I wish I could tell you I'll fix this For I hate to see you in pain. I wish I could tell you I'll sort it And make it better again. I don't have the power To mend this But please don't suffer alone. I can't wave a wand And dispel it Nor weave my spells as a crone. But I'll listen to all You share with me As you fight to change your life. And I'll cheer you on From my corner As you overcome each strife.
A Mantle of Love
I wrap a mantle of love around you Love from friends Love from family Love from far and near. I wrap a mantle of love around you Love that protects Love that nurtures Most of all, love that supports. I wrap a mantle of love around you Love from hopes Love from joys Love through pain and sorrow. I wrap a mantle of love around you I leave it in your care.
Love doesn’t have to be a close thing
Of bodies touching, writhing.
Love doesn’t have to be returned
To still be felt heart deep.
Love can reach across oceans,
Drift with winds over mountains
And into valleys.
Love has many tastes and yet none,
Many textures, sounds and colours
Yet is indescribable.
Love is simple and yet so very complex,
Strong yet so very fragile.
Love is in my mind and in my soul.
Love doesn’t have to be a close thing.
In my last post on Yule I spoke about traditions I have with my family during the darkest days of winter. Family is a central part of my life. Family has always been fairly important to me but becoming a parent changed that from a fairly important aspect to a central one. My journey as a mother began just a couple of years after my journey as a Pagan began. From the earliest days of my first pregnancy there has been a spiritual aspect to being a mother from marking stages of my pregnancies with ritual to sharing my path with my children. I have not brought them up to be Pagan but with the knowledge of various pagan paths as well as other religions so that they may choose their own paths but I am very open about my beliefs and practices.
A few years ago I coined the phrase “Hearth Druid” as a light hearted but fairly accurate description of my path. As I am also a polytheist, if I want to be more descriptive I will say I am a polytheist hearth druid. Druidry is the path I began with when I first explored Paganism and I later developed into a polytheist Druid. For many there is an aspect of service within the Druid path. That service can take many forms and in my case a key part is service to the future by doing the best I can to raise my children to be caring and responsible humans.
Any parent who says raising children is easy is likely to be stretching the truth to breaking point. Parenthood is wonderful and terrifying. It brings some of the most intense joys, some of the deepest fears and the greatest amounts of stress to your life. I am blessed with two children six years apart in age, one son and one daughter. My son is a young man now and I am immensely proud of him. I am incredibly proud of my daughter too who is growing into a young woman. Both of my children have additional challenges to deal with in this modern world of ours because both are autistic. I am not diagnosed as autistic but I still believe that I probably am. I am certainly among the more neurodivergent section of the population.
I am lucky in that both my children are very healthy. They are intelligent, loving and wonderful young people. The additional challenges they have, that I have, are because our society tries to treat us all as if we are the same. We are told again and again that we must meet set targets and milestones in set periods of time and yet very few of us will meet any of these things in the same periods of time or in the same way. Our modern society does not yet value diversity as well as it should whether that be physical diversity, neurodiversity or many of the other aspects of diversity that exist within our human species. In my opinion we are only just beginning to truly appreciate the importance of diversity in nature generally.
Learning more about diversity in various ways, learning to appreciate diversity, is part of the reason I am the polytheist that I am today. I have grown into polytheism and I believe it fits wonderfully with a viewpoint that treasures diversity.
Some polytheists are able to put their devotions to their deities at the centre of their life. Some have incredibly close relationships with a small number of deities, relationships where they are asked to serve their gods in very direct and often life altering ways. I am not one of those polytheists, at the centre of my life are my children. My children don’t need me quite as much as they used to when they were younger but my daughter in particular still needs a lot of support. I still have deep relationships with my deities but they do not ask me to choose between my love for them and my love for my children. Those I am sworn to understand that I what service I can give them, as with everything in my life, is balanced against family needs.
Other members of my family are also very important to me. I am lucky enough to have a very close relationship with my parents. I had a particularly close relation ship with my mum and I miss being able to phone her up for a chat. I miss her hugs most. I had more of a friendship than the usual sort of mother/daughter relationship many people seem to have. Neither of my parents were Pagan when I was growing up, they came to it later in life when I was in my late teens and although I was aware of that change it wasn’t something that led me to become Pagan myself. Our paths differ but we still share seasonal rituals as part of the same local group which used to be driven forward more by my mum with my dad and I in support and my dad now carries on with me in support.
And then there is my husband. Both of us have been married previously and both of us have learnt things from those previous relationships. I now understand so much more about myself, my probably autistic self, than I knew in my first marriage and that learning has been incredibly valuable in my relationship with my husband now. He is my love and my support. He is also a Druid and that gives us another bond. We call him a Land Druid because his Druidry is so closely tied to his relationship with the Land, walking it, taking landscape photographs and being out there.
My relationships with other members of my wider family are also very important to me. I chose my current home for example because I wanted to be physically closer to my brother, his wife and their children. That in turn has allowed me to develop much better relationships with all of them.
For some, family can also become something incredibly painful. While that is not my experience I know that for some the last thing they want is to be close to some or perhaps all of what would usually be called their family. Family is not just about those you are connected to by blood, upbringing or marital status though. Family means different things to different people and for many a spiritual family can be as important or more so than their blood family. In some cases those you think of as family widen out in different directions. A best friend may be closer than a sibling, members of a grove may become like a second family or members of an online community may develop a sense of family brought together by shared interests or commonalities in situation. Families are another area of diversity in life that can be overlooked but what is a family but whom you love the most and who love you in return?
I am very open with my family about my beliefs, they all know I am polytheist. Some members of my wider family are happy to chat about faith matters, others are not so keen. In my wider family there are several Christians and yes, there has been the odd misunderstanding over the years but we have been able to move past such things. When I was a child and for most of my growing years the only faith really spoken about in the family was Christianity. That has changed. When we do talk about religion we don’t just talk about our own faiths, we also talk about other faiths in the world.
In my own home I openly practice my faith, there is nothing hidden and my children are free to join in when they want to or not as the case may be. I have taught them that if someone is at prayer unless it is an emergency you wait respectfully until they are finished before you start talking to them. I have an altar in my dining room, pagan books on bookshelves, robes and cloaks hanging in my wardrobe. Nothing hidden. If anyone in my family is curious about my own path or other aspects of Paganism they know they can ask me. They also know there’s a chance I’ll start getting very enthusiastic and start telling them about all sorts of related information. A question about a Norse deity may lead to a discussion on Norse myths, then myths of other cultures, the place of story in our world in feeding our imaginations, in allowing us to move beyond our own limitations and widen our perspectives. Or it might lead along other paths entirely. I get very enthusiastic and my mind jumps about leaping from trail to trail. My family know this about me and know that if they start asking questions an hour could easily pass as we discuss things. Fortunately they are also quite adept in letting me know when they’ve had enough if I don’t spot the signs myself.
My family, like my faith, is intimately woven into the strands of my life. The tapestry of who I am would not be as colourful or as complex without either of these parts of my life.
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
Today I ask you who read this post to bear witness to my words.
I am known as Potia, a name given to me on a journey many years ago and linking me to my beloved Epona, She who is my guide, my guardian and my teacher. I am a daughter of the Great Mare and of the Herd Mothers. To the Herd Mothers, Epona and Rhiannon, I swear to do my best to follow their guidance and to trust them. I have sworn to do my best to serve Epona and I renew that oath.
Last month I was claimed again. To the name I have used for many years I now add another.
I add to my name Nighean a’ Chailliche, daughter of the Cailleach. I have sworn that I will serve An Cailleach to the best of my ability within the boundaries agreed between us. In honour of this oath I will now cover my hair with a scarf or hood when I am praying before Her or serving as Her priest.
I am Potia Nighean a’ Chailliche, sworn priest of the Herd Mothers and An Cailleach.
This is my truth.
Last time I wrote about setting intentions and I’ve had some success with what I had hoped to achieve.
I am continuing to go to the RDA Glasgow group. I’ve had some challenges with both my emotional state and things like back pain and colds which have meant missing the odd day but on the whole I’m managing ok. And I still love being there so that helps.
I am now singing almost every day again. Not always a more formal practice, sometimes it’s just a couple of things but very few days go by now without song in them again. This makes me feel good too. I sing for so many reasons. I sing for my gods, for comfort, for joy and for my ancestors. Sometimes I sing things I learnt when I was at school, sometimes things I’ve crafted and sometimes I sing without words letting the notes flow where they will.
The writing though hasn’t come back. I’m not even sure if I want it to. I have so many doubts about whether I really have anything to write that others will want to read. And yet there is so little out there written by polytheists. There is more that there used to be but often focussed on one particular deity or a particular path. I started my efforts to write a book last Samhain with the intent to write it bit at a time through the year. We are once more nearing Samhain and I’ve not managed to write a word on it since my mum died. I no longer know if I could start it again without feeling tears in my eyes. And yet not going back to it makes me feel like I’ve failed somehow.
I’ve finished two shawls that I started before mum died and I’ve finally made a tea cosy. I put off trying to knit one for a while as that was something mum had asked me to make her. I had found yarn I thought she would like and a pattern but hadn’t begun before she died. Last week I tried making my first tea cosy with the yarn I had got for my mum but I realised it wasn’t going to work with that yarn so I used something else instead but I did it. Knitting wasn’t something I wrote about in my intentions but it is good to be completing projects and trying new things again.
I’m beginning to set some intentions to get a few things back into progress once the kids go back to school on Wednesday.
I stopped the singing practice I had begun when my mum died, that’s one thing I want to try and start again. I have sung a few odds and ends since mum died but I haven’t done any serious singing practice since then. I know Mum loved my singing and I know she wanted me to sing more. I have tears running down my face writing this and it’s not easy to sing when you are close to tears or crying but it’s time to try and sing more again.
I also stopped my attempts to write a book on my experiences as a polytheist. The last things I wrote were about the festival of Beltane and I wasn’t satisfied with what I had written on that topic. I have chapters planned on the deities I have devotional relationships with as well as sections on other festivals. Mum was keen for me to write and wanted to introduce me to her current publisher. I wasn’t ready for that stage, I’m still not, but I’ve been in touch with mum’s publisher about mum’s books anyway. I need to try and get back to my writing again. It might be slow but I need to try. Mum would have wanted me to keep going with it and to try and get it published when I get it to that stage.
And I will still be going to the RDA Glasgow Group stables on a regular basis. I can’t imagine my life without going there regularly now.
All these are things I’ve been thinking about for a couple of weeks now. Setting them out like this will hopefully help me to move forward.
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.