brigid the Poet, Brigid the Smith and Brigid the Healer. Fire and water are sacred to Her. Many wells across Ireland and the UK are dedicated to Her as Saint Brighid. These few words merely touch the surface of who She is and can be.

Purification and cleansing is one of the themes at this time so anything that links with that can be a good choice of activity. It’s a good time to begin some spring cleaning and some home cleansing and blessing.

I have been asked in the past how to go about removing negative influences from something. I make sure whoever asks knows that there are several methods that can be used before offering my own preference. I start with physical cleaning, whether it is an object, a place or even yourself the first step is physical. While you physically clean whatever it is you keep in your mind that this is the first step of a complete cleansing, this adds a focused intent to your physical activity. After that step I recommend a ritual cleanse and blessing. The ritual aspect of cleansing is to sprinkle the item, area or person with water blessed for use in cleansing. When I prepare blessed water I ask Brigantia, Maponos and Clutha (my local major river goddess) to work through me to bless the water that it may cleanse the spirit. After cleansing with blessed water I then recommend use of some form of sacred smoke, that could be incense sticks, loose incense or some form of bundle of herbs similar to Native American smudge bundles. A couple of years ago a friend introduced me to using meadowsweet bundles and I find these to be very effective. The idea is that the smoke is carried or wafted around whatever it is being cleansed and purified. If using smoke is a problem then I recommend using a special candle, perhaps a scented one but natural beeswax is a lovely option for this and you carry the lit candle around instead of wafting smoke. Water and fire are both strongly linked to Brigid in different ways which makes this time of year a particularly good one for doing this type of cleansing and purification work in my opinion. As you go through this process you can chant or pray or simply silently focus on the process of cleansing.

Once you have done whatever cleansing you wish to do you can then move onto other activities. One of the more popular activities is the making of Brigid’s crosses. There are many ways of doing this now although the most traditional materials are rushes or straw. You can also use strips of paper, pipe cleaners or even wire. Traditionally these are hung up in the home ideally over doors or windows. They were and still are symbols of welcoming Brigid and of blessing. Traditionally these are kept up for the year replacing them the following Bride’s Day when the old one, if made of rushes or straw, was burnt on the hearth fire. Now they are often kept much longer. I have one hanging in a back window made with pipe cleaners that is at least four years old now. This is a fun activity to try with children too.

Another possibility is to make a Brideog (Little Brigid) doll. Again traditionally these would be made of straw or rushes and often woven like autumn corn dollies. The doll is then decorated and dressed. A bed is prepared for the doll and the doll is then taken to the front door. One person, traditionally a woman, announces that Bride’s bed is ready, another calls out “Let Bride come in. Bride’s bed is ready.” The doll is then placed in her bed and left overnight. In times gone by where most homes had a hearth fire Bride’s bed would be beside the hearth and the ashes smoothed over before everyone retired to bed. In the morning the ashes would be examined for marks, ideally footprints, that were considered to be a blessing from Bride.

As with any festival sharing food and drink is always popular. For Imbolc dairy foods are usually considered particularly appropriate. Milk or water to drink are also good choices. Water because so many of Brigid’s links are to holy wells.

One of the traditions that I am very fond of is the Brat Bride or cloth. The cloth in question is sometimes a piece of fabric, sometimes a knitted cloth sometimes even a ribbon. The cloth is hung outside or placed on a windowsill overnight for Bride to bless as She passes. The cloth is then used during the year to aid in healing work. I am fortunate enough to have a piece of cloth that was originally part of a much larger cloth first blessed one Imbolc at Kildare, one of the most holy sites associated with Brigid as Saint. It was a gift to me many years ago and one I treasure. Each year I hang it outside again at Imbolc to renew the blessings on it and it has been used several times as an aid to healing.

Throughout this section I have deliberately used different spellings and variations of the many names associated with Brighid. Whether She is honoured as Bride, Brigid, Brig or any one of Her names this festival is very much dedicated to Her. Some of those who follow a Brythonic path now call this festival Brigantica and honour Brigantia at this time. It is Brigantia and my relationship with Her that I will turn to in my next post.

References

Hutton, R. (1996) The Stations of the Sun Oxford University Press

F. Marian McNeill (1959) The Silver Bough Vol Two: A Calendar of Scottish National Festivals Candlemas to Harvest Home Stuart Titles Ltd

Daimler M (2016) Brigid: Meeting the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Forge and Healing Well Moon Books

https://clannbhride.wordpress.com/ritual/fire-festivals/imbolc/ 

Family

In  my last post on Yule I spoke about traditions I have with my family during the darkest days of winter. Family is a central part of my life. Family has always been fairly important to me but becoming a parent changed that from a fairly important aspect to a central one. My journey as a mother began just a couple of years after my journey as a Pagan began. From the earliest days of my first pregnancy there has been a spiritual aspect to being a mother from marking stages of my pregnancies with ritual to sharing my path with my children.  I have not brought them up to be Pagan but with the knowledge of various pagan paths as well as other religions so that they may choose their own paths but I am very open about my beliefs and practices.

A few years ago I coined the phrase “Hearth Druid” as a light hearted but fairly accurate description of my path. As I am also a polytheist, if I want to be more descriptive I will say I am a polytheist hearth druid. Druidry is the path I began with when I first explored Paganism and I later developed into a polytheist Druid. For many there is an aspect of service within the Druid path. That service can take many forms and in my case a key part is service to the future by doing the best I can to raise my children to be caring and responsible humans.

Any parent who says raising children is easy is likely to be stretching the truth to breaking point. Parenthood is wonderful and terrifying. It brings some of the most intense joys, some of the deepest fears and the greatest amounts of stress to your life. I am blessed with two children six years apart in age, one son and one daughter. My son is a young man now and I am immensely proud of him. I am incredibly proud of my daughter too who is growing into a young woman. Both of my children have additional challenges to deal with in this modern world of ours because both are autistic. I am not diagnosed as autistic but I still believe that I probably am. I am certainly among the more neurodivergent section of the population.

I am lucky in that both my children are very healthy. They are intelligent, loving and wonderful young people. The additional challenges they have, that I have, are because our society tries to treat us all as if we are the same. We are told again and again that we must meet set targets and milestones in set periods of time and yet very few of us will meet any of these things in the same periods of time or in the same way. Our modern society does not yet value diversity as well as it should whether that be physical diversity, neurodiversity or many of the other aspects of diversity that exist within our human species. In my opinion we are only just beginning to truly appreciate the importance of diversity in nature generally.

Learning more about diversity in various ways, learning to appreciate diversity, is part of the reason I am the polytheist that I am today. I have grown into polytheism and I believe it fits wonderfully with a viewpoint that treasures diversity.

Some polytheists are able to put their devotions to their deities at the centre of their life. Some have incredibly close relationships with a small number of deities, relationships where they are asked to serve their gods in very direct and often life altering ways. I am not one of those polytheists, at the centre of my life are my children. My children don’t need me quite as much as they used to when they were younger but my daughter in particular still needs a lot of support.  I still have deep relationships with my deities but they do not ask me to choose between my love for them and my love for my children. Those I am sworn to understand that I what service I can give them, as with everything in my life, is balanced against family needs.

Other members of my family are also very important to me. I am lucky enough to have a very close relationship with my parents. I had a particularly close relation ship with my mum and I miss being able to phone her up for a chat.  I miss her hugs most.  I had more of a friendship than the usual sort of mother/daughter relationship many people seem to have. Neither of my parents were Pagan when I was growing up, they came to it later in life when I was in my late teens and although I was aware of that change it wasn’t something that led me to become Pagan myself. Our paths differ but we still share seasonal rituals as part of the same local group which used to be driven forward more by my mum with my dad and I in support and my dad now carries on with me in support.

And then there is my husband. Both of us have been married previously and both of us have learnt things from those previous relationships. I now understand so much more about myself, my probably autistic self, than I knew in my first marriage and that learning has been incredibly valuable in my relationship with my husband now. He is my love and my support. He is also a Druid and that gives us another bond. We call him a Land Druid because his Druidry is so closely tied to his relationship with the Land, walking it, taking landscape photographs and being out there.

My relationships with other members of my wider family are also very important to me. I chose my current home for example because I wanted to be physically closer to my brother, his wife and their children. That in turn has allowed me to develop much better relationships with all of them.

For some, family can also become something incredibly painful. While that is not my experience I know that for some the last thing they want is to be close to some or perhaps all of what would usually be called their family. Family is not just about those you are connected to by blood, upbringing or marital status though. Family means different things to different people and for many a spiritual family can be as important or more so than their blood family. In some cases those you think of as family widen out in different directions. A best friend may be closer than a sibling, members of a grove may become like a second family or members of an online community may develop a sense of family brought together by shared interests or commonalities in situation. Families are another area of diversity in life that can be overlooked but what is a family but whom you love the most and who love you in return?

I am very open with my family about my beliefs, they all know I am polytheist. Some members of my wider family are happy to chat about faith matters, others are not so keen. In my wider family there are several Christians and yes, there has been the odd misunderstanding over the years but we have been able to move past such things. When I was a child and for most of my growing years the only faith really spoken about in the family was Christianity. That has changed. When we do talk about religion we don’t just talk about our own faiths, we also talk about other faiths in the world.

In my own home I openly practice my faith, there is nothing hidden and my children are free to join in when they want to or not as the case may be. I have taught them that if someone is at prayer unless it is an emergency you wait respectfully until they are finished before you start talking to them. I have an altar in my dining room, pagan books on bookshelves, robes and cloaks hanging in my wardrobe. Nothing hidden. If anyone in my family is curious about my own path or other aspects of Paganism they know they can ask me. They also know there’s a chance I’ll start getting very enthusiastic and start telling them about all sorts of related information. A question about a Norse deity may lead to a discussion on Norse myths, then myths of other cultures, the place of story in our world in feeding our imaginations, in allowing us to move beyond our own limitations and widen our perspectives. Or it might lead along other paths entirely. I get very enthusiastic and my mind jumps about leaping from trail to trail. My family know this about me and know that if they start asking questions an hour could easily pass as we discuss things. Fortunately they are also quite adept in letting me know when they’ve had enough if I don’t spot the signs myself.

My family, like my faith, is intimately woven into the strands of my life. The tapestry of who I am would not be as colourful or as complex without either of these parts of my life.