Spiritual routines in a changing world

I’ve seen a few blog posts and Facebook discussions about the difficulties in continuing religious and spiritual practice in the current world lockdown situation.  For various reasons I haven’t attended a group ritual for over six months now and I honestly don’t miss it.  I tried at Samhain but struggled with anxiety and emotional swings and although I had prepared the ritual I ended up not taking part and passing it to others to carry out. I haven’t truly enjoyed many group rituals for well over a year now.

For some people the social aspect of gathering for a ceremony also plays an important part but it doesn’t for me.  I do reasonably well socially if I have a set role, a set purpose to my being there, but I struggle otherwise.  It’s something I have come to accept about myself.  I have learnt how to work with my social anxiety to push through when I need to but doing so is tiring.  Give me a set role or purpose and I am totally different because I know the boundaries of my “part”.

What is very important to me spiritually are the solitary devotional practices that I have developed over the last few years.  There is a routine and rhythm to my devotions.  I make an offering each evening to at least one being.  The offerings are usually alcohol but not always.  Sometimes I will light incense or a candle but not every night.  I sit before the altar and the first step is to dip my finger in the blessed water I keep on my water beings shrine and touch it to my head saying “cleanse my mind that I may think clearly”. I touch my lips and throat with the water saying “cleanse my voice that I may speak truly” and then I touch over my heart saying “cleanse my heart that I may be filled with compassion”. I usually pour out the offering before I sit down so I then hold my hand over the goblet in question, as I have a few different small goblets I use and offer it to whichever being I am honouring that day.  Most days I then pick up my prayer beads and pray, sometimes I just sit in silence, sometimes I chant.  While I am praying and communing I am usually sat in a cross legged position and I also sway backwards and forwards because this is a comfortable way for me to sit and swaying back and forth is very soothing for me.  I often go into a light trance state like this for a few minutes.  When I’m finished I stand and put my floor pillow, which is an old flat pillow, away.

The offerings stay on the altar overnight and the next morning I pour them out into a bowl on my outdoor altar or if the offering is milk or my ancestral offerings I pour that directly onto the ground. While doing to I greet the being I am pouring the offering out for with a simple “hail” and I greet the day.

This is my daily practice now.  For a long time it was was an almost daily practice with no set offerings on Tuesdays and now I make offerings and pray every day.  In addition to these daily offerings I also honour beings of local waterways, the seas and oceans on full and dark moons and I flame tend for Brigantia every twenty days.

This daily practice is important to me but it’s not something I set out to develop as a specific daily practice.  It grew and changed as the relationships I have with the deities I honour grew and changed.  There are other aspects of my spiritual and devotional practice that take place more randomly when I am outside but the core part of my devotions are these daily prayers and offerings in my home, by my home altar.

Altar
My home altar as I write this post.

I have shared something of my practices in the hope that it helps some of you reading this even if that’s only in learning about other options. If you don’t have any home based practices now might be a good time to think about what you might be able to do. My routine has developed over years though so please don’t expect anything you choose to do to fall into place swiftly, it might take time and experimentation for you to feel comfortable with anything you are able to do at home. I’m also aware that for varying reasons you might not be able to do anything on a daily basis at home.  Each of us should feel free to develop our own methods of spiritual practice to suit our own circumstances and in our own time. 

Being nudged or not?

How do you know when you are being called to a deeper relationship with a deity? If you are really lucky you get some nice clear messages. Getting those nice clear messages though is rare, very rare. It does happen sometimes but more often there are the feelings of something being not what it should be now. Feelings that it is time for a change of some kind.

Hints are dropped. Maybe a series of coincidences, maybe something in a dream. Something in you takes notice and you begin to be consciously aware that you are being nudged. Someone wants something from you, perhaps more than one being wants something from you and it’s likely that it’s something more than what you already do.

Do not make hasty decisions! Think it through carefully. Do you have the energy to offer more? Do you think you know what is being asked of you? Be careful what you commit to.

Some deities will make stronger calls than others will. Most will allow you to say no. Most want you serving them willingly. Some make demands. Take your time, think carefully about what you can offer. Be clear about your limitations, your boundaries. Most deities will respect that.

Your deeper service maybe a form of priesthood, it maybe a deeper form of personal devotion. Maybe you are being asked to do something more often than you do at present. Maybe you are being asked to deepen your relationships by more than one being.

Be aware that as a polytheist once you deepen your bonds with one of those you honour others might want you to step up with them too. The choice is still yours but be wary of not honouring their call. If you say no, you may never be asked again. Asking for more time to think, more time to decide is usually acceptable, deities work on a very different timescale to us after all.

Divination may help you decide.  Ask someone you respect if they can help you if you aren’t confident of your own skills or if you want another perspective. If you know someone dedicated to the deity you are feeling nudged by you might want to discuss what you are feeling with them. The decision though is still yours.

Take your time. What you commit to should be thought out carefully and can include whether it a short or long term commitment.

It’s not easy to know if you really are being called.  In the end you have to make a decision and then act on it as best you can. The gods usually forgive mistakes and rarely turn down service offered in my experience. Just make sure you are making your decisions for the right reasons.

Know that if you are wondering if something really is a call, wondering what you should do about it, you are not alone. You are not alone in thinking about what the next step could or should be. And if this is something that you want to talk about to someone else, anyone else, I will listen.

Brigantia

I stand at the sink doing some washing up and thinking about how I can find the right words, how to describe the Brigantia I see and my mind slips sideways…

I walk into a room with a fireplace ahead of me, a few flames dancing across a bed of warm coals and burning wood. The scent of woodsmoke reaching me. In the soft light I see a woman seated in a recliner to one side of the fire place, her feet up in comfy looking socks, a wine glass in her hand. She looks over to me and gesture to an armchair on the other side of the fireplace, “take a seat” she says. I sit down and look at her, this middle aged woman. She has shadows under her eyes, a smudge of dirt or dust on one cheek and her hair is a mess. She’s wearing loose clothes that look like they’ve seen better days but are clearly comfortable. As I look at her so she is looking at me. Our eyes meet. “Drink?” she asks and gestures towards the bottle and another glass, “help yourself” she adds. I get up and pour a glass, bring the bottle over to her and top up the glass she holds out. I put the bottle back and then sit down again glass of wine in hand and take a sip. It’s rich and warming, a fruit wine or a mead, I’m not sure. It’s good though. She looks at me again. “Here to talk?” she asks. I shake my head “Not really” I reply. She nods. We both turn and gaze into the flames.

I blink and reach for the plates that need washing up. The images burnt into my mind.


This wasn’t the first time I had been given glimpses of a different goddess to ones often pictured. I have seen Her standing beside a motorbike dressed as a paramedic with short curly reddish hair. I have seen Her in oil stained overalls in a workshop with a large tool box behind Her. I have seen Her dressed brightly with short straight greying hair walking in what looks to be a University building and carrying a leather satchel with papers peeking out. This time She looked tired other times She has seemed full of energy. In two of these images She has looked like a fairly young woman perhaps mid twenties. In the other two She has looked much older. I have no idea why.

The gods have taught me not to rely on physical imagery. I still use it but I understand that the image I may use is like a suit of clothes for them, they are not tied to these things. They have taught me to look beyond what my eyes see to recognise them. I don’t always know who I see or feel but I know Her, Brigantia.

Brigantia is known of from inscriptions and imagery that have survived from the Roman occupation of Britain. Nothing of Her original mythology has survived so what we do know is what can be pieced together from the imagery and associations from the Romans. It is important to remember that the Romans didn’t link deities up without good reason. They were a polytheist society and veneration of the many gods was an important part of their culture and society. This means that if they linked a British deity with a Roman one they had a strong reason for doing so both in text and in imagery. This in turn means we can learn a great deal about the attributes of these British deities from the attributes of the linked Roman deities.

We know Brigantia was the tutelary deity of the Brigantes tribe, the home area was even called Brigantia. Written records of the Brigantes start during Roman times but archaeological records suggest that the area was continually occupied for a considerable time before the Romans which would indicate a powerful and stable tribe. The heartland of the Brigantes was in northern England and maps showing their territory show it stretching from east to west coasts. It covered the majority of the land between the River Tyne and the River Humber covering much of what is now Yorkshire, Northumberland, County Durham, Lancashire and into Cumbria. They were a large powerful tribe, territorially the largest Brythonic tribe or kingdom of ancient Britain. They would have had a wide trading influence and chances are that their deities would have been known of and probably worshipped in neighbouring tribal areas. We also know that there was a Brigantes tribe in Ireland in what is now the Leinster area, very likely to have been related to the one in what is now north England but exactly how is unknown.

There are not a huge number of surviving inscriptions or imagery for Brigantia but what there is tells us quite about this Goddess. A search of the online version of Roman Inscriptions of Britain using “Brigantia” as a search term results in seven different inscriptions. In two inscriptions She is linked to the goddess Victoria who is the Roman goddess of victory, one is from Castleford and one from Greetland. The inscription from Castleford is for an altar dedicated solely to Victoria Brigantia. The Greetland inscription is for an altar dedicated to Victoria Brigantia and “the Divinities of the two Emperors” (RIB 627). On an altar found at Corbridge Brigantia is given the title Caelestis meaning heavenly or celestial, that altar is also dedicated to Jupiter of Doliche and the Goddess Salus, a Roman Goddess of safety and wellbeing. That title of Caelestis is a rare one among the inscriptions found in Britain and marks Brigantia Caelestia as a powerful goddess. The Caelestis title is also given to the African goddess Tanit and I will mention more about the significance of that later.

On an altar found on Hadrian’s Wall in the neighbourhood of Brampton, Brigantia is referred to as the goddess-nymph Brigantia and the altar text also gives a significant amount of detail why it was dedicated which I find very interesting. The text reads:

“Deae Nymphae Brig(antiae) | quod [vo]verat pro | sal[ute et incolumitate] | dom(ini) nostr(i) Invic(ti) | imp(eratoris) M(arci) Aurel(i) Severi | Antonini Pii Felic[i]s | Aug(usti) totiusque do|mus divinae eius | M(arcus) Cocceius Nigrinus | [pr]oc(urator) Aug(usti) n(ostri) devo[tissim]us num[ini] | [maies]tatique eius v(otum) [s(olvit)] l(aetus) l(ibens) m(erito)”

Which is translated as:
“This offering to the goddess-nymph Brigantia, which he had vowed for the welfare and safety of our Lord the Invincible Emperor Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus Pius Felix Augustus and of his whole Divine House, Marcus Cocceius Nigrinus, procurator of our Emperor and most devoted to his divinity and majesty, gladly, willingly, and deservedly fulfilled.”

(RIB 2066 https://romaninscriptionsofbritain.org/inscriptions/2066)

I find this particularly interesting for two reasons. The first is that it is an inscription describing Brigantia as a nymph and nymphs were thought of as spirits associated with a particular location. It doesn’t necessarily mean a source of water however as in Roman terms there were many different types of nymph. As many of the nymph type inscriptions and imagery found in Britain are linked to water there is a strong possibility that Brigantia also was connected to water in some form and if so these may well have been considered healing waters. The second reason I find this inscription is that of all the possible deities that Marcus Cocceius Nigrinus could make a vow to for the safety of the Emperor he chose Brigantia. I think that says volumes about Her popularity and perceptions of Her power.

Of the remaining three inscriptions two are for altars dedicated solely to Brigantia with no other title and one is for a carved statuette. The two altars with no other descriptions or titles for Brigantia were dedicated by individuals bearing Celtic names so they may well have been locals, one of whom was also probably female, Cingetessa. If they were locals then they probably saw no need to add descriptors to their inscriptions. The carved statuette was found in the ruins of a building at a fort outside Birrens and it’s now housed in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. The text is very simple but without the identification as Brigantia the statuette would almost certainly been identified as one of Minerva. The imagery shows Her with many of the symbols of Minerva. It is described as follows:

“In high relief standing in a gabled niche. The goddess Brigantia is winged, has a Gorgon’s head on her breast, and wears a plumed helmet encircled by a turreted crown. In her right hand she holds a spear, in her left a globe; to her left stands her shield, to her right an omphaloid stone. Her attributes equate her with Minerva Victrix.”
(RIB 2091 https://romaninscriptionsofbritain.org/inscriptions/2091)

The wings may be a link to the goddess Victoria as She was normally depicted with wings in Roman imagery. The omphaloid stone is a sacred conical object used to mark to mark the centre of the earth, which could be a link to Juno Caelestis, who in turn was linked with the African goddess Tanit mentioned earlier. These links to the African goddess Tanit are significant because Tanit was a very important deity to the Empress Julia Domna, wife of Emperor Septimus Severus one of the few Roman Emperors to set foot in Britain and they were in Britain for a significant part of their lives. It is thought that all the inscriptions and imagery for Brigantia found so far date from that period in history when Septimus Severus lived in Britain. This does, of course, lead to the suspicion that Brigantia was made more popular at that time for political reasons but if so I think She must have already been very important to the locals to make it worthwhile for the Romans to adopt in this way.

Most of the other imagery is very much associated with Minerva, the Roman Goddess of music, poetry, medicine, commerce, weaving, wisdom and strategic warfare. Her best known attributes today probably being those of wisdom, knowledge and strategy. The turreted crown symbolises a turreted wall around a town or city and is the sign of a tutelary and protective deity.

Brigantia’s name, like that of Brigid, comes from the root -brig, meaning high or exalted. From the various Roman inscriptions and imagery preserved and discovered we can see that Brigantia was almost certainly considered to be a powerful goddess. She was almost certainly linked to a particular area, probably that of the Brigantes tribe, which would make sense. It’s possible that She had links to healing water of some kind given the nymph title, it’s also possible that She was linked to the heavens in some way given the Caelestis title. Her links to Minerva suggest attributes of knowledge and wisdom and with the links to Victoria suggest some warrior attributes.

Many of these attributes are shared with Brigit of Ireland. My current feelings are that Brigit of Ireland grew and developed out of shared Goddess of both aspects of the Brigantes tribe, Brigantia. In Ireland She was able to grow and develop and then be remembered both as part of the Tuatha de Danaan and in becoming a Saint. In Scotland and parts of England She reaches across time as Bride or Bridey. And She calls me in one of Her oldest guises, Brigantia, sovereign lady of northern England, Keeper of wisdom and knowledge, Defender and Protector of those who turn to Her.

My own relationship with Brigantia has been one of gradual growth. It began really with being aware of Her as Bridget but owing to an unfortunate memory of a particular Bridget I had known many years before I was never very comfortable with that name. I saw Her as protector of learning and it seemed fitting that I should feel Her presence as I walked around the University I both attended and later worked at for many years.

When I developed and carried out lunar devotions it was first as Brigid I honoured Her on the night before the full moon with offerings of warm milk with honey and oats or oatmeal.

In time I found Her ancient name of Brigantia and through a series of coincidences came to join the flame tending cill (or group) of Clann Bhride at Imbolc 2015. From my lunar devotions I then moved to the twenty day cycle of a flame tending cill and that remains my pattern of devotion for Brigantia. Each year I learn more and deepen my relationship with this ancient Goddess. Each year She reveals another fragment of Her beautiful and complex personality to me.

When I first started flame tending I developed a version of one of the prayers to Brighid from the Clann Bhride Book of Hours which I use with the prayer beads my mum made for me of three sets of nine beads and three starting/finishing beads. This prayer has changed a little since I first wrote it and I share it with you here.

Hail Brigantia of poetry and healing!
Hail Brigantia of the forge and of justice!
Hail Brigantia of hearth and home!

Brigantia of poetry, I praise you.
Brigantia of healing, I praise you.
Brigantia of the forge, I praise you.
Brigantia of justice, I praise you.
Brigantia of fire, I praise you.
Brigantia, Nymph of water, I praise you.
Brigantia of fire in water, I praise you.
Brigantia of the shinning stars, I praise you.
Brigantia of hearth and home, I praise you.

Brigantia of poetry, I honour you.
Brigantia of healing, I honour you.
Brigantia of the forge, I honour you.
Brigantia of justice, I honour you.
Brigantia of fire, I honour you.
Brigantia, Nymph of water, I honour you.
Brigantia of fire in water, I honour you.
Brigantia of the shining stars, I honour you.
Brigantia of hearth and home, I honour you.

Brigantia of poetry, please help me appreciate the poetry in the world about me.
Brigantia of healing, please fill my heart with your healing that I may radiate it out to all in need.
Brigantia of the forge, please help me to forge my way in the company of all beings.
Brigantia of justice, please let me hold the flame of justice in my heart and act with it
Brigantia of fire, please fill my heart with your fire that I may radiate your warmth.
Brigantia, Nymph of water, please cleanse my mind with your waters, that I may speak with truth
Brigantia of fire in water, please fill me with your inspiration.
Brigantia of the shining stars, as you sing with the Universe, please help me to sing in harmony with those about me.
Brigantia of the hearth, please protect my home and my family.

Brigantia of poetry and healing, I thank you.
Brigantia of the forge and of justice, I thank you.
Brigantia of hearth and home, I thank you.
References

https://brigantesnation.com/ (accessed 31 January 2020)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigantes (accessed 31 January 2020)

Daimler M (2016) Brigid: Meeting the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Forge and Healing Well Moon Books

Green, M. (1995) Celtic Goddesses: Warriors, Virgins and Mothers British Museum Press

McGrath, S. (2015) Brigantia: Goddess of the North Boreal Publications

Clann Bhride (2013) Book of Hours for Daily and Seasonal Practice

Family

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.

More experiences with A’ Chailleach

This post follows on from my last one.

In late 2009 I had another very powerful experience in my growing relationship with A’ Chailleach. I was asked to be involved with the closing ritual at a Pagan conference held in Glasgow. I wasn’t organising the ritual or the conference but months before the conference I was asked by the conference organisers (who happen to be my parents) to take part in a ritual that would be centred around A’ Chailleach. I didn’t know the others that were going to be involved in the ritual but I said yes because at the time I was told that there shouldn’t be anything in it that would be a problem after all it was a public ritual and that further details would be sorted out nearer the time with those who would be leading the ritual who happened to be speakers at the conference.

And here I’ll just add that yes, my parents are also Pagan and their main path is Wicca. And no, I didn’t grow up with them as Pagans we all came to it separately in later life, my mum was first when I was in my late teens. It does however mean that I feel a sense of family loyalty in supporting some of the things they have organised over the years and I expect the same goes for them in supporting some of the things I have organised over the years.

Anyway the conference took place on Saturday 29th August and it wasn’t until the Thursday before that I heard anything more about the ritual and then it was only brief notes. By this time though I felt it was far too late for me to back out of the ritual even though what little I did see made me feel uncomfortable. The basic outline of this ritual was to put me on what was in effect a high seat at the centre of the ritual and for me to be A’ Chailleach and sing. The ritual leaders clearly had a different idea of what this could mean than I did, for me this wasn’t just being Her priestess but Her host. They hadn’t met me or talked to me before this time at all, they just knew I was reasonably capable from what they’d been told by others.

One of the other speakers was a friend of mine and I was able to discuss my concerns with him and before the ritual itself we laid out a couple of preparations which would allow him to help me if it was needed.

I had two major concerns. The first was that nothing would take place and that I would be acting. The second was that something quite powerful would take place and that I would have problems in coming back to myself. Recent online discussions and some hypnotherapy experiences had made me think that I may be more suggestible to trance situations than I had previously thought and this was a ritual situation that sounded likely to trigger a change in consciousness.

I had decided that in doing this ritual it would be more appropriate for me to remove my glasses and personal jewellery and wear items linked in my thoughts to A’ Chailleach. As part of my preparations I took my things off with ritual intent and gave them to my friend to hold for me. In returning them to me he would be able to help me ground myself in my more mundane life if that’s what I needed.

The ritual had me seated on a chair in the centre of the room with a circle of what must have been close to a hundred people around me. I wore a black robe with a plaited cord belt in colours I associate with A’ Chailleach that I had made a few years before. My face had been decorated and I was also wearing a veil that concealed my face. I held that precious wooden hammer I have mentioned earlier on my lap as this was a strong link to A’ Chailleach.

A bit of introductory words were said to introduce everyone present to who “the Cailleach” was and that the ritual would be calling on Her and asking for Her blessing. Then a ritual circle was cast and quarters were called by members of my parent’s development circle and coven. A few words were said gently calling “the Cailleach” to come to those gathering and show Her face. Then a chant and spiral dance was started off. The focus of all that energy was me and calling “the Cailleach” in through me.

I remember feeling that energy was building and feeling oddly colder as if someone had opened a door or window and I was in a breeze. The words of the chant were “We are many, we are one” As the spiral continued I started to hear words in my head “But I was first!” The chant became “We are many, we are one. But I was first!” in my mind.

I remember my body slowly standing. The spiral was no longer moving but the chant had sped up and feet were being stamped. I remember my body throwing up my arms, lifting the veil as it did so and then a shout “BUT I WAS FIRST!”. After that I was no longer I. I was there in the background but no longer the one controlling what I said or did. She said something about asking them to listen to Her words and to embrace Her challenge if they would. She then sang through me the “Challenge of the Cailleach” in the first person. It was different to how I sang usually. Part my voice, part my words but not completely either. In the last verse which mentions the Cailleach sleeping my body began to sit down again. As the voice stopped my head fell forward and my eyes closed and inside I felt this deep need to sleep. The “me” part of this knew that there were oatcakes and mead to be blessed so we struggled to stay alert enough to do this. After everyone else had had some the cup was brought to us and we drank and we were offered some oatcake – it felt dry and almost like dust. The ritual then started closing and oddly I remember strongly that there wasn’t a proper thanks and farewell made to the Cailleach.

As the closing progressed my body started to shiver and feel more and more drained. Inside I silently said my own personal farewells to A’ Chailleach and asked Her to leave me now. I wasn’t confident She was leaving or that She was leaving me behind and I remember feeling a bit scared that I wouldn’t fully return to being simply me. But Her presence sank down and eventually let “me” go.

After the ritual finished I called for my glasses. I can’t remember if it was at that point, slightly before or slightly afterwards that my friend asked me how I was feeling and gave me a talisman to hold. Finally things began to break up. To me it felt like a longish time but it probably wasn’t very long at all. An experienced Heathen friend came up to me and touched my hand saying her name and offering help. I said something about my other friend and then he was beside me again too. They both helped me up and we left the room for another quiet room. I was shaky and feeling drained.

It took a while for me to feel more myself. Those who had offered me help stayed with me the whole time and were an immense help and support. When I felt ready I asked for my rings back and that helped me feel more myself. I then got to the stage where I felt much more me and that I needed to get out of the robe and into my normal clothes. After that we went to the park across from the location of the conference and I made an offering which was burnt or charred anyway and thrown in the river. I still needed to eat but I was at least feeling much more myself by that point. The whole experience left me feeling drained and somewhat emotional for several days afterwards.

I’ve gone into a fair amount of detail about this experience because I learnt a great deal from it that I will share here. The first and most important thing I learnt is always know more about what you are getting into that I did when this particular ritual began. My second most important criteria is that any being that is invited to attend a ritual should also be given thanks at the end and, if appropriate, asked politely to depart for their usual abode.

If a ritual is set up with a possibility of someone hosting a deity that person should be willing and have some knowledge of the possibilities even if they are relatively inexperienced in doing such things. They should also have support and that support should ideally include at least one person who has had experience with hosting. The supporting individuals should ideally be prepared to offer support for days after the ritual takes place if required. This was a profound experience for me and it took me months to process some aspects of it. To let A’ Chailleach ride me in the way I did required a level of trust and submission of ego and because I already loved Her it was fairly easy for me to let go and trust Her. But as She left me on that occasion I also felt that She almost took part of me with Her and that was scary. The effects on my emotions afterwards were also unsettling.

I was fortunate to have the support I did at the time and more experienced polytheists and Seidr workers in the Scottish Heathen community to turn to in the months afterwards for further advice and training.

About six months after that experience while there was still snow on the mountain tops I was at a weekend camp in Wales for the members of Brython, a brythonic polytheist group. I had thought that while I was there I would undertake a shamanic style journey to seek A’ Chailleach and apologise to Her for my part in not making sure She was appropriately thanked and farewelled at the end of that ritual. I took with me an offering for A’ Chailleach of something that I had commissioned and did not want to part with that would go on the communal fire on the Friday evening. One interpretation of the difference between a sacrifice and an offering is that a sacrifice hurts more and giving this to the fire for A’ Chailleach hurt! On the Saturday we went on a walk up into the foothills of the Snowdonia mountain range and spent that night in a bothy. I struggled a great deal with that walk and felt I’d gone through a much more physical ordeal to seek A’ Chailleach out than I had anticipated. Afterwards I felt I had been heard.

At the beginning of 2011 I separated from my first husband and we later divorced. As part of the surrounding difficulties at that time my ex-husband destroyed the incredibly precious gift that I had been given by Andy Guthrie in 2003, the handcrafted hammer. I had thought it was safe where I kept it but I was wrong. I have more recently sought A’ Chailleach out in the wild glens over this loss to see if I needed to make some form of reparation. I was shown an unusual sight of a birch tree growing out of a long dead tall stump of a much older tree and given the word “rebirth” to go with that sight. My conclusion from that experience is that nothing else is needed. We move on.

The lunar devotional practices that I had developed for A’ Chailleach and others continued until about 2016. Sometimes I sang for Her, sometimes I sat in silence in the darkness. I usually made a libation of alcohol and that varied a bit. Sometimes it would be wine, sometimes port, sometimes hot chocolate or warm milk with honey. And as I began to develop a taste for single malt whisky sometimes it was whisky I offered. In 2016 I began to shift my practices away from a lunar cycle into an almost daily devotional pattern.  I now offer A’ Chailleach a libation on a Monday evening. As before it’s usually alcohol of some kind but not always, I tend to go with what I feel is right on the day.

Over time and with various experiences my relationship with She who I know as the Ancient Mother has deepened. As I write this these words it is close to nineteen years since I first called out to Her behalf of my friend Insa. I never imagined then the relationship that would gradually develop.

A’ Chailleach is not an easy Goddess to serve. She tests you, pushes you to learn and develop. Sometimes She can be as fierce as the winter storms but not always. In my experience She is not a Goddess that watches over you closely. She loves the wild and the fierce places in nature, She cares for those that dwell there. There are some people that She calls to and if they answer She will teach them what She wishes them to learn one way or another. If She calls to you think carefully before you answer. You don’t have to say yes, you could say no, or not yet, and She will probably listen as in my experience she wants you when you are willing. Be aware though that if you do say no you might not be given another opportunity to say yes. She’s not an easy goddess but She is a strong one!

Personal experiences with A’ Chailleach

This post is another that is based on material I gathered together in drafting a book.  This section was the longest one so I’ve split the material into two separate posts.

It began as many relationships do with a first meeting and that was thanks to my friend Insa who spoke about her studies learning about this ancient being during a pub moot in 1999. In December 2000 Insa was diagnosed with cancer. In February 2001 she was in the Beatson Centre at the Western Infirmary having chemotherapy and I remember walking along the river on my way to visit her. I paused by the water and made a heartfelt plea to A’ Chailleach that Insa be spared for just a bit longer. This was the first time I had addressed A’ Chailleach directly and as it happened, Insa did rally round for a while. She died in July 2001, A’ Chailleach had claimed one of Her own.

When I first called on A’ Chailleach in 2000 I had little idea that this would start a something that would bring a number of changes to me. I didn’t realise it at the time but I believe that in calling on Her on that day I gained Her attention. For a couple of years following that nothing really changed then in August 2003 we held a conference in Glasgow called DruidCon. It was run by those walking a druid path for anyone that might be interested in learning more of druidry. At that conference, one of our speakers, Andy Guthrie, presented me with a wooden hammer he had made after his talk on Scottish myths. His talk had included tales of A’ Chailleach and the hammer was given to me as a symbol. I was incredibly surprised by the gift and although I was very grateful I didn’t truly appreciate what I had been given at that time. It took me years to more fully appreciate that gift and then I lost it but that was many years later.

Naturally enough that gift led me to research more about A’ Chailleach and to try and understand Her a little better. In turn this led to me crafting a song or more accurately a hymn for Her in the winter of 2004 which I call “Challenge of the Cailleach”. One of the ways I connect more deeply with the gods is through music and song. I chose to sing that hymn almost every day for the following year. I still sing it, usually in the winter months and especially around Samhain.

The first year I sang that song was a challenging year for me. I had a great deal of stress at work and there were times I felt as if I couldn’t cope anymore. I also strongly felt that A’ Chailleach was testing me in that year. I felt that She was pushing me to see if I would stay the course or turn away. In the run up to Samhain 2005 I felt I needed to do something special at the Samhain ritual and invoke A’ Chailleach. I felt that She wanted to see if I would embrace Her and I found the following words flowing from me as I prepared for that ritual:

So you would call to me would you! You dare to wake me, to bring my gaze upon you. I have been stirring for some time, tossing and turning in my sleep as my time comes upon the land once more. For make no mistake I am part of the cycles of this land.

Hear my voice in the wild howling wind. Feel my touch in the winter’s chill. See me gather the storms on the mountains. But I am more than storms and strife. I have more to give than the chill touch of winter. Yes, I bring pain and destruction. Yes, I bring strife and testing but I am more!

I am rest and quiet. I am the healing touch of solitude. I am the raw beauty of the wild mountains. I herd my Deer and watch over them when the hunters come. I fly over the land with the wild geese. I ride the Wolf, swift and sure. I create the land anew with my floods and avalanches.

Yes, I hold back the spring but only that it may grow stronger in the testing until it overcomes the winter once more. And so too will I test you sooner or later. Think not that you can escape me.

Dare you stand before me?
Dare you look me in the eye?
Dare you embrace me?

And if you dare so much, then and only then will you know what my gifts can be.

After that ritual (which I only remember as if through a fog) I felt that A’ Chailleach was satisfied with what I had done. Things were still stressful but I no longer felt as if I was being tested.

In the spring of the following year I entered into what was to be a very difficult time for me personally. I experienced an early miscarriage and later in the year a family death. I ended up off work for a while. I had lost my sense of balance and didn’t regain it until I had spent a night at the autumn equinox alone in a cave on the coast of Ayrshire chanting, sobbing and finally sleeping. Throughout this period of time I felt A’ Chailleach was with me, this time as a supportive presence mourning my loss with me and lending me Her strength. I later felt that my year of testing had been in preparation for the pain that She knew was coming my way and to help me realise that I was stronger than I had thought.

In October 2006 I wrote the following words which I’ve shared previously elsewhere online but I think it’s worth including them here. They seemed to flow so swiftly that I feel that they didn’t really come from me but from A’ Chailleach.

This is my story. It is not the whole story, just a fragment that I am able now to speak.

I am old, older than you can imagine. Many have been my names and most are lost in the mists of time – even I can not remember them all now. Today I am called the Hag of Winter, Queen Beira, the Veiled One, the Cailleach, the Carlin.

Most of you will think of me as the dark hag of winter and see me as a force belonging to the mountains of Scotland but I am much more than that.

I am the Mother of this Land known to you as Alba or Scotland. I am the Mother of all the Gods and Spirits waking and sleeping in its mountains and valleys. My hands dug out the lochs and my tears filled them. My feet created the valleys as a I walked carrying my loads of earth and stone to make the hills and mountains. My breath formed the clouds that gather around those mountain peaks. My sweat fell down to create the streams of water flowing though the Land. I planted the first trees and tended them as I did the first of the animals to move into this land. Deer and cattle, goats, wolves and geese all these and more have I tended and loved.

You who call me hag and crone – you too would look haggard if you had lived as long as I. You think me ugly? Is the midnight sky ugly? Are the stark mountains ugly? No, it is merely that I am different.

The tales tell of my skin being deep blue black, of my teeth with red stains, of my one eye like a deep pool and my tangled hair like the frost covered roots of Aspen. Do you know what that means?

Perhaps my skin is the darkness of the deepest caves, perhaps it is the midnight sky or the blackest of storm clouds over the sea. Is my hair the fall of hail in a storm or is it the milky stream of stars across the sky? Perhaps my one eye is the moon or perhaps it is the sea and the whirlpool of Corryvreckan is its centre. Perhaps my teeth are the cliffs of the coast or perhaps the red tinged clouds at sunset. I no longer know.

You think me harsh and cruel. I am a mother. Can any mother afford to always be loving and kind? Sometimes she must show she can be angered for her children to learn. Have those parents among you never had to discipline your children? Does that mean you no longer love them? No, of course not, you love them all the more.

I have been forgotten. I have been pushed into the form of the dark winter crone. My tales are those of winter and harshness but that it not all there is to me. I care more than you can imagine for this land and those that live upon it. I have mourned when my children have been torn from me. I have shrieked out my anger and pain in the storms. But I have danced too in joy at each new life born to me, sang in ecstasy when my children have returned to me. I weep with you in your loss and sing with you in your joy.

I speak now through the heart and mind of one of my children who has opened her heart to me. Listen to these words. Remember them. Remember me once more.

Between 2007 and 2009 I continued in my quest to learn more of this ancient being and investigations took me into Welsh myths and stories looking for similar figures to A’ Chailleach. There are figures similar to the Irish Banshee and Washer at the Ford in Welsh folktales but which culture developed these stories first I have no idea. I was looking for a figure linked to the land or tribes who is described as the mother of gods. After all much of Scotland spoke Brythonic languages so felt it possible that in Welsh folk tales I might find the answer I sought.

In the Welsh lore there is Don, mother of the smith, farmer and magecraft gods – Gofannon, Amaethon and Gwydion. In Aberdeenshire we have the river Don, a possible link but it’s impossible to be sure. Other river names such as Dee and Tay derive from the ancient British word *Dewa meaning goddess and it’s not so far fetched to have rivers named for a particular goddess, the Cyde was after all. Don could easily have been known of in what is now Scotland. And if She was then the being I know as A’ Chailleach of Scotland may, just possibly, have once been known as Don, ancient, primal mother of the Brythonic Gods. Regardless of whether this supposition is correct I still refer to that ancient being as A’ Chailleach and She seems happy for me to do so.

Towards the beginning of 2009 I developed my first regular devotions for A’ Chailleach. On the day after the full moon I would make a libation in Her honour and spend a little time in silence thinking about Her. This practice was linked to other lunar observations I made on the two previous nights for Brigantia and Epona. The practice gradually deepened my love and sense of connection with this ancient Goddess.

 

To be continued in the next post

 

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.

 

 

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.

General musings

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.

Life continues…

Setting intentions

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.