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

 

Honouring Ancestors

This is the second post taken from the book I started to write.

I can’t think of any Pagan or Heathen path that doesn’t place great importance on ancestors in one way or another and I mean Pagan in the widest sense here. Often there are different categories of ancestors that are honoured and remembered in ways appropriate to the individual path. The three types of ancestors spoken of the most often within Druidry which is where my path began are those of blood, those of place and those of spiritual path or line. These types of ancestors are not confined to Druidry by any means and other paths in my experience will have similar descriptions for ancestors. There are other groups of ancestors that are important to think about too such as the military dead, the ancestors of skills you may practice or want to develop, the ancestors who fought for rights of the indigenous or those who were enslaved or women or LBGT; this list could easily go on. Where you have a group that comes together to share something be it a skill, an art form, a science or a philosophy you will have ancestors of that group too. Ancestral practices are important and there’s a lot of different ways in which you can start and progress with ancestral devotions.

My own ancestral devotional practice is mainly focused on my family ancestors and has built up over several years. One thread to a family ancestral practice is finding out who your family were through genealogical research. This is something that my mum did and while I have supported her efforts in some ways over the years this was very much her speciality and what I have learnt about my family has been thanks to her efforts for over three decades. Another thread to ancestral devotions is some form of prayer or ritual activity. One of the more common suggestion is to have an ancestral altar space and that is something that I have gradually developed. The first incarnation would have been about twelve years ago now I think and was just a small part of a shelf with a single photograph. I didn’t spend any regular time in prayer or ritual focused on my ancestors at that time. This small beginning remained as it was for a while of years before I began to do more.

The next stage of development took place after the deaths of my maternal grandparents. Their photos were added to the space I had and I began to sped some regular time communing with them. I developed a practice of brewing a fresh pot of tea, pouring a cup for my ancestors and a cup for me and sitting in silence drinking my tea and thinking about my family. I would think about the things I would like those who had died to know about and how they would have loved to hear about some of the things my children were doing now. It was around 2009 that I started to link this practice with the moon. At first I chose the full moon but not long after I moved to using the dark moon as it just felt more apt to me. Just as in the dark phase of the solar year we honour ancestors so I began to honour them in the dark phase of the lunar cycle.

From there my ancestral altar area has grown again into two dedicated shelves with pictures of different ancestors representing different branches of my family. It’s in a place I see and walk past several times a day and often I’m thinking of different aspects of my family life each of them might appreciate. I have a goblet there that I use to make libations of alcohol and I still make tea. About four years ago my regular dark moon tea making lapsed for around eighteen months to two years. Part of the reason for that is that I developed changes in other aspects of my devotions, part was a gap in having a lunar calendar available and part of it stresses and strains of life in general. It wasn’t the first time I’ve lost focus with some aspect of my practices and it probably won’t be the last. I often find that when I do get through these phases where I have lost focus in some way when I come through the other side my practices then become deeper and more meaningful in some way. In this case I feel that my family ancestors have a bit more patience with me that some deities might.

Not long before I first drafted these words two years ago I began to move forward with my ancestral devotions again. My first step to picking up my ancestral devotions was to re-arrange the shrine area. At that time I arranged the photos from my maternal line on the top shelf with a tea-light holder and room for offerings. On the second shelf I arranged photos from both my paternal line and my husbands line with a couple of other items that I feel are appropriate. I added an oil burner that has an androgynous figure seated cross legged before it looking down at a crystal ball, to me that figure symbolises my ancient and polytheist ancestors. My intentions were to light a candle and make an offering at my refreshed ancestral shrine each week. I was hoping to develop a more conscious relationship with my polytheist ancestors. I admit that was partially in the hope that having that relationship would help me in my other practices too but it is also because I wouldn’t have the gods I do have in my life had those ancient polytheists not walked those paths first.

I kept those practices and arrangements until my mum died on 23 May 2018. After she died the shelves were rearranged again and I now have photos and items from my maternal line on the bottom shelf with everything else on the top shelf.  Central to the bottom shelf are photos of my mum. I still make offerings at my ancestral shrine each week and while I do make efforts to develop my relationship with my ancient polytheist ancestors I now have a much closer Pagan ancestor in my mum.  Sometimes my devotions are more about sharing stuff with my mum than going back any further in my line.

The simple reality is that we would not be alive if not for the lives of all those from who we are descended. That doesn’t mean we have to like all the family ancestors we know about but we should respect the fact that without them we would not be. I prefer using the term family ancestry to blood ancestry because there is so much more to a family than blood. Many families have members that are not linked by blood, this isn’t something new to the modern age, fostering and adoption are very old traditions. Our blood is only one part of who we have come to be as a person, the purely genetic aspect, but we may have been brought up, shaped and influenced by those who have no blood tie. Those people, those incredibly wonderful people, are a vital part of our family ancestry even without genetic links. There are also people in any family line that we have difficulty in respecting or honouring, there are some that we simply will not want to develop more of a relationships with and that’s fine. Our ancestry spreads out into the mists of time and we can connect more strongly with different branches at different times depending on our own interests and experiences.

I feel I have to make something crystal clear here. Regardless of what your blood and family ancestry is if you are drawn to a particular Pagan path then as far as I am concerned you should be made welcome. Ancestors, gods and other spirits call who they will regardless of ancestry.

Ancestors of place are, in my path, those who have lived and worked the land in a particular area, usually an area of significance to you. There might be overlaps between family ancestry and ancestry of place for some of us. I live and work in Glasgow. As far as I know I have no ancestral family ties to Glasgow, I do have links to Paisley but that’s not the same place. I choose to honour those who have made Glasgow what it is today. That also means acknowledging that part of Glasgow’s former wealth was made on the backs of slaves, there are buildings I walk past and admire that would not be there if not for wealth gained from trade in goods dependant at one time on slavery. That is a much more painful reality to the place I call home and one I struggle with at times but I will not turn a blind eye to it. There are other places that are special to me and I honour the ancestors of those places too.

There are various ways of working with ancestors of particular places and the most obvious is to learn something of the local history. If you have family or good friends with generations of links to a particular area then talking to the older members among them is probably a good first step. Local libraries often have information on local history, there might be a local history society and of course, there’s the internet. As with any research look for collaborating evidence for any stories you come across. Maybe you’ll find that there is a history of a particular craft associated with your area and you can include that knowledge in your ancestral practice by getting a symbol of that craft or even learning to do it yourself. Maybe you’ll find out about local people accused of witchcraft in the middle ages and decide to honour them or maybe you’ll find out about a more famous figure, an inventor or social leader. I live not far away from the area where William Wallace was betrayed and captured 1305 for example. Once you find these things out then you might chose to include something connected to that in your practices. Other ways of working with ancestors of place could include doing something practical to care for some aspect of the place such as helping to preserve or keep tidy a particular area. Sharing what you have learnt with others is another way to do something practical.

If you are learning more about a place and spending time there you may find that the line between spirits of place or local wights and ancestors of place becomes a bit blurred. ‘Wight’ is more commonly in use in Heathen practices and I’m rather fond of it because it encompasses a wide range of beings.

” ‘Wight’, by the way, simply means ‘being’, but is usually used for those people who are neither Goddesses nor gods, nor human people.”
(Blain, p1)

For some this blurring doesn’t matter, for others it does. Either way respect for those beings you develop connections with is vital. Sometimes, as humans, we can get caught up in ideas of human ancestry but when you are working with ancestors of the land it may well be that you need to put those ideas to one side and think about the influences of plants and animals, rivers and hills and the wights that come with them. Whether we acknowledge it or not we are connected with and influence many aspects of existence about us and what we do, how we behave, can have repercussions we are barely aware of. If you are learning about the ancestors of a place it may well be that the non-human ancestry will have a larger impact than any human ancestry might. Helping to keep an area clean of human rubbish is an activity that may well mean you strengthen those non-human bonds more than the human ones.

Ancestors of spiritual line or path can include some that are common to many and others that are very individual. For example Ross Nichols is a key ancestor for the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. Without his work and teachings the Order wouldn’t exist as it does today. Beyond him there is a lineage of figures associated with the revival and development of what has become modern Druidry. Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente and Alex Saunders are key ancestors for the Wiccan path among others. Some Heathens may well consider Snorri Sturluson an ancestor of their path purely for his work in preserving so much of the Old Norse lore but there will be other ancestors that mean a great deal. Each path will have figures that are honoured well beyond their lives and should be thought of as ancestors of path or line. Practical crafts and skills can have very similar lineages that can be honoured as ancestors. In addition to these wider known figures smaller groups and individuals may have others they think of as ancestors.

For me personally there are currently two people in particular that I honour as ancestors of my own path. As time passes there may well be other names that join them for varying reasons but for now there are two. I choose to name them here and share something of why they are important to me, they are Chris Turner (aka Coifi) and Insa Theirling. Both of these played a significant part in the development of my path as it is today although neither they or I knew it at the time. Both died in 2001 and I was honoured to have a role in the passing rites for each of them.

Coifi taught me to draw a labyrinth. I might have learnt it at some stage from someone else but as it happened I learnt it from him. Like many I find walking a labyrinth a wonderful thing to do drawing together physical movement with spiritual purpose. Thanks to Coifi I can draw a labyrinth in the sand of a beach using a staff or even by dragging my foot along, then I can walk it with purpose and later watch as the ocean clears all signs of it away. I don’t think I can easily convey in words what that has meant for me over the years. I have other memories of Coifi too but that bit is the most special and significant to me.

Insa’s gift to me was an introduction to the Scottish Cailleach through some of the folklore Insa studied at that time. When I first met Insa she was studying for a PhD at the University of Glasgow on Supernatural females in Gaelic Scotland and naturally enough the Cailleach featured. Insa had joined the Druid group I ran at that time and gave us a couple of talks based on some of her research. She also wrote at least one article for the Tooth and Claw magazine run by the British Druid Order if I remember correctly. Insa was a beautiful young woman. I have a wonderful memory of her playing her harp in the dappled spring light of the place our grove met for rituals in Pollok Park. Sadly she developed an aggressive form of cancer and after months of fighting she died. I would probably have learnt of the Caillach at some stage without Insa but without her struggle I may never have made such a heart felt prayer to the Cailleach which I believe was the first seeds of the relationship I have with Her today.

Hopefully in this section you have seen something of my stumbling journey in developing ancestral devotional practices. I share these things with you so that you can see where I’ve faltered and know that if you occasionally struggle in your journey you are not alone in doing so. If you are hesitating about beginning ancestral practices please just take that first step. Your ancestors of many kinds are waiting for you to reach out to them.

 

References

Blain, J. (2016) Wights and Ancestors: Heathenry in a Living Landscape Prydein Press

 

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

A death, a rebirth, a claiming

A Death

Recently I chose to support a particular kickstarter project for “Tales of Hopeless, Maine” and I chose a level of support that included as a reward a Hopeless, Maine obituary by author Nimue Brown. When I first chose this I did so because I thought it would be unusual and fun (which it is) but not long before mine was written Nimue asked me what name I wanted to die under.  That’s not a question I expected and it got me thinking about my various names. My birth name is Pauline and many people use that name for me including my husband. My parents call me Polly, my brother sometimes calls me Pic (short for pickle), my children usually call me mum. And among many Pagans, particularly Druids, I have been known as Potia. I have also had several surnames in my life, Pitchford is my fifth. So I had a lot of options to choose from for my “death”. After some thought I felt that it was time “Potia” died.  Potia was a name I took up towards the beginning of my journey into druidry. I have changed a lot since then.  It’s also a name linked to Epona via a particular inscription. My love for Epona hasn’t changed but I am not dedicated to Her alone.

I had no idea how I might die on Hopeless, Maine. It’s an unusual place where death is not always certain, where bodies are not always available to be identified and buried. Perhaps I would be stabbed by knitting needles or poisoned via a pot of tea. I never imagined the death I got or the headline: “Potia Pitchford defies explanation“.  To be taken by surf horses was a beautifully significant way for Potia to die, to be taken into the depths by the very image of one of my most loved deities. And yet for my death to be uncertain too. No body to identify or bury, just gone. This death has a strong spiritual significance to me that I didn’t anticipate. It was also published on Friday 13th and Friday is the day I do my weekly devotions to the Herd Mothers, to Epona and Rhiannon.  It was also a full moon and I now do devotions on full and dark moons for beings of ocean, seas and rivers.

A Rebirth

The druid I was, Potia, has changed. What I am now has grown out of the druid that I was. I am a priest, a tender of a shrine, a servant of a group of deities and sworn to two deities in particular. I have written of some of this in a previous post “On being a priest“. I have felt since writing that post that I needed to take on a new name, one that to some extent reflects the changes in my life.  Until this evening what that name would be escaped me. This evening as I sat communing with An Cailleach I received some guidance.  I need to check my understanding and make sure I can write it correctly. I’ve also been led to believe I don’t need to stop using Potia, this new name will be more of a descriptive surname if I understand it correctly.

A Claiming

“You are mine” She said to me this evening. I acknowledge that claim with the understanding that I am also sworn to the Herd Mothers and that any tasks She and They would have of me need to be balanced against the needs of my children.

 

Changes

The new school year has started here in Scotland and with it come some changes to family routines.  My wonderful son Rowan, now almost 18, will be starting college later this month having got the qualifications he needed to do the course he wants to do.  He’s going to be starting a HNC in Applied Sciences at a local college.  The course is listed as full time but it’s two days 9-5 and one afternoon which will be quite a change from school.  My awesome daughter Rose started High School this week.  She is attending the same unit that Rowan went to, they call them Language and Communication Resource units now but essentially it is an autism unit located in a mainstream school so if the kids are able to do some mainstream that’s an option for them.  It means more travel and longer days for Rose as well as the usual changes of new classmates, new teachers and new environment that you get with moving schools.  So far she’s enjoying it which is great.

These things mean my routines also change. I’m only making one packed lunch in the morning and getting Rose up much earlier. She also gets picked up earlier and comes home a bit later so I will get more time to do other things during the day. We are all still getting used to these changes and things won’t be fully settled until the end of the month after Rowan starts college.

During the summer we took the opportunity to take a major holiday abroad.  We’ve never taken the kids on holiday out of the UK before (well not since Rowan was 8 months old anyway) so there were passports to sort as well as other aspects of official travel documentation. We went to Canada.  We flew from Glasgow to Toronto, spent a couple of days there and then a week based in a lovely rental house in Niagara-on-the-Lake before a final day in Toronto and then flying home. First flight for the kids, first intercontinental flight for me.  All went well.  We had a great time and did lots of tourist type things around Niagara Falls, usually going out earlier in the day when things were a bit quieter so less queues.  Being in a different country, in a completely different part of the world was a wonderful experience on lots of different levels. I’ve been processing some of that in the background since we returned.

While over in Canada I heard that my older sister, Allison, had been taken into hospital following a heart attack.  There was nothing I could do of course and at the time I expected that she would make a recovery as so many people do.  Sadly she didn’t recover. She died on Wednesday 7th August, five days after we returned to Glasgow. Allison and her family were living near Bath and it wasn’t possible to travel down there before she died.  The funeral is next week.  I didn’t really know Allison very well.  She was adopted shortly after her birth as mum was in her late teens at the time, unmarried and not allowed to keep her first child.  When my brother and I were in our teens mum told us about our sister, she didn’t know where she was or if we would ever meet her but we knew that somewhere out there we had another sibling.  About fifteen years ago Allison found us and we gradually started to get to know each other.  Allison’s adoptive family were all very close and we all met Allison’s adoptive parents and other members of their family.  Allison was physically very like our mum, more so than I am and I look a lot like mum. Allison grew up in Lenzie, just down the road from where I now live but lived for many years in Montrose.  We didn’t see a lot of each other once she found us and didn’t seem to have a lot in common apart from looks. We were both religious but very different paths as Allison was an evangelical Christian. I think me being Pagan was a bit of a barrier between us, that’s how I feel anyway but It could just be we didn’t really connect. My brother got on with her better. And now, less than fifteen months after our mum died, I have another family funeral to attend. It brings back memories and also focuses the mind on how unpredictable life can be. My thoughts and love remain with Allison’s husband and their children as well as the members of her wider adoptive family as they grieve.

So changes. Personal changes and family changes. Lots of change taking place this month. Lots of things to think about and process. And hopefully that will lead to more blog posts too.

 

Grief

People ask me how I am and I don’t know how to reply.  “I’m ok” I say or “I’m managing” but I’m not really.  I go through the motions of living, sometimes I even laugh and have fun but I cry almost every day too. If people could see this pain it would look like wounds deep and bleeding, like my skin was mottled with bruises but they can’t see it. My chest hurts but it’s not a physical pain really, just loss, just grief. Just…

A couple of days ago I broke down. I wailed and moaned. I slapped my legs, scratched my face, my arms, pulled my hair banged my head against a cupboard door. Meltdown.

The marks faded on the outside.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  This is us getting ready for my wedding two years ago.

 

I miss you so much mum, so much!

Change sometimes hurts

On Wednesday 23rd May my wonderful mum died.  Her death was swift and pain free and totally unexpected.  She had a massive stroke in the afternoon and died a few hours later in hospital with myself, my brother and my dad at her side.

Here are links to tributes.

Tribute published by Moon Books

Tribute published by Whyte Tracks Publishing

The day after she died my dad and I were looking for some paperwork and we came across a letter my mum had written dated 18 May this year and addressed to her next of kin. We don’t know what prompted her to write this letter but these are some of her words which were also read out during her funeral:

“I truly believe in a life after death, so don’t be sad, I will live on in a different format, as energy, as spirit and will return in time. I want you to wear your robes, sing, play your instruments, and tell stories of times we have shared.”

I was blessed with a close relationship with my mum, not a standard one though.  We were sometimes more like sisters, other times it was more like I was the parent.  We knew we had been together in previous lives. She had some past life regressions done and had some memories where I was included.  I didn’t have anything like that done but I knew we’d been together.  We knew that I had been her parent or a guardian in more lives than she had been in that position with me.

It comforts me to know these things.  I know deep within my soul that while we are parted physically now we won’t always be.  Maybe next time we will be siblings.  I know we won’t remember the details of our lives before including this one but the love we have for each other will draw us together again.  Of that I have no doubt.

But for now I cry.  The loss is raw and painful still.

Love you mum, so much.