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!

Personal experiences with A’ Chailleach

This post is another that is based on material I gathered together in drafting a book.  This section was the longest one so I’ve split the material into two separate posts.

It began as many relationships do with a first meeting and that was thanks to my friend Insa who spoke about her studies learning about this ancient being during a pub moot in 1999. In December 2000 Insa was diagnosed with cancer. In February 2001 she was in the Beatson Centre at the Western Infirmary having chemotherapy and I remember walking along the river on my way to visit her. I paused by the water and made a heartfelt plea to A’ Chailleach that Insa be spared for just a bit longer. This was the first time I had addressed A’ Chailleach directly and as it happened, Insa did rally round for a while. She died in July 2001, A’ Chailleach had claimed one of Her own.

When I first called on A’ Chailleach in 2000 I had little idea that this would start a something that would bring a number of changes to me. I didn’t realise it at the time but I believe that in calling on Her on that day I gained Her attention. For a couple of years following that nothing really changed then in August 2003 we held a conference in Glasgow called DruidCon. It was run by those walking a druid path for anyone that might be interested in learning more of druidry. At that conference, one of our speakers, Andy Guthrie, presented me with a wooden hammer he had made after his talk on Scottish myths. His talk had included tales of A’ Chailleach and the hammer was given to me as a symbol. I was incredibly surprised by the gift and although I was very grateful I didn’t truly appreciate what I had been given at that time. It took me years to more fully appreciate that gift and then I lost it but that was many years later.

Naturally enough that gift led me to research more about A’ Chailleach and to try and understand Her a little better. In turn this led to me crafting a song or more accurately a hymn for Her in the winter of 2004 which I call “Challenge of the Cailleach”. One of the ways I connect more deeply with the gods is through music and song. I chose to sing that hymn almost every day for the following year. I still sing it, usually in the winter months and especially around Samhain.

The first year I sang that song was a challenging year for me. I had a great deal of stress at work and there were times I felt as if I couldn’t cope anymore. I also strongly felt that A’ Chailleach was testing me in that year. I felt that She was pushing me to see if I would stay the course or turn away. In the run up to Samhain 2005 I felt I needed to do something special at the Samhain ritual and invoke A’ Chailleach. I felt that She wanted to see if I would embrace Her and I found the following words flowing from me as I prepared for that ritual:

So you would call to me would you! You dare to wake me, to bring my gaze upon you. I have been stirring for some time, tossing and turning in my sleep as my time comes upon the land once more. For make no mistake I am part of the cycles of this land.

Hear my voice in the wild howling wind. Feel my touch in the winter’s chill. See me gather the storms on the mountains. But I am more than storms and strife. I have more to give than the chill touch of winter. Yes, I bring pain and destruction. Yes, I bring strife and testing but I am more!

I am rest and quiet. I am the healing touch of solitude. I am the raw beauty of the wild mountains. I herd my Deer and watch over them when the hunters come. I fly over the land with the wild geese. I ride the Wolf, swift and sure. I create the land anew with my floods and avalanches.

Yes, I hold back the spring but only that it may grow stronger in the testing until it overcomes the winter once more. And so too will I test you sooner or later. Think not that you can escape me.

Dare you stand before me?
Dare you look me in the eye?
Dare you embrace me?

And if you dare so much, then and only then will you know what my gifts can be.

After that ritual (which I only remember as if through a fog) I felt that A’ Chailleach was satisfied with what I had done. Things were still stressful but I no longer felt as if I was being tested.

In the spring of the following year I entered into what was to be a very difficult time for me personally. I experienced an early miscarriage and later in the year a family death. I ended up off work for a while. I had lost my sense of balance and didn’t regain it until I had spent a night at the autumn equinox alone in a cave on the coast of Ayrshire chanting, sobbing and finally sleeping. Throughout this period of time I felt A’ Chailleach was with me, this time as a supportive presence mourning my loss with me and lending me Her strength. I later felt that my year of testing had been in preparation for the pain that She knew was coming my way and to help me realise that I was stronger than I had thought.

In October 2006 I wrote the following words which I’ve shared previously elsewhere online but I think it’s worth including them here. They seemed to flow so swiftly that I feel that they didn’t really come from me but from A’ Chailleach.

This is my story. It is not the whole story, just a fragment that I am able now to speak.

I am old, older than you can imagine. Many have been my names and most are lost in the mists of time – even I can not remember them all now. Today I am called the Hag of Winter, Queen Beira, the Veiled One, the Cailleach, the Carlin.

Most of you will think of me as the dark hag of winter and see me as a force belonging to the mountains of Scotland but I am much more than that.

I am the Mother of this Land known to you as Alba or Scotland. I am the Mother of all the Gods and Spirits waking and sleeping in its mountains and valleys. My hands dug out the lochs and my tears filled them. My feet created the valleys as a I walked carrying my loads of earth and stone to make the hills and mountains. My breath formed the clouds that gather around those mountain peaks. My sweat fell down to create the streams of water flowing though the Land. I planted the first trees and tended them as I did the first of the animals to move into this land. Deer and cattle, goats, wolves and geese all these and more have I tended and loved.

You who call me hag and crone – you too would look haggard if you had lived as long as I. You think me ugly? Is the midnight sky ugly? Are the stark mountains ugly? No, it is merely that I am different.

The tales tell of my skin being deep blue black, of my teeth with red stains, of my one eye like a deep pool and my tangled hair like the frost covered roots of Aspen. Do you know what that means?

Perhaps my skin is the darkness of the deepest caves, perhaps it is the midnight sky or the blackest of storm clouds over the sea. Is my hair the fall of hail in a storm or is it the milky stream of stars across the sky? Perhaps my one eye is the moon or perhaps it is the sea and the whirlpool of Corryvreckan is its centre. Perhaps my teeth are the cliffs of the coast or perhaps the red tinged clouds at sunset. I no longer know.

You think me harsh and cruel. I am a mother. Can any mother afford to always be loving and kind? Sometimes she must show she can be angered for her children to learn. Have those parents among you never had to discipline your children? Does that mean you no longer love them? No, of course not, you love them all the more.

I have been forgotten. I have been pushed into the form of the dark winter crone. My tales are those of winter and harshness but that it not all there is to me. I care more than you can imagine for this land and those that live upon it. I have mourned when my children have been torn from me. I have shrieked out my anger and pain in the storms. But I have danced too in joy at each new life born to me, sang in ecstasy when my children have returned to me. I weep with you in your loss and sing with you in your joy.

I speak now through the heart and mind of one of my children who has opened her heart to me. Listen to these words. Remember them. Remember me once more.

Between 2007 and 2009 I continued in my quest to learn more of this ancient being and investigations took me into Welsh myths and stories looking for similar figures to A’ Chailleach. There are figures similar to the Irish Banshee and Washer at the Ford in Welsh folktales but which culture developed these stories first I have no idea. I was looking for a figure linked to the land or tribes who is described as the mother of gods. After all much of Scotland spoke Brythonic languages so felt it possible that in Welsh folk tales I might find the answer I sought.

In the Welsh lore there is Don, mother of the smith, farmer and magecraft gods – Gofannon, Amaethon and Gwydion. In Aberdeenshire we have the river Don, a possible link but it’s impossible to be sure. Other river names such as Dee and Tay derive from the ancient British word *Dewa meaning goddess and it’s not so far fetched to have rivers named for a particular goddess, the Cyde was after all. Don could easily have been known of in what is now Scotland. And if She was then the being I know as A’ Chailleach of Scotland may, just possibly, have once been known as Don, ancient, primal mother of the Brythonic Gods. Regardless of whether this supposition is correct I still refer to that ancient being as A’ Chailleach and She seems happy for me to do so.

Towards the beginning of 2009 I developed my first regular devotions for A’ Chailleach. On the day after the full moon I would make a libation in Her honour and spend a little time in silence thinking about Her. This practice was linked to other lunar observations I made on the two previous nights for Brigantia and Epona. The practice gradually deepened my love and sense of connection with this ancient Goddess.

 

To be continued in the next post

 

To be or not to be an author…

I am already an author here on this blog, I’ve also written articles that have been published in the Pagan Dawn magazine in the past.  I am currently musing on the idea of writing a book.  I had tentative ideas of writing a book once before on urban druidry.  That never came to pass and others have written books on forms of urban paganism since that time.  If I go forward this time though it would be something on being a (mostly) Brythonic polytheist.  Brython have plans to write and produce a primer that would cover various aspects of Brythonic polytheism.  I don’t want to write something like that though and frankly I don’t think my scholarship is up to that type of book although I’d probably make a good draft reader for the project if they get that far.  If I do write something, and I’m really not sure if I will, it is likely to be more personal and experiential.

I’ve been on my path as a pagan for a little over twenty years now.  I started learning about druidry with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids  (OBOD) in March 1998. I have grown and developed in that time as you would expect and so has my path.  In the last decade I have developed much more of a Brythonic polytheist practice.  In that time I’ve gone through a number of personal changes as well that have affected all aspects of my life.

We are at a time when books about various polytheist paths are gradually increasing.  Is it time for one on what it is to walk a mostly Brythonic polytheist path?

But why would I write this? For the gods or for my own sense of ego? Probably a bit of both but is the balance right?  Would I do this more for the gods and to give others signposts for their journeys?

And would it be something others would want to read?

I think I could do this but should I?  And if I did would it even get published, be read by others, be enjoyed?

More questions than answers.  I’d welcome thoughts from readers of this blog about this.

Quickening Moon reflection

Recently I decided to start Bobcat’s Perennial Druidry course as I wanted something that would provide me with a bit of a framework for further developments and exploration of what Druidry means to me.  As it happens the moon I started the course on is the thirteenth moon that is only included every few years and its one of reflection.  The Quickening Moon challenges you to spend time looking back and reflecting on the past seven years.  Some may think that beginning a new course with reflection is an odd idea but reflecting gives you the chance to see where you are on so many different levels. 

There are several areas of significant changes in my life over the last seven years such as physical changes, family changes (this time seven years ago I had just found out I was pregnant), my separation in January 2011, my reduction of working hours from working full time as I had been all my working life to now working half time, my relationship with Neil but I’m not going to go into further detail on those things in this post.  Instead I’m going to write about two areas in particular.  One is my developing knowledge and experience of autism as that is a core part to all I am and do now and the other is my relationship with Druidry.

It was only seven years ago that I began to think that maybe my son was on the autistic spectrum.  In March 2007 he was referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) for behavioural issues at school relating to anger management.  At that stage professionals in the school environment involved with Rowan did not think he was on the spectrum. I wasn’t so sure.  He had his first assessment meeting in May 2008 and at that initially the psychologist thought he wasn’t on the spectrum either but after thinking further about that meeting with him she thought it might be worth doing the formal assessment with him.  As a result he was formerly diagnosed in October 2008.  By this time Rose was a year old and seemed to developing fine but as you can imagine I started to watch for developmental markers.  Rowan had a speech delay so I was particularly relived when Rose developed more normally in speech.  Rowan continued to get support from CAHMS during 2009.  

In August 2010 Rose started nursery and it became apparent that she was having problems.  I began to wonder if she was on the autistic spectrum too.  Around this time Rowan’s meltdowns at school were becoming more severe and more difficult for the staff to handle.  By August 2011 Rowan had been found a placement at an autistic unit following a couple of very serious meltdown incidents at his mainstream school.  By late September he had been transitioned to his new school.  Rose entered year 2 of nursery that year and her problems continued although the nursery were able to cope with her very well and provided excellent support for her.   Rose started in mainstream primary in August 2012  and because the nursery is part of her school campus area the transition was very well supported.  In fact the support assistant who worked with her in nursery was employed to support Rose in primary too and still does so. By October it was apparent that her problems were increasing and I asked our GP to be refer for an autistic assessment.  Her initial assessment with CAMHS was in December, followed by a referral to the autism assessment specialist team. In May 2013 she as diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.  In August 2013 Rowan transitioned to a high school autism unit which is suiting him much better than his primary placement did.  In fact earlier today he told me he likes school and thinks his school is a good one.  He is gradually becoming more aware of his stress levels and beginning to be able to take action to remove himself from stress and calm down before he hits a meltdown state.  There’s still a long way to go yet though.  In the meantime Rose has had increasing problems in mainstream school and has recently been allocated a place in a new type of unit.  She will begin her formal transition in mid February but today I took her to the new unit for a visit and she loved it. 

Seven years ago I had no idea what an amazing and often stressful journey I would be going on with autism.  I have learnt so much about so many different aspects of the autistic spectrum and I continue to learn more all the time. There is a saying that if you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism. Yes, those on this spectum have a few general things in common to be given an autistic diagnosis but they are all totally unique just as every other person is.  Learning about autism has emphasized the amazing diversity in each one of us as well as teaching me some profound lessons about our senses and my own abilities.  And it’s very much an ongoing journey. I am sure I will be learning about autism for the rest of my life both through my children and others I have the pleasure of meeting and getting to know.

So how has my relationship with Druidry changed?

In April 2007 I joined the Caer Feddwyd forum.  A couple of individuals whose posts on the Druid Network I had particularly enjoyed had moved away from the Druid Network and were now mainly posting in the Caer Feddwyd forum.  I was starting to miss them so joined the forum to see what was going on.  At around the same time the Druid group I co-facilitated in Glasgow, Caer Clud was fading away and I was having increasing issues in dealing with the amazing diversity of opinions to be found within Druidry on just about everything.  In August 2007 I ran the last Glasgow DruidCon with my friend and co-facilitator.  We had both decided it was time to stop running these annual conferences.  There didn’t seem the same level of interest in them as when we had started and both of us were increasingly being drawn in other directions.  In my case with my increasing family.  Having joined Caer Feddwyd in April I was then invited to join Brython that Samhain.  Brython at that time was a new development and did not have a website or forum of its own.  Over the next year I began to get increasingly involved in Brython in between family and work commitments.

Samhain 2008 the Brython forum was set up.  Brython increased in energy and enthusiasm of its members over the next couple of years.  Material was developed and a new Brython website was formed using that material.  In March 2009 I began my blog and at that stage I notice that I was no longer calling myself a druid in any way.  I had moved out of the forest of druidry and had begun referring to myself as a Brythonic Polytheist. In July 2009 I attended my first Brython camp (actually my first ever Pagan camp of any kind).  It was an amazing experience for several reasons and I began to feel much closer to this small group of people that made up Brython at that time.  I wrote about it here.  

Looking back on it I can now see that the cracks were already appearing within Brython, cracks that would over the next couple of years widen leading to more of our small group choosing to leave Brython and go their own ways. There were other Brython camps that I went to, One in 2010 that I wrote about here and another 2011 parts of which were too personal for me to write about here.  All three had been in Wales and all three were wonderful experiences for me which I will not forget in a hurry.  But following the camp  in 2011 more of the group moved on to work in other ways and in my opinion Brython is no more now.  The Brython forum no longer exists but the website and material on it still exist as a resource for others interested in Brythonic polytheism.

Even though during this time I didn’t consider myself to be a Druid I had continued my membership to the Druid Network although there were times I openly questioned whether I should still be a member. My membership did lapse in December 2012 but I rejoined in May 2013.  One of the reasons I let it lapse at that time is that I was now living in a two membership household and wasn’t sure if we needed that.  By the following May I had figured out that we did.  During 2013 I started to get much more involved in the Druid Network community and website.  I also began to think more deeply again about what Druidry meant to me.  I had come back into the forest after a break away and I was looking at things with new perspectives. At the same time as becoming more involved in the Druid Network I was also able to attend a couple of rituals with the Druids of Caledon, a lovely bunch of more local Druid types.  

Eventually in November 2013 I decided after much soul searching to start referring to myself as a Druid again, specifically a Hearth Druid.   

Reflecting as I have been over the last moon has led me to realise how much and how profoundly my life has changed in the past seven years.  Now I have seen more clearly the personal landscape I have journeyed through I feel I am more able to journey on with a better understanding of who I am now.

What does it mean to be a brythonic polytheist?

In 2009 I wrote a short post “So what is a Brythonic Polytheist?” in which I gave my definition of what a brythonic polytheist is.  Every now and again either myself or others I know get asked what it means to be a brythonic polytheist or what we do.  The most obvious thing is to point them in the direction of the Brython website and that is what usually happens.  I want to reflect a bit on what this path means to me though and it may be that doing so here will be of interest to some of those reading.

In my earlier definition I wrote:

“I would currently describe a brythonic polytheist to be one who believes in the the gods of the peoples living in mainland Britain before the Romans invaded. In my case I am particularly interested in the gods that may have been known and worshipped in what is now the South West of Scotland.”

I still feel this definition is a good one and I am still particularly interested in learning more of gods known of in South West Scotland.

The deities I have reasonably strong ongoing relationships with are Epona/Rigantona (for me they are the same being), Brigantia, Maponos and the Cailleach.  I am fully aware that the title Cailleach is both Gaelic and more modern than a pre-roman deity would be but this is the title I have for a being I have come to know.  In my experience this being is ancient and strongly connected to the land so to me she is brythonic even if the title I have for her isn’t.  I also occasionally say a few words directed at Taranis but feel he is a more distant connection than the others.   I’ve written other posts about these deities and I’m not going to go into further detail about what they mean to me here.

What I will say is that part of my full moon practices include offerings to Brigantia, Epona/Rigantona and the Cailleach.  I used to have other devotions focused on Maponos but I haven’t done any of those for quite a while and as yet have not replaced them with anything else either.

I seem to have stronger relationships with beings perceived to be feminine and I suspect that this is partly due to the fact that I am female and partly due to my own past experiences.  I think that my relationships with masculine deities are to some extent focused through the relationships I have with the men and boys, young and old, in my life.  When all is said and done what it is to be male is a mystery I will never fully understand and masculine deities for me share that additional layer of mystery.

Oddly enough though throughout my life most of my closest friends have been men so I think I must find something inherently attractive in that masculine mystery that draws me in.  Why this is not reflected in my relationships with deity I am not really sure, perhaps my spiritual relationships balance in some way my physical ones.

So having and developing relationships with brythonic deities is a core part of what my path means to me.  Developing those relationships takes time and is of necessity a very personal aspect of my path.  No-one else can have the same relationships as I do with my deities simply because they are not me.  Each person on a brythonic path will need to develop their own relationships.  I may be able to share information about things I have found to be important but that does not mean others will find the same things important in their relationships.  We are unique individuals and our relationships are also going to be unique.

There is however, much more to my path than my relationships with deities.  Other aspects that are very important to me and some of those I know on brythonic paths are the land and the ancestors.

There are two aspects of relationships with ancestors that are important to me.

The first is my relationships to those of my immediate family line, those I have known that have passed on.  It is to these people that my dark moon observances are dedicated.  None of these people shared my spiritual path but that isn’t important to me.  What is important to me is the memories I have of them, the lessons learned, the family stories.  These dark moon observances for me are about keeping their stories alive, my memories and the love I still have for them.

The other aspect of the ancestors that is important to me is that nebulous collective of those that lived and walked these lands in the past and the echos they have left upon the landscape.  Go back far enough and some of these people may have shared some aspects of spirituality with me but I’d be a fool to believe that we would have much in common in our practices and probably not in our beliefs either.  But again that’s not really important.  Those of that nebulous past survived, and some would have prospered, on these lands.  They worked through the cycles of the seasons, lived with the weather and they made changes to their environment as they did so, some small, some not so small.  We who come after them are living in the world their lives have made, just as our distant descendants will live in the world we leave behind us.  I don’t have a regular part of my practice that is focused on connecting with these ancestors but sometimes when I am visiting ancient sites I will feel a connection with them then.  Most of the time the interaction is more of an acknowledgement of their presence than anything but sometimes there are energy exchanges.  Sometimes those exchanges seem to carry messages with them but it is often hard for me to interpret this sort of interaction.

Closely linked to all of these beings is the Land. Some of my practices are based in my home or garden but I need more than my home environment in my spiritual path.  I need to get out under the sky and walk on the land.  Often I need to be somewhere where there is a significant presence of water too (although I’m not that fond of being out in the rain).  It is being out in the land, particularly by rivers or the coast, that restores my sense of internal balance.  Many of my most profound spiritual experiences have taken place while I have been out on the land in some way.  It is hard for me to put this aspect of my spiritual relationships into words.  It is not a particular area that I need for this connection, I don’t have a very strong tie to any particular place. There are some types of landscape that I connect with more strongly than others but I have come to realise that with a bit of effort I can find this balance anywhere. I have more difficulty in finding this sense of balance in cities but most cities have parks and rivers where I can recharge and connect. I relate better to more rural landscapes though and the longer I am in a particular area the easier to find and stronger the connections become in that area. Of those I know following a brythonic path I think my connections to the land are the weakest and yet even for me this is a vital aspect of my spiritual path.

This has become a rather long  post so I’m going to leave it here.  Interestingly in trying to explain some of this here things I had not put into words before have become clearer in my own mind so it’s been a useful exercise for me and I suspect one that will lead to further reflection.

Winters days, winters nights.

On Saturday I went up to the Perth and Kinross area of Scotland and visited two stone circles with a dear friend.  Neither are of these sites are marked by signs and although both are relatively near roads they are off single track roads.

The first one in particular, Blackfaulds stone circle, looked as if it hadn’t had any human visitors for a very long time.  The circle is in an area of woodland with your birch and oak trees surrounding it and within the circle.  Although it is close to the road it is not easy to spot as the stones are low and almost entirely covered in moss and lichens.  Over the past few months I’ve been able to visit many stone circles and each one has it’s own atmosphere and energies which is as you would expect.  Standing in this one I felt a tremendous sense of the age of the land.  I also felt stretched out between the land beneath me and the sky above me.  The day was fine with blue skies and mild temperatures.  There was barely a breath of breeze but the quality of light was just amazing.  As I looked around me I could see threads of light glinting and glimmering between the surrounding trees.  The area was surrounded with fine webs and as the sky breathed around us they shimmered with the light of the sun.

One of the most striking things about this particular place is that it is at this time of year that it will see the most light surrounded as it is by trees.  In the spring and summer months it may well be almost impossible to spot and much harder to visit too.  What light reaches the stones at that time of year will be patchy and dappled green. But now with the last few leaves still clinging onto the branches, in a time of growing darkness this stone circle sees the winters light.

From that circle we went just a short distance to another in a clearing within forestry commission forest off a track better suited to tractors and land-rovers than cars.  This circle is called Druids’ Seat.  It’s further away from the road and not easy to spot from it but the clearing is visible through the trees and when you start moving towards it you can see the largest of the stones reasonably easily.  This area was once much more overgrown and the signs of tree stumps are all around the clearing.  The grass round and in the circle itself was shorter and flatter than that in the surrounding area leading us to think that this site got a few more visitors.  Again the quality of light was just amazing but one of the strongest features of this circle was the smells.  The air was rich with a scent very similar to good quality mushrooms cooking.  I tracked this scent down to a type of fungus growing on the tree stumps.  Again the energies of this place were strong.  When I stood on the outside of the largest of the stones the energies seemed to be flowing up from the ground into the air with a tangible resistance in the air about six inches away from the surface.  When I stood on the other side the energies pulled me in so I practically fell forward with hands outstretched to make contact with the top of the stone.  From the inside of the circle it felt as if energy was being drawn from me and everything else on that side and then channelled up and out of the other side of the stone.  I couldn’t stand there for long as my hands got incredibly cold.  This wasn’t hostile in any way just a powerful sensation.

As has become our custom before we departed these circles we made our own offerings of energy for the spirits of land in those places to use as they willed.

We looked for a couple of other stone circle sites but were not as successful in finding ones that we could visit even with the aid of the sat-nav.  So we headed off to another site near Loch Tay – Acharn Falls.  We weren’t sure what we would find here as the site was listed under megaliths but the name suggested waterfalls.  Now I’ve looked at the records of the area I can now see why.  There is a stone circle in the area but we didn’t find that but we did find a sign pointing us in the direction of a circular walk for the Falls of Acharn.

What we didn’t know is that the walk also led to a place the sign calles the “hermit’s cave” which turned out to be a wonderful place to view the waterfall. We walked up a steep track and went through  hermit’s cave (a man made underground passage) which has an exit overlooking the waterfall.  We got there just before dusk and stood there listening to the sounds of the water and nature around us and watching the light fade as the clouds gathered and dusk began to envelop us.  It was a simply magical place and to be there at a such a liminal time just added to the whole effect.

Finally, after we had walked down the hill back to the car in the growing dark we stopped by Loch Tay itself and watched for a while as the darkness grew.  There was a patch of lighter sky visible through the clouds which reflected in the water.  As the dark grew and clouds moved across the sky so the reflection moved over the water.  There were barely any sounds of traffic although you could see the sporadic passing lights of cars on the road by the other side of the loch reflecting in the water.  We stood there by the Crannog Centre (which is well worth a visit by the way) listening to the sound of the water lapping the edge of the shore.  It was very easy to understand why our ancient ancestors seemed to think of rivers and lakes as living presences standing there.

Finally we returned to Glasgow in the darkness of a mild wintersnight.

Later in the evening we reflected on the words Heron wrote on the Caer Feddwyd Forum for Wintersnights and shared a toast in honour of the changing season.  The whole day had turned out to be one of reflection on the changing season, of the growing dark and of the hope of light within that darkness.  Wintersdays and wintersnights.

Midsummer madness

On Sunday 19 June I joined the Tuatha de Bridget group for a summer solstice ritual in Pollok Park, Glasgow.  It was written by one of our newer members and the first time she had written a full ritual.  She did an excellent job and although the sun did not put in an appearance we all had a wonderful time.  It was amazing to see so many people literally laughing with joy in the pouring rain.

Central view of the ancient ring fort area in North Woods, Pollok Park

Today as I sit at my computer I look out one yet more rain.  It’s been raining here nearly all day and I have the overhead light on in the room because it is so dull.  This evening at about sunset (22.06 here in Glasgow) I plan to raise a toast to Maponos, the summer sun and solstice and the Brython tribe.

Recently I have come to feel that rain can be symbol of passion and creativity although I have to admit that at the moment I do not feel either passionate or creative but tired and drained of energy.

Next weekend, midsummer, I will be visiting Castlerigg stone circle for the first time and possibly other sites in that area.  I wonder if I will see the sun then or not?  I wonder if I will experience more of the strange energies of this time of year or whether I will still feel somewhat like a punch bag waiting for the next blow to fall!

Where ever you are and whatever the weather is like for you today I hope the summer solstice is a good one for you.