Patterns of Devotion

I have written in the past about my deepening devotional practices. Today I wish to share with you how my devotions have changed.

I used to honour my ancestors at the dark moon, Maponos on Sundays and, Brigantia, Epona Rigantona and An Cailleach around the full moon.

Then I joined a flame tending cill with Clann Bhride and began flame tending in honour of Brigantia every twenty days.

I can’t even remember exactly when after that point that other things began to change but at some stage I began to honour Epona Rigantona each week on a Friday. I chose a Friday because Epona is my beloved and Fridays in the past have been linked to deities of love (see Wikipedia Names of the days of the week if you are interested).

It felt good to be honouring Epona each Friday so I decided to start honoring An Cailleach on a Saturday. I was now honouring different deities on Friday, Saturday and Sunday plus every twenty days flame tending in honour of Brigantia.

Then Loki came into my life.

I used to consider myself to be solely a Brythonic Polytheist.

Then Loki came into my life!

That bit bears repeating.  Loki brought change with Him.  I wasn’t looking for Sleipnir’s Dam and I didn’t expect or invite Her (at least not to start with) but for some reason best known to the Bound One, He decided to bring Her changes to me.

One of those changes was that I started to include Loki in my weekly devotions.  At first I tried slotting Him in on Thursdays but that didn’t feel right. So I switched to Saturdays, prompted in part by something I had read that suggested Saturdays had been linked to Loki in the past.  I can’t remember exactly what that was now but I switched days and it felt much better.

But it didn’t feel right honouring An Cailleach on the same day so after a bit of thought I decided to move honouring Her to Mondays.  There are aspects in some of the lore which I believe indicate ties to the moon for An Cailleach so this seemed to fit well.

For a couple of moons I tried to keep the lunar links I had made as well but that became a bit confusing as I ended up trying to honour two different deities on one day.  For me that became confusing and I felt I wasn’t doing justice to my devotions to either deity when the days linked into full moon cycles.  I decided drop the full moon devotions in favour of the weekly ones for a moon or two to see how it felt and I’ve kept that change.

So now I honour different deities on four days of the week and another every twenty days. I’m also no longer solely honouring Brythonic deities.  At first I thought maybe Loki would be in my life for a set purpose and then maybe wander off but at the moment it feel much more like the Sky-treader is here to stay.  The current pattern feels good with one exception and that’s the ancestors.

In dropping the full moon devotions I found I began to lose touch with the lunar cycle and the pattern of honouring my ancestors at the dark moon began to slip as well.  I still have my ancestral shrine area and still think of varying ancestors at different times but the more ritualised devotions have fallen away.  I’m still not sure if I need to start on a weekly basis for honouring my ancestors or try and restore the dark moon practice.  I think maybe moving to a weekly based practice would work out best, if so I have my choice of Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday currently free of other devotions. Maybe Wednesday as that day has links to deities of communication.

My journey with devotional practices has not been a swift one but one that has gradually altered to a more frequent family of devotional practices.  And I know that I am still changing and that my practices will also continue to change.

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Orkney part 3 – Echoes of Devotion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rennibister earth house

Rennibister Earth House

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

Unstan Cairn

Unstan Cairn

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

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

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

Italian chapel exterior

Exterior of the Italian Chapel

Italian chapel interior

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

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

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

St Magnus Cathedral 2

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

St Magnus Cathedral 3

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

St Magnus Cathedral 1

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

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

Orphir Round church

Orphir Round Church

 

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

Orkney part 2 -guided journeys

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Stones of Stenness

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

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Skara Brae

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

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Puffins on Brough of Birsay

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

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

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Top of cliffs at Yesnaby

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

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Primula Scotica at Yesnaby

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

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16th Century aspect of Kirbuster Farmhouse

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

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Happy Valley Gardens

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

All photos copyright Neil Pitchford, Awen photos.

Orkney part 1 – Arrival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next morning our Orkney adventures would start in earnest.

(Photos copyright Neil Pitchford, Awen photos)

 

Devotions

Having a devotional practice of any kind in a very personal thing.  Over the years I have had a few devotional practices. Many have involved song in some way.  some practices have been daily for a period of time, some have been weekly, others less frequently.  Some practices have been for fixed periods of time, part of arrangements between me and the being in question.  My personal opinion is that when a devotional practice ceases to have real meaning to you then it is time to reconsider that practice.

For many years now I have had devotional practices based on the lunar cycle.  I’ve written about them before but essentially at the dark moon I share a cup of tea with the ancestors in silence remembering them.  On the day before the full moon I make offerings to Brigantia, on the day of the full moon I make offerings to Epona Rigantona and the day after I make offerings to my Cailleach.  Last year I also started to light a special oil burner in honour of Maponos each Sunday evening.

Just before Imbolc I took up an invitation to join a flame keeping cill with Clann Bhride. My first experiences have been very good ones. I have found it a soothing thing to be involved in so far and am looking forward to continuing with this practice.

I’ve also started a new devotional practice for Epona Rigantona, it’s perhaps a bit odd but it seems to be what she wants me to do at this time.  I started knitting roses for her.  At first I wasn’t sure what would happen with this but it’s a practice that I seem to be getting urges with connected with the build up to the full moon.

For a few days in March before the full moon I had the urge to knit a rose every day.  I thought I would be giving these away but when the full moon came I had a dozen roses of different sizes and colours and it was clear to me that these would be kept for my shrine areas.  A dozen roses for Epona Rigantona.

A couple of days a go my next urge with knitting roses for Epona Rigantona started to rise (by the way I see both Epona and Rigantona as titles for the same being but accept that this is my vision and may not be shared by others).  This time though I also got a very strong feeling that the roses I would knit were to be posted out.  I have also in between knitted a couple of roses as gifts for others with healing intent and not specifically as devotional knitting.  I was guided to make a list of names for this next batch of roses.  Nine individuals, all of whom I feel should be sent one of the roses I knit for Epona Rigantona.  I don’t even have postal addresses for them all yet but the knitting is progressing anyway.

I do this because I feel I must.  Some devotional practices are ones you choose to do, others are ones that feel requested for some reason not clear to you.  It is a choice you make to follow these invitations, however they come to you.

Symbols

Recently I’ve been thinking about having something new added to my ritual wear to symbolise something of where I am now in my spiritual journey.  I had been thinking about trying to embroider something on my robes but to be honest I’m not sure my embroidery skills are really up to it.  While chatting about this the other day with my partner Neil he suggested I get something made up and after a bit of chatting I decided a handmade custom belt by SkyRavenWolf would be the way to go.
I had a few ideas of what symbols I wanted to include but now I had a reason to make some decisions about what I wanted to include and what those symbols would mean to me. I ended up with six symbols that were the most important to me and each one has layers of meaning for me.  The symbols I chose are:

  • Briar rose
  • Rowan with berries
  • Raven
  • Horse
  • Roe Deer
  • Cauldron.

Each symbol has meanings linked to my family and home. Each symbol also has a layer of meanings tied to spiritual beings or ideas.  And I can also position them on a six spoked wheel as if I was in the centre and the wheel was the horizon about me, when drawn that’s with one spoke going horizontally or East-West.
While I was a member of Brython a six-spoked wheel was adopted as the symbol of Brython.  There were a few reasons for this which I won’t bother going into now as Brython is effectively no more.   I adopted this symbol for my own and included it in my first ever (and currently only) tattoo.  Now I can add my own six symbols to the meaning of that wheel.
The layers of meanings work out as follows starting with the East:

  • Cauldron – my hearth and home – Brigantia – East – Equinox sun rise and full moon rise
  • Horse – myself – Epona – South-east – Midwinter sunrise and gibbous waning moonrise
  • Rowan – my son – ancestors – South-west – Midwinter sunset and waning crescent moonrise
  • Raven – Neil – Cailleach – West – Equinox sunset and full moon set
  • Briar rose – my daughter – descendants – North-west – Midsummer sunset and waxing crescent moon rise
  • Roe deer – my local area – Maponus  – North-East – Midsummer sunrise and waxing gibbous moon rise

So there you have it, personal symbols and associated meanings.

Ancient remains and what we do with them

In various places on the internet (particularly in Facebook) recently there have been heated discussions about ancient remains and what we do with them. Arthur Pendragon, leader of the Loyal Arthurian Warband, wants to see them reburied. He is particularly passionate about those remains referred to by some as the “guardians” of Stonehenge as described on the Loyal Arthurain Warband Website.

Honouring the Ancient Dead is an organisation that advocates respect for ancient remains and in the words of the website “Respect is a key word addressed in HAD’s Definitions document. In essence, respectful interaction requires that we engage with the ancestors – including the bodily evidence of their lives – as persons, not objects. Furthermore, the fundamental expression of respect for a dead person is to allow them to rest in peace.” To me that last statement seems to be quietly in favour of reburial but I am aware that as an organisation HAD seems to walk a consultative path treating each case individually.

Pagans for Archaeology are another strong voice on these issues. They are not in favour of reburial but do want remains treated with respect. They favour retention of remains and provide a very clear case for retaining human remains.

So where do I sit on this issue which for some is a very emotive one?

I’m not in favour of blanket reburial but neither am I in favour of automatically retaining all ancient remains either. I’m not comfortable with ancient remains being displayed out of context in museums but can see the educational value of doing so in as accurate a copy of the original context in which they were found as possible.

I personally do not think that an aspect of the deceased person’s spirit remains with the bones that long after death and in fact I rather hope it doesn’t. If there is an aspect of spirit tied to the bones then I would think being out of the ground and being remembered would be better than being forgotten in the earth. I personally feel that the physical remains of a person long enough after death to be called ancient are simply matter, like all matter they have energy within them and spirit but not the personality or spirit of the former person. 

Should remains be treated with respect? Yes, of course, and I am well aware that the majority of scientific staff interacting with ancient human remains will be treating those remains with great care and respect. But everything in this world should ideally be treated with respect in my opinion as we are all connected. Science has shown us how closely related we are to all life on this wonderful planet of ours and we should try and treat all life with respect.

Should ancient remains be studied? For me that is a yes. We have learnt so much about our ancient ancestors from studying their remains even in some cases being able to build models of what their faces and bodies might have looked like in life. How can this possibly be a bad thing? But do we need to keep all ancient remains accessible for further study? Of that I am not sure. I’m not sure reburial is the answer either. Once remains have been removed from their original burial location they have been disturbed and nothing can undo that change. Some might even say that it was in their destiny to be discovered and removed and so we should honour that destiny. Suffice it to say that however well meaning and respectful a reburial might be we do not have enough information about the practices of ancient communities to know how they would have wanted their remains to be buried or indeed reburied if they even thought about such a thing. Perhaps storing them carefully and respectfully with whatever goods or other remains were found with them is the best we can do. Certainly I think keeping remains together with whatever else was found with them, keeping the stories together, is much better than spreading things out into different locations.

So basically I’m a bit on the fence. I can see why some are in favour of reburial of ancient remains and I can see why others are in favour of retaining them for study. I simply don’t think that we can have a one size fits all approach to ancient human remains. Even treating remains with respect means different things to different people. What I would like to see is more people listening carefully to the different views and trying to remain calm when discussing these issues.