On being a priest

This evening I feel twitchy in a non-physical way.  I feel as if I have forgotten something or I’m supposed to be doing something but I can’t think of anything it could be. This non-physical twitchiness is something that I am starting recognise more easily as promptings from those I serve to do something in particular.  This time I believe this twitchy feeling means that I need to write and, in particular, to write about being a priest.

This isn’t the first time I have written about priesthood but the last time was ten years ago so it’s probably about time I revisited this topic here.

Others have written clearly and in depth on a range of questions around being a priest. Most notably John Beckett has written several posts on priesthood the most recent one being “15 Roles of a Pagan Priest – How Many Is Too Many?“.  Also of fairly recent note is a series of three posts by Morgan Daimler starting with “Priesthood in Service to the Other – Part 1: The wide view“. If you haven’t read these posts I recommend you do so if this is a topic that interests you.

My thoughts on priesthood are coloured to some extent by these authors and to some extent by my own experiences and observations. There are a few public individuals in the UK that I feel embody something of what it is to be a priest. Each of them do this in different ways and some may use other titles.  I’m going to name a few of them and try and give some reasons why I consider them to be priests.

The first is Cat Treadwell and you can find her online at The Catbox.  She is self employed as a Druid and Priest.  Much of her work involves celebrancy but she also runs workshops, presents talks, offers divination readings, writes books and blogs and supports people on a personal basis too. Cat serves her community in many ways and is a public voice for druidry and paganism generally.  She does all this from a place of personal challenges and struggles with depression which she speaks about openly. I have still not met her face to face but hers is a voice that speaks from the darkness.

The next is Nimue Brown who writes at Druid Life. Nimue is also an author of books and blogs and she has also been presenting more talks, I’m not sure of she’s been doing any workshops.  My perspective of Nimue is of a woman with a whimsical sense of humour that has worked to overcome a number of personal challenges to get where she is today. She’s a mother, a folk musician and a keen observer of her local environment.  She is a different sort of Druid to Cat and I’m not even sure that she would claim the title Priest for herself but in my mind she is both Druid and Priest.

What these women have in common is that they are both Druids and both pretty public figures. They also both speak from a place of deep experience with extremely difficult personal challenges.

My next example is Dr Jenny Blain. Jenny is a retired academic and a Heathen.  She is a polytheist and animist with strong ties to her local land spirits or landvættir. It is harder to put into words why I consider her a Priest or in Heathen terms a Gythia. One aspect is her ability to lead ritual, another is her ability to share her knowledge with others both through her books and via more direct teaching but there is more to it than that. She is a Seidr worker, that in itself is not a simple thing to put into words as there are many forms of seidr. A basic and probably incomplete description is that seidr is a method of entering an altered state of consciousness which can be used to work magic or journey for various purposes.

My final example is Lorna Smithers. Lorna is a an author, poet and mystic. She has a deep and personal connection to her patron deity, Gwyn ap Nudd. Her priesthood is one of personal dedication and part of her dedication is a call to communicate some of what she learns and experiences through her writing and talks. She is, in my opinion, a priest due to her very direct service to her patron.

I could go on. I have deliberately chosen to highlight a few female examples of priests here but there are a number of men I also consider to be priests such as Damh the Bard, Adam Sargant, Phillip Shallcrass, Geoff Boswell, Robin Herne, Mike Stygal and Rich Blackett. Most of these are Druid types as this is the community I have been part of the longest. I’m still getting to know individuals within the Heathen community.  The main things they have in common are that I know them either personally face to face or online and I respect their opinions.

All of this serves to give a few examples of the complexity of what it is to be a priest. More recently I have started to think of myself as priest as well as druid.  I am not an author beyond this blog as yet (who knows what they future might hold). Currently I don’t give talks or presentations although I have in the past.  I can write and lead group ritual although I don’t do a great deal of this now. I have acted as a celebrant in the past too. None of these things are why I am using the term priest more lately.  I am a priest because I serve a number of deities and because I am a shrine keeper.

I am sworn firstly to the Herd Mothers and to the Ancient Mother I know as An Cailleach. I feel they are still training me and gradually making me ready for further service.  I also serve within my limited abilities Maponnos, Gofannon, Mannanan, Brigantia, Loki, Ran, Aegir and the daughters of the oceans. Some of these I have served longer than others, some I am still learning about but I honour them and give them offerings. This is why I call myself a Priest and Druid.

 

 

New patterns of devotion

Last summer I started feeling the presence of a few other deities to those I have regular patterns of devotion with.  One was a being I had a little experience of but others were new to me.  What they have in common are the seas and oceans.

The one I had some experience of is Manannán.  I had heard about him in various myths and in previous years had felt His presence by the shore and when I took a ferry to Arran.  Last summer I felt Him more strongly, particularly when we took a ferry to the Isle of Mull for a short holiday. His presence ebbed and flowed like the tide but last year His presence began to feel much stronger. If you are new to His name then you’ll find an overview here. For a much better introduction though I recommend Morgan Daimler’s book “Manannán mac Lir: Meeting The Celtic God Of Wave And Wonder“.

The other beings that made their presence strongly felt were from the Norse pantheon and the strongest of these was the Goddess Rán. I’ve written before about Loki entering my life but up to last summer none of the other assorted beings from Norse pantheon had made their presence felt so I had thought that Loki was going to be the only one.  That didn’t bother me in any way as I still thought of myself as primarily Brythonic.  Now I started to realise that maybe that wasn’t going to be the case long term. Along with Rán I also felt the presence of what I knew were Her daughters.  It wasn’t until I got home from Mull that I was able to check my feelings with information on the lore.  As the summer progressed into autumn it seemed like Rán and Her daughters had drifted away but then they drifted back again. Over the last year their presences have continued to ebb and flow in my life.

It got to the stage where I felt I needed to set aside some devotional space for beings of water and in particular the seas and oceans. My main altar was already full though so after a bit of thought I set up one of a set of three nested coffee tables as a shrine to being of the seas, oceans and rivers. I brought an indoor water fountain as the main focal point and added a small statue of a leaping dolphin, some sea glass and a hag stone.  The sea glass and hag stone were collected on beaches I have visited.  Since the photo below I’ve also added a shell from a more recent beach trip.

water shrine
Photo of my shrine to beings of seas, oceans and rivers.

And for a while that was it.  I felt the urge to make offerings occasionally but nothing regular. Last week that changed while I was out for a walk round my local park.  I was musing about the ebb and flow of these developing relationships and whether to try and make more regular offerings. I wasn’t sure how anything new would fit into the patterns I already have and suddenly I had a realization.

Ever since I had changed from a lunar patter of devotions to a weekly one I had struggled to keep touch with the lunar phases in the way that I had previously.  I used to make offerings to my ancestors on the dark moon, to Brigantia the day before a full moon, Epona on the full moon and An Cailleach the day after the full moon. When I started to make offerings to Maponos on Sundays my patterns began to shift to a weekly devotional cycle and I started to lose touch with the lunar cycles a bit. This sudden realization was that honouring the beings of ocean and seas would fit beautifully into a lunar pattern of devotions.  After all we are very aware of the influence of this planet’s moon in the cycle of tides.  Using a lunar pattern made sense, it felt right.

And so on this last full moon I began to add a new pattern into my existing devotional practices.  First I made my offering, prayed and communed with the deity of that day and then I turned my focus to the water shrine and made an offering there. As yet I have not developed any particular prayers for Manannán or Rán who are the strongest of the presences that drift in and out.  The shrine also has images honouring Rán’s nine daughters and her husband Ægir. My intentions are to now honour Manannán, Rán and her daughters and her husband Ægir at both full and dark moons.

 

My gods are calling…

First it was Epona nudging to write a blog post and I did. Since Then I’ve felt Her more strongly and been thinking about Her a lot as Eponalia (18 December) approaches.

Then it was the Divine Smith with a mention of Sucellus as a possible Smith for followed a few days later by a blog post on Sucellos that got me thinking and then this one on Sucellus and Smith gods which resonated strongly.

Around the same time there was a surge of activity online about Loki triggered by a Wild Hunt column (this one). There’s so many options I could link to for blog posts and articles that followed this original article but the Wild Hunt have published this one about the Lokean Community and this one so-called Loki and the Resistance.

I often see posts about Brigid because I’m in Facebook groups about Her and there’s not been any unusual activity there or elsewhere about Brigantia that I’ve seen but today an Cailleach made Her presence felt via an unexpected post about Her. Maponos has remained fairly quiet so far too.

It doesn’t surprise me that Loki should use technology to make His presence felt more strongly. That’s how He first pushed into my life. It doesn’t surprise me that Epona should provide judges through contacts with other people, She has always been subtle with me. The Divine Smith though, using both personal connections and technology, that did surprise me. I don’t do any form of smithcraft. My only attempt at regular craftwork is knitting. I’m not the fastest or best knitter by any means although I am confident enough to knit things for others. So I still find it a little surprising that Gofannon  has remained a presence in my life. Perhaps He wishes to remind me to keep persevering with various things in my life, perhaps He likes my respect for the craftspeople I know. g

Three of the gods I regularly make devotions to are making their presence felt more strongly. They are each calling to me, not with a specific message but to be more aware. They are challenging me to take up those tasks that I feel I struggle with and move onwards. And I believe they are each letting me know in their own ways that I am heard and that I am not alone.

Reflections on 2017

A new friend on Facebook recently asked what people were proud about from the past year and that got me thinking about the past year a bit more resulting in this post.

The first half of 2017 was quiet on this blog because I had signed up for a an online course in counselling skills.  I completed and passed that course and at the time I investigated the possibility of gaining further qualifications in counselling skills.  After much thought and investigation into options and costs I decided it is not the right time for me to commit to trying to gain further qualifications. I am however prud of having completed the course successfully and gaining new knowledge and confidence.

In the last year my devotional practices have continued to develop and deepen.  I’m now beginning to settle into a devotional practice where I am spending some time in prayer and contemplation on six days of the week.  In the last year as well as relaxing into my relationship with Loki I’ve also started developing a devotional relationship with Gofannon.  It’s almost two years since Loki started making his presence felt in my life so both of these deities are still relatively new to me. I also continue to be a flame tender with Clann Bhride, a practice I began on Imbolc 2015.

I’ve now been involved in volunteering with the Riding for the Disabled Glasgow group for just over a year. I’ve learnt so much since I started there and I’m still learning more including finally having riding lessons myself.  I’ve wanted to learn how to ride horses for as log as I can remember and this year I have been able to begin that journey and it’s just wonderful!  I literally cried tears of joy after my first couple of lessons, that’s how much it means to me.

This time last year I had completed counselling sessions to help me with managing my social anxiety and had also just come off medication for anxiety and depression.  I have remained off medication this year and have not had a relapse.  I still get the occasional anxiety attack with social situations and have had a couple of more severe panic attacks too this year but I am still improving.  I have managed social situations this year that I could not have done last year.  I am proud of my progress.

My daughter had been attending dance lessons with Indepen-dance for a full year now.  She’s absolutely loved these lessons so I know this will be continuing for the coming year.  My daughter has also joined her school choir this year and has experienced her first performance with the choir outside the school as part of a carol service.  She also had a solo to sing during that carol service.  I am extremely proud of how well she did, not only with her singing but also with her behaviour during the service.  Sitting quiet and still is not an easy thing for my sensory seeking, bouncy Aspigirl. So proud of my girl!

This year my son completed his Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award. To complete this award he had to do some voluntary work, develop a new skill, do some physical activity and complete an overnight camping expedition with the group from his school taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh award activities.  His physical activity was hillwalking, his new skill was pyrography and the voluntary work was organised by the school and took place at an allotment.  I am incredibly proud of his achievement!

Last year (2016) I went through the assessment process for adult autism diagnosis.  I didn’t meet diagnostic criteria.  Perhaps part of the reason for this was that at the time I went through the process I was also suffering badly from stress and anxiety.  Needless to say I didn’t agree with their conclusions at the time and I still don’t agree.  It’s still something that irritates.  I have been peer recognised as autistic by a number of autistic adults as well as by my wonderful kids and that recognition means a great deal to me.  I am immensely proud of being neurodivergent and probably autistic. I still hesitate over calling myself autistic because I didn’t meet the diagnostic criteria during my assessment.  I know many within the autistic community are perfectly fine with self diagnosis and if I had never attended and failed the assessment I’d be happy with self diagnosis too. Failing the assessment makes me doubt myself and means I often don’t feel comfortable in saying I’m autistic without adding the story of not meeting diagnostic criteria.  Anyway, this year I have becoming more aware and more confident of myself as neurodivergent. If you are unfamiliar with neurodiversity as a concept here’s a good staring piece on the neurodiversity paradigm

My other area of achievement this year is still very much a work in progress.  I have begun writing a book about being a polytheist.  It will have a great deal in it about my own practices.  My tentative working title at the moment is “Life as a British Polytheist”.

To all my readers on this last day of 2017 I hope you take pride in your achievements whatever they may be and I wish you a very happy 2018!

 

 

Dealing with Deities – tainted love?

A few days ago on 29 October I ordered a book called “Dealing with Deities: Practical Polytheistic Theologies“.  On Saturday 4th November the package arrived and I opened it up with a certain amount of excitement only to see something that appeared to be very different…

DSC_0300 A book called tainted love apparently.  So as you might expect I start to prepare the complaint.  I was tired so I didn’t do much that evening and tried to sort it the following morning.  The first time I tried to complete the complaint form I was using my kindle and the photos I had taken wouldn’t upload to the complaint form.  So a bit later I got out my laptop and completed the form on that.  At that stage though I thought I’d better just check the inside of the book in case that looked damaged in some way.  Imagine my surprise when the first page I saw inside the cover said “Dealing with Deities”.  As I looked further the contents of the book seemed to be exactly what I had ordered!

“Don’t judge a book by it’s cover!”

How many times have I heard that saying?  How many times have I used it? Although that thought has only just occurred to me as I write this. what came to my mind yesterday as I saw the inside of the book was that someone had played a trick on me.  My first thoughts went to Loki because in my experiences he has a talent for playing with electronic equipment.  And the book arrived on a Saturday which is the day I devote to him.

Next thoughts were the juxtaposition of the words “Tainted Love” with “Dealing with Deities”.  I’m not sure what to make of that.  Initially I laughed.

Today though I’m thinking about the word “tainted” and how that means something that has been corrupted or fouled in some way. It occurs to me that the love we have when dealing with deities is often corrupted by our own wants and desires.  And then there’s the fact that those of us that are polytheists are also reconnecting links that long past ancestors shattered for various reasons.  Our efforts to make those connections again are tainted by what has happened in the past of our societies.  Some of these things we can do something about, we can do our best to love our deities without clouding maters with wants and desires.  I don’t mean we never ask for help but if we do so we do with respect and never taking such help for granted.  There’s not a great deal we can do about taints left from the actions of previous generations long gone into the mists of time.  We can acknowledge them.  We can do our best as we re-forge broken connections but the scars will be there for a long time. And if we do our best then hopefully over time as we and those to come build on what we do now those connections will become stronger and clearer.

And sometimes after we first see a “taint” we find that it actually helps us develop something new and wonderful.

 

 

Musings on divination

Like many others I’ve dabbled with divination on and off over my years as a Pagan but although I learnt a few things, nothing ever seemed to quite connect.  Recently I’ve been working on my divination skills again and I believe I know why earlier efforts never really felt quite right.  It wasn’t the tools, I use the same rune stones now that I made about twenty years ago now I think, it was my approach.

When I first started to learn about divination it was as a tool to tap into my unconscious mind or into some form of a collective consciousness of the world.  I could get some benefit from this but it wasn’t an approach that really felt right and I never really knew why until recently.  Now I have come to understand divination as a method of communication between myself and my gods and I have found that to be a profound change.

No longer am I doing the equivalent of shouting into the wilderness and hoping someone will hear me, respond and provide useful advice.  Now I am doing the spiritual equivalent of making a phone call to a particular being.  I might not get a reply but if I do I have a much better chance of someone listening and replying.  Given the deities I am devoted to that may not always mean a sensible reply, they too have a sense of humour, but the chances are much improved.

At the moment there are two tools I am working on improving my skills with and both are ones I have had for quite a while.  One is the set of runes I mentioned above that I made many years ago and the other is a set of the Druid Animal Oracle Cards that I’ve also had for several years but not quite as long as the runes I made.  I’ve always loved the artwork on the Druid Animal Oracle cards but used to get more distracted by the details.

I have a number of small yew wood slices now and I intend to use pyrography to create a set of Ogham disks.  I have Ogham staves and cards which I do occasionally use but I like the idea of a handmade set of disks to work with and maybe making them will help me learn the various symbols that I don’t know yet.  If I manage all that, then I may start to use Ogham as a divination tool as well but that’s a bit in the future yet.

When I work with my runes I ask Loki for guidance with them.  I’m aware that He might not be considered the usual deity to approach for runic divination but this works for me.  I think some people often forget, or perhaps don’t even know, that Loki is skilled in the use of words. That is something that shines through in the various tales that we have about Him.  To me, and I’m probably not alone in this, that skill with words implies a skill with runes too.

When I work with the Druid Animal Oracle I have begun to ask Maponos for guidance.  If that seems like an odd choice to you then I will simply point out that the Romans linked Maponos with Apollo and Apollo is well known for His Oracles among other attributes so it is a strong possibility that Maponos too had his oracular side.

At the moment I feel my skills are improving and I have begun to offer readings to others as further practice.  I feel more confident about using divination now that I am approaching my gods when I do this and I trust in their guidance.

 

Changes to my altar

In the last couple of weeks there have been changes to my altar.

Meet the Smith, for Gofannon.

The Smith
The Smith

Today arrived a wonderful, amazing gift.  A traditionally made Zuni Coyote fetish crafted by Aaron and Thelma Sheche. I am deeply honoured to have been entrusted with this fetish. It’s actually two coyotes carved from the same stone bundles with an arrow head and pieces of turquoise.

Coyotes fetish
Zuni Coyote Fetish

Both the Smith and the Zuni fetish are now on my altar, shown below.

Altar 6 September 2017