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.

Winter Solstice and Yule

This is another post based on material from my draft book.

The Winter Solstice is usually around the 20-22 December in the Northern hemisphere (in the Southern hemisphere this would be the summer solstice) and it is the centre point of the winter. It is the time of greatest natural darkness, from this point onwards the amount of daylight will gradually start to increase. I live in central Scotland and the difference between summer and winter light is much more noticeable here than it is around the South of England for example. I have friends living in Orkney and for them the difference is even more extreme. The actual amount of daylight you get on the winter solstice will depend on where you live but it will be the least amount for your area in any year. The weather often turns colder, although January can be colder still.

There is little evidence of how our ancient pagan ancestors may have celebrated this dark time of year. There are a small number of surviving neolithic monuments in Britain and Ireland that indicate that the solstice was considered important in some way such as Newgrange with its dawn alignment around the winter solstice, Maes Howe with its dusk alignment around the winter solstice and Stonehenge. Archaeological evidence from Durrington Walls near Stonehenge suggests feasting on pigs and cattle may have been a significant part of winter festivities in the landscape around Stonehenge. Surviving lore from Scandinavian and Germanic sources suggests winter festivities were important to iron age Pagan ancestors but we have virtually nothing in Britain relating to winter festivities that we can trace back to the iron age with any confidence. The traditions that remain in our modern culture around this time of year are a mixture of traditions that have built up around Christmas and New Year in different areas of Britain and many of them have been imported from mainland Europe.

One thing that had come down through history is that there seems to have been a very old tradition of several days worth of celebrations around this time of year. This has echoed down to us in the words of the carol “On the First day of Christmas”.

Professor Ron Hutton writes:
“The tradition of twelve days of celebration following ‘midwinter’ was firmly established by 877, when the law code of Alfred the Great granted freedom from work to all servants during that span.”
(Hutton, p6)

During the eleventh century and Danish rule over England the term Yule was introduced for the winter festivities. Over the next couple of centuries this became more popular as a term for the mid winter festivities surrounding Christmas in England and spread to Scotland as well.

Prior to period of the reformation Christmas or Yule in Scotland was celebrated in a similar manner to that in other medieval Christian countries in Europe. That changed during the reformation with much of the festivities becoming frowned upon by the early Kirk and in 1640 the Parliament of Scotland banned Yule celebrations. While that act and subsequent acts concerning Yule celebrations were repealed Christmas remained a quiet affair in Scotland for centuries due to the influence of the Presbyterian Kirk. Christmas day only became a public holiday in Scotland in 1954, Boxing Day didn’t become a public holiday in Scotland until 1974. New Year’s Eve or Hogmanay became the major public expression of mid winter festivities in Scotland. In recent decades there has been a gradual shift towards more widespread celebrations of Christmas but it is still Hogmany that is the major focus of mid winter festivities in Scotland.

In the UK, and probably many other places, shops everywhere have displays of Christmas foods and assorted gift ideas from November and sometimes from October. Children get increasingly excited while parents get increasingly stressed. Schools put on Christmas fairs, nativity plays, school concerts in December and often arrange other additional seasonal activities. Councils decorate streets with lights, canned Christmas music is played almost everywhere. There is an unspoken pressure that we should be joyful and celebrate but many people struggle to keep going and suffer increasingly from physical or mental health conditions.

For many Pagans of many different paths this time of year is difficult for religious reasons as well. Do we celebrate Christmas for the kids? Do we take part in the Christian traditions that have often been built upon much older Pagan traditions? How do we acknowledge the darkness, honour the winter?

There are no easy answers to these questions. If you have young school age children the chances of them escaping the increasing hype about Father Christmas or Santa Claus coming to them with gifts of all types on Christmas Eve is incredibly slim. As they grow older they may gradually move away from ideas of Santa but still want gifts – well most of us like gifts after all.

One advantage Pagans have is that some of the traditions of this time of year are rooted in Pagan traditions from other areas of Europe. Feasting during the midwinter is one aspect that has an ancient history. The details have varied as tastes and availability of foodstuffs has changed but the central theme of gathering in larger groups and feasting still remains. Where there is a feast in ancient time there would often be a fire and there are many variants of Yule log traditions, not something we do as much now that central heating has replaced so many open fires. While the very name Yule log suggests Scandinavian origins to this tradition there would have been other important fires during this time in ancient Britain if only to cook all the food for the feasting. In Scotland the importance of fire has remained in New Year traditions such as that of carrying a lit ‘Clavie’ or large fire pot around Burghead on the Moray Firth and the fireball procession at Stonehaven. In Burghead it is likely the tradition was transplanted from elsewhere in the region as the town itself isn’t ancient. The Stonehaven tradition again is relatively recent being developed in Victorian times but again it may have roots in older traditions. Whether these traditions are truly ancient or relatively young they speak deeply to us of the importance of light and heat in these cold and dark times.

Decorating the home with evergreens is another ancient tradition, holly, ivy and mistletoe being particularly popular choices in Britain, again the plants used have varied a little over time depending on availability and location. Then there is the Christmas Tree. Decorated trees of some sort have been used in various countries at this time of year for centuries but the Christmas tree as we now know it seems to be medieval in origin and brought to this country in Victorian times by Prince Albert from Germany. Now we make choices between live trees and artificial ones of different sizes, there are ethical pros and cons with both options and in the end we all choose what we feel is best for our homes and families. And then there’s that wonderful tradition of giving gifts and the mysteries of Santa Claus, Saint Nikolas or Father Christmas!

My own wider family is a mixed faith family but my husband and myself are both Pagan.  My son has never been very interested in religion but we have talked many times over the years about various faiths, he has never been keen on all the Christmas hype. My daughter has been interested in Paganism for a few years and more recently stated that they are polytheist with a particular interest in the Heathen path at the moment but she adores all the colour and excitement of Christmas. We have a number of health issues in the family too, both physical and mental. So like many families we need to compromise with our winter festivities. In the wider family we celebrate the winter solstice and Christmas.

The first family activity for this season is decorating the house. I won’t even consider doing this until December and usually we are well into December before the decorations are brought down from the loft. My son is not at all interested in this side of festivities but my daughter adores it. She always helps with the tree decorating and in helping to decide placement for some of our other decorations. She has some decorations for her bedroom too where by son’s room is a decoration free zone. The decorations are usually all in place by Eponalia.

For me personally Eponalia, as mentioned previously, is of particular importance as a time of quiet reflection and prayer before the more hectic family activities begin. By Eponalia in past years I’ve usually been to two school fairs, at least one school performance of some kind and had to begin to plan what else will be happening and when for the rest of the festive season so I’m usually feeling a bit stressed by mid December. This year has been a bit quieter but I’ve also started working again so that has reduced the time and energy I have for planning and organising.

Just three days after Eponalia is the winter solstice and in my home that is the central point of the winter festivities. In some years I join a local group of Pagans on the closest weekend before in celebrating the coming time of the winter solstice. Sometimes other commitments mean I’m not able to join them. Several years ago though I started a family tradition for the solstice itself and that is our winter solstice walk. The kids and I wrap up warmly and we go out on the evening of the solstice (or if the weather is really bad as soon after as we safely can) for a walk around the local streets. When he’s able to (depending on work) my husband joins us. My nephews and niece who live very close to us often join us on our walk. We admire the lights we see on, and in front of, houses as we walk round and we chat a little bit about the importance of hope and light in the darkness. When we return home after the walk we have hot drinks, hot chocolate for those that want it, and a seasonal snack. Once we are all settled with food and drink the kids get their Yule gifts from myself and my husband. Giving my kids a gift at solstice helps to emphasise the importance of the solstice to us and other pagan members of the family. It also has the benefit of helping to spread out gifts and accompanying excitement rather than getting everything on one day.

The next couple of days are an odd combination of excitement and calm in my family. My daughter in particular gets increasingly excited for the coming of Santa and Christmas and my son quietly retreats to his room to avoid all the fuss. Depending on energy levels (mine rather than the kids) we might do some baking together. Why buy extra biscuits or mince pies when you can have fun with the kids making your own? It’s usually a messy and fun activity for the kids and a bit more stressful for me although eating the results is very enjoyable.

There’s visits to and from various family members on Christmas eve, Christmas day and Boxing day with Christmas gift giving among the wider members of the family. And then, just for a little bit, days begin to get calmer again. Outside it is still cold and dark but we know that daylight is slowly beginning to get increase again.

However you celebrate or don’t at this time of year I wish you all a sense of peace and hope in this time of darkness.

References

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

F. Marian McNeill (1961) The Silver Bough Vol three: A Calendar of Scottish National Festivals Halloween to Yule Stuart Titles Ltd

Eponalia

Eponalia is the feast day of Gaulish Goddess Epona, the Divine Mare and in the time of the Roman Empire it was celebrated on ‘XV Kalendas Ianuarius Eponae’ (from http://epona.net/inscriptions.html). This date translates in the modern calendar to 18 December.

Epona is one of the few, if not only, Gaulish deities adopted into the Roman calendar of celebrations in Her own right and that honour is due in a large part to the importance of the Roman cavalry. For me, and some Brythonic polytheists, Eponalia marks the first of the winter festivals. The others being the winter solstice (usually 20/21 December) followed by Midwinter, Yule or Christmas on 25 December and then the New Year festivities. Some of these festivals are more spiritual than others depending on personal inclinations and family commitments.

Eponalia for me is a quiet time. It is a pause between attending school Christmas activities, preparing for family gatherings and the festivities of winter solstice and midwinter, Yule or Christmas. Eponalia is a time to reflect, to remember, to acknowledge and honour the darkness and to honour Epona Herself, whom I love deeply.

In past years, when I was working, I have made donations to horse related charities for Eponalia. Two years ago I had my first Eponalia where I could spend some time among horses and ponies. I’ve loved horses and ponies for as long as I can remember but for various reasons have not been able to spend much time around them or learn how to ride them until relatively recently. To be able to spend time at a stable yard among the horses and ponies there helping out with the range of the usual activities that take place in a stable yard was a wonderful gift and not one I will forget in a hurry. That occasion was also the first time I have had a horse stand on my foot with enough weight to leave a bruise. He really didn’t want me to clean that particular hoof out!

Regardless of anything else part of my Eponalia celebrations include my devotional activities at my home shrine. These usually take place in the evening when the day has quietened. Before I start I decide on what I will offer as a libation to Epona and bring that over to the shrine. I also get out an old flat pillow that I use to kneel and sit on when I am at my shrine and put it into place. I light a rose scented incense stick and as I waft the smoke around my shrine and around myself I begin to sing:

“Epona, Eponina, Ipotia,
Epona, Eponina Ipotia,
Atanta,
Dibonia,
Vovesia,
Catona”

I then kneel before the shrine and sing my Hymn to Epona.

Once I am finished singing I pour out my libation saying something like “ I offer this wine/mead/juice to you Epona, to you I make this offering.”

Then I move into a cross legged seated position and with my prayer beads say the following prayer:

“Hail Epona Rigantona! Rhiannon, Epona Hail! Herd Mothers Hail!

Epona of Horses, I praise you!
Rhiannon of the Land, I praise you!
Epona of Sovereignty, I praise you!
Rhiannon of Journeys, I praise you!
Epona of Stables, I praise you!
Rhiannon of the Otherworld, I praise you!
Epona, Great Mother, I praise you!
Rhiannon of the Singing Birds, I praise you!
Epona Rigantona, Rhiannon, Epona, Herd Mothers, guides, guardians and teachers, I praise you!

Epona of Horses, I honour you!
Rhiannon of the Land, I honour you!
Epona of Sovereignty, I honour you!
Rhiannon of Journeys, I honour you!
Epona of Stables, I honour you!
Rhiannon of the Otherworld, I honour you!
Epona, Great Mother, I honour you!
Rhiannon of the Singing Birds, I honour you!
Epona Rigantona, Rhiannon, Epona, Herd Mothers, guides, guardians and teachers, I honour you!

Epona of Horses, I thank you for your presence in my life.
Rhiannon of the Land, I thank you for the stability in my life.
Epona of Sovereignty, I thank you for the choices you bring to my life.
Rhiannon of Journeys, I thank you for your guidance through my life.
Epona of Stables, I thank you for the security in my life.
Rhiannon of the Otherworld, I thank you for the mysteries in my life.
Epona, Great Mother, I thank you for your nurturing presence in my life.
Rhiannon of the Singing Birds, I thank you for the beauty you bring to my life.
Epona Rigantona, Rhiannon, Epona, Herd Mothers, guides, guardians and teachers, I thank you for being with me through my life.

Hail Epona Rigantona! Rhiannon, Epona, Herd Mothers Hail!”

Then I sit for a while in silence and think about Epona and what She means to me. I also spend some silent time keeping my mind as calm and clear as I can to see if anything comes forward.

This simple ritual is one I have gradually developed over a few years and I use it every week in my devotions to Epona as well as on Eponalia itself. It’s adaptable to group ritual as well and I have led a group version of it in the past.

These typed words are not really able to convey the feelings I have as do my Eponalia rite. On this day I know that many others across the world also honour Epona. Some of them are people I have met, many more are those I only know online but there is a special sense of connection in the knowledge that others are also honouring Epona on this day.

More experiences with A’ Chailleach

This post follows on from my last one.

In late 2009 I had another very powerful experience in my growing relationship with A’ Chailleach. I was asked to be involved with the closing ritual at a Pagan conference held in Glasgow. I wasn’t organising the ritual or the conference but months before the conference I was asked by the conference organisers (who happen to be my parents) to take part in a ritual that would be centred around A’ Chailleach. I didn’t know the others that were going to be involved in the ritual but I said yes because at the time I was told that there shouldn’t be anything in it that would be a problem after all it was a public ritual and that further details would be sorted out nearer the time with those who would be leading the ritual who happened to be speakers at the conference.

And here I’ll just add that yes, my parents are also Pagan and their main path is Wicca. And no, I didn’t grow up with them as Pagans we all came to it separately in later life, my mum was first when I was in my late teens. It does however mean that I feel a sense of family loyalty in supporting some of the things they have organised over the years and I expect the same goes for them in supporting some of the things I have organised over the years.

Anyway the conference took place on Saturday 29th August and it wasn’t until the Thursday before that I heard anything more about the ritual and then it was only brief notes. By this time though I felt it was far too late for me to back out of the ritual even though what little I did see made me feel uncomfortable. The basic outline of this ritual was to put me on what was in effect a high seat at the centre of the ritual and for me to be A’ Chailleach and sing. The ritual leaders clearly had a different idea of what this could mean than I did, for me this wasn’t just being Her priestess but Her host. They hadn’t met me or talked to me before this time at all, they just knew I was reasonably capable from what they’d been told by others.

One of the other speakers was a friend of mine and I was able to discuss my concerns with him and before the ritual itself we laid out a couple of preparations which would allow him to help me if it was needed.

I had two major concerns. The first was that nothing would take place and that I would be acting. The second was that something quite powerful would take place and that I would have problems in coming back to myself. Recent online discussions and some hypnotherapy experiences had made me think that I may be more suggestible to trance situations than I had previously thought and this was a ritual situation that sounded likely to trigger a change in consciousness.

I had decided that in doing this ritual it would be more appropriate for me to remove my glasses and personal jewellery and wear items linked in my thoughts to A’ Chailleach. As part of my preparations I took my things off with ritual intent and gave them to my friend to hold for me. In returning them to me he would be able to help me ground myself in my more mundane life if that’s what I needed.

The ritual had me seated on a chair in the centre of the room with a circle of what must have been close to a hundred people around me. I wore a black robe with a plaited cord belt in colours I associate with A’ Chailleach that I had made a few years before. My face had been decorated and I was also wearing a veil that concealed my face. I held that precious wooden hammer I have mentioned earlier on my lap as this was a strong link to A’ Chailleach.

A bit of introductory words were said to introduce everyone present to who “the Cailleach” was and that the ritual would be calling on Her and asking for Her blessing. Then a ritual circle was cast and quarters were called by members of my parent’s development circle and coven. A few words were said gently calling “the Cailleach” to come to those gathering and show Her face. Then a chant and spiral dance was started off. The focus of all that energy was me and calling “the Cailleach” in through me.

I remember feeling that energy was building and feeling oddly colder as if someone had opened a door or window and I was in a breeze. The words of the chant were “We are many, we are one” As the spiral continued I started to hear words in my head “But I was first!” The chant became “We are many, we are one. But I was first!” in my mind.

I remember my body slowly standing. The spiral was no longer moving but the chant had sped up and feet were being stamped. I remember my body throwing up my arms, lifting the veil as it did so and then a shout “BUT I WAS FIRST!”. After that I was no longer I. I was there in the background but no longer the one controlling what I said or did. She said something about asking them to listen to Her words and to embrace Her challenge if they would. She then sang through me the “Challenge of the Cailleach” in the first person. It was different to how I sang usually. Part my voice, part my words but not completely either. In the last verse which mentions the Cailleach sleeping my body began to sit down again. As the voice stopped my head fell forward and my eyes closed and inside I felt this deep need to sleep. The “me” part of this knew that there were oatcakes and mead to be blessed so we struggled to stay alert enough to do this. After everyone else had had some the cup was brought to us and we drank and we were offered some oatcake – it felt dry and almost like dust. The ritual then started closing and oddly I remember strongly that there wasn’t a proper thanks and farewell made to the Cailleach.

As the closing progressed my body started to shiver and feel more and more drained. Inside I silently said my own personal farewells to A’ Chailleach and asked Her to leave me now. I wasn’t confident She was leaving or that She was leaving me behind and I remember feeling a bit scared that I wouldn’t fully return to being simply me. But Her presence sank down and eventually let “me” go.

After the ritual finished I called for my glasses. I can’t remember if it was at that point, slightly before or slightly afterwards that my friend asked me how I was feeling and gave me a talisman to hold. Finally things began to break up. To me it felt like a longish time but it probably wasn’t very long at all. An experienced Heathen friend came up to me and touched my hand saying her name and offering help. I said something about my other friend and then he was beside me again too. They both helped me up and we left the room for another quiet room. I was shaky and feeling drained.

It took a while for me to feel more myself. Those who had offered me help stayed with me the whole time and were an immense help and support. When I felt ready I asked for my rings back and that helped me feel more myself. I then got to the stage where I felt much more me and that I needed to get out of the robe and into my normal clothes. After that we went to the park across from the location of the conference and I made an offering which was burnt or charred anyway and thrown in the river. I still needed to eat but I was at least feeling much more myself by that point. The whole experience left me feeling drained and somewhat emotional for several days afterwards.

I’ve gone into a fair amount of detail about this experience because I learnt a great deal from it that I will share here. The first and most important thing I learnt is always know more about what you are getting into that I did when this particular ritual began. My second most important criteria is that any being that is invited to attend a ritual should also be given thanks at the end and, if appropriate, asked politely to depart for their usual abode.

If a ritual is set up with a possibility of someone hosting a deity that person should be willing and have some knowledge of the possibilities even if they are relatively inexperienced in doing such things. They should also have support and that support should ideally include at least one person who has had experience with hosting. The supporting individuals should ideally be prepared to offer support for days after the ritual takes place if required. This was a profound experience for me and it took me months to process some aspects of it. To let A’ Chailleach ride me in the way I did required a level of trust and submission of ego and because I already loved Her it was fairly easy for me to let go and trust Her. But as She left me on that occasion I also felt that She almost took part of me with Her and that was scary. The effects on my emotions afterwards were also unsettling.

I was fortunate to have the support I did at the time and more experienced polytheists and Seidr workers in the Scottish Heathen community to turn to in the months afterwards for further advice and training.

About six months after that experience while there was still snow on the mountain tops I was at a weekend camp in Wales for the members of Brython, a brythonic polytheist group. I had thought that while I was there I would undertake a shamanic style journey to seek A’ Chailleach and apologise to Her for my part in not making sure She was appropriately thanked and farewelled at the end of that ritual. I took with me an offering for A’ Chailleach of something that I had commissioned and did not want to part with that would go on the communal fire on the Friday evening. One interpretation of the difference between a sacrifice and an offering is that a sacrifice hurts more and giving this to the fire for A’ Chailleach hurt! On the Saturday we went on a walk up into the foothills of the Snowdonia mountain range and spent that night in a bothy. I struggled a great deal with that walk and felt I’d gone through a much more physical ordeal to seek A’ Chailleach out than I had anticipated. Afterwards I felt I had been heard.

At the beginning of 2011 I separated from my first husband and we later divorced. As part of the surrounding difficulties at that time my ex-husband destroyed the incredibly precious gift that I had been given by Andy Guthrie in 2003, the handcrafted hammer. I had thought it was safe where I kept it but I was wrong. I have more recently sought A’ Chailleach out in the wild glens over this loss to see if I needed to make some form of reparation. I was shown an unusual sight of a birch tree growing out of a long dead tall stump of a much older tree and given the word “rebirth” to go with that sight. My conclusion from that experience is that nothing else is needed. We move on.

The lunar devotional practices that I had developed for A’ Chailleach and others continued until about 2016. Sometimes I sang for Her, sometimes I sat in silence in the darkness. I usually made a libation of alcohol and that varied a bit. Sometimes it would be wine, sometimes port, sometimes hot chocolate or warm milk with honey. And as I began to develop a taste for single malt whisky sometimes it was whisky I offered. In 2016 I began to shift my practices away from a lunar cycle into an almost daily devotional pattern.  I now offer A’ Chailleach a libation on a Monday evening. As before it’s usually alcohol of some kind but not always, I tend to go with what I feel is right on the day.

Over time and with various experiences my relationship with She who I know as the Ancient Mother has deepened. As I write this these words it is close to nineteen years since I first called out to Her behalf of my friend Insa. I never imagined then the relationship that would gradually develop.

A’ Chailleach is not an easy Goddess to serve. She tests you, pushes you to learn and develop. Sometimes She can be as fierce as the winter storms but not always. In my experience She is not a Goddess that watches over you closely. She loves the wild and the fierce places in nature, She cares for those that dwell there. There are some people that She calls to and if they answer She will teach them what She wishes them to learn one way or another. If She calls to you think carefully before you answer. You don’t have to say yes, you could say no, or not yet, and She will probably listen as in my experience she wants you when you are willing. Be aware though that if you do say no you might not be given another opportunity to say yes. She’s not an easy goddess but She is a strong one!