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

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!

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

 

Approaching Samhain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herd Mothers

For a long time I have thought of Epona and Rhiannon as the same being. I have in the past preferred to use the reconstructed rhythmic title of Rigantona in stress of Rhiannon and have combined the names as “Epona Rigantona”. A bit of a linguistic mess I know as Epona is Gaulish and Rigantona reconstructed Brythonic but that’s what I have done for a few years now.

For those less familiar with these names Epona translates to “divine mare”and Rigantona means “great or divine queen”. Rigantona is a reconstructed form of the Welsh name Rhiannon so that name also means great or divine queen. It is the stories of Rhiannon in the “Tales of the Mabinogion” that link that Goddess to horses.

As an aside if you are interested in reading more about Rhiannon I can strongly recommend the Pagan Portals book “Rhiannon” by Jhenah Telyndru.

Epona has links to being a queen via some of the inscriptions left during Roman times where she is referred to as “Epona Regina”.

For a long time when I prayed to Epona or Epona Rigantona I only ever received the impression of a single being so I thought of them as one horse goddess with different titles in different lands.

Now I’m not so sure.

I’ve always known of others that saw Epona as a separate being to Rhiannon or Rigantona. I’ve tried to keep an open mind on this by recognising and respecting that my experience is not the same as the experiences of others. Lately my feelings have changed prompted by something Kris Hughes wrote and I can’t remember whether that was in a personal exchange or on one of her blog posts so I can’t quote directly here. Essentially though she said something about the horse goddesses working together as horses do.

Horses are herd animals, they don’t like being alone. Why then would a horse goddess be on her own if she could choose otherwise? Epona is often depicted in human form riding a horse BUT her name means divine MARE, not human who takes care of horses or other equines. Yes, as Epona Regina as human guise makes sense but even so she is still mare and queen.

Deities are not fixed in physical forms, this was a lesson Epona taught me years ago and I felt her laughter back then when I finally understood. I felt her amusement again when I suddenly realised that I had been thinking it was either one thing or the other and deities do not have to be one thing or another they can be both.

Just as Epona can be both mare and human in form so I have come to understand that Epona and Rhiannon can be both a single being and two separate beings. Not either/or but both/and. They can choose to act as one or split into different and independent aspects. It maybe that they do this with other horse deities too and if they choose.

For me Epona and Rhiannon or Rigantona have now taken on a collective identity as the “Herd Mothers”. The “Herd Mothers” may also include Macha from Ireland but don’t haven’t had any direct experience of this as yet.
The Herd Mothers can act as a collective or as individuals, the presence felt can be both singular and plural now that I am aware of this possibility. It’s not easy to move beyond initial ideas of deity into deeper connections and possibilities, it takes time, sometimes a lot of time and it will be different for each person. It should be different because this is a relationship and deity is only one side of that relationship. We, as individuals, are the other side of that relationship.

Hail to the Herd Mothers!

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.