Conference review for Brighid: Her Flame Burns Brightly 27 Jan 2018

“Brighid: Her Flame Burns Brightly” was an online conference organized and hosted by Land Sea Sky Travel as the first in a series of conferences. The series is called “A Year With The Gods” and they have plans for online conferences spaced through the year close to the more commonly recognized Pagan festivals.

As I have had a devotional relationship with Brigantia for many years I decided that trying to attend this online conference should be a good experience for me with the added benefit of devoting time to Her that day.  I was however a bit nervous as I had not experienced this type of online conference before.  I needn’t have worried.

The software used was Zoom which has a freely available client for a participant.  The software has some good support information and I didn’t have any problems with downloading the client or testing my set up.  The organisers of the conference were also available via email and Facebook with advice in the days before the conference.

As the conference organizers are based in the United Stated of America the timings of the conference were very understandable picked with the Sates in mind.  Saying that the welcome pack emailed out before the event had a detailed schedule for the day including timings in three different time zones.  I was both impressed and very pleased with this level of information and it made things much easier for me to organize.  There were a number of nice extras sent out with the welcome pack too including a couple of short stories, a couple of chants and a couple of links to suppliers of relevant goods and services.

On to the day itself.

For me the conference started at 3.30 in the afternoon.  Getting into the correct location was straightforward and everything seemed to be working very well.  Our main host for the day, Vyviane Armstrong, provided clear information and repeated basic housekeeping type information throughout the day for those that joined at different times.  Tech support was on hand through out the day too and while I was aware of some minor glitches happening problems were dealt with swiftly and efficiently with a good sense of humor kept throughout.  I was very impressed with the entire organizational operation and I would expect that things will only improve as the series of conferences continues.

The opening devotions were carried out by Andrea Maxwell who sang a beautiful chant for us. The day was underway.

The first presenter was Lora O’Brien not someone I was familiar with although that’s true for a lot of people so please don’t take any particular meaning from that.  Lora spoke about her experiences with Brighid and took up all on a guided journey to meet Brighid.  Her voice was clear and very enjoyable to listen to, the journey was a delight.  I particularly enjoyed the use of a boat as guide for part of the journey, this reminded me of many tales from both Scotland and Ireland.  It also reminded me of the little boat in the Wizard of EarthSea quartet by Ursula Le Guin.  Interestingly I had a name from my little boat, Wayfinder, and I hope I see it again in other journeys. I also found it interesting that where Lora described working areas in Brighid’s place that were slightly messy with works in progress I saw areas that had been tidied up, work finished for the day and things in their place for when they were next needed.  I’m sure that says more about me than anything.

The next presenter was Gemma McGowan who spoke eloquently about her experiences serving Brighid as a priestess.  Unfortunately I had to sort out my daughter’s tea during that talk so could only dip in and out.  One of the advantage of this style of conference though is that the sessions are recorded and will be sent out to all the participants so although I missed some of Gemma’s talk at the time I will be able to listen to it again and pick a time when I am not going to be interrupted.  I know she shared something of her experiences in seership and trance possession which is something I have a little experience of myself with a different Goddess so I am particularly looking forward to being able to properly listen to what Gemma shared during her talk.

The conference then had a short break and a giveaway draw.  The break was also an interesting experience as participants had the option to turn on mics and videos for a little bit.  It got a bit chaotic.

Following the break we had our Keynote speaker, Morgan Daimler. Morgan is a well known author and presenter and I was delighted that this conference would give me the opportunity to hear her speak.  She confessed to being a bit nervous at the start of her talk as it was the first time she had presented at an online conference.  I could see the nerves but I could also see her swiftly relax as she began to speak. Morgan spoke about her work with the original old Irish texts translating and digging for references of Brighid.  While I was familiar with much of what she spoke about some information was either completely new to me or had simply not stuck when I read Morgan’s book on Brigid. In particular that the earliest mentions in the texts are of a single Goddess, the triple Brighid comes later in time.  Also that the earliest form in the Irish texts was very likely to have been thought of as Brighid the Poet.  That’s poet in the old Irish sense of an incredibly highly trained and skilled individual with a huge collection of lore, poems and stories stored within their memory.  It was a very interesting talk.

Straight after that talk was a panel discussion.  A range of questions were put to the presenters who shared their experiences and opinions.  Participants were also encouraged to share responses in the chat room which remained pen throughout the conference.

After another break we heard from Mael Brigde who founded the flame tending group Daughters of the Flame in 1993.  She shared with us the history of that group which I found fascinating and what a lovely piece of synchronicity that the Daughters of Flame lit their first flame tending candle on the very same day that the Brigidine sisters relit the sacred flame at Kildare. Neither group being aware of the other doing so at that time.  Meal Brigde spoke beautifully about her experiences and both the history and practicalities of flame tending within the Daughters of the Flame.  She also sang two chants for us, both simply lovely.

By the time Mael Brigde’s talk ended it was 11.30 in the evening for me and I was very tired so it was at that point that I quietly left the conference, shot down my laptop and went to bed.  The conference itself went on with another presenter and I look forward to listening to her talk in the future when it is sent out to participants.

I really enjoyed my day taking part in this online conference.  I was a little disappointed not to be able to hear more of how the speakers felt Brigantia fits into the assorted Brigidine lore as I connect best with Brigantia.  I was also a little disappointed not to hear from any male presenters during the day.  There were male participants but a male perspective in the conference did seem a little lacking to me.  These however are minor points.  No conference pleases everyone all the time.

Over all I felt this conference was exceptionally well run with some wonderfully chosen speakers.  I am very pleased I made the decision to attend this first conference in the series.  I am not sure how many of the others I might attend but I can see at least two that interest me from just the titles.

I know from experience of running face to face conferences in the past what a great deal of work goes into conference organization. My heartfelt thanks and congratulations go to all those involved in the planning and organizing of this very well run and presented conference.

Further details of the plans for the future conferences will be available on the Land Sea Sky Facebook page

 

 

 

 

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Healing Needs

Over the years I’ve felt the need to do something of a healing nature.  There have also been times I’ve needed some healing support myself.  Most of the time what I have done has been as an individual. I’ve prayed; dedicated and lit candles; developed and carried out healing spells; chanted and sung; sent out distance healing using Reiki; visited people in hospital and given healing in the form of Reiki and similar types of spiritual healing; and I’ve asked for some of these for myself from people I know that also do forms of spiritual healing.

I have a whiteboard hung on the wall by my shrine to those deities I have special relationships with and on it are the names of people I know of that have asked for healing either directly or via a trusted loved one.

I’m not medically trained.  I’m not trained in one of the many and varied healing  and associated professions  and I’ve never been called to do that sort of vital work.  What I can offer, what I do, can not replace good medical care and expertise.  What I offer is something that can support the heart and soul, something that helps with feeling loved, feeling cared for and supported all of which aids physical healing.

Recently though, I have felt the need to do more.

One aspect of doing more is to take on the role of healthcare chaplaincy coordinator with the Scottish Pagan Federation.  The basics of this role is to ensure NHS trusts in Scotland know where to come to if they wish for Pagan information and support.  Another is to provide a visiting service to any Pagan who is in hospital and would like a Pagan visitor.  I can’t do all of this myself by any means but there are volunteers across the country who will do what they can to support Pagans who find themselves in hospital.

The reality of our current society is that much of the longer term healthcare takes place in the home and community.  Now many Pagans will have some form of Pagan community they can turn to for support at these times, that might be an online community or a moot they attend when well enough but there are many that for all sorts of reasons will not have that support.  Part of the role I have with the Scottish Pagan Federation is to try and provide some support for Pagans in Scotland that find themselves isolated and in need due to their health, physical or mental.  Being able to support people though does rely on someone letting the Scottish Pagan Federation (via their contact form) or myself know that there is someone in need support and that’s not always easy in itself as often we don’t like to ask for support for ourselves even when we need it.

But I felt I needed to do something more.  I felt pushed, prodded, urged to set up some form of virtual healing group.  I bounced my ideas of a few others, some of whom are, or have been, involved in other healing groups.  I wanted something which was open to those of any type of Pagan and Heathen path to join.  I wanted something that didn’t restrict how healing was done or sent, other than it would be virtual.  I wanted something that had a central hub that requests to join and requests for healing went through.  And I wanted something that had the potential to grow.

I think in the Pagan Healing Circle that I have set up, I have planted the seeds.  It’s young yet but already I have close to a dozen individuals who have joined me in this circle.  Healing is being sent out for a couple of individuals already and I hope that as word spreads others will ask for healing too.

Healing requests come to me on a dedicated email address.  I then send them out to the rest of the circle and make a note of what date they are sent round.  The plan is that requests stay active for a month unless we get follow-up requests or feedback of some kind asking us to keep sending.  A minimum of a first name and what the healing is for is asked for, I don’t circulate the whole email I receive, just the request itself.  This is to preserve as much privacy as possible while still providing support and healing.

If you want to know more about this healing circle, would like to join or wish to make a healing request please do email me on paganhealingcircle@gmail.com.

Oh and we’ll happily accept healing requests for beloved animal companions too.

Image thanks to Awen Photos

Orkney part 2 -guided journeys

Breakfast at our accommodation was excellent and very good fuel for the day ahead.

At 9am our wonderful guides Helen and Mark Woodsford-Dean of Spiritual Orkney joined us. We hadn’t met them face to face before although I had known Helen online for a while. I’d contacted Helen while we were planning the honeymoon trip to ask if she had availability in her calendar for the week we were going to be in Orkney.  She did and we had an exchange of emails and Facebook messages to arrange things during which she planned an itinerary for us based on what I’d told her about the sort of things we wanted to see.

It is possible they might have shown us a couple of places if we’d asked out of friendship  but personally I would have felt guilty taking up their time and expertise during the peak tourist summer season when tour guiding is one of the ways they make a living.  Besides we wanted to see lots of places and having experts showing us around was something we wanted to do. And not just expert tour guides but fellow Pagans and people we knew a bit about.  I can not stress enough how delighted we both are that we went down this route.  Helen and Mark are lovely people and great guides.

Our itinerary for our first full day included the Stones of Stenness, Barnhouse Neolithic Village, Ness of Brodgar, Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae and a couple of hours on the Brough of Birsay.

As we journeyed around we were treated to a wonderful combination of archeological information, including from their own experiences digging at the Ness of Brodgar, and local folklore.

I’m not going to write huge amounts here about these wonderful places for a couple of reasons.  One is that so much has already been written about them, the other is that the experience of being at these places is unique to each person.  What I do have is a few of my husband’s photos to share as a picture can be worth a thousand words.

 

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Stones of Stenness

One of the more profound experiences for me visiting these places was that, thanks to Helen in particular, I could understand more about these places than I would have done otherwise.  Little details that helped me see something more of that ancient way of life that I’m pretty sure I would have overlooked without her explanations. Encouraged by Helen to really look at the houses of Skara Brae for example I could see not only the similarities between each structure but also the little differences that made me think of the way we all like to personalise our own spaces when we can.

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Skara Brae

On the Brough of Birsay (which is reached via a tidal causeway) we saw puffins, fulmars, razorbills and skuars flying from nests and resting places on the cliffs.  We also saw the Viking ruins there with their excellent drainage systems (again I’d never have realised what we were seeing without Helen pointing them out).  We also had the opportunity to scramble through a cave towards the top end of the Brough which Helen referred to a rebirth cave.  It was a couple of steps down to the entrance and then as you made your way through the cave it narrowed  until you came to the opening at the other end and had to crawl to get out.  While we didn’t have the opportunity to make a full formal ritual around doing this it still had that rebirth effect for me at least.

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Puffins on Brough of Birsay

Our second day was also spent with our lovely guides and on that day we visited the cliffs at Yesnaby, Kirbuster Farm museum, the Broch of Gurness, the Tomb of the Dogs, Rennibister Earth House, Happy Valley and Unstan Cairn.  Again I’m using some of my husband’s photos to help show something of our experiences but as there’s less written about some of these places I’ll try and write a bit more too.

The cliffs at Yesnaby are wild and parts of the landscape look like they have been transplanted from another world.

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Top of cliffs at Yesnaby

On the heath before the cliffs you can find the rare primula scotica. This is a tiny little plant and not easy to spot unless you know what you are looking for so it will probably be no surprise for me to tell you that Helen found them and once we had been shown them we were able to find more in that area.

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Primula Scotica at Yesnaby

Kirbuster farm museum is a fascinating place.  Part of the buildings date back to the 16th century and there are recognisable features from the styles of buildings at Skara Brae and the other neolithic sites that have clearly been continued through the ages such as the sleeping alcoves and built in wall niches.  This is also a free museum with very knowledgable and friendly guides – well worth a visit.

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16th Century aspect of Kirbuster Farmhouse

By a narrow margin I think my favourite part of that day was the visit to Happy Valley. This lovely place has very unusual gardens by Orkney standards that were planted by the former owner who was something of a recluse during his life. Luckily the building and gardens are being preserved and cared for by the Friends of Happy Valley group.  It is a beautiful place and has a magical atmosphere to it.  I wish we could have stayed there much longer but my need for certain facilities meant we had to move on as the house was locked up.

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Happy Valley Gardens

I think I will write a separate post about experiences with tombs, cairns and the Rennibister Earth House and bring this section of our Orkney experiences to a close.

All photos copyright Neil Pitchford, Awen photos.

Orkney part 1 – Arrival

My new husband and I were lucky enough to have an unexpected financial windfall the day after our wedding and the opportunity to have a proper honeymoon while the kids were at their dad’s place for a week in early July.  After a bit of discussion we chose the Orkney Islands as our honeymoon destination.

On the morning of Monday 4th July we set off from Glasgow in the car to travel north and get a ferry over to Orkney.  On the way up we took a little side trip to Chanonry Point. Chanonry Point is at the end of a peninsula extending out into the Moray Forth and it is the best place to see wild bottle nosed dolphins from shore.  We weren’t sure if we’d be lucky enough to see any as our arrival time was towards full tide and the best time to see them is on a rising tide when they come in to feed.  We were lucky though and saw one playing in the bow wave of a passing ship and a mother and calf closer to the shore.  It was a good start to our honeymoon.

Next stop was John O’Groats as we arrived at the coast with time to spare before needing to check in at the ferry terminal at Gills Bay.  It seemed silly to be so close and not to visit so we did although I have to say I don’t really think it was worth the stop.  It’s not that impressively scenic there but it is very touristy as you might expect.

We’d chosen Pentland Ferries from Gills Bay to get to Orkney, they were also recommended to us. The journey lasts about an hour and the Pentland Ferries service have a good reputation for reliability, cost and environmental awareness.  Our ferry journey was particularly smooth.  The sea was calm and the weather good. It was fascinating watching the eddies and currents in the sea as we traveled, we even saw a couple of small whirlpools.  The journey also takes you past the islands of Stroma and Swona before you reach the coastline of South Ronaldsay and arrive at St Margaret’s Hope which is the third largest settlement on the Orkney Islands.

Before you even arrive on the Orkney Islands you start to become more aware of the richness of natural environments and historic significance of these beautiful islands.  As you travel from mainland Britain across the Pentland Firth you see more signs of older, abandoned buildings such as croft buildings and World War II gun placements and lookout towers. Your eyes and ears are caught by the sights and sounds of passing seabirds.  And the land unfolds its wild beauty before you.

And then you arrive on the Orkney Island but unless you are staying in St Margaret’s Hope your journey is not yet over. It takes about another twenty minutes by car to travel over a couple of the smaller islands linked by the Churchill barriers to the Orkney mainland.  In our case once we reached that point we still had a bit further to go as we were staying in a bed and breakfast called Lindisfarne just outside Stromness.  Our hosts were a lovely couple with three small children and they made us feel incredibly welcome.  They had even brought us a bottle of champagne and put it in our room with a couple of glasses and a fabric red rose which was both lovely and totally unexpected.

Our room had a lovely view out over Stromness and the Island of Hoy beyond that.  The room was well decorated, comfortable, clean and a good size with a lovely ensuite bathroom.  My particular favorite bit of the decor was the carpets in all the main rooms, they just begged for bare feet and felt wonderful.  We had been given the end room upstairs with the guest lounge (or blue sitting room as one of our hosts children referred to it) beyond separated by a couple of doors and a small entry way to our room.

We settled in, unpacked and went to find some food in Stromness for our evening meal.  We decided on fish and chips for that first evening and ate them sitting on a bench on the main street before then having a bit of a walk along the main street of Stromness before returning to our bed and breakfast for the night.

The next morning our Orkney adventures would start in earnest.

(Photos copyright Neil Pitchford, Awen photos)

 

Through the wall and onwards

In my last post Expectations and feedback I wrote about how I had reached a wall built of expectations of myself concerned with service and commitment on my path as a Pagan. I shared this post on the members site of the Druid Network and I have had a great deal of helpful feedback both here and on the Druid Network members site.  Although I’ve been busy with family this last week I’ve also had time to think about this wall of my making and the feedback I have received.

I’ve managed to make a breakthrough.  Part of it came yesterday when I realized that I would never question anyone about their choice to call themselves a Druid, never suggest that they were somehow less worthy than someone else regardless of what they did, so why do I question myself in this way?

Part of the breakthrough came when I found my Druid certificate from the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids which was granted to me in March 2004 while looking for other things. I’d never really felt comfortable with putting it up for some reason and it’s been hidden for a long while.  It’s a beautiful certificate and yesterday for the first time it went up on the wall in a frame.  I’m laying claim to that aspect of my past again.

In my past I helped to facilitate a druid group now faded into the mists called Caer Clud.  I co-organised a series of conferences for those in the druid path that took place in Glasgow. I’ve held council positions in the Scottish Pagan Federation and I’ve been a legally recognized celebrant. One by one I have moved on from these things as it became apparent that I needed to either because local interests changed or because I lacked the time and energy to continue the commitment as my family commitments grew.  I am proud of what I achieved during those years.  I was a visible face of Druidry in Scotland during those years but that time is past.

Sometimes in life, we develop the tendency to compartmentalize the different facets of our lives, separating out work from home and family, and our spirituality from both areas, but that is not really the best way to live.  Sometimes we do this as a form of self-defence, a way of keeping situations felt in one area of life from swamping other areas.  I’ve been thinking my Druidry needed somehow to be separate from the other areas of my life and of course it shouldn’t be, my Druidry should be woven into all aspects of my life.  My commitments, my services do not have to be separate to the rest of my life.  It’s taken me a while to properly realize and accept this deep down.

My strongest commitments are now to my family.  I’ve cut back on my work hours recently to be more readily available to support my children. My children are, and will remain for several years, the most important commitments in my life.  I also have commitments to and with other members of my family, to my employer and work colleagues and to myself.  My main aspect of service now is being the best mother I can be and that means a constant learning and development process as I learn more and more about the best ways I can support my wonderful children.  For example, I’m currently learning much more about the various sensory issues affecting my children.  I’ve recently learnt that scents can have a much more profound affect on my son that I had previously realized.

In short my primary focus now is hearth and home.  It’s probably going to remain that way for several years.

I am a Hearth Druid.

Spring

Finally it feels as if spring has truly arrived here in Glasgow.  The weather is milder, buds are swollen on the trees and some are even beginning to burst open.  At last daffodils are beginning to flower although crocuses have been out a bit longer. I’ve even seen a little bit of blossom out on the cherry trees in the park near my work.

For me personally, this time of year, centered on the spring equinox, is laden with meaning and significance. It was at spring equinox years ago that I first made a committment to being Pagan. It was at spring equinox the following year that I did my Bardic initiation rite with the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids and in following years I have continued this personal spiritual tradition with other initiation rites. I don’t mean that I have done such things every year by any means but, more often than not ,when I have undergone rituals of this nature they have been in the spring. (I’m not an active OBOD member now but still my roots are with them.)

This time of year remains laden with memories of new beginnings, fresh starts and committments. And this year is no different. My life has been changing over the last few months with some intense emotional upheavals and major personal changes. Change on this scale brings both death and rebirth. As the land about me moves forwards more fully into the spring it is renewal and rebirth that I begin to focus on more and more.

Last weekend I was out in Pollok Park in Glasgow with others in the Glasgow Pagan community celebrating the equinox and as part of that open ritual there was be a baby naming and blessing for the youngest daughter of a couple I had the priviledge of handfasting in 2009. What better way to add to those memories of new beginnings and fresh starts than with the blessing of a new life?  Many blessings for your future little Amelié.

As the spring moves on I hope the seeds of change that were planted in my life in the darkness of this winter will begin to grow and flourish.

Reconstruction, reconnection, reinvention

Recently on the Caer Feddwyd forum there have been a few threads that stretch into realms of scholarship that I have difficulty keeping pace with. We are blessed in having some truly fine minds sharing information in that forum. These minds raise issues that I either didn’t know about before or hadn’t really considered and then I’m left reeling, almost battered by a storm of ideas and thoughts. If I’m lucky a ray of sunshine breaks through and in a moment of calm I see the world anew, bathed in splendour.

The issue that I have been thinking about the most is reconstruction and its place in modern paganism.

“In discussions of religions of antiquity, “reconstruction” refers to the process of building a model of previous historic and pre-historic traditions, and then examining that model for ideas of how to implement those traditions in a modern, practical sense. The specific definition of “reconstruction” which fits our usage best is, “an interpretation formed by piecing together bits of evidence”.”
From: http://www.paganachd.com/faq/whatiscr.html#reconstruction

“Pagan Reconstructionism (also known as “Recon”) is a lesser-known modern Pagan movement, that differs from other types of modern Paganism primarily on its reliance on solid academic and historical sources regarding deities, worship and symbolism.”
From: http://www.ecauldron.net/reconindex.php

My path at present is pretty heavily influenced by ideas within Celtic Reconstruction (CR). I’ve only recently come to learn that in all probability the reliance put upon many of the sources used in CR (such as surviving Irish and Welsh manuscripts) is probably much higher than it should be. Like many modern pagans I had brought into the idea that the Welsh and Irish myths were written down from older oral tales by monks who, understandably, put a Christian gloss on things. I’ve recently come to understand that actually many of these tales were crafted from scratch in medieval times. As I understand it some of them used names and basic characteristics of individuals in older tales but they also added in characteristics that suited the plot they were crafting. Not unlike the re-envisioning of Arthurian stories that has taken place in the fantasy genre of literature such as the well known Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

These Welsh and Irish stories are wonderful but they do not contain large amounts of information about how our pagan ancestors might of viewed the gods or about their ritual practices. There maybe the odd snippet but how to tell what is invention of the monk that wrote the story and what is an echo of something much older is probably going to be beyond the vast majority of pagans reading these tales in translated form.

Reconstruction implies a knowledge of what something looked like originally and frankly as far as I can see we simply do not have enough reliable information. I am coming to think that the best information sources we have access to are the archaeological and they are usually open to a wide range of interpretations.

So if we can’t really reconstruct what do we do? One possibility mentioned elsewhere which I like the idea of is Reconnection. This is the idea that we make new associations or relationships with Gods or spirits we know of from inscriptions on shrines and offerings found by archaeologists. We try and reconnect with these beings and learn from them. We try to reconnect with the land, learning to work with the natural rhythms of the land we live on. But reconnection is difficult and because it is about relationships it is also going to be highly personal. We may be able to share some things about our relationships but that doesn’t mean we are going to be able to develop a group perspective on any one deity or spirit. We might manage it eventually but I think it will take a great deal of trust and perseverance.

Perhaps it’s also time to stand up and say openly that what we also need to look at is Reinvention. We will need to create some things again, to remake them in a different form. There is nothing inherently wrong with this but we do need to be able to admit that in some cases we are simply re-inventing practices and stories for our modern age. What we need to be honest about is what parts of our practices are re-inventions.

Perhaps the best way forward will be to take the slender threads of information found by archaeologists and snippets in historical sources, combine them with our own experiences and personal relationships to build a chariot of knowledge and then re-invent the wheels.